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August 31, 2009

No amount of international pressure can change government's core position

by Jehan Perera

There are many reasons that may be given for Sri Lanka having historically received a significantly higher level of international assistance in relation to its population than other similarly situated countries. One reason is that the country is sufficiently small so that foreign aid can actually be seen to make an impact unlike in the case of bigger countries. Another reason is that successive Sri Lankan governments have adopted innovative policies to improve the life of the people, such as social welfare measures that have included free food rations, and free education and health which even much richer countries have deemed to be unaffordable for their own people.

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A poster of Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa hangs from a wire as people gather around a pump to collect water at the Settikulam camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in northern Sri Lanka August 15, 2009-Reuters Pic

At the present time, the international community’s desire to support Sri Lanka may be seen as stemming from a desire to see its ethnic conflict being resolved in a peaceful and just manner. The importance of such conflict resolution is that it would lead to reconciliation and long term development. There are, however, contrary views that are based on a different understanding. Those who hold such views would see at least part of the international involvement in Sri Lanka as having an ulterior motivation, this being to strengthen Tamil separatism, weaken Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and employing traditional colonial methods of divide and rule.

Such a belief in an international conspiracy reached a peak during the last phase of the war which ended less than four months. At that time there was considerable pressure from sections of the international community for a ceasefire that might have saved thousands of lives, including those of the LTTE leadership. However, many influential opinion leaders in Sri Lanka saw this as an unwarranted and biased international intervention that was primarily motivated by the ulterior motive of saving the LTTE and its leadership to fight another day. This same mistrust continues in a new form today.

The most controversial issue today, and one that has the ability to capture international media attention, is the humanitarian crisis that revolved around the quarter of a million displaced persons in government-run welfare centres in the north. The government has interpreted international pressure to release these displaced persons, or at least to permit them the freedom of movement, as being motivated by a desire to give the LTTE and its supporters a new lease of life. Government leaders have taken a strong stance that they will not jeopardise the security of the country by any premature release of the displaced persons, and no amount of pressure is likely to change that decision.

Dominant feature

There needs to be recognition that the dominant feature in Sri Lankan society today continues to be the legacy of the war. The war that ended was an internal war that polarised its people on ethnic lines for nearly three decades. During this period there was terrorism and counter terrorism and human rights violations that hardened feelings on all sides of the ethnic divide. The last phase of the war led to the mobilisation of ethnic nationalism that gave first place to conflict resolution by military means. The continuation of this military frame of mind is most evident in the ongoing confinement of virtually the entire population who lived in the formerly LTTE controlled areas of the north.

It is possible that hundreds if not thousands of former and present LTTE members may be mingling amongst the displaced population and screening them out is difficult. Sections of the international community have been strongly critical of this measure as being a gross violation of the right of those who have been displaced to enjoy their basic human right to freedom of movement, so that even if they cannot go back to their home areas due to land mines, they can at least go somewhere else where they have relatives or friends. However, government spokespersons have made it clear that they believe that this displaced population contains within it a grave threat to national security. The balance between freedom of movement and national security is weighted heavily in favour of the latter.

Another area in which the legacy of war is to be seen is in politics, and the question of a political solution to the ethnic conflict. The government’s decision to pursue military victory over the LTTE required the mobilisation of ethnic Sinhalese nationalism to sustain the war effort and bear its heavy costs. The victory over the LTTE has strengthened the forces that supported the government and vindicated the government’s own belief in its capacity to quell ethnic Tamil nationalism. The forces of ethnic Sinhalese nationalism now make the argument that the gains of war, obtained through the sacrifice of Sinhalese soldiers, should not be surrendered through the stroke of a pen by granting greater devolution of power to the Tamil majority areas.

There are however two mitigating factors to this rather bleak assessment regarding the government’s preparedness to reach out to its Tamil citizens. The first of the mitigating factors is the moderating impact of elections due to the need to obtain ethnic minority votes in the longer term. Today the President is riding a wave of ethnic Sinhalese majority support, due to the victory in the war. But in the longer term the likely scenario is the break up of the Sinhalese electorate into the two traditional camps, one SLFP and the other UNP. At the last presidential election, President Mahinda Rajapaksa won with the barest majority of votes overall, with only limited support from ethnic minority areas, although he secured handsome majorities in Sinhalese majority areas.

Mitigating factors

The results of the recently concluded local government elections in the north of the country suggests that the ethnic Tamil vote in the north and possibly east and elsewhere will not go to the government unless the government changes its position on matters that affect the Tamil minority. This is a pressure point that the government is likely to be sensitive to, as it means votes and can mean the difference between a sweeping electoral victory and scraping through at elections. The second pressure point on the government is the international community, especially its western component, with whom Sri Lanka has strong economic, trade and tourism links, and which have been generous aid donors in the past.

On the other hand, the government has shown that any reduction in aid from that section of the international community can be more or less compensated for by unconditional aid from another section of the international community, including China and Iran. It needs to be recognised that the focus on national security and on Sinhalese nationalism is the core feature of the present government and its success. Therefore, whatever the external pressures on it, the government is unlikely to shed its commitment to national security and Sinhalese nationalism.

In these circumstances it is unlikely that all displaced persons will be resettled any time soon or given the freedom to move wherever they want. Similarly the devolution of power to the north and east is unlikely to go beyond the present constitutional arrangements for the foreseeable future. On the other hand the government is likely to resettle some of the displaced people, even if all are not resettled. In addition, even if there is no extra devolution of power at this time, the government may proceed to set up an elected provincial council for the north, though subject to the present limitations of the system of provincial administration.

Those in the international community who seek to assist Sri Lanka in its growth and development need to adopt an approach that is mindful of the government’s core positions and concerns which no amount of pressure is likely to change. A strategy that the international community can consider in these circumstances would be to actively and materially support whatever positive actions that the government takes that correspond to internationally accepted standards. Financial support for the improvement of conditions in the welfare camps, resettling of displaced persons, functioning of provincial councils and independent human rights groups merit consideration by the international community.

Ban says his "Asian diplomatic approach" is misunderstood in the West

"We need to be able to respect the culture, tradition and leadership style of each and every leader," UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, told reporters in a visit to Oslo on Monday, Aug 31st. "I have my own charisma, I have my own leadership style," he is quoted as saying in an artcile published in The Washington Post of Sep 1st, 2009.

Excerpts from the article on Sri Lanka as follows:

U.N. Chief's 'Quiet' Outreach To Autocrats Causing Discord

For Ban, perhaps the greatest test of engagement as a policy came earlier this year.

In Sri Lanka, where the government was pushing to crush the ruthless Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the secretary general reached out to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to persuade him to show restraint to protect the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians forced to serve as the Tigers' human shields.

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U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in July. (By Mark Garten -- Associated Press)

In an effort to maintain a cordial working relationship with Rajapaksa, Ban and his top advisers withheld criticism of the government, advising U.N. human rights officials not to publish U.N. estimates of the civilian death toll in the conflict, arguing that they were not convinced of their credibility, according to officials familiar with the discussions. In the end, Ban's diplomatic intervention achieved a brief weekend pause in the fighting but did little to stem to slaughter, which cost the lives of 7,800 to 20,000 civilians.

Ban says he won commitments from Sri Lankan leaders to improve conditions for displaced people and to pursue reconciliation, but his handling of such crises has raised questions among some U.N. diplomats about his viability for a second term.

Norway's U.N. ambassador, Mona Juul, wrote that Ban is a "spineless and charmless" leader who has failed to convey the U.N.'s "moral voice and authority," according to a confidential memo to Norway's foreign minister. Juul, whose husband, Terje Roed-Larsen, serves as one of Ban's Middle East envoys, sharply criticized Ban's handling of the crises in Sri Lanka and Burma in the memo, which was first published in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.

"The Secretary-General was a powerless observer to thousands of civilians losing their lives and becoming displaced from their homes," Juul wrote of Ban's role in Sri Lanka. "The moral voice and authority of the Secretary-General has been missing."

Ban has been stung by the criticism and said he is striving to improve his performance. But he suggested that the criticism stemmed from a misunderstanding in the West of his Asian diplomatic approach. "We need to be able to respect the culture, tradition and leadership style of each and every leader," Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, told reporters in a visit to Oslo on Monday. "I have my own charisma, I have my own leadership style."

Spotlight' on Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, Ban and his advisers sought to perform a delicate balancing act, pressing the country's leader in private to halt the shelling of civilian zones, while avoiding an open confrontation with cautiously worded public statements about the violence.

Human rights advocates faulted Ban for not pressing hard enough to hold Sri Lanka accountable for its actions. Days after the war ended, the secretary general signed a joint agreement with President Rajapaksa committing Sri Lanka to pursue political reconciliation with ethnic Tamils and release hundreds of thousands of displaced ethnic Tamils in government-controlled camps.

In exchange, Ban dropped a U.N. push for an independent investigation into war crimes, leaving it to Sri Lanka to determine whether its military was responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians in the final offensive. Two days later, Sri Lankan diplomats, citing the agreement, quashed a proposal by the top U.N. human rights official to create an independent commission of inquiry to probe war crimes in Sri Lanka.

Some diplomats have defended Ban's handling of the crisis, saying he pushed far more aggressively to protect Sri Lankan civilians than did any government, including the United States, India, China, Russia and key European powers.

"He put a spotlight on what was happening in Sri Lanka," said John Sawers, Britain's U.N. ambassador. "So it's not perfect in Sri Lanka; far too many civilians got killed and there is still an outstanding problem with the civilians in the [Internally Displaced Persons] camps. But I believe Ban's engagement made the situation less bad than it would otherwise have been."

Tamil journalist gets “shameful” 20-year sentence on terrorism charges-RSF

Statement by RSF

Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the “shameful” 20-year jail sentence which a Colombo high court passed today on journalist J.S. Tissainayagam on charges of supporting terrorism and inciting racial hatred in his articles.

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Members of the Sri Lankan media protest near the Colombo High Court, against the trial of journalist J.S. Tissanayagam, in Colombo August 31, 2009-Reuters pic

“The imposition of this extremely severe sentence on Tissainayagam suggests that some Sri Lanka judges confuse justice with revenge,” Reporters Without Borders said. “With the help of confessions extracted by force and information that was false or distorted, the court has used an anti-terrorism law that was intended for terrorists, not for journalists and human rights activists.”

The press freedom organisation added: “We strongly hope that the appeal process adheres to the facts of the case and the spirit of the law. Meanwhile, until the appeal is heard, we urge the authorities to guarantee this journalist’s physical safety and health, which has deteriorated greatly while in detention.”

Global Media Forum and Reporters Without Borders have chosen to announce today that Tissainayagam will be the first winner of the Peter Mackler Prize, a newly-created award for journalists who display great courage and professional integrity in countries where press freedom is not respected.

The prize will be awarded at a ceremony presided over by Washington Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli at the National Press Club in Washington on 2 October. The award honours the memory of veteran Agence France-Presse reporter and editor Peter Mackler, who died last year.

When a Reporters Without Borders representative met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse last October in Colombo, the president pledged to examine the Tissainayagam case.

Aged 45, Tissainayagam, wrote for the Colombo-based Sunday Times newspaper and edited Outreachsl.com, a website targeted at Sri Lanka’s Tamil population. The charges on which he was convicted include taking money from the Tamil Tiger rebels to fund the website. In fact, Reporters Without Borders established that the site was funded by a German aid project.

Tissainayagam has been detained since 7 March 2008, when he was arrested by the Terrorism Investigation Division. He spent his first five months in detention without any charges being brought against him. Judge repeatedly extended detention orders and rejected requests for his release on bail.

After five months in detention, during which many national and international press freedom organisations appealed for his release, he was suddenly transferred to Colombo’s Magazine prison, which is notorious for the physical mistreatment of Tamil detainees. It was reported at the time that he had been beaten.

During his initial period in detention, Tissainayagam was allowed only sporadic visits by his family and his lawyer and was denied the medicine he needs for tuberculosis and infections linked to the scabies that he contracted in prison.

Tissainayagam is the first Sri Lankan journalist to be convicted under the anti-terrorism law. In fact, he is one of the few journalists anywhere in the world to be accused of terrorism because of their reporting.

The origin of the charges against him boils down to two articles published in 2006 in North-Eastern, a magazine he edited that no longer exists. The magazine’s printer, Jasiharan, and his wife are also charged in connection with the case.

Tissainayagam’s family and lawyers have said he will appeal against his conviction.

Government Should Drop Politically Motivated Case-HRW

Media Advisory by HRW

Journalist Convicted Under Anti-Terror Law

On August 31, 2009, the High Court in Colombo convicted journalist J.S. Tissainayagam under Sri Lanka’s anti-terror law and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Tissainayagam, an ethnic Tamil editor and columnist, had been arrested in March 2008 and later charged on the contents of two editorials he wrote in 2006.

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Journalist J.S. Tissanayagam (C), is escorted by prison officials out of the Colombo High Court, in Colombo August 31, 2009-Resuters pic

Human Rights Watch said the charges against Tissainayagam violated his right to freedom of expression and called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to immediately drop the case and to order his unconditional release.

“The Rajapaksa administration should drop the case against this well-respected journalist whose only ‘crime’ was to express his political views,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Today’s verdict highlights the glaring fair trial violations that have plagued this case, and furthered the impression in Sri Lanka and abroad that Tissainayagam’s prosecution is part of a government campaign of repression against independent media.”

For more background on the J.S. Tissainayagam case, please see the following Human Rights Watch documents:

-January 2009 letter to President Mahidna Rajapaksa

-“Sri Lanka: Free Journalists Unfairly Held” (December 2008 news release)

http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2008/12/02/sri-lanka-free-journalists-unfairly-held

-“Speak up about free speech,” (December 2008 Guardian commentary)

J.S. Tisssainayagam sentenced to 20 years and justice is dead in Sri Lanka

Statement by Asian Human Rights Commission:

The Asian Human Rights Commission is saddened, disappointed and shocked but not surprised at the judgment of the High Court of Colombo in sentencing J.S. Tisssainayagam to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment for a simple piece of writing which he had done and which was interpreted as aiding and abetting terrorism.

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Sri Lankan prison guards escort journalist J.S. Tissainayagam out of the High Court premises in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, Aug. 31, 2009-AP pic

The AHRC is not surprised by this judgment because at the very inception of this case the AHRC pointed out that this is purely a political case, the first of its kind in which the accused, Mr. Tisssainayagam’s guilt or innocence was not an issue but an opportunity to send a message to society on the changed circumstances of the country where freedom of expression does not matter at all. That was the real aim of this case. It is the sort of prosecution that could have happened under the regime of Joseph Stalin through the prosecutor, Andrei Vyshinsky.

In Vyshinsky’s trials the outcome was predetermined. The trials of the 1930s were known worldwide as show trials. Those actually accused were not really the targets of the proceedings. The accused were mere exhibits to be advertised before the rest of Russia in order to pass a message to the people about the fundamental beliefs that Stalin wanted to impose on society. Vyshinsky’s biographer Arkady Vaksberg writes that the “purpose of the trial had not been to disgrace or, indeed, to annihilate some of the accused but to create a precedent and pave the way for a psychological attack on the population.”

Tisssainayagam has been selected for a show trial where there was not even any evidence to base a charge on. The particular passages which were arbitrarily selected from his writings did not represent any attempt to raise feelings of racism or to instigate people to violence on the basis of race. The text was selected as the pretext and there was no genuine thought in this prosecution at all.

What the case points to is the illusions of the liberals both in Sri Lanka and abroad who fail to see a persecution staged as a show trial. The illusion that somehow things may turn out and that there would be a fair trial was the comfort zone in which many people were resting, unwilling to accept that justice is dead in Sri Lanka and that the executive can manipulate and get whatever verdict it wants.

The greatest loser in this case is not J.S. Tisssainayagam it is the justice system and the judiciary in Sri Lanka that has suffered the greatest loss which would be hard for it to overcome. Even this is not a huge surprise for most people in Sri Lanka. They know that justice has been dead for a long time in their country.

The Tisssainayagam case will also remain the most glaring proof of the absence of freedom of expression in Sri Lanka. The memory of this case will shame so many journalists and media men in the country who have found it possible to lick the very feet of the executive which has completely destroyed the freedom of expression in the country. Some have fought back and lost their lives and some finally fled for their own safety. But this has also created a paradise for those who live by their contribution to misinformation and suppression of freedoms.

We urge the local and international community to condemn the judgment and the sentence in Tisssainayagam’s case and to call for his unconditional release. We also urge the local and international community to grasp the reality that justice is dead in Sri Lanka and the freedom of expression and the media which has also been killed.

Justice and media freedom in Sri Lanka is like the phantom limb; a dream of an amputee who still believes that his limbs are intact. The reminder of the Tisssainayagam case should always be associated with the image of the phantom limb.


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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

August 30, 2009

Lankan rhapsody at Galle

by Priyadarshini Paitandy

The seaside town of Galle leaves one delighted as the waves playfully caress the shore. It’s just the place to have a wonderful time with one’s family.

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ENCHANTING VISTAS:

Take a slice of Goa, add a hint of Mauritius, flavour it with Kerala and you get the splendid island of Sri Lanka. Coconut trees, beaches, temples, wildlife, forests, light houses, colonial buildings, as well as new age hotels and shopping — this country has something for everyone.

In the mood for some sun, sand and sea, we decide to head to the southern town of Galle. I don’t know what to expect of the place. All I know is that it was devastated by the 2004 tsunami.

The drive to Galle is picturesque with the sea on one side and greenery interspersed with houses on the other, except for a long stretch of land with remnants of houses destroyed by the ruthless waves.

A tall statue of Lord Buddha stands as a memory of those who lost their lives. Strangely enough, the very sea that was the cause for much woe steps up to cheer us up — the waves playfully caress the shore, little children prance about and the cool sea breeze pacifies.

En route to Galle, we stop at the Matara Star Fort. Built in the 1760s, the fort has a unique star shape. The moat around even has a lazy looking crocodile perched on a wedge of rock.

The next stop is the Dondra light house. I am a tad reluctant to visit the light house, but anyway head there, whining all the way. Like a battery-operated doll, I almost instantly stop complaining when I get off the vehicle. The place is breathtaking.

The azure sea laced with white foam, there is greenery all around, and amidst that stands the resplendent white lighthouse. Out come the cameras and wide grins as we pose against the lively backdrop.

Out tour guide has a tough time pulling us away from there. Every time he looks away and starts walking towards the vehicle, we stop to click more photographs. Once done, we pile into the vehicle gigging like school children.

Shortly, we reach Galle. “We are at the Galle Fort,” announces the tour guide, and looking at me adds: “Maam, please change your footwear to something comfortable as we have to walk a bit.” I promptly remove my stilettos and slip into my sneakers, and we are off.

Tales from the past

The Fort was built by the Portuguese. Overlooking the sea, the Galle cricket stadium and offering a marvellous view of the town, this makes for a good photo stop.

Earlier, the fort housed a prison, and even though it is not functional anymore, strange noises are said to be heard here at midnight.

On hearing that, I scream and move away from the prison gate where I had been pouting for the camera all this while.

We walk along the ramparts to the lighthouse, and after a few kilometres, we come across a typical Dutch road with Dutch-style houses on either side.

Artefacts galore

Nestled in that very road is a quaint house with tonnes of antiques. It’s a museum and the collection is the single-handed effort of Gaffer, a businessman. The collection includes lamps, vases, crockery and cutlery, artefacts collected from ship wrecks and what not!

By now, I am tired and just want to check into the hotel and plonk myself on the bed. After a half-hour drive, we reach The Fortress hotel. Stylishly seated on the beach, the huge white walls enclose lush lawns, a 75-metre swimming pool, boutiques, plush restaurants and exquisitely designed rooms. A friendly attender escorts me to my room.

I am given the Ocean View room that offers a fantastic view of the ocean and the pool, has high-vaulted ceiling, wooden flooring, a separate wash area done up in glass, a personal Jacuzzi, a hip couch, huge snug bed and more. Once he’s out, I slide into the Jacuzzi, sipping on Baileys, as the water works miracles on my tired muscles.

Next morning, the alarm goes off at 6. I want to wake up and walk along the beach and take in the sights and sounds, but the comfy bed doesn’t want to let go of me, almost like an over possessive mother. Finally, I manage to leave by 6.30. There’s a slight drizzle, adding to the charm of the place.

Fishermen on stilts sit patiently and wait for their catch, families and couples splash about in the waters and I take the opportunity to go for a swim in the fabulous pool. I truly am having a ball at Galle. [courtesy: The Hindu]

Lankan conflict: Has not ceased with elimination of the LTTE

by Lynn Ockersz

The relative silence in some Lankan circles, which not so long ago championed the cause of ethnic peace, gives rise to the impression that all discourse on the National Question is considered inappropriate, superfluous and unnecessary, in these post-LTTE times. The implicit assumption in this silence, among particularly one-time local peace activist quarters, seems to be that the ‘Lankan conflict’ has ceased to exist with the elimination of the LTTE.

The pronouncement which has today become a truism in conflict resolution thinking is that a violent, intra-state, identity-based conflict cannot be resolved in its entirety through the adoption by the state party concerned, of only military means. An effort by states to resolve conflicts of this kind, needs to visualize a political component too to the total solution and it is usually the implementation of a political project by the relevant state that meets the legitimate aspirations of the rebelling sections, which helps in solidifying peace and stability within a country. Indonesia’s successful efforts at bringing peace to its once rebellious Aceh province, is one of Asia’s most recent examples of a peace which was won by political means. It is encouraging news that some local state personnel are now looking to Aceh for inspiration to solidify peace in Sri Lanka. May they learn quickly and insightfully, is this writer’s hope.

Unlike in times past, we do not find present day government leaders speaking at length on political solutions to our conflict. Right now, they seem to be engrossed more with the task of winning elections and since the majority community constitutes their main vote base, they apparently consider it inappropriate to speak forthrightly about political solutions, which would need to envisage power-sharing among communities, to prove effective. This is on account of the fact that among those espousing hegemonic control of the Lankan state by the majority community, power sharing is anathema.

Hopefully, once the elections are done with, there would be a frank espousal of the need for a political solution by the current political leadership of Sri Lanka. For, as long as the causes of our conflict, such as the lack of equality in all its dimensions among our communities, go unaddressed, there is unlikely to be a stable peace in this country.

By saying this, the implication is not made that there were wholly sincere efforts at building a peace culture in this country, for instance, during the Chandrika years. Those years saw the gradual entrenchment in Sri Lanka of what came to be derisively referred to as a ‘peace industry’ and numerous were the parties who made a princely living off the ballooning, money-gobbling enterprise of bringing peace to Sri Lanka.

The fact that peace efforts in the past thus suffered disfigurement in the hands of some parasitic elements, does not in any way argue against the need for a sustainable and dynamic peace movement in this country. The prime issues in the conflict are remaining unresolved to date and as long as this is so, the need for a vibrant peace movement would remain. The question is, who among Sri Lanka’s civil society in particular, would provide the leadership and directional power for a movement of this kind.

Fortunately, not all sections of the state are oblivious to the need to build a durable peace which would be sensitive to the legitimate needs of our communities. There is Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, for instance, who, while addressing a forum recently in Colombo, on the subject of peace-building said, among other things: ’Thus it appears that what is necessary is to internalize the core values of peace if we are to achieve the societal goal of "winning the peace". To do this, we must be committed to demonstrating benevolence through tolerance and accommodation of our fellows, confidence and trust in one another and justice predicated on the principles of equity and equality.’ Earlier, quoting India’s late Premier Jawaharlal Nehru, the minister said: ‘Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is also a state of mind. Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people.’

With sentiments of this kind we are back with a discourse which unambiguously spells out the essential building blocks of a peace culture to which all cultures and communities of this country could relate. The challenge before government leaders is to popularize concepts of this nature and to build a national consensus around them.

But would the political leaders of this land measure- up to this challenge? This is the troubling issue and past experience with our politicians teaches us that they are long on talk but very short on action. It is also not inappropriate to ask: What has become of the APRC’s final proposals? Are we to believe that nothing substantive has come out of the APRC’s prolonged deliberations after all?

Although women and men of goodwill would incline to the view that the above fears are unfounded, the track record of governments to date points to a fundamental insincerity in them to take the message of peace, in the terms broached in this article, to the people. Which major political figure from Southern Sri Lanka, has, for instance, taken the case for ethnic equality in all its dimensions, to the ‘court of public opinion’?

Not even when a peace process was believed to have been fully and vibrantly operative from 2002 to 2004, was the message of peace, in the sense of equality and fraternity among communities, taken to the totality of the Lankan public by the rulers of the land. There seemed to have been a marked reluctance by the government of those times to openly and unambiguously broach the factors that contribute to a wholesome peace. Apparently, the government was stifled by a species of inner paralysis. It, evidently, feared that an open discussion of peace issues would have earned for it the wrath of chauvinists in both South and North.

However, the government of the day sat down to ‘peace talks’ with the LTTE in luxury resorts abroad, in an effort to manage and contain the armed conflict. The government made the cardinal error of equating the totality of the Tamil people with the LTTE. If on the other hand, it raised the awareness of the people everywhere in the land on a just peace, it could have made some progress in alienating the North-East public from the LTTE. Containing the LTTE’s influence over the Tamil people would have, then, proved easier.

The consistent reluctance of governments down the decades to openly and plainly broach the cardinal questions relating to peace, with the Lankan public, only confirms the cynical view in some quarters that governments intentionally keep ethnic tensions alive with the aim of converting them to short term political gain.

Could Sri Lanka look forward to the emergence of leaders of the stature of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Fred de Klerk, who could shake hands warmly over ethnic and cultural divides, and work towards democratic accommodation and national unity? A ready ‘yes’ to this poser is not possible right now, but suffice it to know that these remarkable men constitute our standard of political greatness. [courtesy: The Island]

Internally displaced persons: The new front of an old war in Sri Lanka

By: Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

Since the defeat of the LTTE on 18th May'2009 at Nandikadal, the issue of the 300,000 ' Internally Displaced persons (IDPs)' has become the new front to fight an old war. People who have not been to the IDP camps in Chettikulam have been very vociferous in condemning the conditions and the very existence of these camps. Objective reports based on contextual realities by those who have visited these camps and talked to a cross section of the IDPs are dismissed as propaganda on behalf of the government. Other reports of those who visited these camps, but have highlighted problems that fit in with the agenda of those fighting in the new front are gobbled up with glee. The reports of those who have not visited these camps and are relying on second hand information and photographs, are accepted as the gospel truth. The desire to condemn and use the situation as an opportunity to continue the old Eelam agenda under a new guise is overwhelmingly obvious.

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Internally displaced people (IDPs) sit in a makeshift classroom in the Zone 4 camp at Manik Farm in northern Sri Lanka August 19. 2009-Reuters pic

Many things, some minor and others major, that are wrong in these camps can be written about and photographed. But these do not represent the overall picture. These camps are temporary and the UN demands they be temporary. Tamils also want these camps to be temporary. The government has declared they would be temporary. However, the fact that a sincere and concerted effort is being made to remedy problems and improve conditions cannot be denied. It will be travesty of truth to deny these facts. The conditions in zone-4 camp – reported to be the worst- are remarkably better than in most Colombo slums! The fact that these IDPs have escaped hell, to reach a safe haven, if not heaven, should not be lost sight of.

The circumstances under which these IDPs arrived in Vavuniya - the trauma they had experienced during a brutal war (between the LTTE and its sworn enemy, the Government of Sri Lanka) and the cruelty they were subjected to by the LTTE (The self proclaimed sole representatives and liberators of the Tamils)- are being very conveniently ignored.

The IDPs arrived in Vavuniya in a state no human should ever be. I have seen them as they arrived at one transit camp in Vavuniya. They were able to smile even under extremely desperate circumstances, because they were relieved to be alive! Grand mothers were destined to look after their orphaned grandchildren. Aunts and uncles had to take responsibility for their orphaned nephews and nieces. They had no time to mourn their dead. They had to care for the injured and permanently maimed, while they themselves needed help. They had no hope for the morrow. They were destitute and benumbed.

They were haggard, malnourished and weak. Women were giving birth soon after their arrival in the transit camp. Mothers had no milk in their breasts to suckle new born infants. Many did not know where their children and other relatives were. Many had seen their children, partners, parents, relatives and fellow humans drown, succumb to their injuries or fall dead, while escaping. The misery I witnessed and heard cannot be easily described and have to be seen and heard to be appreciated.

They had to abandon their homes or see their homes destroyed. They had to abandon their villages, towns and occupations and move as the war front shifted, to be finally trapped at Nandikadal. They had to hide in bunkers to save themselves from the bullets and shells flying over them and falling among them. The bullets and shells were being fired by both the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE. They had to live under flimsy plastic tents or under trees and fend for themselves.

They witnessed their kith and kin being killed and blown up. They saw dead and putrefying bodies around them. They saw fellow Tamils being killed by LTTE cadres. They had to hide their eleven and twelve year olds in camouflaged holes, to save them being conscripted by the LTTE. They had to keep their children for as long as two months in such holes and feed them there. They had to provide for their sanitary and toilet needs in these holes. Some saw their precious children die in these holes, succumbing to the prolonged confinement.

They had to force their young daughters to get married early and get pregnant to avoid conscription by the LTTE. They witnessed LTTE cadres force young pregnant girls jump from trees, to induce abortions (with the intention of qualifying them for conscription). They saw their young children placed in church premises for safety, being rounded up brutally by LTTE cadres as part of a desperate conscription drive.

They were short of food and clean drinking water. They saw the LTTE cadres burn food stocks while retreating. They were shot at by the LTTE cadres, when they tried to get the food being burned. They drank water from holes dug in the sea shores. These sea shores were also their toilets. They were victims of black marketing by LTTE cadres. They saw the same LTTE cadres trying to hawk a bottle of 'Horlicks', which they were previously selling at Rs. 2000/=, at Rs. 500/= (a special bargain!) in the final days of the war. They had to buy the food provided free by the Red Cross and the Sri Lankan government, from the LTTE.

They were shot at by LTTE cadres while trying to escape. They were also fearful of what awaited them in the hands of the Sri Lankan armed forces. Most were surprised they were treated with kindness by the armed forces, when they managed to escape. Most escaped in the final stages of the war, out of desperation. They had to make a choice between certain death and a possible chance to live. They saw LTTE cadres escaping along with them. They had also encouraged LTTE cadres to escape with them. They witnessed piles of currency being incinerated by the LTTE. They also witnessed the LTTE handing over large sums of money to favoured individuals.

They had subsequently identified several LTTE cadres in the IDP camps to the Sri Lankan authorities and went to the extent of beating up several who had treated them badly while in the war zone. They were convinced there were several more LTTE cadres in their midst at the time of my last visit (July'09).

One gentleman in the IDP camp, who had lost two sons forcibly conscripted by the LTTE, whom I tried to console, with the story of how my mother and brother were killed by the IPKF, started sobbing in sympathy. He had known my late brother. Tears welled in my eyes.

The IDPs we spoke to had nothing to complain of the Sri Lankan armed forces, as they had moved ahead of the army, until trapped at Nandikadal. They were however vehement in asserting there was firing from both sides and they were caught in the middle. They definitely had no complaints about how they were treated by the armed forces and police after escaping. They appeared comfortable with the presence of soldiers and policemen in the camps, and went about their lives quite normally.

They were very resentful of the fact they had to pay a price for someone else's war. They regretted having permitted the LTTE to establish themselves in the Vanni and providing them food and shelter, when they were trapped by the IPKF and later chased out of Jaffna by the Sri Lankan armed forces. They were critical of the Jaffna Tamils, who had failed to provide them proper leadership. They were critical of the LTTE for marginalizing the educated Tamils. They want the educated Tamils to return and provide leadership.

The thoughtfulness of those administering these camps in allocating a separate area for the Brahmin priests and their families to reside in zone -4 camp, has to be appreciated. These Brahmin families seem to have adapted to the new circumstances quite well. I witnessed families going out for an evening walk in zone-4 camp at 5 pm, after a bath, in fresh clothes. The ladies were powdered up and were wearing their jewelry. These will not happen in a concentration camp!

I also spoke to a young mother (30 year old) who had six children of her own plus four of her sister's. Her sister and brother-in-law had been killed in the final days of the war. She was poor. Her husband was a labourer who had earned daily wages. She is able to feed her ten children because she is in the camp. Who would provide for her and her family, once they are sent out of the camp? There are thousands like her in these camps. Those who have collectively deposited Rs. 600 million in the camp banks are obviously a minority. The class disparities between the people in these camps will be quite visible to the discerning.

The fact that 54 NGOs and INGOs, including the UN agencies are working in these camps is unfortunately ignored by the international media. The fact that the UN is involved in the care of IDPs is also ignored. The fact that foreign diplomats visit these camps regularly is also being ignored. The fact that organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and certain international news agencies are not permitted to visit these camps because of GOSL suspicions about their intentions, does not negate the fact that these camps are under intense scrutiny. The GOSL is very aware of this scrutiny. The inmates in these camps also have among them leaders and persons who can speak out. I saw them making representations to the officials in charge.

The IDPs want to go back to their homes, villages and towns as soon as possible. However, they want to go back to homes, villages and towns with restored infra-structure and facilities. They want to go back to homes, villages and towns that are safe. They want to go back to homes, villages and towns, where they will have a livelihood. These can only be provided by the government of Sri Lanka with international support.

They also need support to look after their widows, orphans, injured and the maimed, for years to come. They need financial support to establish themselves. They need leadership and financial support to learn new trades. The disabled and maimed have to be rehabilitated and given the tools to live with dignity. These have to done by the combined efforts of the Sri Lankan government, the other peoples of Sri Lanka and the Diaspora.

The Tamil Diaspora is particularly responsible to make use of the opportunity that has unfortunately arisen, to take these people into the 21st century. The Tamil Diaspora funded the war that has affected these people. It is now the moral responsibility of the Tamil Diaspora to help these people resettle and prosper. Most IDPs do not have Diaspora relatives to help them. The Tamil Diaspora has to adopt them as their families.

Let us not force the government to release the IDP into a black hole. Let us not in our short sightedness, emotional state, vindictiveness or inhumanness throw these unfortunate people to the wolves. Let the GOSL restore the infra-structure and other facilities in the Vanni, as planned. Let the GOSL modernize the infra-structure. Let the GOSL lead the effort to care for the IDPs as long as necessary. Let the GOSL discharge its responsibilities towards these unfortunate citizens and through that process bring about national reconciliation. Let us Tamils encourage the government to meet the November-December'2009 deadline to re-settle most of these IDPs and lend a hand in the process.

The Tamil community in the north and east of Sri Lanka as a whole is in a perilous state. Their numbers are depleted through external and internal migrations, and deaths. They have a large number of orphans, widows, injured and maimed among them. A very large number in proportion to the population are in the IDP camps. Once thriving population centers are abandoned and destroyed to various extents. They do not have skilled administrators, teachers, health personnel, carpenters, plumbers, masons etc. The Skilled have to be brought in from the south to carry out reconstruction work. These are realities we have to accept. Tamils have to be aware of the long term consequences of what they say and do now. We have made our mistakes and paid a heavy price. We have also paid the price for the mistakes the GOSL has made over the years. The Tamils of the north and east cannot pay any price any more. Survival as a people has become paramount at this critical juncture. This essentially assumes primacy over other considerations.

The GOSL has to be also transparent and honest. It should do what it has promised. It must be seen to do what it has promised. The 13th amendment to the constitution should be implemented and the intention to do so unequivocally declared.
The APRC proposals should be put forward as soon as possible for enlightened public discussion. The government must fully back the proposals being put forward and canvass support for it actively. The government should cease manipulating Tamil politics and politicians, to convince the Tamils that its intentions are genuine. Let the Tamils make their choices, when they are ready to do so. The government should also appear to encourage the flowering of confidence and genuine grass roots democracy among the Tamils. There is a time to plant and a time to harvest.

There will not be a good harvest if there is a delay in planting. There will be of course no harvest if there is no planting! The government should not procrastinate on political solutions any longer. This will the Tamils hope that they have a place in Sri Lanka. These steps will forestall issues such as the IDPs becoming the new front of an old war. The battle has been won, but the war is yet going on in a different plane. Let us all act wisely.

(This article is based on the two visits made to the IDP camps in Vavuniya, in March and July'2009 as part of a Diaspora group. The others who were part of the second group were: Dr.Noel Nadesan (Australia), Mrs. Rajeswary Balasubramaniam (U.K), Manoranjan Selliah (Canada) and Rajaratnam Sivanathan (Australia). The IDPs met during the recent visit to the IDP camps were men and women, mostly middle aged or old, and married.)

My friend Shanthi: A Personal tribute

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

“Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me”.

It is with a deep feeling of sadness that I write about my classmate and friend Shanthi who passed away peacefully on July 28th at her residence in Nallur,Jaffna.

Shanthakumari Vignarajah nee Rajadurai , known as Shanthi to her relatives and friends, and I were GCE-Advanced level students at Jaffna College (JC), Vaddukkoddai from 1970-73. Our friendship continued after JC days and her marriage to Vignarajah who also became a good friend of mine.

She was senior lecturer in English at the University of Jaffna. Her Husband is the High Court Judge in Jaffna. [click to read the article in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

Shame: A disturbing inability to treat Tamils as fellow human beings

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

"You who live safe,
In your warm houses,
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider if this is a man…" - Primo Levi (If this is a Man)

The next cycle of the ‘Tamil problem’ has commenced unseen and unheeded, in the rain clogged internment camps up North.

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[Internally displaced people (IDPs) at the Arunachalam camp at Manik Farm in northern Sri Lanka August 19. 2009-Reuters pic.]

The timing of the monsoon season was no secret, and yet hardly a thought was given by the authorities to its all too predictable consequences. The monsoons have barely begun and already most of the camps are deluged by rain water, placing every basic facility, from cooking to sanitation, beyond the reach of their wretched inmates.

The seasonal rains will cause floods in many parts of Sri Lanka; but unlike other affected citizens, the more than 250,000 Tamils in the Northern ‘welfare villages’ cannot leave their inundated places of residence for shelter and dry ground. Imprisoned by barbed wire fences and gun toting soldiers, the IDPs have no choice but to bear this latest horror just as they have borne every other calamity, with sullen, festering silence.

If the rains flooded the camps holding two hundred and fifty thousand Sinhala Buddhists imprisoned, depriving them of every basic facility, the South would not have ignored their suffering and the Southern media would not have permitted the government to deny their plight. Our collective silence in the face of the unfolding tragedy in the North indicates a disturbing inability to treat Tamils as fellow human beings, let alone citizens with equal rights.

Our collective failure to condemn this massive injustice that is being perpetrated in our name demonstrates that the mindset which enabled the Black July, not so much the evil of an active minority as the indifference of a silent majority, is alive and well in the South. We know and yet we chose to ignore. To paraphrase Bruno Bettelheim, ‘when hundreds of thousands are incarcerated, none but a guileless child remains innocent. We are all tainted by it. The rest of us are not innocent, but intent on keeping ourselves ignorant’.

The regime knows that the monsoons have turned the camps into a watery hell, and yet, it does nothing. Rhetorical flourishes apart, the Rajapakse administration never concerned itself with the safety and wellbeing of civilian Tamils in the North and the East during the war. When an occasional concession was made (such as ceasing/limiting the use of bombing and shelling during the last phase of the war), it was in response to Indian or international pressure. With the conclusive defeat of the LTTE, India and the world have lost whatever capacity they previously had to nudge the Rajapakses away from more extreme measures.

Armed with a near total sense of impunity, the regime is treating Tamils with a degree of injustice that was inconceivable just one year ago. After all, the thought of the entire population of Killinochchi and Mulaitivu districts being imprisoned in barbed wire enclosures, after the war, was unthinkable - until it became a fait accompli. Today it is an integral part of reality which many ignore, some justify and only a few oppose. The unthinkable has become normal with a degree of rapidity and a measure of completeness which bodes ill for the future. (The pledge to resettle the incarcerated IDPs in 180 days will meet the same fate as the promise to implement the 13th amendment in full as soon as possible and to explore ways of devolving even more power, made by President Rajapakse to the then Indian Foreign Minister, on January 27th this year - according to a statement tabled in Sri Lankan parliament by Deputy Foreign Minister, Hussein Bhaila).

Normalising Discrimination

The Northern internment camps are a leitmotiv of the Rajapakse approach to peace, just as child soldiers and suicide bombers were a leitmotiv of the Tiger approach to ‘national liberation’. The fact that almost the entire population of Killinochchi and Mullaitivu districts is being forcibly kept in open prisons is not a mere detail to be overlooked or brushed aside. It is an essential element, a formative factor of post-war Sri Lanka. The Northern camps would have been not just impossible but also inconceivable, without the retrogressive paradigmatic shift towards a Sinhala supremacist ethos. If any Tamil can be a Tiger, it makes sense to incarcerate every resident of those Northern districts once under LTTE control, in order to capture a few thousand Tigers.

If most Tamils are prone to Tiger sympathies, trying to win them over makes no sense; it is better to treat them with suspicion and cow them into obedience. An administration which sees a Tiger in almost any Tamil is likely to eschew a political solution to the ethnic problem (or even development) in favour of more soldiers and more weapons, as the best path to peace and stability. The statement by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Sarath Fonseka that the number of security forces personnel deployed in the Jaffna peninsula has been more than doubled from 15.000 to 35,000, post-war, makes sense in this politico-psychological context, as does the declaration by the Defence Secretary that military expenditure for 2010 will remain at 2009 levels (US$1.6 billion). The peace envisioned by the regime is not a peace based on consent but on force.

The country had a glimpse of what abusive authorities do to free Sinhalese in the South (not to mention baby elephants), when they think they can get away with it. If in the South power wielders feel free to abduct and kill until the media and the public intervene, what could not happen in the isolated Northern camps, to unfree Tamils, devoid of any rights, penned like animals, with no media to record their wrongs? The abductors of Nipuna Ramanayake and the killers of the two young men in Angulana are being brought to justice, because of incessant media criticisms and an outbreak of public protest.

But Southern media and Southern society are largely silent about the plight of the Northern displaced, because, where the Tamils are concerned, we seem to be thinking and acting sans a sense of proportion or a measure of humanity. Otherwise how can we not feel a sense of shame about the Northern internment camps or experience a measure of sympathy for the suffering of their inmates? Is our complaisance of rampant injustice and discrimination not a sign that we consent to a peace building premised not on acceptance and tolerance but on fear and force?

The local or international media does not have free access to the internment camps; consequently there are hardly any visuals or eye witness accounts of the human tragedy that is unfolding daily and hourly there, accounts which could have stirred our dormant collective conscience. Without such pictorial or verbal evidence, it is easy for most ordinary, decent Sinhalese to remain unmoved by the abomination that is being perpetrated in their name.

The Tamils outside the camps are too cowed to protest about the plight of their brethren since any such protest is likely to be labelled ‘terrorist’ and treated accordingly - imagine how an ‘Angulana type’ popular protest in Wellawatte would be reacted to by this administration. Given the Sinhala supremacist ethos currently dominant in state and society, being branded a Tiger is a permanent sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of every Tamil.

Two arguments are being used to justify the Northern internment camps. The ‘humanitarian’ argument is that the inmates cannot return to their villages until the de-mining process is complete. This argument does not hold water, as these people have been living in their villages, amidst the land mines, for a long time. Most of them would know where the land mines are and how to avoid them. In any case, the solution is to give the displaced a choice – so that those who want to return can do so, while those who are willing to wait for the de-mining to be complete can stay in the camps (plus permit those who can, to go to friends and relatives outside the camps).

Had such a choice been given, the camps would have truly become the welfare villages the state claims them to be, rather than the open prisons they actually are. The second, ‘national security’ argument is that the displaced have to be kept in camps until the Tigers hiding amidst them can be weeded out. To justify the incarceration of the innocent to catch the guilty, without even the lame excuse of an ongoing war, is an abhorrent act which has no place in a democracy or amongst civilised people, especially in the 21st Century. It violates the very essence of proportionality; it is as extreme as any Tiger crime. Injustices such as these breed resentment and hatred and pave the way for even bloodier conflicts.

As citizens of the de facto Tiger state, Tamils of Killinochchi and Mulaitivu had literally lived in the belly of the beast. They knew the brutal and oppressive reality of Eelam as the Diaspora or even the Colombo Tamils never could. With a little humanity, a little decency, they could have been turned into the most staunch bulwark against the rejuvenation of the LTTE or of Tamil separatism. Instead, we are treating them as enemy aliens, miring them in wretchedness and despair, thereby making them forget the past brutalities of the LTTE. What is being undermined in the Northern internment camps is not Tamil separatism but the idea and the hope of a common Sri Lankan future.

The Southern Dimension

Workers in several key areas, especially the CEB and the Colombo Port, are threatening trade union actions to win their demands, including promised pay hikes. The government has responded with an unequivocal no, saying that wage hikes for the public sector are impossible in 2010, given the high costs of war and the global economic crisis. Will the Sinhalese understand that there cannot be an economic peace dividend for the South without a political peace dividend for the North? If the North is to be treated as occupied territory, if hundreds of thousands of the Northern Tamils are to be kept imprisoned, resources that could have been spent on alleviating the economic burden of Southern masses will have to be spent on subduing the Northern masses. Without demilitarisation and democratisation in the North, there cannot be higher wages or lower prices, better working or living conditions in the South

The regime will need to stoke Sinhala fears about Tiger revival and Tamil expansionism in order to justify not only the treatment of Tamils as ‘Untermenschen’ but also to explain away the expansion of the armed forces and gargantuan military spending, in peace time. Consequently the threat posed by Tiger remnants here and abroad will have to be magnified; and political demands by Tamils for more devolution will have to be depicted as manifestations of separatism, and treated with corresponding harshness. The hair raising discovery by the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) of an explosive laden van, about to be sent to Colombo on a suicide mission, was dismissed as ‘suspicious and questionable’ less than 24 hours later by the DIG of the Northern Province (and former STF Commandant) Nimal Lewke (incidentally the CCD arrested the van but released its driver!).

Last week, the newly appointed police spokesman was busy, revealing details about a plot to assassinate the Defense Secretary, declaring the reactivation of units, divisions and bureaus established to counter terrorism and related intelligence’ deactivated after the crushing of the LTTE… Are the Tigers, like Lazarus, coming to life miraculously, just three months after they were pronounced conclusively dead? Or is Sri Lanka about to experience her own version of ‘discovery of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs)’ (augmented by a new ‘Naxalite Plot’), in time for the parliamentary polls. Parliamentary polls from which the ruling family is expecting a two thirds majority, so that a Rajapakse Constitution can usher in a Rajapakse era. [Courtesy: The Island]

Ranil Wickremesinghe says that he is not a failaure in politics

In a candid interview with The Sunday Leader, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe reiterated his position on the need for a political solution to settle Sri Lanka’s long standing ethnic problem. He also admitted that the Executive Presidency introduced by J. R. Jayewardene needs changing and the model replaced, whereby the president would and could be held accountable to parliament. Speaking on a wide range of issues including media freedom and threats to democratic rights, Wickremesinghe insisted the UNP has not failed the nation but has continued valiantly with little or no support from the media and others to fight for democratic rights and freedoms. He concluded by maintaining that only a UNP government would be capable of taking Sri Lanka forward opening up new sectors in order to ensure the economy will thrive as it did post 1977.

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Ranil Wickremesinghe

Below are excerpts of the interview:

By Frederica Jansz

Q: The Presidential system of governance introduced by J.R. Jayewardene has seen the ruling party staying in power for a long period of time. The UNP was there for 17 years and now it’s the SLFP led alliance. Do you feel that the current system gives the ruling party such a big advantage in elections that it is unhealthy for democracy?

A: As far as the Executive Presidency is concerned the big debate at the time was that some of us wanted very specific details relating to a position of the president. President J.R. Jayewardene who was a supporter of the Westminster system said that whatever we needed could be done through conventions which was the practice at that time. However, the conventions relating to the constitution are not applied at all today. Under the present scenario, the President is not appointing the Constitutional Council and the independent commissions. What we want to ensure is that the executive head is accountable to parliament. We have to change the present Executive Presidency. The model to replace the existing system is what we are discussing.

Q: People complain that as the main opposition party the UNP has not played its role in a democracy allowing the government a free hand to undermine democracy. How do you respond to this criticism?

A: The UNP has been playing its role. There is public opinion that has to be moulded through the media. The opposition has a say and the government has a say. We have raised many issues. The government has undermined the whole democratic process. There is no free media and the media is suppressed.

In January this year the MTV/Sirasa station was burnt. This was followed two days later by the killing of The Sunday Leader Editor in Chief, Lasantha Wickrematunge. Two weeks later, Upali Tennekoon was assaulted. Then Poddala Jayantha was attacked. However, the media has not taken up the cause strongly enough or sufficiently.

I don’t blame them, as they are afraid. I remember an incident that took place during President Premadasa’s time — a policeman pushed a journalist and he had fallen. The Free Media Movement at the time held a protest and the media walked out of the cabinet briefing. That was how the media reacted then.

A person in a village told me that earlier the media used to walk out if something small like a fly touched their bodies, but now they are silent even when harassed, attacked and killed. There needs to be an assessment among the media as well. I recall the time back in 1973 when Mrs. Bandaranaike took over Lake House and sealed the Davasa newspaper. At that time the media took a very strong stance. Likewise now too, the media needs to take a stand. It is also up to the people to take a stand too. After all the people need to protect the media as it is the media that speaks for them as well.

Q: What do you mean when you say up to the people? What can they do in this climate of intimidation and harassment?

A: We have to take the issues to the people. We need to discuss this issue with them and we have to start by holding meetings at a grass root level.

Q: Does that mean it will be on a political platform?

A: No it will be through word of mouth (kata maadya), which is the best form of communication. This is something that President Jayewardene believed in. He said if 10 million people are willing to speak the matter has been taken up. In the next three to four months we will take these issues to the people. We are planning on holding discussions island-wide.

I have already met with some media people and they have thanked me for taking up issues of media threats on their behalf. I also want to meet with publishers since everyone must come together and take up these issues. One media institution cannot fight it alone. Everyone has to meet each other at least half way.

Q: One of the key reasons for the weakness of your party is the internal squabbles that are going on. You are the party leader and you have not been able to unite the party.

A: Actually, at a stage when the war has been concluded by the government, there are many views expressed on what our policy should be. Once we take a decision then you either stand with the party policies or leave. We are in the process of deciding the party policies and it will be finalised by next month.

Q: The main reason for the internal squabbling is that a section of the party feels that you are a liability and only a new leader could reinvigorate the party? After losing two presidential elections and numerous other elections isn’t it time to call it a day?

A: The party can decide who the leader is. So far, a few people are shouting and the media is giving it publicity. How many are calling for a change? It is only a few. The party has now decided on its future course and they need to tow the party line. The party’s Political Affairs Committee has given two papers on the formation of an alliance which are being discussed. Once the party finalises this policy, then all issues are sorted.

Q: If that is the case what concrete steps are you planning to take to strengthen the party and win the confidence of the people considering that a presidential election is expected by early next year to be followed by a general election?

A: We are looking first at a parliamentary election and getting the party organised for it. If there is no party organisation then we can’t face any election. We are strengthening the party organisation and are currently in the process of identifying the people as organisers. We are having youth organisation meetings as well. Organising the party is one aspect in preparing for an election. The other is communication strategy. However, a good communication strategy could not be there if the party did not have a proper organisation. We also feel that several civil society organisations would also join in with the formation of the Alliance.

Q: When the government declared all out war against the LTTE you ridiculed the government. Wasn’t that bad judgment and hasn’t that decision come back to haunt you?

A: I never ridiculed the war. What I said was that while you fight the LTTE, you have to put forward a political solution as well. If the solution was in place, the government could have easily solved other issues that came after the war. There are resettlement and IDP issues. There is confusion if there will be a political solution. Meanwhile, Channel 4 in UK has shown Tamil youths being executed. If the main issues were addressed none of this would have happened. If a political solution were put forward then the LTTE and Prabhakaran would have had a problem.

If the government came out with the political solution, then the Tamil community would have backed it forcing the LTTE to stop fighting and enter into negotiations. My stance has always been that we needed to place a political solution on the table first. Thereafter if so required a military thrust could have also been pursued. If the political solution was put forward, The LTTE would not have been able to sustain a military campaign for long and such big losses in lives would not have happened.

Q: Whatever you say it is very clear that your party has not been able to find any traction with the people. Your detractors say that by you hanging on to the party at any cost you have made the UNP a shadow of what it was?

A: The UNP is not a shadow of what it was. If the LTTE and Rajapakse did not get together, the UNP would have been the winner. If the government was so sure the UNP was not going to win, why go through all that trouble and if I’m not a threat, then why attack me? The government is using this to cover up all other issues.

Q: If the UNP loses the Southern Provincial Council elections badly would that convince you to rethink the entire strategy?

A: We are looking at a national strategy. However, the UNP is contesting the provincial election. The alliance would contest all elections at national level. The alliance would come out with a national strategy, which would look at key issues.

Q: In politics things can change quickly and dramatically. But as it is aren’t the odds stacked against the UNP winning the presidential and general elections next year?

A: In my view the UNP has a good chance of winning. Mrs. Bandaranaike formed a coalition in April 1964. Then she brought bills to establish the Press Council and to nationalise Lake House. Everyone told my father that all was over, but the UNP and the media took the challenge. Between September and December everything changed and the government was defeated in parliament.

Q: People fear that if the UNP continue to go down the current path this country will end up as a one party democracy. Don’t you think that if that happens, history will hold you responsible for it?

A: The UNP is coming out with a new strategy with the alliance. I understand the people are frustrated. We have taken up issues which are not being carried in the media. We are fighting. On the other hand, what is the OPA (Organization of Professionals Association) and the business community doing?

In the ‘70s also people were frightened, but they came out. If influential sections of society want to be dependent on the government, then they cannot enjoy individual rights and freedom. The media also needs to decide. If the media is not willing to face reality, where can it go? I feel the media has to come out. You had three issues – the arson attack on MTV, Lasantha Wickrematunge’s assassination and Upali Tennekoon’s attack all within a few weeks. What has the media done?Either take your battle on and then criticise the UNP or the JVP if they do not act accordingly. The media is now being forced to prop up the government.

Q: The UNP led by you traversed the negotiation path to settle the ethnic problem but success has been with the prosecution of war. How do you feel in hindsight?

A: There has been a history of violence related to the ethnic problem. In the case of Ireland the demand for Home Rule came in 1840. Terrorism started during World War I. Then the UK allowed part of it to become Ireland. However, terrorism and violence started in Northern Ireland, which ended only in 2007, 10 years after the Belfast Agreement. These are not issues that could be resolved soon.

My way was to go for negotiations. A number of Tamils said let’s go for negotiations. As a result of negotiations, over 4,000 LTTE cadres, who played a key role in gaining ground in the north and east from 1999 to 2001 left the organisation and entered into civilian lifestyles. They got married and began to live normal lives.

Differences then arose between the eastern and northern cadres. The negotiations were backed by the Tamil community. Once you have the support of the Tamils, the LTTE would have had to come for negotiations and renounce war. My strategy was to at all times minimise the loss of life and property. The more we lose the more bitterness arises. My strategy was to go for negotiations first but also be prepared for military action if it became necessary. We have lived through a lifetime of this issue and we must see that the next generation does not go through the same.

Q: What are the chances of the UNP wresting power to govern in the short term or if not in the long term?

A: We are looking at shorter term.

Q: In June this year the United National Party called for a parliamentary select committee to examine police investigations into the abduction and killing of hundreds of people, including journalists and politicians, over the past three years by death squads associated with the military. What has happened since?

A: The government is not agreeable to it. We have raised the issue from time to time in parliament.

Q: The presidential form of government is yet the law of the land. It is speculated that presidential elections will be called by early next year. Who will be the candidate from the UNP or the common opposition as it is being called?

A: As I said the UNP has decided. When it is time to decide for a presidential election the party will make the announcement.

Q: Will it look as if you will not run as President Rajapakse has such popularity after the war? Will it be someone else leaving you to run when it’s more advantageous later?

A: We have to decide when the time is opportune. The government has not said anything specific. All this means you are taking publicity from all other issues that need to be focused for something that may not be there.

Q: After plunging the country back to war in 2006, President Mahinda Rajapakse and his government pressured and intimidated the media, but did not revive the Press Council. Do you see his decision to do so now as a sign of political weakness, or strength?

A: More and more people are getting together to fight the reactivation of this law. The government is still finding it difficult to find media people to implement it.

Q: When will the infighting within your parliamentary group stop?

A: Many policies have been decided. We have to agree on the alliance and the party strategy. There will be a clear path. You must either go along with the party and its policies or leave the party.

Q: Where do you see yourself politically or otherwise in five years?

A: I have never thought of it. I have been in politics long enough to know that one week in politics is a long time.

Q: Where do you see Sri Lanka in five years?

A: Sri Lanka in five years could be in serious difficulty or be in a very good position. It is true that the LTTE has been defeated. But you can’t suppress the people of Sri Lanka for too long. You can’t have family rule for too long. The question is whether we are going to change.

In the 1960s when changes were happening in the world, we missed it and we changed only in 1977. It is now a New World and what we have done so far is no longer sufficient. Look at our foreign earnings. We are dependent on a few exports like apparels, tea and other commodities and foreign remittances from those employed overseas. A lot of the remittances came in from Sri Lankans employed in the Middle East. Even in the Middle East economies have collapsed. The era of the Middle East being a source of income is changing.

There are new emerging markets and Sri Lanka has to change its export strategy. Where the apparel industry is concerned, the living standards in the US and European Union won’t improve soon. People won’t be purchasing new clothing items for some time and there are many other countries that have also entered the market. It is going to be very competitive.

After 1997 there is no other new sector that has started in Sri Lanka. In order to have a new source of income there have to be new sectors of economy. Sri Lanka has to tackle this problem soon. Only a UNP government is capable of doing so. courtesy: The Sunday leader

Mahinda military model: Eight fundamentals in victory over LTTE

by V.K. Shahikumar

The news about the killing of Prabhakaran sparked mass celebrations around the country, and people poured into the streets of Colombo, dancing and singing. Looking back at the war General Fonseka made two insightful observations that must surely resonate in the minds of military strategists dealing with terrorism and insurgency in other parts of the world. The first is on the commitment of the political leadership to eliminate terror.

Eelam IV war began as a poll-promise. President Mahinda Rajapakse rode to power four years ago vowing to annihilate the LTTE. In the early hours of Tuesday the fight for Eelam, a separate homeland for the Tamils in Sri Lanka, begun in 1983 ended in a lagoon, the Nanthi Kadal. Velupillai Prabhakaran’s dead body, eyes wide open, top portion of the head blown off, the thick bushy moustache in place, was found in the lagoon by the Sri Lankan forces looking for remnant LTTE stragglers.

In the President’s Office in Colombo officials talk about the ‘Rajapakse Model’ (of fighting terror). “Broadly, win back the LTTE held areas, eliminate the top LTTE leadership and give the Tamils a political solution."

Sunimal Fernando, one of Rajapakse’s advisors, says that the President demonstrated a basic resolve: “given the political will, the military can crush terrorism.” This is not as simple as it sounds. Like most poll promises he did not have plans to fulfil his promise to militarily defeat the LTTE. Eelam I to III were miserable failures. So the ‘Rajapakse Model’ evolved, it was not pre-planned.

First Fundamental: Political Will

The first fundamental of this approach was unwavering political will. Rajapakse clearly conveyed to General Sarath Fonseka: “eliminate the LTTE.” To the outside world he conveyed the same message differently: “either the LTTE surrenders or face, their end.” Rajapakse instructed the Sri Lankan Army that their job was to fight and win the war. At whatever cost, however bloody it might be. He would take care of political pressures, domestic and international.

General Fonseka commented: “It is the political leadership with the commitment of the military that led the battle to success. We have the best political leadership to destroy terrorism in this country. It was never there before to this extent. The military achieved these war victories after President Mahinda Rajapakse came into power. He, who believed that terrorism should and could be eliminated, gave priority to go ahead with our military strategies. And no Defence Secretary was there like the present Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse who had the same commitment and knowledge on how to crush the LTTE. Finally, they gave me the chance of going ahead with the military plan.”

Second Fundamental: Go To Hell

Following from the first, the second principle of Rajapakse’s ‘how to fight a war and win it’ is telling the international community to “go to hell.” As the British and French Foreign Ministers, David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner, found out during their visit. They were cold shouldered for suggesting that Sri Lanka should halt the war and negotiate with the LTTE. As Rajapakse said during the post-interview chatter “we will finish off the LTTE, we will finish terrorism and not allow it to regroup in this country ever; every ceasefire has been used by the LTTE to consolidate, regroup and re-launch attacks, so no negotiations.”

Eliminate and Annihilate – two key operational words that went with the ‘go to hell’ principle of the ‘Rajapakse Model.’ After Colombo declared victory the Sri Lanka Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka used words used by Rajapakse. That the SLA will not allow the LTTE to “regroup.”

Third Fundamental: No Negotiations

Naturally, the third fundamental was no negotiations with the LTTE. “The firm decision of the political hierarchy not to go for talks with the LTTE terrorists until they lay down arms had contributed significantly to all these war victories,” affirms Fonseka. But this meant withstanding international pressure to halt the war, the humanitarian crisis spawned by the war and the rising civilian casualties. Rajapakse did all of this by simply ensuring ‘silence’ and information blackout under which the war was conducted. Rajapakse’s biggest gamble was to give the military a free hand, shut the world out of the war zone.

When the United Nations, US and European countries raised concerns of high civilian casualties, Rajapakse, said that the international community was “getting in the way” of Sri Lanka’s victory against terrorism. “We knew that the moment the military is close to operational successes, there will be loud screams for the resumption of the political process of peace negotiations. But there will be no negotiations.” That was the rock solid stand taken and communicated by Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse to all visiting dignitaries and diplomats.

Fourth Fundamental: Regulate Media

With just one version of the war available for the media to report, the Sri Lankan government ensured an unidirectional flow of conflict information. The information put out by the LTTE’s official website, TamilNet, could not be independently verified on the ground because access to the war zone was regulated and controlled. This was a vital fourth principle in the strategic matrix of the Rajapakse model.

“Presidents Premadasa and Chandrika Bandaranaike gave orders to the military to take on the LTTE. But when success was near, they reversed the orders and instructed the military to pull back, to withdraw from operations because of international concerns about the humanitarian crisis and civilian casualties. So we had to ensure that we regulated the media. We didn’t want the international community to force peace negotiations on us,” says a senior official in the President’s Office who wishes to remain anonymous.

Fifth Fundamental: No Cease-fire

Rajapakse’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapakse, consistently maintained that military operations would continue unhindered. “There will be no ceasefire,” was Gotabaya’s uncompromising message. The clear, unambiguous stand enabled other prominent personalities in the Rajapakse cabinet to speak in a uniform voice. “Human rights violations during war operations and the humanitarian crisis that engulfs civilians caught in the cross fire have always been the trigger points to order a military pull-back,” asserted Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister for Human Rights and Disaster Management. “The LTTE would always play this card in the past. They would use the ceasefire to regroup and resume the war."

President Rajapakse was clear that he did not want to go down that route. That was the traditional way of fighting the LTTE – two steps forward, four steps back. The Rajapakse brothers’ commitment to a military solution was cast in stone. And it was anchored in a deft political arrangement.

But first it is important to reveal the idea behind the political arrangement. “It was to ensure that there would be no political intervention to pull away the military from its task of comprehensively and completely eliminating the LTTE,” says a senior official in the President’s Office. “Prabhakaran was aware of the political contradictions in Sri Lanka and so was confident that the SLA will not indulge in an adventurous, all guns blazing, a full onslaught against the LTTE.”

Sixth Fundamental: Complete Operational Freedom

Gotabaya Rajapakse’s appointment to the post of Defence Secretary was made precisely to break this political logjam. Gotabaya had a military past. He had taken voluntary retirement from the SLA. He had retained his long standing friendship with Lt. General Sarath Fonseka. Gotabaya met Fonseka and asked him, “can you go for a win”? The battle-hardened veteran said “yes, but you will have to permit me to pick my own team.”

Gotabaya and Mahinda agreed. “We will let the military do its job, while we hold the fort, politically,” they told Fonseka. This deft political arrangement worked because both, Gotabaya and Fonseka, were recruited and commissioned into the army at the same time.

This is the team Fonseka handpicked by August 2006 – Major General Jagath Dias, commander of the 57 Division, Brigadier Shavendra Silva, commander of Task Force One also the 58 Division (the SLA formation that has recorded the maximum victories against the LTTE), Major General Nandana Udawatta, commander of the 59 Division and Major General Kamal Gunarathne and Brigadier Prasanna Silva, commanders of the 53 and 55 Divisions respectively. Their task was to recapture 15,000 square kilometers of area controlled by the LTTE.

The defection of LTTE’s Eastern Chief, Karuna, helped the Army take over Batticaloa, Tamil Tigers’ eastern stronghold on July 11, 2007.

By the time of LTTE’s defeat in the east, the 57 Division under the command of Major General Jagath Dias started military operations north of Vavuniya. Eighteen months later, in January 2009, the 57 Division marched into Kilinochchi, the head quarters of the Tamil Tigers. Parallel to this Task Force One (58 Division) under Brigadier Shavendra Silva achieved stunning success moving from Silavathurai area in Mannar in the west coast, capturing Pooneryn and Paranthan.

These troops then swiftly recaptured Elephant Pass, linked up with the 57 Division and further moved to Sundarapuram, Pudukudiyiruppu and finally the eastern coast of the country.

Meanwhile, the 59th division of the Army, commanded by Major General Nandana Udawatta opened a new front in Welioya area in January 2008 and within a year marched into the LTTE’s administrative hub, Mullaitivu. Finally, troops from 53rd, 55th, 58th and 59th bottled up the LTTE along a small patch of eastern coastal land in Mullaitivu and killed the top leadership, including Prabhakaran.

The decision to bring Fonseka out of retirement paid off because he was a hardcore advocate of military operations to crush the LTTE. With rock solid political backing Fonseka was able to motivate his troops and officers to go all out without fearing any adverse consequences. It’s not surprising why Eelam IV turned out to be a bloody and a brutal war. “That there will be civilian casualties was a given and Rajapakse was ready to take the blame. This gave the Army tremendous confidence. It was the best morale booster the forces could have got,” says a Sri Lankan minister who wishes to let this quote remain unattributed.

Is it any surprise, therefore, that the LTTE wanted to assassinate Gotabaya in 2006? Prabhakaran knew that if he could assassinate Gotabaya then the carefully constructed political-military architecture pushing the war operations forward would have been gravely undermined. Gotabaya escaped the assassination bid and the rest as the cliché goes, is history.

So even though Gotabaya came into the political set up virtually out of nowhere, he quickly became the bridge-head between President Rajapakse’s government and the military. The Rajapakse brothers fused political commitment to a pre-set military goal. “He (Gotabaya) was embraced and accepted by the military and his was a legitimate voice in the Army,” said a senior official in the President Office. Gotabaya communicated the military requirements to the government – men, material and weapons.

His brother and head of the government, President Rajapakse, ensured the military got what it wanted. He in turn instructed Gotabaya to tell the Army to go all out and get on with the task. The sixth fundamental of the Rajapakse Model also had a clause – Basil, the youngest of the Rajapakse brothers. “Neither Mahinda nor Basil saw their brother Gotabaya as a political threat to their political aspirations. So they gave him a free hand.” More importantly, Basil was used by President Rajapakse for political liaison, especially with India.

Seventh Fundamental: Accent On Young Commanders

The other critical element was empowering young officers as GOCs to lead the battle. “I did not select these officers because they are young. But they were appointed as I thought they were the best to command the battle. I went to the lines and picked up the capable people. I had to drop those who had less capacity to lead the battle. Some of them are good for other work like administration activities. Therefore, the good commanders were chosen to command this battle.

“I thought seniority was immaterial if they could not command the soldiers properly. I restructured the Army and changed almost all the aspects of the organisation. I made the Sri Lanka Army a more professional Army. Everybody had to work with a sense of professionalism.”

Eighth Fundamental: Keep Your Neighbours in Loop

The seventh fundamental was India and an unsigned strategic partnership agreed by New Delhi and Colombo. India played a crucial part in the Sri Lanka military operations by providing intelligence and other kinds of tactical support. “The moral support, whatever support India gave us, is what they should have given to us. It is their duty to help us in this stage,” is President Rajapakse’s rather candid admission of the Indian involvement.

“I can’t demand, I shouldn’t demand anything from a neighboring country. I request.” The first significant request from Colombo was naval intelligence and intelligence on the movement of LTTE owned merchant navy vessels.

The 15,000 sq km area controlled by the LTTE in northern Sri Lanka known as Wanni was cut off from all land access. The A9 Colombo-Jaffna road ran through it. But in the southern end was the Vavuniya frontline at Omanthai and in the north beyond Elephant Pass was the northern frontline.

The only way for the LTTE to get its supplies, weapons and other essentials was through the sea route. It had eight ‘warehouse’ ships, vessels that transported “artillery, mortar shells, artillery shells, torpedoes, aircraft, missiles, underwater vehicles, diving equipment, radar, electro-optical devices and night vision equipment.”

These ships would travel close to the Sri Lankan coast but beyond the reach of Sri Lanka’s coastal Navy. War material from these ‘warehouse’ ships would be transported into smaller boats protected by Sea Tiger units, which would then make its way to the Sea Tiger bases. This is how the LTTE sustained itself for decades and continually upgraded its conventional military capability through funding provided by the Tamil diaspora.

India played a crucial role in choking this well established supply line of the LTTE. This enabled the Sri Lankan armed forces on the ground to make rapid advances.

The Sri Lankan Navy led by Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, executed a maritime strategy based on intelligence on LTTE ship movements provided by India. In 2006 the SL Navy had tremendous success when, based on Indian intelligence, it launched operations to destroy six LTTE warehouse vessels. Subsequently, by 2007, two more were destroyed, which completely disrupted the LTTE’s supply line.

Some LTTE warehouse ships were located at about 1700 nautical miles, south east of Sri Lanka close to Australia’s exclusive economic zone. SL Navy clearly does not have this capability and this shows how deep and extensive intelligence sharing between India and Colombo have been ever since 2006.

In a recent interview to the Jane’s Defence Weekly, Admiral Karannagoda said, “It was one of the major turning points in the last 30 years of the conflict. That was the main reason why the LTTE are losing the battle, we did not allow a single supply of replenishment ship to come into (Sri Lankan) waters over the last two and a half years since 2006.”

In the final analysis the Rajapakse model is based on a military precept and not a political one. Terrorism has to be wiped out militarily and cannot be tackled politically. That’s the basic premise of the Rajapakse Model.

(Courtesy: Indian Defence Review – July-Sept 2009, Vol 24 (3)).

August 29, 2009

Remembering Upali Cooray: From what might have been … to the hell we are in

by Rajan Philips

On Tuesday, August 25, I saw the email subject in the inbox: Upali Cooray – Funeral Arrangements. There is no dearth of death news in a given week, but this one – I was not expecting. I have not seen Upali in more than twenty years, but I can still picture the tall, robust frame that was Upali, remember his disciplined and healthy life style, and cannot come to terms that he could not have lived for at least 20 years past the biblical life span.

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Upali Cooray

Even though we have not met in years and have corresponded or spoken on the phone only occasionally, I was aware of his presence through his activities and writings just as, I am sure, he was of mine. Last autumn when Tariq Ali delivered a lecture in Waterloo, Canada, where I live, I asked him during a private chat after the talk, if the name Upali Cooray rang a bell. “Of course”, came the reply and a broad smile, “and where is Upali now?” I said that he was still in London as we veered into talking about national questions in South Asia.

Many readers and internet loafers would be familiar with the wise old epistle that Upali publicly sent to his curious grand nephew explaining not only the history of the recent Sinhala-Tamil political relationship but also the outline of what needed to be done to address the grievances of the Tamil people. While there was nothing new in what Upali said, what was shockingly new was that a whole new generation of Sri Lankans has grown up in ignorance of our recent past and therefore lacking in the background to think clearly and constructively of ‘what is to be done?’.

Upali was the quintessential Leftist. He cut his political teeth in the Sama Samaja Party, but broke ranks as a young man when the Party by a majority vote decided to enter into a coalition with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Despite the severance, Upali was aware of and respected what the LSSP and its old leaders – NM, Colvin and Leslie - had stood for at great political and personal risks on the controversial issues of citizenship for the Tamil plantation workers and language rights of non-Sinhalese Sri Lankans. He was aware that the old Left Sinhalese had stood for programmatic devolution of power both as an extension of democracy and as a matrix to augment minority rights. He was aware that new Left Sinhalese have gone further and supported nothing less than the right of self determination for the Tamil people. More than being aware, Upali raised slogans, took to the streets, and stood up to state brutality in order to protect and enhance minority rights.

As his recent writings indicate, Sri Lanka missed out - on what might have been - by failing to support the ideas of equality and fairness that the old Left stood far, and it has no alternative but to adapt and adopt the same ideas if it is to get out of the hell into which our island has been plunged.

Upali was a principled and progressive champion of all oppressed sections society and his championing was not limited to familiar circumstances in Sri Lanka only but was his driving passion in England, where he studied, worked, married and eventually settled down. He was a friend of anyone whose rights were infringed – children, women, workers, queers, seniors, immigrants, and the list can go on. Once riding his motorcycle in Ratmalana, he saw a man beating up his wife on the road. He stopped the bike and scared the hell out of the bully until he promised that he would never abuse his wife again. Upali was the first male feminist I came across and I can say that he was a role model to other men in shedding the convenient shackles of patriarchy and male chauvinism.

Upali was more than a friend of the wronged and the oppressed for he could and did help those in need in his professional capacity as a barrister. In Colombo, he limited his legal service to trade unions and workers, representing them in labour tribunals against some big-name employers and even bigger-name lawyers. Intelligent, articulate and witty, he was an unrepentant thorn on the backsides of some highly paid Colombo lawyers. Later, in England, he had taken not only to practicing law but also teaching it and making academic contributions.

I first saw Upali Cooray in July, 1979, at the YMCA auditorium in Colombo. It was the inaugural meeting of the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality (MIRJE) and I was there as a member of the Provisional Committee and Secretary to-be. Upali was intervening in the discussion on the resolution condemning the State of Emergency that had just been declared. “A superb debator”, I told Dr. Chris Rodrigo, who was seated near me. “Upali is a great guy”, Chris, who had known Upali in England, replied. “You will find him great to work with”, he went on and added that in London Upali was known for taking on racial police officers who were hard on immigrants.

Upali was great to work with. He was one of the moving spirits in MIRJE and was a key organizer of many of its activities. Upali was a co-author with Paul Caspersz and me of the first MIRJE publication, Emergency’79. It was also the first publication to deal with the human rights violations in Jaffna that began in 1979 and have not let up since. The monograph documented the results of the MIRJE fact finding mission comprising Paul Caspersz, Kumar David, Yohan Devananda, Jayaratne Malliyagoda and myself that went to Jaffna to investigate the deaths of six young Tamils who were taken out of their homes and murdered on the first night of the Emergency rule.

MIRJE also served an inadvertent nostalgic purpose by providing a friendly forum for all Left groups and leaders that came together in camaraderie and friendship despite their ideological differences to contribute to finding a solution to the national problem. The tent became even bigger with the formation of the Marx Centenary Committee in 1983 to commemorate Marx’s death centenary. The Committee would meet at Hector Abhayavardhana’s Chitra Lane study and Upali was a frequent visitor along with Edmund Samarakoddy, N. Sanmugathasan, Osmund Jayaratne, Prins Rajasooriya – among others.

All hell broke lose in July 1983 and the lives of so many of us were irreversibly altered. Hopelessness and despair set in as years rolled by with no end in sight and those of us living abroad were getting reconciled to making fire on remembered wood. A new ray of hope emerged with the election of Chandrika Kumaratunga as President. Upali had helped her restore her shattered life to normalcy when she went to England after losing her husband to JVP madness. Many of us were delighted that Upali would be able to bring to bear on the new President some positive and progressive influence. That was a mistake – to assume that progressive friendships could prevail over reactionary politics. As President, Chandrika Kumaratunga is said to have reminded Vasudeva Nanayakara that unlike others the SLFP was not revolutionary party. Who said it was?

It was the extent of his disappointment with her that made Upali accuse the former President of political culpability in the assassination of Lakshman Kadirgamar by the LTTE. It was a stunning indictment that reminded me of Dr. Colvin’s accusation of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike over the police shooting of Peradeniya University student Weerasuriya in November, 1976. I did not quite agree with every argument Upali made in his hard hitting article but I appreciated his disappointment and anger.

Upali made the criticism, that many of have made repeatedly, that state and government leaders would hypocritically praise the likes of Lakshman Kadirgamar as national martyrs but will not do anything to implement even the most modest of their moderate policies to address the Tamil problem. It is hardly conceivable that Lakshaman Kadirgamar or Ketish Loganathan would have condoned the forced encampment of over 250,000 displaced Tamils, or the treatment of the doctors who stood by the people to work in the war zone. No past Sinhalese national leader would have condoned police brutality that is becoming so rampant, extrajudicial killings, the death threats to critics and potential critics of the government, or the poisoning of young minds by asking them to write essays on the LTTE in a national exam.

Yet, we bear witness to such atrocities and more almost on a daily basis. And we have lost the one man whose rallying cry in the face of oppression and human rights violation was to organize and resist, gather more support and fight, and not to give up until the job is done. Even as we mourn his death, we cannot give up hope that we shall overcome, sooner than later. That would be the biggest political tribute we could ever pay to Upali Cooray.

Video evidence of Sri Lankan government war crimes

By Sarath Kumara

A video, broadcast on the British-based “Channel 4 News” this week, has provided further first-hand evidence of the war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government and its military forces during the final stages of its crushing of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The video footage, screened on the CNN-affiliate on August 25, shows Sri Lankan soldiers executing naked, bound and blindfolded men in cold blood. The men appear to be Tamils. It is not known whether they were LTTE fighters or civilians.

First, a naked man, his hands bound behind his back, is pushed to the ground. Then a man in military uniform delivers a forceful kick to the back of the prisoner’s head with the heel of his boot. As the prisoner slumps forward, another soldier points his automatic weapon and fires a single shot. The man’s body jolts. “It’s like he jumped,” laughs one of the giggling soldiers. Off-camera, someone can be heard saying in Sinhala, “I think he looked back.”

As gunfire rattles, the camera pans left to reveal a further seven bloodstained bodies, all naked but one, strewn on the ground. The camera then pans right again, as another naked man is forced to the ground and shot in the back of the head. This time the body falls backwards. Off-camera, a voice can be heard saying, “This is like hitting midgets.”

The footage was obtained by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS), an organisation made up of several dozen Sinhalese and Tamil journalists who have fled into exile in recent years as the intimidation and killing of media professionals by pro-government thugs has soared. The group, whose members now live mostly in Europe, said the film was taken by a Sri Lankan soldier in January using his mobile phone as the army was battling to take the LTTE’s stronghold of Kilinochchi.

A spokesman for JDS told the media: “It was as if someone was filming it for fun. This was being circulated by the soldiers. It has been going round for a while. It was taken as if it was a souvenir.” He said rumours of such footage had existed for a long time but that this was the first time such film had entered “the mainstream”.

What the video depicts are clear war crimes in violation of the Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as experts cited by international media outlets, said they found nothing in the video that would dispute its authenticity.

On Friday, after the video was broadcast by the electronic media in many countries, Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions, joined the renewed calls by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch for an independent investigation into the war crimes committed in Sri Lanka.

The footage adds to the ample evidence that already exists about the atrocities committed by President Mahinda Rajapakse’s regime during the final offensives against the LTTE, in which, according to UN sources, about 20,000 Tamil civilians died. Security forces used indiscriminate aerial bombing and artillery and mortar fire in repeated drives to exterminate the LTTE and terrorise the entire Tamil population.

First-hand accounts of the bombardments were given by doctors and aid workers in the war zone and the Times of London published aerial photographs of the government-designated safe zone on the north-eastern Mullativu coast, where tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were trapped. The pictures showed burned patches of land, blasted palm trees, burnt-out vehicles, skeletal houses and craters caused by the shelling.

Over the past three years, human rights organisations have accumulated considerable evidence pointing to the hundreds of murders and “disappearances” by pro-government death squads operated either directly or indirectly by the military. Young Tamils, journalists and politicians have been among the victims. None of those responsible have been brought to trial.

The video is the first direct evidence that the army has carried out summary executions. The fact that the soldiers involved joked about the killings, allowed themselves to be videoed and that the video was passed around tends to indicate that the practice was widespread. Those involved clearly felt that they could kill with impunity.

Without even the pretence of any investigation of the video, the Sri Lankan regime immediately denounced it as a fake, just as it has done with every other piece of evidence that has emerged. As soon as the Channel 4 broadcast was aired, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara declared that the video clip was a “fabrication” aimed to “discredit the armed forces”. As usual, the military’s spokesman provided no proof for his assertion.

Likewise, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner for Britain, Nihal Jayasinghe, said “the army never engaged with Tamil civilians” and “the war was only with the LTTE”. But he refused Channel 4’s request for an interview.

These denials have no credibility. The regime has lied repeatedly about its conduct of the war, and unashamedly sought to cover up its crimes, including by preventing any media access to the witnesses and other evidence, and blocking any independent investigation. As the military struggle intensified in January, the Rajapakse government even ordered aid workers to withdraw from the remaining LTTE-controlled areas, despite the critical lack of social services.

Apart from a brief guided tour, organised by the military establishment for selected journalists to accompany UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon after the fighting ended in May, no independent media personnel were allowed into the war zone.

On May 27, the government, backed by China and Russia, won a vote in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to block a limited resolution by Switzerland calling for an investigation of violations of human rights and international law by both the military and the LTTE during the war in Sri Lanka. Instead, a resolution was passed hailing the government’s victory in the communal war against the LTTE.

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A poster of Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa hangs above internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Ramujaran camp at Manik Farm in northern Sri Lanka August 19. 2009-Reuters pic.

Three months since the end of the war, the government is still indefinitely detaining some 280,000 Tamil civilians behind barbed wire fences and barring the media and opposition parties from the camps. Aid workers working inside the camps have been forced to pledge not speak to the detainees—the main witnesses—about what happened in the last stages of the war. This week’s video evidence lends disturbing weight to the reports of continuing “disappearances” of alleged LTTE suspects from the detention camps.

The summary executions and brutality shown on the video are further testimony to the communal character of the three-decade civil war conducted by the Colombo establishment against the Tamil population. At the same time, the methods used by the soldiers are a warning of the type of measures that the government will use more broadly against working people as it now pursues an “economic war” to make the working class and rural masses pay for the deep economic crisis produced by the war and the global recession. COURTESY:WSWS

Implement the 13th Amendment, abolish the presidency

by Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna has taken the campaign to abolish the executive presidency as the most important political task of today. Everywhere, the walls are full of anti executive presidency posters, in dashing colours. Top ranking leaders of the JVP are scheduled to address meetings, to explain the terrible situation created by this black hole in the constitution. Pressure is brought on opposition parties to join them in their holy war against this devilish menace. It is a surprise and also somewhat ridiculous. Only afew years back, the JVP was telling the masses that the power of the president was a heaven sent gift for the war against theTamil rebellion.

In fact before that, they blamed President Chandrika for not using executive powers to undermine the activities of former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. Wimal expressed his party’s - the JVP - displeasure by calling Chandrilka a Bibikkama. However, all that is changed now. Now Tilvin and Amarasinghe have found, that the presidency is at the centre of all the evil, that is affecting Lanka. So, the demand is that all citizens should support the white knights of the JVP in its spiritual struggle against the dictatorial constitution!

It was reported in one weekend newspaper that the opposition political parties recognize that the executive presidency, as the fountain of all ills that have plagued the country and is a threat to democracy. The indications from government ranks are that there is apossibility of holding an early presidential election, even by early next year, have prompted opposition political parties to join the JVP to oppose the holding of another presidential election. They claim that President Rajapaksa should honour the pledge which he had made during the 2005 presidential election campaign, where he said he would abolish the executive presidency. I am very happy that all opposition parties including the UNP accept that the dictatorial constitution of JR is the fountain of all ills of Lanka.

On 4th Feb 1978 I was arrested for hoisting black flags against this constitution. The New Sama Samaja Party organized at that time an islandwide black flags campaign against this menace, and explained the disastrous consequences. No other party or organization protested at that stage, though later many were critical of the constitution. I was later remanded and had to taste the isolation of imprisonment at Bogambara. For the same crime I was thrown out of my job at the Peradeniya University and to date I have not received any relief for the violation of my fundamental rights.

However, when JR agreed to devolve power in1986, we agreed that it was an attempt to dissolve the centralized power of the presidency. On the other hand, the presidential election is an islandwide affair with all citizens taken as one electorate. Hence in that election all small nationalities and communities get an opportunity to influence the candidates to look into minority rights. In a country where only 70 percent are Sinhala, no presidential candidate can dream of coming to power on the basis of Sinhala chauvinism. Therefore, one could say even though the presidency is flawed, the presidential election has a democratic dimension.

So it is clear that merely opposing the presidential elections without at the same time fighting for the 13th amendment, is not acceptable. I am surprised to see that the Muslim Congress, Democratic People’s Front, and the TNA are named as collaborators of the campaign started by the JVP. Can they agree to abolish the presidency and devolution together, and get back to a parliament under Sinhala chauvinist hegemony?

They should not. No support could be given to the campaign of the JVP against presidential elections, unless they seriously commit themselves to devolution of power beyond the 13th amendment. It should be clear that the intention of chauvinists is to abolish both the presidency and devolution of power, in order to go back to a parliament with Sinhala chauvinist hegemony. All democratic forces should get together to counter this menace, which is by far the worst.

Sri Lankan government to impose onerous restrictions on political parties

By Nanda Wickremasinghe

The Sri Lankan government announced a Parliamentary Elections Amendments Bill on August 6 that will impose tough new restrictions on existing political parties and the formation of new ones. The debate in parliament has been delayed following objections by several parties to sections of the legislation.

In tabling the Bill, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake claimed its purpose was to eliminate a surfeit of non-functional parties that hampered the electoral process. While the major parties, including Wickremanakaye’s own Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), have frequently formed bogus parties to boost their electoral prospects, the new legislation is not primarily aimed at ending this practice, but at clamping down on and possibly de-registering opposition parties.

The present electoral laws, which were enacted in 1981 with amendments in 1999, are already restrictive. The Socialist Equality Party (SEP) was only finally officially recognised in 2000 despite repeated applications and having fulfilled all the formal requirements for registration. The party and its predecessor, the Revolutionary Communist League, had been actively involved in Sri Lankan politics since 1968.

The proposed electoral laws are part of a continuing attack on democratic rights by the government. President Mahinda Rajapakse has maintained emergency rule and the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act despite the army’s defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) in May. The government recently reactivated the Press Council, which has sweeping powers to curb the media.

The government confronts a serious economic crisis, produced by years of heavy military expenditure, that has been compounded by the global recession. It was recently forced to seek a large IMF loan, which will require the imposition of deep cutbacks to public spending. Having announced a further expansion of the military, the government will be compelled to make savage cuts to social spending.

The planned electoral laws are part of Rajapakse’s preparations for what he has termed an “economic war”—that is, imposing the burdens of the economic crisis on working people. The president has already declared that workers must be like soldiers—that is, prepared to accept any sacrifice for the nation. Just as the government waged a ruthless communal war against the country’s Tamil minority, so it intends to suppress any opposition to its economic measures.

One aim of the legislation was to effectively ban parties based on the island’s minorities—Tamils and Muslims in particular. A clause specifically barred registration to parties that included a particular community or religion in its name. Its purpose was to further entrench the political domination of the Sinhala Buddhist establishment at the expense of Tamils and Muslims.

In his victory speech in May, President Rajapakse declared that the war had “removed the word ‘minorities’ from our vocabulary”. However, his claim that all citizens enjoy equal rights in Sri Lanka is belied by six decades of systematic discrimination against Tamils, including the entrenchment of Buddhism as the state religion in the constitution. The communal character of the protracted civil war against the LTTE is underscored by the fact that government has indefinitely interned 280,000 Tamil civilians who previously resided in LTTE-controlled territory.

Several political parties, including the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Tamil National Alliance (TNA), United National Party (UNP) and Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), filed objections. In the case of the SLMC and TNA, the clause could be immediately applied to them. Both are opposition parties. The TNA functioned from 2002 as the de facto mouthpiece for the LTTE. The main opposition party, the conservative UNP, opposed the clause, hoping to garner electoral support from the Tamil and Muslim communities.

The LSSP, which definitively broke from Trotskyism in 1964, is part of the ruling coalition. Its objection reflected deeper discontent among a number of Tamil- and Muslim- based parties that are part of the Rajapakse government, but which made no public criticism. On August 15, government representatives in the parliamentary committee on electoral reform agreed to remove the clause.

The government’s initial decision to target communally-based parties—despite their presence in the ruling coalition—points to the wider aims of the legislation. Popular hostility to the political establishment as a whole is reflected not only in the rise of communal organisations, but in the loss of support for the major bourgeois parties—the ruling SLFP and opposition UNP—as well as in splits in existing parties. Rajapakse presides over an unwieldy coalition of parties that he has held together by providing virtually every MP with a ministerial post.

The new legislation is aimed at artificially boosting the fortunes of the major parties, particularly Rajapakse’s SLFP, by obstructing and de-registering smaller parties, preventing the formation of new ones and imposing far tighter state controls on all existing parties. Significantly, none of the parliamentary parties on the government or opposition side has opposed the legislation as a whole.

The new measures include:

* The current legislation requires that a political party provide a copy of its constitution and a list of office bearers in its application to be registered. Under the new law, an audited statement of the party’s accounts and a policy statement must be provided.

To achieve recognition, a party will have to prove four years of continuous political activity or have won a seat at the previous general elections or three seats at provincial council elections. To win a seat, however, is far more difficult if a party is not formally recognised. The election commission will continue to have wide discretionary powers in granting official party registration.

* Existing parties will be subject to far closer state scrutiny. Parties will be required to submit a copy of their program of work within three months of the legislation being enacted. Every recognised party will be compelled to advertise the time, date and venue of their general meetings in the newspapers. The law also requires publication of an audited copy of the party’s annual state of accounts, including a list of all donors, with details of their names and addresses.

* For the first time, the election commissioner will have wide powers to scrutinise and de-register existing political parties. The minister heading the parliamentary committee on electoral reform recently told the media that only 20 of about 60 parties that are officially recognised are active. The comment is a clear indication of preparations for sweeping moves against smaller political parties, particularly those that have opposed the government and its policies.

The Socialist Equality Party calls on the working class to oppose the new legislation, which above all is directed against the democratic rights of working people. The law is part of the police-state measures being prepared by the Rajapakse government to consolidate its grip on power and suppress any opposition to its onslaught on living standards. COURTESY:WSWS

Amnesty wants urgent action over detained Tamil Doctor

Four doctors released, one still in danger

Four of the five doctors held under emergency regulations by the Sri Lankan government for providing "false information" to foreign journalists have been released on bail. However, Dr S. Sivapalan is still detained without charge, and is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.

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Dr. S. Sivapalan

Dr Veerakkathipillai Shanmugarajah, Dr Thurairaja Varatharaja, Dr Thangamuttu Sathyamoorthy and Dr Kathirvel Ilancheliyan Vallavan were released on bail on 24 August. Colombo chief magistrate Nishantha Hapuarachchi ordered their release on conditions that included reporting to the Vavuniya Police during the last week of every month. The four doctors are still in danger, because their case was so high-profile.

The doctors had been in custody since 15 May, when they were detained at the Omanthai crossing point, for providing "false information" and what the government said were pro-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) statements to international media outlets.

On 8 July the authorities held a press conference where the doctors, including Dr S. Sivapalan, retracted their earlier reports from the conflict zone. They said they had "exaggerated" the numbers of civilian casualties, as a result of pressure from the LTTE.

Amnesty International is concerned about how genuine these “confessions” were, given the doctors’ prolonged detention; their vulnerability to torture and other ill-treatment by Sri Lankan officials, who have a record of mistreatment of detainees and witnesses. There are contradictions between the doctors’ recent public statements and independently verified facts.

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in English, Sinhalese, Tamil or your own language: Expressing concern for Dr.Sivapalan, who has been detained without charge since 15 May, and calling on the authorities to release him immediately, unless he is to be charged with a recognisably criminal offence;

Calling on the authorities to ensure the safey of the released doctors (naming them).

Calling on the authorities to repeal or revise emergency regulations and other special security legilsation so as to bring them into line with international human rights law and standards.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS TO:

His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Presidential Secretariat
Colombo 1
Sri Lanka
Fax: +94 11 2446657

Salutation: Your Excellency

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
Secretary of Defence
Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order
15/5, Bauddhaloka Mawatha,
Colombo 03, Sri Lanka

Fax: +94 11 254 1529

Salutation: Dear Mr Rajapaksa

COPIES TO:

Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya
Embassy of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
2148 Wyoming Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: 1 202 232 7181
Email: slembassy@slembassyusa.org

August 28, 2009

UN rights expert calls for probe into video of alleged executions

By UN News Centre

A United Nations human rights expert today called for the immediate establishment of an independent inquiry into the authenticity of a video which purportedly depicts the extrajudicial execution of two naked and helpless men by the Sri Lankan military and the presumed prior executions of others.

Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said he was aware that the Sri Lankan Government had categorically denied the allegations raised by the video, which has been aired this week.

“These images are horrendous and, if authentic, would indicate a serious violation of international law,” Professor Alston said in a statement, noting that the Government’s denial “makes it all the more important for an independent investigation to be set up.

“If the Government’s position is validated as a result of an inquiry, the international community can rest easy and the Government will have been vindicated. There is no justification for not moving ahead with such an investigation in view of the Government’s confidence that such atrocities were never perpetrated by its armed forces.”

Earlier this year Government forces declared victory over the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after years of fighting in the small South Asian country.

Professor Alston added that he regretted that the Government had not yet issued him an invitation to make an official visit to Sri Lanka, despite a number of requests in recent years, but he hoped an invitation may come given the new allegations.

Like many other UN rapporteurs, Professor Alston reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and to the General Assembly and he serves in an independent and unpaid capacity.

Upali Cooray: A Tribute From Canadians for Peace

by Ratnam Ganesh

Mr. Upali Cooray – Comrade Upali Cooray to the many who worked with him from the left of the political spectrum – relentlessly campaigned against all oppressions and abuse of power in Sri Lanka. He formed The Committee for Democracy and Justice in 1988 and worked with several political organisations and trade unions and defended democracy, justice and pluralism in Sri Lanka and outside.

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Upali Cooray

In 1971-72, he toured Canada campaigning for the release of 80,000 political prisoners held in detention in the aftermath of the failed JVP insurrection of April 1971. Although he did not agree with the JVP’s policies, he believed that every person is entitled to human and fundamental rights, regardless of his or her political opinions and actions.

He was arrested and detained by the police in Sri Lanka in 1972 for these activities. It a similar brave and principled campaign by him and his colleagues in 1988-89 that helped Mahinda Rajapakse to present in foreign human rights fora the data on killings and disappearances during the Premadasa regime. This has deep lessons for sections of the present Sri Lankan government that claim that those presenting information abroad on rights abuses within Sri Lanka are traitors. Not so – they do it out of their love and affection for and commitment to the oppressed and their
motherland.

Once again he visited Canada in November 2007 to campaign for peace and to end all forms of violence in Sri Lanka.

He also campaigned for the human and democratic rights of people in the south such as the workers in Balangoda as a result of which he was arrested and detained for 6 months in 1984. He was the Secretary of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign in the UK and campaigned against the Americans in Vietnam and Iraq, The list of his activities in support of human and democratic rights is too long to enumerate and detail.

With the demise of Upali Cooray, Sri Lankan Tamils lost one of their best and ablest friends among the Sinhalese people. Upali consistently stood with and supported the Tamils in their struggle for greater political autonomy. His pioneering activities, along with a few other dedicated and like-minded friends, helped to awaken the consciousness of all progressive Sinhalese on the plight of the Tamils who were subjected to various forms of discrimination at the hands of successive governments since 1948 when Ceylon gained independence from the British colonial power.

Even after leaving Sri Lanka in the early 1980s Upali continued to defend vigorously the rights of the persecuted Tamil population and championed their right to be equal in all things at various forums in different countries. He continued to have dialogue with different Tamil parties in the hope of fostering strong links with the Sinhalese to enable all the communities to lead a peaceful co-existence in a united Sri Lanka and work together towards that noble end.

Unfortunately post-independence politics in Sri Lanka saw the emergence of parochialism and communalism as a significant trend. Few stood up against this or opposed it vehemently. Upali certainly was one of those courageous few. He was unchanging in that he always stood for the weak and the oppressed – be it a JVP-er in prison or an oppressed Tamil. In spite of opposition to his ideas and schemes, he pressed on undaunted. His efforts cannot be assessed with any yardstick for they are immeasurable at this very critical period of Sri Lankan history.

Upali contracted an infection while he was on his way to Sri Lanka in May this year. He came back to the UK where after some tests doctors found that blood eating bacteria had entered his system and attacked his knee – Alfa Haemolytic Streptococcus Pneumonia. He recovered from this and continued to write his second letter to Pody seeya, the first having been well-received in the press.

He was taken to the hospital on the 20th of August following breathing difficulties and succumbed the following day morning.

A cultured gentleman he was, and all those who came to know him also learnt to love and admire him. Now that Upali Cooray has left the scene of time, we can echo Leon Trotsky’s words: it is victims who move humanity forward. All of us who worked with him – indeed all of us for whom he worked – mourn his death.

We salute our dear departed friend and mourn his demise, an especially unbearable loss to all those who want Sri Lanka to be a country of peace and freedom. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.

Erik Solheim to discuss Channel 4 video with with Ban Ki-moon

The following is an English version of a news report appearing in Aftenposten.no. on Aug 27th, translated using Goolge Translation tool:

by Christopher Rønneberg

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[Minister Erik Solheim met Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse-May 2006. PHOTO: AFP]

International Development Minister Erik Solheim requires that the UN investigating charges of war crimes in Sri Lanka. - "This is something I will discuss with Ban Ki-moon when he comes, " he told Aftenposten.no.

Aftenposten.no wrote Wednesday Aug 26th about a gruesome video that allegedly shows how government troops execute ten bakbundne and naked prisoners.

The recording should have been taken by a soldier in January, and was smuggled out of Sri Lanka this week by a group of human rights activists who have recently fled the country.

The authorities in this country deny that government troops were involved in war crimes, arguing that the recording may be a fake.

But International Development Erik Solheim said he had not been surprised if the footage is genuine.

- There are dozens of people have been killed or have disappeared in Sri Lanka in recent years, without that there has been some form of judicial process or verdict. And there is overwhelming evidence of structures within the state apparatus is behind many of these killings, "he told Aftenposten.no.

Take it up with Ban

Now he demands that the UN is on the path to investigate what happened in the last phase of the bloody civil war in Sri Lanka, a conflict that is believed to have claimed at least 80,000 lives.

- United Nations must address in the investigation of possible war crimes in Sri Lanka, "he says.

- You will meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon when he comes to Norway on Sunday (Aug 30th). Is this something you want to catch up with him?

- It's something I definitely want to do, even if the purpose of his trip is about climate and environment, "said Solheim.

34 journalists killed

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and his government have been accused of putting human rights and democratic principles to the side after he took over power in the country five years ago.

The fear is great for the so-called "white vans" that appear outside the houses of the opponents of the government and kidnap them. Human rights activists, journalists, employees of aid organizations and other groups have been particularly hard hit.

According to the organization Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, the group that announced the execution video, the 34 journalists and media workers killed in Sri Lanka over the past five years.

In addition, the Tamil population suffered great distress under the Rajapakse regime as a result of the war against the rebel group LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers.

- It happened when he won the election, was that the state began using guerrilla movement's methods, "said Solheim.

For the United States and China on the path

A lid was placed over all of northern Sri Lanka in the war's final phase. No aid agencies or independent journalists dropped in, making it impossible to verify the many rumors that went on war crimes from the Sri Lankan government.

- This makes it very difficult for the UN to find out how it can be investigated. In addition, there has been no great feel for such an investigation by the Security Council. But each new evidence, such as this video, reinforces the requirement for a proper investigation, "said Solheim.

He admits that Norway, despite its role as a former peace facilitator in the island, do not have much clout to demand that the UN will take part.

- It is therefore important that the larger and more powerful nations, especially the United States and China, is now taking action, "said Mr Solheim.

Related link in Norwegian in: Aftenposten.no:

August 27, 2009

Statement Condemning Death Threat against Dr. P. Saravanamuttu

As concerned citizens and members of civil society organisations committed to the protection and defence of human rights and democracy in Sri Lanka, we are gravely disturbed at the most recent attempt to intimidate Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives through a death threat by letter posted to his home. We condemn it unreservedly.

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Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu (file pic)

On August 20th 2009 Dr Saravanamuttu received a letter threatening him with death for allegedly passing information to the European Union which the letter claims will result in the GSP + plus facility being denied to Sri Lanka.

Dr Saravanamuttu, and the organizations he heads, the Centre for Policy Alternatives, is involved in contributing to public policy making and implementation processes to ensure good governance, proposing constructive policy alternatives aimed at strengthening and safeguarding democracy, pluralism, the rule of law, human rights and social justice, and drawing attention to the social and political consequences of development. At a time when space for dissent has been restricted he has been one of the outspoken critics showing exemplary courage in speaking out.

He is a well respected scholar and is invited to speak and write not only on Sri Lanka but on broader issues of democracy, governance and social justice issues at a global level, by many institutions and organizations around the world.

In the past years, Dr. Saravanamuttu and the CPA have engaged in a range of actions aimed at ensuring that the Sri Lankan government honours its obligations under Sri Lankan law and international conventions that it has ratified. This work has often been in collaboration with other Sri Lankan organizations concerned with the promotion and protection of human rights in accordance with the right of association and expression guaranteed in the Constitution.

The campaign to call for the Government of Sri Lanka to comply with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and a host of other international agreements that Sri Lanka has ratified has been an ongoing one by CPA and other organizations working to ensure human rights accountability in Sri Lanka. The engagement of these groups with the discussions on the extension of the GSP+ facility to Sri Lanka is part of this wider process. As reiterated by the CPA, its position is that GSP Plus benefits MUST be renewed, and that Sri Lanka should use the opportunity to also strengthen its human rights protection framework by complying with international and national law.

We deplore the intimidation levelled at Dr. Saravanamuttu and call upon the state to take all necessary measures to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for making these threats. We also extend our solidarity and support to Dr. Saravanamuttu and to all at the Centre for Policy Alternatives at this time, and call on the authorities to ensure that all steps necessary are taken to guarantee the safety and security of Dr. Saravanamuttu, his family and his staff.

27 August 2009
Signed by

1. Ahilan Kadirgamar

2. Ameena Hussain

3. Anberiya Haniffa

4. Angelica Chandrasekeran

5. Anita Nesiah

6. Ann Jabbar

7. Anoma Wijewardene

8. Ashoka Thevarapperuma

9. Association of Family Members of the Disappeared

10. Association of War affected Women

11. B. Shanthakumar

12. Bhavani Loganathan

13. Cedric de Silva

14. Chameera Perera

15. Chaminda Weerawardhana

16. Chandra Hewagallage

17. Chandra Jayaratne

18. Chandraguptha Thenuwara

19. Chulani Kodikara

20. Citizens Committee for Forcibly Evicted Northern Muslims

21. D. D. N. C. Wimalarathne

22. D.B.S. Jeyaraj

23. Damaris Wickremesekere

24. Damayanthi Mutukumarage

25. Dilan Kumara

26. Evelyn Buell

27. Freddy Gamage

28. G.V.D Tilakasiri

29. Dr. Gananath Obeyesekera

30. Gameela Samarasinghe

31. Gamini Viyangoda

32. Godfrey Yogarajah

33. Hilmy Ahamed

34. Inas Jinnah

35. Indrani Kusumalatha

36. J. C. Weliamuna

37. Jagath Weerasinghe

38. Jayantha Dhanapala

39. Javid Yusuf

40. Dr. Jayadeva Uyangoda

41. Jayanthi Gunewardena

42. Jeanne Samuel

43. Dr. Jehan Perera

44. Jezima Ismail

45. Judy Piertersz

46. K. M. Chitrasena

47. K.S. Ratnavale

48. Dr. Keshini Soysa

49. Kevin Shimmin

50. Kishali Pinto Jayawardene

51. Kumaravadivel Guruparan

52. Kumudini Samuel

53. Kusal Gunasekera

54. Lakshman Gunasekara

55. Lakshmi Jeganathan

56. Lionel Bopage

57. Luther Uthayakumaran

58. M. C. M Iqbal

59. Mahim Mendis

60. Maithree Wickramasinghe

61. Mannar Women for Human Rights and Democracy

62. Dr. Mario Gomez

63. Mihiri Weerasinghe

64. Mother’s and Daughters of Lanka

65. Muslim Women's Research and Action Forum

66. Dr. Muthukrishna Sarvananthan

67. Dr. Nalaka Gunawardana

68. National Peace Council

69. Dr. Neloufer de Mel

70. Nigel de Silva

71. Nilusha Hemasiri

72. Nimalika Fernando

73. Nimanthi Rajasingham

74. Nirmala Rajasingam

75. Dr. Nishan de Mel

76. P. Rajanayagam

77. P.B. Gowthaman

78. Priyadharshanie Ariyaratne

79. Dr. Qadri Ismail

80. Raja M.B. Senanayaka

81. Rajan Hoole

82. Rajan Philips

83. Ramani Muttettuwegama

84. Rasika Deepani

85. Rights Now- Collective for Democracy

86. Rohini Hensman

87. Rohini Weerasinghe

88. Rosanna Flamer-Caldera

89. Roshini Fernando

90. Ruki Fernando

91. Rukshana Nanayakkara

92. S. G. Punchiheva

93. S. Nanthikesan

94. Sagarica Delgoda

95. Sam Perera

96. Saman Sri Liyanage

97. Sanjeeva Bandara

98. Santhush Pararajasingham

99. Sarala Emmanuel

100. Saroja Sivachandran

101. Saumya Liyanage

102. Seetha Ranjani

103. Selvi Sachithanandam

104. Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran

105. Dr. Sepali Kottegoda

106. Shantha Pathirana

107. Sharmini Boyle

108. Sherine Xavier

109. Shreen Saroor

110. Sithie Tiruchelvam

111. Sri Lanka Democracy Forum

112. Sriyani Pathirage

113. Stella Philip

114. Subram Ramaswamy

115. Sudarshana Gunawardana

116. Sujeewa Bandara

117. Sulochana Colambage

118. Dr. Sumathy Sivamohan

119. Sumika Perera

120. Sunanda Deshapriya

121. Sunila Abeysekera

122. Suriya Wickramasinghe

123. Suvendrini Kakuchi

124. Tarika Wickeremeratne

125. Thiru Sampandan

126. U. D. M. Seelawathi

127. Udaya Kalupathirana

128. Upekha Chitrasena

129. V. Jeychithra

130. Vanamali Galappaththi

131. Vasuki Nesiah

132. Visaka Dharmadasa

133. Dr. Wijaya Jayatileke

August 26, 2009

Col R Hariharan: Some Comments on ‘Execution Video’

by Col R Hariharan

A highly disturbing video showing the mafia style execution of a naked man said to be a Tamil prisoner, with his hands tied behind his back, by a soldier was shown on Headlines Today TV today. Yesterday British audience saw it on Channel 4. The video footage claimed to have been shot with a mobile phone camera by a Sri Lankan soldier sometime in January 2009 was sent to the media by the Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, a group of Sinhala and Tamil journalists living in exile.

[The comments given below were made on specific issues raised by the Headlines Today TV and as mentioned in the TV broadcast do not minimise the gravity of the accusation made in the video.]

Genuineness of the video

The Sri Lanka authorities were quick to dismiss the video as a doctored one “to defame the Sri Lankan government and armed forces.” Sri Lankan argument cannot be dismissed off hand as the LTTE has mastered the psychological warfare techniques. And Sri Lanka had made a special effort during the course of the three-year old Eelam War IV to counter the LTTE propaganda with its own psychological warfare ploys. Doctored videos have figured in the past as part of the warfare.

Regardless of public perception, the Sri Lanka government has to make an effort to establish it as a fake one because the video has planted a seed of doubt in public mind. To this extent the purpose of those who produced the video and disseminated it to the media has probably been achieved.

Under the circumstances, the genuineness of the video will probably be never known unless it undergoes a forensic examination. This has to be done by a neutral agency as the Sri Lanka authorities have already dismissed it as a fake. And in the current environment in Sri Lanka, the government is unlikely to entrust the task of authentication to a neutral agency.

Is such action possible?

There had been a number of complaints of human rights violations in the past in Sri Lanka in which perpetrators of killings and abductions have not been identified or brought to book. As a result among sections of public doubts continue to linger about the sincerity of authorities in investigating and prosecuting such cases. Commissions of inquiry appointed to inquire into them have not enjoyed the freedom or autonomy to do their jobs satisfactorily. Their conduct had not been transparent or above board. Witnesses have been intimidated, and the media freedom to probe such incidents has been curtailed due to fear of retaliation.

This is not related merely to the Eelam War or the Tamil issue but to the larger attitude of the authorities to the rule of law. Some of the ministers have been a law unto themselves and their conduct in a few instances has lowered the dignity of their office. This has been a cause of concern to President Mahinda Rajapaksa also. Increasing instances of police lawlessness has been repeatedly figuring in news reports during this month. Unless there is a genuine effort to clean up of the way the government and administration conducts itself both in private and public, peoples the confidence in the rulers is likely to deteriorate.

And Sri Lanka is not the only nation where such human rights violations, including custodial killings, have been reported. Indian and Pakistani media have been splashing the news of similar instances in their countries. However in Sri Lanka the damage done by such reports is much more as the nation is already facing a problem in reconciling the fractured trust between Sinhala and Tamil communities. So any report that affects the process of reconciliation has to be attended to. Unfortunately this is not happening. And the tragedy is that the feeling insecurity among Tamils is not helped by videos depicting cold blooded killing of unarmed men by soldiers.

On international perceptions

Sri Lanka’s poor human rights record has repeatedly figured in UN forums including the UN Security Council. Whether the video is genuine or not, it adds yet another foil to the human rights activists to take it up in international forums. We can expect this to happen in the coming months. How much it will improve the human rights in Sri Lanka is a question that can be answered by its government only.

Execution Video Shows Need for International Inquiry-HRW

No Action on Government Promises of Investigations to United Nations

Full Text of Press Release by HRW

A disturbing video recently provided to the media showing the apparent summary execution of prisoners by Sri Lankan soldiers underscores the need for an international commission of inquiry into possible war crimes committed by both sides during the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, Human Rights Watch said today.

The video shows men in Sri Lankan army uniforms firing assault rifles point-blank at two naked, blindfolded, and bound men sitting on the ground. Eight other bodies are visible on the ground nearby, all but one unclothed. According to Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, a multiethnic exile organization, the video was taken by a soldier with a cell phone in January 2009. While Human Rights Watch could not confirm the video's authenticity, an independent expert consulted found nothing in the video that would dispute its authenticity. The summary execution of prisoners is a violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and a war crime.

"The blood, blindfolds, and mud of this apparent atrocity makes nonsense of President Rajapaksa's claims of a clean war against the Tamil Tigers," said Steve Crawshaw, UN director at Human Rights Watch. "An international inquiry needs to get to the bottom of this and other war crimes committed during the past year's fighting."

Human Rights Watch reported numerous violations of the laws of war by both the Sri Lankan armed forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during the 25-year-long armed conflict, which ended with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May. Because independent observers, including the media and human rights organizations, were prevented from operating near the war zone, the information available on the fighting and potential laws of war violations by both sides has been limited.

Before the government could launch an investigation, a Sri Lankan army spokesman already labeled the video a "fabrication."

Human Rights Watch has long criticized the government's failure to carry out impartial investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for the numerous human rights abuses committed by both sides during the conflict. There have been serious ongoing violations of human rights, and the backlog of cases of enforced disappearances and unlawful killings runs to the tens of thousands. Only a small number of cases have ended in prosecutions. Past efforts to address violations through the establishment of ad hoc mechanisms in Sri Lanka, such as presidential commissions of inquiry, have produced little information and few prosecutions.

Human Rights Watch called for the United Nations secretary-general or other UN body to create an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate violations of the laws of war by all parties to the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, and to make recommendations for the prosecution of those responsible. On May 23, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, issued a joint statement from Sri Lanka in which the government said it "will take measures to address" the need for an accountability process for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

In a July interview with Time magazine, Rajapaksa said that during the war, "[t]here was no violation of human rights. There were no civilian casualties."

"Since telling the UN secretary-general three months ago that he'd conduct investigations, Rajapaksa has sat on his hands," said Crawshaw. "Ban should stop relying on the president's promises of domestic action and make it clear that an international commission is needed if the victims of Sri Lanka's bloody war are to find justice."

Conditions not perfect but we saw remarkable improvement in IDP camps

Recent visit to sri lanka: summary report by Tamil expats

Our recent visit to Sri Lanka (July’2009) was intended to see the developments in the IDP camps subsequent to our last visit (March’2009) and evaluate the situation in the country following the defeat of the LTTE. We met with senior government ministers and officials, Buddhist prelates, the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province and United Nations officials. The government provided us the opportunity to visit the IDP camps in Chettikulam, the rehabilitation centre at Ambepussa and the northern and eastern provinces.

We saw remarkable improvements in the IDP camps, though conditions cannot be described as perfect. The United Nations agencies insist these camps be of a temporary nature and this dictate the housing and other infra-structure facilities be such. However, it was observed the housing and toilets constructed by the Sri Lankan authorities were more durable and climate friendly than those constructed by the UN agencies.

The UN agencies were obviously constrained by their definition of the word ‘Temporary’ and the material for housing that are standard issue the world over. The IDP camps have become functional communities with schools, temples, shops, banks, reading rooms and medical centres. The limitations existing in these camps largely arise from the fact that they are temporary. The outer perimeter barbed wire fences exist and the IDPs are not permitted move in and out of the camps, unless taken out to the Vavuniya hospital for medical reasons. We did not hear any complaints about these restrictions from the residents of these camps. The security concerns and safety of the refugees are yet paramount and the restrictions are acceptable to the inmates.

Discussions with the residents in these camps revealed they were relieved to be in safe havens, after their near-death and other harrowing experiences in the war front. Their main concerns were about split family units and about their missing relatives. Many were yet near tears in memory of the loved ones who died in the exchanges of fire in the war front or those who were killed by the LTTE while trying to escape. We heard heart rending tales on how the LTTE brutally conscripted their young children and the equally heart rending measures they took to protect their children. The black marketing of essential foods and the incineration of food stocks when evacuating areas, by the LTTE were frequently mentioned with extreme resentment. The residents we spoke to were resentful of the LTTE behaviour during the fourth Eelam war and were quite open in condemning the Tamil Diaspora, for having blindly supported the LTTE.

The reports of excessive number of deaths, diseases and instances of violence, such as rape, were discussed with officials responsible for the camps and the residents. The average daily deaths are within acceptable norms set by the United Nations and the dying are mainly the elderly. The fact that the IDPs arrived at these camps under desperate circumstances and in very poor physical condition, may have played a major role in the deaths of the elderly. The residents also told us that they had consumed water from holes dug in the sea shore. These same sea shores also served as their toilets. It is very likely that the water they consumed in the last stages of the war and the crowded and unhygienic conditions they live-in have contributed to the health problems seen in these camps. There were no recorded cases of meningitis or other lethal diseases in these camps.

Senior Ministers and officials, expect the resettlement activities to commence within week and proceed rapidly. Land mined areas have to be certified to be free of this hazard by the UN and resettlement can commence only after that fact. Demining involving the Sri Lankan armed forces, UN and the Indian army are proceeding pace. The areas west of the A9 and 35 villages around Vavuniya have been largely cleared. Work on re-building basic infra-structure is proceeding under the supervision of Mr. Basil Rajapaksa, Senior Advisor to the President. Details plans as to what needs to be done have been formulated and were shown to us. The IDPs, who are residents of the Jaffna peninsula have been identified and are to be resettled within weeks. The process to resettle the elderly IDPs with their relatives is proceeding apace, although some relatives, who have been identified, have not come forward to take-in their elderly relatives.

The desire to return to their own homes, villages and towns is strong among the IDPs. However, there is no visible demand that this happens soon. This is because the IDPs are aware of the devastation caused by the war and the problems relating to land mines and weaponry left behind by the LTTE. The government should make a determined effort to resettle these IDPs, as soon as possible, to forestall any disaffection and agitations in the future.

The visit to the Ambepussa young combatant rehabilitation camp revealed the depths of the tragedy involving the abduction of children by the LTTE. Girls and boys as young as 11 years age are in this camp. Many girls are attaining puberty in these camps. Some others are pregnant. While the identity of the father has been established in some instances, in others it is not known (a similar problems also exists in the IDP camps). Most of the child ex-combatants were found to be intelligent and capable of understanding the tragedy that has befallen them. They were critical of the LTTE and the manner in which they were dragooned to fight in a war, the reasons for which they did not understand. We found the conditions in this camp very salutary and conducive to the rehabilitation process.

There is no effort to record the narratives of these IDPs and child combatants in a scientific and objective manner for posterity. The IDP camps are a gold mine for research, not only in terms of narratives being recorded for posterity, but also in terms of sociology, psychology, medicine, epidemiology, literature, cinema and drama. Unfortunately, the academics and Universities in Sri Lanka have not woken to this fact.

The other deficiencies are the lack of a discernible central authority to deal with the issue of IDPs and the lack of accessible information on the IDPs, the camps, the resettlement programs and time tables, and re-building activities. These deficiencies were pointed out to concerned ministers and officials. It was recommended that a credible web site be established as a matter of urgency to provided information on the IDPs and the issues relating to them.The visit to the East revealed that the Provincial Council is yet unable to function as it should due to various constraints involving the Central Government and the Provincial Council.

This may undermine the hope many Tamils have that the 13th amendment and the Provincial Council system may satisfy their basic needs. The wisdom of holding Provincial Council elections, before normalcy has returned to the war-torn areas may also come into question as result. It is imperative the government makes the eastern Provincial government work as effectively as possible and guide it towards working effectively, if there are deficiencies in terms human and other resources. This gesture will go a long way in re-assuring the Tamils at this critical juncture. The politicians and officials, who are exploiting the current circumstances to pursue their personal agenda and enrichment eastern province, should be identified and suitably dealt.

The visit to the Jaffna peninsula and discussions there, revealed a better situation than the east. The Municipal election campaign was on and appeared to be peaceful. The outcome of these elections may provide a pointer to public opinion. The population in the peninsula has really shrunk and the social stratification drastically altered. How these changes impact on Tamil politics is to be seen. The lack of an active political leadership on the local scene was very visible, though the confusion as to what sort of leadership is desired and the political direction Tamils have to take have not yet been sorted out.

Initial steps were also taken to form an association of Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims in Sri Lanka to serve as a link to the Diaspora through similar associations or groups being formed in various countries. The Sri Lankan Association will also establish a ’Trust Fund’ in consultation with the government to participate in re-settlement, rehabilitation, re-building and development activities among the war-affected people and in war-affected areas, with the overall goal of nation building embracing all peoples in Sri Lanka. An interim committee has been appointed to take forward the mission to establish the association and trust fund in Sri Lanka.

We also found the desire to find an acceptable solution to the problems of the Tamils and other minorities, quite strong among the politicians, officials, Buddhist prelates and the general public we met. This climate is a window of opportunity that should not be missed by the Tamils and the national polity. Tamils have to be realistic in their demands. The Tamils have to ponder current realities on many fronts and pitch their demands in a direction that will permit them recover as a people, be an important component of the Sri Lankan nation and exercise reasonable powers to manage their own affairs. The group also participated in several radio and television programs to convey the observations, recommendations and thoughts to the general public.

Signed:

Dr.Noel Nadesan (Australia)
Dr.Rajasingham Narendran (Middle East)
Mrs. Rajeswari Balasubramaniam (U.K)
Manoranjan Selliah (Canada)
Rajaratnam Sivanathan (Australia)

"People in Sri Lanka expected more from the UN"- Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press, the New York City based public interest organization has published a report on the press conference held by Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu of Colombo-based Center for Policy Alternatives on Tuesday Aug 25th at the UN building in NYC:

At UN, A Call for An Envoy for Sri Lanka, Murder as Diagnosis, Footage Emerges

by Matthew Russell Lee

People in Sri Lanka expected more from the UN than a couple of phone calls and a Joint Statement with President Rajapaksa, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu of the Colombo-based Center for Policy Alternatives told the Press on Tuesday. Following Dr. Saravanamuttu's receipt of an anonymous death threat last week, a press conference was hastily organized inside the UN in New York. Roughly half of the questions asked by journalists concerned the death threats. Others concerned Saravanamuttu's assessment of the performance of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his chief of staff and enjoy, Vijay Nambiar.

Diplomatically, Saravanamuttu called both of them "disappointing." He noted that no UN Security Council member had pushed hard to get the bloody conflict onto the Council's agenda. A European Council member staffer was in the audience and did not disagree, but afterwards argued to Inner City Press that even if Sri Lanka were on the agenda, action could have been blocked by a veto. The staffer also confessed to knowing little about the GPS Plus tariff dispute that triggered the death threat to Saravanamuttu.

Saravanamuttu mentioned the roles of Russia and China, and non-Council member India. Asked why the UK, France and U.S. had not pushed harder in the Council, Saravanamuttu said "I guess we are not that important."

Saravanamuttu described a case pending before the Sri Lankan Supreme Court seeking to assert the human rights of the Tamils in the government's internment camps in the north. Again diplomatically, he said that the court does not share the "urgency" of the situation. An audience member, a journalist from India, asked about the recent extraordinary rendition of successor Tamil Tiger leader K.P. from Malaysia. Saravanamuttu said that little is known about how the seizure was done. Could one bring a habeus corpus like petition before the court? The Supreme Court, he said, would have to give leave to proceed.

Several of the attendees expressed surprise at how "moderate" Saravanamuttu was. He repeatedly criticized the LTTE, he called Mahinda Rajapaksa "his Excellency." He said he expected the government of Sri Lanka to protect him. He is on his way, after another UN visit on Wednesday, to a U.S. State Department event about Sri Lanka in Washington, an another session at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Also in the audience Tuesday were representatives of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as Oxfam which asked if Saravanamuttu was meeting with any UN officials while in town. I've met some in the past, Saravanamuttu said. This time, apparently not. Ban Ki-moon, who just returned from holiday in South Korean, leaves Thursday for Vienna and Norway.

Head humanitarian John Holmes, who once spoke of the blood bath on the beach, is on vacation. "Bloody Mary on the beach," one wag snarked, while the UN-funded camps are full of excrement and the monsoons are coming. Saravanamuttu's great hope seemed to be that Ban will, as he's done with Jean-Maurice Ripert in Pakistan, name a special envoy. Let's see if he does.

Comrade Upali Cooray dedicated his life to protection of human rights

by Lionel Bopage

I join with many comrades and friends, who are saddened by the passing away of Comrade Upali Cooray. He dedicated his life to the protection of human rights of the working people. He always persevered to preserve and enhance those rights against individuals, groups and parties that violated them. He always struck me as a simple man who was always politically conscious.

UCTC0826.jpg

Upali Cooray

I first heard of Comrade Upali when I was behind bars in the seventies, convicted for conspiring and waging war against the Queen’s government in Sri Lanka. Formerly, he was a member of the LSSP and left it in 1964 when its leadership decided to form a bourgeois coalition with the SLFP. Comrade Upali was an active member of the International Marxist Group in London and worked together with the comrades of the Ginipupura Group agitating for the release of the political prisoners.

My recollection is that he came back to Sri Lanka at the end of the seventies and worked with Comrade Bala Tampoe as a member of the Revolutionary Marxist Party. He visited Comrade Rohana Wijeweera and me when we were in prison and later after our release. When I left the JVP in 1984, Comrade Upali with Comrades Gunasena Mahanama and Professor Sumanasiri Liyanage met me at the GCSU office in Colombo to discuss the political situation in the country.

I remember with pleasure his response to several comments made on Letter to a Grandnephew: Building a new society in Sri Lanka based on equality and justice, which expressed his genuine commitment for a fair, just and better Sri Lanka. A Sri Lanka where all its residents could take part and enjoy life as equals with dignity and security. I admit I did not agree with some of the positions he took. Nevertheless, I never had any doubt that he meant well. For his intention, like all his social activism, was for achieving a just and lasting peace in the island.

I met him last when I was in London a few years back. We had a fruitful discussion about the ways to rid Sri Lanka of the terror being practised. We also discussed the political means on how to achieve a fair and just solution to the national question in Sri Lanka. He had been unwell for some time but this did not deter him from being engaged and active

Even though we moved along different paths and followed different strategies we had the same cherished secular ideal of protecting and upholding the democratic rights of working people irrespective of their socio-cultural background.

As a fellow traveller on the path to social justice, I take this opportunity to pay tribute and to un-categorically state, how much I and other activists on the road to justice and equity will miss Upali and his immeasurable contribution.

My heartfelt and deepest sympathy go out to his wife Sylvia and children Alex, Samantha and Jasmine, friends and loved ones. All I can say is that I share their grief.

In the end keeping Comrade Upali’s fight for justice, fairness, equity and democracy alive will be the best way to remember and honour him and his legacy.

Announcement:

With extreme sadness, we announce the untimely death of UPALI COORAY, a reputed stalwart of the left and a lifelong champion of oppressed people, on 21 August 2009.

UPALI is survived by his wife Sylvia, son Alex and daughters Samantha and Jasmine.

Viewing: The body may be viewed on Wednesday, 2 September 2009 between 9.00 am and 4.00 pm at the chapel at Co-operative Funeralcare, 451 Harrow Road, London W10 4RG, (020 8969 6260)

Funeral Service & Cremation: There will be a humanist service on Thursday, 3 September 2009 at the West London Crematorium, Harrow Road, Kensal Green, London W10 4RA. The service will be brief (approx. 30 minutes).

Parking is available at the Crematorium. The nearest underground station is Kensal Green.

No flowers please. However, there will be a charity collection for UNICEF and Amnesty International - charities nominated by the family - at the service.

- Announcement by friends of UPALI in association with his wife Sylvia and children, Alex, Samantha, and Jasmine Cooray

25 August 2009

Majula Singapura:Are we ready for a Singapore story in Sri Lanka?

by Shyamalee Mahibalan Murugesu

I noticed that among many Sri Lankan’s the euphoria of post war has created once again a heady elation that we are headed towards becoming another Singapore. In a time where borders and boundaries are redefined, when cultures and ethnicities have intertwined creating unique individual identities, one might agree that a post war Sri Lanka cannot afford to make the mistakes of post independence Ceylon. Singapore’s success story did not evolve overnight it was a collective effort by all its citizens, a desire to create a successful discipline nation and share the fruits of its labour across language race and religion. Indeed an ideology that was beyond politics.

It is infact interesting to trace history itself to the events that reshaped the two countries doing so I might shatter the illusions of many here. I think that we are here today due to our past mistakes a legacy of petty politics.

Singapore and Sri Lanka were both Islands and crown colonies of Britain. Singapore a part of Malaya was much smaller with no infrastructure or resources, and when it gained independence Singapore was left to fend for itself. Sri Lanka by far had all this. In his first Visit to Sri Lanka Lee Kuan Yew highlights that he was impressed by the city of Colombo and its public Buildings. Quote "Ceylon had more resources and infrastructure than Singapore. This was the year Solomon Dias Bandaranaike was sworn in as Prime minister". "He promised to make Sinhala the national language and Buddhism the national religion. This was the start of unraveling of Ceylon" he says. Unravel indeed, it unleashed an era of terror and bloodshed and created Asia’s longest Civil war. To day Lee Kuan Yew says no country should follow the Ceylon Model.

If it was Solomon Dias Bandaranaike’s short sighted thinking to fuel his political ambitions in a predominant Buddhist country that dragged Sri Lanka through a Civil War, it was Lee Kuan Yew’s far sighted vision that might have created a racially tolerant, multiracial and vibrant Singapore. He seemed to have got it right from day one, a formula that worked well for Singapore and designed to work in the future too. Singapore’s main emphasis from its inception has been to provide a great education and instill a discipline system where every citizen will be governed by its rules. He increased the salaries of civil servants to maintain a clean house and introduced legislations to clean the house of corrupt practices.

By creating these simple foundations to day Singapore has flourished in to a first world nation. A medical research/ and the financial hub of the world, and Singapore’s world class education system is an inspiration to the world. A country that is safe and secure for Children and women, a country where woman could walk the streets in the wee hours of the night. I remember a Singaporean exchange student who was leaving to Toronto recently asked me what kind of a city Toronto is, and my advice for her was Toronto is not Singapore it is perfectly normal for women to go missing out of streets, so stick with your crowd if it is a late night. All across North America I find this to be very common.

To me the historical soul of this ethnically diverse multicultural country remains in the east, west and north to the Singapore River. On the east of the river is the sights and sounds of Chinatown with its colourful street shops and temples, to the west is the hustle and bustle of Little India where the south Asian culture is alive with its multitude of restaurants, temples and shops, and to the north within the backdrop of the Sultan Mosque is the Kampong Glam district of Malay Heritage centre with roads that snakes out to Arab Street, Kandahar street. This is the place for Moroccan cous cuos, Turkish Kebab, and the best Arabic coffee. This historical soul of Singapore is a creative paradise where these culture infuse a uniquely Singapore experience. This is the place for dreamers and artists who seek inspiration.

As Singapore celebrated its 44th national day last week, a day when every Singaporean renewed their pledge as the citizens of Singapore, to unite, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for the nation. It was written in 1966 by then Foreign Affairs minister of Sri Lankan origin Mr S Rajaratnam . Mr Rajaratnam had revealed that the dream was about building a Singapore that everyone can be proud of. He believed that language, race and religion were divisive factors, but the Pledge emphasizes that these differences can be overcome if Singaporeans cared enough about their country.

Recently I came across a group of Singaporean Malay teenagers who were humming a tune upon inquiry I found out that they were humming the tune of Majula Singapura or onward Singapore, the national anthem of Singapore. The anthem which was composed by Zubair Zaid is infact sung in Malay. The national flag consists of a crescent and five tiny stars. Singapore’s population consists of 43 percent Buddhist Chinese, 15 percent Malay Muslims, 15 percent Christians, 8 percent Taoist and 4 percent Hindus.

Since its inception English has remained Singapore’s common workplace language while mandarin, Malay and Tamil are also considered as other official languages.

When English was made the official language in the 70’s initial teething issues were reported to be many. When the Nan Yang University students were faced with unemployment problems as regards English proficiency Lee Kuan Yew merged the Nan yang university with the English Language University of Singapore and thus launched the National university of Singapore.

We Sri Lankan’s are seems to be living in a political enclave to the point that a book I read recently on Surveying and Mapping of Colonial Sri Lanka by Ian J Barrow highlights that, "looking at maps of Sri Lanka published throughout the 20th century, the surveyors were trying to fix the political meaning of a territory, even when public sentiments have moved beyond that understanding".

Since independence we have had too many elections, too much money wasted and too many political powers with too many political ideologies, each busy trying to create history by building political edifices.

The future of Sri Lanka remains and will depend upon the decisions taken now. On the commitment to clean up the house, to clean the streets of illegal weapons and arms, to uphold Justice law and order and create a discipline law abiding society where every citizen while reaping its benefits could live in peace and harmony.

Then again can we sing the national anthem in Tamil?

Time is ripe for urgent reform of the Thesawalamai law

Women’s Education and Research Centre

Thesawalamai is a territorial customary law of Sri Lanka, apart from the General Law of Sri Lanka there are three personal customary laws – Kandyan law, Muslim law and Thesawalamai law – and they all operate strictly within limited parameters. The Kandyan law applies to the Kandyan Buddhists, while the Muslim law applies to all Muslims in Sri Lanka. Similarly the Thesawalamai, which is a land and property law, applies to a certain group of people – the inhabitants of the Northern Province. The Thesawalamai law is subjected to many controversies as to whom exactly this law applies to, all inhabitants of the Northern Province or only the Tamils of the Northern Province.

Apart from this controversy this law is widely spoken for its recognition to the necessity of women’s ownership to land and property for the security of their future.

Thesawalamai, in Tamil, literally mean the customs of the land. It is ancient in its origin and has prevailed in the North Ceylon for several

Because of its popularity among the local inhabitants, the Dutch first codified it in 1706 and the British gave it legal validity by the Tesawala Regulation No 18 of 1806. Ordinance No 5 of 1869. The Matrimonial Rights and Inheritance Ordinance of 1911 (as amended by the Ordinance No 58 of 1947) and the Jaffna Matrimonial Rights and Inheritance Ordinance No 1 of 1911 are the sources and basis of the Matrimonial Rights of Tamil Spouses and gave statutory validity and, where required, affected amendments, to Thesawalamai principles concerning the same subject. The Thesawalamai Pre-emption Ordinance of 1948 amended and consolidated the Law of Pre-emption relating to lands affected by the Thesawalamai.

According to Thesawlalamai the property can be divided into three categories – Mutisam, Chitanam and Tetiyatetam. Mutisam is the inherited property of the man from his parents, Chitanam is the inherited property of the wife from her parents, and Tetiyatetam is the acquired property of the man and wife during their lifetime together. The daughters inherit the Chitanam of the mother, while the sons inherit the Mutisam of the father. The acquired property is divided equally among the sons and daughters. Thus the inheritance of the man and wife remain separate.

When a widow remarries the daughters of both marriages get her property, and when a widower remarries he must ensure that the wife’s dowry go as dowry to the daughters of the dead wife, while fifty percent of his Mutisam will be shared among the sons of the dead wife and fifty percent of the acquired property (till then) shall be shared among all the children of the dead wife.

In the event of a divorce the wife gets her entire dowry and half the acquired property. The right of the woman to her dowry and acquired property reduced to a great extent their dependency status on others, while it also strengthened the status of a single woman in the society. During the period of codifying this law women were not gainfully employed, thus the law is considered advantageous for women.

However, there are certain restrictions in this law – this law prevents women from having free control over her own rightful property. A law that recognizes the labour of a housewife as part of contributing to the husbands economical achievement, and her right to own her property separately, restricts the woman from taking decisions on the disposal of her property. Chithanam is divided into three parts: cash, jewellery and land or house. While the movable property can be sold or mortgaged by the wife the immovable property can only be mortgaged or sold with the consent of the husband. Whereas the husband need not consult his wife when he intends to sell or mortgage his inherited property or acquired property. Under Thesawalamai, the woman on marriage, passes from the guardianship of the father to the guardianship of the husband who becomes the sole and irrevocable attorney of the wife. It is ironic that, however qualified a woman may be, as for example, be a Chartered Accountant, or a Business Entrepreneur and deals with millions or billions of rupees on behalf of her employer is unable to do so with regard to her own personal investments or, indeed, sign away ownership of land without the husband’s written consent

Thesawalai being primarily a codified law, however, has not been able to evolve with time or take into account social changes which have, over the years, taken place in Sri Lanka or elsewhere. Sure, the time is ripe for urgent reform this and other areas of Thesawalamai. But changes must necessarily take place through legislative intervention. Such changes cannot be done by person or persons or by a political party or by a liberation movement, made to stand by themselves in the wilds of Vanni, and yet remain under the banner of Thesawalamai.

The threads of Thesawalamai are inextricably interwoven into the legal system of Sri Lanka and are very much part of the legal system in Sri Lanka. Thesawalamai is still a way of life among a good proportion of the Jaffna Tamils. Thesawalamai will continue to apply to certain persons who regard Jaffna as their home although, such persons have not been able to physically travel to Jaffna over long periods of time difficulties of travelling etc.

Let not ignorance, prejudice, and misinterpretation of this rich system of customary law be impediments to its harmonious co-existence with the other laws of Sri Lanka.

(Women’s Education and Research Centre)

Comrade Pathmanathan: Well-known figure of the Wanni

(Text of Memorial Lecture in honour of Late Comrade K. Pathmanathan by cabinet minister and Communist party leader Dew Gunasekara)

Mr. Chairman, Rev. Sirs, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, comrades and friends,

The task of delivering the first memorial lecture as a mark of respect, honour and gratitude, to Comrade Pathmanathan has fallen on me. I accepted the kind invitation extended to me by the members of his family with pleasure.

Comrade Pathmanathan passed away on July 13, 2005. The situation that prevailed in Vanni did not permit us to pay our homage to the departing leader with due respect, honour and gratitude. This was perhaps why his family decided upon to organize this memorial meting. They did not want to hold it on July 13th, on the day of the 4th. Anniversary in the midst of the Local Government Elections and I agreed with them. His 4th death anniversary coincides with his Party’s 66th. Anniversary.

Comrade Pathmanathan, a well-known figure in Vanni, with an unblemished record of service to his people with dedication, commitment and courage needs no introduction. He belonged to a generation of Ayurvedic Physicians. He was a leader of peasant movement, cooperative movement and left movement in politics. All his social, political and religious activities are well-known to the people of Vanni. So I do not propose to deal with them.

However, I wish to reveal and place some of his activities on record for the knowledge of the younger generation.

As far back as 1927, the year he was born, we were a State under British Colonialism. The struggle of total independence for our Country was ‘in its infant stage. The loud noise in our Country then was for limited political reforms and not for total independence.

Ponnambalam Arunachhalen was the first Sri Lankan who broke the news of the Great October Socialist Revolution in 1917, which ushered in an era of struggle for national liberation in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

It was in this context that the Jaffna Student Congress and later Youth Congress led by Handy Perimpanayagam came into being with a radical programme in 1924. The birth of the All-Ceylon Youth Congress in 1931 and the Sooriya Mal Movement in 1933 was a further development of that struggle for total independence. The formation of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party in 1935 and the Communist Party in 1943 were all extensions of that movement on firmer ideological orientations.

There were a galaxy of Left leaders with high intellect produced by the North namely, T. Duraisingham, A. Vaidyalingam, P. Kandiah, S. Jeyasingham, N. Shanmugathasan, V. Ponnambalam, M. Karthigesan, S. P. Nadarajah, A. Ariyaratnam who nourished the Left Movement substantially. Veteran Trade Union leaders like, K. C. Nythyanandan, C. Coomaraswamy, P. Coomaraswamy, S. Chelliah, K. Navaratnam, emerged from the North, who were associated with the Left Movement.

The Communist Party is the only Left Party which had three MPs in Parliament representing the North, of course at different periods.

It was at this juncture of the Left Movement that Comrade Pathmanathan came into contact with the Communist leaders through V. Ponnambalam and M. Karthigesu. The great Chinese Revolution of 1949, 30 years of Independent/struggle of the Vietnamese People from 1945 - 1975, and the Indian Communist Movement were sources of inspiration to these young Communists like Pathmanathan who joined our Party in 1952.

He contested the Vavuniya Seat in 1970 under the SLFP - LSSP - CP United Front. He enhanced his political studies in Moscow.

He played a prominent role in 1982 Presidential Election in support of Hector Kobbekaduwa who secured highest vote in the Northern Province out-beating the incumbent J. R. Jayewardena and Kumar Ponnambalam. I must recall the fact that people in the North at this Election both in the Jaffna District and Vanni District voted en bloc to Sinhala leaders regardless of community consideration.

This was a period when the national unity basically prevailed despite political and ideological differences amongst Political Parties. At the people’s level, the national unity and communal harmony prevailed at its zenith. Black July of 1983 destroyed that unity.

Today, we are meeting after the end of a 26 years of prolonged war. Terrorism operated for over 30 years - No one can be happy over what had happened during this period. The loss of precious lives ‘’and destruction to property, the economic ruin, prolonged suffering of the people, degeneration of culture, emergence of cult of violence, collapse of good governance, complete collapse of national unity and integration, emergence of an underworld were all products and by- products of all what happened thereafter.

I do not want to be disrespectful to the departed leaders of any community, or the rulers who guided the destinies of our nation. This is a period of healing and reconciliation. I do not propose to unearth those unfortunate events. But, there are facts of history which we cannot forget and from which we must draw necessary lessons if we are to re-emerge from this catastrophe.

In retrospect, as a student of history, I must confess that our leaders since Independence failed in their task of nation-building.

As far as our Party - Communist Party of Sri Lanka is concerned, we identified the national question from its inception. In fact, the concept of regional autonomy was introduced to the contemporary politics of our Country by our Party. It was based on a scientific analysis of socio-economic-cultural realities and also international experiences.

The ruling bourgeois Parties since Independence failed to comprehend these realities and were carried away by petty-narrow political interests. They abdicated their historical responsibility in task of nation-building Sri Lankan nation.

It was so in the case of bourgeoisie Tamil leaders in the North (both Tamil Congress and Federal Party). They played a conservative and reactionary role in the realm of politics, prioritizing their tasks to their narrow class interests. They were all identified with the reactionary and conservative political positions. That was why they opposed, school take over, Paddy Land Act, Nationalization Projects, citizenship rights, all progressive political and social reforms.

Failure to find solutions to the National Question brought about a change in the political leadership of the Tamil people - from the bourgeoisie to the petty - bourgeoisie in 1980s.

Unfortunately, the right-wing petty - bourgeoisie took over the leadership. It embarked on a path of violence, terrorism, and separatism based on ultra-nationalism and even chauvinism.

The left-wing petty-bourgeoisie parties who opted for national unity, for a democratic path of development, for a political solution within the framework of United Sri Lanka, were all marginalized, eliminated or destroyed. The bridge between the North and the South at the level of the people, and at the level of progressive forces collapsed. We of the Left Movement who from its inception, fought for the cause of national minorities, for national unity and who gave their lives for the implementation of the 13th. Amendment were too not spared - 49 of our leaders at various levels and in various fields were killed by the JVP and the LTTE.

In the last 30 years, the Sinhalese Chauvinism in the South and Tamil Chauvinism in the North survived, thrived and flourished at the expense of the Left Movement and progressive forces. The country lost sense of moderation, sanity, amity, and unity with the flourishing of Sinhala and Tamil extremism.

Our Party never embraced terrorism or violence as a method of capturing power. Nor did we ever resort to thuggery, intimidation to further the aims of our Party. Our hands are not stained with blood.

Our Party has always been patriotic. Equally true, that our Party was internationalist. Patriotism and Internationalism are two sides of the same coin for above all we stand for humanism.

We introduced socialism to our Country. Equally true that it was we who introduced the socialist countries to our Country. It was the Communists who initiated struggle against the caste system, both in the South and

North, a legacy of feudalism. We made the people more enlightened removing from their minds, myths, mysterious beliefs and obscurantism.

It, is in this background that I wish to evaluate the contribution made by comrade K. Pathmanathan, who silently but courageously took up the principled position on these national issues with his theoretical grounding and practical experience. For him, the determining factors were national unity, communal harmony, larger interests of the people and his vision for a socialist Sri Lanka.

Now that war has come to an end, history has bestowed on us another opportunity to struggle for national unity, bring an end to discrimination, and injustice, ensure equality and social justice, and social development.

Today, the G.D.P. of the Northern Province is only 2.9% while the Western Province accounts for nearly 50%. Even the Provinces like North Central and Uva which are adjacent to the War Zone had each only 4% of the National G.D.P. The effect of the war was not restricted to the North and East.

That is why we are giving highest priority to the infrastructure development to the North and East. The I.D.P. problem has to be tackled as fast as possible. The civil administration has to be restored. People should be given the opportunity to elect their own leaders to grass-root level institutions. Provincial Council has to be set up and elections held.

These preliminary steps, I believe, will create the conducive atmosphere to facilitate our search for a lasting political solution. Admittedly, there is a big gap between the Sinhala and Tamil society as far as mutual trust is concerned. We must bridge this gap; particularly at the people’s level. Mutual fear, distrust and suspicion has to be eliminated.It is through a lasting political solution that we will be able to cement that trust finally and concretely.

It is my conviction that desired national unity can be ensured only through closer co-operation of the Left and progressive forces in the South and the North. Terrorism and war weakened the Left Movement. It has become necessary to rebuild the Left and Progressive movements.I must take this opportunity to apprise you of the profound changes taking place in the international scene.

Twenty years back in 1989, when the Berlin Wall collapsed (i.e. collapse of Socialist East Germany) and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, bourgeoisie leaders, the world over predicted the end of socialism.

Faster than we expected, the world scene is profoundly changing with the emergence of China and India as world economic powers. The centre of world economy is shifting to the continent of Asia.United States and Western Europe, citadels of capitalism have crumbled, with the worsening of global financial crisis.

The awakening of Latin America has brought about 13 Left and pro- left Parties to power and has changed the balance of forces in the continent of America.

New Economic Centres, Brazil in Latin America, SO% Africa in the African Continent, Russia in Euro-Asia together with China and India have completely changed the balance in the world economic powers.

Power of the Dollar has weakened. 75% of the world foreign exchange reserves today belong to the developing countries. 1/3 of the world foreign exchange reserve is now owned by China.

These changes were reflected in U.N., Human Rights Council and I.M.F. when the Western Powers failed to have their own say in the recent sessions on the matters relating to Sri Lanka.

These are the new realities of the world developments. The Left Movement has revived. Number of Communist Parties and Left Parties have come to power through elections. The Indian Communist Movement despite recent set backs is on the ascendancy ideologically and organizationally. There is today the globalization of solidarity amongst Communist, Socialism and Left Parties.

JVP was riding high on the waves of Sinhala Chauvinism and so- called Indian expansionism. That phenomenon is now on the decline. Marxism and Chauvinism are like oil and water and cannot be mixed. The internal contradictions within the JVP have led to splits. So is the JHU.

The only way how we can remember comrade K. Pathmanathan is to raise high the banner of Red Flag held by him for 50 long years with commitment and dedication.

He brought up nine children who today have earned the love and admiration of the Vanni people, amongst them are distinguished personalities in various fields of social activity. They are in their own way making their share of contribution to the Country.

Last but not least, I with deep respect, honour and gratitude salute the memory of Comrade K. Pathmanathan, on the occasion of his 4th. Death Anniversary which significantly coincides with the 66th. Anniversary of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka to which he belonged.

Confined Sri Lankan Doctors Acted in Accordance with Medical Ethics-PHR

Statement by Physicians for Human Rights

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes the conditional release from custody yesterday of four physicians, whom the Sri Lankan government has detained since May 16, 2009. Colombo Chief Magistrate Nishantha Hapuarachchi granted personal bail (one million Sri Lankan rupees or $8,800 USD) to each of the four men provided they appear each month before police authorities at the Vavuniya branch of the Central Investigating Division (CID) in northern Sri Lanka.

Government authorities have restricted their movement, however, and the four doctors are confined to Vavuniya. They are scheduled to appear in court on November 9, 2009 for allegedly providing “false information” to the international community pertaining to civilian deaths.

PHR strongly opposes such allegations and believes that the physicians acted in accordance with their professional medical ethics.

"Doctors have an ethical duty to prevent and limit suffering of patients in their care and a duty to practice medicine in a neutral way without fear or favor. When there is evidence of any attack on a hospital or medical facility, it is appropriate for physicians to speak out in keeping with their ethical commitments. An embarrassed government has no right to detain doctors for practicing neutral medicine and for providing factual reports about the humanitarian and health situation on the ground," stated Frank Donaghue, CEO of PHR.

The four Sri Lankan physicians are:

-Thangamutha Sathiyamoorthy, MD, Regional Director of Health Services in Kilinochchi

-Veerakaththi Shanmugarajah, MD, Medical Superintendent at Mullivaaykkaal field hospital

-Thurairaja Varatharajah, MD, Regional Director of Health Services in Mullaitivu, remains in hospital recovering from an operation on his right arm due to injuries sustained when he was leaving the conflict zone

-Illancheliyan Pallavan, MD, physician at Puthukudiyiruppu government hospital

-According to PHR sources in the region, a fifth physician, Sinnathurai Sivapalan, MD, reportedly remains in custody. Dr. Sivapalan worked at a private hospital in the conflict zone.

PHR believes that the detention of the Sri Lankan doctors was an attempt to suppress reports about the humanitarian crisis, civilian casualties, and attacks on hospitals during the recent routing of Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. The five Sri Lankan physicians dauntlessly provided emergency medical care to civilians during the armed conflict between the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatist forces. As the conflict zone became increasingly inaccessible to the outside world, the doctors provided first-hand accounts of shelling and civilian casualties and described the condition of their patients. Reliable sources indicated to PHR that the government likely detained them incommunicado in retaliation for adhering to their ethical obligation to protect the lives of their patients in all circumstances. These are serious violations of medical neutrality.

PHR continues to call for the doctors’ unconditional release and asks the Government of Sri Lanka to assure their safety and well-being.

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Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) mobilizes the health professions to advance the health and dignity of all people by protecting human rights. As a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, PHR shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

August 25, 2009

IDP's are not Strangers but our own People -Karu Jayasuriya

This is the text of a Statement in Parliament on 19th August 2009 by the UNP deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya:

Mr. Speaker,

When I talk about IDPs, I can speak only as an ordinary citizen of this country and not as a parliamentarian of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. As much as opposition parliamentarians are prevented from visiting IDPs, we cannot even go beyond Medawachchiya check point without a valid permit from the Ministry of Defense. Even if we carry a permit we are once again subjected to various delays and occasional harassment.

This rule does not apply to ruling elite, their relations and friends. I saw this happening whilst I was there at Medawachchiya check point. We cannot see a greater insult to parliamentarians and the functioning of democracy than this dual treatment. We have been compelled to seek judicial redress. A case is pending.

As we all know, approximately 280,000 people live in 30 Government camps in Vavuniya, Mannar, Jaffna and Trincomalee Districts, after fleeing fighting between Government forces and the now defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The plight of the IDPs – which was bad enough to begin with – has now considerably worsened due to the recent rains.

I come to understand from reliable sources that due to the rains, within mere minutes, the camps have become a sea of mud and misery – and a breeding ground for waterborne diseases.

I have heard that latrines are being dug and the water is being tanked. We also know that doctors and nurses and other Health Ministry officials have taken some measures to bring the situation under control.

But, considering the fact that the area in question is vast and contains almost 300,000 people – and although we appreciate the efforts being made – this simply isn’t good enough.

According to people on the ground, the water supply system is unfortunately very minimal, the excrement disposal system is basic and the land is extremely flat. As a result of the rains, what was once dust has now become mud.

The situation in the IDP camps is now one of absolute and complete chaos. I am certain that all the members here will agree that we simply cannot allow these people to suffer anymore. They have already undergone tremendous suffering while in the clutches of the LTTE and have been deprived for far too long.

Mr. Speaker, the people in these camps aren’t strangers – they are our own people. We cannot and should not allow anymore hardship to befall these civilians, who are citizens of this country.

We must understand their predicament and the gravity of the situation and take all measures necessary to arrest the situation immediately. These people have suffered too much Sir and it is our duty to ensure that their suffering is not further prolonged.

Apart from the rain, which has complicated an already adverse ground situation, there are many other issues that need to be addressed urgently.

There is serious concern with regard to the number of medical staff available inside the camps. People complain about the number of days they have to wait to see a doctor.

There are many people with injuries and amputations and as you can imagine, they need physiotherapy and there is a serious lack of resources to attend to these things.

There are mental health problems as well, which is a very serious issue. This is no surprise, considering the fact that during the conflict these people underwent numerous traumatic experiences.

Many of them have lost loved ones and sustained injuries. In addition to facing such emotional trauma, they are now in a situation where they find it almost impossible to rebuild a normal life. Family members are separated. This is inhuman.

The monsoon rains are expected in September and generally last two to three months. This will undoubtedly make the camps a living hell for the IDPs. I would like to request the Government to make a coherent statement on how it intends to protect these innocent civilians and ensure that they will undergo no more suffering.

Mr. Speaker, there are a large number of injured and old people in these camps. In addition, there are very young children too. Try as I might, I cannot comprehend the suffering they face in their day-to-day life. I have even heard about double amputees trying to get around in the mud.

We, as a civilised nation, cannot continue to allow our own people to suffer like this anymore. I would like to request the Government to stop telling the public what they want to hear but what they need to know.

We need to resettle the civilians as soon as possible. No human being deserves to go through what these people have gone through so far. Approximately 70% of the houses are in tact and people could easily move into these areas immediately. Land mines are confined to certain areas only. There is no excuse to delay resettlement beyond 180 days at the very least.

I firmly believe that if all of us are willing to share the burden of solving the immediate problems of the IDPs and if the Government is willing to look at it from a humanitarian perspective rather than a political one, we could expedite the process of resettling the IDPs and accomplish this task sooner than the Government anticipates.

To date, there has been no transparent and systematic release of anyone from the camps, with the exception of children under 10 and adults over 60 who have relations outside the camps. I would appreciate a clarification on this matter from the Government. These people cannot be treated like prisoners.

The Government has an obligation to adopt a systematic method to release these people, who have already undergone immense hardships. And until they are released, the responsibility lies with the Government to ensure that basic facilities are provided to them, at the very least.

Right now, these people are living in crowded tents like cattle with nowhere to go and almost nothing to do, which will only serve to further impact their emotional and mental state in a negative manner.

Parents are concerned about the future of their children. The environment is not conducive for education although over 1,000 students are sitting for the GCE Advanced Level examinations this year, which commenced last week.

I firmly believe that the Government should seriously consider judging their performance under a special category.

Try and imagine how many potential academics, doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers and the like may be confined in these camps. Imagine the contribution they could make for the betterment of this land if they were to be protected and guided in this difficult hour.

We must feel their pain and understand their pain. It is only once these people are resettled that we can truly and wholeheartedly celebrate the military success achieved by our heroes, which will then be complete in every manner.

The military has played its role and done its duty. It is time now for the politicians to play their role and do their duty so that this country can move forward as one, embracing diversity and promoting unity.

It is nothing short of irresponsible of us to blame the UN and say that it is responsible for the maintenance of damaged drainage and sewage systems. It is the responsibility of the Sri Lankan state to look after its citizens and ensure their wellbeing.

As the main opposition, the United National Party remains committed to extending whatever assistance the Government needs to resolve the problems faced by the IDPs.

The UNP remains committed to diversity, unity and equality – and, above all else, ensuring that all the people of Sri Lanka can live in respect and with dignity and look forward to a brighter future in our motherland.

UK TV footage claims to show Sri Lankan forces executing Tamils earlier this year

Channel 4 News shows footage claimed to show Sri Lankan forces executing Tamils earlier this year:

Be warned - there are extremely disturbing scenes in this report- by Channel 4 foreign affairs correspondent Jonathan Miller.

Just three months after the Sri Lankan government declared the country liberated from the Tamil Tigers, video footage has emerged apparently showing government troops summarily executing Tamils.

Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, which obtained the material, said it was filmed in January - when the international media were prevented by the Sri Lankan government from covering the conflict zone.

Tonight, the Sri Lankan High Commission denied the government had carried out atrocities against the Tamil community.

The Sri Lankan government launched a large scale military offensive in January capturing the Tamil Tiger held town of Kilinochchi. The army then steadily pushed the rebels into an small area of the north-east.

Sri Lanka High Commission response

"The High Commission of Sri Lanka categorically deny that the Sri Lankan armed forces engaged in atrocities against Sri Lankan Tamil community. They were only engaged in a military offensive against the LTTE.

"The High Commission has noted that in many instances in the past, various media institutions used doctored videos, photographs and documents to defame the Sri Lankan government and armed forces. Therefore, we request you to verify the authenticity of the video footage before the telecast". [courtesy: Channel 4 UK]

August 24, 2009

Pictorial: Warning over Sphere standards in IDP camps as monsoon looms

Sphere standards at internally displaced persons (IDO) camps in northern Sri Lanka are being undermined due to overcrowding, say aid workers.

WaterTC0824.jpg

[An example of washing water some residents have had to use-pic: IRIN]

The Sphere Project, a collaboration of international NGOs and the Red Cross Movement to improve the quality of disaster response, outlines best practices in food aid, nutrition, health, water and sanitation and emergency shelter provision.

“We are missing Sphere standards by a long way, particularly in the WASH [water, sanitation and hygiene] cluster,” David White, Oxfam’s country director in Colombo, told IRIN, citing instances where some people were going without water for washing for up to three days.

“We’re not even close,” said another international aid worker. “With the monsoon rains, it’s going to get worse,” he warned.

Close to 300,000 people now languish in 30 government camps in Vavuniya, Mannar, Jaffna and Trincomalee districts, after fleeing fighting between government forces and the now defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland for more than two decades.

Many of the camps - which were hastily erected in the final days of the war after thousands fled south from former LTTE-controlled areas - suffer from severe overcrowding.

Most are located in and around the town of Vavuniya – the epicentre of one of the island nation’s worst levels of displacement ever.

“Many of the camps now exceed their planned capacity,” confirmed one international aid worker in Vavuniya.

Of the 246,000 IDPs in Vavuniya, more than 200,000 now stay in Menik Farm - a sprawling 809ha site about 50km outside the town, comprised of six separate zones and easily the most overcrowded.

This despite the fact that a large percentage of them actually have families in the area they could stay with.

WaterTC0824A.jpg

Upcoming monsoon rains are a serious source of concern

Decongestion

Decongestion is now taking on an even greater sense of urgency.

“The issue has been recognized by the government already in late May during the UN Secretary-General’s visit, as reflected in the joint statement made by President Rajapakse and [Ban Ki-moon], and work is ongoing to resettle people as well as to permit vulnerable people to leave,” Neil Buhne, the UN resident representative in Colombo, said.

“Concerns about security are recognized by everyone, but from all my discussions with everyone involved with the camps – from government to UN to NGOs, everyone also recognizes that the sooner people can get back to their homes or with host families, the better."

“UNHCR [the UN Refugee Agency] and its shelter partners are supporting the government’s decongestion efforts to ensure that the conditions in the emergency shelter sites reach international standards,” said Elizabeth Tan, officer-in-charge for UNHCR Sri Lanka, which is working with the government to prepare the site as best as possible to withstand the upcoming monsoon season.

More than three months since the conflict ended, Zone two of Menik Farm continues to hold close to 55,000 - almost double its planned capacity.

“If those zones had the amount of people they were built for, we would be a lot closer to Sphere standards,” Oxfam’s White said.

In fact, in some parts of Menik Farm, a single latrine caters to up to 80 people [Sphere standards call for 20], while some tents designed for five were accommodating up to 14.

Yet according to Buhne, how close or how far Sphere standards could be met depended on the sector, as well as the location within the camps.

“Some of newly established small areas are close to or even meet some standards, while in the larger, longer-established sites there is more work to be done,” he said.

“Camp conditions were gradually stabilizing until mid-August,” he said, citing government efforts and those of international agencies since the last influx in late May.

WaterTC0824B.jpg

More than 200,000 people live in Menik Farm

"Schools [and] health clinics had been or were being established; access to water and sanitation had improved and most people now had the calorie intake they needed,” he said.

Even so, significant challenges persist, highlighted and accentuated by the recent rains, he said.

“Last week’s rains were a warning for us. We have to act and act soon,” said an aid worker.

Set to arrive within a matter of weeks, the monsoon will sorely test the ability of the authorities and the aid community to cope.

“The international community is watching. We can’t pretend we didn’t know it was coming,” she said, explaining that even if you took 50,000 people out of the camps tomorrow, once the monsoon arrives the camps would no longer be viable.

"The clock is now ticking," she said.

Report by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs ~ IRIN News

What is required now is full implementation of 13th amendment

by Lynn Ockersz

US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake could be ‘way off the mark’ when he questions Sri Lanka’s progress in resettling and rehabilitating the IDPs of the North but has given the country and its political leadership something to deeply ponder over and be concerned about when he says that they are very wanting on the question of bringing reconciliation to Sri Lanka.

Ideally, there should be rapid progress in the screening of IDPs and their resettlement but this operation is fraught with risks on account of the possibility of quite a few former LTTE cadres masquerading as civilians. Admittedly, the screening process has to be carried out with considerable circumspection in view of this risk and the state could not afford to be careless on this score, lest ex-LTTE members mingle with the population segment in question and pose a future security threat to the state.

The position of the Lankan state on the care that should go into the screening process should, therefore, be accepted and, to a degree, those sections which are calling for the expediting of the screening, should bear with the authorities. But it also needs to be conceded that a needless prolonging of the relevant security precautions could increasingly open the Lankan state to the charge that the civilian sections concerned are being victimized.

Therefore, the position could be taken that the state should do everything within its power, within the current security constraints, to ensure the expeditious resettlement and rehabilitation of IDPs, for, the freedom of movement of law-abiding citizens could in no way be hampered, unless for very legitimate reasons. But the state could not be negligent in the process.

National reconciliation, however, is an entirely different matter. On this score, the Lankan government could be said to be slow-footed and even weak-kneed. After a considerable period of time the country’s minority ethnic and religious communities are shown as celebrating events and occasions which have a close bearing on their identities, but such manifestations of a celebratory nature do not add-up to the materialization of national reconciliation to any significant degree.

No doubt, the free, joyful conduct of these events should be welcomed because they testify to the provision of space by the state, for the ethnic and cultural groups concerned, to exercise their cultural and religious autonomy, but we are only skimming the surface of national reconciliation with these provisions. There is much more to be done by the state before it could be proudly proclaimed that national reconciliation is indeed here.

What could contribute substantially towards national reconciliation in Sri Lanka is power sharing among our ethnic groups and for this purpose the initial legislation is already in place in the form of the 13th amendment (13A) to the constitution. We need to start with the 13A and gradually add to these powers to ensure that empowerment is a reality at the group and individual levels. Without extensive political empowerment it is difficult to visualize a completely stable Sri Lanka.

Right now, the policy position of the topmost government leaders on the 13A is not clear, although some ministers are on record that the amendment would be implemented. What is required is a full implementation of the 13A and those for whom such pronouncements are anathema, should carefully read the relevant provisions to reassure themselves that there are substantial safeguards in the 13A, which could be activated by the President, to protect the geographical integrity and unity of Sri Lanka.

It would be most unfortunate if a case is continued to be made by Southern chauvinistic opinion for a monopolization of political power by the majority community and the political centre. For, this could only have the effect of renewing the call for a separate state, among some sections, in those areas where the armed separatist rebellion has been quelled. Although as lovers of peace we would wish otherwise, the hard-nosed political realist in us should convince us that full, durable peace could never ‘come from the barrel of a gun’.

It is not exactly clear what some local sections mean when they say that ‘conditions have changed in the North-East since 1987’ and, therefore, the 13A is a superfluity which could now be done away with. True, the armed rebellion is no more and not all sections in the North-East backed the LTTE’s terror campaign, but the years-long, peaceful campaign by Tamil parliamentary parties for political autonomy, and not separation, was symptomatic of a deep-seated frustration born of not enjoying the ‘good things in life’ on an equal footing with the majority community. This state of mind among considerable sections in the North-East is unlikely to have changed and this is why a political solution to the conflict should be persisted with. And there is no better way to achieve this than by fully implementing the 13A; a piece of legislation which is already in hand and which cannot be ‘torched in Parliament’.

However, if the government is wary of ‘ground realities’ which could militate against the immediate implementation of the 13A, it should seriously consider launching confidence-building measures which help in bridge-building among communities, until such times that the 13A could be fully implemented. Some such measures, such as Race Relations Councils, have already been suggested by this writer but serious thought should also be given to the banning of the use of communalistic slogans by political parties. The mouthing by them of sentiments which are detrimental to religious and cultural harmony should also be considered.

Local authorities which work towards the strengthening of communal bonds by encouraging peaceful co-existence among cultural groups could be specially rewarded. Besides, businesses and enterprises that make provision for the increasing employment of minority group members could be commended and specially recognized by the state.
These are just a few measures that come to mind when considering what could be done, specially in the short term, to effect national reconciliation. The question to ponder is: why is the state dragging its feet on this epochal undertaking. It would need to think beyond narrow political considerations if it is seriously considering ushering national reconciliation.

Sarath Fonseka speaks about how he won the war

By Deepal V. Perera

The Sri Lanka Army’s strategy of acting like guerrilla organisation, the restructuring of the Army, ending corruption, increasing its strength, firepower and a direct chain of command that went from the top to grass root levels, forced the end of terrorism in the country.

Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Sarath Fonseka, in his first public appearance nearly three months after the elimination of terrorism in the country, made these comments at ‘Counter Point,’ organised by the PIM Alumni on Friday.

Speaking on ‘Winning Military Strategies - Lessons for Managers,’ General Fonseka said that when he took over the Army, the LTTE was acting almost like a conventional army and was considered to be unstoppable. Like a conventional army, they had to protect land, equipment and armaments.

“From our side, we changed our tactics and strategies. We started act ing like guerrillas, making incursions into their territories in small groups and carrying out daring attacks when the LTTE challenged us in the jungles,” General Fonseka said.

He said that the decission of going for war is a political decision. The Army, together with the other military forces, concluded the war according to political will.

General Fonseka was speaking on how he prepared the Army to fight the Elam War Four. He said that when he was appointed Commander of the Army on 6th December 2005, the organisation was in need of lot of changes, including enhanced manpower, excellent training and better equipment.

“30 years of war had caused a lot of frustration to the people, who had lost their faith in the Army and their confidence that the violence could ever be contained. The war was started in August 2006 in Jaffna. My first task was to prepare the Army for battle. For that, I restructured the entire Army deviating from traditional methods. I appointed new people, new faces of my choice to the battlefront, people untainted with corruption, people capable of carrying their duties effectively. I dramatically increased the manpower of the Army with recruitment.

My strategy also included the procurement of arms and ammunition, battle tanks, armoured carriers, the best equipment could buy. I also changed the strategy of the battle from conventional tactics to guerrilla tactics. For that, I needed excellent commanders and improved firepower. We started operating in small groups and actively operated in the jungles. Earlier, it was the LTTE who operated in the jungles. When we moved into the jungles, they avoided meeting us at all costs,” he said.

The General said that during the war, the Army’s main strategy was to confront the LTTE’s strongest positions.

“During the Jayasikuru operation launched to liberate Jaffna, I observed through experience that when we attacked the LTTE’s most formidable strongholds, they became very weak. With that in mind, we commenced our assault from the A9 road, the Maddu road, Mannar and the Mulativu jungles. Sometimes it took us four to five days just to take control of one or two kilometres. But the results were good for us. We minimised our casualties and increased the losses of the enemy.

At the end of 2007, we were operating 35 battalions on all fronts and the LTTE had to react to our plan. We were engaging them every day, 24 hours a day, weeks and months on end. We maintained our assault in all conditions. In pouring rain and floods, in the hot sun and drought, we kept the momentum going until we achieved victory,” General Fonseka said.

Restructuring the Army made it necessary to stamp out corruption at all levels, corruption which was rampant from the lowest to the highest ranks.

“Every year, the government allocated lot of money to the Army, which is an expensive organisation to maintain. Because of corruption at every level, we were not doing what we were asked to do. I made it clear that not five cents will be spent by the Army without proper accounting.

To that end, I implemented strict rules and standards. I sat on Tender Boards and was personally monitoring every detail. This was not a function of the Commander of the Army, but I personally went through every detail to ensure that the blight of corruption was eradicated from the Army.

General Fonseka also said that in the past, there was a tradition that when an officer is caught making money illegally, he would not suffer any punishment, his service and seniority would not be affected, and his next promotion assured, as long as he paid back the stolen money in full. “I ended this tradition. The guilty received appropriate punishment.”

Speaking on new recruitments and promotions in the organisation, the General said that he deviated from traditional methods of awarding promotions and selected all commanders on merit and performance, and not on seniority.

“We recruited and trained 3,000 to 5,000 men per month. We also promoted 1,500 soldiers from the ranks of corporals and sergeants to lieutenants. We achieved excellent results through these methods, as we made the best use of those with strong battle experience.

My new methods of recruitment and merit-based promotions gave me the manpower to win the war, ‘ he daid
I also implemented a direct chain of command which goes down to grass root levels in the Army.

There were many instances when I had to remove commanders from their jobs and appoint replacements. We had to have the correct men in place when the going got tough. And there was huge resistance from the enemy every day.

At one point, we suffered many casualties and 130 troops died in a single day. Whenever there was a victory, I used to share that with my officers and when there was rise in casualties figures I took the blame to my self without passing to anyone. In that sense I my self was under pressure all the times but kept the momentum going” General Fonseka said

Speaking on Army intelligence and its performance the General Fonseka said that intelligence was backward in the past.

“I removed almost all the officers attached to it. I found that most of them has been serving that unit more that 15 to 20 years and filled with new young faces. They were brand new set of people committed, sincerely did their part, a very good job. If you take most of the Air Force targets, Navy ships targets are taken on Army intelligence unit.

Speaking on the support given by the other forces General said that Air Force, Navy and Police did splendid service with Army to gain the victory in war. The coordinated efforts and close monitoring of the battle changing of the tactics became as a daily routine.

“End of the day we had difficult time patience endurance demonstrating good results in eliminating terrorism from the country which one point considered unimaginable concluded General Sarath Fonseka.

At the conclusion of General Fonseka’s remarks the audience at the ceremony gave him standing ovation which is a rare occurrence. [courtesy: Daily Mirror]

August 22, 2009

Peace Frame-Poongkothai Chandrahasan in conversation

Poongkothai Chandrahasan learnt the meaning
of resilience while making films involving war-affected people. In conversation with Papri Sri Raman

Peace is the dividend Harvard-trained filmmaker Poongkothai Chandrahasan, 28, seeks after 25 years of the conflict between the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government which recently came to a gory end in her homeland. Poongkothai, who hails from an illustrious family of lawyers and peace activists, is a woman with a vision for her war-torn nation.

A refugee in Tamil Nadu, India, since the age of three, Poongkothai was in the heart of the Sinhalese area in the north when LTTE chief Vellupillai Prabhakaran was declared dead. The LTTE had waged a violent war for over 25 years against the Sri Lankan government seeking to create an independent Tamil state in north and east Sri Lanka.

It admitted defeat on 17 May 2009, when the government finally took over the entire LTTE-controlled area.

Prabhakaran was shot dead while he was trying to flee from the Sri Lankan Army the following morning.

Recounting her memories of that day, Poongkothai says, “When the celebrations began, I was on the streets walking along with the people, taking it all in, and just watching their expressions of joy. The ladies were cooking ‘kiribath’ (a milk and rice dish made on auspicious occasions), the children were waving flags, hundreds of people took to the streets in a matter of an hour. The roads were choked with men and women waving the yellow Sri Lankan flag. Trucks with army personnel were stopped by civilians who hugged the soldiers. Effigies of Prabhakaran were burnt at various spots, with thousands gathered to watch this spectacle. Many families fed me ‘kiribath’, as I made my way through processions of village people, with women dressed in white, children with white flowers in their hands...”

She elaborates, “What touched me the most that day was that these were Sinhalese villagers ~ poor people with no agenda ~ wearing their feelings on their sleeves. Every single person I spoke to said to me, ‘The war is over, we are so happy.’ They were not celebrating the defeat of the Tamils. They were celebrating the fact that now there would be peace in Sri Lanka!

“Today, Sri Lanka stands testimony to the futility of violence. Tamils can only regain their rights through peaceful negotiation and, if not, then a non-violent struggle.”

Poongkothai was in north Lanka all through the period of negotiated peace, from 2003 to 2006, filming her people’s misery through a conflict that has uprooted 600,000 people, disrupted livelihoods, and created a surreal, pock-marked landscape, known in fairytales as the emerald island.

Recollecting the day of celebration, she states, “I wondered what it must be like in the Tamil areas. Are the people there happy? Are they sad? Are they in just too much pain to care?”

To get a feel of their response, she telephoned people in Vavuniya, in the Northern Province, which used to be a front line town during the war. “Standing on the second floor terrace of a dilapidated building, tired from walking for hours, I called up acquaintances in Vavuniya and asked them whether people there were celebrating too. I was told that there was a more muted expression of relief there. From this, I gathered that perhaps the Tamils too were happy that the war is over. But for them the future still remains uncertain.”

Then again, how many of the ‘quarter of a million’ living in the welfare camps are even in a position to celebrate, wonders Poongkothai. She elaborates, “The situation in the camps is gut-wrenchingly sad.” As a filmmaker, she was working with veteran journalist Walter Cronkite ~ who passed away just recently ~ to bring to the world the plight of her war-torn nation. Her earlier films have been shown at various peace and conflict foras, while her lastest venture is presently on the editing table.

She also plans to return to north Sri Lanka in August to assist in the relief work in the camps of internally displaced persons (IDP), where her brother, a lawyer, is project coordinator of the humanitarian agency ZOA, that has been working with war victims for years. Their mother, Dr Nirmala Chandrahasan, an international law expert, was one of the four Tamils on the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) experts committee. The aim of the APRC was to draft a set of constitutional reforms in the interest of stability and growth.

Poongkothai is not sure if at the end of war there will be real peace. Her skepticism stems from being born into a political family, where political discussions were a regular occurrence. “I guess politics is in my blood,” says Poongkothai, whose father S.C. Chandrahasan is former legal secretary of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and founder of the refugee care organisation, OfERR. Chandrahasan has escaped three assassination bids. “Both my father’s father, S.J.V. Chelvanayakam; and my mother’s father Dr E.M.V. Naganathan are Tamil leaders of the non-violent struggle in Sri Lanka,” she says.

Little wonder then that she places a premium on peace. “Peace has to be looked at holistically from the point of view of the whole country. While the north and east have been badly affected, the Sinhalese part of the country has also suffered from the fallout of the war and the high cost of living. As a peace activist, my priority would be to bring the different communities together and build a common Sri Lankan identity.

“Post-LTTE, Sri Lanka will require many years of rebuilding,” believes the young activist. She also talks about equality for all. “There must be just treatment of the IDPs, who must be allowed to relocate to their original villages and get compensation for the loss of livelihood. Furthermore, these areas will have to be demilitarised. For the people to feel secure, the military and police forces must include a good proportion of Tamils and Muslims, and there should be greater recruitment of women of all ethnicities,” she says.

“Even the aid that flows must not just be for the north and east but must also be distributed to those Sinhalese areas which are economically deprived. The international community has to exercise responsibility in the dissemination of aid, so as not to cause resentment among the Sinhalese,” she adds.

Sri Lanka has to be a place where all people feel that they are equal citizens, not subject to arbitrary arrest and detention by the forces; and all have the opportunity to elect their own representatives to local and parliamentary bodies without harassment and intimidation.

So far, Tamil politicians have been identified only as Tamils, she points out. “I see it slightly differently. I believe Tamil politics has to change. If I were a Tamil politician, my identity would be that of a Sri Lankan and the issues I would lobby for would be for the betterment of the country as a whole.”

According to Poongkothai, the one thing she has learnt from the war-affected people is the meaning of the word ‘resilience’. “One could be negative and say that the wounds will remain. But I like to believe that when people can go back to the land, their crops will be abundant, their children will be educated and a prosperous future beckons them. It’s only then that the wounds of the war will heal,” concludes this young refugee with a peace agenda.

Women’s Feature Service

The Statesman-Calcutta

Canada missed opportunity to right Sri Lanka's wrongs

by Jo Becker

In voting last month to approve a $2.6 billion (U.S.) IMF loan to Sri Lanka, the government of Canada squandered an opportunity to press the government of Sri Lanka on its treatment of war-affected civilians following its military victory over the rebel Tamil Tigers in May.

The United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Argentina – holding more than 30 per cent of the IMF's shares – made the highly unusual move of abstaining from the vote, largely because of human rights concerns. It's too bad that Canada, with 3 per cent of IMF shares, didn't join them.

During the final months of fighting between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), both sides were responsible for grave violations of the laws of war that resulted in thousands of civilian deaths. As their territory shrank, the Tamil Tigers used the civilians under their control as human shields, shooting and killing people who tried to flee the war zone. The government urged civilians to congregate in so-called "no-fire" zones, but then fired artillery indiscriminately into these densely populated areas. Both sides refused to take adequate steps to allow a humanitarian evacuation, despite public UN concerns regarding the unfolding bloodbath.

IMF officials and their directors typically insist that human rights are outside the IMF's mandate, but in this case members' revulsion with Sri Lanka's conduct during and after the war delayed the vote on Sri Lanka's requested loan by three months. In May, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was "not an appropriate time" to consider the IMF loan, while U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband called the situation a "civilian catastrophe" and expressed concern about whether the government would use IMF funds in a "responsible and appropriate way." Once the vote was finally scheduled, they and others used abstentions to register their strong disapproval. Germany has never before abstained from an IMF vote on human rights grounds. The U.K.'s last abstention was in 2004.

Unfortunately, Canada's vote to support the loan may be interpreted as an endorsement of Sri Lanka's practices. Sri Lanka's pro-government Daily News claimed that the vote "vindicated" the government and boasted that by refusing to make human rights concessions, President Mahinda Rajapaksa had "refused to compromise the country's sovereignty and independence." The government's minister of export development and trade, G.L. Peiris, called the loan "a clear vote of confidence."

On July 22, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon wrote to Human Rights Watch, stating that the government would "evaluate any request for IMF financial assistance in terms of how effective it would be in helping to support the country's public finances and lead to meaningful improvements in the welfare of all Sri Lankans, particularly those affected by the humanitarian situation."

However, the government's conduct since the end of the war shows little regard for the humanitarian crisis. Instead, it is undermining hopes for stability and creating more bitterness and resentment among the country's Tamil minority.

The government has virtually imprisoned up to 300,000 people displaced by the war in overcrowded government-run camps, refusing to allow them to leave to stay with family or friends and even refusing family members access to the camps. To keep information emerging about the conduct of the war, it is severely restricting the operations of relief organizations, and refusing access to journalists and human rights monitors. It has placed thousands of suspected LTTE members in incommunicado detention, and it continues to accuse journalists who criticize government actions of being LTTE sympathizers.

In these circumstances, IMF members must question whether loaning money to Sri Lanka is a good investment or can achieve its objectives.

In reality, the vote on the loan has only given Sri Lanka immediate access to $313 million. Canada and other members of the IMF board will have to approve subsequent tranches of funds each quarter over the next 20 months. Canada still has a chance to use these quarterly reviews to make sure human rights progress is made. It should make clear that if it sees no progress, it will abstain from future votes. That's the best way to ensure that the loan benefits all Sri Lankans.

Jo Becker is an advocate for Human Rights Watch and the author of Living in Fear: Child recruitment by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and Funding the Final War: LTTE Intimidation and Extortion in the Tamil Diaspora.

courtesy: The Toronto Star

August 21, 2009

Recent revelations of serious Police abuses and their impact on the Rule of Law

Statement by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)

20th August 2009, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) is deeply perturbed by the recent events involving shocking acts of abuse of authority by officers of the Sri Lankan Police. The cases involving the son and associates of Colombo Crimes Division SSP Vaas Gunewardene and the extra-judicial executions of two youths allegedly by members of the Angulana Police have no place in a civilised society, let alone one that claims to be a democracy under the Rule of Law.

While under strenuous public and media pressure the authorities have taken some action in these cases – and we uphold the right of any suspect to the benefit of an impartial investigation and a fair trial – we are appalled that the interim measures taken seem to be so innocuous as to offend public sentiment. The primary example of this is that SSP Vaas Gunewardene has only been transferred to Police Head Quarters rather than being immediately suspended from service pending investigations. This does nothing to assuage the public outrage and distrust generated by these cases. It appears that, notwithstanding political statements from the President and Prime Minister downwards, the authorities are resorting to the usual insensitive and complacent responses to abuses that we have seen in the past, and which have mainly contributed to the institutionalisation of a culture of impunity with regard to even grave allegations of human rights violations by the Police and security forces.

We note that in democracies such as India, there are strong traditions of democratic government whereby incidents such as these would have led to the assumption of responsibility and consequent resignations. Sadly, these traditions are non-existent in Sri Lanka, and contribute significantly to the erosion of public confidence in important institutions of the State such as the Police.

While it is critical that justice is meted out in these individual cases, the broader institutional weaknesses that facilitate the commission of these abuses must not be forgotten. This therefore highlights once again the need to implement the legal framework established by the Seventeenth Amendment, especially in this respect, the appointment according to procedure established by law of the Constitutional Council and the independent Police Commission. It is only through the implementation of these provisions of the Constitution that we can hope to ensure policing in Sri Lanka that is characterised by independence, impartiality, integrity and professionalism. Without the necessary seriousness of purpose with regard to the implementation of the Seventeenth Amendment, all other promises of action remain merely hortatory rhetoric.

Aggravating the non-implementation of the Seventeenth Amendment are the alarming calls for closer integration of the Police with the security forces and defence apparatus being made in some sections of the media and defence establishment. We firmly believe that what is needed, particularly in the context of post-war Sri Lanka, is the opposite whereby the Police Department’s role as the civil institution of preserving law and order in the community is restored, rather than the further consolidation of the insalubrious role it has assumed over the years of armed conflict as yet another adjunct of the National Security State.

We hope, but are not optimistic, that the Vaas Gunewardene and Angulana cases provide the impetus for instituting the reforms that are so manifestly needed to ensure the professionalism and integrity of the Police, and indeed, for urgently implementing the legal provisions aimed at those objectives already in place.

Dr Dayan Jayatilleka leaves Geneva this weekend

Dr Dayan Jayatilleka leaves Geneva for Colombo this weekend, having served as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, since June 1st 2007. Thursday, August 20th 2009 was his last day of service in that post.

During his tenure he served as Chairman of the Governing body of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Vice President of the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC), Chairperson of the Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) on the Effective Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, Coordinator of an agenda item of the Conference on Disarmament (CD), Facilitator/ negotiator for the Asian Region at the Durban Review Conference against Racism, and Coordinator of the Asian Group of the UN HRC as well as the UNCTAD.

The accompanying photograph shows President Lula da Silva of Brazil perusing Dr. Jayatilleka’s book Fidel's Ethics of Violence: the Moral Dimension of the Political Thought of Fidel Castro. Also shown in the photograph are Ambassador Jayatilleka and Ambassador Maria Nazareth Farani Azevedo of Brazil.

Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
Geneva

20 August 2009

Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, CPA Executive Director, receives death threat

20th August 2009, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu this morning received an anonymous death threat written in English, posted to his residence. According to the contents of the letter, Dr. Saravanamuttu WILL (emphasis in original) be killed because Sri Lanka stands to be deprived of the European Union’s GSP Plus benefits in October, with resultant job losses, due to information supplied by Dr. Saravanamuttu to Ms. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU’s Commissioner for External Relations.

A scanned copy of both the letter and the post-marked envelope have been uploaded to our website – http://www.cpalanka.org

We unreservedly deplore this despicable attempt at causing fear through the use of threats of physical harm, and through such acts, to stifle free expression, dissent and debate. We are equally concerned over the increasing emasculation of the civil society space for the discussion of public policy choices.

It is contemptible that CPA’s position, held consistently and publicly with regard to the policy and legal issues involved in the extension of the GSP Plus scheme has been distorted so as to contrive a rationale for this letter.

CPA has consistently argued that the GSP Plus benefits MUST be renewed, and that Sri Lanka should use the opportunity to also strengthen its human rights protection framework by complying with international law. We regret that our constructive contribution to this public policy debate has been perversely distorted and deliberately misunderstood in some quarters.

Dr. Saravanamuttu and the CPA will be lodging complaints with the relevant authorities for speedy investigation and necessary remedial action in this matter.

###

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) was formed in the firm belief that there is an urgent need to strengthen institution- and capacity-building for good governance and conflict transformation in Sri Lanka and that non-partisan civil society groups have an important and constructive contribution to make to this process. The primary role envisaged for the Centre in the field of public policy is a pro-active and interventionary one, aimed at the dissemination and advocacy of policy alternatives for non-violent conflict resolution and democratic governance. Accordingly, the work of the Centre involves a major research component through which the policy alternatives advocated are identified and developed.

For more information, please visit http://www.cpalanka.org

August 19, 2009

IDP Situation: In this 'noblest' of all countries 'who cares for whom?'

by Kusal Perera

The IDP's and the war affected have once again been through another agonising and stinking phase in their recently mauled life. This time, much before the monsoon rains, but due to heavy rains and floods. Though extremely disastrous the situation turned out to be, media in Colombo was not taking the issue as they normally would on Twenty-20 cricket or about a politician saying something stupidly unimportant for any one. Nor were those “breaking news” networks sending out their hourly text messages on the plight of IDP's caught in heavy rains and floods, records the citizens' website “GroundViews” in its Sunday last update.

With some international media taking up the issue and others across the seas getting disturbed over the evolving tragedy, the Government decided to pin the responsibility on UN agencies. The UN office in Colombo replied they are not the ones to be blamed. The NGO bosses too wanted to get out of the mess by saying they have been saying this would happen and now they are proved right.

The plain fact is that all these international persona and local NGO leaders have not been standing upright on the IDP issue, asking the government to present its total programme in a responsible manner. They have not lobbied with purpose, asking for a complete programme that should cover all issues related to IDP and war affected lives in and outside internment camps. One that should answer every detail on relief, resettlement and rehabilitation with time lines, financial allocations and overall responsibility fixed.

While NGOs were scared to ruffle the feathers of the Rajapaksa government, fearing they would not get access to IDP camps and would thus lose their opportunity in securing funded projects, the Opposition political leaders feared they would lose the Sinhala vote bank, if they spoke loud on IDP issues that is Tamil. This evasive politics of all stakeholder claimants, have left the IDPs with no clear programme for their future, but with multiple actors taking responsibility to say what they want on their own terms and conditions.

The most promising statement made by the government for which the President too is held responsible for is the 180 day promise made to resettle 60 to 80% of the IDP's. That was over one month ago and made in very vague terms. In a very candid interview given by President Rajapaksa to the TIME magazine (July 18) captioned “Rajapaksa: The Hard Liner” the President says he hopes that 60% would be resettled by the time of the presidential election. "It's not a promise, it's a target," he then qualifies it further, making it more fluid than gel. With no dates fixed, Presidential elections can be any time after November 2009 and would go on till November 2011 at the discretion of the President himself. And again its only a “hope” without a promise and who could tell the government set “targets” would be ever met ?

With such conscious ambiguity and reluctance to commit on any responsibility by the all powerful Executive Head of State, the armed forces too take it as their responsibility to comment on IDP's and intervene in all administrative and relief, resettlement and rehabilitation work. The newly appointed Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) who met with the High Priests of Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters on 17 August was reported as saying that IDP resettlement would take long as de-mining of the Vanni area is a factor. Their safety has to be taken care of, the CDS has told the high priests and has told a media briefing in Kandy that every day the security forces detain over half a dozen LTTE cadres. All of it meant the defence establishment has a big say in IDP resettlement and rehabilitation. Of course, they are in charge of all activities in IDP internment centres even now and would continue to be so.

Meanwhile, there are also reports from other sources taking responsibility on resettlement of IDP's. Resettlement and Relief Services Minister Rishad Badiudeen, as reported in the “Ceylon Daily News” (CDN) had said “authorities” (who ever they are) have already identified over 15,000 displaced families who claim themselves to be residents of Jaffna and have sent their details to Jaffna District Secretary and the police (why the police ?) for verification on their claims as Jaffna residents. How long that process of authentication by different government institutions would take and how long more it would take for these unidentified “authorities” to finally decide on these 15,000 IDP's will have no definite answer from any “authority”.

The same news report in the government controlled CDN talked of another “outfit” handling resettlement and rehabilitation under the Presidential Special Advisor and MP Basil Rajapaksa. This "Presidential Task Force on Northern Development”, the report says is busy de-mining the Vanni to resettle IDP's.

In another twist to resettling the “displaced” the CDN of 18th August says, “An area south of Nedunkerni and Kebettigollewa has been identified for resettlement of about 1,500 to 2,000 displaced families before the end of this year.” According to the DG of the Mahaweli Authority, this resettlement could increase to over “25,000 families immediately thereafter.” While the news report carries plenty of details about Mahaweli development, there is no mention of who these “displaced” people are and from where they would be brought. There is no mention of present IDP's in Vavuniya, Mannar or any other camp that holds the war affected. The area referred to is the 'L' system of the Mahaweli Authority and includes districts of Anuradhapura, Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Mullaitivu. If the “displaced” families happen to be Sinhala families as identified by the Mahaweli Authority, then it could be another change in the demographic pattern of Trincomalee and Mullaitivu districts.

Summing up all these reports, it says, there are too many “authorities” handling and speaking on behalf of IDP resettlement and rehabilitation while there is no single and comprehensive programme for the very complex and politically charged issue of IDP relief, resettlement and rehabilitation. Also there is no set budget allocation for the work to be accomplished to a conclusion within a given time frame.

Nevertheless all such ad hoc and ambiguous interventions by different government agencies have not deterred any foreign country or donor agency to question the responsibility of the SL government in handling funds and grants provided. It has never dawned on the intellect and the political duty of the Opposition leaders either to question the government in parliament on the programme and its budgetary allocations for resettlement and rehabilitation.

Meanwhile India promised 500 Crore rupees immediately after the war was declared over, when India aligned with China to support the self certifying resolution of Sri Lanka at the Geneva UN HR Council. India's MEA Krishna, who met with a delegation of “Concerned Citizens' Forum of SA” who briefed the MEA on the dire status of SL IDP's and warned monsoon rains would be a total disaster for the interned war affected civilians, was told Dr. Manmohan Singh was likely to provide with another cache of 500 Crore rupees for their rehabilitation.

The US government said it would provide $ 08 million as a grant for rehabilitation, apart from promises to support with livelihood grants, fishing boats, seeds for agriculture, roofing for houses as explained by the USAID Director in Colombo, on 27th July. She went on to say that all these declared assistance comes over and above the food support the US provides to the WFP to the tune of US $ 30 million. What that means is, there are material aid and assistance already coming in, the total value of which the people are not made aware of.

These are not all the funds that come Sri Lanka's sympathy way on the plight of IDP's, whether they truly service their needs or not. Japan serviced material aid to the value of US $ 07 million and by end June, 2009, US $ 97 million has been received, according to the Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP) mid-year review released on 21 July.

The Canadian government's pledge of $ 15.5 million announced by Hon. Minister of International Co-operation Beverley Oda in Colombo on 07 July isn't in there in the CHAP mid year review. Since February/May 2009 a total of nearly $ 7.1 million of Canadian taxpayers money have already come to Canadian NGO’s supposed to be working with IDP’s and the vulnerable. They should have all totalled and helped the IDP's had there been a single cohesive programme.

It is therefore silly to go on talking of humanitarian needs and charity without talking of a single large programme, that would cover every aspect of relief, resettlement and rehabilitation. Here is an issue much different to the Tsunami disaster that was not out of a long standing, direct political blunder. Here is a political issue that defines how far the government would go in honourably solving the Tamil aspirations even at their basics, within the IDP resettlement and rehabilitation process.

There can not be many cooks spooning a common soup. There has to be one single comprehensive programme with safety nets against waste, excesses and corruption, control on all funds with access for monitoring and evaluations, handled by civilian experts who are sensitive to humanitarian needs and specialised in relief and rehabilitation work and totally out of the control of security forces. Such should be the government's “Road map on Resettlement and Rehabilitation” that should be presented in parliament immediately. It would have to be seriously discussed in parliament and approved with an implementing mechanism, responsible to the parliament and not to a government minister.

It is thus a dual responsibility of all those who want to have a finger in the 3R pie and of all those who wish some day to ask for the votes of these Tamil citizenry, to hold the government accountable to everything implemented as IDP relief, resettlement and rehabilitation and also for the government to be responsible for all the funds that come in any way and to the lives of the Tamil IDP's and their secure future. These are after all not money given by private individuals to a family of friends. These are all funds that come to Sri Lanka for the people of Sri Lanka and from tax payers money from another country, another society.

Why no stakeholders and the political Opposition do not take this issue in its entirety and with responsibility irks and pains one's mind. How much pain and disgust it must be for those held behind barbed wire and for whose plight funds are being lobbied, is one that would never be answered, for sure. The old beastly character of oppressive control of the acquired land and its inhabitants in feudal culture is what reflects in this new political phenomenon of naming a new Sinhala king, a cultural trait the Opposition is also not devoid of, in the final count. So we move on with charity for the innocent citizens and merit and glory for the autocratic ruler. Sri Lanka after all is the “noblest of all countries in the world” as the popular Sinhala song goes.

Two major events have put the five-decade old Tamil struggle at cross roads

It is Hobson’s Choice for Tamils

by Col R Hariharan

Two major events –the arrest of Selvarasah Pathmanathan, better known by his acronym ‘KP’ alias Kumaran Pathmanathan and the union council elections in Jaffna and Vavuniuya in the first ten days of August – have put the five-decade old Tamil struggle at cross roads.

After the elimination of V Prabhakaran and the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Tamils are now faced with two choices – both unpalatable potions if past experience is any guide. These are: one - continuing the conflict with Sri Lanka state after the LTTE has lost the war and runs the risk of being totally eclipsed. Two - accepting Rajapaksha government’s offering and reworking a political architecture suited to the post LTTE environment. Probably the second option has a better chance of success.

With KP’s arrest and rendition to Colombo, the Rajapaksha government has sent a strong message that it was taking up the war against the LTTE overseas. It appears determined to crush any the revival of the Tamil Tigers both at home and abroad. KP’s arrest and rendition has a strong symbolic value because after the death of V Prabhakaran he was (self?) anointed as the general secretary of the LTTE despite a brief power struggle. KP had twin advantages going for him. Prabhakaran had installed him in January 2009 as the LTTE’s international representative conferring some legitimacy in the hierarchy. The other was KP’s street smartness in speaking the idiom that would appeal to the Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates, shell shocked after battlefield death of Prabhakaran.

He was also probably favoured because he had better connections and interface with a whole range of LTTE stakeholders – arms dealers, LTTE representatives, lobbyists and even politicians. He has a great deal of experience in vital skills required for revival of the LTTE - procuring and trafficking resources including weapons and armaments for the LTTE. A negative aspect was he had the image of a wheeler dealer rather than the aura of a battlefield leader. Naturally he was not accepted by the peddlers of the romantic image of the LTTE as modern-day Crusaders for the cause. So he continued to remain persona non grata with Vaiko and Nedumaran, leading pro-LTTE Tamil Nadu politicians.

KP appears to have gauged the international mood and soft pedalled the idea of taking up arms again. Though he spoke of it in his Channel 4 interview, he softened it in his numerous interviews. Instead, he spoke of a concept of continuing the separatist struggle politically. This would have been heresy had Prabhakaran been alive. But in the changed circumstances it would have increased the chances of survival and revival of the LTTE in many countries. He also managed to work out an equation with Tamil Eelam dreamers among the Tamil Diaspora. As a result the Provisional Transitional Government of Tamil Eelam (PTGTE) a virtual “government” in the making was announced. Despite its longwinded name, the concept was to keep the dream of Tamil Eelam alive and probably provide enough legal snags to inherit LTTE assets overseas.

Like all episodes of its genre, KP’s arrest in Malaysia, transit through Thailand and rendition to Sri Lanka in an apparently seamless operation has left a lot of unanswered questions. And at best the answers are murky. But a few home truths emerge from the whole episode:

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The governments of Malaysia and Thailand appear to have cooperated with Sri Lanka in this operation, though they may officially disclaim it. Now that the LTTE’s is toothless and leaderless, in future not only these two countries but many others are likely to extend such help to prevent revival of LTTE activity on their soil. This is connected with the greater convergence of nations on eliminating terrorism globally. That is why Western nations, for all their loud concerns on Sri Lanka’s human rights violations, have been helping her fight the LTTE.
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Only three countries – the US, Russia and Israel have demonstrated capability in this kind of operation. One or more of these countries could have assisted Sri Lanka. (India’s capability might be doubtful on this count although KP’s whereabouts were probably known to it.)
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There are a lot of other speculations in circulation. KP had all along been a shadowy figure; his sudden appearance and large scale visibility in the global media probably enabled intelligence agencies to pin point his actions and trap him. But it is difficult to accept that KP, a seasoned operator with many faces, was casual enough to indulge in overt PR exercise. Has he voluntarily agreed to go under Sri Lanka custody to ensure his survival? A number of stories of information given by him on LTTE arms cache, plots and operatives in Sri Lanka are in circulation support this conjecture. Or has he been betrayed by the rival faction of Nediyavan within the LTTE?
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The coordination required between the LTTE’s largely intact overseas elements and the local remnants in Sri Lanka now in hiding is going to be more and more difficult. Apparently there is no leader in the horizon capable of bonding the local and overseas segments. This could result in the surrender of more demoralised LTTE cadres.
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According to the chief of defence staff Gen Sarath Fonseka at present 15-25 cadres per week are being identified and apprehended from the IDP camps. And the security forces’ strength in Jaffna has been increased by about 115% to 35,000 now. The CDS has once again reiterated that the army would continued be deployed in all key locations to ensure security. Under the circumstances, the security forces are likely to meet with more successes in weeding out LTTE cadres and supporters.
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Buoyed by its success in arresting KP, Sri Lanka is likely to increase the pressure on overseas governments to act against LTTE cells. This could affect proto LTTE bodies’ activities in Tamil Nadu.

With these all these impediments, at present the revival of militancy politics among Tamils is appears a remote possibility. However, the security lobby is likely to play up threat potential of LTTE to station adequate force levels in former LTTE controlled areas to keep the heat on. Thus militancy politics is a non-option for Tamils, at least till such time incubatory environment for its resumption is created.

The results of the local elections in Jaffna and Vavuniya need to be studied in this overall post war socio-political environment. In Jaffna, there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm because the pro-LTTE/Eelam lobbies are either eliminated or under risk of compromise. They had always dominated Jaffna’s political space. Over the years the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) had curbed their activity and prepared the ground in Jaffna for its domination. So its success in alliance with the ruling coalition comes as no surprise. It now has an opportunity to carve out its own a space and distinct Tamil identity. Whether the people and the Rajapaksa government would allow it to do so is the moot point.

There are three ways of interpreting the success of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in Vavuniya, where it came out as the party with maximum number of seats. One: as a loyalty vote by pro-LTTE segments of population for the TNA. Two: as a rejection of the ruling alliance because of the continued plight of nearly three-lakh Tamil population kept in camps has eroded their faith in the government. Three: as a vote for the TNA for its assertion of Tamil identity and autonomy as issues for the election. I would go for the second and third reasons given above for TNA’s success.

Both Douglas Devananda of EPDP and Sidathan, leader of the Peoples Liberation Organisation for Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) have conceded their failure to do well in the elections for different reasons. The close identification of EPDP with the Rajapaksha’s government and ruling coalition was probably a handicap in Vavuniya where it had never been strong. On the other hand, PLOTE-led alliance Democratic Peoples Front (DPF), which polled only 0.8% less votes than the TNA, was expected to win as Vavuniya has been its base for a long time. With PLOTE ready to support TNA there is a possibility of such an understanding growing further, if TNA manages to subsume its image as LTTE proxy. The TNA might just do that for its own survival.

For President Rajapaksa the northern election results were probably a disappointment. As he plans to go for an early presidential poll, he would probably re-examine his alliance with Tamil parties to garner sizeable votes from the north which could tilt the balance. So probably we can expect to see some political sleight of hand. Overtures to the TNA from SLFP in the coming months could be part of it.

In a nutshell, KPs arrest has probably foreclosed the option of any meaningful revival of LTTE activity in the near term. So much would depend upon how the Tamil political leaders and people evolve a viable strategy to politically assert themselves in the coming months. So the choice has now been reduced to a one-horse race.

August 18, 2009

VOA Editorial: 'Sri Lanka IDPs Are Waiting'

VOA Editorial, reflecting views of the US Government:

Nearly 3 months have passed since fighting ended in Sri Lanka between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam insurgents. After 26 years of conflict, hopes were high that violence and hatred would at last give way to reconciliation, justice, and economic development for all to share. But for some 300,000 ethnic Tamils displaced by the fighting, hope is giving way to frustration.

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A child looks out from the Settikulam camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in northern Sri Lanka August 15, 2009-Reuters pic

Many internally displaced persons, or IDPs, continue to be held in government-run camps in northern Sri Lanka. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake says that some progress has been made. About 10,000 have been allowed to leave the camps and approximately 75,000 others are to be released this month. "But most are not allowed to leave," he said, "and it's important for them to have this freedom of movement."

Assistant Secretary Blake and U.S. Chargé d'Affaires in Sri Lanka James Moore recently met with 16 representatives of U.S.-based organizations representing members of the Tamil diaspora to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka and prospects for political reconciliation.

Assistant Secretary Blake and Chargé Moore said more needs to be done to ease camp congestion, register IDPs and expand the access of humanitarian organizations. To help Sri Lanka recover following the crisis, the United States has provided approximately $56 million in humanitarian assistance in 2009.

Assistant Secretary Blake and Chargé Moore underscored the importance of political reconciliation. The United States has stressed to the government of Sri Lanka that to achieve a lasting peace, it must promote justice and political reconciliation for all parties, dialogue with all parties -- including Tamils inside and outside the country -- on sharing power, and improving protection of human rights.

Assistant Secretary Blake and Chargé Moore recommended that the government of Sri Lanka and the American Tamil diaspora community seek opportunities to engage one another on political reconciliation and the reconstruction of Sri Lanka. The United States will do its part to support that engagement. [Voice of America]

August 17, 2009

Government’s Failure to Free Displaced Civilians Worsens Situation-HRW

Full Text of Press Release

Floods Threaten Camp Detainees

Floods caused by heavy rains unnecessarily threaten more than 260,000 displaced Tamil civilians whom the Sri Lankan government has unlawfully detained in camps in northern Sri Lanka, Human Rights Watch said today.

Permitting displaced families to move in with friends and host families would quickly address the deteriorating conditions in the camps with the onset of the rainy season, Human Rights Watch said.

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"The government has detained people in these camps and is threatening their health and even their lives by keeping them there during the rainy season floods," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "This is illegal, dangerous, and inhumane."

In violation of international law, the government has since March 2008 confined virtually all civilians displaced by the fighting between government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in detention camps, euphemistically called "welfare centers" by the government. Only a few thousand camp residents have been released and allowed to return home or to stay elsewhere.

During the last several days, heavy rain fell on northern Sri Lanka, flooding several camps. Zones 2 and 4 of Manik farm, a large complex of camps west of the town of Vavuniya, were particularly affected by rain. More rain is expected with the onset of the rainy season next month, further worsening conditions in the overcrowded camps.

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"Aanathi," a 30-year-old woman living in zone 2 with her 1-year-old son, told Human Rights Watch: "Within seconds, the water was pouring into our tents. ... After a couple of minutes, everything was flooded. We lost all of our things. We had no place to cook. We couldn't get help from anybody, because everybody was in the same situation. It was terrible. We were already frightened, and this made it worse."

Seven people from three families were living in Aanathi's tent, which was designed to house five people. According to the United Nations, the majority of the camps are severely overcrowded; zones 2 and 4, with a joint capacity of 50,000 people, held more than 100,000 people as of July 28, 2009. For their protection, the residents who spoke with Human Rights Watch were not identified by their real names.

The rain caused emergency latrines to flood or collapse, causing sewage to flood several areas of the camps, heightening the risk of outbreaks of contagious diseases. "Shantadevi," also in zone 2, told Human Rights Watch: "Some of the toilets are completely flooded. It looks like they are floating in water. The pits have collapsed and raw sewage is floating around with the storm water in a green and brown sludge. It smells disgusting."

Aanathi explained to Human Rights Watch that the area where the camp is located usually floods during the rainy season: "If they don't release us before then, we will be washed away by all the water, there will be outbreaks of diseases here. It will be terrible."

The camps have already suffered from outbreaks of contagious diseases with health officials recording thousands of cases of diarrhea, hepatitis, dysentery, and chickenpox.

Observers report that camp residents are getting increasingly frustrated by the difficult conditions in the camps and that the current heavy rain caused unrest that was quickly defused by the military camp administration without the use of force. In late June, camp residents held at least two protests, which were dispersed by the security forces. Since then, the military administration of the camps, apparently fearing more unrest, has divided the camps into smaller sections, which are easier to control.

Humanitarian organizations have long advocated the release of the displaced from the camps. Many of the camp residents have relatives, including close family members, with whom they can live if they are allowed to leave. Aanathi told Human Rights Watch that she would go to live with her mother in Jaffna or her mother-in-law in Trincomalee if released.

"The camp is like a desert, there are no trees here," she told Human Rights Watch. "When it is sunny, it gets really hot. When it rains, you can't walk because of all the mud. With a 1-year old it is very difficult to move around, and I can't leave him alone in the tent. It is painful to speak about my situation here. I am lonely, very lonely. If I could go to Jaffna or Trincomalee, I would have a good life again."

The government has refused to release the displaced from the camps, contending that it needs to screen them for Tamil Tiger combatants. In response to calls to release them, Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona, recently named Sri Lanka's ambassador to the UN, told the BBC on August 10 that it was "mischievous to talk of rights in the absence of security."

On August 15, the minister of resettlement and disaster management, Rizad Bathiudeen, told the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror that he held UN agencies responsible for the flooding in the camps, saying, "[T]he Government cannot be blamed for the poor condition of the drainage systems which burst and failed."

"The government bears full responsibility for the situation in the camps," said Adams. "Locking families up in squalid conditions and then blaming aid agencies for their plight is downright shameful."

Monsoon Miseries of Manik Farm Complex IDPs

by Col.R.Hariharan

The Menik Farm complex and its temporary shelters, showcased last month as model for camps for people displaced due to the war, has become camps of misery for the residents as monsoon rains are lashing the area.

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[Internally displaced ethnic Tamil civilians wave to passersby at Manik Farm, a camp for the internally displaced in Vavuniya, about 230 Kilometers (144 miles) northeast of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2009-AP pic]

Sri Lanka media of all shades of opinion have highlighted the terrible conditions created by incessant monsoon rains particularly in camp 2 and camp 4. Tents and temporary shelters are down or collapsed making them unliveable. Some camps do not have access to even water supply. Cooking is not possible and cooked food is not reaching the needy. Toilets are choked or busted. Storm drainage is either not existing or flooded. “As rain waters filled with sewage matter, maggots and human excreta rose in tents sheltering some 20,000 IDPs” is one description of the condition from the media.

And apparently the local administration and the NGOs working at these camps find the task of providing relief to those beleaguered in the flooded camps beyond their limited capability. And monsoon season is not yet over. The logical sequence of the tragedy would be outbreak of epidemic diseases like gastro enteritis striking the affected people. Another hidden danger is that land mines tend to get shifted due to flooding.

Everyone knew this was waiting to happen; monsoon rains have a pre-ordained regularity about them. The NGOs and the media spoke and wrote about it. The authorities and humanitarian agencies, who sited some of the camps in low lying areas, also knew the area was prone to flooding during the monsoon rains. Yet they went ahead and created the camps probably because they did not expect the residents of these camps to be stationed there indefinitely. Probably they were situated as they were for ensuring better physical security than any other reason.

In June itself the government had said the UN agencies were responsible for construction of drainage systems and flood preventive measures at the camp sites. So it was not surprising when the Minister of Resettlement and Disaster Management, Rizad Bathiudeen put the blame on them now.

He said “The UN agencies involved in the IDP camps had taken the responsibility of constructing the drainage systems and flood preventive measures. So the Government cannot be blamed for the poor condition of the drainage systems which burst and failed.” But the issue is not who is to be blamed, but providing relief to the affected people.

Unfortunately this simple truth appears to have been forgotten as the release of civilians has become a political issue. The opposition United National Party (UNP) leader Ranil Wickremesinghe recently asked the government to expedite the release of civilians held in these camps and inform parliament of the steps taken in this respect. The UNP leaders had strongly criticized the government for detaining innocent people.

And in his hard hitting repartee, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa had a different take. He accused the opposition of playing politics in what was essentially a national security issue. He highlighted the danger of LTTE operatives living amidst the IDPs in camps. He also pointed out the problem that could be posed if they gain access to the arms and explosives hidden in Vanni.

This aspect cannot be ignored by the government as arms and military equipment caches of LTTE are being unearthed almost everyday and quite a few investigations have been taken up to uncover LTTE’s support network among civilians. But at the same time, the government has an obligation for the welfare of civilians at large. It is not clear how the release of pregnant women, small children and the aged would compromise security. Their continued stay in camps would be only an exercise in humiliating a population that was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It is clear the Sri Lanka government has suborned all other issues to the continued war against the LTTE.

Unfortunately, the humanitarian issues have become casualties in this mix up of priorities. And politicisation of the issue has further messed up action.

A delegation of concerned citizens including Mangala Samaraweera, MP and leader of the breakaway group of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) recently met the Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and made a representation regarding the IDPs. The group sought India to pressurize the Sri Lanka government to demilitarize the camp administration and the rehabilitation process.

It is not clear what action New Delhi has taken on the subject of IDPs. They are likely to continue their stay camps well beyond six months. Indian High Commissioner’s message in Colombo on the occasion of the Independence Day conveyed to Sri Lanka that a "broad-based political settlement" of the ethnic conflict would enable the Rs.500-crore relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation package for the nearly three lakh war displaced to be utilised in a more effective and efficient manner.

Does this mean the relief and reconstruction package would come into play when a broad based political settlement is made? Given the political developments in Sri Lanka, India might have to wait a long time for that to happen.

In the meanwhile, what about the IDPs plight? Human dignity is beyond mere supply of relief and construction materials. Will some of our worthy parliament members, who spoke eloquently about the agony of Tamilians in the run up to the elections, take up the issue? Or is it business as usual?

(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90.He is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Blog: www.colhariharan.org E-mail:colhari@yahoo.com)

In Pictures: Heavy rains compound IDP woes

VAVUNIYA, 17 August 2009 (IRIN) - Heavy rains exacerbated poor conditions for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) in northern Sri Lanka over the weekend.

“We’re not prepared for this. I’m afraid things are going to get much worse,” one international medical officer told IRIN in Vavuniya on 17 August, citing concerns over diarrhoea, dysentery and other waterborne diseases.

“From an epidemiological point of view, this is a public health disaster waiting to happen.”

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Heavy rains pummeled residents of Menik Farm camp this weekend. The camp holds more than 200,000 conflict-displaced

More than 280,000 people live in 30 government camps in Vavuniya, Mannar, Jaffna and Trincomalee districts after fleeing fighting between government forces and the now defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May.

Of these, 246,000 are in 14 heavily guarded camps in Vavuniya, mostly in Menik Farm, a sprawling 809ha site divided into six zones about 50km outside Vavuniya, which quickly became a sea of mud and misery when the rains struck.

According to camp authorities, Zone 1 and 4 were the worst affected. Of some 37,000 residents in Zone 4, more than half were badly affected, with tents designed for five and now housing 12 inundated.

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Residents in Menik Farm take shelter wherever they can - including latrines
Limited facilities Photo: Contributor/IRIN

Mud and misery

“Within 20 minutes the whole area was flooded. Every tent was affected,” said Ganeshan Sivasundram, 38, from Kanagapuram Village in Kilinochchi District outside his flooded tent in Zone 4. “How are we supposed to sleep like this?”

“Everything is wet,” Singaratnam Ruban, 41, from Jeyapuram Village in Kilinochchi District, who has lived in the camp since March with his family, complained.

In Zone 1, where residents are living in semi-permanent sheds, toilets quickly overflowed.

“All the toilets are flooded. Human excrement is floating everywhere,” said Maniam Yogapragash, 33, a resident.

“The water supply system is minimal, the excrement disposal system is pretty basic and the land is flat so what was once dust has now turned to mud,” said one aid worker, who asked not to be identified. He talked about double amputees trying to get around in the mud and children playing in excrement.

“Yes, there are latrines being dug, yes, there is water being piped and tanked, and yes, the Ministry of Health is making huge efforts. But you have to remember, you have a city of over 200,000 here, most of whom live in tents. It’s simply not enough,” he said.

“We have provided cooked meals for the affected people and we are preparing to relocate the people if the situation becomes worse,” Vavuniya’s government agent, CHM Charles, reportedly said.

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Within minutes, the camps became a sea of mud and misery - and a breeding ground for waterborne diseases - “When the [vegetation] was cleared for the camp, little attention was paid to how water might flow in and out of the area,” one resident said. Photo: Contributor/IRIN

But according to international aid workers returning from the field on Sunday evening, that time has come.

“Menik Farm is well named. The place is complete chaos,” one international aid worker who also asked not to be identified, told IRIN. “If you think this is bad, the monsoon rains will be 50 times worse,” he said.

Monsoon rains on this part of the island are expected in September and generally last two to three months, making the weekend’s flooding seem like “a walk in the park”, residents say.

Report by IRIN-a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

August 16, 2009

lf Political Vacuum Continues T.N.A Will Overtake EPDP and PLOTE - Dayan Jayatilleka

-an interview with Thava Sajitharan

When asked 2 1/2 months ago about Sri Lankan government’s efforts to implement a political solution, you said: Which government could be accused of non-implementation a mere 10 days after the end of a 30-year-war? What is your position now?

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Dayan Jayatilleka

At the very outset let me say that the views I express here are strictly my personal opinion. The results of the recently concluded municipal election in Jaffna and urban council election in Vavuniya clearly show that now is the time for a political solution. If there continues to be a political vacuum, the Tamil progressive moderates such as the EPDP and PLOTE will be weakened and overtaken by the TNA by the time of the parliamentary election next year. If the TNA sweeps the parliamentary election while continuing to uphold its stance of rejecting the 13th amendment as insufficient and calling for “internal self determination”, the island will present a picture of clear ethnic division, polarization and deadlock. Colombo will not have a truly constructive Tamil negotiating partner that the Sinhala public and the armed forces can trust. It will be difficult to have Northern Provincial Council election and devolve power to an NPC dominated by a TNA which rejects the 13th amendment as too little.

Conversely, it will be difficult to postpone such an election indefinitely, problematic to dissolve the Council after election is held, and unwise to abolish the NPC by scrapping the 13th amendment with no alternative acceptable to the Tamils. An ethnic zero-sum game will be the result. Negotiations will be sporadic and unsuccessful. There may be a political process but that will be open-ended, while the existential situation of the Tamil people deteriorates on the ground. This means that the Sri Lankan crisis needlessly becomes intractable once again. The only way to avoid such an impasse with its tragic consequences of a renewed cycle of conflict, this time non-military but worse, civic, is to reduce the alienation of the Tamil people of the North. This can be done by giving the people some degree of local autonomy and representation, while Colombo’s Tamil partners such as the EPDP still remain a viable political option. Now the time is running out and as the election results show, Tamil disaffection is growing rapidly.

Going by the views you expressed in the media, you expected people in Jaffna to endorse the present administration’s stance in the MC election...how do you read the outcomes of polls in Jaffna and Vavuniya?

I certainly did not expect the Jaffna people to endorse the present administration’s stance, and I have never written anything which could even remotely be interpreted to mean that. I did expect that Jaffna people would opt for Douglas Devananda, and this they did, which is quite significant, though they did not do so quite as clearly as I thought. That was not Douglas’ fault. If he had been allowed to contest under the Veena sign as he was when he was a minister of an earlier cabinet, he would have secured more votes. If he had caved into pressure and joined the SLFP, he may have lost.

Do you feel that the government has let you down by asking you to return before your term ended?

My first term of two years ended on May 31, 2009 and a MFA letter in January informed me that I will have to return. However, that term was extended to May 31, 2010, in a faxed document signed by the Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which stated that H.E. the President had decided upon such an extension. This in turn was reversed by a ministry fax dated July 17th. I do feel the Government could have handled this better especially after the success at the UNHRC Special session. If I were transgressing official policy, I could have been directly informed through the usual channels which were utilized throughout my term. If I had persisted in such transgression I could have been asked for an explanation. I could have been brought down to Colombo for a consultation or briefing. None of these options were exercised.

In retrospect, how do you see the young Dayan of the 80s’ in contrast to the Dayan Jayatilleka, the ex-ambassador of the Sri Lankan state? During the 80s, you vociferously advocated the Leninist views on the State - Lenin held that the function of the State was to moderate class antagonisms, enforcing the rule of the oppressor. Having criticized Sri Lanka’s “bourgeois state” in the early 80s, you later on came to serve the very State whose “bourgeois” character doesn’t seem to have changed over all these years. Isn’t this self-contradictory?

More accurately it is the young Dayan of the 1970s and 80s, because I was first picked up for questioning by the Intelligence Services Division during the administration of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, when I had just sat for my A levels as a student at Aquinas University College Colombo, over my involvement with a revolutionary group called Miti Pahara (Hammer Blow). No, I do not think it is self-contradictory, except in a dialectical sense. In the first place, in both incarnations, “the state” and “state power” were central: I opposed the state in the first phase and defended and represented it in the second. There was logic to it. When socialism collapsed the world over, I shifted from the perspective of overthrowing the capitalist state for the purpose of ushering in an alternative and radically more advanced society, to the perspective of reforming the capitalist state and using it as instrument to reform society.

Thus, I changed from a revolutionary to a reformist; a communist to a social democrat. My support for president Premadasa and his reform policies reflected and were rooted in this change. There was another factor also: the nature of the barbaric violence that was unleashed by totalitarian movements such as the LTTE and the JVP. I quickly grasped that these movements represented what political philosopher Hannah Arendt called “political evil”, and that the state, however authoritarian and repressive, could be reformed while such Pol Potist or fascist movements had to be crushed. I grasped very rapidly, that when it was choice between the state and such totalitarian movements, it is the state - even the capitalist state — one must support. This was the choice, known as the “Popular Front”, correctly made in the 1930s and 40s by Marxists and leftwing intellectuals the world over, when faced with fascism. That was my choice too.

Now that the war is over and Prabhakaran destroyed, today I may be on the verge of a third shift; of taking my distance from the state and placing more emphasis on society and the public space. However, the underlying consistency of my life is that I have been a rebel with a sense of right and wrong as indicated by my consciousness and conscience, my intellect and spirit. I have also been an internationalist throughout.

The ideological shift you are referring to, doesn’t it evince what the Communists - your former comrades by your own admission - call ‘political opportunism’? Dialectical transformation, it is said, concerns the replacement of the old and reactionary by the rise and strengthening of the new. Instead of striving for the more progressive, you have, in your second incarnation, as you call it, sought to defend the existing system which, a Marxist dialectical scrutiny would identify as being democratic in appearance yet dictatorial in essence. How revolutionary or rebellious is that in a dialectical sense?

When accused of changing his position held from 1905, Lenin in 1917, quoted Goethe saying that, “theory is grey my friend, while the tree of life grows green forever.” He was drawing attention to the fact that theory must reflect and adjust to the changing reality in order to change it still further, while reality does not adjust to theory! The old is not necessarily always more reactionary than the new.

Nazi fascism and Pol Potism were new phenomena but these were far more dangerously reactionary than the old systems, which is why Marxists defended bourgeois democracy and its restoration, against fascism. The JVP’s Second Uprising and the LTTE were far more reactionary than what existed and exists, in that these would have led to a totalitarian, slave society. You would not have been able to write and publish as you do, even with the dangers that journalists face these days. Therefore, it was quite progressive to rebel for the preservation of existing limited democratic freedoms and space, against these neo-barbarians.

What is the difference between Wilsonian and Leninist right to self-determination, and how much relevance do these concepts have to the different nationalities of Sri Lanka?

The Leninist concept preceded by a few years the Wilsonian, but there are strong similarities. Both had an aspect that was strategic, even instrumental, in that they wanted to undermine the old empires by stimulating the revolt of captive nations and nationalities in the rear areas of these empires. I think, the Marxist contribution to the understanding of the National question is a rich one, and here, I mean, the debates within Marxism. No other school of thought has been so conceptually complex and highly evolved. However, the discussion on Sri Lanka has to take into account the differences in time and space. How does the national or nationalities question play out in a context that is not that of imperialism, but an independent state in the global South, that is struggling to protect its own sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity?

The Leninist formulation on national self determination is valid today only in the context of foreign, i.e. external occupation. This is not the case with Sri Lanka. Fidel Castro has clearly said that after the Cold War and the fall of the socialist camp, what is most important today is the national sovereignty, state sovereignty. Translated this means that any solution to the Sri Lankan national question must be within a single, united country. What has been validated, in my mind, is that stand of the old generation of Ceylonese Marxists who advocated regional autonomy.

You have been positive about India’s role in Sri Lanka and pushing for the implementation of the Indian-engineered 13th amendment. Given the fact that India itself is still grappling with too many issues, (having to deal with a fascist RSS, Kashmir, Gujarat, borders, etc.) what gives you the hope that the immediate neighbour could help Lanka a great deal? Don’t you think they should be told to mind their own business?

India could have played the role of a spoiler during this war too as in 1987, but did not. This was not only because it wanted to see the end of the Tigers, which it rightly did, but also because it was given to understand on the record and at the highest levels, that a fair political accommodation for the Tamils would ensue, based on the implementation of the 13th amendment. If we regard the 13th amendment as unacceptable in whole or part because it was Indian-engineered, then we should not have promised to implement it, and if we have made international commitments not only to India but also the UN, then we should not fight shy of implementing them.

We need to keep India on side because any small state such as ours, needs the support and solidarity of its neighbours to ward off pressures from far away; pressures stemming from the Tamil diaspora. True, we can tell India to mind its own business but then it may tell us to look after ourselves if we are in trouble, now that the Tigers are wiped out. Given the fact of 70 million Tamils next door in Tamil Nadu and the new trends of Indo-US convergence, US-China rapprochement, Indo-China cooperation and Indo-South African closeness, I am not sure this would serve Sri Lanka’s national and security interests.

The Chinese and the Indian economic miracles also give us potential engines of growth and prosperity. India is indeed grappling with conflicts at its far periphery, but has proved itself and been globally applauded as a model of the handling of diversity and the transforming of diversity into a source of celebration and strength for sustained takeoff. The Indian model is one of a secular state, despite the overwhelming preponderance of Hindus in its populace; a multiethnic military; and quasi-federal accommodation of its ethnic, regional and linguistic mosaic.

You have been accused of being a RAW agent. “Dayan’s record as a spokesperson for RAW, the lunatic end of Indian foreign policy-makers who have managed to alienate all her neighbours, is well known” says Gamini Seneviratne in a recent newspaper article. What is your response to this allegation?

If anyone had an allergy to and a nose for RAW agents, it was president Premadasa. I must be the only alleged RAW agent to have been a close and prominent supporter and defender of Premadasa who restored Sri Lanka’s sovereignty to the full, by sending off the IPKF even at the cost of an open polemic with Rajiv Gandhi! I was also the only minister of a provincial council to have resigned. I quit the North East PC in less than six months, having collected a salary for only a single month, and I did so having written a critical open letter to the chief minister, Vardarajaperumal, which appeared in every local newspaper.

This was a full year before the NEPC declared a UDI! As for Gamini Seneviratne, I had thought that distraught daddies enter the fray only to protect the fair name of their teenage daughters, not their adult sons who have been evaluated by independent outside observer-commentators as having lost a debate! I was writing in public and getting involved in polemics with those who were much older to me since my teens, and my father Mervyn de Silva would have disdained the thought of intervening, just as I would have been horrified if he had waded in to defend me and sing my praises!

What are your future plans?

Initially to return to my substantive post as senior lecturer at the University of Colombo. What I would really like to do is to write an analytical book, a length study on Sri Lanka’s Thirty Year War from a comparative international perspective, and tease out its lessons for governance policy and conflict theory.

COURTESY: LAKBIMA NEWS

Legitimacy of peace and reconciliation depends greatly on democratic accountability

by Vasuki Nesiah

In recent weeks there has been some talk about a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) as something that will allow Sri Lanka to come to terms with its troubled past and move forward into the promise of its ‘post-war’ future.

I have been informally invited into a few of these conversations because I have worked with the International Center for Transitional Justice on TRC initiatives and proposals for such initiatives in countries like South Africa, Ghana, Liberia, the Philippines and Nepal.

However, it is precisely the lessons I have learned from that experience that confirms my skepticism about the proposal for a TRC in Sri Lanka at this juncture.

In many contexts with a long complex record of abuse and a fraught security climate, civil society activists (and sometimes the international human rights community), have pushed for the establishment of a TRC in the hopes that this may be the thin edge of the wedge that opens the door to more political space; space that would expand and empower human rights victims, dissenting activists and others. However, again and again, in country after country, where commissions have been advanced in contexts shadowed by repression and insecurity, the resulting commission has done more to legitimize impunity rather than advance justice.

It may be worth reminding ourselves of some of the goals that have been vested in truth commissions. From Peru to Sierra Leone, social justice or human rights activists who advocated for truth commission saw their efforts as aimed at the inter-related goals of truth, justice, reparations and reform.

These goals come together in contesting impunity by addressing both what TRCs have termed legal, forensic truth regarding the details of particular violations, and the ‘big picture’ social, historical truth regarding their enabling conditions. These are often mutually reinforcing truth seeking processes that situate human rights violations within larger structures that identify the command responsibility chains, institutional roles and systemic injustices that were pivotal to particular crimes.

The term ‘truth’ may be misleading to the extent that it suggests that commissions should be aimed at ‘fixing’ the truth. Rather, the potential of truth commissions can be best described as a process that can help contest reigning ideas about the ‘truth’. It is not about establishing an uncontested truth, but about critically unpacking claims to truth. In this sense, the aspiration for a truth commission process is that it will undermine dominant myths rather than determine official dogma.

For instance, truth commission analysis may be able to demonstrate that human rights violations are not just a question of a few bad apples in the security sector (as is often the official line) but that these violations are a window into more systemic and structural problems; that violations are not random and isolated but that struggles over the politics of race, ethnicity, class, gender, ideology etc. can explain patterns of violations. Thus, at their best, truth commissions may demythologize nationalist conceits and, as Michael Ignatieff has noted, "narrow the range of permissible lies".

In some cases, the potential of a TRC to open-up greater political space for accountability can be seen in the relationship between TRCs and prosecution initiatives. For instance, in Chile, the TRC functioned as the principal official instrument contesting impunity when Pinochet left office and his amnesties barred prosecutions; moreover, two decades later those commission findings became crucial evidence when the amnesties were repealed and cases were brought against Pinochet.

In South Africa, the TRC’s partial and conditional amnesty was envisioned as the route to an intertwined carrots-and-sticks strategy where perpetrators who came forward to the commission and told the whole truth about particular incidents were given amnesty for their role in those particular incidents but those who didn’t were liable to prosecution.

Because they are aimed at telling the larger story regarding patterns of violations, TRC analysis can be of particular value in prosecution initiatives against those with command responsibility. Moreover, while prosecutions provide one important platform for accountability struggles, ideally TRC analysis will go beyond the terrain of courts to open up a wider national conversation on the prevailing distributive injustices and their supportive ideologies that have been the enabling and contributing conditions of violence and abuse; a conversation about the ordinary, everyday complicities and extraordinary, persistent hierarchies that have sustained and reproduced a history of human rights violations.

The Sri Lankan Experience

I started this brief note by invoking some of the anti-impunity ‘truth seeking’ goals that have motivated advocates of TRCs. Yet from Indonesia to Northern Ireland to Sri Lanka, we have repeatedly seen commissions in many parts of the world that have been designed precisely to defeat the goals they claim to advance. Over the last two decades Sri Lanka has itself convened several commissions of inquiry into disappearances and other human rights violations that bear some family resemblance to truth commissions.

The history of these commissions provide an indicator of how commissions can be manipulated to defeat dissent by channeling criticisms of human rights violations into institutions that the government of the day uses as a shield against critique.

Even when commissions have fought against the odds to push for justice, their work was restricted and compromised and their recommendations for prosecutions and reform were buried; many voices of dissent who engaged with these commissions have been threatened and the justice aspirations of those who gave testimony have been betrayed.

Some argue that irrespective of Sri Lanka’s past record, the current need for post-war ‘reconciliation’ warrants a TRC. Yet, not unlike the word ’truth’, the word ‘reconciliation’ in truth and reconciliation commissions has sometimes led to more confusion than clarity. Reconciliation is a long term process that is itself dependent on advancing justice rather than functioning as a proxy for justice.

There are many contexts where there is a great need for reconciliation but more often than not the discourse on reconciliation has functioned as a cynical public relations exercise where empty calls to unity have substituted for policies that genuinely address the justice claims of minorities and other marginalized groups.

This is not the first time in Sri Lanka that calls for reconciliation have been advanced (in the name of a "post-war" historical moment) in ways that have raised questions regarding legitimacy and accountability. In March 2002, after the GOSL-LTTE ceasefire agreement, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of the South African TRC signed a statement protesting threats to the space for dissent in Sri Lanka noting that the legitimacy of peace "depends not only on the cessation of hostilities, but also on broader questions of democratic accountability."

This statement reminds us that questions of justice and dissent that inform questions of democratic accountability will be central to the legitimacy of post-war initiatives.

In the spirit of the Tutu statement, we may note that although the requisite ‘legitimacy’ preconditions for a TRC to pursue the goals described earlier are complex and multi-facetted, whether the current government can establish an institution today that has the confidence of marginalized communities and dissenting voices may provide a telling window into whether the most elementary political and security conditions obtain.

For instance, would those most victimized believe that such a process will advance their justice goals? Do dissenting political activists believe in the integrity and independence of the process?

Do those most skeptical of nationalist myths believe the process will expose lies and challenge impunity?

Is there a political and military climate where dissenting voices can give testimony without security fears?

The answers to these questions may give us a hint as to whether establishing a TRC at this juncture would enable Sri Lanka to unpack dominant ‘truths’, track command responsibility and redress legacies of abuse, or, instead, if it would prop-up national myths, cover up the responsibility of those in power and legitimize a repressive regime.

Where do you place your bets?

August 15, 2009

Flooding of Vavuniya IDP Camps-Possible outbreak of Epidemics: PUCL demands immediate intervention of Gov.of India and International Community

PUCL expresses concern about reports from the IDP (Internally Displaced People) Camps in Vavuniya area housing Sri Lankan Tamil about severe flooding of the camps following heavy rains for the last 2 days. PUCL apprehends that the IDP camps will turn into `death traps’ unless urgent measures are taken to safeguard lives of the 300,000 inmates.

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[pix-by special arrangement]

Zones 2 (Ramanathan Camp), 3 (Ananda Kumarasamy Camp), 4(No name) of Menik Farm Camps house 65,000, 43,000 and 41,000 inmates respectively. These camps are enclosed by barbed wire from which none can leave without permission of security forces. The camps are constructed in low lying areas susceptible to flooding. Toilets for the inmates are not only inadequate but are also temporary structures oftentimes being mere huge pits dug into the soil. Due to the rains the toilet pits have caved in. As though this is not bad, the toilets have also become full and there is severe water contamination. Flood waters mixed with toilet slush is reportedly flooding the living areas.

Zone 0 and 1 alone are the model zones shown to visiting journalists and diplomats. The habitations are built with tin roofs. Housing in Zones 2,3,4,5 and 6 are made from UN supplied tents shared by 2-3 families, with no privacy.

Supply of cooked food stuffs have been stopped two weeks back. The inmates of these camps have to depend on dry rations and have been forced to have individual kitchens. Due to the rains, the firewood have become wet and unusable. Families are therefore starving.

The red soils of the area have made the camps slushy and unlivable. It is reported that the flood waters are waist deep in some parts posing severe threat to personal safety, health and hygiene. Due to the poor road conditions vehicles are unable to move in the area and thus supply of essential commodities has stopped.

The situation of children and elderly is appalling. Equally horrible is the plight of the injured and handicapped people who are unable to compete with able bodies camp inmates for a share of essential commodities and toilet facilities.

Most NGOs are running out of money and unable to supply food to camps. It is informed that World Food Programme (WFP) is planning to close down its operations in these areas soon.

Epidemics and illnesses due to the poor conditions in the camps and flooding will kill as many as the war did unless the international community steps in and initiates remedial steps on a war footing. The world governments, especially the Government of India have a moral duty to the victims Tamils to ensure that all possible safety measures are initiated.

Government of India has announced that they are going to allocate another tranche of Rs. 500 crores. As members of Indian civil society PUCL demands on behalf of other human rights community that Government of India insist that the IDP camps are shifted to a safer place and all possible remedial measures be undertaken under supervision of Indian groups including experts and independent experts. If this is not done, PUCL fears there will be numerous deaths of Tamils and immense suffering.

Under the circumstances, PUCL urges the Government of India and the International Community to immediately intervene in the administration and running of the IDP camps in Vavuniya region of north Sri Lanka housing close to 300,000 Sri Lankan Tamils affected by the war.

Released to the Press in Chennai by Dr. V. Suresh, President, PUCL (Tamil Nadu and Puducherry)

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View from behind the barbed wire-by a UNHCR Canada legal officer

Interview with Denise Otis, a UNHCR Canada legal officer who just returned from serving on UNHCR's Emergency Response Team in Sri Lanka.

The interview is published by Embassy Magazine, Canada's influential foreign policy newspaper which has a weekly readership of over 60,000 and has become a must-read among politicians, top bureaucrats, political staffers, diplomats and academics.

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[People who are living in the Chettikulam Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp in northern Sri Lanka wait to meet their relatives August 15, 2009-Reuters pic]

But on the ground during the final weeks of intense fighting was Denise Otis, a Canadian employed at the Montreal office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. After 15 years representing mostly asylum seekers before the Immigration and Refugee Board, Ms. Otis joined the UNHCR as a legal officer in 2004. Eager for field experience, Ms. Otis volunteered for the UNHCR's emergency roster team, and after some training in Sweden, spent May and June among Sri Lanka's internally displaced Tamils.

Last week, Embassy spoke with Ms. Otis about her experiences. This is an edited transcript of her reflections on her time in Vavuniya, a town which swelled with internally displaced peoples in the war's aftermath:

When you were dealing with the IDPs near the end of the conflict, what were they telling you? What state were they in?

"We were not alone there, of course. There were many organizations, and it was a huge operation at the very beginning because these people were coming down to the checkpoint called Omanti. At this spot the people were registered, a very brief registration, and sent to camps.

"And so at that checkpoint, [Doctors Without Borders] was present, and trying to cover the cases they could monitor.... One important task for UNHCR was what we call presence protection, to be there and observe what's happening. We were visible with our T-shirts and caps, and we were allowed to be present to monitor what was going on.

"[The IDPs] had just left courageously, they were survivors of war. They were in bad shape. They had been under fire for a few months, and some of them had practically lived in bunkers. Some of them were injured; they had been victims of shelling. They were all extremely tired. They also had had problems of access to food.

"I myself witnessed the case of a young boy-my boy's age, an 11-year-old-who was dehydrated and they were going to lose him, but they finally fortunately succeeded in resuscitating him. It was something very [deeply moving] to witness.

"At the beginning, a lot of people were sent to schools and community centres in Vavuniya City. Because the arrivals were sudden, it was very difficult half the time to establish proper camps and so on.

"The first protection that you try to give people is for their lives, so you need shelter and food and so on. UNHCR, in terms of shelter, had, thanks to donations, sufficient shelters, mainly tents, to protect those people at the beginning. But it was huge numbers of displaced...in total at the beginning about 280,000 people.

"So obviously, at the beginning the authorities, including the army, were taken a bit off guard because of all the displacements and what it meant in terms of sheltering. You have to remember, we were in a context of war, and obviously the LTTE cadre, the combatants, were also among those people who were being displaced. So the Sri Lankan army wanted to make sure that the combatants would be apart from the civilians. So there was a screening process going on at this particular checkpoint."

Broadly speaking, how did the Sri Lankan army treat the IDPs?

"We were very much constrained as humanitarians, we were not allowed on roads before eight o'clock and after six o'clock pm, for security reasons.

"When we were there we did not, generally speaking, see any mistreatment. But the bottom line is...that they are encircled by barbed wire. Generally speaking, there is no freedom of movement, which is one of the basic principles applied to internally displaced peoples. There is a [UNHCR] guideline that exists on IDPs, and it's very clear that the very first principle of these guidelines is freedom of movement.

"In Sri Lanka, many people had been displaced in the past, including when the tsunami took place. And I saw some of these settlements of people who had been displaced in 1998, and these people had never been constrained, never been submitted to confinement like that.

"The main reason given by the government, and I think UNHCR understood the fact, that because of the context, the government thought it was better for security reasons to confine those people. But the situation is that they are still confined."

What are some of the things that stick out clearest in your mind about the situation in those camps?

"Well it's heavily militarized around the camps. At the beginning the army was also in the camps, but they were eventually replaced by civilians. I think this was also thanks to advocacy from UNHCR, because that's another principle: the camps cannot be militarized.

"Nevertheless, it's still militarized outside, but inside now it's civilians, which is a good improvement. But it was a first impression, that that was a bit contrary to the principles.

"Of course the fact that the people are confined is something that catches the attention. It's barbed wire and you see kids, old age people, and so on. Now, I have to tell you that the government of Sri Lanka has established rules where people 60 and above and the kids 10 and below were allowed, according to various rules and procedures, to leave the camps. So a certain number have been released, but Vavuniya is a small town. The infrastructure did not necessarily exist, but they did their best to have those people find a place to live."

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A woman bathes inside the Settikulam Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp in northern Sri Lanka August 15, 2009-Reuters pic.

Has any progress been made?

"The basic rights have to come through. Sanitation, water, etcetera. And now I know they have made a lot of efforts in order for the kids to have access to education. They also made efforts to decongest those huge camps where too many people were jammed at the beginning. Now they put them in other camps.

"They have the intention to resettle, meaning they will be sent back to where they came from, but because of the war situation, the demining, the operation can still take some time."

Why are they still in the camps?

"It's not that all the territory has been mined, but it's risky to send them back to where they come from, that's the reason that's given.

"So for the moment, they're trying their best, I guess, to make sure people are fed, but the problem remains they are confined, and that's something UNHCR is advocating [against]. In Pakistan, people were sent also to their families, people who could not do otherwise, they are in camps, but are free to move, and they have the option to go."

I understand there are a number of Canadians are among the IDPs. How are they?

"I must admit when I was there I didn't know about [those Canadians]. I heard about it afterward. But the fact is yes, there are.

"Some [foreign] people had been in the areas, because they attended a funeral, or were on holidays or were coming from a wedding or whatever, and were caught in the situation and so they found themselves in the camps. That's pretty unfortunate.

"The monsoon season is coming, and that's something I dread for them, because they are in tents and when it rains, it rains...and there's no flooring. When I was there, there was a half hour rain and it was a total disaster."

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[Manic fram camp-Vavuniya-UNHCR pic-Apr 09]

Do you think peace is in the cards now for Sri Lanka?

"The people want it, right. The Tamils, the ones I talked to, want to do like everyone else: be in peace, raise their kids peacefully and be able to go out in the evening. War is war, and at one point you just want to be at peace. That's what they want, most of them."

It seems to me that the main thing where the Sri Lankan government is falling afoul here is the freedom of movement issues.

"That's a big issue, yes. Because it's the basis of guidelines on IDPs and it's also a principle that is in the Declaration of Human Rights. It's not out of the blue, it's really the fundamentals of international law, and we have the mandate and the duty to repeat it, here and everywhere."

Attacks on free media put displaced civilians at risk - Amnesty International

14 August 2009, www.amnestyusa.org:

Attacks on journalists, relentless intimidation, and government-imposed restrictions on reporting threaten freedom of expression in Sri Lanka and jeopardize the safety and dignity of civilians displaced by war.

The Sri Lankan government actively obstructed reporting on the last stages of the recently concluded armed conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE – Tamil Tigers). Civilians were subjected to artillery attacks and both sides were accused of committing war crimes.

The government continues to deny journalists and media workers unrestricted access to hundreds and thousands of displaced people living in camps, hindering reporting on their war experiences and on conditions in the camps themselves.

At the same time, unprecedented levels of violence against media workers engaged in critical reporting has contributed to a climate of fear and self-censorship that has deprived the people of Sri Lanka of their right to information.

Sri Lankan press freedom advocates say that more than 30 people working for Sri Lankan media outlets have been killed since 2004. Many others have been abducted, assaulted or threatened for their war reporting. Newspapers have been seized and burned, newspaper offices have been vandalized and printing equipment destroyed.

Months after the war in Sri Lanka ended journalists and media workers are still facing murder, abduction, censorship and intimidation. The vast majority of victims were members of the minority Tamil community, but Sinhalese and Muslim journalists have also been killed. The perpetrators of many of these crimes have not been identified, let alone punished.

Sri Lankan journalist and human rights activist Sunanda Deshapriya says the government never recognized that journalists and media workers, (or through the media – the public) had a right to information, but for most of the conflict (which lasted from July 1983 until May 2009) journalists had "mechanisms" to get information.

However, pressure on Sri Lanka's journalists escalated along with the intensity of the fighting, and during the last phase of war, said Mr. Deshapriya, from 2006 onwards, the government tightened restrictions, producing a number of statements saying that journalists were not even allowed to report casualty figures.

Journalists writing about the war without getting approval from the Media Centre for National Security put themselves at risk. "Killing journalists, threatening journalists, abductions, disappearances – all these things happened to journalists who would try and push the limits," he said.

Threats and acts of harassment against journalists and the media have increased unabated in a prevailing culture of impunity, and have blunted reporting.

"If you read Sri Lankan newspapers, you still get the government version. Very rarely, you get a critical point of view," said Sunanda Deshapriya.

"Everyone is self-censoring themselves ...some of them willingly because some of them really support the system – and some of them unwillingly. In Sri Lanka, there is no freedom of press."

“Critical and dissenting voices are more or less silenced in Sri Lanka today.

"So even someone like me, who writes a column from abroad, I censor myself. I always see whether my column is going to offend the government, because they are going to attack me. You know, I have family back at home. So we all, to some extent, censor ourselves when writing about the situation."

Sunanda Deshapriya is a regular columnist for the weekly newspaper Ravaya. He has researched the media's role in the Sri Lankan conflict and has presented papers at national and international media workshops. He has also written and lectured on the code of ethics for journalists in Sri Lanka.

But Sri Lankan journalists are not the only ones under pressure. Foreign correspondents have been denied visas or deported for stories that offended the government.

In July, Ravi Nessman, Sri Lanka Bureau Chief for the Associated Press was compelled to leave Sri Lanka after the government refused to renew his visa. Ravi Nessman reported extensively on civilian casualties in the government’s final assault against the LTTE.

He also broke the story of a government plan to detain hundreds of thousands of displaced people in camps for up to three years, and raised questions about the decision to block media access.

How has this restrictive media culture hurt civilians?

Sunanda Deshapriya recalls that not long ago, both the government and the Tamil Tigers were giving heavily distorted figures for the amount of people living in the war zone in areas under Tiger control:

"Access to information was blocked, and because of that what happened? Tigers said they have 400,000 people in Wanni. That's the Tiger number. Government said: there's 120,000.

"And there was no independent verification, no journalists, no media was allowed. And government [was] asking people to come...they said 'we are ready to welcome you.' And, at the end, it turned out to be nearly 300,000 people."

The government, said Mr Deshapriya, urged civilians from the war zone to flee into its territory, but its own agencies, relying on erroneous government figures, were unprepared for such vast numbers.

When the civilians arrived, "...there were no facilities. Still, after three months, after the war is over and people does not have even basic facilities [in the camps] because there was no freedom of information. Journalists could not report [on] how many people are there, what conditions they are living in," he said.

This also meant that the international community could not effectively address the situation because there was no verification of facts.

With no independent verification, the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers were both able to use the world's appetite for information as a means of promoting their own agendas.

The flow of information from the camps now consists mainly of information provided by relatives of those detained, of individual leaks from aid workers to journalists and of anonymous blog entries.

In almost all cases, those providing the information remain anonymous to avoid reprisals. As a result, the information finding its way out of the camps is often unreliable. This can only hurt the detained civilians.

"There has to be a system, there has to be free access," said Sunanda Deshapriya.

Human rights violations

"Human rights violations of all types have the potential to be ignored by the authorities when access to the camps and their inhabitants is restricted," said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International's Sri Lanka expert.

"Of particular concern is the potential for abuse against the most vulnerable people in the camps, those needing the most urgent protection such as unaccompanied minors, women, the elderly and people with disabilities.

"Exploitation of vulnerable individuals by government forces has been a longstanding problem in conflict areas and among the displaced; social stigma and Sri Lanka’s pervasive culture of impunity further compound the problem."

Make a difference!

» Urge the Release of Five Doctors in Sri Lanka (UA 129/09)

» Unlock the Camps in Sri Lanka

» End Impunity and Ensure Justice for Victims

Police Violence – “What goes around comes around”

A statement by the Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo

The recent spate of violence perpetrated by certain Officers of the Police Force against civilians is cause for grave public concern. Of equal concern is the systematic extra-judicial elimination of persons engaged in organized crime. While such persons cannot be allowed to hurt others and undermine Law and Order, they must be dealt with in accordance with the Law.

When those who carry responsibility as custodians of the law and civil security engage in extra-judicial violence, any society is on the brink of a serious Law and Order crisis.

Each such incident requires prompt and impartial investigation. Where culpability is established, there must be corrective measures, compensation and even public apologies. But there is more to be acknowledged and done:

1. Our society should recognize that the culture of impunity and extra-judicial violence experienced mostly by the Tamil community over the past several years has turned some of our Police Officers into victims of a vicious system. They have come to accept the irregular as normative. They are unable to behave differently because they do not know a better way.

2. Consequently a remedy should go beyond mere transfers or the punishment of offenders. We need a counter culture in which persons of integrity will hold high office. The many such Officers still in the Police Force today should be recognized and given responsibility corresponding with their seniority, qualifications and good performance. In addition Police Officers of all ranks will require training in Public Relations, the value of Human Rights and Conflict Resolution. While this process will take some time we must begin immediately.

3. Finally, the independence of the Police Force must be ensured. For this to happen the 17th Amendment needs to be reactivated so that the National Police Commission could be established. Such a step will ensure professionalism in the Force and also minimize corruption and interference from those in positions of power and influence
All Sri Lankans have a responsibility to make this shift a reality. If not we will inevitably experience the full impact of the saying “What goes around comes around”.

With Peace and Blessings to all!

The Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo
14th August 2009

Northern Tamils have conveyed their message through polls

by M.S.M. Ayub

After having lost more than 60,000 citizens of all three communities in the country in a three- decade-long bloody civil war that has just ended, a party heavily lenient to the rebels defeated in that very war has displayed that it is a formidable force among Tamils.

The message conveyed by the last week’s elections for the two Local Government bodies in Tamil dominated North- the Jaffna Municipal Council and the Vavuniya Urban Council was stronger than the message given by the results of the Uva provincial Council election held on the same day, August 8, which was not anyway a surprise.

Leaders of the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) are boasting that the people have resoundingly endorsed Government policies. Although this argument is valid in the Uva province for a large extent and in the political platforms where saner judgments have no room, it looks as an absurd contention as far as election results in the North are concerned.

It is true that no genuine politician can belittle the great role played by the security forces throughout the war and the firm stand the UPFA government had taken at the latter part of the war in defeating the LTTE, the only rebel group in the world with a naval and air wing. Given the unprecedented heavy pressure on the Government exerted by the world powers, especially when the elimination of the LTTE leadership was imminent at the littoral of Puthumatalan, President Mahinda Rajapaksa would always be credited for his unwavering determination in defeating the intransigent leaders of the rebel outfit.

However, it is also pertinent to ascertain whether the purpose of the great sacrifices made by the security forces and the people of all communities in the country during the past three decades go hand in hand with where the Northern people stand now.The results of the Jaffna Municipal Council election demonstrated that the enthusiasm of the people in the city was surprisingly low. Total votes poled in the city were 22,280 out of 100,417 registered voters. It is surprising because the city has been under the Government control for the past fourteen years. It is true that the UPFA has captured the power of the Jaffna Municipality. However, the vital question is as to how many members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the main constituent party in the ruling coalition in the governemnt have returned.

Almost all members returned to the Jaffna Municipal Council on behalf of the UPFA are members of the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP). Although the former militant group is a virulent opponent of the LTTE, the fact remains that no members from the Sinhalese dominated two main political parties in the country – the UNP and the SLFP - have been elected to the Municipality.

Another fact that has to be reckoned with is that the pro-LTTE Tamil leadership, the TNA which contested under the banner of Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi or the Federal Party has been successful in bagging 8008 votes in Jaffna while the EPDP and SLFP contested under the UPFA’s betel leaf symbol got 10,602 votes. And also the TNA has been elected to rule Vavuniya, a Tamil dominated town that had never come under the LTTE writ.

The pro-Government elements were in haste to attribute the low turn-out in Jaffna to the faulty number of registered voters in the city. They rightly argued that though the Elections Commissioner had declared the number of registered voters as 100,417, the actual number of voters currently residing in the city was about 40,000 less than that, since a large number of voters either have gone abroad or other parts of the country, especially to Colombo, and some have died.

This was proved by the fact that more than 40,000 polling cards had remained undistributed at post offices before the election. However, the genuineness of their contention, in spite of its veracity, could be questioned for the reason that they raised this issue only after the results were out. Even when the actual number of voters now said to be residing in the city are taken into account, the turn-out could be calculated as around 35 percent, which definitely cannot be considered to be satisfactory. This low turn-out stands in our way to identifying real psyche of the Jaffna populace.

Now that the elections are over the crux of the results are that the Tamil people have not shown a liking to elect candidates from the two main national parties. And also a large number of people in Jaffna have abstained themselves from voting and the pro-LTTE mentality among the Northern Tamils is still a force to reckon with.

The latter gains more significance when considering the fact that TNA leader R. Sampanthan on the eve of the election stated that his party was going to present a set of proposals on the basis of “internal self-determination”, a motto first put forward by the LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham in 2002 during the peace talks between the UNF government and his organization.Sampanthan added that he would first present his proposals to the Indian government and the international community before placing it before the Sri Lankan government.

If we are to take that policies, declarations and manifestoes of political parties presented immediately before elections influence the voters, government has to take note of the developments after Mr. Sampanthan’s announcement seriously, before embarking on any political settlement to the ethnic problem, if it has any immediate plan.

The leaders of the present government alone should not be offended by the divisive message conveyed by the Tamil voters, since it was not something new. Last time in 1998 the voters of Jaffna voted Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) to power in the city. The results of the present election are an outcome of a decade long political evolution. Important matter is whether political leaders in the country realize the situation so that remedial measures could be taken.

What government had to do was to allow the people to freely vent their mind out. However, there were allegations before the election that opposition parties were prevented from freely campaigning and that media was not allowed unhindered access to the areas under the two northern local government bodies.

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa had said UPFA could have won the power in the Vavuniya Urban Council had the PLOTE teamed up with the UPFA at the election. That is true. But that will only serve as a smoke screen over the real message of the voters. However, the question that has to be posed to Weerawansa is whether it is the PLOTE that has to team up with UPFA or the other way around, given the strength of the two parties in the relevant area. This majoritarian mentality is as detrimental to the assimilation of Tamils as some Tamil leaders’ divisive mind set.

India Must Facilitate not Force Durable Political Solution in Sri Lanka

by Col. R.Hariharan

INTRODUCTION

The Sri Lanka’s security forces’ remarkable success in inflicting a crushing defeat on the Tamil separatist insurgents of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in the Eelam War IV in May 2009 has wide implications not only for the struggle of minority Tamil population for autonomy but also in the context of India – Sri Lanka relations.

In the course of their three years of war, the security forces have regained control of nearly 16,000 square km of territory which was dominated by the LTTE. They have also eliminated at least 15,000 LTTE cadres and captured or destroyed millions of rupees worth of LTTE’s arms and military equipment. Another 9000 cadres have been captured or surrendered. With the elimination of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the heart and soul of the LTTE, along with most of the key leaders in the last few days of war, the security forces have minimised the chances of a military revival of the Tamil insurgent group making a comeback. And the security forces plan to be present in the Tamil areas for an indefinite period to carry out operations to prevent resurgence of the LTTE.

India and Sri Lanka, though unequal in size, population, economic strength and international clout, have generally had healthy and cordial relations. The strong ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious links between the two countries have resulted in the development of close – almost umbilical – relationship at the people to people level. One reason for this is the people of Sri Lanka – including Sinhalas, Tamils and Muslims – consider India as the ‘Mother Country.’

However, there had been ups and downs in the relationship between the two nations mainly due to the ebb tides of their differing perceptions on local, national and international priorities. Issues relating to geo-strategic security, and status of people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka were the two main issues that had dominated the relationship between the two countries till the 'Black July pogrom' of July 1983 and the developments in its aftermath started occupying prominent space in India’s relations with Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s problem with Tamil minority population is over half a century old. The Tamils clamouring for equal rights from 1956 onwards when Sinhala nationalism emerged a major factor in politics, with increased dominance of Sinhala language and culture, leading to progressive alienation of Tamils from the national mainstream.. The Tamil political confrontation progressively degenerated with the state’s increasing use of force to handle the Tamil agitators.

As Tamils politicians lost their credibility to remedy the situation popular support for a new breed of militants increased. Prabhakaran and the LTTE came into limelight in July 1983 when he led an ambush of Sri Lanka army convoy in which 13 soldiers were killed. In retribution violent mobs instigated by the state and Sinhala leaders carried out a pogrom against Tamils. In the unprecedented violence hundreds of Tamils were killed and thousands fled the country.

When thousands of Tamil refugees including militants poured into Tamil Nadu in the wake of the riots there was a huge wave of public sympathy. Mrs Indira Gandhi, prime minister of India, had a sympathetic understanding of the plight of Sri Lanka Tamils and it suited her geo-political strategy to take active interest in Sri Lanka affairs from 1983 onwards. It also offered a political opportunity for her party – the Congress party – to strengthen itself in Tamil Nadu.

As a result New Delhi helped the Tamil militant groups with arms and military training. A large number of LTTE cadres were also among the Tamil militants of various groups trained in India. Sri Lanka security forces launched a major offensive against the militants in 1983.

From 1983 to 87 the objective of India's active engagement with Sri Lanka was two fold. India wanted to help Sri Lanka government and the Tamils to evolve a workable solution to the Tamil problem as it was wary of the emergence of an independent Tamil Eelam nation out of Sri Lanka. At the same time, India also wanted to prevent Sri Lanka turning into cockpit of American domination intruding in India's sphere of influence.

India’s Sri Lanka policy has always had strategic considerations as lynchpin as Sri Lanka is the vanguard of India’s peninsular and Indian Ocean security. As a corollary any external influence in the island nation is of security concern to India. It was this strategic concern that guided India’s policy of active intervention in Sri Lanka from 1987 to 90. Sri Lanka also recognised India’s concerns when it signed the India-Sri Lanka Agreement in 1987.

The agreement had two major goals. The first was the strategic consideration of preventing entry of external powers gaining a foothold in Sri Lanka was also one of the reasons for India’s steadfast support for a united Sri Lanka, within India’s area of influence. Strategic consideration had also dictated India’s consistent opposition to the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam as demanded by sections of Tamil minority.

The second major aim which had both strategic and political elements was to ensure the Sri Lankan Tamil quest for equity and autonomy was resolved amicably within a united Sri Lanka. It was in India’s strategic interest to ensure that there was no internal turbulence within its close neighbour. The large Tamil speaking population segment within India also wanted India to help their brethren across the Palk Strait to get their just rights. India's political efforts earlier at Thimphu talks to bring the two sides to work out a solution at failed; however, it was Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's relentless pursuit to find a solution that saw the signing of the India-Sri Lanka Agreement in 1987.

The agreement paved the way for grant of limited autonomy for Tamils and the creation of a united northeast province for Tamils. As a part of the deal, all Tamil militant groups, including the LTTE, had initially agreed to conform to the agreement. However, the LTTE refused to give up its arms because it doubted the sincerity of India as well as Sri Lanka’s intentions to adhere to the agreement. Moreover, the agreement fell short of the LTTE’s goal of creating an independent state of Tamil Eelam.

As a consequence, the Indian Peace Keeping Force sent to Sri Lanka to assist the implementation of the 1987 agreement made a bid to disarm the LTTE resulting in a prolonged. India pulled out the troops in 1990 after the Sri Lanka President Premadasa and the LTTE leader Prabhakaran colluded to show India out of the country. The LTTE’s assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan Tamil leaders taking refuge in India in Indian soil resulted in the banning of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation in India in 1992. The public sympathy for Tamil militants in Tamil Nadu, particularly for the LTTE, took a nosedive thereafter. After these acts of double jeopardy, India had scrupulously avoided active or direct involvement in Sri Lanka.

INDIA -SRI LANKA RELATIONS AFTER 1992

Development of India-Sri Lanka relations after 1992 has undergone a contextual change in tandem with changes in India’s foreign policy perceptions.

After the end of the cold war and the emergence of the U.S. as the sole super power, India's foreign policy perceptions have also changed. In keeping with the changing global economic and trade scenario, India's strategic priorities in Indian Ocean Region have also undergone a change during the last two decades. India’s national security perceptions have now been enlarged to include economic security, free trade and commerce, energy security, and social security of the population in addition to territorial integrity.

Building better India - U.S relations has become an important component of India's strategic linkages to globally safeguard its interests. The Indo-US civil nuclear agreement and the growing strategic convergence between the two countries are part of the changes taking place that would have a direct consequence in the region. The U.S. engaged in the global war on terror sees India as an important ally because India bridges the Islamic world and the rest of Asia.

In a bid to expand India's commercial reach India in East Asia it is trying to build close relations with ASEAN countries. It has signed a Free Trade Agreement with Thailand as a part of this policy. India is also trying to improve its relations with Myanmar. India is developing infrastructure through Myanmar to develop physical links with the ASEAN region. India hopes to use it as a gateway for trade with ASEAN for the troubled India's northeast.

There is increasing Chinese presence in South Asia among India’s neighbouring countries. While this is part of China’s desire to emerge as a global power, may see India as a counterpoise to check the assertion of Chinese power in South Asia. While this is partly true, India would like to develop a friendly rather than confrontational relation with China.

At the same time, India will have to safeguard its interests particularly in the Indian Ocean region. The sea-lanes of Indian Ocean have become vital for India's expanding global trade. They carry fossil fuels so vital for India's ever increasing energy needs. Indian navy's development as a blue water navy is underway to protect its maritime and economic interests.

The changes in global fiscal, economic and trading relationships and the emergence of Islamist terrorism as a major international threat have also brought about a number of changes in international relationships. India-Sri Lanka relations have also developed in keeping with these changes.

India's shift in relationship with Sri Lanka has to be understood in this broad strategic context, than in the background of its historical baggage. India’s Sri Lanka relations are now broad based with economic agenda as a priority followed by strategic considerations. India's strategic interest in Sri Lanka has been enlarged to protect and project India's strategic and economic interests by building strong bonds with Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was the first country with which India signed a Free Trade Agreement; the trade between the two countries is expected to grow to $ 4 billion by the year 2010. There is greater appreciation between the two countries of the other's problems and perceptions.

Inevitably the changes in India's strategic perception were reflected in its present approach to Sri Lanka’s wars against the LTTE, particularly after the failure of the peace process 2002. Its role had been limited as an advisor and counsellor not only to Sri Lanka but to the four co-chairs - the European Union, Japan, Norway and the U.S - who promoted the peace process. The experience of India’s active intervention between the years 1983-91 appears to have brought about two realisations in India’s Sri Lanka policy making:

• India's strategic involvement in Sri Lanka should be broad based. It should have a firm foundation based upon long-term engagement avoiding reactive intervention.

• As far as the vexing issue of Tamil rights, India should facilitate rather than force the Sri Lanka government and the Tamils to achieve a durable solution.

India had scrupulously kept out of Sri Lanka’s war with the LTTE despite strong internal political pressure from coalition partners in Tamil Nadu. India’s agenda for Sri Lanka had mainly focused on strategic security cooperation and building of trade linkages. In fact, India declined to accept President Rajapaksa’s invitation to India to join the peace process extended soon after he took over as President in 2006.

Perhaps an un-stated reason for India’s laid back profile in Sri Lanka affairs was emergence of the LTTE as the sole arbiter of Tamil struggle after 1992. After Indian troops left Sri Lanka shores in 1990, LTTE cleverly used the anti Indian sentiments created due to the IPKF war, to strengthen its power base among sections of Tamil Diaspora. This enabled the LTTE to build its fire power, financial and logistic resources network with the help of the Diaspora to fight its wars from 1992 to the very end in 2009.

The LTTE’s self assumed role as the sole spokesman of Sri Lanka Tamils got a tacit international recognition when it signed the Oslo Accord with Sri Lanka in 2002. As per the Accord the two sides agreed to enter a peace process to find a federal solution to meet the Tamil aspirations. In the Norwegian mediated peace process it was the LTTE that represented Tamil interests in the talks with Sri Lanka. This perhaps precluded India’s direct participation in the peace process under the leadership of the four co-chairs.

IMPACT OF EELAM WAR IN SRI LANKA

The Eelam War IV and its aftermath have wrought quite a few changes in Sri Lanka which will have to be taken into India’s foreign policy prescriptions of the future. Some of them are strategic issues while others are political.

Perhaps for the first time there was minimal Indian influence in Sri Lanka’s military success. This would indicate India consciously refraining from using the ethnic conflict to its strategic advantage in sharp contrast to India’s high profile involvement in Sri Lanka’s Sinhala-Tamil confrontation since Mrs Indira Gandhi’s times. In its new equation with Sri Lanka, India did not substantially contribute not only to either the peace process 2002 or the war that followed its collapse. This ‘hands off’ attitude is likely to be a precedence and condition India-Sri Lanka relationship in the future.

EMERGENCE OF A STRONG SRI LANKA

The resounding success of Sri Lanka against the LTTE was mainly due to the strong leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He had provided the impetus to focus the whole national effort on the sole objective of eliminating the LTTE as a power centre confronting the state. He has considered achieving military success as the only national priority disregarding to international allegations of human rights violations, curtailment of freedom of expression, and absence of rule of law. In order to build his political power base to carry on his mission he has not hesitated to split almost all the political parties. His two brothers – Basil and Gotabaya Rajapakse had been the architects of translating his goal into achievement. Along with the Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka, this triumvirate probably exercise strong influence on the President’s policy making.

Thus President Rajapaksa is emerging as an unchallenged leader with enormous powers conferred by the executive presidency. In all likelihood, President Rajapaksa will be re-elected for a second six-year presidential term ending only in 2018.

The Sri Lanka security armed forces including the police force are now 340,000 strong. The armed forces strength has grown to 200,000. Despite some limitations they have emerged after the war as a well knitted professionally competent, battle tested fighting force. According to the Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka, the army is to be expanded into a force of 300,000. In actual terms it would be bigger than some of the armies of Europe – Britain, Germany, Italy or France. Thanks to their military success, the security forces, riding the crest of popularity, are likely to emerge as another power centre in Sri Lanka in the coming years. Oversized armed forces in a small country like Sri Lanka could wield influence in policy making at national level. They could also put political leadership under pressure.

DEVOLUTION OF POWERS TO TAMILS

The India-Sri Lanka Agreement 1987 has been tardily implemented. In fact, the partial powers of autonomy promised through the 13th amendment to the Sri Lanka constitution that came in the wake of the Agreement, it has not been implemented. The 14th amendment which recognised Tamil as a national language is far from in its rightful place. India continued to adopt low profile diplomatic channels to take up the implementation of the 13th amendment without significant results.

This issue assumes significance as Tamil aspirations for autonomy remain unfulfilled despite the promise of the President. Even the small beginning made with the 13th amendment and the creation of the provincial councils have not been taken to its logical conclusion to devolve powers to Tamil speaking minority. This has been demonstrated in the case of eastern province where the elections were held last year with a lot of fanfare and rhetoric on empowering the first-ever Tamil chief minister of eastern province.

The absence of Prabhakaran and the exit of the LTTE as a power centre from the scene have created a vacuum in Sri Lanka Tamil political leadership. Marginalisation of Tamil politicians during the active years of LTTE dominance from 1991 onwards have left them without organisational reach at the grass root level in the north and east. In their scramble for power are in a scramble for power, they are neither united nor clearly goal oriented. With the overwhelming presence of President Rajapaksa at the helm, distinct identity of Tamil politicians are likely to be limited to the traditional Tamil “vote banks” only. Thus President Rajapaksa is in a position to decide what is good for Tamils, rather than what Tamils demand or desire.

The war has left nearly 300,000 Tamils as internally displaced persons living in camps under the control of the army. They have minimal facilities and are not allowed to move freely. They are being screened to weed out the LTTE elements among them. It is unlikely they would be allowed to return to their homes within next six months, though Sri Lanka has promised the international community to do so. The army also proposes to pursue its operations against the LTTE and for this purpose nearly four divisions of troops are proposed to be stationed in permanent garrisons in the north. This is likely to increase the uneasiness among the population as the troops are predominantly Sinhala.

In any case villages are mostly ravaged by war and their livelihoods non existent. The first priority of Tamil politicians should be to get them back to their villages so that they start their normal avocations. As Tamil polity has little leverage, Sri Lanka is likely to act only under international pressure, particularly from India.

In the President’s sweeping style of governance there has been a lot of disconnect between promises and actions, not only relating to the Tamil issue but other issues as well. In view of this, unless there is an external pressure the President is likely to take up the implementation of 13th amendment at his own pace. Tamil aspirations are unlikely to be satisfied with the political dispensation offered to them. Thus the potential of Tamil discontent turning into militancy in the distant future is very much there.

CHANGES IN STRATEGIC PRESENCE

China has become a valuable partner of Sri Lanka in the pursuit of its military option. Thus China has partly filled the vacuum created by India’s reluctance to actively participate in Sri Lanka’s war effort. While India had been constrained due to political compulsions from supplying the weapons Sri Lanka needed, China filled in the gap with liberal supply of a wide variety armaments. Timely help rendered during the war has enabled China to gain a lot of strategic space and credibility in Sri Lanka.

Coupled with economic assistance and aid extended to Sri Lanka, China has become a critical partner in Sri Lanka’s economic survival particularly in the face of strong Western threat to curtail economic aid in retaliation for Sri Lanka’s failure in the human rights front. The Chinese are constructing a commercial port complex in Hambantota in the south and thus their presence in Sri Lanka is likely to be firmed in. In the coming years, Chinese influence in Sri Lanka can be expected not only to increase but become more assertive.

The U.S. has also been an active player in Sri Lanka both in promoting the peace process 2002 and later in supporting Sri Lanka’s war effort. However, on issues relating to Sri Lanka, the U.S. had been maintaining close contact with India, its ‘strategic ally’ in the region. This was also maintained during the war despite differences on some key issues between the two countries. It is evident that the U.S. values India has unique geographic and strategic advantage in Sri Lanka; this relationship is likely to be strengthened to balance the increasing Chinese profile in the region. The U.S. is also probably wary of Iran’s moves in Sri Lanka after it has extended a billion dollars in aid.

Pakistan also emerged as a significant arms supplier to Sri Lanka during the war. However, despite this Pakistan’s activity is likely to be circumscribed for the time being due to its internal political preoccupations of the government as well as its actions to come to terms with the Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorism politically as well as militarily. However, Sri Lanka is likely to emerge as an alternate hub for Pakistan intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on India and carry out its intelligence operations.

INDIA’S POLICY PRESCRIPTION

Sri Lanka has emerged as a strong and more powerful nation after the success in the Eelam war. Of course, it has to sustain it with appropriate political dispensation to prevent the resurgence of Tamil militancy once again. However, during the course of the war, it had also become a scene of global power play as part of Indian Ocean security. In the coming years we can expect this to continue with the increasing presence and influence of both China and the U.S.

India has to evolve a new paradigm to handle the emerging strategic setting in Sri Lanka with its impact on Indian Ocean security. India will have to work out an integrated strategy to make itself more relevant to Sri Lanka than other powers. There is a need to take measures to remove Sri Lanka’s latent fear of India’s overwhelming influence subsuming its national interests. This can be achieved only by building mutual confidence in the long term.

Greater cooperation and coordination in political, military and diplomatic fields can lead to better strategic understanding. This would involve integrating its political, economic and military strategies with adequate sensitivity to Sri Lanka’s new found pride. India has to be persuasive but persistent in following up the Tamil issue to take its logical end of meeting their just demands for equity. India needs to display more involvement to actively participate in matters relating to relief and rehabilitation in the war torn area.

India and Sri Lanka have a long history of military cooperation. The existing asset of goodwill on this count should be built upon for evolving greater strategic convergence. One option could be to formalise the India-Sri Lanka defence treaty now held in suspended animation.

Sri Lanka can be a strategic asset for India only if there is peace and stability in the country. However, to achieve this India will have to play a more prominent role on two fronts: help to get out of the ravages of war, and to politically resolve the Tamil-Sinhala ethnic divide.

Sri Lanka needs massive reconstruction and rehabilitation effort to quickly produce results. India has already allocated Rs 500 crores for Sri Lanka’s reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. This might not prove adequate. India with its huge pool of skilled workforce can take up this challenge, jointly with private-public sector participation from both countries.

The local people in north and east face a number of problems in housing, health and sanitation facilities and educational institutions to get out of the trauma of war. The region also requires a lot of de-mining effort. India has the expertise and ability to assist in all these fields. The first priority would be to make the infrastructure functional as early as possible to enable the displaced people resume their normal lives. Indian investment can create job opportunities in the troubled north and wean away youth from recourse to militancy.

As regards the Tamil-Sinhala divide, the healing process is likely to take a long time. Tamil population feel a lack of security and trust in the Sri Lanka government to meet their just demands. The government’s lack of urgency in implementing 13th amendment despite promises to do so has not increased its credibility. Tamils feel that India had not done enough to ensure its speedy implementation. They also feel that India is not pressurising the Sri Lanka government to improve the handling of 300,000 displaced Tamils held in camps and speedily complete their screening process. India needs to forcefully take up both the issues with Colombo.

India will have to take steps to increase people to people contact with Sri Lanka. Sri Lankans should be enabled to freely travel in India to broaden their vistas and see how ethnic amity works. Indian technical education institutions should be thrown open to Sri Lanka students.

There are a few other contentious issues dogging the relations between the two countries like the traditional fishing rights of fisherman in each others waters. Joint mechanisms have to be evolved to handle such issues on a regular basis.

As coalition politics has come to stay in New Delhi, the reaction of Tamil Nadu will always be an important factor influencing India’s Sri Lanka policy. The Sri Lanka Tamil issue was never the main piece of Tamil Nadu public or political agenda. But it has remained a key issue. This was amply demonstrated in the recent parliamentary poll, when the pro-LTTE political entities in Tamil Nadu did not succeed despite flogging the issue of war in Sri Lanka.

The issue stands downgraded in Tamil Nadu at present. Greater transparency and taking the people into confidence in evolving the policy can help New Delhi increase its credibility among the people of Tamil Nadu. They will be the first to appreciate India’s efforts to help the Sri Lanka Tamils to gain their just demands.

(This article written on July 8, 2009 has been published in DIALOGUE quarterly journal Volume 10 No 5 July-September 2009 issue. It is reproduced here courtesy of DIALOGUE who hold the copyright.]

[courtesy: DIALOGUE]

August 14, 2009

In Pictures: Annual fire walking of Rukmani Sathyapama Sametha Sri Paarthasaarathy Thiraupathathevi Devasthanam, Udappu

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasbapathipillai

“Neither fire nor wind, birth nor death can erase our good deeds” ~Buddha Quotes (Hindu Prince Gauthama Siddhartha, The Founder of Buddhism, 563-483B.C)

Much awaited annual fire walking of Rukmani Sathyapama Sametha Sri Paarthasaarathy Thiraupathathevi Devasthanam’s was held on 5th of August 2009 at night. It was a windy day in Udappu throughout the day.

“Goddess Thiraupathai Amman is here to bless us” said some villagers referring to the unusual wind. The fire walking fell on a full moon day, which is a rare occasion according to the villagers of Udappu.

Since it was a public holiday in Sri Lanka more devotees attended the ceremony.2,000 male devotees participated in the annual fire walking of 2009. The annual festival began on 18th of July 2009. Te annual festival of Rukmani Sathyapama Sametha Sri Paarthasaarathy Thiraupathathevi Devasthanam is also known as “Aadi Vizha Mahotsavam”.

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[Click here to read & see more~HumanityAshore]

‘Sri Lankan government has an obligation to release civilians and provide adequate assistance'

Hans van de Weerd, General Director of MSF Holland, has recently returned from Sri Lanka. Here we ask him about the situation in the northern district of Vavuniya, where there are over 260,000 displaced people as a result of the now ended war between the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

MSFTC0813.jpgWhat is the situation in the camps in Vavuniya?

"More than 260,000 displaced people are living in Vavuniya spread out over many different camps where they still don't have freedom of movement. They are not allowed to leave the camps and are not allowed to possess phones. The size of the camps differ from a few thousand to more than 60,000 people. The conditions vary immensely from one camp to another: in some, the water supply is a problem, in others, the delay in the distribution of food rations is the biggest concern.

"Overall, there is a concerning shortage of medical staff inside the camps and MSF staff still hear stories of people who say it has taken them days to see a doctor. The doctors and nurses of the Minister of Health are working very hard, but with these numbers of people the needs are enormous. There are many people with injuries and amputations and there is a huge need for physiotherapy. Often patients get discharged from overcrowded hospitals and sent to the camps where they do not receive the post-operative care they need, such as physiotherapy.

"Furthermore, in most of the camps, there are no adequate health services functioning at night, so it is down to the soldiers at the gates to judge whether a patient is ill enough to need to go to a hospital outside the camps.

"Mental health problems are another important issue for the people living in the camps, as during the conflict they went through traumatic experiences, many of them have lost loved ones or/and have been injured. Added to this, they are now in a situation where it is difficult to rebuild a normal life. People are living in crowded tents, there are very few jobs inside the camps, there is nowhere to go and very little to do other than wander from one food or item distribution, organised by either the government or humanitarian organisations, to the next. In many camps people cannot cook for themselves but have to rely on communal kitchens, parents worry about their children missing out on their education and the uncertainty about when they will be able to leave or get together with their relatives is a cause of great anxiety."

Apparently people in the camps are not free to leave. Why does MSF work there?

"MSF is working for the people in the camps, where freedom of movement is severely restricted, according to the government because of the concern about the presence of former fighters among the civilians. There are provisions under international law for such restrictions in states of emergency, which the Sri Lankan parliament has declared, but they are meant to be of limited duration. Of course MSF is deeply concerned that the longer these conditions exist, the more difficult life becomes for those who are living in the camps, particularly as they have experienced extremely traumatic events and many are still not sure where their families are or what has happened to them. To date, there has been no clear, systematic release of anyone from the camps, with the exception of children under 10 and adults over 60 who have relatives outside the camps.

"With the rainy season coming up, MSF is also concerned about any acute needs that could arise in the camps.

"It is true that the government has made an effort to set up the camps and ensure that assistance is provided. However, health care services, for example, are still not at the level we would hope to see. MSF has offered to the authorities its assistance in helping expand the existing services. MSF is of the opinion that the government has an obligation to release civilians and ensure that adequate assistance is provided."

What is MSF doing in Vavuniya?

"In 11 of the camps, MSF delivers high energy porridge to supplement the diets of particularly vulnerable people like children under 5, pregnant and lactating women and the elderly. In total MSF is giving out each day more than 23,000 meals to these people and makes sure that sick people and malnourished children will be referred to clinics and special treatment centres for malnourished children.

"In May, MSF set up a 150 bed hospital outside the camps of Menik Farm with two operating rooms and an intensive care unit. Since the opening, over a thousand medical and surgical patients were admitted. People are referred there by the Ministry of Health staff in the camps. We are mostly treating conflict related injuries, respiratory tract infections and paediatric cases. Maternity services have also recently started. We continue to support the Ministry of Health General Vavuniya hospital with MSF staff doing surgery, nursing and physiotherapy.

"Nine nutritional assistants work alongside ministry of health staff in the nutrition department of the paediatric ward and a Mental Health officer is assisting a local NGO with training their counsellors to provide mental health to the patients in the hospital. A team of about 135 caretakers help patients with day to day activities like eating and bathing and some of them are also being trained in physiotherapy and doing wound-dressings. MSF also distributed clothes, towels, water bottles, money, mats, pillows and bedsheets to more than 10,000 patients as most of them arrived with only their clothes on.

"In the Ministry of Health Pompaimadhu hospital MSF staff are taking care of 180 wounded patients, many with amputations. Fifty of them have spinal cord injuries. The main activities are dressings, physiotherapy and surgery.

"We are in a process of negotiations with the authorities to start a programme of orthopaedic and reconstructive surgery in the hospital of Vavuniya."

What restrictions do you face in your work?

"The process to issue visas for international staff is lengthy and very bureaucratic and this has hampered our work. Also the teams having to enter the camps on a daily basis for the feeding activities are often hindered by unclear procedures, which sometimes delays the work by hours or days.

"MSF is not allowed to enter camps where we do not work and we have not been able to carry out an independent assessment of the needs of the displaced people in the camps.

"MSF has the capacity to scale up activities and provide medical and mental health care for the people inside the camps. So far, the authorities have not accepted this proposal for assistance."

"Let our People go Home"

by Mano Ganesan

(English translation script of the Sinhala interview appeared in Ravaya weekly on 9th August, 2009)

How do you describe the current situation in the IDP camps ?

President Mahinda Rajapakse’s own advisor Vasudeva Nanayakara referred to the IDP camps as Hell. Former chief justice Sarath Silva called these camps as open prison camps. They commented in Sinhala language. I am looking for more suitable terms beyond these descriptions. It is a fact that these camps are being maintained contravening all accepted national and international laws. These camps symbols of disgrace to our national history, cultural traditions and people.

Do you propose actions beyond sending water bottles, clothing and food packets from the people of south to the refugees ?

Sure. These people are neither beggars nor homeless street people. They are proudful people who lived honorably in their traditional villages, the villages and land of our ancestors who lived and shaped our heritage for thousands of years. It is very true that Buddhism and Hinduism carry the messages of kindness and mercy. But these people do not require mercy. They need no to be at anybody’s mercy. This national problem cannot be restricted to water bottles, clothing, food packets and tents. Government is trying to cover it’s nakedness by using the media excessively to telecast the ‘merciful’ supplies of such goods to the IDPs.

I feel embarrassed as a member Sri Lankan state to note this shameless act of the government. This trend of portraying our people as poor beggars on the breadline should stop at once. Their legitimate rights to live freely in their own traditional villages should be treasured and respected. I am talking this from my heart. I address this to the hearts of my Sinhala Buddhist brethren. I wish to engage myself in efforts to win over the hearts and minds of our Sinhala brethren in view of ending this national humanitarian crisis. Government is trying to wrap this humanitarian problem under the carpet. I call upon the goodhearted Sinhalese people to unite and defeat this efforts of the government.

How do you look at government’s handling of the IDP issue?

The government had blundered from the very beginning. I am telling this because I believe that no lawfully elected government can perform similar to that of a terrorist group. All those human rights violations of LTTE are matched and even surpassed by this government. The violations continue to occur. I believe LTTE’s non state terrorism has come to an end. But this government’s state terrorism is existing widely. I cannot find any streak of humanism anywhere in the so called humanitarian operations of the government. At this very moment over three hundred thousands of our people are being detained behind barbed wires and their movements restricted against their free will. Is it not state terrorism? Governments initial statistics talked about seventy thousand people. But it is now over three hundred thousand. The numbers of people gathered today were not anticipated by the government. This government at that time air dropped leaflets calling the people to come into the government held territory. People accepted the invitation and came into government territory.

But the government had no ability of infra structure basis to house this large number of people. This government will never acquire that ability. Therefore our people are becoming mentally and physically sick patients on a daily basis. The physically sick die. The mentally sick commit suicide. Children, Women and Elders are becoming orphans. Especially the conditions of our women have become very vulnerable. Our people are forced to wait in long queues for toilets, baths, water, food and medicine from dawn to dusk. Our people are becoming members of a 24 hour line-up society. The government is behaving very indecently to cover these realities. Elected Parliamentarians and media personnel are not allowed to visit these sites independently. No such restrictions imposed in any such camps housing displaced people anywhere in the world. This is the reality. They are not welfare villages. I refer to these camps as open prison camps. This is the treatment meted out to our people by this government.

While some sections disapprove, certain others approve government’s handling of the displaced people. How should a responsible government act at such juncture?

Only politically cruel and communally insane persons approve such inhuman conditions. These are small numbers of persons. But through excessive media coverage they attempt to interpret this as the majority opinion. But I do not think that majority of our Sinhala Buddhist people approve this. This is not a private problem of the government. First of all this government should understand this. Therefore the ‘Northern Blossom’ (Uthurata Vasanthaya/Vadakkin Vasantham) program cannot be implemented according the plans drawn as per the government designs. At this hour of national crisis, the government should form an inter party commission powered to take independent decisions. This commission should be authorized to question and receive answers regarding the governmental executive decisions and acts. Need of the hour is transparency.

According to the reports received by us, over two hundred and fifty thousand people demand to go back to their villages independently. These people do not require any governmental assistance. This is the demand of the people who wish to continue living in their traditional village lands where their ancestors lived over thousands of years as an ethnic nationality. Neither this government nor any force on earth can deny this traditional and historical rights of our people. I wish to state this very categorically. We will never accept the efforts of the government to create new townships changing the demography. Government is magnifying this problem to undue proportions to suit it’s own political agenda. The less government we have the better said Emerson. But this government is administering everything from toileting to sleep bed and from birth to death of the displaced Tamil civilians.

This government has made everything government in every aspect of the displaced Tamil civilians by supervising and interfering in every stages of their personal lives. This is nothing but systematic insult and injury to the Tamil civil layers. Government by purposefully postponing the resettlements of the civilians. Government again and again talks about landmines. I will not buy this story. The mined territory is only about 10% of the total land. All knowledgeable civilians know this. Our security forces reached Vanni heartland from all directions well through the territory. Let our people go home. It should occur with immediate effect. It is the need of the hour. Under the circumstances, our priorities number one, number two and number three are letting our people going back to their homes.

Today rights to life and speech are under threat in the north and as well as in the south. What is your intervention in this regard?

I live in the south. But I never gave a round of applause when the rights to life and speech were violated in the north. I am for a undivided Sri Lanka. I always provide my highest most respect to our national flag. But when such rights were publicly violated in the north, I did not raise our national flag. I did not bring insults to our national flag by engaging in such activities. Do not wait until the arm of tyranny taps your door. Be on your alert. Get together. Join hands. This is my call.

August 13, 2009

'A roadmap for relief'-Concerned Citizens Forum of South Asia

PRESS RELEASE

BANGALORE, 13.08.2009 – A delegation of eminent citizens and representatives of civil rights organisations met Mr. S.M. Krishna, Union Minister of External Affairs here today, and urged the Government of India to ensure speedy rehabilitation of internally displaced people (IDPs) and other war-affected people in Sri Lanka.

Under the banner of the Concerned Citizens Forum of South Asia, a new umbrella group that advocates human rights and humanitarian values in the region, the delegation met Mr. Krishna at his residence here this morning. The group submitted a ‘A roadmap for relief, resettlement and rehabilitation of displaced and war-affected people of Sri Lanka by the Government of Sri Lanka’ (A copy is enclosed-PDF File).

The delegation requested the minister to kindly use his good offices to take up this burning humanitarian issue with the Government of Sri Lanka and ensure relief and rehabilitation of the affected people before the monsoon sets in.

The delegation felt that the monsoon would unleash another humanitarian catastrophe in the crowded camps that house about 150,000 people and spread epidemics and misery. There are many wounded and disabled persons in the camps.

In response, Mr Krishna informed the delegation that the Prime Minister had expressed his willingness to donate an additional sum of Rs.500 crores towards relief in Sri Lanka.

However, he shared the delegation’s concern that aid cannot be left to fully under the control of Government of Sri Lanka, but it has to be monitored. The Government of India had earlier announced an aid package of Rs 500 crore.

The minister assured the delegation that he would seek a realistic report from the Indian High
Commissioner to Sri Lanka and act upon it without delay.

Some of the other issues that were raised by the delegation were related to:

• The resettlement of the IDPs in their places of origin or choice, as promised by the Sri Lankan Government, within 180 days.

• The Rs.500 crore aid declared by Govt of India, towards relief and rehabilitation of IDPs to be channeled through humanitarian agencies and the Government of Sri Lanka should be made accountable through proper monitoring by independent agencies.

• The issue of immediate family reunion was raised as members of the same family are often scattered in different camps. The main concern is about children being separated from their parents.

• A request was also made to stall the Sri Lankan designs to change the ethnic, demographic, and cultural patterns of the northern region by resettling Sinhalese there with incentives.
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• The delegation also urged the Govt of India to prevail upon the Govt of Sri Lanka to demilitarise the IDP camps and hand over their administration to the Civilian authorities.

• The delegation also requested the minister to prevail upon the Government of Sri Lanka to provide free access to international aid agencies and the media and the civil rights groups to reach out to the needs of the IDPs.

• In view of providing livelihood, the delegation requested the minister to prevail upon the Government of Sri Lanka to lift the ban on restriction of fishing in the coastal areas.

The appeal was signed and endorsed by eminent personalities and organizations, including:

Mr. Mangala Samaraweera, Member of Parliament (Sri Lanka), Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Government of Sri Lanka;

Ms. Jayamala, President, Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce, Bangalore;

Dr.K.Sekar, Professor and Head of the Department of Psychiatric Social Work, NIMHANS, Bangalore;

Dr. V.Vijayakumar, UNHCR Chair on Refugee Law and Professor of Law, National Law School of India University, Bangalore;

Prof. E. J. Puttiah, Department of Environmental Science, Kuvempu University;

Dr.M.G.Krishnan, Professor and Head of the Dept of Political Science, Bangalore University,Bangalore;

Dr.Mathew Aerthaiyil SJ, Director, Indian Social Institute, Bangalore;

Dr.Ambrose Pinto SJ, Principal, St.Joseph’s College, Bangalore;

G. Deenadayalan, The Other Media, New Delhi;

South India Cell for Human Rights Education and Monitoring (SICHREM ), Bangalore; FEDINA, Bangalore;

Pipal Tree, Fireflies, Bangalore; Kerala Private College Teachers Association, Thiruvanathapuram.

People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) India;

APCLC (Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties, Committee);

CPDR (Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights),

Mumbai; Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights(OPDR), Andhra Pradesh;

HRF (Human Rights Forum) Andhra Pradesh; Confederation of Human Rights (COHR), Manipur;

Lokshakti Hukk Sangattana, Maharastra;

National Alliance of People’s Movements NAPM; and

Vimochana, Forum for Women’s Rights, Karnataka.

For more details: ccf.southasia@gmail.com

Buddha’s Savage Peace

by Robert D. Kaplan

I had always wanted to go to Kandy, for no other reason than that I was in love with the name: so airy, fanciful, and obviously suggestive of sweet things. I first found Kandy on a map of what was then called Ceylon, decades ago as a young man. Little did I know that it would one day have urgent revelations for me, more dark and poignant than sweet.

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Image credit: David H. Wells/Aururoa Photos

My journey began at Colombo’s crumbling train station, with its white facade like a cake about to melt. The first-class ticket cost a little more than $3 for the three-hour journey from Sri Lanka’s steamy Indian Ocean capital, through deep forest, to an altitude of 1,650 feet. The rusted railway car rattled and groaned its way uphill. Soon banana leaves were slapping against the train as we entered a relentless tangle of greenery.

The forest thickened with the crazy chaos of dark hardwood foliage. Vines choked every tree. The torrential rain of the southwest monsoon invigorated the pageant, shrieking and beating against the leaves as sheets of mist moved across the jungle. Then came swollen brown rivers, with water buffalo half sunk in mud near the pottery-red banks. Here and there the forest would break to reveal a shiny, rectilinear carpet of paddy fields, only to close in again, denser than before. I saw scrap-iron hutments and tiled rooftops the color of autumn leaves, and smoky blue hillsides creased by waterfalls and half-eaten by gray monsoon clouds. Other breaks in the forest revealed the occasional bell-shaped Buddhist dagoba, or stupa, with its soaring-to-heaven whiteness against the otherwise fungal-green tableau. As we drew near to Kandy, we passed through several narrow tunnels. In the pitch black, the creak of the train reverberated against the rock walls.

Kandy in early evening was a study in rust and mildew, with a crawling-uphill line of food stalls and other storefronts, so tattered and musty they seemed about to disintegrate. Yet that was only a first impression. Later ones would reveal how I had misjudged the scene. The storefronts—eateries, jewelers, mini-supermarkets, five-and-dime shops—were merely in need of new windows and paint jobs; they were in fact doing a brisk business. The streets were clean, the overhead fans worked in every shop I entered, and few beggars were visible. The middle class was evidently thriving, as demonstrated by the number of lavish, assembly-line weddings at my hotel during these auspicious days at the beginning of the monsoon.

A motorized rickshaw brought me to the Hotel Suisse, a seedy, dark-wooded British-colonial pile built in the mid-19th century. It had a well-stocked bar with boxy sofas and a billiard room, and was half empty: a cliché, in other words. My room cost $50. It lay off a portico overlooking a garden and Kandy Lake, which at dusk was tinted a mystical gray and dotted with lizards that crawled out onto the rocks. A thing of rare beauty, the lake was created by the last king of Kandy, Sri Wickrama Rajasinha, at great cost. After a stretch in Colombo’s punishing heat, I sat on the portico, yes, with a gin-and-tonic, and enjoyed the energizing coolness of a higher altitude, watching and listening to the rain on the lake.

Kandy defines quaintness, to such an extent that you begin to see the town in the black-and-white of a photo negative. But Kandy is also gaudy and magical. Within this forest town are Sri Lanka’s principal Buddhist shrines, swimming in gold and Technicolor. Across the lake from the Hotel Suisse is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, or Sri Dalada Maligawa, a shrine complex that was built in the 17th and 18th centuries by Kandy’s Sinhalese Buddhist kings and holds a tooth of the Buddha—Prince Siddhartha Gautama—said to have been taken from his funeral pyre in 543 B.C.

The Temple of the Tooth is a site of mass pilgrimage, where the tourist instinctively knows to dress modestly, remove shoes, stay quiet, and lurk in the background. Within the mottled stone walls of the complex is an immense layout of gardens lined with striped Buddhist flags: the blue stripe signifying loving-kindness, the yellow the middle path away from extremes, red the blessings of practice, orange the Buddha’s teachings, and white the purity of the dharma, or universal truth, leading to liberation. Hundreds of Sinhalese sit in a two-story room in meditative positions, softly chanting and offering up mountains of pink lotuses, purple waterlilies, and white jasmines in front of the gilded casket that holds the tooth. Babies are everywhere, remarkably silent, held tightly against the chests of women in long cotton wraparounds. Leaf monkeys watch the whole scene from the massive, fanlike roofs.

From this and the other temples and monasteries around Kandy radiates the overwhelming and studied richness of the two chief colors of Buddhism: a rich, maroon-like red and a dazzling gold, painted on stone statues and sumptuously draping the giant sitting Buddha in each temple. The murals in these temples are faded and blackened with age. Only in the Eastern Orthodox churches in the Balkans have I come across a clutter of magnificence to match what I have seen in the Buddhist sanctuaries of Sri Lanka. Even as you experience this whole sensual feast, your bare feet press against cold and wet stone, since the rains are constant during the southwest monsoon.

Here, you are alone with your thoughts. Sri Lanka is in general a less panicky, less frantic, less intrusive version of India. Only rarely are you hassled. And Kandy, up in the hills, away from the crowded coastal highway, is a concentrated version of the country’s charms.

Alas, when you fall in love with a place, you encounter its history, which is often tragic. In fact, Kandy has remained seedily quaint, its monuments and ambience unravaged by mass tourism, only because Sri Lanka has experienced more than a quarter century of civil war between ethnic Sinhalese Buddhists and Hindu Tamils. And the origins and conduct of that savage conflict have drawn, in many ways, from the same emotional wellsprings as the tradition of worship at Kandy’s tranquil Buddhist shrines.

Buddhism holds an exalted place in the half-informed Western mind. Whereas Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism are each associated, in addition to their thought, with a rich material culture and a defended territory, Buddhism, despite its great monuments and architectural tradition throughout the Far East, is somehow considered purer, more abstract, and almost dematerialized: the most peaceful, austere, and uncorrupted of faiths, even as it appeals to the deeply aesthetic among us. Hollywood stars seeking to find themselves—famously Richard Gere—become Buddhists, not, say, orthodox Jews.

Yet Buddhism, as Kandy demonstrates, is deeply materialistic and demands worship of solid objects, in a secure and sacred landscape that has required the protection of a military. There have been Buddhist military kingdoms—notably Kandy’s—just as there have been Christian and Islamic kingdoms of the sword. Buddhism can be, under the right circumstances, a blood-and-soil faith.

Kandy may be the Buddhist world’s best example of this. From the late 16th to the early 19th centuries, the kingdom of Kandy sturdily held out against European invaders: the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British in their turn. “Like many other armies in peasant and tribal societies,” writes Channa Wickremesekera in Kandy at War: Indigenous Military Resistance to European Expansion in Sri Lanka 1594 to 1818 (2004), “the Kandyan army fought in loosely organized and highly mobile units depending on a flimsy logistical base,” making optimum use of its rugged, jungly terrain. It was very much like a 21st-century guerrilla insurgency, in other words—inspired, in this case, by the need to defend faith and homeland against heathen Europeans. The dense forest through which I had passed on my train ride constituted the graveyard of European attempts to reach Kandy, with many a Portuguese, Hollander, and Briton dying or giving up, exhausted and demoralized, afflicted by disease amid the cruel jungle so well described by Leonard Woolf in his 1913 novel, The Village in the Jungle:


For the rule of the jungle is first fear, and then hunger and thirst. There is fear everywhere: in the silence and in the shrill calls and the wild cries, in the stir of the leaves and the grating of branches, in the gloom, in the startled, slinking, peering beasts.

Eventually, the improved muskets and light artillery developed in Europe proved too much for the Kandyans. The British, explains Wickremesekera, unlike the Portuguese and Dutch, had the added advantages of “mastery over the neighboring Indian subcontinent and an army of over 100,000 soldiers when they clashed with Kandy.” They toppled King Wickrama of Kandy in 1815. He may have dug the lake, but he had been a tyrant and torturer. At least that was how the British rationalized their actions.

Thus the redoubtable kingdom of Kandy, for centuries such a rebuke to European attempts at conquest in Asia, became a trope in the warrior imagination of the Buddhist Sinhalese. To be sure, the quest to recover Kandy’s lost honor and glory played a role in the bloody and morally unclean victory that the Buddhist Sinhalese won over an ethnic Tamil insurgency in May, after 26 years of fighting. More broadly, the history of Kandy—a cultural and artistic repository of 2,300 years of Buddhist worship that the Europeans rarely left in peace—has imbued Sinhalese with the sense of being repeatedly under siege.

Regional demography hasn’t helped. Indeed, the majority-Buddhist Sinhalese, who constitute three-quarters of Sri Lanka’s population of 20 million, have lived in fear of being overwhelmed by the Hindu Tamils, who, although they are only 18 percent of the population, can theoretically call upon their 60 million ethnic and religious compatriots living just across the Palk Strait in southeastern India. The history of Tamil invasions against the only homeland that the Buddhist Sinhalese possess is not just the stuff of ancient history, but a living reality underpinned by latter-day Tamil terrorism. Writes the Sri Lankan scholar K. M. de Silva:


Sri Lanka’s location off the coast of South India, and especially its close proximity to [the Indian state of] Tamilnadu, separated by a shallow and narrow stretch of sea serves to accentuate this sense of a minority status among the Sinhalese. Their own sense of ethnic distinctiveness is identified through religion—Theravada Buddhism—and language—Sinhala. They take pride in the fact that Buddhism thrives in Sri Lanka while it has practically disappeared in its original home, India. Their language, Sinhala, has its roots in classical Indian languages, but it is now a distinctly Sri Lankan language, and one that is not spoken anywhere else.

The Sinhalese, argues de Silva, see their historical destiny in preserving Theravada Buddhism from a Hindu revivalist assault, with southern India the source of these invasions. As they see it, they are a lonely people, with few ethnic compatriots anywhere, who have been pushed to their final sanctuary, the southern two-thirds of Sri Lanka, by the demographic immensity of majority-Hindu India. The history of the repeated European attacks on their sacred city, Kandy, the last independent bastion of the Sinhalese in that southern two-thirds of the island, has only accentuated the sense of loneliness.

The Sinhalese must, therefore, fight for every kilometer of their ethnic homeland, Bradman Weerakoon, an adviser to former Sri Lankan presidents and prime ministers, told me. As a result, like the Serbs in the former Yugoslavia, the Jews in Israel, and the Shiites in Iran, the Sinhalese are a demographic majority with a dangerous minority complex of persecution.

The Hindu Tamils, for their part, have been labeled a minority with a majority complex, owing to the triumph of Hinduism over Buddhism in southern India in the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., and the subsequent invasions from India’s south against the rich and thriving Buddhist city-state of Anuradhapura in north-central Sri Lanka. These invasions resulted in the creation, by the 14th century, of a Tamil kingdom that, in turn, helped lay the groundwork for Tamil majorities in the north and east of the island.

Sri Lanka’s post-independence experience, including its civil war between Sinhalese and Tamils, has borne out the worst fears of both communities. The Sinhalese have had to deal with a guerrilla insurgency every bit as vicious and suicidal as the better-known ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Tamils, for their part, have had to deal with coercion, discrimination, and the utter failure of Sinhalese government institutions to protect their communal rights. There is nothing crueler than a majority that feels itself a minority.

In 1976, a certain Velupillai Prabhakaran founded the Tamil New Tigers, who would later become known to journalists around the world as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE: “Tamil Tigers” for short. Prabhakaran would develop into one of the world’s most hunted terrorists, as well as one of its most feared and capable guerrilla leaders. The young Prabhakaran had killed animals with a slingshot and air gun, and practiced building homemade bombs. He stuck pins under his nails to build up his tolerance for pain, and killed insects with needles to prepare himself to torture the enemy.

Prabhakaran turned the Tamil Tigers into a quasi-cult terrorist group that venerated him as a demigod. To comprehend the Tamil Tigers, wrote the late American scholar Michael Radu, “imagine Jim Jones’ Temple cult of Guyana in possession of a ‘navy’ and ‘air force,’ as well as (at its height) some 20,000 fanatical and armed zombie followers.” Indeed, Prabhakaran’s Tamil Tigers constituted the world’s first guerrilla insurgency with its own air force (Czech-made Zlin Z143s) and navy (explosive-packed fishing trawlers and a small submarine force). He imposed a blood tax on the population under his control in the north and east, requiring each family to provide a son to the Tigers. One wing of the organization—the Black Tigers—was dedicated to murder and assassination. Until the early 1990s, the Tigers held a record for suicide bombings, a tactic that they had largely pioneered. The Tigers used many tens of thousands of civilians as human shields and children as porters during combat. The very history of the Hindu Tamil Tigers shows that perverse violence, the embedding of warriors amid large numbers of civilians, and the rampant use of suicide bombing are not crimes specific to Muslims.

To defeat such a group, the Buddhist Sinhalese relied on a powerful sense of communal religious identity. This identity has been embodied, in particular, by the current Sri Lankan government of Mahinda Rajapaksa and two of his brothers: the defense secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa; and the president’s most trusted adviser, Basil Rajapaksa. Together, the three brothers have marked a decisive break from previous Sri Lankan governments. Whereas the governments of the Senanayake and Bandaranaike family dynasties hailed from the relatively moderate Colombo-centric elite, the Rajapaksas are more representative of the somewhat xenophobic, semi-literate, and collectivist rural part of the Sinhalese Buddhist population. The Rajapaksas, with the full backing of the Buddhist clergy, have reconstituted something out of the Sinhalese past: an ethnically rooted dynasty, like the Buddhist kingdoms of Kandy of old, dedicated to ethno-national survival, unaccountable to the cabinet and parliament.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected in 2005 to win the war outright, and he succeeded in the most brutal fashion: by abducting or killing journalists and lawyers to silence the media, even as he conducted a counterinsurgency campaign that had no moral qualms about the deaths of the thousands of Tamil civilians that the Tamil Tigers were using as human shields. Of the 70,000 people killed in the war since 1983, 10 percent, mainly civilians, were killed in the last few months of fighting in 2009.

I was in Sri Lanka on May 18, 2009, the day the war was declared over, and the body of Prabhakaran, killed in last-ditch fighting, was displayed on television, as government forces mopped up the final few hundred yards of Tamil Tiger territory. The next morning, May 19, I drove through the southern coastal heartland of the Buddhist Sinhalese. Everywhere there were parades and flag-bedecked, horn-honking rickshaw convoys, with young men, many of them unemployed, shouting and setting off masses of firecrackers. An effigy of Prabhakaran’s body was dragged and burned. I sensed a scary and wanton boredom in these young men, as if the same crowds, under different circumstances, could be setting fire to Tamil homes, as had been done in earlier decades. I noticed that the closer I got to the ethnically mixed population center of Colombo, the fewer such demonstrations I saw.

President Rajapaksa came to Kandy a few days later, on May 23, to receive the blessings of the chief Buddhist monks at the Temple of the Tooth for winning the war. He expressed no apologies or remorse for the victims of the war, and he promised the monks, “Our motherland will never be divided [again].” He told them that there were only two types of Sri Lankans, those who love the motherland and those who don’t. Because he conceives of the motherland as primarily Buddhist, his words carried too little magnanimity.

The monks had acquiesced in this descent into communal intolerance. They have long enjoyed the uses of political power and hark back to a past when they were the rousing nationalist force behind Ceylonese kings. Now they could close a long historical chapter that began at the Temple of the Tooth in March 1815, when the Kandyan Convention was signed, ceding all of Ceylon to the British after the defeat of the last Kandyan king, Wickrama. British rule in Ceylon, lasting until independence in 1948, was followed by decades of communal unrest culminating in the civil war. At last, these monks could look forward to a Buddhist-run state that would have full sovereignty over the island.

But even if the artistic grandeur of Kandy has helped form the emotional source of Buddhist nationalism, which has proved itself as bloody as other religious nationalisms, Kandy’s religious monuments also offer a much deeper lesson: the affinity—rather than the hostility—between Buddhism and Hinduism. Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka from India as part of the missionary activity of the great Mauryan emperor Ashoka in the third century B.C. And later eras of Indian history would witness an amalgamation of Buddhist teachings into Hinduism. A few miles from Kandy, deep in the forest amid glistening fields of tea, I saw statues of the Buddha and of Hindu gods under the same roofs, together in their dusky magnificence: in dark stone vestibules at the 14th-century temples of Gadaladeniya, Lankatilake, and Embekke. At the temple of Embekke, I lifted aside a veiling Hindu tapestry to behold the Buddha. At Lankatilake, I saw the Buddha surrounded on all four sides by devales (shrines) devoted to the deities Upulvan, Saman, Vibhisana, and Skanda—of mixed Hindu, Buddhist, and Persian origin. At the Buddhist shrine of Gadaladeniya, I saw stone carvings based on the style of the Hindu empire of Vijayanagar in Andhra Pradesh, in southern India. Each of these temples “reflects the fusion of Buddhism and Hinduism,” writes SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda in Eloquence in Stone: The Lithic Saga of Sri Lanka (2008).

In fact, Wickrama, the Buddhist king who was deposed by the British, became the last in a dynasty, the Nayakkars, that was South Indian and Hindu in origin; even as its members patronized Theravada Buddhism, they sought Hindu brides for their male Buddhist heirs. The British, by ending this dynasty and thus breaking the link between Buddhism and Hinduism, helped set the stage for the polarization of politics in the postcolonial era. The truth was that Theravada Buddhism, so concentrated on ethics and the release from worldly existence, was too austere for the Kandyan peasantry, who were drawn to the color and magic of the Hindu pantheon. Kandy and its forests are a monument not only to Buddhism, but to Hinduism as well. The historical and aesthetic legacy of Sri Lanka that long predates modern statehood is, in the final analysis, deeply syncretic. Only when Sri Lanka’s political leadership recognizes that legacy will communal peace be at hand—and with it the arrival of globalization and chain hotels, and the end of Kandy’s quaintness. [courtesy: The Atlantic]

Robert D. Kaplan is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, in Washington, D.C.

Tamils in Sri Lanka: Time to dream anew

By: Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

Dreams are a prelude to progress. Dreams lay the framework for achievement. Dreams must precede groundwork and realization. Individuals and peoples who are incapable of dreaming will be struck at the lower rungs of society and the back waters of history. Dreams have to be lofty if they are to define individuals, societies and nations. The time has come for the Tamils in Sri Lanka to dream of their place in Sri Lanka in a different context. The time has come for the Tamils of Sri Lanka to have a gigantic grand dream and then work to achieve it in all its vivid colours and panorama. This dream should envision our position as individuals, Tamils, Sri Lankans and global citizens.

The dream to fly laid the foundations for the aero plane. The dream of reaching the moon was realized through the Apollo missions. These dreams may have sounded impractical and impossible to achieve a century back, but they became a reality with time. Ravana is reputed to have had his own aero plane –the Pushpaka Vimana. Ravana had also summoned his allies from all corners of the universe to support him in the war against Rama. The Ramayana and Mahabharatha describe in detail wars that involved technologies that are akin to modern multi-barrel guns, cluster bombs, thermo baric bombs, inter-continental missiles and more. To many these may be fictions of Valmiki's and Vyasa's imaginations, as these epics are thousands of years old. However, even those who sneer at these legends, have to accept the people of that vintage were capable of such grand dreams. In many instances, either history has repeated itself or the dreams of the past have reached fruition now! We are today enthralled by the idea of intergalactic travel and the presence of life elsewhere in the universe. These dreams also will come true some day.

Tamils have to start dreaming of a glorious future, if they are to come out of the rut – mental, social, economical and cultural, they are currently in. The failure of one dream, however flawed it was and however debilitating it has been, should not be the end of dreaming. Independent Eelam was a dream bound to fail, because it was unwarranted, extreme, ill-conceived, ill-defined and very badly executed. It was the dream of mediocre and selfish politicians, and hot-blooded youth, which became the emotional burden of the Tamils over time. It was a dream that misdirected the Tamils over several decades and has led them to disaster. However it was a dream that was built on the core desire of Tamils to be citizens with equal rights, equal obligations, equal opportunities, equal freedoms and equal safety. The dream of the Tamils to be a successful people in Sri Lanka which was encompassed within the larger dream of Eelam, has not failed. It has to be re-focused, better defined, re-directed and given new life, now.

The Tamil dream of standing tall in the land of our birth, has only suffered a temporary set back in term of our long history. We are a capable people who have had our ups and downs in history. We recovered from the brutality of the Portuguese invasion and the repressive colonialism that followed. We are capable of recovering from the effects and after-effects of the recently concluded civil war. 'We will do it ' has to be our slogan and this will be done within the context of a united Sri Lanka, however hard the tasks ahead are bound to be. It is not going to be easy, but it can be done.

To dream will be healing. We have to heal ourselves. It is futile to expect others to heal us. The dream and the optimism it will entail, will help us come out of our misery- in some instances justifiable and in others a figment of our imagination. The dream will help us relegate a past that was hurtful to many, to the back burner. We have been conditioned by our politicians and militants to view every problem that confronts us nationally as a grievance and as a slight. Our wounds are to a considerable extent self inflicted. We cannot play martyrs for ever and continue the self flagellation. We should not lose our ability to look ahead and seek new horizons. If we could have invested- willingly and unwillingly- our monies to build a war machine that has surprised the world, we can find the resources and resourcefulness to fund the grandest dream. Let us find the will to work towards a future that will be better for us, our fellow citizens, our country and the world.

We have funded a war and supported it- mostly as outsiders- in pursuit of a flawed and ultimately failed dream. The world knows now there are Tamils, who have stood up for their rights in Sri Lanka and have suffered immensely as a result. We have won respect for the manner in which we were organized to fight the war. However, we have been also painted as criminals, weapon smugglers, drug peddlers, human traffickers, terrorists, suicide bombers, blackmailers and a people without moral scruples. These characterizations have overtaken our previous reputation as a highly educated and cultured people. We tolerated criminality in the name of a liberation struggle and it turned out to be a Faustian bargain. We have a big task ahead to regain our reputation as a people. Our dream should include moral and spiritual recovery as a major component. If we do not, we will not have the right to call ourselves Tamils.

The major components that have to form the four pillars of our dream should be:

Education ( Kalvi),
Ability (Thiramai),
Courage / Bravery (Veeram) and
Wealth (Selvam)

If we can erect these pillars, strong and tall, as quickly as possible, we will automatically regain our dignity as a people within Sri Lanka, exercise our rights of citizenship and gain the power to influence affairs in Sri Lanka. In a global village, the world is fast becoming, it is futile and foolish to base our grievances on concepts such as ethnicity, religion and land boundaries- concepts that belong to the past. We have a right to be Tamils. But, we have a greater right to be human beings. Individual rights are becoming more important than group rights, in the world of today. We have to acquire the tools needed to succeed in the 21st century and beyond as individuals and the pillars listed above would provide these.

Education (Kalvi): This has to be the foundation on which our society is founded. To be educated is more than being literate and skilled. It is a combination of knowledge, experience, culture and wisdom. Education is confused today with literacy and skills. An illiterate person can be educated and a literate person an absolute imbecile. Education should not be a box in which we are locked in. It should be the key to open the world to us and, appreciate its beauty and recognize its ugliness.

Education should broaden our thinking and help us understand our own language, history and culture, while appreciating those of others. We have to pave the way for our youth to tread new paths in the pursuit of real education. If our schools are incapable of providing such an education, we have to evolve alternate mechanisms to supplement the mediocre material our youth are stuffed with.

Tamils in the post independence years strived to produce clerks, accountants, lawyers, doctors and engineers, while neglecting to ensure that they were also educated men and women. This was the chink in our armour. We failed to produce thinking persons. Our militants having understood thinking men and women will undermine their hegemony took upon themselves the task of eliminating or driving into exile even the few who could do so. We have to have an educational system that produces skilled men and women, but we have to make sure they are 'Educated' in the true sense of the word. The education system should produce creative men and women, and a surfeit of entrepreneurs.

We have to also become Tamils in the true sense of the word. Being a Tamil is a way of life. It goes beyond speaking a language. Tamil is the only language that is classified into Prose (Iyal), Music (Isai) and Drama (Nadaham). We have to learn not only Tamil better, but also Sinhala, English, Hindi, French, German, Spanish and Mandarin. We have to lead the Tamils the world over in being Tamils and projecting our Tamil culture, while also imbibing the best from other languages and cultures, as a means to progress.

We have to have the best libraries, museums, schools, music and dance academies, technical colleges and universities. We have to have the best teachers and professors. We have a huge task to revamp our universities and make them centres of learning, excellence and wisdom. We have a big task in making our schools geared to the needs of our people and the 21st century.

Ability (Thiramai): We have to acquire skills that are productive and of value in the modern world. We have to strive to be the best in what ever we do. Our skills must benefit our people, our country and the world. Our skills must be an adornment on our education. We should as a people become excellent farmers, craftsmen, sportsmen, musicians, technicians, cinematographers, technicians, IT professionals, architects, doctors, engineers, scientists, historians, anthropologists, geologists, clerks etc. We should become valuable to our country and contribute to its progress. We should be wanted and not just tolerated. We should be an asset and not a liability. We should be recognized for our excellence the world over.

Courage/ Bravery (Veeram): One has to be brave to survive and succeed in this world. This world is not for the meek and the cowards. Bearing arms and fighting wars is not bravery. It is the weak who need arms to fight for their cause. We need courage to meet challenges and adapt to changing circumstances. We need the moral and physical courage to stand up to evil. We need courage to face the truth. We need to be brave to stand up to bullying and intimidation. We were and are a timid people, despite the war fought in our name. We should not continue to be so. We need to have the courage to stand tall, where ever we are. We need courage to forgive the sins of others and do penance for our own sins. We need the courage to come out of our shells and seek adventure. We need to have courage to come out of our villages and towns, and seek our fortunes in the jungles of the north and east, the rest of Sri Lanka and the world over. We need also the courage to sacrifice and return from where ever we are, to invest and serve our peoples and our country.

Wealth ( Selvam): Wealth is of two kinds to the Tamils- Arudchelvam (spiritual wealth) and Porudchelvam (material wealth). We have to acquire both. We have to rediscover our spiritual traditions and roots. There is no better time to do this than now- a time of calamity and decline. We have to become a better people. We have to rediscover our love for learning; respect for elders, learned and the spiritual; and the fear of doing things that are wrong ( Theemai Illatha Seyal – Aram: Theemai ulla Seyal- Maram). We have to understand the principles in the religions we practice and discard meaningless rituals and hypocrisy. We have to have physical and moral discipline. We have to learn the value of honesty and hard work. We have to understand our responsibilities to our society and the country. We have to have systems to care for our orphans, war maimed, war-affected, elderly, under-privileged and the handicapped. We have to develop a compassionate society. We have to protect our cultural heritage and religious institutions. We have to promote our culture and religions. Arudchelvam will make us a better people and a caring society.

Material wealth has to be acquired through investment, development and industriousness. We have to improve our agriculture and fisheries to be environmentally friendly and profitable. We have to invest in education, health care and industry. We have to understand what mother- nature has blessed us and learn to benefit from this bounty. Our agricultural lands, seas, beaches, lagoons, rivers, forests, plains and estuaries, are resources. The winds blowing across our lands and the sun that shines on us are also our resources. The rugged beauty of our lands is also a major resource. The fresh water available to us is the most precious of our resources, which has to be harnessed and used with care for maximum benefit.

We have to minimize the corruption among those who serve us through the public services and weed out the venality among our politicians, if we are to embark on the mission to create wealth. These are cancers that destroy a society and constrain development. We have to demand character, performance and service from our politicians. We have to make our public servants understand what these words mean. Let us spear head a movement to reform our politicians and public servants and set an example for the rest of Sri Lanka.

Our temples, churches and mosques are not only a part of our heritage, but they are also a part of our resource base. Our culture is unique and ancient. This once again is a resource to be tapped. Our people – hard working, progressive and long suffering- are our greatest resource and they have to become partners in and beneficiaries of, progress and development. We have to generate employment for not only the Tamils but for also the other peoples in Sri Lanka. We have to become major contributors to the national GNP, rather than aspire to become a major component of the government pay roll and pension list.

We have acquired a multitude of skills and exposure in various countries, particularly in the west. We understand the working of the most developed economies. We understand the discipline and hard work that has gone into making these tick and on occasion's tock. We understand how democracy works in these countries. We understand how wealth is created and used. We understand the modern day environmental concerns and how we can preserve nature, without destroying. We understand how villages, towns and cities are planned in the west. We understand modern concepts in architecture and house design. We understand the principles and modalities of recycling.

We understand the venality of politicians the world over, and the power of true democracy to rein them in. We know what it is to be exploited. We also know what it is to nonentities in these countries. We also understand how painful it is to see our children become alienated from our culture. We have also missed our homes, villages and towns in Sri Lanka. Our love for our land has not decreased but increased over the years. We yearn to die in our land. We are frequently sad our children will not savour the quality of life and the relationships we had in our youth in our country.

We have also as a community of people living in different countries, collectively the financial resources to invest in our villages, towns, cities and country. All these experiences and assets should be put to good use now to create wealth for our people.

In conclusion, this is the time to come together to build, rather than destroy. This is the time to prove our mettle as a people. This is the time to share a dream and contribute to make it come true. Once we recover as a people and erect the four pillars to support our people, society and country, the political rights we demand will become our natural birth right without any one having to gift them to us. Birth rights are not gifted, begged for or borrowed. They are inherently ours and it is our right to exercise them. We have demanded our rights for sixty years and spilt blood over it.

We have not only lost ours shirts, but also our skins as a result.

Let us identify our selves as Sri Lankans in the national context and exercise our rights. If there are constraints to exercising these rights let us seek legal remedies. Let us march for our rights. Let us sing for our rights. Let us write for our rights. Let us argue for our rights. But let us do it as Sri Lankans. Let the Sinhalese, Muslims and others, march, sing, write and argue on our behalf and along with us. Let us probe the limits which constrain what we want to achieve in Sri Lanka and strive to break the ceiling when we reach it. If the government of Sri Lanka has the wisdom to revamp the political system in Sri Lanka to accommodate the wish of the Tamils for greater degree of self governance, it should be welcome. However, the delay in finding such accommodation should not prevent the Tamils from pursuing our dreams.

However, it is also imperative that the other peoples in Sri Lanka share our dream and accrue benefits from our dream. We should not forget that a vital component of our dream is to be part of a united Sri Lanka and a vital component of Sri Lanka's social, political and economic development.

AAAS Satellite Image Analysis Points to New Graves, Shelling, and Human Displacement in Sri Lanka

Beside a green lagoon on Sri Lanka's northeastern coast, on a sandy spit of land less than 8 miles long, violence reportedly erupted 9-10 May as military soldiers clashed with rebel Tamil Tigers.

Now, a detailed AAAS assessment of high-resolution satellite images seems to confirm descriptions of intense fighting within Sri Lanka's "no-fire zone"—revealing a landscape scarred by freshly dug graves and artillery explosions.

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[aaas.org image]

At one gravesite, for example, an estimated 342 new graves appeared in satellite images after violence erupted in May, said Lars Bromley of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program. Thousands of refugee shelters vanished, while dozens of permanent structures were damaged and the region was riddled by shelling, said Bromley, director of the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights project at AAAS.

"The narrow peninsula that makes up the civilian safety zone in Sri Lanka clearly has undergone very dramatic physical changes," Bromley confirmed. "By comparing before-and-after satellite images, we were able to see a significant movement of the region's human population, suggesting widespread displacement, based on changes to structures. We also identified many crater-like features consistent with shelling, a major gravesite expansion, and numerous suspected mortar sites."

Shortly after the clash between the Sri Lankan military and rebels with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the New York Times filed this report: "A government doctor said at least 378 civilians—and perhaps as many as 1,000—had been killed and more than 1,100 wounded on Saturday and Sunday during intensive shelling of the combat zone on Sri Lanka's northeastern coast."

The Defense Ministry of Sri Lanka issued a statement contending that rebels were "bombarding their own civilians." Other sources have accused the government of shelling the civilian-populated region, which was declared a no-fire zone on 12 February. Journalists meanwhile reported being banned or ejected from the region.

Bromley compared six images, spanning dates from 9 May 2005 through 24 May 2009, captured by multiple satellites, including DigitalGlobe's QuickBird and WorldView satellites; and GeoEye's Ikonos and GeoEye-1 satellites.

The AAAS analysis, requested by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International USA, was conducted as part of broader AAAS research funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

When compared with a 6 May satellite image, a 10 May image reveals "the obvious removal of thousands of likely [internally displaced persons, or IDP] structures," the AAAS report states. "Overall, the area appears to have been swept relatively clean." [courtesy: aaas.org]

August 12, 2009

SLMC, TNA move SC against Elections Amendment Bill

By Chitra Weerarathne

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and the Tamil National Alliance yesterday petitioned the Supreme Court against the Bill Titled ‘Parliamentary Elections (Amendment)’, gazetted on July 20, 2009.

The petitioners challenged in particular, Section 6 (6) of the Bill, which states that a political party shall not be entitled to be treated as a recognized political party if, in the opinion of the Elections Commissioner, its name signifies any religion or community.

This limitation is arbitrary, discriminatory and breaches the freedom of speech and expression. This provision is inconsistent with Articles 12 (1), 12(2), 14(1) (a) and 14(1)(C) of the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

The petitioners requested the Court to declare that this Bill could be passed only with a special majority in Parliament or with a referendum.

The Attorney General has been cited as respondent.

SLMC General Secretary M. T. Hassen Ali, M. S. Senathirajah and Gajenkumar Ponnambalam of the TNA were signatories to the respective petitions. [courtesy: The Island]

Banning ethnic and religious parties: Putting the cart before the horse

by Lynn Ockersz

On the face of it, a reported decision by the government to bring in the relevant legislation to ban what are considered religious and ethnic parties, could be just what this country needs, but would not it be a case of the state merely papering the cracks in our divided polity, or another instance of the state putting the clichetic cart before the horse?

This is the issue that needs to be looked at critically if plans are indeed afoot to prohibit the kind of political parties in question. Ideally, Sri Lanka should not be burdened with parties that have an ethnic or religious label affixed to them because they only tend to perpetuate and even lend an air of legitimacy to the ethnic and religious divisions of this land. If a secular and equal polity is the ideal to be aimed at, these parties could indeed be a hindrance to the realization of this prized objective.

But there is more than meets the eye here. The fundamental issue to countenance is, what facilitated the emergence of these parties in the first place? Is it not the inability of the moulders of the local state system to evolve an equal and accommodative democratic Sri Lanka that prompted the emergence of ethnic and religious parties? If the latter is the correct perspective to take, and it is, then, what the government needs to do first is to lay a concrete basis for an equal state in every respect, before merely passing laws to ban ethnic and other parties with what may be called particularistic appeals.

What mere legislation would do is, send ethnic and connected grievances underground as it were, but not remedy the causes that lead to these agitations of a sectional kind. The parties may be legally stifled but the grievances that prompt their emergence would continue to rankle in the social groups concerned, waiting to literally explode to the surface at the slightest provocation.

Accordingly, it may prove popular and ‘politically correct’ to grandly announce an end to ethnic and religious parties by legal means but is the problem posed by these parties being really solved? Clearly no, because the sense of grievance in the cultural groups in question is being glossed over and ignored.

The government would need to come to terms with the fact that there are no short cuts to nation-building, for, that is what the forging of national unity is all about. First, the state would need to work earnestly towards resolving the grievances of the groups concerned with a view to ending their sense of alienation from the wider body politic, before banning the parties under scrutiny. This applies to parties with sectional loyalties from both the majority and minority communities.

In the final analysis, it is the steady democratization of the Sri Lankan state, to enable all cultural groups to identify closely with it, that could ensure the ‘withering away’ of ethnic, religious and kindred parties with seemingly narrow appeals.

Admittedly, Sri Lanka is a democracy of sorts, but the fact that it has been torn apart by ethnic strife is proof that this country has miles to go down the road of democracy before it could rest content that the issues which have been dividing it have been brought down to manageable proportions. In other words, equality in all its dimensions, including the equal accommodation of groups, needs to be a fact of life in Sri Lanka, before respite could be found from the divisions besieging us. The APRC is yet to ‘go public’ on its proposals to resolve the ethnic conflict and it is not clear how it intends empowering the cultural groups of this country, but unless and until the above basic conditions are met it is difficult to see how the foundation could be laid for effectively managing our conflict.

Some sections are bound to chafe at the persistent broaching of these issues. After all, aren’t we given to understand by the authorities that Sri Lanka is turning a new leaf in its post-independence history, now that the LTTE has been destroyed and the chance is here to rebuild Sri Lanka on new constitutional foundations? May it really be so, is our rejoinder.

The term ‘federal’ is indeed superfluous in this debate. What is minimally required is a set of constitutional proposals which could empower the individuals and groups of this country to an equal degree and guarantee the granting of their self-respect. A rose by any other name smells as sweet.

One would not be exaggerating if s/he states that there are years of political work remaining to be achieved before the stage could be set for what may be considered a national rejuvenation.

A glance at the list of national chores outlined by Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe in his recent oration dedicated to the memory of Deshamanya Prof. Nandadasa Kodagoda, bears witness to this. In fact the solution could really be a long-gestation one, requiring years of patient toil.

Rehabilitating and resettling the IDPs, by itself, could prove a formidable challenge. If international experience in these spheres is anything to go by, ‘healing the wounds of war’ is a delicate undertaking which should be carried out by ‘loving hands’ and not by those which only have a feel for brute power. In fact, if the South African experience is anything to go by, much ‘reconciliation and forgiveness’ would need to be exchanged between the main parties to the conflict if national unity is to be achieved, even to a degree. This process of reconciliation would need to operate in tandem with the effort to meet the material needs of the displaced.

The marked degree of voter apathy at the recent Jaffna MMC election and the outcome of the Vavuniya UC poll, where the TNA, not unexpectedly emerged winner, should set the state thinking. Minister Douglas Devananda was quoted as lamenting the fact that the TNA was voted- in, in Vavuniya, despite the Lankan security forces bringing relief to the people of the district by wiping out the LTTE.

Two issues are surfaced by these observations. The first point for pondering is that the majority of the people of the North do not equate the TNA with the LTTE. Second, the dignity of the people of the North could not be totally restored by merely wiping out the LTTE, however much important this task may have proved. The dignity of the people anywhere in the country could only be totally established by making them equal citizens of the land, besides freeing them from the tyranny of illegal armed groups. This is the message from the North.

Accordingly, the state would have no choice but to get down to ensuring the democratic and equal empowerment of all our cultural groups. This would facilitate the banning of ethnic and religious political parties.

Mahinda and Praba have kept Tamil society out of Sinhala politics

By Kusal Perera

The most ignored of all elections in the North came to a close with different view points and the EPDP boss accepting he has not fared as well as he should have. The Uva provincial council elections concluded as expected with the latest Rajapaksa entrant to politics though a novice, hoisted to the top post of Chief Minister of Uva. The next in the offing is the Southern provincial council elections that should have more glitz than the others, "South" being "South" in Sri Lankan Sinhala politics. But what should in fact have more serious thought is the already announced Presidential election.

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[Vavuniya, on election day Saturday, Aug. 8, 2009-AP pic]

The first announcement came from the horse's mouth, whether serious or not, when "The Hindu" boss N. Ram sat for a long dinner at Temple Trees to talk about the post war projections of President Rajapaksa. That interview carried in "The Hindu" in three parts, in the first days of July, said the President has a "home made solution" to the Tamil problem, but would wait till the people elect him again to have it implemented. The earliest President Rajapaksa could declare the next presidential election is after he completes 04 years in office and that would be after November, this year. Hopefully the elections would then be in January or early February.

But why should he let go almost two years of his supposedly possible double term of 12 years in office as President ? One may have many answers, but the fact remains that the advantage President Rajapaksa has gained through his war campaign would not fizzle off that fast to deny him a presidential election victory, even a year after, from now. Then, why this hurry ?

It seems he has a sound logic for this haste. The parliamentary elections would any way come after April, 2010 when the period lapses after 06 years from the previous April 2004 parliamentary elections. Winning the next parliamentary elections also would not be a problem, with a totally fractured UNP unable to find a political platform and a formidable leader to challenge the present Rajapaksa rule. But it also depends on compromises with many other factors like the increasing cost of living, the delayed IDP resettlement programme for over a year and also the waning of Sinhala sentiments over time.

Thus there is some uncertainty as to how much power the next parliament could give this Rajapaksa presidency, once into the middle of next year and how much weight the elected MPs would thereafter add to his presidential campaign with ministerial appointments giving way to numerous resentments, which in any way is unavoidable. None could keep every one happy. It’s the power of the Executive that keeps every one together. Also as they would any way be in parliament as MP's, there is doubt about their sincerity in campaigning in full force.

On the contrary, if the presidential election is brought up to January next year, with a popular budget preceding it in November this year, the Sinhala hype on the war victory now totally owned by the President would keep him far above all other contenders. In fact the opposition would even find it difficult to field a worthy candidate against Rajapaksa. In such a scenario President Rajapaksa coming home with a thumping majority – may well touch 70 per cent – could have a devastating effect on the opposition and their parliamentary election performance, when held in a few months.

The possibility of a 2/3rd majority in such a situation should not be ruled out too. That could not only provide President Rajapaksa his 02 year loss in style, but could also keep him much longer if he so desires. That could not be ruled out either. This should be the thinking in the Rajapaksa family which by day gets growing and decides politics of the country, in the name of patriotism.

If that fantasy becomes the political reality – and it could be – what then is the fate of the UNP and what would the minority parties do ?

For sure, Ranil W. can not expect to contest another presidential election. Not against this Mahinda Rajapaksa now in full swing. The UNP and Ranil both do know it and that has already led to squabbles within the party. Two leaders have emerged as contenders for the presidential candidacy in S.B. Dissanayake and Karu Jayasuriya. Most like young Premadasa who are also nurturing ambitions to become the UNP leader, would not back Dissanayake, as that would drag the issue of "leadership" much longer than when Jayasuriya takes that mantle. Dissanayake on the other hand feels he could outsmart Jayasuriya as a formidable candidate, if he could strike a deal with Sinhala moderates and has thus engineered a "pro-Sinhala" policy paper for the UNP. In fact he is veering towards the JVP thinking that could give him an advantage in the UNP, over Jayasuriya.

As for Ranil, he can not simply get lost after all. He would plan to hold the party leadership in a Sonia Gandhi style party "constitutional" authority and would thus prefer a "Man mohan Singh" proxy in Jayasuriya. The added advantage is, Ranil could expect to come back again after Jayasuriya is defeated at the presidential elections and leaves Jayasuriya with no more time for any further politics. This would not be the case, if Dissanayake gets in the shoes of a presidential candidate from the UNP. Hence, the issue would be decided by Ranil when the time is opportune, for his own advantage within the party.

It’s the JVP that is getting trapped further and further within their own Sinhala politics. If the JVP once again gets on the platform of Rajapaksa, this time it would be very strictly under Rajapaksa's mercy and Weerawansa's dictates. This they can not do, but don't seem to change course with their Sinhala politics. Thus the only option available to the JVP is to field a "Common Sinhala candidate" in the absence of a good and effective candidate of their own.

Who could that be and on what conditions ? No independent Sinhala possibility for candidacy would come forward with only the JVP backing them, as it is now clear the JVP would find it hard to poll even the 530,000 votes polled by Wijeweera in 1982. Any such candidate who may consent to be a Common Candidate would therefore want the UNP also to back the candidacy.

This is not only tricky, but impossible too, for many reasons. First the JVP can not in any 'insane' mind support a candidate on the "Elephant" symbol, how ever "common" that candidate would be. The UNP is hard on their "Elephant" symbol as the party hardliners feel, even if they lose this time, their unchanged symbol for the last 60 years should not be forfeited for not so worthy short gains. Ranil would also hold to that argument to avoid getting into a situation where an outsider gets established as a formidable candidate, even though (s)he would loose to Rajapaksa. That basically keeps a "common" candidate out for the moment.

It’s the role of the minority parties that would again have a miss in an early presidential election. The TNA though showing signs of cracking up under pressure from the Rajapaksas, can not afford to support any of the possible candidates from the South, who would definitely woo Sinhala votes on Sinhala platforms. That would be the fate of Mano Ganesan too, who may have to decide whether he would keep sharing the same political bed with a "Sinhala" UNP. Thanks to his political IQ, policy and politics does not matter for Arumugam Thondaman to get in the loop of the Rajapaksa campaign. As for Douglas, Sangaree and others living with State assistance, they are "Sinhala" politicians with a Tamil façade.

The SLMC as a party would also have problems supporting a UNP candidate who would only play for Sinhala votes. But most SLMC high ups have already gone the Rajapaksa way for petty reasons and personal advantages. As for the Eastern Muslim vote, where it would go in the absence of a cohesive, credible Muslim leadership is something that needs a closer look when it actually comes to elections.

What is clear in all these assumptions and supposed calculations are, that they keep the Tamil polity out of the equation. That is no belittling of the Tamil people, but that is what they showed at the last two local government elections in the North. They are not that much concerned in elections that are any way deciding the Sinhala needs and not their needs. As a presidential election is very different to voting their own local government administration, in the absence of a candidate who would take their issues within a considerate platform, they would have no reason to slog to polling booths through security barricades and check points. Thus the next presidential election would again be one, which would be decided by the Sinhala voter, even in the absence of Prabhakaran to block Tamil votes.

In fact Rajapaksa and Prabhakaran together had achieved one common political objective. Keeping the Tamil society out of Sinhala politics. This would be the major democratic issue that could be taken up by a third candidate, if there is any one willing to take up the challenge. The challenge of posing the political necessity of bringing Sinhala and minority aspirations on to a common platform in a presidential campaign. It would be a long wait though for such political audacity here in Sri Lanka.

August 11, 2009

The 1953 "left" hartal that resulted in Dudley's resignation as Premier

by Walter Wijenayaka

The Hartal which was launched on the August 12, 1953, spearheaded by the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Communist Party led by Dr. N. M. Perera and Dr. S. A. Wickremasinghe respectively, flanked by the likes of Philip Gunawardena, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, Leslie Goonewardena and his brother Robert, Bernard Soysa, Edmond Samarakkodi of the LSSP and Pieter Keuneman of the CP and other frontline leftists, sounded the death knell of the first term of office, as Prime Minister, of Dudley Senanayake.

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Dudley Senanayake

This word Hartal is an Indian originated one that gained currency during the struggle for Indian independence and means a popular non-violent protest. The Concise Oxford Dictionary gives its meaning as ‘a closing of Indian shops and offices as a mark of protest’. Dr. Colvin R. de Silva emphasizes its non-violent nature when he describes it as a kind of ‘Nonagathe’ and thereby gives it an indigenous connotation. Unlike a strike which is a trade dispute and in that sense a limited action, a Hartal is a more popular and wider movement encompassing broader issues.

It is reasonable to go in search of the facts behind such a hartal, in some ‘green’ areas of the country, where the leftist movement has been flourishing.

Before the parliamentary general election held in 1952, the United National Party government gave an assurance to the people that the price of rice will remain at 25 cts per measure, although there had been signs of a financial setback. The people gave a commanding majority to the UNP at the election.

But shortly after the election with the end of the Korean War etc., the prices of our primary export products began to fall, thereby adversely affecting our balance of trade and financial reserves. This development compelled the newly formed Dudley Senanayake government to begin to adopt strict fiscal measures as early as September 1952, culminating in the General’s speech of July 7,1953, followed by the budget speech of July 23, 1953, that formally introduced a host of restrictions.

Even before the budget, some of the measures, such as the removal of the rice subsidy and the withdrawal of the mid-day meal to school children, came into force resulting in popular protests in Colombo, Jaffna and the south-west seaboard. The population of these areas had been exposed to political redicalism for many years and were, therefore, more conscious of the obligations of a state.

Further more, the rail fares had been increased, the price of sugar had also been increased. The taskmasters of the World Bank and the IMF of the day would have been appreciative of the UNP government for these sensationally prescient measures in neo-capitalist economics, but it brought the wrath of the working class on the head of the government.

Ahead of the Hartal day fixed for August 12, 1953, the opposition parties commenced their protest campaigns in work places and offices in the western coastal area, especially in Colombo. However, on the Hartal day and the day after, popular protest turned violent in certain areas of the south-west. Damage to public property, such as acts of arson, ripping up of railway tracks and cutting telephone lines, took place.

The government tried to control the situation by banning public meetings and use of loudspeakers and by threatening public servants and cooperative employees. Finally the government had to introduce emergency regulations, seal left wing printing presses, impose a curfew, arrest curfew violators etc.

Under all those restrictions, the leaders of the LSSP ordered their cadres to call off the hartal and token strike as arranged originally. This action was taken by the LSSP, as some unscrupulous elements were resorting to acts of robbery, arson and looting. However, after two or three days the momentum eased.

On that day, I can well remember that I attended school, Sri Sumangala College, Panadura, as usual, walking to the Wadduwa Railway Station, from there by train. The attendance was very, very poor. We all were turned back. Then I, with others, came back to Wadduwa Police Station in a police truck. On the way, we saw a lorry which had been looted of its contents. From Wadduwa to Pohaddaramulla, we walked on the railway line. We saw how the young men were ripping up the railway track. From there we turned to the Galle Road where trunks of coconut trees had been laid across the road, blocking the traffic.

This uprising ended but nine persons lay dead and 61 persons had received injuries, almost entirely at the hands of an inadequate police force, inexperienced and untrained in crowd control methods.

The nine persons who lost their lives in this exercise were:

1. K. Edwin - Pettah
2. Almadurage Alwis – Ratgama
3. S. H. Rabel – Uragaha
4. T. M. Panagoda – Dodanduwa
5. S. K. A. Piyasena – Dompe
6. K. A. Sadiris – Dompe
7. S. K. A. Wickremasinghe Perera – Dompe
8. T. Sirisena – Kirulapona
9. Douglas Nicholas – Modera

The official historian of the LSSP, Leslie Goonewardena, offers his explanation. He writes: ‘Most important of all, it was the considered view of the LSSP (as well as we believe of the VISSP - CP United Front), that the mass movement had reached only a stage of protest against the actions of the government in imposing the burdens it did on the masses and not at a stage where it was aiming at the overthrow of the government.’

However, the Opposition’s call for the government’s resignation and fresh elections because the UNP had violated its campaign promises, did not materialize but they were visibly shaken. Rifts began to appear and differences of opinion as to what went wrong, who was responsible and what should have been done, surfaced. Consequently, the Finance Minister J. R. Jayewardena resigned his portfolio, Dudley Senanayake, the Prime Minister, also resigned, ostensibly on grounds of ill-health, giving rise to succession squabbles. This process ended with Sri John Kotelawala winning the Premiership race although not for long.

Unexpectedly at that time and ironically too, the party that backed out of the mass struggle, namely, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and its leader S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike were the beneficiaries of the uprising, for, it was they who overwhelmingly won the following general election in 1956.

The UNP will never let go off its dream for Sri Lanka

by Karu Jayasuriya

The following is the full text of a statement issued by UNP deputy leader Mr.Karu Jayasuriya following the results of elections to the UVa Provincial Council , Jaffna Municipal council and Vavuniya urban council:

At the very onset, let me issue a very big ‘thank you’ to UNP supporters who went to the polls last Saturday, for their unwavering trust and support in the UNP and all it stands for as Sri Lanka’s single largest political party. We feel your disappointment in the results of this election and apologize on behalf of those of us who hold the mantle of leadership within the party for not being able to put up a better showing at this provincial poll.

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[Karu Jayasuriya]

However, we are well aware that the UNP voter is a discerning, politically savvy individual who while disappointed in the party’s inability to win this election, realizes that the way in which the ruling party won this poll, is in no way free or fair. We might have moved passed the phase of vote-rigging and overt intimidation at our elections, but there are many insidious methods being employed by the ruling elite that totally belie the notion of truly democratic elections.

Despite campaigning officially ending 48 hours prior to the poll, the government continued to use state media to openly flout these election regulations, airing commercials and other propaganda at a time when all other parties had suspended their campaigns. All government resources were used at an unprecedented rate. The entire government machinery was deployed. All norms of democracy and decency were grossly violated.

This is just the most proximate illustration of the way this regime has conducted itself during this election, and all those that have gone before it in the recent past. Lest it be misunderstood, let this statement not be construed as being sour grapes by the UNP camp after an election loss.

It is our ongoing concern about a matter which greatly affects the country and the way in which the people exercise their most sacred franchise. We firmly believe, as we have reiterated many times in the past, that no Sri Lankan election can be called truly free and fair until and unless the Elections Commission provided for in the much flouted 17th Amendment is established and governs the way in which polls are conducted in this country. It is unfortunate that the 17th Amendment once looked upon as the beacon of democratization and de-politicization has been relegated to the dustbin by those in the corridors of power and to something abstract and academic floating around in the political firmament and civil society by the general public.

We fear that our countrymen are yet to realize the overwhelmingly positive effects of a properly implemented 17th Amendment on their lives in a most personal way. It is impossible to expect this regime to take any pains to activate such legislation at the cost of their willy-nilly appointments to all spheres of public life, based only on political loyalty and nepotism.

We do not believe that the sins of this administration, with regard to their wanton expenditure and blatant corruption have gone unnoticed by the people. We do not believe for an instant, that the people are in any way duped by this latest offensive by the government to allegedly silence the guns of the underworld, as long as they are not friends of the incumbent regime or any of its henchmen.

Whilst this offensive against the underworld continues, another drug lord is escorted out of the country via the VIP lounge of the Bandaranaike International Airport by a government minister.

Presidential Coordinators and Advisors due to contest forthcoming Southern Provincial Council and Parliamentary Elections have already started campaigning. They use state resources, helicopters and entire government machinery, disregarding all norms of decency.

The government might believe that it has a stranglehold on the media and thereby has a monopoly on what information the ordinary citizen has access to. But news has a way of seeping through the cracks of this iron grip. The student who was assaulted by the son of a police bigwig, the random killing and intimidation of journalists, the labeling of lawyers as ‘traitors’ and the ability to cover all their sins by alluding to a war on terrorism – these are not things that the Sri Lankan voter does not know.

As for the members of the UNP, we ask you again, to be patient. We assure you that your party might be down, but it is certainly not out. Do not lose hope or be disillusioned. Remember that the UNP remains committed to the common ideals of democracy, in the true sense of the word and we have no doubt that the people of Sri Lanka share this vision and will march with us once more towards growth, prosperity and true freedom. This is our dream for Sri Lanka and although it might be expedient to do so, we shall never let it go.

Mahinda cannot afford to waver like Arjuna in the Kurushetra battlefield

by Somapala Gunadheera

The results of the Northern local government elections appear to be an eye-opener. It was the general impression before the elections that the TNA was defunct with the end of the war. They were supposed to be the proxies of the LTTE to which they owed their power and survival. The supposition was apparently true. But how does one account for the resurgence of the TNA at the election?

To my mind the supposition is only a half-truth. They may have been the creature of the monster that was the LTTE. But the monster itself was a creature of a deeply seated sense of frustration of the Tamils. That frustration arose from the insensitive and short-sighted policies of the post-independence Sinhala leadership. It is that deep sense of frustration that is sustaining the TNA even after their mentor is no more.

The writing on the wall

Thus the first lesson to be learnt from the election is that the proclaimed annihilation of the LTTE has not achieved the main objective of the government, the building of a united Sri Lanka. The sacrifices made by the armed forces and the commitment and efficiency of their leaders have set the stage for the government to embark on the massive task of nation building. What the election results indicate is that the task, if any, has not been felt by the Tamils despite massive state propaganda. The government would be wise to take note of this stark fact without hiding its head in the sands of sycophancy.

I have many Tamil friends, perhaps more friends among the Tamils than among the Sinhalese, that being the result of my several assignments in the North and the East. In their absolute trust in me, most of my Tamil friends have candidly confided in me their sense of despair, frustration and disillusionment at the way the government is handling the task of unification, after the end of the war. They believe that there is nothing more than lip-service and make-believe, an effort to hoodwink the interested parties here and abroad. They are tired of procrastination and prevarication. According to them the government is taking a communally partisan stance scared of the rabble-rousers.

I have recorded these impressions not as a researched criticism of the government but as an effort to throw some light on the current mood of the Tamils. I believe that it is this mood that is reflected through the elections, particularly in Jaffna where the turnover has been less than 20%. Those who voted were presumably organized by Minister Devananda but why did he fail to persuade a vast majority to cast their votes? In fact the Minister himself has expressed his dissatisfaction with the turnover.

To my mind the Jaffna man, the shrewd pragmatist and cynic that he is, has given an indication to the government in his deafening silence. That silence is a resounding signal to the way he would vote at the forthcoming Presidential Election. If nothing positive is done in the meantime, he is bound to vote for whoever is opposed to the nominee of the government, not because he loves him more but because he loves the government less. In the present scenario it does not need a crystal gazer to predict that the dice would be heavily laden in favour of the government at that election, with or without the Tamils.

But the breakdown of the votes will have a castigating impact on the person who would be finally elected. If Jaffna transforms its current silence to a negative vote en masse at that election, which appears to be on the cards as it is, the person elected would be automatically exposed as an ethnic supremo as opposed to a national leader, a title that would sit uneasily on him in the democratic world. The message of the election is that an honest and effective campaign has to be started here and now if the government is keen to avoid such denunciation.

Resettlement of IDPs

The first step in that campaign would be to settle the IDPs with transparency and expedition. Admittedly it is not an easy task, particularly in the context of the security concerns that are looming large. Already thousands are reported to have got away stealthily from the camps with the assistance of unscrupulous security personnel. Presumably most of those who have got away are the very security risks that the authorities are trying to restrain. In the meantime there is already talk of suicide bombers in Colombo. The security concerns of the government have to be appreciated and accommodated in the circumstances.

That said, the authorities should not tackle the IDP problem blindly as an amorphous and nebulous proposition. It should be managed with proper planning and execution. I have already drawn attention to the absence of a forward plan to settle the IDPs within a time frame. The much touted ‘180 days’ is a wish, not a plan. It goes without saying that the announcement of a definitive plan would immediately allay much of the dismay and distrust in the camps. Accommodating and feeding a concentration of over 250,000 IDPs is not child’s play despite what the armchair critics say. But the bigger challenge is not to make the inmates more comfortable but to send them home at the earliest.

The delay in clearing the innocents from the camps appears to stem from the way they are cleared for release. The approach appears to be to fish out the culprits from among the innocents. That means that the innocents have to wait until all the culprits are segregated. The more scientific way of clearance would appear to be to separate the innocents first. That way they would be ready to go home as soon as their villages are de-mined and those left over would be the wanted.

The faltering political package

It does not call for much imagination to realize that the Tamil mood at the last election largely reflects their disappointment at the way the political package is being handled. The APRC, fixing and re-fixing dates for the handing over of their report, has become a colossal joke that reflects poorly on the integrity and independence of the learned professionals in charge of the Penelope’s web.

The solution may be the 13th Amendment, 13A+, 13A -, or ‘home-grown’. Whatever it may be, the need of the hour is to see that some package is on the ground here and now. It may not be the perfect answer but it will be positive evidence of the sincerity of the will to seek a solution. The nucleus offered may be cut and polished, amended and improved by consensus as we go along. The very announcement of the package is sure to take the wind off the distrust and disappointment that the Northern elections reveal. Dilly dallying and prevarication could be the root cause that would reinfect the communal ulcer.

There was a recent announcement that the solution would be announced after the next Presidential Election. The President has come to power by promising to find a solution to the communal conflict. He has accomplished a good part of that assignment by putting an end to the war. This is the psychological moment for him to utilize the huge fund of popularity created by that achievement to also put an end to the causes that led to the war. He cannot afford to waver like Arjuna in the battlefields of Kurukshetra now, unable to gather the courage to shoot. It is unlikely that Krishna would appear again to tell him, "Strive after action. Never mind the result".

In any case the promise to find a solution after the next election is in clear breach of the promise made at the last election. Although the President’s advisers may not have the courage to point that out, it is well to remember that the performance is before a near hundred percent literate electorate that is supposed to be one of the most intelligent in the region. A loss of faith on their part may not show immediate results but it is bound to tarnish the image of the President in the long run.

The nation stands now at a point of history similar to where it stood at the advent of independence. The slate is wiped clean and we have been given another chance to charter the course of national unification. If we fail to do so forthwith, the death and destruction we suffered for thirty years due to the failures of our predecessors are sure to visit on our successors.

Lakshman Kadirgamar’s statue and Rohitha Bogollagama’s pettiness

August 12th is the fourth death anniversary of former Sri Lankan Foreign Affairs Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar who was assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)in Colombo. Kadirgamar played a prominent role in enlisting international support against the LTTE. This helped Colombo greatly in prosecuting war successfully to its conclusion.

Kadirgamar though ethnically a Tamil conducted himself as a “Sri Lankan patriot” thereby earning the displeasure of pro – tiger elements and ultimately paid the supreme price. A grateful nation constructed a statue in honour of the man who was perhaps the best loved Tamil of the Sinhala people.

Yet the statue though is yet to be mounted publicly.

Those who were near and dear to the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar are perturbed by Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama’s opposition to Mr. Kadirgarmar’s statue being put up near the entrance to the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute, Colombo 07.

Minister Bogollagama has said if the statue is to be erected, it will have to stand near the exit and not at the entrance.

“The Island” in its editorial of August 12th 2009 has lamented this fact. We reproduce the editorial headlined “Forgive us Kadir” here:

Forgive us, Kadir!

On this day sixty years ago a host of plenipotentiaries of governments at the Diplomatic Conference in Geneva agreed to the Convention for the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Today also marks the fourth death anniversary of a great Sri Lankan assassinated by a terrorist outfit under the cover of a ceasefire forced on this country by a group of nations extolling the Geneva Conventions, democracy and human rights. Lakshman Kadirgamar was his name.

Well-heeled and internationally known, Kadir could have led an opulent life either here or abroad but he took to politics for the love of this country. As Foreign Minister he was faced with the daunting task of repairing Sri Lanka's irreparably damaged image. He pitted himself against the well-oiled LTTE propaganda machine successfully and prevented Sri Lanka's isolation internationally. A brilliant scholar, orator and lawyer, he presented a strong case for eliminating separatist terrorism in Sri Lanka. The world listened. He was also instrumental in furthering détente between Sri Lanka and India, which had turned hostile towards her neighbour owing to foreign policy bungling by the JRJ and Premadasa regimes.

Only a few Sri Lankans were capable of seeing through the LTTE strategy of laying siege to the Trincomalee harbour gradually and severing the supply routes to Jaffna on the pretext of making peace and doing political work under a bogus ceasefire. Kadir was one of them. He briefed India on the danger of the LTTE's grand plan which posed a threat not only to Sri Lanka but also to India. And the reward he got from the then UNF government for services rendered was a veiled threat to strip him of his security and to throw him out of his official residence, as ruling party politicians of the day given to appeasement at any cost were wary of antagonising the LTTE.

But for Kadir's timely warning which galvanised the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga into action, the LTTE would have been able to destroy the Trinco harbour and the Palali airstrip with heavy artillery fire and ground attacks simultaneously thus forcing the troops in the peninsula to be evacuated.

The Kumaratunga government showed its gratitude to Kadir in its characteristic style. It sought to have him politically destroyed for being outspoken. A few weeks before his assassination, the government propaganda hirelings had been ordered to target him. This newspaper in its small way rose in his defence but he requested us to sheath our swords as he did not want the government embarrassed. We are aware that a government newspaper had to remove an article against Kadir in view of his assassination!

When Kadir was felled, the sinister foreign powers that are trying to press war crime charges against Sri Lanka did not care two hoots about his human rights or other victims of the LTTE. Their knee-jerk reaction was to urge the Kumaratunga government to adhere to the fragile 'ceasefire'––which the LTTE had violated thousands of times by that time––regardless of that dastardly crime. By doing so they sent the wrong message to Prabhakaran: He was free to continue his killing spree and the ceasefire would hold. It was on August 12, 2005 that the ceasefire favourable to the LTTE should have been abrogated. But, President Kumaratunga was convinced otherwise. She wanted to be in the good books of the international community for reasons best known to her. (The first statement issued by her government on Kadir’s assassination blamed the crime on ‘anti-government forces’ which could have been anyone!)

The loss of Kadir is felt more than ever. He would have defended the country during war on the international front far more effectively and neutralised hostile western forces in the post-war period. That was why the LTTE destroyed Sri Lanka's precious asset that was Kadir before resuming hostilities.

The country's victory over terrorism would not have been possible without the groundwork people like Kadir had laid. But, sadly, not even the present government has cared to appreciate his services posthumously. Although President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayake and the whole caboodle of ministers are busy unveiling hurriedly put up war memorials even in schools, the Kadirgamar statue is still lying in a crate exposed to the elements in the backyard of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute. What a shame!

August 10, 2009

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Northern Polls: TNA does well on platform of Tamil identity, rights and autonomy

by Jehan Perera

The just completed local government elections in Jaffna and Vavuniya were the first in a long while to take place in those northern towns. The last occasion on which municipal elections were held in Jaffna was in 1999, while in Vavuniya it was even further back in 1994. At that time the LTTE was active and the elections were conducted in an environment fraught with tension and potential for violence. By way of contrast, the elections on August 8, 2009 were conducted in a peaceful manner that evoked memories of a bygone era before the armed Tamil militancy took the upper hand in the North.

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Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader R. Sampanthan

The Northern elections defied expectations by being virtually incident free. Initially there was an expectation that these elections could follow the pattern of the elections in the East in 2007. At those elections the LTTE’s breakaway Karuna group renamed TMVP was liberal in its use of violence, intimidating candidates, voters and election officials alike. The government’s security forces rarely intervened to enforce the law. But at the recently concluded Northern elections the situation was different. Perhaps this reflects the aberrant nature of the LTTE period, which held an entire society in the thrall of violence.

Some of the contesting Tamil political parties retained paramilitary forces to protect themselves from the LTTE, but also had a reputation for using their weapons to intimidate and coerce the civilian population. Credit must be given to the leaders of these parties for ensuring that their cadre who retained their arms restrained themselves to practice non-violent politics. Perhaps they had the political sense to realize that they could not aspire to be mainstream leaders of the Tamil people if they continued to engage in intimidation and coercion. As a result the verdict at the polls is likely to reflect the sentiments of the Northern electorate at this point of time, despite shortcomings.

One such shortcoming at the Jaffna elections was the utilization of an electoral register that had not been properly updated. As a result although the electoral register led to the issuance of 100,747 polling cards, only 54,000 of them could be delivered. It is likely that the balance is not living any longer in Jaffna. The bloated figure in the electoral register also gives rise to the impression of a lower participation rate in the election than is actually warranted. The 18 percent participation figure was based on a non-existent electorate of a 100,000 when in reality the amount of voters was half of that. This would approximately double the effective voter participation rate.

Identity politics

Even at the Vavuniya elections the turnout was 49 percent which is low by Sri Lankan standards and suggests that northern voters felt a considerable alienation from the electoral process. It could mean that they did not believe that voting would make a difference to their lives, or they were not impressed by the choice of parties and candidates before them. The election results themselves suggest that Tamil identity politics remains a potent force that the government will need to address by consensual political means rather than by arbitrary imposition. Ironically the very day the northern election results were announced, the media carried a story that the government was planning to ban political parties that espoused ethnic or religious causes.

The election results should warn the government that it needs to repair its relations with the Tamil people.

In Vavuniya, the government got less than 25 percent of the vote from an electorate that included Sinhalese voters as well. Most of the balance went to Tamil parties that espoused Tamil rights-based causes, with the TNA which the government projected as an LTTE proxy coming first. In Jaffna, the government got slightly more than 50 percent of the vote, but it must be remembered that the government alliance was spearheaded by Douglas Devananda who made it clear that he wanted to contest under his own party banner of the EPDP. It was the government’s arm twisting that caused him to contest under the government’s umbrella.

In an initial comment after the elections, Mr Devananda was quoted by the Island as having regretted the government alliance’s failure to win in Vavuniya "despite having implemented a range of measures to alleviate the sufferings of the people in the districts. The TNA had done absolutely nothing for them, he said, adding that people should have been grateful to the UPFA for liberating them from the LTTE. He expressed surprise that the people backed the TNA, despite it being partly responsible for causing them untold misery."

As a minister in the central government, Mr Devananda has had to be deferential to government policy. But as a leader of the Northern people he will be under pressure to reflect Tamil aspirations. In fact he has consistently, and over a long period of time, stood for more devolution of power to the Northern and Eastern provinces. As a minister of the government, Mr Devananda has sought to focus on the provision of economic development and social welfare benefits to his constituencies. But now that his party has been successful in delivering electoral victory to the government in the key opinion forming town of Jaffna, he may be better positioned to push his case for greater devolution of power and earn more respect from the people.

Contrary patterns

During this local government election there was a subtle message and implied threat that economic and social benefits currently obtained from the government, such as keeping the seas open for fishing, might be lost unless the government won the elections in Jaffna. The opening up of the northern seas to fishing after many years of tight restrictions has been a boon that few in Jaffna would be willing to lose. In addition, there have been new infrastructure development projects that have brought employment opportunities to many. The government’s victory in Jaffna could encourage more efforts in this direction, which would be a boon to the war weary people, and could help to nudge them away from a costly course of confrontation with the government.

On the other hand, the relatively strong performance by the TNA suggests that the focus on economic development by itself will be insufficient to satisfy the Tamil electorate. As a party that was identified as an LTTE proxy, the TNA campaigned at great risk to themselves. During the period of the war, three TNA parliamentarians were assassinated. The TNA did not contest the local and provincial elections in the East in 2007 for fear of their lives. This time too there was doubt whether they would contest the northern elections. By contesting they proved that they continue to be a force to reckon with, coming first in Vavuniya and second in Jaffna on a platform of Tamil identity, rights and autonomy.

It is worth noting that the government’s poor performance in Vavuniya occurred in the context of nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians being incarcerated in welfare camps behind barbed wire fences that are guarded by the Sri Lankan army. The contrast between the government’s electoral performance in the North and South is also instructive. In the Uva Provincial Council election held on the same day, the government secured a massive victory and obtained over 70 percent of the vote from a predominantly Sinhalese electorate. Therefore it can be seen that the ethnically different electorates in the North and South have responded in a contrary manner to the government.

Those who believe in the power of economic development and legislation to ban the use of ethnic and religious party names to overcome ethnic sentiments may be making a mistake. When an entire ethnic community feels itself to be unfairly treated, no amount of economic development is going to diminish their sense of nationalism. The message from the northern elections is that victory in war, and economic development after the war, is not sufficient to politically unite the country. Neither is legislation or empty rhetoric that does away with minority labels going to make a difference. There needs to be a political solution, and the Tamil position reflected in the outcome of the Northern elections is that there should be the devolution of power.

Future of Tamil Militancy in the Aftermath of LTTE Military Defeat

by Col. R.Hariharan

INTRODUCTION

The death of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the charismatic founder-leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), along with almost the entire first and second line leadership in the last lap of the Eelam War IV in May 2009 represents a milestone in the history of Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s war against Tamil extremism in all its forms had been going on for the last three decades.1 Out of the 38 insurgent groups that came into being in this period barring the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the Sinhala Marxist insurgency, all others were of Tamil origin fighting against what they perceived as Sinhala oppression.2 Almost all Tamil groups considered the carving out of an independent Tamil nation – the Tamil Eelam – out of Sri Lanka’s traditional Tamil inhabited areas as the only path of redemption for Tamils to preserve their language, culture and identity.

Only the LTTE had managed to survive the military onslaught of Sri Lanka state against Tamil insurgent groups from 1983 on wards till 2009. It had also weathered the active Indian political and military intervention in Sri Lanka between 1983 and 1990. In its bid to emerge as the sole standard bearer of the cause of Tamil Eelam, the LTTE did not hesitate to eliminate thousands of militants and leaders of rival Tamil groups.3 In his bid to emerge as the unchallenged leader of Tamils, Prabhakaran eliminated important Tamil political leaders including Appapillai Amirthalingam and Dr Nilan Thiruchelvam of the Tamil United Liberation to emerge as the only viable Tamil organisation with political and military clout.

Sri Lanka Security Forces (SLSF) could not achieve decisive results against the LTTE in the three rounds of war from 1983 to 2002. However, in their victorious Eelam War IV, the SLSF had killed as many as 15,000 LTTE cadres and destroyed or captured millions of rupees worth military and civil assets of the insurgent group. In addition to this the SLSF is holding 9000 cadres in captivity.

It is going to be extremely difficult for the LTTE to stage a comeback as a viable force in the near future. The financial, material and political support from sections of the 800,000-strong Sri Lanka Tamil expatriates had been an important factor in the LTTE’s growth and sustenance all these years. With their support the LTTE had built a strong logistic support network abroad to sustain the organisation in Sri Lanka in both peace and war. This support network, though disrupted, is by and large in tact, though leaderless at the moment.

The SLSF which had built the armed forces to about 200,000 to fight the war is acutely aware of the possibility of the LTTE staging a comeback in the near future. In order to prevent such an eventuality, the Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka plans to build a strong force of 300,000. And he proposes to ensure continued presence of the security forces in the Tamil predominant north and east to nip any resurgence of Tamil militancy in the bud.

The exit of the LTTE from the Sri Lanka scene as a power centre has raised a question mark over not only the future of Tamil militancy, but also the durability of the Tamil struggle for an independent state of Tamil Eelam.

The possibility of LTTE’s revival and the future of Tamil militancy are closely interlinked issues.

Revival of Tamil militancy requires a few favourable factors: strong motivation for the Tamil Eelam cause, a committed leadership, an environment that provides for the growth of militancy, and external support. These have to be sustained in the face of Sri Lanka state’s response to its resurgence, and coordinated action of international community which is now united in its action against organisations listed terrorist bodies.

THE CAUSE

The cause of an independent Tamil Eelam state had provided the motive force Tamil youth to take up arms. It was the culmination of Tamil minority’s political quest to protect their identity, culture, and integrity of areas considered as its homeland. This process took at least two decades of traverse through the establishment of Tamil identity and another two decades for its transformation into Tamil nationalism.

Sri Lanka despite sharing a lot of cultural, religious and ethnic traditions with the Indian subcontinent has slightly different socio-political history. Unlike India, there had been no major caste, communal or ethnic conflicts in Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) during the British colonial days barring the anti Muslim riots of 1911. The broad division of identities of Sri Lanka’s Sinhala speaking, largely Buddhist majority, Tamil speaking Hindu and Christian communities identified as Tamils, and Muslims (mostly Tamil speaking and referred to as Moors) came about with the introduction of universal franchise in Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) in 1931.

While Indian polity fought the British and struggled to gain independence, Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948 without any serious struggle. In the words of Dr Devanesan Nesiah, “Unlike other South Asian leaders, those of pre-independence Sri Lanka remained in good standing with the colonial rulers.”5 While India’s struggle for independence fostered a national identity despite the differences within the community, Sri Lanka did not undergo this process of melding its divided identities into a single Sri Lankan national identity at the time of independence.

During the British colonial rule, Tamils had played a dominant role in Sri Lanka. Unlike the Sinhalas, Tamils adapted to English education and became useful to the colonial administration. The progressive alienation of the Tamil minority population from Sri Lanka’s national mainstream started only after the country attained independence in 1948.

From then onwards, the assertion of Tamil identity had been a factor in national politics. However, the process of transformation of Tamil identity and its crystallization into Tamil nationalism took nearly two decades from 1956 onwards. In this period resurgent Sinhala nationalism made its appearance as a political force with the Sinhala majority asserting its distinct linguistic, religious and ethnic identity as true national identity.

Four watershed events pushed the Tamils from uniting in their struggle against the Sinhala state and taking up arms to fight it. These were the introduction of 'Sinhala only' policy making it the national language, adoption of a new Constitution of 1972, the 1977 parliamentary elections and the 1980 anti Tamil pogrom.

The introduction of Sinhala as the sole national language and the state sponsorship of Buddhism and its symbols did not enhance the feeling of nationhood among the Tamils and other minorities.

The 1972 Constitution gave a Sinhala character to Sri Lanka triggering minorities’ fear of marginalisation under the new dispensation. This made the Tamils to change their earlier demand for balanced representation into a demand for a Federal State. The state driven by its new found Sinhala nationalism, did not politically respond to meet the minority demands.

This caused disillusionment among moderate Tamil 'Federal' leaders like Dr Chelvanayagam. They began to talk aloud about the creation of an independent state of Tamil Eelam in 1975.6 By 1976 Tamil demand for Federalism gave way for creation of an independent Tamil Eelam. The overwhelming success of the TULF, a political omnibus of many shades of Tamil opinion, in the 1977 elections with a demand for an independent 'Tamil Eelam' gave it credence. The state showed singular lack of sensitivity to the strong Tamil sentiments and responded with brute force against political agitations on the issue. As Tamil politicians were rendered helpless against the highhandedness of the government, small extremist groups of Tamils started indulging in minor acts of militancy.

The ethnic estrangement, growing with its historical grievances, nurtured by Sinhala and Tamil political vested interests grew. It became a conflict after the LTTE militants led by Prabhakaran killed 13 soldiers in an ambush of two military vehicles at Tirunelveli in Jaffna on July 23, 1983. The public outrage in the rest of Sri Lanka at the killing of the Sinhala soldiers was used by Sinhala politicians to let loose a pogrom against Tamil population in Colombo and other places. The government failed to take any action even as a few thousand Tamils were killed and their properties destroyed.

Overnight the Tamil struggle gained global sympathy when thousands of Tamil refugees fled the country. Nearly 100,000 of them sought refuge in Tamil Nadu, in South India, which has traditional links with Sri Lanka Tamils. The pogrom in Sri Lanka created such a terror that over the years 700,000 Tamils are estimated to have immigrated to other countries The widespread public anger in Tamil Nadu grew as more and more Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka arrived there. Tamil insurgent groups fleeing the island were welcomed to the shores of Tamil Nadu. They were given arms and shelter.

Then onwards the Tamil issue became a critical one in Indian political scene as well. Inevitably India actively intervened in Sri Lanka from 1983 to 1990 politically, diplomatically and militarily to bring about ethnic peace. Indian efforts at mediation also crystallised the critical demands of Tamil nationalism at the Thimphu conference convened in July 1985 to reconcile the differences between the Sri Lanka government and the Tamils.

A united delegation of Tamil militant groups and politicians summed up the Tamil demands in the ‘Thimphu Declaration.’ The four Tamils demands were: recognition of Sri Lanka Tamils as a nation, recognition of the existence of an identified homeland for the Tamils of Sri Lanka, recognition of the right of self determination of the Tamil nation, and recognition of the right to citizenship and the fundamental rights of all Tamils of Sri Lanka.

At the initiative of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Sri Lanka President JR Jayawardane showed his readiness to build bridges with India and the two countries signed the India-Sri Lanka Agreement (ISLA) in 1987. As per the Agreement, Sri Lanka State agreed to devolve limited autonomy to a united northeast province - the traditional Tamil region considered as their homeland, provided India helped to end Tamil militancy and disarm the militants. The demand for right to citizenship for all Tamils was also accepted. Thus barring the demand for recognition of Tamils as a nation, the Agreement met all the demands of Tamils made in the Thimpu.

The 13th amendment of Sri Lanka constitution enacted in 1988 has given a limited amount of autonomy to the provincial councils including the Tamil-predominant northern and eastern provinces. The 14th amendment has given Tamil the status of national language, though it may not be on par with Sinhala. Thus the Tamil demands which articulated the cause of Tamil Eelam stand partly dissipated.

The post 1983 events – wars and peace efforts – and the abortive Indian direct military intervention from 1987 to 1990 have changed not only the demographics of Sri Lanka but the mindset of the next generation of Sinhalas and Tamils as well. It is more than two decades since Black July, and a whole new generation of Tamils has been brought up overseas in diverse surroundings – many of them in different countries with different languages and cultures.

Many of the Tamils have moved out of traditional areas of habitation into many parts of Central and Southern Sri Lanka and settled in the midst of Sinhala population due to the unending insurgency wars of LTTE in the north and east during the last two decades. The moot point is whether the cause of Tamil Eelam for the Tamils at home and abroad still holds the same attraction as in 1983?

THE ENVIRONMENT

The international environment in the 80s and early 90s was the golden era of insurgency movements. The Cold War confrontation found the use of non-state actors a convenient handle to slow bleed the opponent. Soviet Union helped a pro Communist regime to seize power in Afghanistan after monarchy was toppled, much to the discomfort of the U.S. The Americans found a willing ally in Pakistan to support Islamist insurgents fight the communist regime in Afghanistan. The spill over of this confrontation into South Asia was limited to the introduction of Cold War power play with Pakistan and India drawn on opposite sides. Pakistan and to a certain extent China had been providing support and sanctuary to insurgents movements from India’s northeast.

Given this background, India was wary of increasing in American influence in its neighbourhood particularly after the strategic convergence of the U.S. and Pakistan in Afghanistan. So India found a strategic reason to keep Sri Lanka free from the increasing U.S. influence in the region.

The 1980 anti-Tamil pogrom created a strong wave of political sympathy for Tamils in India, particularly in Tamil Nadu. Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi was sympathetic to the Tamil struggle for equity, though she did not support the idea of an independent Tamil Eelam. She also offered covert support to Tamil militants. When Sri Lanka President JR Jaywardane tried to gain the support of the U.S. and Pakistan to counter Indian pressure, India intervened actively from 1983 to 90 both politically and militarily. The ISLA was the outcome of this phase of India-Sri Lanka relations. India had to pull out its troops rather ignominiously in 1990 when Sri Lanka President Premadasa and Prabhakaran colluded to send them out of the island.

Since India's last active intervention in Sri Lanka, global power equation has changed. India and the U.S. enjoy a close relationship due to the convergence of their strategic security interests in the Indian Ocean region and Sri Lanka. India's trading interests are now global as its economy is galloping at a fast clip. These changes have created subtle shifts in India's perceptions. Now India's security perceptions of Sri Lanka are no more local. They are now global as Sri Lanka is viewed as the vanguard of India in the South, dominating the Indian Ocean.

As the biggest regional power in South Asia, India has the ability to alter the balance of power in Sri Lanka just as it did in 1987-90. India is the only country capable of underwriting any long-term solution to Sri Lanka's problem. However, this will be constrained by internal political considerations discussed earlier, and tie down its freedom of action in Sri Lanka.

India was the first country to ban the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. It had been consistent in taking action against any LTTE activity in its soil. So India had no hesitation in supplying non-lethal weapons and extending intelligence support to Sri Lanka in its conflict with the LTTE. Unlike the 80s India-Sri Lanka relations are multifaceted involving trade, commerce, economic relations and international cooperation. India has large investments in Sri Lanka and both countries have entered into a Free Trade Agreement and India-Sri Lanka trade is likely to clock $ 4 billion. Indian political and material support for the Tamil cause had been an important for growth of Tamil militancy during 1983-87. India is unlikely to extend that kind of support now for the revival of Tamil militancy.

The global war on terror orchestrated by the U.S. after the 9/11 Al Qaeda terrorist attacks in the U.S have changed international perceptions on insurgency movements using terror tactics. As the LTTE has been included in the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organisations, it has become quite easy and legitimate for Sri Lanka to draw upon the support of the U.S. for its war against the LTTE. This support is likely to continue in case Tamil militancy revives.

A number of international protocols in shipping, money transfer and movement of people have been introduced to curb terrorists from using international networks. The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) announced by the U.S. President Bush in 2003 has paved the way for greater international cooperation and action to prevent proliferation of weapons to or from nation states and non-state actors. Though the PSI is accepted only by 11 countries, 49 other nations have agreed to adhere to PSI principles. The PSI protocols provide for interdiction of WMD shipments in international waters.

Despite their differences over the poor human rights record of Sri Lanka, the European Union understands the compulsions which had forced Sri Lanka to wage war against the LTTE, banned as a terrorist organisation in among its member countries. So the EU is also unlikely to permit the LTTE or any other Tamil militant organisational activity on their soil.

The Sri Lanka Tamil expatriates had been a major source of support for Tamil militancy particularly the LTTE. The LTTE had established a strong global supply and logistic support network to keep its war machines going. This organization helped in sustaining the insurgency operations in three ways: financial support, international lobbying and public relations, and procurement of arms and military equipment. LTTE representatives at key centers located in Canada, Norway, U.K., Australia, France, Denmark, Switzerland, Thailand, USA, and South Africa coordinate the worldwide network. It has created a lot of hidden assets overseas and runs a number of front organisations of Tamils.

The LTTE is a banned organisation in 32 countries including Canada, the European Union, India, Malaysia and U.S.A. Though not banned, its activities are curbed in few other countries. Even during the Eelam War IV (2006-09) the governments in most of these countries had come down heavily on LTTE activists. They had also cooperated with the Sri Lanka government and with each other in busting the LTTE’s fund collection and arms procurement activities and made a number of arrests.7 Given these constraints revival of the LTTE or promotion of any other Tamil militant group is not going to be easy.

Internal environment

Initially, during their political struggle the Federal party leaders and subsequently the TULF were able to forge unity among Tamil speaking people including Muslims for the cause of Tamil identity. However, the increasing awareness of eastern Muslims and the differences over the perception of an independent Tamil Eelam paved the way for Muslims going their own way. The LTTE’s anti-Muslim policies including the eviction of nearly 100,000 Muslims from the north as well its massacre of Muslims a number of times in the east have alienated Muslims from supporting Tamil militants, perhaps forever, though they speak Tamil and have similar problems as a minority.

There are subtle differences in culture and perception between the Tamil populations living in north and east. From 1976 onwards the Tamils of north and east were united in their political stand and support to militancy. This was further strengthened with the signing of the India-Sri Lanka Agreement 1987 which saw the formation of a united north-eastern province. However, the LTTE’s opposition to the ISLA divided Tamil polity and militancy. It left the LTTE as the only armed militant group as the other militant groups had surrendered their weapons in terms of ISLA. The LTTE’s war against the Indian troops further divided the Tamils.

After the exit of Indian troops in 1990, the LTTE started the process of consolidation with the snuffing out other Tamil groups and marginalising Tamil political leaders. The rise of the LTTE made anti-LTTE Tamil groups to seek the protection of the Sri Lanka government. As a result the Thimphu declaration remains largely a political propaganda tool with the divided and weakened Tamil polity.

The better educated northern ‘Jaffna’ Tamils, living in a majority Tamil ambience have been spearheading the Tamil Cause as leaders; on the other hand the easterners, who share the province with nearly equal strength of Sinhalas and Muslims, have been providing the foot soldiers for Tamil militancy. However, this equation was destroyed when Karuna, the LTTE leader of Batticaloa broke away from the parent body in 2002, alleging the exploitation of easterners within the LTTE.

This had destroyed the homogeneity within the militant ranks. This had been one of the major reasons for the defeat of the LTTE in the Eelam War IV. Now new political alignments have emerged among eastern Tamils. Karuna’s position was strengthened when the Supreme Court set aside in 2006 the merger of northern and eastern provinces as one united entity. After the defeat of the LTTE, a Tamil chief minister is in office in the east. Karuna is now a minister in the Rajapaksa regime and has become a vocal supporter of a united Sri Lanka.

Sinhala’s lack of sensitivity to the Tamil aspirations had been an important trigger for the Tamils to unite in their fight against the government. However, after India’s massive intervention and the introduction of 13th amendment giving limited autonomy to Tamils, there had been generally a growing awareness of the Tamil problem among Sinhala intelligentsia. It is significant that during the three years of Eelam War IV there had been very few acts of retaliatory Sinhala public anger against Tamil population in their midst despite a number of LTTE bombs attacks killed a few hundred civilians.

Though the government had been slow in enforcing many of its policies like the introduction Tamil in the government and recruitment of Tamils in police etc., it has made a beginning and over a period of time these efforts are likely to make some headway. Cumulatively, the Sinhala chauvinist image of the 80s has been improved; this is unlikely to go unnoticed by Tamils.

Given these changes in the environment, it is doubtful whether the cause of Tamil Eelam will evoke the same enthusiastic response as in 1983, particularly after the total defeat of the LTTE in the latest Eelam War after sacrificing atleast 30,000 cadres in the wars. There is a general weariness of the war among Tamils in Sri Lanka. Even though sections of Tamil Diaspora might be enthusiastic about supporting another war against the Sri Lanka state, the foot soldiers for it had to be found among Sri Lankan Tamils in the country.

LEADERSHIP

While many Tamil militant organizations emerged in the early 90s, only the LTTE had kept the Tamil armed struggle alive. This was solely due to its leader Prabhakaran’s single minded orientation to the goal of fighting for an independent Tamil Eelam. He introduced a number of innovations in tactical warfare fully using the real time advantage given by modern technology innovations. He showed remarkable ability motivate his followers to die for the cause. It manifested in the form of Black Tiger suicide warriors. Their tactics were used imaginatively by Sea Tigers to launch attacks in the high seas against the navy. The LTTE also refined the use propaganda as force multiplier and built up a global support network among the Tamil Diaspora that came in handy to prosecute the war. No doubt he had a number of flaws including his inability to understand political strategy and cleverly use it for furthering military objectives. He was anti intellectual and did not believe in collective leadership. He had a ruthless streak in his personality that clouded balanced judgement.

Any leader now trying to revive the LTTE or start a new Tamil militant movement has to live up to the larger than life image of Prabhakaran created in public mind. Otherwise he will not be able to motivate his followers and build up the organization. Secondly, Prabhakaran’s strength of conviction enabled him to build one of the strongest insurgent organisation in the world in a span of two decades. So any leader undertaking the task now will have to sustain his conviction for at least one to two decades.

Though he understood tactical operations better, Prabhakaran’s major shortcoming had been his inability to respond to political demands with finesse. The chances of success of any potential leader to revive militancy will increase only if he is politically savvy.

It is not only the potential of the leader that is important. It was largely the environment that shaped Prabhakaran’s mind to become a committed leader to his cause and build a strong organization. And both the internal and international environments have become more unfriendly than ever before to the idea of secession.

So a charismatic and responsive leader to revive Tamil militancy is like to emerge only when the environment turns extremely repressive and hostile to Tamil population at large. With greater awareness among the population and India acting as a subtle but continuous pressure point on Sri Lanka on the issue of devolution of equitable rights to Tamils, such “pressure cooker” situation is unlikely to develop. Thus even in a decadal time frame, the opportunity for emergence of such a leader may never come through.

CONCLUSION

The defeat of the LTTE in the just concluded Eelam War IV represents a major setback for the cause of an independent Tamil Eelam. The LTTE under V Prabhakaran had built one of the strongest insurgency organizations in the world with military capability in land, air and sea.

In spite of building such a powerful organization, supported by a global network of Tamil Diaspora to further its capability, the LTTE failed due to a number of reasons. The local and international environments that enabled the LTTE insurgency to thrive have changed since 1983. A new generation of Tamil youth driven from their homes in the north and east due to prolonged war has been exposed to different cultures and environment. It is doubtful whether they could be motivated to take up arms once again for the cause of Tamil Eelam.

India as a powerful neighbour with a large Tamil population can wield a strong influence in Sri Lanka including the future of Tamil militancy. India as a regional power is unlikely to allow easy passage for the rise of Tamil militancy afresh for reasons of strategic security. The changed international environment with low tolerance limits for the activities of non-state actors will make it difficult for the use of overseas soil for the growth of Tamil militancy. International protocols introduced to curb terrorism have come in handy to curb LTTE’s international activity. These are likely to inhibit the revival or resurgence of Tamil militancy.

However, Tamil militancy can stage a comeback if there is a strong support from another nation for its own reasons. Even then to flourish in Sri Lanka, it will require a strong anti-Tamil regime to create an environment of hostility to Sinhalas. With a powerful Sri Lanka army in place, even if the environment is suitable for militancy it will require strong and motivated leadership with committed followers who can sustain their presence for at least a decade.

Under the circumstances, Tamil militancy is likely to be restricted to acts of sabotage, occasional shoot outs and acts of assassinations by small bands. As and when Tamil population joins the mainstream of Sri Lanka through enlightened national leadership, such small group activities also might become extinct. And it would be up to Sri Lanka leadership to decide on how quickly and how comfortably they can give the feeling security and trust back to the Tamil population. [COURTESY:WORLD FOCUS]

(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90. He is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Blog: www.colhariharan.org E-mail:colhari@yahoo.com)

Sri Lanka under pressure to clarify circumstances of Tamil Tiger leader capture

By Dean Nelson, South Asia Editor

The Sri Lankan government was facing calls to explain how it captured and extradited the new Tamil Tiger leader 'KP' Selvarasa Pathmanathan last week

Pathmanathan, formerly the LTTE's chief fundraiser and arms supplier, was reported to have been seized from a hotel in Kuala Lumpur by a Sri Lankan intelligence team acting with support from Malaysian officials. His capture has dealt a serious blow to the LTTE's hopes of regrouping as a political force.

Diplomats in Colombo said Pathmanathan had not faced an extradition hearing while human rights campaigners said they feared he could be tortured in detention. They compared his arrest with American 'rendition' detentions. [Full article in Daily Telegraph]

Amnesty International Launches special campaign over plight of Wanni IDP's

Hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the recent war in North East Sri Lanka and living in camps are being denied basic human rights including freedom of movement, said Amnesty International as Secretary General Irene Khan today launched the Unlock the Camps campaign at the start the organization's International Council Meeting, a gathering of international delegates in Turkey.

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Displaced Sri Lankan Tamil civilians at Kadirgamar camp in Chettikulam=Getty images

Two months after the end of the fighting, the Sri Lankan authorities are still not addressing properly the needs of the newly displaced. The camps are overcrowded and unsanitary.

In addition, these are effectively detention camps. They are run by the military and the camp residents are prevented from leaving them; they are denied basic legal safeguards. The government’s claim that it needs to hold people to carry out screening is not a justifiable reason to detain civilians including entire families, the elderly and children, for an indefinite period.

Displaced people have even been prevented from talking to aid workers. With no independent monitors able to freely visit the camps, many people are unprotected and at risk from enforced disappearances, abductions, arbitrary arrest and sexual violence.

AILTC0810.jpgAccording to government figures, the fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) displaced over 409,000 people. At least 280,000 are displaced from areas previously under LTTE control. A dramatic influx of people fleeing the fighting and crossing to government controlled areas took place from March 2009. The displaced people, including at least 50,000 children, are being accommodated in 41 camps spread over four districts. The majority of the displaced are in Vavuniya District where Manik Farm is the biggest camp.

When United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited some of the camps in May, he said: “I have travelled around the world and visited similar places, but this is by far the most appalling scene I have seen.”

While some progress had been made on providing basic needs, much still needs to be done on the right to health, food, water, family reunion and access to relatives.

Amnesty International has also called on the government of Sri Lanka to end restrictions on liberty and freedom of movement; ensure that camps are of a truly civilian nature and administered by civilian authorities, rather than under military supervisions; and give immediate and full access to national and international organizations and observers, including aid agencies, in order to monitor the situation and provide a safeguard against human rights violations.

The Sri Lankan government said on 21 May that the displaced will be resettled in 180 days. But very few have so far been allowed to return to their homes or to join friends or family elsewhere, and people remaining in the camps are not at liberty to leave camp premises. Amnesty International is calling on the Sri Lanka government to end its policy of forcibly confining people to camps, which amounts to arbitrary detention. The Sri Lankan government must allow persons who require temporary shelter in these facilities to come and go freely.

With assistance and support from the international community and the involvement of displaced people themselves, the Sri Lankan government must set up clear benchmarks and timelines to ensure that displaced people can safely return home or find other durable solutions (such as relocation) as soon as possible.

As part of the Unlock the Camps campaign Amnesty International is posting a video on Facebook, calling on the Sri Lankan government to allow freedom of movement and on the Government of India to monitor the aid pledged to the Sri Lankan government and to press for the immediate transfer of the management of the displaced people camps from the military to the civilian authorities.

UN worker ‘bites’ man and lands diplomat in middle of nepotism row

by James Bone in New York

A bizarre man-bites-man incident at the UN has exposed one of its top British officials to an allegation that he helped to win his daughter a job with the organisation.

Alan Doss, the head of the £800 million-a-year UN peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, stands accused of breaking rules to try to get Becky Doss a UN post in New York.

The case came to light only because a UN Development Programme (UNDP) contract worker allegedly bit a security guard on the arm as he was pepper-sprayed and dragged from the office of a superior to whom he complained about the appointment.

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Alan Doss: accused of breaking rules to get his daughter a job

Nicola Baroncini is due to appear in a New York court today to face a charge of third-degree assault after UN security asked the police to arrest him.

The UN says the bite was so serious that the guard had to be admitted to hospital and tested for communicable diseases. He was forced to take sick leave.

“Everything started from a simple case of nepotism,” the Italian official told The Times. “I have the e-mail that Alan Doss sent ... He says it very bluntly.

“I couldn’t believe that they do these things in e-mail. I would have thought they would do it over the phone. They are so used to doing these things, they think it is normal.”

The UNDP refused to comment except to say that the process by which Becky Doss was hired was “being investigated by UNDP’s Office of Audit and Investigation”.

Mr Doss told The Times from Congo: “I can only say that UNDP is currently reviewing the matter. It would be premature for me to make any public comments before the review is completed.”

The man-bites-man scandal is a test for Helen Clark, the former New Zealand Prime Minister, who became head of the UNDP in April.

The agency, which has a budget of $5 billion (£3 billion) a year to develop democracy and reduce proverty, has a history of financial scandals but has resisted submitting to the jurisdiction of the UN’s investigative arm, and holds no regular press briefings.

Mr Baroncini, a former banker, worked at the New York headquarters for about five years. Most recently he served as a special assistant to Ligia Elizondo, the Nicaraguan deputy director of the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific (RBAP).

Mr Doss, from Cardiff, has spent almost his entire career at the UNDP, becoming one of a handful of British citizens at present to hold the rank of UN undersecretary-general. He transferred to a UN peacekeeping department contract on July 1.

Mr Baroncini alleges that before that transfer, in an e-mail dated April 20, Mr Doss asked Ms Elizondo to bend the UN’s anti-nepotism rules so that his daughter’s application could be considered before he moved away from the department. UN rules bar close relatives from getting jobs at the same agency.

Mr Doss allegedly wrote: “Allow a very long-serving and faithful UNDP staff member a little leeway before he rides off into the sunset.” Mr Baroncini says that his tasks included screening Ms Elizondo’s e-mails and filing them.

In May the UNDP advertised on its website the post of “special assistant to the RBAP deputy director”, to work under Ms Elizondo.

Mr Baroncini says that he was shortlisted for the job, along with Becky Doss and two other candidates. According to his account, a Russian woman was offered the job but accepted another. That cleared the way for Becky Doss, who began work in the position on July 1.

Mr Baroncini complained to Ms Elizondo’s boss, Ajay Chhibber, and showed him the e-mail allegedly sent by Mr Doss.

According to Mr Baroncini, three UN security guards arrived and ordered him into an office, where they were joined by a UN official “wearing a white coat”. The official in the white coat allegedly told Mr Baroncini that he could either leave the building with the guards or be handcuffed.

When Mr Baroncini asked to talk to his lawyer and the Italian consulate, he says, the guards attacked him.

He admitted that he might have bitten the guard but insisted that it was “exclusively a defensive thing”.

“I am quite a short guy. There were three guys carrying guns,” Mr Baroncini said. “They pepper-sprayed me twice. They beat me up. They threw me on the floor. It was an instinctual reaction. I was blinded.”

The UN has so far refused to classify Mr Baroncini as a “whistleblower” for alerting his bosses to alleged nepotism. A UN spokesman described him as a “frustrated jobseeker”. [courtesy: Times.UK]

Ajith Samaranayake’s 55th Birth Anniversary: The incomparable writer

by Wijitha Nakkawita

Among those who traversed the halls of fame was Ajith Samaranayake whose memories go down over three decades since we became acquainted in the corridors of Lake House as young men starting a career in journalism.
The memories are sweet and sour. For, his departure suddenly at the age of 51 years turned everything sour. It reminds one of the famous lines of the English Poet Sir Walter Scott

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Ajith Samaranayake

“He is gone in the mountain He is lost to the forest Like a summer dried fountain When our need was the sorest...”
For in this age when journalism as Oscar Wilde once said has become unreadable Ajith Samaranayake is remembered as a columnist, a writer who wrote in an inimitable style with a depth rarely seen among our tribe. Nearly three decades back when Ajith was writing a Parliament lobby for a daily newspaper I had the pleasure of sitting next to him in the Parliament press gallery.

It was his habit to sit with the earphones holding the order paper of the day in his hand not jotting down any notes as we used to do but with his keen ear turned to the debate and sometimes when some member of the House said something absurd Ajith would quite aloud say “What nonsense” even though it could have been heard in the House.
That trait of standing no nonsense was a part of Ajith who used his pen to fight even lost causes.

His intimate knowledge of the cinema, drama and literature whether it was English or Sinhalese made some people say he was an English journalist whose thinking was Sinhalese. Yet that would not be a fair interpretation of Ajith’s thinking for he was small, soft-spoken man sometimes shy but his mind was so wide it encompassed this planet and even those beyond it in the infinity.

Now after the session of Parliament was over for the day Ajith would come back to his desk and write his lobby column without referring to any notes as he made none.

That lobby column was so far the best written by any Sri Lankan journalist yet and his other writings were equally classic.

He loved humanity and the people he knew he knew well.

Even celebrities like Lester James Peries treated Ajith as a friend though there was a huge gap in years between their ages.

When Ajith died at the age of 51 in 2006 he had actually lived more than a century for every day that he lived he had done what others would do in two days or more for that dedication to his profession and his empathy and understanding of other people made him take every stride that measured two or more strides any other person would take.

Election Day Report: Uva Provincial Council Elections,Jaffna MC & Vavuniya UC Elections-2009

By The Centre For Policy Alternatives

8th August 07:00pm, Polling in the elections to the Jaffna Municipality, Vavuniya Urban Council and Uva Provincial Council was relatively incident free with voter turnout figures of 20%, 49% and 62% in the three areas respectively.

Of the areas polled, attention focused on the Jaffna Municipality, on account of it being the first post war poll in a predominantly Tamil area. In this respect, the voter turnout of 20% should be seen in terms of an effective 40%, given that the actual number of voters present and able to vote in the municipality was not the figure on the electoral register, but roughly half that number. Some 41,000 polling cards were retained at the Post Office. These could not be delivered to the prospective voters, as the latter were not present to accept delivery of them at the addresses given on the polling cards. Provision was made for these voters to obtain their polling cards form the Post Office until 3pm today, polling day.

The low turn out figure in Jaffna can be attributed to a number of factors, primarily that of voter migration, voter preoccupation with livelihoods and quality of life, the impact of the IDP situation and voter disinterest in the elections as either being unnecessary and irrelevant at this point in time, a foregone conclusion in terms of result or held in accordance with political priorities other than their own.

CMEV wishes to underscore this last point and its bearing on the low turnout. In particular there are outstanding issues with regard to the adequacy of information made available to the IDPs, with regard to voter registration as well as the access of political parties to potential voters in these camps. CMEV fully recognizes the number of factors militating against political activity in the camps and agrees that they reinforce the argument about the inappropriateness of elections at this time.

In the Uva Provincial Council election, CMEV received a number of allegations pertaining to the misuse of state resources by the ruling alliance and in particular on behalf of its chief ministerial candidate Shasiendra Rajapaksa. The misuse of state resources in this way is a recurrent bad practice in all elections and reinforces the argument of CMEV, its constituent organizations and other civil society organization about the pivotal importance of the implementation of the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution and the establishment of independent commissions for the arms of the state that are responsible for protecting and strengthening the integrity of the electoral process.

CMEV received reports of 2 major incidents and 2 minor incidents in Jaffna MC Elections and reports of 3 major incidents and 2 minor incidents in the Vavuniya UC elections during Election Day. There were two incidents of assaults against candidates of the SLMC in Vavuniya, one incident of assault against ITAK supporter in Puttalam(Jaffna MC) and one incident of assault against EROS supporter in Vavuniya. CMEV also received reports of two incidents of campaigning during Election Day in Vavuniya.

In the Uva Provincial Council elections, there were 14 incidents in total from the Badulla district and 20 incidents from the Monaragala district during Election Day. There were 7 major incidents in the Badulla district and 4 major incidents in the Monaragala incident. These incidents included two incidents of assault in Badulla district and 1 incident of assault in Monaragala district. There were 3 incidents in which election officials did not allow CMEV monitors to enter the polling station in the Badulla district. There were 2 similar incidents reported from the Monaragala district. There was 1 incident in the Badulla district where the polling agent was found distributing campaign material for UPFA candidates. There was also 1 voter related incident in the Monaragala district. Some of these incidents are described below.

Assault of Candidates

At 12pm, SLMC candidates Mukkankoolu Ravichandran (Preferential No. 09) and Abdul Latheef Mohamed Munawfar (Preferential No. 02) who were on their way to the polling station on a motor bike, were assaulted by supporters of UPFA Minister of Resettlement Rishad Bathiudeen at the V/Muslim Maha Vidyalaya, Pattanichchipuliyankulam (Polling station No. 1). According to Ravichandran, the assailants had travelled in a Toyota Hi- Ace van bearing the registration number 251 – 5092. A.L.M.Munawfar also informed the CMEV monitors that the assailants had attempted to run him over with the vehicle and had identified the assailants as supporters of Minister Rishard Badurdeen (ACMC), known as Rizni, Rafees, Rifthiyan, Majeed, Haroun, Safree and Nassen. Police Constable T.Wimalajith at the police post at the Vavuniya Base Hospital Police confirmed to CMEV that Mukkankoolu Ravichandran admitted to the hospital with minor injuries. Minister Rishad Bathiudeen when contacted by the CMEV said that he was informed of such an incident, but he was not connected with the incident in any way. He also said that it is a personal conflict between two individuals.

Assault of Voters and Supporters

At 8am Mr. H. S. M. Naseer driver of ITAK candidate Mr. Mohammed Aleem Jamaldeen (Preferential No. 02) of the ITAK was assaulted by M. Mujahir and others who are supporters of Minister Rishard Badurdeens. CMEV was informed that the driver was assaulted and the vehicle was damaged. Mr. H.S.M.Naseer subsequently made a report on this incident to the Puttalam Police (CIB 0290/57).

CMEV mobile team reported that at 11.30am Sivakumaran a supporter of the EROS party was assaulted by a group of supporters at the Rural Development Society Kurumankadu (Polling station No. 3) by the Democratic People’s Liberation Front (PLOTE) party who arrived in a van. Sivakumaran sustained minor injuries during the attack. During police investigations in connection to the incident Kanthar Thamotharampillai Linganathan, (candidate No 2) the Chief candidate of the PLOTE party rejected all allegations made against his party. The police confirmed this incident to the CMEV mobile team.

A voter was assaulted at Polling Station No.50, Karametiya Junior School Polling Station, Moneragala polling division, Moneragala District at around 3.15pm. The assault was reportedly carried out by a policeman on duty at the station. A CMEV field monitor stated that the assault had taken place due to a dispute between the policeman and the voter regarding the voter’s identification document.

A serious incident of assault was reported at Polling Station No. 48, B/Orubediwewa Central College, Mahiyangana Polling Division, Badulla District. At around 11.00 am, about 20 supporters of UPFA candidate Anura Ravindra Widanagamage (Preferential No. 6) had gone in a motorcade to D. M. Muthubanda’s (UNP Representative of Rideemaliyadda Pradeshiya Sabha) residence, and assaulted Mr. Muthubanda and his wife. Muthubanda was rushed to Mahiyangana Hospital and has received attention for his injuries in Ward No. 8 under police protection. Muthubanda has complained to the Mahiyangana Police Station. OIC Illangakoone confirmed that the incident had been reported to them. This incident was reported to CMEV by the Secretary to Luxman Seneviratne, UNP M.P, Badulla District. When CMEV contacted Anura Widanagamage regarding the incident, he denied his involvement.

Campaigning during polling hours

Leaflets of UPFA candidates S. H. Somapala (Preferential Candidate No. 11) and Sujeeva Jayasinghe, Attorney-at-Law (Preferential Candidate No. 21) were distributed in front of the Polling station No. 28, B/Yelverton Estate Tamil School, Hali-Ela Polling Division, Badulla District, at around 11.20 am. According CMEV field monitor E. J. P. Chandrakumari and six others were alleged to be responsible for distributing leaflets. The group was twice advised by the police to move away. The Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) was threatened by Chandrakumari, who was the UPFA polling agent this morning at the above Polling Station.

SLMC candidate A. S. Mohamed Sawaheer (Preferential Candidate No. 2) had come to Polling Station No. 48, B/Guruthalawa St. Thomas Vidyalaya, Welimada Polling Division, Badulla District, at around 10.30, in the vehicle No. 51-9305 decorated with his posters and talked to some of his supporters in front of the polling station. A CMEV field monitor had reported that this lasted for approximately half an hour.

Advertisements depicting ballot papers in favour of the UPFA candidate Hema Rathnayaka (preferential No. 24) were thrown in front of the polling station No. 35, B/Soragune Maha Vidyalaya, Haputale Polling Division, Badulla District, at around 10.20 a.m. according to CMEV field monitors.

Leaflets of UNP candidate Harin Fernando (Preferential Candidate No. 23) had been thrown in front of the entrance of the polling station No.28, B/Yelverton Estate Tamil School, Hali-Ela Polling Division, Badulla District, at around 11.40am. The CMEV field monitor, who was a witness to the incident, reported that the vehicle number could not be identified.

A group of supporters of the UPFA candidate Shashiendra Rajapaksa (Preferential No. 13) at Polling Station No. 74, Attamulla Junior School Polling Station, Moneragala Polling Division, Moneragala District, at around 12.25pm, were stamping the betel leaf symbol and Preferential No. 13 on the palms of the voters arriving at the Attamulla Junior School Polling Station according to CMEV monitor present at the time.

An incident of campaigning was reported by CMEV field monitors at Polling station No.60, Madugalla Maha Vidyalaya Polling Centre, Moneragala Polling Division, Moneragala District, at around 2.40pm, where the road near the main entrance of the polling station was marked with the JVP party symbol (bell) and the Preferential No. of UPFA Candidate Arachchige Wijitha Berugoda (Preferential Candidate No. 04).

Voter Transportation

At Polling Station No. 05, Kahagalla Tamil School, Haputale Polling Division, Badulla District, at around 10.30am, supporters of the UPFA candidate M. K. Vishvanathan (Preferential Candidate No. 17) had transported voters to the polling station in Jeep numbers LC-6260 and KI-7867. At this time, the above candidate had been inside the polling station reports a CMEV mobile monitor present at the time.

A CMEV mobile monitor reported an incident of voter transportation at Polling station No. 01, B/Haputale Tamil Central College (Hall No. 1), Haputale Polling Division, Badulla District, at around 11.00am. The supporters of the UPFA candidate M. K. Vishvanathan (Preferential Candidate No. 17) had transported voters to the polling station in the Van No. 62-1936.

A white van bearing the number HF 4952 and pasted with posters of the UPFA candidate Shashiendra Rajapaksa (Preferential No. 13) according to a CMEV field monitor had transported voters into Polling Station No.07, Kandaudapanguwa Maha Vidyalaya Polling Center, Moneragala Polling Division, Moneragala district, at around 12.25pm.

CMEV election monitors reported that at 11am a “Special Service” bus transporting voters to the polling station had the Preferential No. 22 (Party name unknown) depicted on the side of the vehicle near the Jaffna MC J/Colombuthurai Hindu Maha Vidyalaya – Hall No. 1 (Polling Station No. 22).

CMEV Monitors Refused Entry in to Polling Stations

At around 14.40pm, the CMEV mobile monitors were not allowed to go into the Polling Station for their monitoring activities by the SPO. A CMEV field monitor reported that at Polling station No. 58, Dikkendayaya Primary School, Mahiyangana Polling Division, Badulla District, the SPO disregarded the presentation of the Election Commissioner’s letter and refused entry to the CMEV monitors.

At Polling Station No. 43, Abayapura Kanishta Vidyalaya, Mahiyangana Polling Division, Badulla District, at around 3.25 pm, a CMEV field monitor reported that the CMEV mobile monitor was denied entry to the polling station for monitoring activities by the SPO. The monitor was removed from the Polling Station and his identification papers were disregarded.

At around 2.30pm, the Presiding Officer of the Polling Station refused entry to the CMEV field monitor despite producing the permission letter provided by the Election Commissioner. A CMEV field monitor reported that the incident occurred at Polling station No.93, Rathabala-Aragama Junior School Hambegamuwa Polling Station, Wellawaya Polling Division, Moneragala District.

At Polling station No.81, Moneragala polling division, Moneragala district, at around 12.00 noon, the Presiding Officer of the Polling Station refused entry to the CMEV mobile monitor to conduct monitoring activities despite producing the permission letter provided by the Election Commissioner. The incident was reported by a CMEV field monitor at the Nishshanka Central College, Badalkumbura (Hall No.1) Polling Station.

Voter Identification

An incident regarding identification for voters was reported by the CMEV station monitor, at around 10:30am, at Polling station No. 21, B/ Sri Rathanapala Kanishta Vidyalaya, Badulla Polling Division, Badulla District. Five to six voters who presented a valid Driving License as identification were denied their vote. Additionally, the G. N of that division has not issued any temporary Identity Cards to those who have a Driving License. Furthermore, the SPO claimed that the Driving License was not mentioned in the list of valid identification documents in his possession, even though it has been recognized as such by the Election Commissioner.

A further incident of voter identification was reported by a CMEV field monitor at Polling station No.26, Okkampitiya Maha Vidyalaya (Hall No.1) Polling Centre, Wellawaya Polling Division, at around 3.30pm, Moneragala district. 19 voters were prevented from casting their ballot for failing to produce valid identification.

Polling Station No. 50, B/Wewelhinna Vidyalaya, Hali-Ela Polling Division, Badulla District, at around 3.03 pm when about 60 people from the near-by estate came to the polling station with their estate Identity cards. These individuals were not allowed to vote by the SPO and their polling cards were collected by the SPO. This incident was reported to the CMEV field monitor who reported that the polling cards were destroyed by the SPO.

CMEV mobile monitor reported that 50-60 voters who attempted to vote at Jaffna MC Navanthurai St. Nicholas C.C. (Polling Station No. 41) 03.45pm with receipts for their ID card applications protested in front of the polling station. None of them were allowed to vote.

August 09, 2009

Jaffna, Vavuniya results show that govt. has long way to go in winning over Tamils

By: Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

I had serious reservations about the decision to hold local government elections in Jaffna and Vavuniya cities, within months of the LTTE being defeated and before the tragedy involving 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) was resolved. I considered these elections premature and expected them to produce results, which would not reflect the will of the majority of Tamils in these locations.

Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon with TNA MP Suresh Premachandra in Jaffna during the JMC election time.

[Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon of Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) with during the JMC electon time in TNA MP Suresh Premachandran in Jaffna]

Although touted as attempts to sow the seeds of democracy in the two main cities in the Northern Province , I was convinced the outcome will be both confounding and misleading. These elections were apparently held at the behest of one ex-militant group aligned with the government, which wanted to establish its grip on the Tamil polity as an alternative to the LTTE. The perceived need to appease international opinion may have also played a secondary role.

The results of these elections in Jaffna and Vavuniya are summarized below:

JETC0809.jpg

It is obvious almost 78 % of the Jaffna voters chose not to exercise their franchise and this naturally negates any attempt to portray these election results as democratic. Those who abstained were either dissatisfied with the political groupings contesting these elections, registering their protest at the lack of progress on the IDP and political solutions front or were yet not ready to participate in the elections, within months of the LTTE being defeated. The Tamils in the north and east are yet confused as to the their future in Sri Lanka, as the government has yet refrained from offering concrete and clearly defined alternatives to the vision peddled by the LTTE for almost thirty years. The Tamil political leaders who participated in these elections were also perceived as the left-over from the type of politics that had led the Tamils to their present plight. They are largely distrusted by the Tamils and generally viewed with disdain. In the absence of a new vision being presented to the Tamils within the context of present Sri Lankan realities by a new crop of Tamil leaders, unstained by a questionable past, most Tamil voters may have also decided to express their protest by not voting.

The UPFA coalition including the EPDP has not been able to convince a large number of Tamils in Jaffna city to vote, despite the efforts of Minister Douglas Devananda, over several years. The fact the groups opposed to the UPFA secured 52.4 % of the votes cast, indicates that even among those voting, a greater number were against the UPFA. The TNA having secured 35.9 % of the votes cast has demonstrated there are yet some Tamils who identify with the Tamil politics of old. This should be taken seriously by the government. The government should not prevaricate any longer in enunciating what its proposals are for the so-called Tamil problem.

The Vavuniya results have to be understood in terms of the fact that the area has a sizeable Sinhala and Muslim population. It appears that a large number of Tamils may have refrained from voting. The fact that the TNA and the PLOTE –led group have secured the largest segment of votes, with the UPFA coming third, points to the fact that a large number of Tamils who voted have backed either the TNA or the PLOTE-led group. The concerns of the Tamils in Vavuniya regarding the lack of clarity with regard to political solutions and the plight of the IDPs in their midst, may be contributing factors. These results once again point to the TNA yet remaining popular among the Tamils voting. Having been an LTTE- proxy seems to have not hurt the TNA fortunes in Vavuniya. This is unfortunate and may be a foreboding omen. The government has yet a long way to go in winning the hearts and minds of the Tamils in Vavuniya, the real capital of the Vanni region- the citadel of the LTTE.

The results of these elections only confirm the following facts:

* Recognize the Tamils have not yet recovered from the effects and after effects of the bitterly fought civil war.

* There is void in the Tamil mind after the defeat of the LTTE that has not been filled with an alternative vision.

* There is much to do to win the hearts and minds of the Tamils.

* It was premature to hold the elections.

* The need to present a clear and well conceived political solution to the Tamils in definitive terms.

* Provide time for an alternative leadership and vision to emerge among Tamils.

* Resolve the problems of the IDPs, as soon as possible.

* Provide the conditions for the Tamils to emerge from their misery and participate in national life.

Jaffna and Vavuniya poll results open new chapter in history of Tamil politics

by Dayan Jayatilleka

The history of Tamil politics is the history of a struggle between two tendencies. This was so well before Prabhakaran and continued during the Tamil Eelam wars in the form of the Tigers. The first elections after the defeat and military destruction of the LTTE reveals that Tamil politics remain dominated by the struggle between these two tendencies, but that the balance of strengths between these tendencies has changed, especially in the crucial town of Jaffna, the head and heart of Tamil politics.

Sri Lanka: Vavuniya Election by Keerthi Tennakoon

Vavuniya Election pic by Keerthi Tennakoon

While a municipal election does not usually qualify as historic, the elections to local authorities in Jaffna and Vavuniya certainly are. They are the first elections to be held in the centers of Tamil political life after the end of the Thirty Years War of secession with the conclusive defeat of the Tigers. While it is true that the percentage of voters who exercised their franchise was low, that is usually the case with elections held during a civil war or in the immediate aftermath of one, during the phase of pacification.

What is more important than the low poll is that the Commissioner of Elections certified that it was free and fair, and if a cynical eyebrow were to be raised at that verdict, the stark fact is that not a single act of lethal violence occurred during the election campaign or on polling day. This, taken together with the radical difference in the Jaffna and Vavuniya outcomes, confers considerable legitimacy on the process and the results.

Jaffna Election by Keerthi Tennakoon

[pic by Keerthi Tennakoon]

That the victor in Jaffna, the epi-centre of Tamil politics and consciousness, was Douglas Devananda and his party the EPDP, contesting under the UPFA umbrella, is yet another factor that makes the election of August 8th historic. For too long has the gunfire of the Tigers been heard as the voice of the Tamil people or confused for it. For too long have the slick lobbyists and raucous demonstrators of the Tamil Diaspora crowded the field of Tamil political representation. For too long have the puppets and proxies of the separatist terrorist Tigers, been marketed as the moderates that Colombo has to settle with. With their vote at the elections of August 8th 2009, the Jaffna people have breached the entrenched order of Tamil politics.

Though he was obviously not a candidate at these municipal elections, the Tamil people of Jaffna have opted for Douglas Devananda as their next leader. By doing so, the Jaffna voters have rejected the TNA which was the chorus line for the Tigers who took the Tamil people into successive wars which ended not merely without success but disastrously, with much damage, devastation and many reversals being suffered by the Tamil community as a whole. They have opted instead for a man who warned against these wars and opposed them, and whom Prabhakaran tried to kill eleven times.

Devananda is a moderate with a difference: a former armed militant who made the transition to democratic politics within a united Sri Lanka, following the Indo-Lanka Accord. He is a Tamil ex-militant who knows how to work the Sinhala system, having been closely associated with three Sri Lankan presidents: Premadasa, Kumaratunga and Rajapakse. He has done so with continuity of position and perspective. Devananda is a Tamil nationalist but not an ultranationalist. His is a constructive nationalism, which he impishly likens to “good cholesterol” in contradistinction to the LTTE’s and TNA’s “bad cholesterol”.

He is a bridge between the North and South. The Tamils need a man who can talk to the System, get it off their backs and secure that which is needed to regenerate as a people. The Sinhalese need a man they can talk to from among the Tamils, who isn’t nostalgic about the LTTE or going to work for their eventual resurgence; a man who will respect their desire for the preservation of the unitary character of the Sri Lankan state. Devananda is that man, committed to a united Sri Lanka, while trying to re-set both Tamil and Sri Lankan governing consciousness along the lines of a pragmatic consensus. While this makes him the natural and logical interlocutor for the Sri Lankan state and Sinhala society, that may not be self–evident to those who would paradoxically prefer the TNA as dialogue partner because then an open-ended political process of negotiations can take place with neither endgame nor roadmap/time table.

The TNA won in Vavuniya, the political center of gravity of the Wanni. The Jaffna and Vavuniya municipal election result opens a new chapter in the history of Tamil politics. Those politics have been dominated by three failed projects and two opposing tendencies. The three failed slogans are 50:50, federalism and Tamil Eelam. Variants of these are the con-federal draft constitution drawn up by a UK firm of lawyers in the late 1990s, the ISGA and PTOMS. The TNA is planning to stay within the same paradigm with its old-new slogan of “internal self-determination” which is unrealistic for a party that backed a separatist terrorist army which in turn has experienced a crushing defeat from which there can be no military recovery (going also by the Sri Lankan ‘shock and awe’ achievement of bringing KP home to justice).

While Tamil politics has experienced three failed projects and slogans within three historical periods, it has also witnessed a division into two broad tendencies. These are, on the one hand the bourgeois nationalist and petty bourgeois ultranationalist tendency, essentially pro-imperialist, represented by the FP, LTTE, TNA and the dominant line in the Tamil Diaspora, and on the other hand the progressive tendency represented by the Communists, Samasamajists and Maoists in Jaffna in the pre-Tamil Eelam period, and the EPRLF, PLOTE, NLFT and EPDP during the period of the Eelam struggle. Unlike the first, the second tendency, that of the progressives, was marked by two political motifs: a readiness to settle for regional autonomy within a united Sri Lanka, and a search for alliances with the progressives of the Sinhala South.

With less than a year to go for parliamentary elections, and with provincial elections in the North highly probable as international pressure mounts, the stakes for the Tamil people and the country as a whole are far too high for a united front of these Tamil progressives -- a Tamil Democratic United Front or Tamil Democratic People’s Front -- not to be formed almost immediately.

Such a regrouping would stand for a bloc with the progressive centrist/moderate nationalist forces in the South, countervailing the influence of ultranationalists of both ethnicities and offering Sri Lankan Tamils a hope of a better and different future.

(These are the strictly personal views of the writer)

Blow To Attempts To Form Neo-LTTE

by B. Raman

The post-Prabakaran attempts by some never-say-die sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora across the world to resurrect the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) suffered a blow on August 6, 2009, when the Malaysian security agencies handed over to their Sri Lankan counterparts Kumaran Pathmanathan (known as KP), whom they had reportedly picked up from a hotel a few hours earlier.

2. It was suspected by investigation and intelligence agencies for some years that KP was residing in Malaysia and operating clandestinely from there with the help of LTTE sympathisers in the local Tamil community-----of Sri Lankan as well as Indian origin. For nearly 20 years he was a great asset to Prabakaran and the LTTE not because of any special political acumen he had, but because of his ability to work clandestinely without attracting much public attention to himself.

3. He emerged as the alleged main brain behind the LTTE's vast arms procurement, gun running, arms piracy from ships in mid-sea, money-laundering and commercial shipping network. The LTTE would not have been able to develop its capability as a conventional fighting force to the extent it did but for his alleged clandestine work. In connection with this, he travelled frequently and extensively in South-East Asia, East Europe and South Africa. He kept way from West Europe (except Greece and Cyprus) and North America for fear of being caught by the local intelligence agencies, but from his base in Malaysia he allegedly guided the arms procurement and money-laundering networks in those areas too.

4. The fact that Prabakaran gave him a free hand in handling the cash flows from the shiping fleet, alleged narcotics smuggling and alleged extortions from the members of the Tamil diaspora and in negotiating the prices of the arms and in arranging the shipping schedules indicated the confidence he had in KP.

5. It used to be alleged that the Malaysian authorities avoided acting against him because of the support enjoyed by him in sections of the local Tamil community. His low profile and his ability to keep his mouth shut helped him in ensuring that the local security agencies would not act against him.

6. All this changed in January this year when Prabakaran appointed him as the in-charge of the international relations department of the LTTE. One does not know why Prabakaran chose him for this job. Outside Malaysia, KP had no political contact. He was not a well-known and well-respected figure in the international community of human rights organisations. He could not have travelled to the West without fear of being arrested. He was no Anton Balasingham. Nor was he a Thamilselvan. He was allegedly in some aspects a Sri Lankan Tamil version of Dawood Ibrahim. Dawood is a mafia leader. KP is not. But Dawood and KP allegedly had similar capabilities for gun running and money-laundering.

7. After his nomination to this post, the previously discreet and low-profile KP became increasingly high profile. He started interacting with journalists and non-governmental organisations from his safe sanctuary in South-East Asia. After the death of Prabakaran, he became the self-promoted head of a group of Sri Lankan Tamils in the diaspora, who tried to resurrect the LTTE as an organisation wedded to the same objective of an independent Tamil Eelam as was the organisation headed by Prabakaran, but advocating a non-violent movement to achieve this objective.

8. One does not know what real following he commanded in the diaspora and who were the people prepared to support him.However, one knows that there are elements in the diaspora who continue to hope that the LTTE will rise again like Phoenix and resume the march to the goal of an independent Eelam. Probably, some of them rallied round him.

9. The Sri Lankan Government was interested in getting him even before KP started this move for a neo-LTTE. The Sri Lankan agencies' campaign against the LTTE was not over with its defeat and the decimation of most of its leadership. A lot of work still remains to be done like identifying its supporters in the diaspora and its secret bank accounts abroad and getting them frozen, identifying the various arms smuggling channels exploited by it and determining how the LTTE succeeded in smuggling the clandestinely procured weaponry, including the aircraft, into Tamil territory without being detected by the intelligence agencies of different countries, including India and Sri Lanka.

10. There is a need for a total and painstaking reconstruction of how the LTTE operated abroad and how it was able to acquire the position it did. Such a reconstruction would not be possible without a thorough interrogation of KP. The Sri Lankan authorities, therefore, mounted a diplomatic drive for getting hold of KP. This drive was focused on South-East Asia. Their drive ultimately succeeded and the Malaysian authorities reportedly picked him up and handed him over to Sri Lanka.

11. His thorough interrogation would be necessary not only for finding out about the past, but also for finding out about the future plans of the die-hard elements in the diaspora.

12. The Government of India should be interested in interrogating him in connection with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May,1991, and the attempted gun-running by the LTTE from Pakistan in 1993 in an LTTE ship in which Kittu was travelling. When an Indian Coast Guard ship intercepted it, the crew set fire to the ship,which went down. Kittu and some others chose to go down with the ship. Some others tried to escape and were arrested. The full story of this incident of gun-running by the LTTE from Pakistan is not yet known. KP may also know about any arms procurement cell of the LTTE still present in South India, but dormant. [SAAG]

August 08, 2009

The Illegal Abduction of Selvarasa Pathmanathan in Malaysia

Full Text of Press Release by Committee for the formation of a Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam:

PTGTE0809.jpg

It is reported in the Sri Lankan and international media that Mr. Selvarasa Pathmanathan of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has been ‘arrested’ in Thailand and brought to Colombo, citing Sri Lankan officials. Mr. Pathmanathan has been leading the new politico‐diplomatic path of the LTTE in recent months.

The Government of Thailand, however, has denied that any such arrest has been made in the territory of Thailand. Furthermore, some media reports suggest that Mr. Pathmanathan has been abducted in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Based on information collected through various sources within the Tamil community, including sources close to the LTTE, we suspect that the ‘abduction’ has taken place at the Tune Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We further suspect that this was an illegal act carried out by the Sri Lankan Military Intelligence with the support of certain sections of the Malaysian defence or intelligence establishment.

Though Selvarasa Pathmanathan was on the Interpol wanted list, we strongly believe that any acts of abduction or “arrest” that involve international agencies and states should be done in accordance with international law and internal domestic procedure. Notably, Mr. Selvarasa Pathmanathan is entitled to the protection of Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture, which prohibits removal of a person to a country where it is more likely than not he would be tortured. In this case, the rule of law has once again been violated by international actors with respect to Tamils. The proper procedure would have been to secure the extradition of Mr. Pathmanathan if he had broken any law, rather than taking action outside the law and seizing a person in a manner that could be compared to those performed by bounty hunters, posses or even criminal gangs.

We wish to point out that Mr. Selvarasa Pathmanathan has been actively engaged in a process of political transformation of the LTTE, and was leading the Tamils’ struggle for self‐determination onto a new path – a struggle through politico‐diplomatic means. Even though he was facing tremendous challenges in his recent work, he continued with conviction and determination to keep the process moving toward a better political future for the Tamils of the island of Sri Lanka. We also wish to point out that he was supporting the process of building up a democratic leadership for the Tamil freedom struggle by endorsing the formation of Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam as a ‘bottom up’ democratic institution that will elect members through popular vote.

Those who have seized Mr. Pathmanathan in such a gangster‐like fashion are interested in hindering the political transformation process that has just commenced. The Tamil national project for the realization of the right to self determination of the Tamil people, however, does not depend on the skills and dedication of just one person and will continue through the service of innumerable committed individuals until its successful accomplishment.

On behalf of Tamil people all around the World, we request the Government of Malaysia to announce the details surrounding the abduction of Mr Pathmanathan, if he was indeed abducted with the help of Malaysian authorities.

If the Government of Malaysia does not have any information on the matter, we demand an inquiry into the whole episode.

If Mr. Pathmanathan has been brought to Colombo, as claimed by the Government of Sri Lanka, we call upon the international community to become involved in this matter in order to assure the safety and security of Mr. Pathmanathan according to international standards, and to facilitate access to legal representation.

We call attention to the fact that Sri Lanka is already holding over 300,000 Tamil civilians indefinitely in Nazi‐like concentration camps. We fear for their safety as much as we fear for the safety of Mr Pathmanathan and ask the international community to secure a speedy solution to the plight of the 300,000 civilians, as well as to ensure that Mr Pathmanathan receives the protection of all international norms.

Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran
Coordinator

Download PDF Version of Statement

‘Operation KP’: the dramatic capture and after

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Sri Lanka’s Cabinet spokesperson on defence affairs, Keheliya Rambukwella, announced at a special press conference on Friday that Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias “KP” was in military custody. He was arrested in an Asian country and flown to Colombo on the night of August 6. He was to be interrogated about the overseas operations of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Mr. Rambukwella stated.

KPTC0809.jpg

[The new LTTE chief, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, also known as KP, is seen seated in the foreground with (from left) Velupillai Prabakaran, Anton Balasingham and ‘Col.’ Sankar behind him]

The capture of the newly designated chief of the restructured LTTE has an air of mystery surrounding it. The man known as KP was at one time the organisation’s chief arms procurer, heading what was known in the movement as the “KP department.” [Full article ~ in The Hindu]

Upset in Sri Lanka post-war polls

Initial results from the first post-war elections in northern Sri Lanka show the governing party has taken Jaffna, the region's biggest city.

But it suffered a surprise defeat in Vavuniya, the other town where polling took place, where a group supportive of the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels won.

Ballots are still being counted in the southern province of Uva.

Turnout was low. Correspondents say people felt the vote took place too early, with thousands still displaced.

The local elections came a day after the defence ministry said it had arrested the new head of the Tamil Tigers, Selvarasa Pathmanathan.

Mr Pathmanathan was detained abroad and was being questioned in Sri Lanka, it added. The rebels have confirmed his arrest.

Low turnout

According to preliminary results, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's governing United People's Freedom Alliance, won control of Jaffna city council in Saturday's election, securing 13 of the 23 seats available.

Sri Lankans queue to vote in Vavuniya, 8 August 2009
Voting passed off largely peacefully in all three areas on Saturday

The Tamil National Alliance, a fractious but broadly pro-LTTE parliamentary grouping, came second with eight seats.

Turnout was only 20%. Monitors said one problem had been that many people did not receive voting cards, for reasons that are unclear. Refugees were also required to apply to vote.

But in Vavuniya, where turnout was 52%, the UPFA was pushed into third place, winning only two seats. The TNA came first with five of the 11 seats on the council, followed by a moderate Tamil grouping.

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says the result in Vavuniya will be seen as an upset.

For one thing, our correspondent says, the TNA had openly said it did not feel this was the right time for elections, with more than a quarter of a million Tamils still detained in nearby government camps and much of the north depopulated.

Map

And it was generally believed that the government would do well, having a broad coalition led in the north by a powerful and stridently anti-Tiger Tamil party, and having promised a "northern spring" of major development projects that would gradually return the region to normality, our correspondent adds.

As a result of its victory in the war, the government is expected to have done well in the Sinhalese-dominated southern province of Uva.

Voting passed off largely peacefully, although monitors reported scuffles, including one involving a government minister at a camp housing refugees from Jaffna who had been voting remotely.

However, our correspondent says there has not been much chance to scrutinise the conduct of the elections or the campaigns.

Just as it did from the war zone, the government once again kept independent journalists out of the north, and even election monitors said information was hard to come by, he adds. [courtesy: BBC.co.uk]

Video: "Wherever you are, come home to me"

Voting is underway in parts of northern Sri Lanka - areas once held by the Tamil Tiger rebels, until their defeat by the government in May.

But thousands who fled their homes during the fighting will not be able to cast their ballot because they are still living in government-run camps.

Al Jazeera's David Chater reports from Valaichenai:

August 07, 2009

Behind the Rajapaksa brothers' smiles

Sri Lanka’s government is wildly popular for its military victory. It should put this to more productive, less brutal, use

AFTER human excrement was dumped outside his house two years ago, M.A. Sumanthiran, a Sri Lankan human-rights lawyer, put up security cameras. He had won a ruling to stop the eviction of hundreds of Tamil migrants from Colombo and the enemies he made then have not gone away. In January, after Lasantha Wickrematunge, a journalist investigating high-level corruption and other abuses, was gunned down in Sri Lanka’s biggest city, Mr Sumanthiran hired bodyguards.

Now, he is in yet more trouble. Last month an article on the defence ministry’s website identified him and four other lawyers as “traitors in black coats”. Their crime was to be representing Mr Wickrematunge’s newspaper, the Sunday Leader, in a contempt-of-court case related to two libel suits filed by the defence secretary and president’s brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. The defence ministry’s article wrongly claimed that Mr Sumanthiran, a Tamil, was known for defending members of the Tamil Tigers, the rebel group routed by the army in May. Quoting unnamed lawyers, the article said it was traitorous and unethical to “oppose a national hero like the secretary of defence, with whose unwavering commitment and focus Sri Lanka is a free country today."

A big majority of Sri Lankans, including most of the main Sinhalese community, would probably agree with that. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a nationalist with the common touch, was popular before winning the war; he is now revered. Success against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has left the government in control of its territory for the first time in over two decades. And it has rid the island-nation of a daily threat of terrorism. That is a great boost to its flagging economy. As another fillip, on July 24th the IMF approved a $2.6 billion loan to Sri Lanka.

Better still, victory affords Mr Rajapaksa an historic opportunity to heal the ethnic divisions, between Sinhalese and the long-abused Tamil minority, that have blighted Sri Lanka and fuelled the Tigers’ struggle. But hopes that Mr Rajapaksa will seize this opportunity are ebbing, for two reasons. First, for Tamils and other dissidents, Sri Lanka is not free. The abuses that attended the army’s campaign included alleged state-sanctioned murders and abductions of suspected enemies and intimidation of journalists, lawyers and aid workers. They are greatly diminished, but they continue. And over 280,000 Tamils, former inhabitants of the Tigers’ fief, languish in internment camps.

Nor is the government hastening towards a long-promised political settlement with the Tamils, thousands of whom were killed, allegedly by army shelling, in the war’s last months. Mr Rajapaksa says he has put off that task until after he is re-elected president, probably next year.

The government has been castigated for its wartime brutality by Western governments, some of which tried unsuccessfully to launch a UN probe into war crimes alleged against both sides. It has used this criticism to rally supporters: an ugly Sinhalese nationalism permeates mainstream politics and media. Yet, understandably flushed with pride at a military success that many considered beyond it, the government also seems surprised by its critics. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said he understood why Western governments were critical: “they are jealous of us because they have not defeated terrorism as we have.”

One of three Rajapaksa brothers with ministerial status, Gotabhaya said criticism of the invective against Mr Sumanthiran and other lawyers on his ministry’s website amounted to an attack on “media freedom”. That was rich. A dozen journalists have been murdered under his brother’s government; over 30 are said to be in exile; in June the government announced its intention to reconvene a draconian press watchdog axed by its predecessor.

The interned Tamils are especially keen to see the government return to the rule of law. It had promised to release 80% by the end of the year. But with only 10,000 elderly detainees so far released, the target looks out of reach. In fact, the government gives plausible reasons for cooping up so many—that they must be screened for remnants of the odious LTTE, and their villages cleared of mines. Having ended such a costly war, it wants to give the LTTE, which retains cash and support among expatriate Tamils, no chance to recover. Nor, having been slammed for its alleged slaughter of Tamil civilians, should it hasten them home to minefields.

Yet the government’s perceived lack of concern for the misery of the displaced bodes ill for reconciliation. About a third of their children under the age of five are moderately or severely malnourished. It has placed controls around the camps; the International Committee of the Red Cross, a lone international humanitarian presence on the war’s last battlefield, was last month forbidden access to most internment camps and forced to close four offices in eastern Sri Lanka.

The east, which is ethnically mixed and was loosely controlled by the Tigers until 2007, is the government’s blueprint for post-conflict development. By recruiting a gang of LTTE defectors, and helping them win a flawed local election, it has given a Tamil face to its rule. But the expression of the east’s elected chief minister, a former LTTE child soldier called Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, is glum. He complains that the central government in Colombo has ceded almost no power to his provincial administration. In response, officials of the central government say that it alone can bring the economic development that is required, and they have a point. Under the guidance of another Rajapaksa brother, Basil, road-building is gathering pace in the east. Allegations of abuse by the security forces and their paramilitary proxies have greatly declined.

But the north, which is mostly Tamil, may be harder to quell. For a municipal election on August 8th in Jaffna, the north’s biggest city, the government has recruited a controversial Tamil leader, Douglas Devananda. He may win: his main opponents say they are afraid to hold rallies. By phone from Jaffna, which journalists are forbidden to visit during the election, a veteran Tamil opposition leader, V. Anandasangaree, alleges that intimidation by Mr Devananda’s men has made it impossible for his campaign team to hire vehicles. “It’s going to be a fraud,” he claims. “To be very frank, I am working without a car.” According to a poll released last week by the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a think-tank, 65% of respondents in Jaffna either said they identified with no party or refused to say which one it was.

This is not the political solution that Mr Rajapaksa promised. That was supposed to be based on implementing and extending a programme of regional devolution that has existed on the statute books for two decades, but not in fact. Mr Rajapaksa’s postponement of that promised settlement suggests he may have reconsidered it. So did the sacking last month of one of his loyal servants, Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Geneva, who warded off the threatened UN war-crimes probe in May. Mr Jayatilleka’s offence, he believes, was to have advocated regional devolution in a newspaper. “I thought I was operating within the bounds of government policy,” he laments. [courtesy: The Economist]

 

“Operation KP”: Extraordinary rendition of New Tiger Chief

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias “KP” a.k.a. Kumaran Pathmanathan is currently in the custody of Sri Lankan officials at a secret location. A team of terrorism investigators is interrogating the man who was designated last month as head of the re-structured Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Earlier Foreign secretary Palitha Kohona confirmed KP’s arrest to the “Daily Mirror”.Cabinet minister Keheliya Rambukwella did the same to “Rupavahini”. Presidential siblings Gotabhaya the defence secretary and Basil Rajapakse the presidential adviser also confirmed the arrest to BBC and “Hindustan Times” respectively. [Click here to read in full ~ on dbsjeyaraj.com]

August 06, 2009

MSF Ready to Help Fill Huge Gaps in Medical Services

by MSF Field News

Any health system would have difficulties responding to the needs of over 260,000 people who recently came out of a war zone. Facilities in the Sri Lankan camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) are overstretched. People sometimes wait days before they can see a doctor for treatment. At night, non-medical people decide who gets referred to a hospital and who doesn’t. Although the war has ended, suffering for Sri Lankans continues.

An MSF doctor treats a young patient inside the MSF hospital near Manik Farm, where hundreds of thousands of displaced people are living in government-run camps.

For the past three months, Ati* has been living in a camp in Manik Farm with her husband and three children. Two weeks ago, her five-year-old son had a fever and was barely responding. She carried him to the clinic in the camp at 5 a.m. and waited to see a doctor until 6 p.m. Like many others that day, she did not get to see a doctor and returned to her tent with her sick child and no treatment. She went back the next day and again failed to see a doctor after waiting for another 13 hours. It wasn’t until the third day that she finally managed to see a doctor who gave her some antibiotics.

300 patients a day

Even though medical services are gradually expanding in those camps with Ministry of Health clinics, and medical staff doing what they can in all the camps, the needs remain vast and facilities are overstretched. Some doctors are seeing 200 to 300 patients a day; there is little capacity to carry out tests or follow up with patients; and only the most urgent cases get transferred to hospitals outside the camps.

Maruthani,* a 24-year-old woman, arrived in Manik Farm at the end of May. She is badly disfigured from a bomb shell fragment that cut her lips, cheeks, and chin during the conflict. Her mouth is always open, and her tongue is badly affected; she can barely drink and cannot speak. She is in need of reconstructive surgery—something impossible to get inside the camp. When her wounds became infected, she went, in pain, to the clinic in the camp. There they were unable to do anything for her and she was not transferred to a hospital outside the camp because she was not considered to be an emergency case. She spends her days lying in the sand outside her tent, waiting for the day to pass.

Some emergency cases are referred by the Ministry of Health staff to the MSF hospital outside Manik Farm, where MSF medical teams are mostly treating patients for conflict-related trauma, respiratory tract infections and skin diseases. Problems come at night. “In many camps, if someone gets sick at night, they have to rely on the soldier at the camp gate to make the decision on whether they get referred to a hospital or not,” said Karline Kleijer, MSF emergency coordinator. “This works for those who are obviously ill, in convulsions, or with a bleeding wound. But when it is a dehydrated child with a fever, the average soldier will not see that they are in urgent need of medical attention because they are not easy things to diagnose.”

Breakfast at night

Another concern for those in the camps is access to clean water and food. In most camps, people do not cook for themselves but rely on community kitchens and rations distributed daily by the government or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). “Sometimes, especially in the newer camps, the food doesn’t get delivered until late in the evening and the first meal of the day is at 10 o’clock at night,” said an MSF aid worker. Every day, MSF distributes high-energy porridge to 23,000 children under five, pregnant and lactating women, and people over 60 in 11 of the camps. “It is difficult for our staff to turn people away when they do not fit into our target group,” she said.

Outside of the camps, hundreds of people are still hospitalized, receiving treatment for injuries they incurred during the conflict. Working with Ministry of Health staff in Pompaimadhu hospital, MSF is treating 180 patients with spinal cord injuries, fractures that did not heal, and infected wounds. The MSF surgeon does an average of 16 to 20 surgeries a week and physiotherapy is a big component of the program. “To see someone walk again thanks to the physiotherapy is amazing,” said MSF surgeon Tim Pruchnic.

Sri Lanka 2009 © Anne Yzebe/MSF
MSF medical staff examines a baby at the MSF hospital near Manik Farm.

Traumatized with no support

Traumatized by what they experienced during the conflict, many of the patients in hospital are struggling to cope with their grief and worry about their future and the fate of their loved ones. “A young mother admitted to Pompaimadhu hospital has lost her husband, her parents, her sister, her sister’s husband and children,” said an MSF worker. “She is alone now in the hospital, recovering from her injuries; she is the sole survivor of her family and she is pregnant. She feels very lonely and is still in shock. It has only been two-and-a-half months since she lost everything and everyone. She worries about how she will cope as a single mother. As long as she stays in Pompaimadhu, she can get help, but when she is discharged to the camps she will no longer get any support.”

In the camps, people are dealing with the trauma they experienced during the conflict, and it is difficult to rebuild any semblance of a normal life. There are very few job opportunities inside the camps. People are not allowed to leave the camps, and parents worry about their children’s education. People have difficulties searching for relatives, making plans, or taking control of their futures. With nowhere to go, there is little to do other than walk from one distribution to another. The uncertainty of how long they have to remain in the camps is difficult to live with. Therefore, there is a huge need for psychological support for people living in the camps and currently none is provided.

MSF ready to start

In addition to the high-energy porridge the MSF teams cook and distribute in the camps, MSF has the capacity to scale up activities and provide medical support to the Ministry of Health staff inside the camps. “We have two whiteboards in our office,” said Kleijer, the MSF emergency coordinator. “One with a list of planned activities for the coming weeks—supplementary feeding, surgery, etc. And another is a list of activities waiting for approval, including mental health, basic health care, and physiotherapy in the camps. We are ready to start!”

MSF continues to pursue discussions with the authorities in Colombo.

*Name has been changed

Sri Lanka 2009 © Anne Yzebe/MSF
MSF medical staff examines a baby at the MSF hospital near Manik Farm.

New Tiger Chief “KP” arrested and brought to Sri Lanka

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Selvarasah Pathmanathan alias “KP” a.k.a Kumaran Pathmanathan was arrested by the Police in Thailand on Wednesday August 5th and brought to Sri Lanka on Thursday August 6th.

KP in his capacity as General-Secretary of the re- structured Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was the virtual global tiger chief.

According to informed sources KP was arrested by the Thai Police at a house in the suburbs of Bangkok after nightfall on August 5th. [click here to read in full ~ in dbsjeyaraj.com]

August 05, 2009

Media banned from covering local elections in two northern cities

by Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the Sri Lanka government’s decision on 3 August not to allow journalists into the northern cities of Vavuniya and Jaffna to cover the first local elections to be held since the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels earlier this year. All outsiders are being denied entry for “security” reasons.

“It is unacceptable that the government should impose such a ban on nothing more than the vaguest security grounds,” Reporters Without Borders said. “As well as violating the population’s fundamental rights by preventing them from circulating freely, this measure dashes any hope of a transparent election.”

The press freedom organisation added: “The government continues to violate press freedom while journalists are attacked with complete impunity, and both local and foreign newspapers are often censored. Death threats are made against local newspapers such as Uthayan and journalists continue to be killed and to disappear, but few investigations are launched and hardly any are successful. Sri Lankan journalists cannot go on working in such intolerable circumstances.”

Vavuniya and Jaffna, the cities were local elections are to be held on 8 August, have a Tamil majority and are near the areas formerly held by the Tamil rebels. No one is now allowed into the cities without permission from the defence ministry.

Lakshman Hulugalle, the head of the government’s security information centre, said journalists would not be able to visit the two cities and would have to rely on the information provided by the government.

Time to stand up against state terror and militarisation of society

by Kusal Perera

“Irom Sharmila” a young ordinary woman from Manipur came to my ambit of reading while I was in the company of a pioneering social activist from India, who has very many contacts in the troubled Indian North - East provinces. She is still in an unending fast, moving into its 09th consecutive year, demanding that the Indian State remove the “Armed Forces Special Provisions Act” (AFSPA) enforced in her homeland. It was curious to hear of a person who could go on fasting for that long. She had been arrested and is being force fed through a nasal tube, by the Indian armed forces in Manipur, from the first days she started her fast. Each time she is released from detention, she continues with her fast and with her demand for repeal of the AFSPA from Manipur. Now Irom Sharmila is in prison, force fed and waiting to be tried for attempted murder of herself.

AMTC0805.jpg

Front page of Ahmedabad Mirror July 29, 2009-pic: vaghelabd

While she is no doubt an iconic power of social motivation in Manipur, while the Indian media drags its feet in highlighting her struggle for freedom and democracy, Irom Sharmila’s struggle manifests the present trend in South Asia of how brutal and maneuvering the States could be in suppressing democratic rights.

The AFSPA against which Irom Sharmila is fasting provides extra ordinary powers for Indian armed forces and para-military forces to “shoot to kill” if they feel it is necessary to do so, in the name of law and order. The Indian State believes it has every right to do so, in eliminating Maoist guerilla groups fighting in most under developed and over corrupt N-E State provinces. These struggles have now come to be talked of as “insurgency” and “terrorism”.

The most recent “Rajnandgaon massacre” of 29 policemen with their District Superintendent of Police, was projected in such language in the Indian media. So was those in Chhattisgarh, Jarkhand, Nandigram, Lalgarh and most other Maoist armed activities that were rolled out as local “terrorism” by the State and the Indian media.

The fact remains, from the perspective of States in how “terrorism” could be addressed, there is presently no different categories of armed struggles and armed liberation struggles accepted any more. There can not be armed liberation movements in this post 9/11 period, like the Mao’s guerillas in pre 1948 China and Fidel’s guerillas in pre 1958 Cuba. Perhaps the last of such liberation armed cadres were the African National Congress “terrorists” of Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

Today, all armed groups that take up arms in defiance of State terror and the lack of space for democratic struggle, fall under the general and vague definition of “terrorists like Al-Qaeda”. Therefore all armed groups in South Asia are broadly treated as “terrorist” groups that undertake attacks running across borders like the Mumbai 26/11 LeT militants, Jammu and Kashmir armed Islamic militants, the Afghan and Pakistani Talibans, the Myanmari Rohingya militants in Bangladesh and the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers, to think of a few.

All these cross border trafficking of armed conflicts, have provided governments the excuse to militarise States, in the name of “National Security”. Nationalism in this part of the world, could be easily marketed without much questioning. The issue of the “Nation State” is packed with high emotions or could be easily hyped by the majority as “patriotism”. Therefore the media goes hoarse “24x7” questioning governments why they don’t take steps in the name of “National Security”. Media coverage of attacks by terrorist outfits from across borders and with “across border” implications in local “terrorism”, has drawn public interest in curbing “terrorism ” through stronger military means in the name of “saving the nation”.

It was the New York 9/11 terrorist attack that left a human tragedy, with the Bush call for a “global war against terrorism”, that gave all governments this unchallenged legitimacy to eliminate “terrorism” through military means at any cost. The post 9/11 period thus brought about a new culture in “intelligence” gathering that has neither morals nor ethics. It has no legal bindings too. All “Intelligence” agencies now have the privacy and the right to go beyond any foreign policy limitations, to work covertly with any country in collating intelligence on “terrorism”. The mechanisms of “intelligence” gathering have thus become very strong, brutal and an unquestioned, specialised “arms” of repressive States. This in fact was part of the Indian share in fighting the war against Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

It is within this “coming together” of all neighboring States and the international community against “terrorism” that the Sri Lankan war against Tamil Tigers have to be seen. All of them were very apparent and operative in the Sri Lankan war against Tamil Tigers, waged on the same arguments and acceptance on “Global war against terrorism”.

First, the international community at no point, wanted the “war against terrorists” stopped. The LTTE was banned or restricted as a “terrorist organization” in all those major countries. Yes, they nevertheless had a “conscience” issue with heavy “civilian casualties”, being stoic defenders of human rights in the pre 9/11 period. That did not deter them from restricting themselves to statements on and visits to judge the civilian situation. The war continued unabated, until it was declared won by the Rajapaksa regime, with over 300,000 civilians left destitute in barbed wire internment camps and over another 12,000 civilians killed during the last phase of the war. The injured, the maimed, the parentless and the spouseless due to war, going without a count so far.

The role of the other unorthodox international players like China, Russia, Iran and Libya along with the less talked of Israel are now in the open and always easily explained by them as helping another in trouble, whilst the conflicts are not theirs to bother. As for Pakistan and India, they have been competitive in helping the Sri Lankan regime with the war and been settling into demarcated areas of support.

With the war over and the Tamil Tigers accepted as eliminated, including its once elusive and deified leader Prabhakaran, the neighboring governments and States around have plenty to learn from the now projected “success story” from Sri Lanka. Governments of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, all have “terrorist” problems to take a cue or two from this Sri Lankan war won.

The Sri Lankan conflict taken again as a case in point shows that it did not begin with the armed groups that left the LTTE as the most ruthless of all and will not end with the defeat of that LTTE. It is a political conflict that is based on the right of the Tamil people to be part of the national political process in decision making as equals. It is therefore a question of sharing political power and the conflict would continue as long as that political issue remains unsolved.

Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, this struggle for “power sharing” was planted in the present context of “global war against terrorism” and militarization of societies against “terrorism” that totally refused a political answer. The Sri Lankan conflict was thus redefined by the dominant Sinhala majority as one that had to be fought against Tamil “separatism“ to save the country in its “Unitary“ form. Projected as one that challenged the sovereignty of the “nation” State, the international community and regional neighbours accepted it that way to go on with their own militarization programme(s).

What nevertheless should be focused on, is the after effect of this war against global terror” unleashed against Tamil Tigers on the Sri Lankan soil. The Sri Lankan experience though a success story for governments and States to replicate with much military fervor, nevertheless militarised the whole society with no chances of return to normalcy. All democratic life, not only in the North - East of Sri Lanka but in all other parts as well, has been simply flattened in the name of eliminating “Tamil separatist terrorism”.

The media was the first bleeding victim of this State terror. Through out the war, the defense establishment took upon itself the right to decide what should be told to the people and with what amount of “doctored” info. The difference there was between State controlled media and the privately owned media was thrashed into a monologue of State designed campaign for war and against all who wanted to dissent. The result is not only a long list of abductions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, disappearances and extra judicial killings, but also a media that now lives a controlled and coerced life under a State appointed Press Council, after the war was declared over. The snooze left on free media, on right for information and freedom of expression had come to stay.

With that harsh crack down on the media and with all social dissent and dialogue wiped out, a war machinery was established under the political regime that allowed for para military groups to work in tandem with the State security forces. New unidentified groups were let loose with unrestricted freedom of mobility in a heavily fortified society. Impunity was the order of the day with no investigations into abductions, threats, killings, disappearances seeing positive conclusions and indictments where necessary.

Political decisions became the right of the military establishment headed by the Defense Secretary and the Executive head. The cabinet of ministers and the parliament was thus turned into a “rubber stamp” to give a legitimate façade to all decisions ruling party politicians were expected to defend. The new politico - military regime decided the day to day life of the society. Except for the extension of the Emergency Regulations that had to be done through parliament, all other decisions related to “national security” came to be the power domain of the defense establishment.

This politico-military mechanism which used all overt and covert repressive measures, saw to it that no “opposition” to the warring regime was emerging on any agitational platform. Thus even in the South, no workers’ or student protests were allowed to mobilise a social presence either as a dialogue or on open streets. This turned into a regime that used the slogan of “eliminating terrorism” to not only fight a war with the LTTE, but to eliminate all democratic forms of social life in every part of the country.

In every sense of dictatorial rule, the “war against terrorism” in Sri Lanka has eventually established a politico-military regime that has come to stay, with international and regional support and funds. The most unfortunate fact is that it is the colossal human damage - 300,000 plus IDP’s interned behind barbed wire, wounded thousands packed in under served hospitals, lands infested with mines, devastation to infrastructure - with which Sri Lanka has to live with in the post war era that also generates financial support for the present regime.

Immediately after the war was declared over, India pledged INR 500 Crores for rehabilitation and the US $ 1.9 billion loan from the IMF that was said to be stuck, came increased to $ 2.6 billion. EU and Japanese assistance are also in the pipeline and who knows what and how much more next ?

Is there a lesson to learn from this SL conflict ? What would the people, the society that needs social and political stability with democracy, freedom and respect for human rights, learn from this conflict ?

The most important lesson to learn is that, this “war against terrorism” is one that leads to total suppression of the society with the consent of the larger majority in society, who would also loose its democratic life in the process. That it paves the way for a very repressive regime with a political cabal at its head that would use all the ideological and military power to drain off democracy and the economy too. Also that there would not be an organized civil society left to lead a break from the tyranny that usurps all socio political power with a legitimate face in governance that provides only a procedural form of democracy.

The next important lesson is that finding political answers to socio-political conflicts can not be outsourced to armed “liberation” groups. In their rigidly regimented structured life, trained to suspect every one outside the organisation, they would never understand what democratic life is. Their “liberation” would only mean a transfer of power to an organic ethno-religious armed organisation in captured land that would also run a totalitarian regime.

It was true in the past in China and true in Cuba and Kampuchea too. It would certainly have been equally and savagely true, if the LTTE came to rule the Tamil homeland. This would also hold true to Jammu and Kashmir, to Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram and all other conflict ridden States and areas in India that have come under severe repression and legal restrictions over the past years. This was proved the same in the SWAT valley when the Taliban took over rule there.

Therefore time has come for the people and their civil organisations to take on both the oppressive State that would want to militarise the society in the name of “national security” and the armed groups who talk of “liberation” but would resort to the most brutal anti-democratic means in fighting the State. Together they work towards undermining democracy in society, violating human rights and dismantling social structures, irrespective of who gains control of the land under conflict.

Time has thus come for all human rights and civil society forums to push through an agenda for democracy and respect of human rights and accordingly challenge both the State and armed groups for contributing to the single oppressive factor of militarising society.

In a single line, its time to stand up for a democratic South Asian region against all forms of militarization that cross national borders, as State intelligence, professional military expertise and as armed militancy, never mind the label attached to them. All of them contribute to the same evil of robbing the people of their democratic right to rule themselves.

Sangaree protests to Mahinda about arrest of Kilinochchi G.A.

Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) President Veerasingham Anandasangaree has strongly protested over the arrest,detention and interrogation of Kilinochchi Government Agent Mr. Nagalingam Vethanayagan.

Mr. Anandasangaree has sent a letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa urging him to release the GA immediately and adopt dignified methods to get information from respected public servants who worked in LTTE controlled areas amidst tremendous danger and hardship.

Jaffna Election Campain by Keerthi Tennakoon

[pic by: Keerthi Tennakoon]

The text of the letter is as follows:

I am really shocked and surprised at the news of the arrest of Mr. Nagalingam Vethanayagan Government Agent of Kilinochchi. Mr. Vethanayagan although not known to me very closely, had a very good reputation when he served as Divisional Secretary at various stations within the Jaffna District. He was a duty conscious officer and very hard working.

I wish to draw your attention to the shabby treatment given to public servants who served in LTTE held areas. Not a single public servant served in Kilinochchi or Mullaitheevu on his choice. I know of several officers who got at very high influential people and got their transfers cancelled. Many who failed to get their transfers cancelled or vacated post and some such persons left the country for good. The public servant who served in these areas had free access to their head offices and homes. It is now shocking to see these officers arrested like criminals and detained.

I am still not convinced of the treatment given to the three Doctors who saved the lives of thousands of IDP persons in Mullivaikal. The situation faced by the public servants working in LTTE held areas was exactly similar to the one they are facing in this Government. Every one had to dance to the tune of the LTTE. What action did the Government take when a public officer on transfer orders to Mullaitheevu or Kilinochchi protested against the posting in LTTE held areas. The Government did not help them.

Your Excellency please accept my advice and stop saying that they are arrested and detained because what ever wrong they did, if any, were done on the orders of the LTTE and out of fear. They cannot be held responsible for even any crime committed on the orders of the LTTE. I have no objection to the Government taking any one to clarify facts or to get some information but not as a criminal. At this rate the Government will soon lose its credibility.

Hence please release the Government Agent Mr. Vethanayagan and summon him to get any information. Let no one feel that public servants in Vanni are treated as LTTE suspects or criminals. Please don’t cause panic to an officer who is very capable and could be used for good work for many more years, to serve the people.

August 04, 2009

Sri Lankan government launches “war on the underworld”

By Sarath Kumara

The increasingly militaristic character of the Sri Lankan government has been underscored by its declaration of a “war on the underworld”. As stated by President Mahinda Rajapakse, the aim is to build a morally clean, disciplined and law-abiding society. The real purpose is to divert growing popular discontent and to justify the further strengthening of the state apparatus in preparation for social unrest.

At a meeting in Badulla on July 24, Rajapakse said: “We must have a society that is disciplined and respects our motherland.... When we want to stop [illicit] alcohol, we cannot think about votes. When we want to crush the underworld, we cannot think about votes.”

For more than three years, Rajapakse has used the communal war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to suppress opposition to declining living standards in the name of “national security” and “defence of the motherland”. Now that the army has militarily defeated the LTTE, Rajapakse is resorting to right-wing “law and order” demagogy for the same purpose.

Inspector General of Police (IGP) Jayantha Wickramaratne told the media that he had been directed by President Rajapakse and his brother, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, to launch a “four-pronged operation” to tackle the underworld. The targets would be organised crime, day-to-day unorganised crime, illicit liquor and narcotics and traffic breaches.

Military intelligence will be involved, along with the Special Task Force (STF)—heavily armed police commando units, primarily used in the war against the LTTE. According to media reports, some 300 STF personnel have been assigned to the crackdown. A number of special police teams have been formed as part of this war on crime.

Ominously, Wickramaratne also revealed that Rajapakse had instructed him to use the “same resources” as used against the LTTE to “deal with crime”. In the past three years, the pro-government death squads and paramilitaries, operating with the tacit approval of the security forces, have been responsible for hundreds of murders and abductions of Tamils, opposition politicians and journalists.

Highlighting the army’s involvement in this “war on underworld”, the newly-appointed chief of defence staff, General Sarath Fonseka, told the Lakbima News: “We took just two and a half years to finish the war [on the LTTE] and it won’t take us long to rid the country of the underworld. As of now, military intelligence is assisting the police.”

In the first three weeks of July, five alleged underworld gang leaders were abducted and killed. The Colombo-based Sunday Times reported on July 26 that the murders were the work of a group of persons simply known as the “unit”. While little information is available, the killings are widely regarded to be the work of the law enforcement agencies.

These killings are not the first. Over the past three years, a number of alleged criminals have died in police custody. The Sunday Times accused police of “dispensing shotgun justice” and playing the roles of “judge, jury and executioner”. The article noted that the story was virtually identical in each case: “Suspects turn on the police when they are escorted to identify weapons, narcotics and contraband. The suspect attempts to break free by lobbing a grenade at the police and is consequently shot dead.”

Chitral Perera, secretary of the human rights organisation Jana Sansadaya, told the newspaper that such killings are treated as “justifiable homicide” and warned it was “a dangerous trend that could put innocent people’s lives in danger”. He insisted that a suspect should be regarded as innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Police spokesman Ranjith Gunasekara claimed the police had acted in self-defence, saying the suspects were “armed and extremely dangerous” and would do anything when cornered. Gunasekara did not explain, however, why suspects acted the way they did knowing the police would kill them or why the shootings all followed the same pattern.

Official statistics do show rising crime rates, with 28,257 incidents, including homicide, abduction, rape, extortion and drug-related offences in the first six months of last year. The government, however, is attempting to portray the rise in crime as an individual moral question to deflect attention from the social impact of rising levels of poverty compounded by 26 years of civil war.

Over the past three decades, successive governments have implemented a pro-market agenda and slashed social spending, including on the country’s limited welfare measures. Unemployment and poverty have created a fertile recruitment ground for organised crime gangs, along with an estimated 65,000 army deserters with training and expertise in handling weapons.

There is also a symbiotic relationship between criminal gangs and politicians. Gang leaders need political protection and in return, carry out the dirty work for their patrons in dealing with opponents. Lakbimanews on July 19 noted that “Kudu Lal [drug Lal] has enough political clout and is a close associate of a minister—making dealing with him a difficult prospect, according to police”.

Sections of the media have backed Rajapakse’s “war on the underworld”, well aware that its prime motive is not the elimination of crime or criminals. An editorial in the right-wing Island on July 11 declared: “What is needed is not an occasional ad hoc foray into the underworld for a target killing but a sustained effort to wipe out all criminal gangs. Killing criminals here and there is not going to solve the problem of crime and drugs. An all-out war is called for! Whereabouts of all criminals in this country are fairly well known and rounding them up must be child’s play for a government which bagged an elusive [LTTE leader] Prabhakaran in a relatively short time.”

The incessant use of the language of war by the government and the media is to provide the pretext for the increasing use of the security forces in every aspect of life. Far from demobilising sections of the army following the LTTE’s defeat, the government is expanding recruitment not only to strengthen the military occupation of the North and East, but for use against the working class.

While announcing a “war on crime”, President Rajapakse has also declared another war—an “economic war” to “build the nation”. The Sri Lankan economy, already burdened by huge military spending, has been hard hit by the global economic recession. To avert a foreign exchange crisis, the government was compelled to seek a large IMF loan, which has just been granted. The attached austerity measures make clear that Rajapakse’s “economic war” is directed at imposing the economic burdens on working people and suppressing any social unrest.

The “war on the underworld” serves to justify the continuing use of police-state measures, which will be inevitably turned on workers and the rural poor as they seek to oppose the continual erosion of their living standards. [courtesy: wsws]

Former LTTE Child Combatants:The long road home

By Uditha Jayasinghe

Long winding roads are known to lead to unusual places and the one we travelled on was no different. As the buildings of the Ambepussa Rehabilitation Centre came into view, wrapped around a picturesque scene of green hued mountains snugly nestled under dark clouds threatening imminent rain, it was obvious that our journey had just begun.

At first glance the place seemed rather normal but a troupe holding cameras and lights brushed past us as we made our way to the office of Major B.H. Fernando who is in-charge of the 111 former child cadres here, telling us clearly that this was no ordinary rehabilitation centre and the inhabitants a far cry from average children. The Ambepussa rehabilitation centre has become a veritable media cynosure since its opening on March 1, 2008 with national and international media flocking to interview and film the ex-LTTE combatants to the point that the children are now used to literally living in the limelight. Freed from their lessons they were more than happy to talk and pose for photographs, recalling their battlefield experiences readily.

A tale of war and woe

“I had chickenpox and my family hid me. But the LTTE managed to find me and recruited me to fight even though I was still sick. I was captured in Puthumathlan after being shot in the stomach and sent here from the hospital after a few days,” said Dharshika who still has scars of her disease, a surface manifestation of deeper blemishes beyond sight. At just 14 she has seen and endured more than most of us would in a lifetime. Now after several months at the rehabilitation centre she is confident to speak with the strangers who arrive almost on a daily basis. Having fallen in love with dance she notes that it is her best loved subject and wants to become a teacher someday. She talks animatedly with the other children and gives more details to Dharshani who in turn translates the replies to English. Well used to interviews she runs through the usual gamut of questions without hesitation and gives me all the information before I can even formulate the questions.

A girl learns tailoring as part of her rehabilitation

In contrast to Dharshika, Dharshani is one of the oldest people at the centre, not to mention among the best educated. A training school qualified English teacher it is surprising to hear that she was a suicide cardre just a few months ago. Slightly built she looks younger than 28 but something about her eyes hints at a strong character that is evidenced when she calmly recalls her story. “I was born in Jaffna and I became an English teacher after successfully attending teacher training college. However, a few years after I started to teach, the LTTE passed a law saying that one person from each family must join their cause. I have a younger brother and sister. I didn’t want their lives wasted. So I went and joined instead to protect them,” she recounted with a far away look in her eyes.

“I surrendered in Pooneryn. Two suicide cardres who were with me died and three others committed suicide. I was the only one who rationalised that the army would not kill me if I surrendered. We were always told that if we gave ourselves up we would be raped or killed but that did not happen to me. I was then sent here.” Taking up the story from her, Major Fernando mentioned how her presence has assisted in the rehabilitation of the other children. “She teaches English to the other children while being rehabilitated herself. She’s a great asset to this place because she helps us communicate effectively with the other children and they look up to her a role model. She has proved to them that it is possible to turn life around and think of a future despite the trauma they have experienced.

Relatives of the girls who she served with came to the centre a few weeks ago to find out what happened to the others and she told them that they had all died.” When asked what she wanted to do Dharshani’s request from life was simple, “I want to return to my family and go back to teaching. I just want a normal life.”

Tracing families

That sentiment was echoed around me. Regardless of being in their mid-teens many of the children looked much younger and each had a remarkable tale to tell. A Sinhala boy and girl were a surprise find among them. Seventeen year old Kamal is from Negombo and readily began his tale almost before the introductions were complete. “I was living with my uncle in Killinochchi when I was abducted by the LTTE and after several months was captured by the army,” he remembered with calm. Major Fernando related how his parents had separated when Kamal was seven and relatives had sent him to live with the uncle in Kilinochchi due to a gruesome attempted murder of his mother by the father, which made the relatives fear for the boy’s life.

“He was a bit of a problem for us because we could not trace his family until recently. The uncle is living in a camp for Internally Displaced People (IDP) in Vavuniya and so could not visit him. We don’t know how to contact his mother, who we believe is living somewhere in Mannar and his father has remarried and is not interested in this child. Then a few weeks ago his aunt (mother’s elder sister) visited and agreed to adopt him after he completes his rehabilitation process.” Eavesdropping on the conversation Kamal was quick to record his approval of this plan. “I was the only one not getting any calls from family members. All the others were. But now I do too,” he beamed blissfully only too keen to return to his disrupted childhood.

Many of the other children have managed to establish contact with their families and UNICEF, who are partnering with the government on the rehabilitation project have been instrumental in this regard. The Red Cross is also involved in providing Rs.4000 to impoverished parents who are allowed to visit the children once a month. They are provided accommodation and food free of charge at the centre. Communication is encouraged with the parents allowed to call, send letters and parcels whenever they can. However the uncertainty of how these families can rebuild their lives in time to accept these children once they complete their rehabilitation next March remains to be seen. It is evident from the enthusiasm that the girls at least wish to return home as early as possible. Among the 60 boys and 51 girls only four are without parents according to Major Fernando heightening the need for reunification with families to complete the long road to normalcy.

“I want my mother-amma. I want to go back home,” was all Vijitha a former frontline fighter had to say when questioned about her future. A home to call their own was the wish irrespective of age. Do you have any friends here? I questioned and was rather taken aback to hear the reply to my misinterpreted query from her older friend. “Even though there are boys here we don’t want to get into anything. When they are inside they are good but who knows what they are really like. I am going to wait until we go home and see what they are like and then decide whether I want to get married,” was the impressively sage comment that showed the natural intelligence and perception they had been blessed with.

Young Tamil rebels stand guard at a Tamil Tiger held area near Batticaloa, eastern Sri Lanka, in this July 15, 2002. File photo

Regaining childhood

Old beyond their years but lacking common educational skills the centre aims to harness talent through vocational training courses that are expected to stand them in good stead once they step into the real world. In addition to electrical, plumbing, aluminum work, arc welding, driving and tailoring courses the centre also offers language and computer training. Even though many of the children have been taught Sinhala and English for close onto a year few could articulate beyond the basics. Disturbing as that fact was their dedication cannot be questioned and many children particularly the ones who were initially sent by the TMVP at the start of the centre had received secondary school education up to a respectable point with many being Ordinary Level or even Advanced Level qualified. However many of the later arrivals had missed out on these opportunities.

The latest contingent of around 20 children that came after the fall of Puthumathlan are under 18 years of age and authorities hope to commence the same syllabus that is being followed in national schools for these children as well. “We are expecting to start from Grade 7 onwards so that even after these children leave they can resume their studies in schools near their homes with the least amount of disruption,” stated Major Fernando pointing out several colourful costumes that were being donned by some of the boys for a performance that was to be recorded for a prominent TV station that had arrived along with us. “These were donated by the Peradeniya University as part of a dance therapy course that was conducted by students.”

His observation broached the subject of counseling. The Major explained that though some of the children struggled to cope during the first few months of arriving they adapted fast and none had needed long-term psychological treatment. “We are working closely with the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) and they regularly send down counselors to assess the psychological wellbeing of the children and monitor their progress.” Weekly sessions of art and dance are held to reduce occasional fits and recurring nightmares and it was obvious that the children loved the chance to perform. Tables and chairs were pushed to a corner, cameras set up, cables hitched to lights and music tested for the show of a lifetime. Plenty of others gathered around the hall to cheer the welcome break from the humdrum daily routine.

“Normally they wake up at 5.30 in the morning, have their bed tea before meeting for assembly at 7.30am. At this point they raise the national flag and sing the anthem; this ritual is followed by a short motivational speech by a youth who is appointed as leader for the day followed by exercise drills and chores. Everything at the centre is maintained by them. Breakfast is at 8.15am and from 9am to 2pm they attend to their studies. After lunch they are taught other subjects such as English and are released at six for play. They are good at most of the games including volleyball, cricket and badminton. Dinnertime is 7.30pm and they can watch TV or do their homework till lights out at 10pm.” Studies are only four days of the week and since each of the vocational training courses are three months long many have the chance to do several and gain extra skill sets.

Major Fernando insists that the children have the freedom to choose whichever course they prefer but admitted that the officers do interfere when they feel that the child might have inadequate education or other abilities. Minimal security is imposed at the camp with the focus being more on keeping the children safe and in a reassuring environment of normalcy than maintaining a stringent “facility” environment. Five officers including Major Fernando oversee daily functions at the centre.

Looking ahead

To date over 30 youth who have been rehabilitated have been sent abroad and Sairaj hopes to join this number soon. Having been an area leader under the TMVP his family fears he is vulnerable to re-recruitment to the same organisation if he returns. The solution, as his loved ones see it, is for Sairaj to go to Malaysia. “I would like that too,” he concurred while serving us tea, “If I go home I have nothing to do. There are no jobs and I want to support my family. If I go abroad then I can earn more money and send it back to my family. It will be a huge relief to my parents and my siblings will have the chance for a better life.” Sairaj will be among six others earmarked to take wing to Malaysia to earn a living off the sweat of his brow as the first phase of a Foreign Employment Bureau programme commences soon.

“Initially the families found the money and sent them off privately. When we realized that many of the boys preferred this to returning home we decided to make it more efficient and easy for them.” With little security and even fewer opportunities these youth who have already lost their childhoods seem to be in danger of losing their roots as well. “Some of us want to come back,” Sairaj demurred gesturing at his friend “Major” Kumar who was conscripted at the age of 12 and once commanded a team of over 150 fighters. Over a dozen years later his outlook on life has undergone a remarkable change. “I want to return with enough money to start a business and help other people who have suffered because of this war.” At 25 Kumar is planning for a major change in his life and it can only be the dream of every other child at the centre that they too can emerge better, stronger and wiser to resume their horrendously interrupted lives. [courtesy: The Bottom Line]

Sri Lankan government stalls on release of Tamil detainees

By Sarath Kumara

The Sri Lankan government continues to detain nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians despite growing anger inside the country, particularly among the Tamil minority. President Mahinda Rajapakse has ignored calls by international human rights agencies for the release of the detainees, who were incarcerated in the final stages of the civil war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

According to a recent UN report, as of July 17 there were 281,621 people in 30 detention camps, guarded by the military, in the Vavuniya, Mannar, Jaffna and Trincomalee districts. About 160,000 people are being held in the Manik Farm camps near Vavuniya.

The military had planned to hold the detainees for up to three years. However, amid international criticism, President Rajapakse promised to resettle everyone by the end of this year. Now that pledge is being shelved as the government invents new pretexts to delay resettlement—the need to de-mine northern areas and to single out alleged “LTTE cadres”.

Addressing a press conference in Colombo on July 30, the new army commander in charge of camps, Major General Daya Ratnayake, claimed that several thousand LTTE members still remained in the camps. He said that once the security forces had finished the screening process, the number of detained LTTE members could rise from the present 9,796 to 20,000. To heighten fears of renewed LTTE activity, Ratnayake declared that there were former LTTE members trained as suicide bombers in the camps.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the president’s brother, struck a similar note in an interview with the Sunday Island last weekend, saying there had been attempts to rescue hardcore LTTE fighters from the camps. Without offering any evidence, Rajapakse claimed this could be part of a plan to revive the LTTE, which was crushed by the army in mid-May. He accused critics of the camps of campaigning to free LTTE members before they could be identified.

Gotabhaya Rajapakse’s comments are aimed at branding anyone opposing the government’s gross abuse of democratic rights as providing aid to “LTTE terrorists”. His remarks underscore that the real purpose of the “welfare villages” is not to provide assistance to refugees but to hold hundreds of thousands of civilians indefinitely while the army consolidates its occupation of previous LTTE-held territory. Despite their denials, the government and the military regard all Tamils as the enemy.

The incarceration of Tamil civilians makes a mockery of the government’s claims to have “liberated” them from the LTTE. Inside the internment centres, the security forces have established a regime of harassment and intimidation. Young people are being interrogated and dragged away on a daily basis without their relatives being told. Thousands of “LTTE suspects” are being held without charge or legal representation.

A particularly sinister aspect of Gotabhaya’s interview was his claim that many people had “escaped” from the camps over the previous two months. The detention camps are surrounded by barbed wire and heavily guarded by soldiers. Rather than “escaping,” it is far more likely that detainees are being “disappeared”. Over the past three years, pro-government death squads, operating with the complicity of the military, have been responsible for hundreds of murders and “disappearances”.

The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report on July 28 demanding the Sri Lankan government “immediately release the more than 280,000 internally displaced Tamil civilians held in detention camps”. HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams commented: “Keeping several hundred thousand civilians who had been caught in the middle of a war penned in these camps is outrageous... Haven’t they been through enough? They deserve their freedom, like all other Sri Lankans.”

The report noted that the government had “confined virtually all civilians displaced by the fighting ... in detention camps,” releasing “only a small number of camp residents, mainly the elderly”. The detainees are “allowed to leave [the camps] only for emergency medical care, and then frequently only with military escort”.

In an effort to stifle criticism, the Rajapakse government has barred all media from the camps. According to HRW, humanitarian workers are forced to sign a statement promising not to disclose information about the conditions in the camps without government permission. Those who refuse to comply face expulsion and the non-renewal of their visas.

HRW also accuses the government of prohibiting humanitarian workers from talking to internees about the fighting in the final months of the war. The refugees are eyewitnesses to the war crimes carried out by the army, which killed thousands of civilians in indiscriminate artillery barrages and air attacks.

Describing the conditions in the camp, one refugee, Premkumar, told HRW: “The way I see it, we are not internally displaced persons, we are internally displaced prisoners... We used to be in a prison controlled by [LTTE leader] Prabhakaran. Now we are in a prison controlled by the government.” He, his wife and three-year-old daughter have been held since mid-May.

HRW described the regime inside the detention centres. In the Kalimoddai and Sirukandal camps in the north-western Mannar district, inmates are forced to stand out in the sun twice each day to “register”. If they are late or fail to turn up, they are forced to carry out manual labour.

The report explained that thousands had been forcibly removed from the camps and transferred to the prisons for LTTE fighters or to Colombo for “further interrogation”. In many cases, “the authorities have failed to inform relatives remaining in the camps about the fate and whereabouts of those removed, raising concerns of possible ill-treatment or enforced disappearance”.

Because of the government’s strict controls, little information has filtered out about the conditions inside the detention centres. Most camps are overcrowded, with some holding twice the number recommended by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The UN has noted that a shortage of latrines and a lack of reliable access to clean water were causing hygiene problems. Health officials recorded more than 8,000 cases of diarrhoea and hundreds of cases of hepatitis, dysentery and chickenpox in June alone.

International criticism of the Sri Lankan government’s detention of hundreds of thousands of civilians has largely died away. China, India, Russia and other countries blocked a motion in the UN Human Rights Council in May calling for an inquiry into war crimes in Sri Lanka and for greater access to the detention camps. While the EU and the US have made limited criticisms, their motive was primarily to boost their influence over the Colombo government. This month the US and European powers ended their stalling of a $US2.6 billion IMF loan and allowed its approval. [courtesy: WSWS]

August 03, 2009

Adopt International Inquiry for Aid Worker Killings-HRW

Third Anniversary of ACF Murders Marked by Government Inaction, Intimidation

The Sri Lankan government's gross mishandling of the investigation into the execution-style slaying of 17 aid workers in the northeastern town of Mutur three years ago demonstrates the need for an international commission of inquiry, Human Rights Watch said today. Since mid-July 2009, government actions in the case - for which no one has been arrested, let alone convicted - raised further concerns about an already deeply troubling investigation, Human Rights Watch said.

ACF0803A.jpg

[Relatives of the slain French aid group Action Contre La Faim's local staff mourn during their funeral procession near Trincomalee, Sri Lanka-Reuters pic]

On August 4, 2006, 17 Sri Lankan aid workers with the Paris-based international humanitarian agency Action Contre La Faim (ACF) were summarily executed in their office in Mutur, Trincomalee district, following fighting between government security forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for control of the town. The aid workers, 16 Tamils and one Muslim, were engaged in a program to help survivors of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

"For three years since the ACF massacre, the Rajapaksa government has put on an elaborate song and dance to bedazzle the international community into believing justice is being done," said James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch. "It's time the UN and concerned governments say ‘the show is over' and put into place a serious international inquiry."

ACF0803B.jpg

Relatives of the slain French aid group Action Contre La Faim's local staff mourn during their funeral procession near Trincomalee, Sri Lanka-Reuters pic.

Since mid-July, the government commission investigating the case has, without sufficient basis, ruled out the involvement of the Sri Lankan armed forces. It unfairly and dangerously denounced local human rights organizations participating in the commission. And government authorities improperly pressured the families of the murdered aid workers to demand that France obtain for them greater compensation from ACF.

On July 14, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, created in November 2006 to investigate 16 major human rights cases, publicly announced its findings in the ACF case. The commission exonerated the Sri Lankan army and navy in the ACF killings, primarily on limited witness testimony that these forces were not in the vicinity at the time. It blamed the killings on either the LTTE or auxiliary police known as home guards. Its full report to the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, remains unpublished.

The commission rejected the detailed findings of the nongovernmental University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), which in April 2008 published eyewitness accounts, weapons analysis, and information on the government security forces that it believes were responsible for the atrocity. However, the commission chair told the media that the commission was hindered by the absence of a witness-protection program and noted that the government blocked video testimonies that would have permitted at-risk witnesses to testify from outside the country.

Excerpts from the commission's final report posted on the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense website sharply criticize the role of local organizations in the ACF inquiry. These organizations provided legal support for witnesses and made a number of written submissions on the case. The commission stated that the "main function" of seven named nongovernmental organizations was to "attempt to discredit every possible institution and authority of this country before the Commission, and attempt to hold one party responsible for the gruesome crime.... They appeared not to ascertain the truth but to engage in a fault finding exercise of the security forces of Sri Lanka." The commission said the groups adopted "a suspiciously narrow outlook" and engaged in a "preconceived plan or conspiracy to discredit the Commission ... for the consumption of some of the international organizations."

Human Rights Watch said that such accusations, made in the current context of continuing threats and physical assaults against media and civil society groups labeled "traitorous" or otherwise anti-government, place individuals and organizations at serious risk.

Sri Lanka sources and the media reported that the Sri Lankan authorities have also placed improper pressure on the families of the ACF victims. Victims' families summoned to a government office in Trincomalee on July 19 were given three letters to sign and return by July 25. All three form letters demanded that the French government seek further compensation for the families from ACF on the basis of the commission's finding of ACF's "gross negligence."

One letter was addressed to the French embassy and another to Sri Lanka's attorney general. The third letter, to Rajapaksa, explained that the signatory was "extremely grateful" to the president for appointing a commission of inquiry and for "ensuring that justice prevailed." Some families expressed apprehension about possible retaliation if they did not sign the letters, though several reportedly refused to do so.

"Instead of doing all it can to get justice for this horrific crime, the Sri Lankan government is further traumatizing the ACF victims' families by trying to shift the blame to others," Ross said.

Human Rights Watch called for the United Nations secretary-general or other UN body to create an international commission of inquiry to investigate the ACF killings and other human rights abuses by all parties to the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, and make recommendations for the prosecution of those responsible. On May 23, Rajapaksa and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a joint statement from Sri Lanka in which the government said it "will take measures to address" the need for an accountability process for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Human Rights Watch has long reported on the government's failure to impartially investigate and prosecute those responsible for the numerous human rights abuses committed during the 25-year armed conflict with the Tamil Tigers, which ended in May with the Tigers' defeat.

Human Rights Watch previously criticized the Presidential Commission of Inquiry for being an insufficient governmental response to ongoing human rights abuses, the absence of a presidential obligation to act on its recommendations or make its findings public, and improper interference in the commission by the attorney general. In April 2008, the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) withdrew from its role monitoring the commission because it had "not been able to conclude ... that the proceedings of the Commission have been transparent or have satisfied basic international norms and standards."

"On the third anniversary of the murder of 17 aid workers, the Sri Lankan government is no closer to uncovering the truth or prosecuting those responsible," said Ross. "Instead, the government is using the atrocity to threaten local rights groups, intimidate the victims' families, and score political points against the French government."

August 02, 2009

Visiting the I.D.P. camps: A subjective experience

dbsjeyaraj blog

It was on July 22nd that I posted an article by Lilani Jayatilaka on this blog with my heading “A Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Sri Lanka”?.

As I stated in my introduction the article in question had appeared in the “Sunday Island” of July 12th 2009 under the heading “Healing Memories:Lessons to be learnt from the South African Experience”.

Here is what I wrote then-”There was an excellent article offering much food for thought in the “Sunday Island” of July 12th 2009 by Lilani Jayatilaka that focused on the lessons of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

The article was inspired by Bishop Desmond Tutu’s book “No Future Without Forgiveness”. The book is on the findings of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission which Bishop Tutu chaired.

Lilani who is experienced in counselling emphasises how important it is for the people of this land to speak out about their grief, suffering and sorrow.

Reading and re-reading this article was an uplifting experience for me and I want to share it with you all.”

The article did result in making people think and there were quite a lot of comments. Some of these expressed very clear thoughts.

Still I was sorry that many who commented seemed to have either missed what Lilani was trying to say or misunderstood her.

An erudite observer who is perhaps Lilani’s “best friend” said it best in a personal e-mail to me. [click here to read in full in ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

August 01, 2009

Prospect for peace and progress in post-war Sri Lanka

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

Since the end of the damaging and futile war and the annihilation of the LTTE leadership mid-May this year, many Sri Lankans have expressed conflicting views on the way forward towards lasting peace and development. Some Sinhalese believe there is no need for changing the present centralised governing system; not even the implementation of the 13th Amendment (13A) as the internal conflict has been settled following the successful military campaign.

They are ignoring the fact that the many disturbing factors that led to the emergence of the ethnic conflict and its subsequent escalation into a full-scale war for a separate Tamil state (Eelam) still remain unresolved. The concept of two nations that surfaced with the 1956 Sinhala Only Act intensified later with the discriminatory policies and practices of successive governments and the neglect of the aspirations and concerns of minority Tamils. They have many other grievances which they believe to be due to the fundamental weaknesses in the unitary system (Sinhala majority rule).

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[A Tamil woman and her daughter at an IDP camp in Vavuniya-pic: IRIN]

Tamil grievances

The introduction of the Sinhala Only Act in 1956 disadvantaged the ethnic Tamils, depriving them of the rights and employment opportunities they had earlier. The introduction of media-wise standardisation of marks for admission to universities denied higher education to many capable Tamil students. This should not be confused with district-wise standardisation that helped students in the districts with poor teaching facilities to enter universities. The switch from English to the mother tongue as the medium of instruction in the schools and universities denied opportunities to educated unemployed youth to seek employment abroad.

The several violent attacks since 1958 against Tamil civilians were encouraged by Sinhala politicians. The governments too did not take prompt action to stop the riots. The offenders were also not apprehended. The involvement of government leaders and the apathy of the authorities in the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom are known facts. In all these instances many Tamils in the South moved to the Tamil majority areas in the North for safety. The 1983 pogrom also resulted in the mass exodus of Tamils to India and other foreign countries. The need for a Tamil homeland in the Tamil majority North-East increased as a result of the sense of insecurity and uncertain future under the hegemony of the Sinhala majority.

The veteran journalist T. Sabaratnam in his article ‘Tamil aspirations and the 13th Amendment’ (ref. his column ‘As I see it’ in the Bottom Line 15 July 2009) has drawn attention to the fact that the past government leaders knew about Tamil grievances but no effective actions were taken to mitigate them. These were in education, colonisation, use of Tamil language and employment in the public sector. He has also drawn attention to the non-implementation of the agreed solutions to identified problems of the Tamil people. For instance - “The TULF also attended the monthly meetings of the High Level Committee (President) Jayewardene set up in August 1981 to find solutions to the problems of the Tamil people. Problems were identified and solutions worked out at those meetings but they were not implemented”. The 1977 election manifesto of UNP led by JR Jayewardene stated that the Tamils have genuine grievances and these will be addressed. But nothing positive happened, after the party won the election securing record (more than two-third) majority.

The non-implementation of Acts of Parliament such as the 1987 amendment approving Tamil also as an official language along with Sinhala and even the original provisions in the Constitution relating to fundamental rights (Chapter 2) and National languages – Sinhala and Tamil (Chapter 3) intensified the distrust of the Tamil people in the unitary constitution. The divisive policies and practices of successive governments not only reinforced the division of the population along ethnic lines but also hindered social and economic development. These denied peace and prosperity to the island.

Another important event that hurt immensely Tamil feelings and intensified the case for a liberation struggle was the burning of the Jaffna public library in 1981 by an organised Sinhalese mob brought from the South by the then government politicians to disrupt the District Development Council elections in the North. In 1991, the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa publicly proclaimed that some of his own party (UNP) members were responsible for the vicious act. In 2006 current President Mahinda Rajapaksa said: “UNP is responsible for mass scale riots and massacres against the Tamils in 1983, vote rigging in the Northern Development Council elections and burning of the Jaffna library." He also said that the burning of the Library sacred to the people of Jaffna was similar to shooting down Lord Buddha. The callous way the present government is forcibly keeping the displaced Tamils, who lived in Vanni under LTTE’s hegemony, in internment camps against their wishes has been widely condemned.

JVP Parliamentary Group Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake who moved an adjournment motion on the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the House on July 22 alleged that “the government is trying to fulfil its political aspirations using the IDPs.” He said the Sinhala Only Act, the Citizenship Act, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Standardization of marks which prevented the Tamil youth from entering the universities were grave mistakes made by governments in the past. He also said “the government has not done anything to build unity among the communities". But JVP wants to retain the present centralised system and seek unity and peace by reconciliation and policy changes. The party leader has proposed a truth and reconciliation commission, which the President has declared as counterproductive.

Even after the Tamils have continuously endured ethnic discrimination and marginalization, some Sinhala patriots have dismissed the allegation that the Tamils have grievances as baseless. In this regard, I quote from Upali Cooray’s second letter (posted on DBS Jeyaraj’s Blog 15 July 2009) sent from London to his grand nephew in Sri Lanka. “Hiding behind these erroneous and patently illogical concepts of race and religion, ‘Sinhala’ Ultra-nationalists assert that the Tamils in Sri Lanka are aliens or recent immigrants and that their grievances are all imaginary or concocted complaints to preserve their privileges. Like the holocaust deniers, they try to minimise the impact of pogroms of 1977, 1981 and 1983, the widespread torture, murder and disappearances of Tamil youths between 1978 and 2009 and the repression and discrimination some of them have suffered on a daily basis. They ignore or minimise the impact of the Sinhala only policy, which Tamils perceived as an attempt to deprive them of their fundamental rights”.

Tactics for consolidation of power

Many contradictory views have been expressed on the plight of the Tamil civilians kept forcibly against their wishes in the internment camps guarded and supervised by the military. The central issue here as Rohini Hensman has stated in ‘Groundviews’ 25 July 2009, is the very fact the people who fled for safety from the intense fighting are detained for spurious reasons. Members of the same displaced family are kept in different camps. Even their close relatives are not allowed to visit them. Not only the displaced Tamils in the North but also others who suffered terribly, because of the inconsiderate ways the Tamil Tigers treated them, especially during the final stage of the war abhor this armed group. The Government by denying them the freedom they want desperately is losing the opportunity to win the hearts and minds of distressed Tamils. On the contrary, priority is given to the consolidation of power, which considered essential for implementing a peace plan.

The ‘Time’ magazine reported that in the interview with President Rajapaksa, “his reasoning for keeping northern Tamils in detention is constantly shifting. At various points in our interview, Rajapaksa says he is waiting until the screening of LTTE fighters is complete; until the north has better roads, electricity and water supply; or until the land mines are cleared. ... He says he hopes that 60% would be resettled by the time of the presidential election. It's not a promise, it's a target." This is not what was said at the beginning in the meetings with Indian officials. All displaced persons would be settled within 180 days i.e. by end of this year.

In the interview Shakuntala Perera (Hard Talk Daily Mirror 27 July 2009) had with the UNP Deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya, the latter told that the government was capitalizing on the military victory and avoid taking hard decisions. He told: “This government lacks the ability to make tough decisions. They seem to believe that the only way to keep everyone happy is adopt delaying tactics. In the process, they also seem quite content to fan the flames of racism and continue their policies of division which is the reason we ended up with this ethnic problem in the first place. What I see as the greatest strength of this regime, from inception, has been its ability to provide temporary satisfaction to all quarters, even when it calls for making contradictory promises to various parties”.

He also said that the tactic to appease all quarters ignores what is best for the country at large. “Now that the war is over, they (the government leaders) don’t seem to be doing anything with a sense of conviction. What this country needs are permanent solutions and not temporary patch up jobs. It is not prudent to play politics with national issues. This government, like many before them, will soon realise that they cannot fool all the people all the time”. ......”the government wants to keep everyone happy and when you want to keep everyone happy it is not possible to make hard decisions for the good of the country. All good decisions are also tough to make, but if we have the courage to make those decisions, long term success will be attainable”.

13th Amendment

Kath Noble in her article titled “Sri Lanka’s lucky number” in Sri Lanka Guardian 22 July 2009 has drawn attention to the growing opposition to the 13th Amendment in recent weeks. The scream against it follows the aura of triumphalism seen from victory speeches, posters and celebrations in the South. Subsequently, “monks have been on the streets, distributing leaflets claiming that the 13th Amendment would undo the victory that so many Sri Lankans died to achieve. Commentators have been stuffing the newspapers with their fears, bombarding us with the idea that something awful would happen if it were implemented”. This campaign to scare the people is nothing new. It has been propagated since 1956 to stop empowering the politically weak Tamils on the grounds that this would endanger the future of Sinhalese.

Citing President Rajapaksa’s recent statement that he is against separate Ethnic provinces, Dr. Sellakapu S Upasiri de Silva residing in Australia has warned that “the implementation of the 13th Amendment may create Ethnic provinces and it may lead to more unrest among the general public and the chances of another terror campaign by ill-informed and disgruntled people” (Sri Lanka Guardian 22 July 2009). Some others reject it because of its direct link to the 1987 Indo-Lanka Agreement. However, they have no qualms with India’s helpful stand on the triumphant military campaign against the LTTE and the annihilation of the top leaders.

Foxwatch’ in the Sunday Island 19th July has alleged that “the LTTE, its diaspora, and countries whose intentions are unclear are pressing for the reopening of Route 13A – the political road to Eelam, the 13th Amendment”. And not merely 13A, but 13A plus.” The usual scare raised is seen in the following statement. “The diluting of central authority by Provincial and Concurrent Lists raised serious questions of sovereignty and territorial integrity, and their compatibility with the unitary state. In addition, the actual allocation of subjects, between centre and provinces sowed the seeds of continuous disputes between centre and provinces about jurisdiction. This was no ordinary amendment, but one which threatened the very existence of Sri Lanka”.

Two obvious conclusions here are: (i) the lack of awareness of the controls the centre has even over the devolved powers, including the intervening powers of the Executive; and (ii) the imaginary fears that any constitutional amendment for settling the Tamil problem is a threat to the territorial integrity of the State and the freedom of the Sinhalese. Kalawana UNP organizer Nanda Muruththettuwegama accused “the government advisor on Constitutional matters” Gomin Dayasiri, who participated in a live discussion on the 13th amendment on Neth FM radio channel of misleading the people by giving a wrong interpretation on the powers vested with the Provincial Councils (PCs). One thing is clear; the longer the waiting game continues it will be more difficult to find a permanent solution to the national problem.

MCM Iqbal, who was one of the secretaries of the first Provincial Council of the Western Province, has in his revealing article on the devolution of Powers under the 13th Amendment (Groundviews 19 July and SL Guardian 23 July 2009) has explained the practical constraints of the Governors and the Boards of Ministers of Provincial Councils (PCs) in exercising their powers. A Governor is appointed to each PC at the sole discretion of the President to be the executive head of the provincial administration. But he exercises power through the Chief Minister and the four Provincial Ministers. The Governor is subject to the control and directions of the President. The PCs to which power is said to be devolved do not have any control over the Governor, who exercises the powers of the President over the province.

According to the 13th Amendment the PC Governor shall exercise such executive power ‘either directly or through the Ministers of the Board of Ministers or through officers subordinate to him’. The term ‘officers subordinate to him’ refers to the members of the Provincial Public Service which has been created under the provisions of the Provincial Councils Act. The relevant section provides that a Provincial Public Service shall be established and that the power of appointment, transfer, dismissal and disciplinary control of the officers of this service shall be vested in the Governor. Thus it can be seen “the Provincial Council does not even have any power over its public officers who are expected to implement the decisions of the Council. They are obliged to comply with directives of the Governor and shall be loyal to him only”.

The function of the Chief Minister and the Board of Ministers is ‘to aid and advice’ the Provincial Governor in the exercise of his functions. “The Ministers do not have any discretionary power in the administration of the province. The Chief Minister has a duty to communicate to the Governor all decisions taken at the meetings of the Board of Ministers. The only instance where the Governor is obliged to act on the advice provided by the Chief Minister is on matters relating to the ceremonial opening of the sessions of the council, the choice of Ministers from among the elected members, proroguing the sessions of the Council and such other formal matters”.

With regard to the legislative powers of the PCs there are also several constraints. The legislative power in regard to a subject that is in the PC list is not exclusive. A Parliamentary bill on a subject in the PC list must be referred to all the PCs for the expression of their views, if all agree the bill can be passed with a simple majority. If one or more of the PCs do not agree, it can be passed with a simple majority but is only applicable to those PCs that agreed. But if such bill is passed by a two third majority, it is applicable to all PCs, whether they agreed to it or not.

The 13th Amendment provides for a Finance Commission to be established with the sole function of recommending to the Central Government the amount of funds that should be allocated to meet the requirements of the Provincial Council. The members of this Commission are appointed by the President. The President is not obliged to comply with the recommendation of this Commission and can on his own determine how much should be provided for each Province. “Party politics or even other narrow consideration can influence the allocation of funds to the PCs”.

The current Chief Minister of Eastern Provincial Council, Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan has complained about his inability to implement decisions concerning even routine administrative matters. The inability to adopt new legislation on subjects in the PC list prevents the PCs to function according to their specific needs. The central government continues to deal with many subjects in the PC list and even in some cases it has taken over the devolved powers. Speaking during the July session on the motion protesting the distribution of land in the Eastern Province by the centre without the approval of the provincial Council, the Chief Minister lashed out at the Government for diluting the provisions of the 13th Amendment. According to 13A, the Provincial Councils are devolved with land powers.

T. Sabaratnam in his article “Tamil Aspirations and 13th Amendment – Part 2” in Bottom Line 29 July 2009 has referred to the interview published in the Sunday Virakesari on July 12 in which the Eastern Province Health Minister M.L.A.M. Hisbullah has said “the governor was interfering in everything and he was unable to give appointments even to peons”. The article has also drawn attention to the removal of some subjects allocated to the Provincial Councils. Agrarian service which was one of the subjects in the PC list has been taken over by the central government. “In 2003 the Supreme Court ruled in the case Madumma Banda v Assistant Commissioner of Agrarian Services that matters relating to tenant cultivators came under the Provincial Council List but the central government continues to handle agrarian services”.

MCM Iqbal has mentioned several other limitations that show clearly there is no basis to jump to the conclusion that the PC system is a threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. On the contrary it is more a decentralised than a devolved system.

Democracy in Sri Lanka simply means majority rule and the majority of the voters in the South decide which of the two main political parties should govern the country. Moreover, the general elections have not been contested on broad political beliefs, policies, performances and social and economic development issues but divisive vote-winning ones. Without devolution of adequate powers to the provinces, democracy does not bestow the due freedom and rights to the people not only in the North and East but also in some other provinces.

According to foreign media reports, New Delhi supported Sri Lankan government in Geneva on the human rights issue and later in the procurement of US $ 2.6 billion soft loan from the IMF expecting early settlement of the Tamil issue. A report by Mark Tran in the UK Guardian paper stated: “India reportedly used its influence to push the IMF deal through. Diplomats say India and Sri Lanka reached some deal on the rights of Tamils”. The implementation of the promised 13A plus, condemned by the Sinhala nationalists as incompatible with unitary structure is now uncertain. It remains to be seen how India will react if Colombo ignores the promise given at crucial times. The Congress party has a special interest in activating the 13th Amendment. It is unfortunate, external intervention is necessary for settling peacefully and justly the protracted internal conflict that has denied peace and progress for decades.

Vacillation

The formation of the APC, APRC and Expert Committee indicated the Government’s commitment to political settlement. This move also served to assure the foreign powers who were pressing hard for a permanent political settlement of the protracted conflict that has destroyed more than 100,000 lives.

The majority report of the Expert Committee with members from all three (Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim) communities was rejected, mainly because it went beyond what was acceptable to Sinhala nationalists; not the expected ‘home grown’ variety. The APRC Chairman’s report fusing the proposals in the majority and minority Expert Committee reports was also rejected for the same reason. President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that a final political solution to the national problem would be presented after the military campaign. The government did not want to divert the focus away from the campaign to finish off the LTTE. It has cost the country billions of Dollars and was a severe strain on the national economy.

Apparently, these reports were not what the President had in mind for a suitable solution (inferred from Ram’s interview cited below). After urging the APRC chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana to propose the full implementation of the 13th Amendment (13A) as an interim solution, the President announced that this was the practical approach to the final resolution of the problem. In the post-war joint statements of the governments of India and Sri Lanka issued on May 21 and 23, GoSL affirmed its commitment to the 13th Amendment. Following the meetings with the Prime Minister of India, 13A plus emerged as the intended solution to the problem. It is very likely India’s support for the war was conditional on using 13A as the base for working out a final solution.

Later, President Rajapaksa told N. Ram the chief editor of ‘The Hindu’ in Colombo (June 30 interview) that he knows the apt solution but he wants it to come from the people. He does not want it now but after the next Presidential election which many expect early next year. Asked about the “13th Amendment Plus”, President Rajapaksa said - “even tomorrow I can give that but I want to get that from the people."

In a recent interview, ‘Colombo Today’ had with Minister Rajitha Senaratne, the latter is reported to have said: “A mandate from the people is needed for the implementation of the 13th Amendment since President Mahinda Rajapaksa has promised not to unilaterally solve national issues.” He also said, “President has not only given an undertaking to the world community, including India in this regard, but his ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ policy framework also, binds him to do so”. The Minister also said some government members who earlier supported 13A are now against it. They must be anxious to fall in line with the post-war anti-devolution lobby.

A referendum in ethnically divided Sri Lanka on political issues concerning the rights, freedom, security and future of the ethnic minorities will reflect the Sinhala majority view. In other words, Tamils can have only what the Sinhalese are willing to give. This has been the way major political decisions were taken in the past under the unitary system with damaging consequence for national unity and peace. There is no need to seek the consent of the electorate to implement an approved provision in the Constitution.

Devolution

Now, devolution like federalism earlier seems to be a loathsome word amongst the unitary loyalists. At the recent LSSP party meeting, APRC Chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana is reported to have replied to the persistent query about the delay in presenting the report of the Committee that the President did not want devolution proposals now. On the other side, UNP has abandoned its earlier backing for a federal system and is now for devolution under the present unitary system. The reason for the APRC Chairman’s sudden decision to submit the proposals soon to the President, instead of discussing with the parties that did not participate in the Committee meetings, as announced earlier is not known. One can only surmise from the following remark he made, assuring the retention of the hegemonic power of the centre.

Daily Mirror 27 July 2009 reported that “Professor Vitharana ruled out the absolute and unchecked power devolution to the periphery and emphasised that the APRC proposes the establishment of separate state bodies for policy making and monitoring of contentious national issues such as police and land and water. The Centre not only decides on the policy framework but can exercise control over the implementation of these powers within the provinces depending on national needs.”

Nevertheless there is doubt whether the President agrees with the APRC Chairman’s proposals. Daily Mirror in its editorial 29 July 2009 stated: “Given the consistency of declarations made by the head of the State ruling out devolution and instead proposing the need to reach out to all communities through other means of reconciliation, the APRC process itself continued to be a redundant exercise”. This has let the cat out of the bag. Since 1947 promises of political leaders were broken within weeks, if not in days. Statements like, there are no minorities in Sri Lanka - all citizens are on equal footing are encouraging but will these be observed when vital decisions are made? The frequent shift in government’s stand since mid 2006 on the kind of political solution to the ethnic problem indicates the uncertainties in positive statements on political issues. The real way to get rid of majority-minority division is to share political power equitably so that no group is left powerless.

Conclusion

The reasons for the failure of the 1947, 1972 and 1978 unitary constitutions to promote unity, stability, real peace and balanced development should not be ignored. On the contrary, as is widely known, the unity that existed at the time of independence was shattered. Constitution of Sri Lanka must not ignore the diverse demographic and regional features which are intrinsic to the makeup of the beautiful island.

The political leaders who have led the country after independence lacked the determination and the courage to lead from the front as true statesman. It is they who should convince the people of the benefits in advancing along the chosen path. The changes suggested by JVP and some others without disturbing the centralised system make sense had the persistent discrimination and neglect of the aspirations and concerns of a section of the people did not happen. Not only the Tamils but others too have suffered because of the divisive politics. The ethnic division was exploited by egoistic leaders for achieving their political ambitions.

The importance of attitudinal change must not be ignored. No system with safeguards to protect minority rights recognised by the UN and devolved powers as envisaged in the 1987 Indo-Lanka Agreement will promote unity, stability, peace and progress unless the political leaders are sincerely committed to these objectives. The country must also get rid of confrontational politics associated with power struggle. In democracy, power is for serving the entire society and the country. In the past this was not the way power was exercised. Far reaching changes are needed to make Sri Lanka truly democratic and socialist Republic. Peace and progress will then be assured.

[The writer is Former Additional Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Sri Lanka and UN Advisor, Development Economics/Planning]

In Pictures: Kannagipura/ Kannagipuram Radio Drama inaugural

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Kannagipura/ Kannagipuram Radio Drama was launched on July 28th 2009 at Young Asia Television. The drama is produced by Young Asia Television. It is the first time such a drama series are produced in both languages- Sinhala and Tamil. Eight script writers were chosen from Akkaraipattu, Akurassa, Batticaloa, Galle, Kandy and Kurunegala.

Young Asia Television breaks new ground with the launch of a radio drama series on 5th August 2009 named Kannagipura/Kannagipuram. Innovative, entertaining and action oriented, this radio drama series will be available to both Sinhala and Tamil listeners in Sri Lanka on Wednesdays and Fridays on SLBC’s national, commercial and regional channels. A music CD with the bilingual song KANNAGIPURA/KANNAGIPURAM has also been released to local radio stations to coincide with the broadcast of the series.

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Shamini Boyle- Director- Editorial of Young Asia Television addresses the media conference

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Journalists are seen covering the launch

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The Chief Executive of Young Asia Television Hilmy Ahamed addresses the media conference

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The bilingual Radio drama has 156 episodes each in Sinhala and Tamil

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The Chairman of Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation Hudson Samarasinghe stresses the importance of Radio drama

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Eight script writers were chosen out of 146 applicants and trained

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Ruwan Bogamuwa- Senior Producer of Young Asia Television is speaking at the media launch

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Calendar where the broadcast dates are highlighted. The calendar begins from August 2009, and ends in January 2011. The calendar is produced to mark the broadcast period

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Shakir Ahamed- Producer of Young Asia Television addresses the media conference

The story is set in the fictional Eastern village of Kannagipura/Kannagipuram where village youth take matters into their hands to bring the much desired change they want to see in their community. Complete with action and drama, love and conflict, the series is both entertaining and thought provoking as it explores the reality of living in Sri Lanka in the current national context. The series highlights the values of tolerance, co-existence and respect among people and communities in Sri Lanka.

Kannagipura/Kannagipuram is the outcome of an innovative script development and production process. Winners of a script writing competition held in January 2009 worked alongside the professional production team of Young Asia Television to develop the storyline and episode scripts, bringing in fresh ideas and insights from the districts of Sri Lanka. Listener groups have been set up in 9 districts to provide feedback and information about local events and developments. The team was given technical support by the consultant to the project, Francis Rolt.

Broadcasts will be on the SLBC network of national and commercial channels and the regional channels such as City FM, Rajarata FM, Kandurata FM, Wayamba Handa, Kothmale FM, Thendral FM, Perai FM, and Jaffna Service. The drama series will be broadcast twice weekly, simultaneously in Sinhala and Tamil, Wednesday and Friday from 6.45pm -.7.00pm on all channels except the Thendral FM which will broadcast the drama from 5.45.pm to6.00.pm. Kannagipura/Kannagipuram primarily targets youth in the age group of 19 to 29, while also concentrating on people of other ages as a secondary audience in rural and semi urban communities. [courtesy: HumanityAshore.org ~ EMail: dushi.pillai@gmail.com ]

YATVWebcast:

In search of a “home grown” Lion

by Dushy Ranetunge

Mahinda talks of “home grown” solutions. Nivard, soon after taking office at the Central bank wanted “Sinhala kavili” instead of “patties” and “cutlets” to be offered to visitors to the Bank. There have been recent press reports that Mahinda had asked Champika to resubmit a document in Sinhalese, rather than English etc.

These days we are also telling the “whites” where to get off.

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[at the Independence Square, Colombo-pic: imagebang]

Mahinda has mentioned that the Brits who massacred in Uva Wellassa are not in a position to preach to us “human rights”. The poor blighters in Uva Wellassa who were listening to him would have been too ignorant to know that in-between, their Republic signed up to the Geneva Convention as well as the charter of Human Rights and promised before the world to uphold them. They also would have been clueless as to the real reason why Mahinda was taking a swipe at the Brits. The reason was the IMF loan, which the government said they did not want, just like Caesar declining the Roman crown. Now they are praising it.

Then there was that other “gem” where the crafty Ram of the Hindu made Mahinda do a Sarath Fonseka (Sinhala country comment to a Canadian newspaper), by the statement that “Prabakaran was from the jungles of the North and I am from the jungles of the South.”

Think about the implications of this statement, the Republics President equating himself with the head of a terrorist organisation, both from jungles? Add to this the fact it is stated that these were prophetic words!!!!!!

But all these enthusiasts seem blissfully unaware that the “Lion” in the “Lion Flag” is a “White”, “European” Lion and not a “home grown” Lion.

Recently Milibands effigy was burnt by some “enthusiasts” and thrown over the walls of the British High Commission, but it was comical to see them waving a flag with a British Lion.

Although we conveniently blame the British for giving the Tamils a preeminent position in the colonial administration, we have forgotten that the last king of Kandy and many before him were Tamils. The last queen was also Tamil. Tamil was spoken in the Kandyan court, the fashions aspired to by the Sinhalese were Tamil, the Kandyan dress and jewellery were Tamil, many of the customs were Tamil and the Kandyan ministers signed the Kandyan convention with the British, predominantly in Tamil. So Tamil had a preeminent position, long before the British arrived.

Even Vijaya, the founder of the Sinhala race married a Tamil after ditching “Kuvani”.

But, it is “fashionable” to blame the British for giving the Tamils a preeminent position and laying the blame on their doorstep.

In keeping with these latest fashions, we should take a close look at the Lion, in the Lion flag. You will not find a Lion that looks like the lion in the lion flag anywhere in the ruins of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Kurunagala, Kotte or Kandy.

The Lion of the “home grown” type can be seen standing around D S Senanayake at Independence Square, and it is of the “makara” style, which is of “Tamil” “Pallava” origins and can be seen in Yapahuva. It is this makara Lion, which could be seen in Kandy and not the European Lion in the present flag.

The Lion portrayed at the new war memorial at Jayawardenepura Kotte is a European Lion, copied from Dambulla temple and is said to be the flag carried by Dutu Gemunu.

Many are unaware that this particular mural was painted at the Dambulla temple about 200 years ago, after the arrival of the Europeans and the European Lion. It was from a period when the Sinhalese switched their fashion preferences from South Indian styles of the Kandyan period, to European styles of the Colonial period and European looking Lions started appearing adorning Sri Lankan mansions and Buddhist temples.

There is no archaeological or historical evidence to indicate that Dutu Gemunu ever carried a Lion flag, or even identified himself as a Sinhalese. The Sinhala ethnic identity did not exist in 161 BC.

With fashions changing from South Indian Kandyan styles to European Colonial styles and our founding father wearing tie and jacket instead of sathakaya, the Ceylonese flag made a timely appearance before independence with a European Lion from the “mother country” at the time Britain. We were told it was hanging in the Chelsea hospital and was the flag of the king of Kandy. Mysteriously to date, no picture of this original Lion flag supposed to be of the last King has ever been presented and remains more illusive than the Turin shroud. It had been remarked that this original flag had faded beyond recognition.

So the Lion that returned from Britain as the Kandyan kings flag was a European Lion, during a period where our “father of the nation” and others were aspiring to European fashions.

Fashions have changed again and the “mother country” has been replaced by the “fatherland”, or is it the “motherland”.

So, are we to stop waving this European Lion and get ourselves a “home grown” “Yapahuve/Pallava” one with its origins from South India?

With Mahinda shunning European fashions and standards of governance in favour of “home grown” versions, one wonders if his journey will also end like the “home grown” lion, with its origins in India.

The latest trend is to take anything foreign and brand it as “apema ekak”

Mahinda?s famous quote that there are those who love this country and those who don?t is marketed as an “apema ekak”. But its origins are in Catholic and Islamic fundamentalism made famous by George W Bush in his war against terrorism in “You are with us or you are against us”.

The new “home grown” solutions to the ethnic conflict peddled by Mahinda is marketed to the maasses as “apema ekak”, but dig deeper and like the Lion, you will find its origins in India.

In the 1980?s Indian intervention in Sri Lanka was overt and the Sinhalese responded aggressively. Today, Indian intervention in Sri Lanka is covert and sophisticated and the Sinhalese accept it as “apema ekak”. They seem unaware and unconcerned to the same extent that they are waving a European Lion and regarding it as their own.

‘Devolution’ has joined the rank of words to be wished away - like ‘federalism’

by Col R Hariharan

The government of Sri Lanka under President Mahinda Rajapaksa said it was going to war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) with the battle cry of freedom. It spoke of a vision of a Sri Lanka where peoples lives would not be determined by the language they spoke. However, after the war is over, with a great deal of sacrifice of men and material resources, the emerging socio-political environment does not indicate the vision coming true; it may well remain what it was – just a vision.

By now it is clear that the word ‘devolution’ has joined the rank of words to be wished away - like ‘federalism’ - into political obsolescence. And the word ‘minority’ also might join the list soon. That seems to be the new emerging order that is seen across the board not only with the ruling coalition but among the major political parties. This was best illustrated by the United National Party (UNP) presided over by Ranil Wickremesinghe. As Prime Minister he agreed to federalism as fundamental to the peace process in 2002 but now he and his party had no hesitation in jettisoning it at the altar of political expediency. And the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is no better.

This comes as no surprise to Sri Lanka watchers as political parties, like many of their leaders, have done similar acts of political somersault more than once.(I should confess our own Indian political parties and leaders are no better. The latest in this genre was the Tamil Nadu political leader Ms Jayalalithaa’s sudden volte face on the question of Tamil Eelam on the eve of recent parliamentary poll. ) Apparently, it has become part of the political culture although it is extremely doubtful whether the common man is taken by such double whammy on the eve of elections. But in Sri Lanka in the past, the political double speak was the main reason why Tamil people lost faith in the political process. Ultimately Tamil youth took up arms to fight for their beliefs, right or wrong, because they saw only failed political process.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa appears to be in no hurry to implement the 13th amendment of the constitution in full, despite repeated promises to do so after the eastern province election. There might be sound internal political reasons for this; the President appears to be getting ready to advance the date of Presidential election to early next year as indicated in his recent interview to cash in on his popularity to get elected as president for a second term. And probably he would like to retain his Southern Sri Lanka votes in tact.

But does the President require a popular mandate to implement what is authorised in the constitution? In case a peoples’ mandate was necessary for the President’s course of action, parliamentary poll would be the true barometer. That would help his party gain a majority in parliament without the President sacrificing part of his present term. Of course, a strong presidential mandate first would ensure the SLFP sweeping the parliamentary polls. Thus it would enable the President to do away with the dependence upon other smaller parties. It might also reduce the influence detractors of his policy who have migrated from various political parties to the SLFP bandwagon as well as the opposition - the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the right wing Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU).

With nearly twenty percent of Tamil population living as displaced persons behind barbed wire in welfare camps, elections would be democratic if they are free. Would they be free before the presidential poll? That is a question the government has to answer because there are contradictory signals coming from different limbs of government. And there is also the traditional gap between intent and action of the government.

The President has with equal alacrity turned the all party committee for devolution, which he constituted on assuming office in 2006 with a lot of fanfare, into one more committee of irrelevance if not non-action, as recently confessed by its chairman Tissa Vitarana. His report submitted is said to cover a wide range of subjects that ail Sri Lanka from the executive presidency to revision of constitution to the rights and powers of people living away from Colombo. This well meaning effort is in the danger of consigned to the archives of history to company with President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s attempts at constitutional amendment that had almost everyone’s consensus.

Curiously, India which had initially been speaking of devolution later to downgraded its desire to implementation of the 13th amendment. And when even that is in doubt India has become strangely muted, except that it came up as a point in the sidelines of the conference of non-aligned nations attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Rajapaksa.

But all these are exercises in politics and not of the promised pathway to ethnic reconciliation. It is not good intentions that is lacking in Sri Lanka but their implementation. President Rajapaksa has sought to wish away the term minority as applied to non Sinhalese citizens of the country. This is an admirable sentiment but it does not appear realistic in the absence of political, structural, constitutional and social actions needed to make it a reality. Unless the vision of a minority free Sri Lanka is fleshed out with appropriate missions to turn into a reality, it would remain a distant vision only. And sadly, this is what it is turning out to be, it appears.

The ethnic divide has established deep roots of distrust between the two communities that are yet to bee uprooted. So when the state once again sidelines the basic issue of Tamil quest for equitable treatment there cannot be but a feeling of déjã vu among the people on this issue. These are partly reinforced by the continued presence of nearly 300,000 Tamil IDPs still in ‘welfare camps’ with no hope of returning back to their war ravaged villages “within six months” as promised earlier.

Their doubts on the new dispensation increase further when Dayan Jayatilake, who turned in a stellar performance at the UN to save the face of Sri Lanka, was sacked overnight. Of course, he was ‘guilty’ of trying to sell the state’s own merchandise – the implementation of 13th amendment (plus?). Such actions only turn the feeling of discomfort of those who question government policy decisions into to insecurity. A nation needs conscience keepers to question and introspect. And a free media is the vehicle of conscience keepers; and they are ill served if the Damocles sword of Press Council keeps the media in tenterhooks.

After decades of agonising conflict Sri Lanka needs an ambience free of fear and suspicion, where all people will have a fair share of power in decision making. And that unfortunately is not happening.

The process of polarisation of Sinhala and Tamil communities had been going on for over half a century. It had been clouding the emergence of a united Sri Lankan identity after it became bread and butter of Sinhala and Tamil politics in Sri Lanka. It has resulted in Sri Lanka going through a full circle from politics to extremism to militancy to insurgency to terrorism to war to politics now. Should Sri Lanka go through this agonising cycle all over once again? This is a question the people and rulers of Sri Lanka cannot afford to ignore.