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September 30, 2009

Concerns growing over pace of IDP resettlement

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

The international community is increasingly worried about the pace of resettling more than 260,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from closed camps in Sri Lanka, a senior UN representative warns.

"There is a growing concern from the international community that the pace of progress is simply too slow," Walter Kaelin, Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, told IRIN.

"There is an urgent need to restore the freedom of movement for the displaced. They should be allowed to return to their homes, and where this is not possible, to stay with host families or in open relief centres," he said in a telephone interview from Geneva on 30 September.

Kaelin completed a three-day visit to Sri Lanka on 26 September, having met government ministers and officials to discuss the treatment of the IDPs, who are in state-run camps in the north of the country.

The Sri Lankan government says it is trying to expedite the resettlement of the IDPs, and has set a target of 70 to 80 percent to be released by year-end.

It has defended the resettlement pace, saying it must screen the IDPs for rebels from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), against whom it fought a bitter 26-year war.

But the IDPs have been languishing in the congested camps since the end of the war in May without the freedom to leave, and Kaelin said their prolonged internment in the camps - not designed for long-term stays - was a concern.

"Certainly people do get food, they do get medical assistance, and there is education in the camps. So from that perspective, the government and international community have done a lot," he said.

"Our concern is that the screening process is going too slowly, and we also have concerns about the nature of the screening process."

Transparency issues

Under international humanitarian law, legitimate security concerns may justify the internment of civilians at the height of a conflict, but not longer than is absolutely necessary. Individuals must also be told why they have not been released.

Kaelin said there was a lack of transparency in the screening process, and that people were also not being informed on an individual basis why they were being held.

"Unless there is very substantial progress in the very near future with the release of people, concerns about the violation of international humanitarian law will become a serious issue," he said.

Top UN officials issued repeated calls this month for the IDPs to be resettled more quickly as worries mount over conditions in the camps ahead of upcoming monsoon rains.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned earlier this week in talks with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake that a failure to rapidly resettle IDPs would lead to growing bitterness.

And Kaelin's visit to Sri Lanka followed on the heels of Lynn Pascoe, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who called on the government to speed up the screening and release of IDPs.

"What was positive is that government has agreed that a substantial number of people should be released in the near future. But it remains to be seen to what extent this will be implemented," said Kaelin.

The government announced earlier this month it would release IDPs into the custody of their relatives.

It has repeatedly said it is committed to resettling the IDPs, but first it has to clear some 1.5 million landmines and unexploded ordnance from former combat areas.

It also says there is a lack of adequate housing and infrastructure in those areas to service the IDPs, and that reconstruction must take place first.

Gamini Fonseka: “Maharajaneni” of Sinhala moviedom

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Gamini Fonseka, the uncrowned "Maharajaneni" or monarch of Sinhala moviedom passed away peacefully on September 30th in 2004. Though Gamini is no more most of his fans like this writer have not forgotten him. This article coinciding with Gamini’s fifth death anniversary today is a humble tribute to to the memory of a man who lives in the hearts of many.

Gamini Fonseka (March 21, 1936-Sep 30, 2004)

This article is to honour the memory of a man whom I loved as an actor, appreciated as a director, admired as a politician and above all respected as a decent human being. Gamini the actor on the Sinhala silver screen became an important part of life in childhood. [click here to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

Pledge to herald work of Sri Lanka women media professionals reiterated

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” ~ Maya Angelou (b: 1928-) American poet, memoirist, actress and an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement.

A meeting of SAWM (South Asian Women in Media) Sri Lanka Chapter was held at Hotel Renuka on September 29th 2009.

sawm20929TC.jpg [click here to read in full~humanityAshore]

UNHCR concerned about safety of displaced persons in Sri Lanka

Full Text of media release:

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is deeply concerned about reports of security incidents taking place inside camps accommodating internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Sri Lanka.

The most recent incident took place on Saturday, September 26th in the Menik Farm camp, in the district of Vavuniya, when security forces reportedly attempted to stop a group of IDPs from moving between two zones of the camp. This angered the IDPs who subsequently attacked the sentries.

Security personnel then reportedly opened fire to disperse the mob. Several people are said to have been injured, including a child who was hit by a stray bullet and is now paralyzed. There are also reports of several people being detained following the disturbance. UNHCR calls upon the government to ensure the protection and physical security of the IDPs and to undertake a swift investigation into the event.

This latest episode reinforces repeated calls by the UN and the international community to the government of Sri Lanka to accelerate the return process and restore freedom of movement for those displaced who choose to remain in the camps. It also shows the need to implement the host family programme that the government has announced, and which the UN has welcomed, which allows citizens to host IDPs.

Additional efforts are urgently needed to decongest overcrowded camps, particularly as the monsoon season approaches. The rains will lead to flooding of low lying areas of the camps, causing further deterioration of living conditions and posing possible threats to IDPs' health and safety.

Since June, at the request of the government, UN agencies together with partners have been carrying out work at the Menik Farm IDP sites to prepare them for the rainy season. However, UNHCR has advised the government that the sites are not adequately equipped to cope with the monsoons given the number of IDPs residing there.

Menik Farm consists of seven zones and is one of 21 closed camps spread across the Vavuniya, Jaffna, Mannar and Trincomalee districts. The camps accommodate more than 250,000 persons displaced by conflict. A government security screening process aimed at separating ex-combatants from civilians means that residents of the camps have no freedom of movement.

UNHCR acknowledges the government's release of some 15,000 IDPs from the camps since early August, including many vulnerable individuals, either to host families or to their homes as part of its ongoing 180-day return plan. The agency is calling on the government to expedite the screening process and to increase the rate of releases from the camps.

UNHCR is also concerned about the approximately 3,300 IDPs who were transferred to new closed transit camps in their districts of origin mid-September rather than being returned to their homes. While a brief transit in the district of origin might be required, some IDPs have been in these transit sites for more than two weeks.

Discussions between the UN refugee agency and the government on the resettlement process are continuing and UNHCR will provide return assistance as soon as IDPs are allowed to return to their homes.

Vazhai Vettu: Marking the end of Navarathri Festival

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

"Religion, like poetry, is not a mere idea, it is expression. The self-expression of God is in the endless variety of creation; and our attitude toward the Infinite Being must also in its expression have a variety of individuality - ceaseless and unending."
~ Rabindranath Tagore - the well-known Hindu poet, playwright, philosopher, composer, artist and Nobel laureate (1861-1941)

Navarathri festival ended with Maanam Poo or Vazhai Vettu (destruction of Aanavam and killing of the Mahisasuran) at the Hindu temples on September 28th 2009.

An idol of Goddess is decorated and taken on a parade outside the temple. Men carried her on their shoulders. She was brought out by the men at twilight.

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[click here to read in full ~ humanityAshore.org]

September 29, 2009

Sri Lankan Government Must Reverse Anti-Media Actions-IFJ

Full text of Media Release:

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins press freedom defenders in Sri Lanka in calling on President Mahinda Rajapakse and the Government of Sri Lanka to put an immediate end to the climate of impunity that has allowed a long campaign of intimidation and violence against independent journalism in Sri Lanka.

The IFJ stands in solidarity with the movement of press freedom organisations and Sri Lankan civil society in demanding that the Government allow space for free public debate, for plurality of opinions and open discussion in Sri Lanka. These conditions are essential for Sri Lanka’s return to peace and democracy.

The IFJ urges Sri Lanka’s Government to revoke its decision in June to reactivate the 1973 Press Council Act and calls for the immediate release from jail of senior journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who was convicted on August 31 on charges accusing him of terrorism for the content of his reporting on human rights issues.

The IFJ is deeply worried that the Press Council Act re-introduces stringent provisions against press freedom. It allows for journalists to be prosecuted for contempt and sentenced to extended periods in prison, and prohibits publication of materials including government documents, matters related the armed services and national security and economic policy.

IFJ General Secretary Aidan White has condemned the reintroduction of the Act as “a worrying retreat from an agreed compact that the media is best served by self-regulation rather than a coercive imposition of the government’s will”.

The IFJ commends its affiliates, the Free Media Movement (FMM), the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA) and the Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Unions (FMETU), and fellow members of the “Sri Lanka Five” press freedom movement - the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) and the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA) - for the unity and courage they have shown during the years-long crisis for the media in Sri Lanka.

The IFJ further supports the efforts of a broader coalition between these five organisations and the Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka and the National Forum of Journalists to initiate broader civil action to meet the challenges of post-conflict reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

“Any country where journalists contend with murder, assault or imprisonment for independent reporting on matters of great public interest cannot boast of upholding democratic freedoms,” White said today.

“It is imperative that the Rajapakse Government take concrete steps now to overturn the measures it has implemented to gag free public dialogue and debate, including the immediate withdrawal of the Press Council Act and by ensuring that perpetrators of violence against journalists are brought to justice.”

The fresh efforts to defend media rights in Sri Lanka come as the Rajapakse Government shows little sign of relenting in its campaign of hostility against local and foreign media and journalists’ organisations, even after declaring victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on May 19.

After the murder of Sunday Leader editor-in-chief Lasantha Wickrematunga on January 8, 2009, many leading journalists and press freedom activists fled Sri Lanka in fear of their lives. No arrests have been made for the murder of Wickrematunga, and many activists remain in exile.

On February 26, Nadesapillai Vithyatharan, editor of the Tamil-language daily Sudar Oli, disappeared in a “white van” abduction. Police initially denied any involvement, but then claimed Vithyatharan was a “wanted person” and was being detained by police. He was held without charge until a court ordered his release on April 24.

On June 1, unknown persons viciously assaulted senior journalist activist Poddala Jayantha, who has since been elected President of the SLWJA. Jayantha’s injuries will likely leave him with lifelong disabilities. The assault was preceded by public statements by government spokesmen inciting violence against Jayantha. No arrests have been made and the government spokesmen have not been compelled to rescind their comments.

On August 31, Tissainayagam, who had been held in custody since March 2008, was sentenced to 20 years’ rigorous imprisonment under Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency Regulations. He is one of few journalists to be convicted in a democratic country under terrorism-related charges on the basis of his or her professional work. The matter is under appeal.

Tissainayagam’s colleagues, N. Jesiharan and Valamarthi, continue to face trial on related charges.

The IFJ stands firmly with all journalists and press freedom defenders in Sri Lanka who, at great personal risk, continue to defy efforts by the war lobby to entrench a culture of silence in Sri Lanka.

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide

September 28, 2009

How and why the army fired on IDP's at Menik Farm

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

September 26th 2009 saw an altercation erupting between Internally displaced persons (IDP) "detained" at the Menik Farm IDP camp at Chettikulam and members of the Sri Lanka Army deployed in the area.

While the defence ministry spokesperson Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara and the media center for national security (MCNS) have provided "official" versions of what had supposedly happened independent probing by this writer reveals that the official story is rather inaccurate on key areas. Neither does it provide a clear picture of what had happened.

There was no "escape" attempt by a group of IDP's as stated by official sources and picked up by sections of the media. It is also incorrect that there was an attempt by the IDP's to throw a hand grenade at the soldiers. [click here to read the article in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

Tots initiating to the world of learning: "Vithyaarambam"

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

"Vijayathasami” is celebrated today-September 28th 2009, the last day of Navarathri or nine nights. The Navarathri festival is dedicated to Goddess Durga, Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Saraswathy.

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Kaveri is being taught Tamil alphabets

Vijayathasami is an auspicious day to initiate learning for the children, which is known as “Eadu Thodangal” or “Vithyaarambam”(Vithya means Knowledge, and Aarambam means Beginning) in Tamil. [click here to read in full ~ humanityashore.com]

Risks have to be taken to overcome North-South divide

by Jehan Perera

It was nearly two years after my last visit to Jaffna. On that occasion, in December 2007, the war was over in the east, and the Sri Lankan military was battling it out in the north. Late in the night we could still hear the thunder of artillery firing in the distance. There were hardly any visitors to Jaffna. The tension in the air was palpable and the people melted from the streets by 5 pm. On this occasion when I visited Jaffna the war had been over more than four months. The streets had people on them well past 9 pm and the tension was much less with the sound of thunder being only caused by lightning.

However, some important things remained unchanged. The road connecting Jaffna to the rest of the country, the A9 Highway, remained closed to people who wished to travel to Jaffna from outside, unless a special permit was obtained from the Ministry of Defence. There is still only a limited bus transportation service. But that is only open to passengers from Jaffna. If they purchase a two-way ticket from Jaffna, they can also return by bus from Colombo. Strangely enough it is not possible to purchase a bus ticket from Colombo to go to Jaffna.

It seems that no one, except for those who drew up this scheme of travel, will know the rationale for the restriction on the flow of passenger traffic by road to Jaffna. There was some speculation that the restriction on bus travel from Colombo to Jaffna is to help the airline companies make ends meet, and make the necessary payments. The freedom of movement throughout the country is a basic right of the citizen. But, the residents of Jaffna, and those in the welfare camps for the internally displaced, remain as a large and conspicuous exception. They feel and they are marginalized and excluded, cut off from the mainstream of economic, social and political life of Sri Lanka.

For many years Jaffna residents have described themselves as being confined to an open air prison. They are free to move about within Jaffna, subject to checkpoints that dot the peninsula. But they are not free to travel out of the peninsula. Any resident of Jaffna who wishes to leave the peninsula for whatever reason, be it to visit relatives, see tourist sites in other parts of the country or for medical emergencies, has to obtain an exit permit from the military authorities. Obtaining this permit requires certification from the Grama Niladari, the local military commander and so on, until it goes higher up the chain of military command. Needless to say the power to give exit permits is a source of patronage that anyone who wields such authority would be loath to give up.

International Comparison

One of my purposes in traveling to Jaffna was to find out how life there had changed with the end of the war. The first encounters, however, were not favourable ones. I had to travel by air, as travel by road was not possible without a special permit from the Ministry of Defence. I hoped that travel by air to Jaffna would be an improvement over what it had been two years ago during the time of war. To my disappointment and discomfort there was no difference, the hardships were just the same. There are some readers who may misunderstand my lament as due to the personal inconvenience to me. But my point is that unless there is change, it will be very difficult to win the hearts and minds of the people of Jaffna.

Along with all other passengers, I was asked to report at 3.30 am at the airline office in Wellawatte to be taken from there by special bus to the airport at Ratmalana to catch the 7 am flight. It appears that no exceptions are made, so that passengers who come from beyond Ratmalana also have to come to Wellawatte to catch the bus. At those wee hours of the morning in the airline office, a single clerk painstakingly took down by hand, the identity card and ticket details of all passengers and also took away their mobile phones and cameras which he sealed in individual plastic bags.

It was close to 5 am when the bus finally left the airline office with its plastic chairs. The environment was closer to that of a welfare camp for displaced persons than to a multi million rupee business enterprise. Before reaching the airport, the passengers had to disembark at a shed-like place and show their tickets and identity cards to military personnel. They, too, painstakingly took down all these details by hand. This was done again at the airport itself after we had boarded a second bus. We were told that we had to go through this procedure twice at the airport because both the army and air force shared responsibilities for the security of the airport, and we had to give our details to both.

These procedures were no different from what I had experienced two years ago. The fact that the war had ended seemed to have made no difference to the security precautions being taken, if this could be called that. The only improvement that could be observed was the X-Ray screening of baggage rather than the hand search that took place in the past. Going from one phase of the process of boarding the airplane to another took a long time each step of the way. The waste of time seemed to be not of consequence. When the flight took off it was past 7.30 am.

This was almost like a flight to an international destination, though in much less comfortable circumstances. Usually internal flights require just one hour or less for the check in. Here it was at least three hours. The cost of the flight was around Rs 20,000 for a return ticket, which is more than some of the return tickets to Indian destinations. The comparison to an international flight was also made more real by what happened on disembarkation at the Jaffna airport.

Colombo Paradigm

Upon disembarking in Jaffna, all passengers had to go through a screening process, which was no less time consuming than the one in Colombo. Passengers had to be registered again, on two separate occasions which included the taking of a photograph, before being issued an entry permit that was valid for a month. Passengers also had to board two different buses within the airport, to get us through the different checkpoints, before finally boarding a third bus that took us to Jaffna city. When we finally arrived in Jaffna city it was past 10.30 am, a full seven hours after reporting time for a flight that took less than one hour of flying time.

In a manner that was similar to the physical travails of travel to Jaffna, the outer appearances in Jaffna were also unfavourable. There was the appearance of a rundown town with ramshackle roads and the fearful scars of past battles in the form of massive physical destruction of buildings. There were also welfare camps for those who had been displaced by the war, with new camps and old camps, some 64 in all, on the side of the roads and in the interior. There was also a strong military presence, with soldiers present at almost every main junction.

On the positive side, conditions also have improved. There has been a reduction in the level of tension, and people feel more secure about their safety. The last time I went to Jaffna people showed me where someone had been shot and another had been abducted. That was a time of great tension when half a dozen or more such incidents could occur in a day. This had all stopped. With the opening of the A9 Highway to the transport of goods, the prices had fallen and Jaffna farmers and fishers had more opportunity to sell their produce. But this is still not normalcy. The opening of the A9 Highway to passenger traffic and the removal of the exit and entry permit system to Jaffna is a necessary first step to the restoration of normalcy, and to truly re-uniting the north with the south.

Granting people the freedom of movement after the restrictions of war may seem too great a risk. But, societies that are open and democratic always have to take risks that some terrorist or demented person somewhere will explode a bomb. The vast numbers of people who thronged the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) in Colombo during the recently concluded International Book Fair was a clear and convincing demonstration of normalcy and an end to war. There was scarcely any security to be seen or felt, and yet there was no incident. The large number of bookshops and book publishers showed that Sri Lanka has a literate and well read population whom the government can take into its confidence in taking the risks that need to be taken to re-link the north and south again.

September 27, 2009

Al Jazeera video: What will it take for post-war Sri Lanka to achieve national reconciliation?

In this special Feature, Al Jazeera looks into what will it take for post-war Sri Lanka to achieve national reconciliation?

Today, about 250,000 Tamils displaced by the fighting remain in camps in the north of the country and are not being allowed to leave.

The government claims it intends to root out remnants of the LTTE from their midst before resettling most of the civilians by the end of the year.

But critics say the detention is inhumane and urge more transparency from the government regarding the situation in the camps.

Part 1

Part 2

William Safire, NY Times Columnist, Is Dead at 79

By ROBERT D. McFADDEN

William Safire, a speechwriter for President Richard M. Nixon and a Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist for The New York Times who also wrote novels, books on politics and a Malaprop’s treasury of articles on language, died at a hospice in Rockville, Md., on Sunday. He was 79.

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Mr. Safire on "Meet the Press" in 2005

The cause was pancreatic cancer, said Martin Tolchin, a friend of the family.

There may be many sides in a genteel debate, but in the Safire world of politics and journalism it was simpler: There was his own unambiguous wit and wisdom on one hand and, on the other, the blubber of fools he called “nattering nabobs of negativism” and “hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”

He was a college dropout and proud of it, a public relations go-getter who set up the famous Nixon-Khrushchev “kitchen debate” in Moscow, and a White House wordsmith in the tumultuous era of war in Vietnam, Nixon’s visit to China and the gathering storm of the Watergate scandal, which drove the president from office.

Then, from 1973 to 2005, Mr. Safire wrote his twice-weekly “Essay” for the Op-Ed page of The Times, a forceful conservative voice in the liberal chorus. Unlike most Washington columnists who offer judgments with Olympian detachment, Mr. Safire was a pugnacious contrarian who did much of his own reporting, called people liars in print and laced his opinions with outrageous wordplay.

Critics initially dismissed him as an apologist for the disgraced Nixon coterie. But he won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, and for 32 years tenaciously attacked and defended foreign and domestic policies, and the foibles, of seven administrations. Along the way, he incurred enmity and admiration, and made a lot of powerful people squirm.

Mr. Safire also wrote four novels, including “Full Disclosure” (Doubleday, 1977), a best-seller about succession issues after a president is blinded in an assassination attempt, and nonfiction that included “The New Language of Politics” (Random House, 1968), and “Before the Fall” (Doubleday, 1975), a memoir of his White House years.

And from 1979 until earlier this month, he wrote “On Language,” a New York Times Magazine column that explored written and oral trends, plumbed the origins and meanings of words and phrases, and drew a devoted following, including a stable of correspondents he called his Lexicographic Irregulars.

The columns, many collected in books, made him an unofficial arbiter of usage and one of the most widely read writers on language. It also tapped into the lighter side of the dour-looking Mr. Safire: a Pickwickian quibbler who gleefully pounced on gaffes, inexactitudes, neologisms, misnomers, solecisms and perversely peccant puns, like “the president’s populism” and “the first lady’s momulism,” written during the Carter presidency.

There were columns on blogosphere blargon, tarnation-heck euphemisms, dastardly subjunctives and even Barack and Michelle Obama’s fist bumps. And there were Safire “rules for writers”: Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors. Proofread carefully to see if you words out. Avoid clichés like the plague. And don’t overuse exclamation marks!!

Behind the fun, readers said, was a talented linguist with an addiction to alliterative allusions. There was a consensus, too, that his Op-Ed essays, mostly written in Washington and syndicated in hundreds of newspapers, were the work of a sophisticated analyst with voluminous contacts and insights into the way things worked in Washington.

Mr. Safire called himself a pundit — the word, with its implication of self-appointed expertise, might have been coined for him — and his politics “libertarian conservative,” which he defined as individual freedom and minimal government. He denounced the Bush administration’s U.S.A. Patriot Act as an intrusion on civil liberties, for example, but supported the war in Iraq.

He was hardly the image of a button-down Times man: The shoes needed a shine, the gray hair a trim. Back in the days of suits, his jacket was rumpled, the shirt collar open, the tie askew. He was tall but bent — a man walking into the wind. He slouched and banged a keyboard, talked as fast as any newyawka and looked a bit gloomy, like a man with a toothache coming on.

His last Op-Ed column was “Never Retire.” He then became chairman of the Dana Foundation, which supports research in neuroscience, immunology and brain disorders. In 2005, he testified at a Senate hearing in favor of a law to shield reporters from prosecutors’ demands to disclose sources and other information. In 2006, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. From 1995 to 2004, he was a member of the board that awards the Pulitzer Prizes.

William Safir was born on Dec. 17, 1929, in New York City, the youngest of three sons of Oliver C. and Ida Panish Safir. (The “e” was added to clarify pronunciation.) He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and attended Syracuse University, but quit after his second year in 1949 to take a job with Tex McCrary, a columnist for The New York Herald Tribune who hosted radio and television shows; the young legman interviewed Mae West and other celebrities.

In 1951, Mr. Safire was a correspondent for WNBC-TV in Europe and the Middle East, and jumped into politics in 1952 by organizing an Eisenhower-for-President rally at Madison Square Garden. He was in the Army from 1952 to 1954, and for a time was a reporter for the Armed Forces Network in Europe. In Naples he interviewed both Ingrid Bergman and Lucky Luciano within a few hours of each other.

In 1959, working in public relations, he was in Moscow to promote an American products exhibition and managed to steer Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev into the “kitchen debate” on capitalism versus communism. He took the photograph that became an icon of the encounter. Nixon was delighted, and hired Mr. Safire for his 1960 campaign for the presidency against John F. Kennedy.

Starting his own public relations firm in 1961, Mr. Safire worked in Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller’s 1964 presidential race and on John V. Lindsay’s 1965 campaign for mayor of New York. Mr. Safire also wrote his first book, “The Relations Explosion” (Macmillan, 1963).

In 1962, he married the former Helene Belmar Julius, a model, pianist and jewelry designer. The couple had two children, Mark and Annabel. His wife and children survive him, as does a granddaughter, Lily Safire.

In 1968, he sold his agency, became a special assistant to President Nixon and joined a White House speechwriting team that included Patrick J. Buchanan and Raymond K. Price Jr. Mr. Safire wrote many of Nixon’s speeches on the economy and Vietnam, and in 1970 coined the “nattering nabobs” and “hysterical hypochondriacs” phrases for Vice President Spiro T. Agnew.

After Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, publisher of The Times, hired Mr. Safire, one critic said it was like setting a hawk loose among doves. As Watergate broke, Mr. Safire supported Nixon, but retreated somewhat after learning that he, like others in the White House, had been secretly taped.

Mr. Safire won his Pulitzer Prize for columns that accused President Jimmy Carter’s budget director, Bert Lance, of shady financial dealings. Mr. Lance resigned, but was acquitted in a trial. He then befriended his accuser.

Years later, Mr. Safire called Hillary Clinton a “congenital liar” in print. Mrs. Clinton said she was offended only for her mother’s sake. But a White House aide said that Bill Clinton, “if he were not the president, would have delivered a more forceful response on the bridge of Mr. Safire’s nose.”

Mr. Safire was delighted, especially with the proper use of the conditional. - courtesy: NY Times.com

Abandoned Muslim Property in the Northern Province: The legal consequences- Concerns and Recommendations

By M.H.M. Salman

The purpose of this paper is to initiate a dialogue among interested parties on the subject of secondary occupation of private property belonging to the Muslims of the North and to draw attention of the policy makers to take necessary remedial action.

The process of expulsion of Muslims from the Northern Province commenced as early as 1985. Muslims from Mullativu were the first victims. In the latter part of year 1990 a full scale expulsion of Muslims took place. According to a survey conducted by Dr. S.H. Hisbullah Muslim families were expelled from about 70 villages.

According to the national census conducted in 1981 a total of 54,205 Muslims lived in the North. In the absence of official population statistics it is assumed that on the basis of calculation of 2% annual growth of population (from 1982 to 1990) there would have been around 63,000 Muslims in the North at the time of expulsion.

The expulsion was successful in the Jaffna, Mullaitivu, and Kilinochchi Districts. In the Mannar District it was a partial success. About 6,000 Muslims braved threats and intimidation and continued to live there. Records show in Mannar the Muslim population dropped (From 26.81% to 5.14%) drastically to less than 6,000 after the expulsion. In the Vavuniya District the entire Muslim population remained intact. (Statistically)

According to available statistics a total of 20,583 Muslims currently live in the North. The Secretariat for the Northern Muslims estimates that there are 19,314 displaced families living outside the North at present. Another category of the displaced Muslims live outside Sri Lanka. Accurate figures and where they currently live are not available.

According to a survey carried out by the Muslim Rights Organisation an extent in excess of 30,000 acres of land belonging to 11,058 Muslim individuals have been abandoned in the North. Abandoned land is either occupied by third parties or remains unoccupied.

Even after the lapse of nineteen long years and the defeat of the LTTE displaced Muslims are not in a position to take a full stock of the status of their property. Reasons are, inaccessibility due to security, hostile environment and the presence of mines etc. Those who had managed with difficulty to visit and inspect the properties had witnessed that in certain cases third parties are in possession. Abandoned lands have undergone considerable physical changes. Land is either overgrown or the surface has undergone changes rendering identification difficult.

According to surveys 12% houses in the Jaffna district are subject to secondary occupation. Secondary occupation of property is very much prevalent in the other districts in the North too though accurate details are not available. The true extent of the secondary occupation of property will only be known when normalcy is restored and the displaced individuals are permitted to visit the areas without restriction.

Several studies have been conducted to assess the impact of secondary occupation in Sri Lanka by a number of international organisations and policy institutes. However the State policy or the law reforms have not been very responsive to the outcomes or to the actual needs that have been identified. The studies have found that secondary occupation of land and houses raises the following social issues-

Potential to create fresh disputes

Competing claims and protracted legal/administrative procedures

Hindrance to orderly re-settlement of the displaced

The subject of secondary occupation of property has been subjected to extensive discussion and research in other parts of the world. Countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, and Guatemala have successfully implemented restitution plans.

According to laws of Sri Lanka encroachment or forcible occupation of land and houses are per se unlawful. An aggrieved individual can seek redress through courts of law to have the trespasser or the illegal occupant ejected from the property and gain possession through legal remedies such as possessory action or under section 66 of the Primary Courts Procedure Act.

As much as laws enable individuals to acquire property and assert ownership the laws also provide for the legal basis for loss of ownership to property. The law is found in the Prescription Ordinance which the British enacted more than 100 years ago. Prescription Ordinance governs both acquisitive and extinctive prescription. In layman's language a person can acquire or lose ownership to property by operation of the law of Prescription.

The basis of extinctive prescription is founded on the principle of negligence on the part of the owner of property. In terms of the law an owner of property is under a legal obligation to assert the legal right of ownership within a stipulated period of time to re-possess property. Should the owner fail or neglect to institute legal action within the stipulated time the secondary occupant acquires ownership provided certain conditions are fulfilled.

Courts of law apply provisions of prescription law in terms of procedures laid down in Statutes. In ordinary circumstances where parties are equally placed application of the law is reasonable and justified. However in conflict environments the parties to a dispute may at times not be equally placed in many respects.

For instance in a lawsuit where a displaced Muslim from the North is challenging a secondary occupant of property in the North, he is at a definite disadvantage vis-a- vis the secondary occupier. a) Northern Muslim lives elseware b) properties are inaccessible c) the environment is hostile d) inability to have access to documents or witnesses etc. on the other hand the secondary occupant is placed in an advantageous position by virtue of his possession and the unrestricted access to witnesses, documents and the friendly environment.

One of the incidental issues arising out of secondary occupation of property is the impact of restitution will have on the secondary occupant. Although the occupation of property belonging to others is an unlawful act, there are other circumstances necessitating a more flexible approach to the resolution of this complex issue.

If a secondary occupant is ejected from the property, more often than not it will give rise to fresh problems. That is because in the North most of the secondary occupants are poor landless and belongs to the Tamil community. In such circumstances the ejectment of a secondary occupier will also lead to more tension in the society.

Successful military operations have paved the way for re-settlement of Muslims of the North. The Government has also taken several positive steps in this regard. However no attention is paid to resolve the issues arising out of secondary occupation of private property in the North. In order to complement the efforts of the government the following broader issues are identified in respect of issues relating to secondary occupation in conflict areas-

-Total inadequacy of laws and policies deal with secondary occupation

-Absence of cost effective and enforceable alternative dispute resolution mechanisms

-Inability of the authorities and the non-state actors to resolve these issues in a just and peaceful manner;

-Potential for future tension between individuals and communities

-Sensitivities and genuine concerns of secondary occupants

Instead of strategies, successive governments were keen to set up multitude of ministries, departments institutions and ad hoc mechanisms creating fresh problems. Issues of co-ordination, overlapping of functions and responsibilities have often created delays, confusion if not conflict among the institutions themselves to the detriment of the displaced people.

Recommendations

In order to address issues arising out of abandonment of property and secondary occupation all parties must think innovatively and also act fast. Following are some thoughts for policy and law reform. For purpose of clarity the envisaged policy and law reforms are set out in three stages, but all stages are interconnected.

Immediate

1.Initiation of a dialogue involving all parties

The government must initiate a dialogue with all stakeholders.

2. Vesting of abandoned land and properties of displaced (Northern) in the State
Enactment of a new legislation or regulations to grant legal protection to abandoned private property in the North and East. Such law or regulation should have the effect of vesting the properties of the displaced automatically (by operation of law) in the State without any encumbrances.

Laws can be enacted through an act of Parliament or under regulations under Public Security Ordinance. Soon after July 1983 riots REPIA was created through regulation and all affected properties were vested in the State by operation of law. Land and properties vested as such were divested to legal owners after inquiry.

3. Preservation of documents of title to property

Immediate action must be taken by the authorities to preserve and protect documents of title to property such as deeds, permits issued by government and also survey plans, agreements, licences and other document relating to approvals issued by local authorities or government institutions. Issue of copies of documents destroyed or lost too should be expedited.

4. Conducting of land survey and photographing of property

Due to abandonment of property for long periods of time all identity marks and other evidence have been lost or destroyed. The original owners will not be able to identify their properties due to lack or non existence of surface marks or signs. Therefore the Government must facilitate displaced persons to obtain ruling on boundaries of their property under relevant law or practice.

A comprehensive report of property of the northern Muslims is available using new and advanced technologies. A survey too should be carried out to obtain details of land ownership of individuals.

5. Creation of awareness among the displaced population

Lack of awareness and ignorance has affected most of the displaced persons. They are not very much aware of their legal rights and entitlements. Most of them have hopes of returning to their homes in unsafe neighbourhoods. Most of them are also unaware of legal consequences arising out of abandonment of property

Intermediate

Law and policy reform

1)Enactment of new laws and amendment to existing legislation

A serious danger is likely that the legal owners losing ownership due to the operations prescription. If a displaced person loses title to property in such circumstance it will be a travesty of justice and will also reflect poorly on all stakeholders.

Therefore the Government must seriously consider introducing necessary amendments to the Prescription Ordinance and other relevant law without further delay.

2. Setting up of special tribunals/courts to inquire in to property claims

The Government should give serious consideration to set up special courts or tribunals to hear and determine applications in areas where the displaced live, on matters relating to land disputes. These courts or tribunals could be set up under special law. The special courts or tribunals must have jurisdiction to hear applications on a wider range of subjects and should also have powers to expeditiously settle disputes relating to property.

Such courts or tribunals must be given jurisdiction to inquire into testamentary cases and disputes relating to land between persons (displaced persons or one party is a displaced person) that were pending at the time of displacement. Similarly pending cases with regard to tenancy rights, servitudes or any right or obligation arising out of land too should be transferred to these special courts or tribunals for determination.

3. Laws to nullify land transfers under questionable circumstances

Several instances have been reported that Muslims of the North had been compelled under coercion or force to dispose land and property at a far lower price than the prevailing market value.

The Government should appoint a committee to investigate such instances and to recommend necessary law and policy changes to grant relief to affected individuals.

Policy reform and executive & administrative action

1999:New film on Tamil gang violence in Scarborough screens at Vancouver film festival

One December night in 1997, four hooded men fired guns into Cross Country Donuts at Bridletowne Circle and Finch Avenue East. They fled, not caring they had just killed Kapilan Palasanthiran, 19, an aspiring scientist never in trouble with the law.

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New film to put spotlight on Tamil gang violence. Thelepan Somasegaram, left, and Deva Gasperson appear in the Tamil anti-violence film, '1999'.

The murder of Palasanthiran - one of several innocents killed by chance during the years the VVT and AK Kannans fought in Scarborough's streets - was not recreated for 1999, Lenin M. Sivam's film drama about Tamil youth gangs, but Sivam remembers Palasanthiran's funeral as a turning point.

"He was such a bright student and didn't know these things were happening. The issue was bothering people," said the director, whose first full-length feature will be shown at next month's Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) and then premiere in Toronto at Scotiabank Cineplex Theatre on Oct. 22.

Like Palasanthiran, Sivam was attending the University of Waterloo in 1997, but the filmmaker says he is more aware of the war between the gangs and the dangers that went with it.

"There were places I knew I shouldn't be at on a Friday night. Being Tamil, you don't want to be there."

But years after arrests and changes of heart removed gang leadership, there were questions Sivam wanted answered about who the gang members were and how the violence happened.

Over a year, he met and interviewed youth workers and a number of ex-gangsters, none of whom, Sivam said, were still engaged in crime. "They are all out of it. They have little kids. They admit how stupid and foolish they were," he said.

"They really think through my movie they will bring an awareness, so these things will not happen again."

Those interviews formed 1999's main characters: the underachiever Anpu, Kumar the gang leader and Ahilan, a straight-arrow university student.

"These characters did exist. You could have found one," Sivam said. "The way they talk, what they do on a Saturday morning, why do they fight, how do they get involved (in a gang), how do they get out of it. These were stories that I got from the real people."

1999 is not a Hollywood treatment of gangs. Its stories are of immigrants from a Sri Lanka torn by years of bloody conflict, youths who in Canada lack the support they got from extended families back home. They are caught between opposing cultures - one at home, the other at school.

"They tend to pick the bad things from both cultures," Sivam explained. "Gangs give them a purpose and a sense of belonging."

Though this summer fights between young Tamils have again resulted in deaths in Scarborough, trouble on the streets now is "totally different" and "not as organized as back then," said Sivam.

"Right now, it's guys hanging in the park or the mall and claiming it's their territory. These guys have no idea how to get a gun."

Making the film took investments and volunteer work from more than 100 people, mainly young family members and friends, willing to work 14 to 16-hour days over a dozen weekends in Scarborough, said executive producer Sebesan Jeyarajasingam, who had production equipment from a past project when he met Sivam a few years ago.

"We want to make this a full-time job," Jeyarajasingam said.

Sivam said the crew had to be particularly creative to "achieve a million-dollar shot with almost nothing" as his idol, the director Robert Rodrigues, did (as every aspiring independent filmmaker knows) when making El Mariachi for $7,000.

His father V.M.L. Sivam was a filmmaker too, assistant director in one of Sri Lanka's first Tamil-language films, then (under the screen name Jeyakanth) playing the male lead in another, Meenavapenn.

After working as a computer programmer and computer architect, Sivam realized he wanted to take on "touchy subjects." His short film Uruthy (Strength) in 2007 is about the stigma attached to mental illness in a culture where people believe "men should be macho and not cry."

Sivam said he had a cousin who killed himself. "He was suffering from depression and didn't know what he was going through."

The subject of 1990s gang violence may also offend some members of the Tamil community - groups such as the Canadian Tamil Youth Development Centre have worked to wipe the "gangs" association away and prove Tamil youth deserve a positive image - but Sivam said issues from those years must be faced.

"This is going to be our home for generations. It is important to look at our past. We should take this movie as a positive. We had a problem and we solved it," he said.

The Canadian Tamil Congress apparently agrees. It called 1999 "a rare and powerful story" and said the VIFF selection is a milestone for Tamil Canadians, the first time a film made by members of the community will be shown at an international festival.

1999, a Khatpanalaya Production, will open the festival's Canada Images Program on Oct. 14 and Oct. 15.

The soundtrack, featuring Lyrically Strapped and S.P. Balasubramaniyam, will be launched Oct. 1 at 3330 Pharmacy Ave. in a free event starting at 6:30 p.m. - courtesy: Inside Toronto

Saraswathy pooja: Celebrating the Goddess of wisdom

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Saraswathy Pooja was celebrated on September 27th 2009. Saraswathy is the Goddess of wisdom. Today is the ninth night of Navarathri festival.

Navarathri literally means nine nights. The nine nights are divided into three nights each dedicated for Goddess Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathy. Navarathri began on September 19th 2009.

Special poojas were held at the temples. Hindus celebrated Saraswathy Pooja at homes at dusk. Homes were purified, decorated with fresh flower garlands and Kolam.

Many savouries such as Aval, boiled and fried chick pea, sweet rice, vadai, and variety of fruits were offered to the Goddess on this special day.

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Books, equipments used for profession, musical instruments are kept in front of the deity Saraswathy for her blessings.

[Click here to see & read in full ~ humanityAshore.com]

Realated feature in Tamil: படத் திரட்டும் ஒலி வடிவமும்: சரஸ்வதி பூசை

General conditions attached to "patriotic" IMF loan

By: B Skanthakumar

After several months of prevarication, on 24 July the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Executive Board approved its largest single line of credit ever offered to Sri Lanka. The staggering USD 2.6 billion loan is significantly higher than the initial request of USD 1.9 billion, and its magnitude is best appreciated through comparison with the island’s total foreign debt of USD 12.5 billion, as of the end of 2008. The first instalment of USD 322 million was disbursed immediately; subject to periodic review, seven further allotments will now follow until March 2011. Yet with the agreement signed and the money now flowing, the loan remains the centre of intense debate both at home and abroad.

Even in the months leading up to the IMF’s decision, the loan was embroiled in controversy. Overseas, there was disgruntlement regarding the message it could send regarding the humanitarian and human-rights situation; at home, there was anxiety over perceived threats to sovereignty and a potential ‘debt trap’. One group, the New York-based Human Rights Watch, protested that the loan would be construed as a “reward for bad behaviour, not an incentive to improve”; in a statement on 22 July, it called upon the IMF to “make the release of each new tranche of funds contingent on tangible human rights progress.” The loan has certainly been greeted in Colombo as another victory, following that in May over the LTTE. However, as Dushni Weerakoon of the quasi-governmental Institute of Policy Studies commented in early August, “Victory is not something you would normally associate with an IMF loan … you approach the IMF when you have run out of options.” Still, in a sign of the times in post-war Sri Lanka, it is now apparently ‘un-patriotic’ to criticise dealings with an international financial institution that was once reviled as an agent of neo-colonialism by many of the constituents in the centre-left United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) coalition.

The avowed objective of this ‘stand-by agreement’, which provides short-term support for the country’s balance of payments, is to boost foreign reserves, which plummeted over the past year as military spending ballooned. The loan itself is being touted by both the government and the IMF as a vote of confidence in the flagging Sri Lankan economy, as well (many hope) as a catalyst for foreign direct investment. It certainly provides a lifeline to the government in its preparation of the November budget, which will precede snap presidential and scheduled parliamentary elections in 2010.

The application for the loan was first made in March, and approval was anticipated shortly thereafter. However, the Sri Lankan request coincided with an intensification of its military campaign to eradicate the LTTE from its remaining stronghold in the island’s northeast. Simultaneously, the international media began reporting on allegations of indiscriminate bombardment of Tamil civilians, including in the so-called no-fire zone, as well as on shortages of food, water and medicines for those trapped between the warring sides. Western diplomatic pressure was subsequently exerted to seek a negotiated end to the war. But sensing that the LTTE was cornered, and confident in the unconditional support it was receiving from a war-weary Sinhalese populace, the government became combative with both its foreign and its domestic critics. The IMF loan inevitably became entangled in these manoeuvrings, and it was only some two months after the LTTE’s comprehensive military defeat that it was finally sanctioned. Even then, though, Argentina, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States abstained from support, laying bare the rifts within the Fund’s Executive Board.

The current face-saving bravado aside, the IMF was indeed the government’s lender of last resort, and recourse to it a measure of Colombo’s desperation for foreign assistance in the face of the economic crisis at hand. Sri Lanka’s relationship with the IMF extends back to 1950, but the latter’s influence and importance in domestic policymaking grew, alongside that of the World Bank, with the post-1977 introduction of economic-liberalisation reforms by the rightwing United National Party (UNP) government. As the first country in Southasia to embrace deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation, Sri Lanka quickly became a donor favourite. Its remarkable social-welfare indicators and resilient democratic institutions, achieved in the context of a ‘closed economy’ and amidst modest rates of economic growth, made its seeming recantation of statist paradigms all the more sweet. As such, bilateral and multilateral loans and grants flooded into the country, despite the often less-than-faithful adherence to neo-liberal policy ‘conditionalities’ in the following decades, and the descent following the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom into war.

New relationships

Between 1991 and 2001, Sri Lankan borrowed no new money from the IMF. Yet this decision had more to do with the constraints of economic conditionalities on political actors (who are forced, periodically, to secure an electoral mandate), rather than any break with the growth-centred model of capitalist development promoted by international financial institutions. Following Mahinda Rajapakse’s election to the presidency at the end of 2005, it was signalled that the new government would forgo concessionary loans offered by the IMF and World Bank, rather than tolerate intrusions into its economic sovereignty. The IMF subsequently drew the appropriate conclusion, and closed its country office in January 2007.

In a significant shift, the new government sought to substitute the dependence on the IMF and World Bank by borrowing from commercial banks and the international money markets. Simultaneously, it sought to diversify aid relationships to non-traditional donors such as China, India and, more recently, Iran and Libya, in place of Canada, the European Union and the US. Despite punitive rates of interest (averaging eight percent per year) and short-term repayment period, loans were also contracted with private international banks such as Citicorp and HSBC; in 2007, the government raised USD 500 million through a single sovereign bond underwritten by HSBC, the proceeds from which were promptly exhausted in servicing existing debt obligations.

Perhaps the most significant element in this expansion has been the new bilateral relationships. To finance its ambitious mega-development schemes, for instance, the government obtained Chinese credit, including for the construction of the Norochcholai coal power plant near Puttalam, as well as for the Hambantota deep-sea port. Indian state investment has also been secured for at least one and possibly two thermal power plants near Trincomalee. Meanwhile, Iran is funding the Uma Oya hydropower-and-irrigation scheme in Moneragala District, the expansion of the Sapugaskanda oil refinery near Colombo, and is providing a substantial credit line on purchases of Iranian oil.

In 2008, then-foreign secretary and now Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Palitha Kohona, accounted for the rise of the new donors in his customary plain-speak: they are neighbours, they are rich, and they conduct themselves ‘differently’. He expanded on the last point: “Asians don’t go around teaching each other how to behave … There are ways we deal with each other – perhaps a quiet chat, but not wagging the finger.” Indeed, in addition to the Asian Development Bank (the ADB, which in the days following the approval of the IMF loan announced a 50 percent increase in its own lending to Sri Lanka), the constant in donor relationships has been the Japanese government, which is notoriously immune to environmental and human-rights concerns. Nevertheless, it was ultimately the unwillingness of Western donors to finance development projects in the context of the government’s militarist approach (and minimalist approach to power-sharing with minorities), and the strains on Chinese and Indian bilateral aid in view of their domestic economic difficulties, that drove the government back into the embrace of the IMF – which itself is desperately trying to re-invent itself and reclaim its legitimacy in the fallout from the global economic crisis.

So, in the wake of this turnaround, what of the new IMF loan itself? To start with, it is repayable within four years, starting in April 2012. The rate of interest averages between one and two percent, with additional surcharges depending on the size and pace of repayments. In contrast to commercial borrowing, the interest rates are low, and repayments can be spread over a longer period. However, contrary to the blithe assertions of Colombo politicians in recent days, there are indeed conditionalities attached to the loan, as there have been in the past, though these are of a somewhat more general character. The most debated of these has been the assurance of a reduction in the budget deficit to seven percent of national income by the end of 2009, with an even larger cutback to five percent by 2011. For this reason, many economic commentators – particularly enthusiasts of downsizing the public-sector workforce, divesting state-owned enterprises and decreasing state subsidies – are ecstatic. Nonetheless, they are also overwhelmingly pessimistic as to the realisation of these goals. Year after year, after all, the central government has overestimated the revenue it has projected to receive, while underestimating its expenditure, as if by design. In 2008, the budget deficit was almost eight percent, and is predicted to rise to almost ten percent this year – indicating that, with only a few months remaining, the 2009 target is already unattainable.

Another condition is an increase in tax revenues by at least two percent of national income by 2011. This is to take place through the expansion of the number of those liable to direct taxation, the reduction of tax exemptions, and the plugging of tax evasion through better enforcement. A Tax Commission was recently appointed, and its recommendations for reform are due by mid-October. Still, if revenue collection continues to disappoint, where will the scalpel be wielded on state expenditure? The logical choice, particularly post-war, would be the military budget. However, no sooner had victory over the LTTE been declared than the former army commander and now chief of defence staff, General Sarath Fonseka, announced his intention to increase the strength of the armed forces by 50 percent, to a whopping 300,000. Likewise, the heads of the air force and navy also made public their intentions to upgrade their own capabilities through the acquisition of ‘smart’ technology – accompanied, presumably, by matching price tags. In the absence of a ‘peace dividend’ from reallocated military-related expenditure, the other candidates for cuts would be public-sector salaries, transfers to loss-making public utilities and public companies, and the long-awaited reconstruction and development.

In its agreement with the IMF, the government has committed to ensuring that its two largest loss-making enterprises, the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), will break even by 2011. Yet again, it was only in 2008 that electricity tariffs were increased by a massive 35 percent, while global fuel price hikes are already dutifully passed on at the petrol pump. It is also unclear how savings would be made in state enterprises when rhetoric on eliminating mismanagement, corruption and waste has yet to translate into fruitful action. Some trade unions and the left-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna insist that the IMF conditionalities will eventually lead to the privatisation of the CEB and CPC. Clearly stung by such charges, in mid-August the government hurriedly announced the abolition of the Public Enterprises Reform Commission, which had been created in 1996 to divest state-owned enterprises. However, the Commission had been inactive since Mahinda Rajapakse took office, and its closure was largely symbolic.

The government would also be loath to freeze reconstruction and development, even if donor assistance were suddenly to dry up completely. The reconstruction of the north and east is a central part of Colombo’s political strategy, with an eye to weaning Tamils away from separatism; it is also cited as a precondition to the resettlement of the hundreds of thousands of displaced Tamils who were interned during the final phase of the war. Mega-projects elsewhere are no less important in conveying the government’s grand vision for development, its direction of state revenues to rural areas, and its integration of ‘peripheral’ regions into the national economy.

IMF + remittances

Meanwhile, critical sectors have been badly hit, and have yet to begin to turn around, many of which will not be affected by the new IMF injection of funds. The global economic crisis has affected demand for readymade garments in Sri Lanka’s main export markets, the US and EU. Beyond 2009, there are bleak prospects for the extension of the country’s current duty-free access into the EU, owing to poor implementation of core international human-rights and labour treaties and conventions, particularly as manifest in the ongoing humanitarian crisis. This would be a major self-inflicted blow to an industry in which dozens of factories have already closed. Likewise, the tourist trade, which had been in trouble since the December 2004 tsunami and the return to war, has been battered again by the global crisis. Finally, industrial action in August and September for a higher daily wage in the tea sector has seriously affected state revenues in what is still the island’s highest net export earner. The only consolation in all this is that migrant remittances – which remain the largest source of foreign exchange – have not fallen, despite the global meltdown, as originally feared.

With the short- to medium-term economic outlook being hardly promising and in need of its next ‘fix’, the government has announced its intention to raise a further USD 500 million in another international sovereign bond, to be issued in October. Those who raise concerns over the mounting debt burden and the all-too-familiar cycle of new loans to service old ones will no doubt run the usual gauntlet of abuse as ‘traitors’ and ‘terrorists’. At the war’s end and in pre-election mode, the ‘patriotism’ card keeps being played – evidently to distract from the weakness of the rest of the hand.

COURTESY: HIMAL SOUTH ASIA

September 26, 2009

In Pictures: Marking “Sani Peyarchchi”, transit of saturn to virgo-Sep 26

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

The Saturn (Saneeswaran) moves his house every thirty months. He moved from Simma Rasi (Leo) to Kanni Rasi (Virgo) on September 26th 2009 at 12.03 AM according to Vaakkiya Panchaangam (Almanac). Transition of Saturn took place on September 9th 2009 according to Thirukanitha Panchchaangam (Almanac)

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Special poojas and Yagams (vedic fire) have been orgainsed on the eve of the “Sani Peyarchchi”. A festival of Sani Peyarchchi was celebrated on September 26 th 2009. Since the tranisition took lace during Navaraaththri, certain devotees who are fasting refrained from participating in the Yagam. It is also believed that, it is not proper to light sesame lamps during Navaraththri festival. [click here to read in full ~ humanityAshore]

This is No Joke, Battlefront Not on Toronto Streets –EPRLF (P)

By Anuradha K. Herath

For decades, T. Sritharan, general secretary of the Eelam Peoples' Revolutionary Liberation Front-Pathmanabha wing (EPRLF-P), engaged in politics covertly. Under the watchful eye of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), he and his political party struggled to get their politically moderate message across to the people of the north and east. Despite the LTTE's claim of being the sole representative of the Tamil people, there were those who disagreed. Those dissenters were often suppressed.

2009-09-26-SritharanTC.jpg"Our people couldn't live anywhere," Sritharan says. "Our people were living only in a very low-profile way. They couldn't (engage) in any political activities. Anybody thinking against the LTTE, they kill. That is the problem. LTTE not only killed political leaders, they also killed intellectuals, even NGO people. They also killed [politically] left people and trade union people."

The EPRLF (before it split into two groups), along with other Tamil political parties, was banned by the LTTE in 1986. But Sritharan managed to survive the LTTE's ruthless elimination of those it considered Tamil moderates. Today, Sritharan and his party are allied with the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, working to address the grievances of the Tamil minority in post-war Sri Lanka.

In an interview in Colombo that lasted nearly two hours, Sritharan spoke candidly about the issues facing Sri Lanka's Tamil population.

The Diaspora

For decades, the Sri Lankan diaspora -- both Tamil and Sinhala -- played a crucial role in the conflict. Political scientist Christine Fair wrote about the Tamil diaspora communities in Nationalism and Ethnic Politics in 2005.

"As has been noted, the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora has been a fundamental component of the Tamil insurgency," she writes. "It has been the backbone of the LTTE's global operations and has been a financial lifeline of the militancy."

The last stages of Sri Lanka's 30-year conflict with the LTTE saw massive protests staged in capitals around the world against the government's military offensive. Toronto was a key flashpoint. According to some estimates, the city has a Tamil population of approximately 200,000, including many LTTE supporters. Thousands from Toronto's Tamil diaspora poured on to the streets to protest, forcing road closures and disrupting civil life.

Now, with the military struggle over and the LTTE defeated, Sritharan says the diaspora will have to assume a new role.

"The Tamil diaspora in the last 20 years, a section of the diaspora, supported to build up the LTTE war," he says. "They also, right or wrong, contributed a number of children. Now, their contribution [must be] to the upliftment of the people and their lives. They must contribute very positively."

"[In] their countries also, different kinds of people are available. Different societies also tolerate each other. Living in another country, your experience, your education (and) your wealth must be shared locally."

Speaking emotionally about the numbers of Tamil people killed, injured and widowed through the conflict, Sritharan accused the Tamil diaspora of not understanding the realities on the ground.

"They think the children are poor peoples' sons and daughters," Sritharan says. "Some people in Toronto, in LTTE uniforms, rallying [demonstrating]. The ordinary soldier from the Sinhala south is also from a poor peasant family. These children are from poor families. These people are also fighting in the front. It is not some school program or sports meet."

Sritharan's contention is that diaspora communities have the luxury of observing from a distance. They have the luxury of free speech in countries such as the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia (with large Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora populations) to protest and speak out without having to face dangerous consequences. But they have "no sentimental attachment with the land," Sritharan says, and the children of poor Tamil and Sinhala families end up fighting for the cause.

"The battlefront is not on Toronto's streets," he says. "This is not a bloody joke. These kinds of people also exploit the ordinary peoples' life and limb."

Working for Peace

On Sept. 7, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), widely known as the LTTE's proxy party, met with President Rajapaksa for the first time since the defeat of the LTTE. The TNA consists of five Tamil political parties: Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchchi, All Ceylon Tamil Congress, Tamil United Liberation Front, EPRLF-S (Suresh wing led by Suresh Premachandran) and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization. The focus of the meeting was the humanitarian crisis in the north, particularly the resettling of internally displaced persons.

Sritharan did not attend this meeting but says he spoke about the issue with President Rajapaksa when he attended an all-party meeting July 2.

"I mentioned to (President Rajapaksa), you also played a good role in the latter part of the 80s on human rights," Sritharan says. "You also played a historical role for 20, 25 years to eradicate the Tamil fascism. In the same way, you will try to devolve the powers to the other communities, Tamils including other communities, as well as value the peoples' respect and dignity."

Sritharan believes President Rajapaksa faces pressure from the People's Liberation Front (JVP) and Jathika Hela Urumaya parties against devolving power, but he is hopeful.

"Now the government must take some risks," says Sritharan. "Peace is the main agenda. Free the people from camps. Celebrate the peace. At that time, if one or two LTTE (members) create problems, the people will punish them. Now if the (existing) situation continues, that is a fertilized ground."

Sritharan calls on the government to release from IDP camps those who can easily be identified as not being a threat -- families with five or six children, widows, pregnant women and the elderly.

"Now people also want to live," he says. "They want their children educated. They want jobs. They want peace."

courtesy: The Huffington Post

Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anuradha-herath/eprlf-p-gen-sec-sritharan_b_300800.html

Mano Ganesan meets UNSG’s representative Walter Kalin

Full Text of Media Release

Civil Monitoring Commission Convener and DPF Leader Mano Ganesan MP met UN Secretary General’s representative on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Walter Kalin on Saturday 26th morning in Colombo. A communiqué issued by Ganesan’s office said that Mano Ganesan communicated the positions of CMC and emocratic opposition to Walter Kalin. Communiqué further says,

Resettlement process of the Internally Displace Person’s is on a slow motion due the inabilities of the government. The reasons put forward by the government in respect of not letting the people go home lack plenty of credibility. Members of media, human rights defender and diplomatic communities are not permitted to conduct independent visits to the IDP sites. Few are taken on guided tours by the government. Even the elected parliamentarians of the Parliament of Sri Lanka are prevented from visiting the internally displaced locations in Vavuniya region. All indications are there for the situation getting worse due to the incoming monsoon conditions. CMC considers that both the administration of the camps and re settlement of the displaced people need to be undertaken by the UN with the government’s participation.

From the office of Mano GANESAN

Leader of Democratic Peoples Front
Convener of Civil Monitoring Commission
President of Democratic Worker’s Congress
President of Parliamentarians for Human Rights
Member of Parliament for Colombo District

Raj Rajaratnam Sets Example for Diaspora Members to Follow

By Kalyananda Godage

The news last week that Raj Rajaratnam had pledged a million US dollars to help with the rehabilitation of former LTTE combatants would be welcomed in certain circles but would have raised the hackles among the hardliners in the Diaspora and he may be under sever pressure to change his mind. There would also be many in this country who would ask the question as to why we should accept money from any member of the Tamil Diaspora who has given money to the TRO. That was of course during the Ranil Wickremasinghe administration when we had the CFA and the TRO was considered respectable. It was long before the organization was proscribed.

The reaction of the locals would be an understandable reaction considering the harm done to this country by the Tamil Diaspora, to many of whom the war was revenge for Black July in 1983 which resulted in them leaving the country in droves. As for Rajaratnam who, according to the Forbes List is one of the richest men in the world, he has been investing heavily in this country over a long period of time; he is said to hold shares in John Keells Holdings, Hemas and in a number of other institutions in this country. His investments here, according to informed sources, amount to over Rs. 300 million.

Who is this Rajanathan Rajaratnam? he was born in 1957 in Colombo and was educated at S. Thomas’ Mt. Lavinia; he obtained a Bsc Engineering degree from the University of Sussex and followed it up with obtaining an MBA in Finance from the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania. His personal income today is estimated at between 300 and 400 million US dollars. He began life at the American Investment Bank, Needham and Company, where he worked for 11 years ending as President of the Bank in 1991. In Jan. 1997 he left Needham and established the Galleon Fund. The assets of that Fund is said to be worth five (05) billion US dollars. He is recently reported to have said "At some point you stop working for money, you work for pride and to help others".

There are a few issues here but we cannot forget the invitation extended by the President himself to the Tamil expatriates to return and help the country. Most of the Tamil expatriates who settled in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia were middle class professionals and they have done well, some like Rajaratnam brilliantly; those who went to Germany, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and some other countries of Europe were of a different class but they all found employment and it could be stated without surprise that they all thought in terms of helping establish a separate state in Sri Lanka and contributed in whatever way they could towards the cause. These groups of Tamil expatriates were organized to support the cause by persons such as Lawrence Thilagar who worked out of Paris where they first established their international headquarters and Anton Ponraj who was in Geneva.

Over a period of time the professional Tamils particularly in the US, Canada, Britain and Australia organized themselves to form the ‘Brains Trust’ of the movement. On the operational side they had the likes of KP and a few others. As we all know now, they collected millions of US dollars with which they bought arms and funded their other activities. The lobbyist they retained in the US was paid USD 30,000 a month!

The reason for setting this out is to draw attention to the funding potential of the Tamil expatriates; The LTTE’s income from its businesses, extortion from Tamils living abroad and from illegal activities was said to amount to around 250 million USD a year! We need to look at this issue without prejudice and in the country’s interest. Whilst many among them would wish to continue to seek their Eelam, the majority have come to terms with the fact that establishing Eelam by military means cannot be realized and are interested in achieving the goal of political empowerment, equality, dignity and prosperity by peaceful means.

In any case every Tamil whilst supporting their campaign for equal rights did not support the use of violence and terrorism to achieve those ends This is why the Tamil expatriate communities must be brought in to assist in the recovery programme of the country. There is certainly no question that they could take a load out of the government’s burden in this regard; the government would have more money to spend on the development of other areas particularly the districts which were directly affected as a consequence of the war.

We are today fortunate that Raj Rajaratnam has set an example which we hope would be followed by other members of the Diaspora to whom, whether they accept it or not, this is also their land; we the people in this country and the government in particular have a duty, as I have stated earlier, to make a reality of the President’s invitation, to make it meaningful by creating conditions that would make the minorities feel they also belong here and could live in dignity, in security and also be a party to deciding on their own destiny and the destiny of the country.

Let us think in the long term and use this opportunity to rebuild our nation. The President himself stated that there are no minorities in this country; let us seek to give substance and meaning to his words Let us reach out to the Tamil expatriates and the countries hostile towards us for various reasons; for instance the Tamil Expatriates have been able, because of the fact that they have become a ‘vote bank’, to get the House of Commons to discuss the situation in Sri Lanka no less than six times. Britain is also leading the pack in the effort to see that we are deprived of the GSP plus concession.

Now if these Tamils of Britain become shareholders in the project to develop the north and east and the livelihoods of the Tamil people living in other parts of the country, it would as stated before be a huge burden lifted off the shoulders of the government. They, becoming stakeholders, would also end their hostilities towards our country. There is indeed much to be gained by making them partners and bringing them in.

On the matter of rehabilitating the former LTTE cadres, I was happy to learn that the IOM is actively engaged as is our private sector; so also the governments of the India, US, Britain and some other countries and of course the Diaspora with the coming in of Raj Rajaratnam. The beneficiaries will be those unfortunate young people who were brainwashed and thought that they were giving up their lives for a worthy cause. Let us now rehabilitate them and the child soldiers who were plucked away from their families and conscripted; let us all be a party to a great punya karma and give them back a new life so that they may become useful citizens for the good of our country.

An absence of actuality at Rajini memorial meeting at BMICH

by Dayan Jayatilleka

The evening was good but perhaps Rajani deserved a bit better. She always told it like it was, named things by their name, confronted reality frontally. That quintessential spirit of Rajani, her courageous, critical, ‘concreteness’, was by and large absent in the 20th anniversary commemoration held at the BMICH on September 25th. It was only in the keynote speaker from India, our old friend Nandita Haksar, that one recognized a spiritual sister of Rajani Thiranagama.

Even if a trifle protracted, the cultural component of the evening was beautiful, strong and poignant, with the singing voices of Rajani’s sisters (especially Nirmala’s opening dirge), Liyanage Amarakeerthi’s poetry reading and Rajani’s own writings being the high points.

There was something missing though, an absent presence: the absence of actuality; of the core truth about the tragic event that was being commemorated.

This, talented, sensitive, vivacious, brave, and rights conscious woman with a toothy grin, Rajani Thiranagama, who left an indelible impression from our first long discussions in London in 1985 to our last friendly fight on federalism (she arguing for, arms flailing, Dayapala and I studiedly against, and for autonomy instead) in a safe house in the suburbs of a Sri Lankan township in 1986 or ’87, was murdered, not by the Indian Peace Keeping Force, not by the Sri Lankan state, not by the Sinhala chauvinists, but precisely by the LTTE, the Tigers led by Velupillai Prabhakaran.

She was one of the many Tamil progressives to be murdered by them, Kethesh Loganathan and Neelan Tiruchelvam being other names that spring to mind.

The contribution to the meaningful souvenir by Indrawansa de Silva, whom I recall from the 1970s as a compelling student leader and orator from Vidyodaya University and now an academic in North America, says that “the assassination of Rajani then was the product of Sri Lanka’s political culture”. The truth which this obfuscates is that the assassination of Rajani was the product of the politics and ideology of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the political culture of the imagined community of “Eelam Tamils” which permitted and justified it.

In contradistinction, the Sri Lankan political culture is one that, among its many failures, has sustained the rudiments of an electoral democracy while decisively defeating – irrespective of ethnicity--two armed totalitarian movements, the JVP and the LTTE. If the counter-argument is that the Tamils never had a state to lean on while the Sinhalese did, it is a specious one because the large presence of the Indian Peacekeeping Force in support of the accord and the Provincial Councils provided Tamil polity with the intervention of a neutral/friendly, democratic, secular state, a reform worth defending and an opportunity to break with the Tigers and the project of Tamil Eelam. That litmus test was failed and the test results require the appropriate conclusion to be drawn from them.

The one name I never heard throughout the long evening was that of Velupillai Prabhakaran, and I cannot imagine a commemorative event for Jean Moulin which did not mention Hitler or for Tania which forgot to mention the Bolivian junta, the CIA and US imperialism. The most honest contribution to the commemorative souvenir was by Vijyakumary Murugaiah of the women’s centre Poorani, who has told it like it was and is, setting an example to the sophisticated cosmopolitan intelligentsia that monopolized the BMICH event. It is a pity that her presence was invisible and her voice not heard.

The touching myth of prophecy and ruminations against “power and violence” notwithstanding, the LTTE (though it suffered a debilitating schism) did not self-destruct through internecine conflict nor was it overthrown by Tamil resistance. The LTTE was defeated and virtually destroyed and its leader slain by the Sri Lankan armed forces, the hard drive of the Sri Lankan state.

The fascists who murdered Rajani were defeated not by Tamil dissenters but by (male) Sinhala soldiers. The new “space’ that has been opened up and within which the 20th anniversary commemoration took place, was not prised open by non-violent dissent but blasted and carved open by the “power and violence” of the Sri Lankan state. The 20th anniversary of Rajani’s death was aptly commemorated in the year of the defeat of the Tigers and the death of its Hitlerian leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.

No one who dropped in for the commemoration and did not know the historical facts would have learned any – leave alone all-- of these truths at the BMICH event, not from her Uncle Seelan Kadirgamar’s opening speech, not from Nishan de Mel’s erudite and passionately declaimed closing remarks, and not from anything that was said or sung in between.

While it is true that an old struggle for Tamil rights remains and new ones (on media freedom, the IDP issue etc) will doubtless commence – and indeed must—it does not give anyone the right to ignore, evade and obscure these massive historical truths. The fact that old struggles remain and new ones must be waged does not mean that the titanic struggle of decades against the fascism of the Tigers, and the denouement of that struggle, can be effaced. History certainly will not. Rajani never countenanced lies in politics and public life. She embraced the Truth as she saw it; wrote it and sang it as a lover. She was never evasive, which is also why she didn’t evade Death.

There was however a central truth which Rajani was blind to and it killed her. She thought that because she had saved the life of Seelan at the request of Mahattaya, she would not be killed by the LTTE as long as Mahattaya was in charge of the Jaffna command. She forgot that the deadly rays of Sun God to be, Prabhakaran, could bypass Mahattaya and reach her (or that Mahattaya would not risk dissent and would pretend not to see what was being done).

In my mind I contrasted this with my boyhood visit to Lidice in former Czechoslovakia, the inhabitants of which were slaughtered by the Nazis in revenge for the execution of Heinrich Heydrich by the resistance, and which was systematically turned to rubble, with even the streams being dammed up. These victims of fascism are commemorated in a manner that never lets the visitor forget the identity and ideology of the perpetrators of the atrocity. This is true of course, of Yad Vashem.

However, many Tamil victims of Tiger fascism – Rajani, Kethesh, Neelan, are commemorated by the survivors in a manner that obfuscates the circumstances of their murders, the identity of the murderers and lacks the drive to bring the murderers to justice. “Never forget” is the slogan among survivors of fascism the world over; “Always Celebrate but Never Really Remember, or Remember Selectively” is the Sri Lankan, and Sri Lankan Tamil equivalent.

The speech by Dayapala, Rajani’s bereaved husband was moving and injected a welcome note of the political into the evening, though one doubted the accuracy of his appellation of Rajani as a New Revolutionary. It seems to me now, just as it did at the time, that Rajani at her best, in her courage and concern about democracy within the revolutionary movement and process, was a descendant of women revolutionaries of an old type- a combination of Emma Goldman and Rosa Luxemburg – rather than the new type represented by Celia Sanchez, Haydee Santamaria, Melba Hernandez, Vilma Espin, Aleida March and “Tania” (Tamara Bunke).

Che’s typically laconic yet respectful epitaph for Red Rosa is, mutatis mutandis, probably the most valid for Rajani as well: “she was a great revolutionary who made political mistakes and died as a consequence of them”.

Rajani Thiranagama: The Story of a new kind of Revolutionary

By Dayapala Thiranagama

On the morning of 22 September 1989 I was asked to come to a safe house in Colombo to receive an urgent message from Jaffna. Some friends of mine were waiting there with a messenger who had come from Jaffna and who had had lunch with Rajani on the previous day. She wasted no time or words in delivering the message. "Your wife, Rajani, was shot by a gunman yesterday afternoon on her way home from the university. She was fatally wounded in the attack. Your children are with their grandparents." The woman herself was deeply shocked and was in a state of distress. It would have been the most difficult message she had to ever deliver to a totally unknown person within such a short time in such a few words. I still remember the incredible speed with which my head started spinning and how speechless I was.

The woman who brought the message of Rajani’s death for me in Colombo later became an invaluable friend who was right beside our family’s side in London whenever we needed support.

Rajani demonstrated an extraordinary courage and unwavering commitment in her quest for justice and human dignity against all the parties embroiled in a brutal armed conflict where the lives of ordinary masses were placed at risk of displacement and death. Women and the children had to bear the brunt of it. Between 1987-89 the Tamil people had to witness the most destructive war the community had ever seen between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan army and then it continued unabated between the Tamil Tigers and the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). In the Sinhalese south the situation became alarming as the JVP started assassinating the left activists who supported the devolution of power to the Tamil people under the 13th amendment.

This account of Rajani’s life attempts to trace the journey of a new revolutionary from an ordinary young Tamil medical student who became conscious of the experience of her community and the meaning of her ethnic identity, to a tireless human rights activist who paid the ultimate price for what she believed in. She had no hesitations. This is the story of a new kind of revolutionary. It also tries to unearth her political contribution, as it has as much significance to the current situation as it did 25 years ago.

Rajani began her political life through the Student Christian Movement (SCM) which was very active among the students in the mid-1970s and beyond and got involved in the political issues of the day. As those issues needed to be analysed within a wider socio-economic context, at times other political groups had offered more space that could not be ignored. Rajani and her other colleagues did not hesitate to use such forums while keeping their links with the SCM. The end of the mid-1970s also marked the end of relative peace in the student movement. At Peradeniya an innocent student, Weerasoorya, was gunned down by the police. This sent the shockwaves through the student movement and the universities were closed down by the authorities. For the first time, schools in Colombo had joined the protest following the Weerasoorya murder. The public were fully behind the student movement.

The Colombo Medical Faculty, for the first time in its history, went on a strike against the murder of Weerasoorya by the police. Rajani was at the forefront in organizing the strike at the Medical Faculty. This was the reason I met Rajani in September 1976. Our meeting marked a new chapter in our lives and the decision we would make from now would change not only our lives but also our family forever. We fell in love and got married on 28th August 1977 in the midst of anti-Tamil riots in Colombo. Rajani was still a medical student and I had just begun an academic career in the University. We sometimes called ourselves ‘the unity of opposites’ in relation to our social, cultural and ethnic differences.

In Rajani’s journey from an ordinary politically conscious Tamil woman to an extraordinary new revolutionary, her marriage was the first step. Rajani broke her barriers and got married to a Sinhalese man who had spent many years in prison. And my own social profile of being brought up in a poor peasant family in the Sinhalese down south was quite unimpressive to her middle-class community. Rajani’s courage and human understanding in accepting me as I was, bewildered even some of our political friends, whose understanding of inter-ethnic relations in both communities had serious defects at the time, as it does today. They were the sons and daughters of the generation of parents, including my own, that formed and belonged to the 1956 Sinhalese social mobility. As far as our families were concerned, they had to accept the inconvenient truth about our relationship and marriage.

Rajani also accepted the continuation of my political commitment as before. We also came to terms with the fact that our family was not going to be a family that would make both parents available for the children throughout their childhood. Any political involvement in Sri Lanka would be a very dangerous affair just as it is today. These were hard and painful decisions. As far as our family was concerned, ideologically and politically, it departed from the accepted family norms of its existence and Rajani’s contribution was crucial in this transformation.

Without Rajani’s deep understanding, unhesitant approval and courage we would not have built a family unit that would withstand the political and survival test of our times. Then the birth of our daughters Narmada (1978) and Sharika (1980) made us wonder at times about the level of our political commitments. This was a very emotive, painful and difficult issue. That was a huge responsibility we had failed to anticipate.

Rajani’s consciousness in its evolution took a dramatic turn when she had to work in Haldummulla, a predominantly Sinhalese village on the Balangoda - Haputale Road with a scattered Tamil people of up-country origin. Tamils were the poorest of the poor there. One day Rajani had to inform the mother of a young boy who was a patient in the hospital that her son would be transferred to the Badulla Hospital. That would be the only chance of his survival. The woman begged Rajani not to transfer him simply because if he died in Badulla she would not have the money to bring his body back home.

However, he was sent to Badulla, ignoring her plea, and he returned home after a full recovery. Rajani found it extremely difficult to deal with such situations of poverty and the sufferings and how it hampered any possibility of a dignified human existence. It left an un-erasable scar on her conscience. Finally in 1980 we both decided that medical practice was not the best employment in such circumstances and decided to leave for Jaffna. Rajani opted for teaching and joined the Medical Faculty in Jaffna University.

In 1983 Rajani started campaigning to release her sister Nirmala Rajasingham from jail who had been detained under the PTA. Prior to this, Rajani had treated injured Tamil militants. Rajani left for England by the end of 1983 on a Commonwealth scholarship to commence her postgraduate studies. Her initial exposure to militant Tamil Tigers and her campaigning for her sister both had contributed to her joining the LTTE. I visited her in mid-1984 in London and it appeared then that there was no going back on her part. She did not wish to return to Sri Lanka through legal channels. I came back to Sri Lanka and this was tantamount to a farewell as I felt there was a huge wall between us. We decided to part and go on our separate ways.

However, Rajani was too honest, politically straightforward, truthful, fiercely independent and committed to her beliefs for the LTTE to handle. These were the personal qualities of a new kind of revolutionary Rajani came to represent in her personal and political journey, which resulted in the ultimate sacrifice for the right of dissent in the Tamil community. Rajani also possessed certain qualities that made it possible for her to connect with ordinary people. After I left for Sri Lanka, within a couple of months Rajani had left the Tigers. She returned to Jaffna with her two daughters against the advice of the family and friends in 1986.

In April 1987 from Jaffna Rajani wrote to me, "I am very worried. It is difficult to live here. Most depressing is the dark valley we are walking through –particularly, Inhumanity everywhere. Amma is scared, she is scared for the children that I would talk out loud or do something". Against these depressing and gloomy political backgrounds Rajani fused together her new political outlook which consists of the right to dissent against the rule of the gun and the freedom to organise structures that would ensure democratic freedom with human dignity.

One of the major components in her outlook was her feminism - in empowering women and building structures to strengthen the independent voice of the woman. She worked for the formation of Poorani for destitute women. These structures and political ideas ideologically and politically went against the military project of the Tamil Tigers. They were poorly equipped with political ideas and organisations that would be capable of having a mature dialogue with dissenting voices. Rajani’s joint authorship of The Broken Palmyra with others brought these ideas to people’s attention. Her pioneering role with other university academics in forming the University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR J) marked a milestone in human rights in the Tamil community. This work and these political ideas sent shockwaves through the professed monolithic structure of the Tamil Tigers.

The UTHR rightly introduces Rajani as a live wire of the organisation even today in its website. The Tamil Tigers understood the possible political danger from Rajani. The Tigers would not hesitate to stop the live wire of the organisation for good. Rajani’s life and death shows how long, arduous and painful the road to victory is when human dignity and the right to dissent are violated by those who choose to use violence to resolve political issues.

It is also necessary to reflect on the validity of Rajani’s ideas in relation to the current political situation. To use Rajani’s phrase still, we are walking through a dark valley, and inhumanity is everywhere. One of the fundamental issues today is the fear to speak out or the right to dissent. The dark shadow of the ethnic war has not entirely disappeared. Unless the democratic space is expanded with maximum devolution of power to the Tamil community peace will be as elusive as ever.

It is possible that in both the Tamil and Sinhalese communities there will be more and more people like Rajani, as the political barriers for which Rajani had to give her life, as a new revolutionary in support of their fundamental democratic right of dissent, are still not removed. Those who follow Rajani’s path will make our world a better place.

For twenty long years I have been coming to terms with the terrible pain and anguish Rajani would have felt a few seconds before her death and my inability to share that with her. I know how she would have felt. Once she wrote to me saying that, "If anyone knows me in this world like pages of a book it is you." I owe so much to her, for the depth of my love for her, and for the true understanding of the beauty of human love that our relationship taught me.

Rajani and I loved Bob Marley’s music. She particularly liked one song with which I would like to end by quoting

"Get up stand up, Stand up for your rights"

(This is the text of a Speech delivered at the public meeting held on September 25th 2009 at the BMICH, Colombo to commemorate the twentieth death anniversary of Rajani Thiranagama )

Prevention of Terrorism Act must be Repealed Immediately

by Shanie

At the General Election held in 1977, the UNP led by J R Jayawardene won a landslide victory, winning 140 seats and reducing the SLFP to a rump of 8. But Jayawardene knew that the results were a distortion of the mood of the electorate.

The UNP had obtained just over 50% of the popular vote but took 83% of the seats whereas the SLFP winning nearly 30% of the popular vote had only 5% of the parliamentary seats. Such a distorted result was unlikely to be repeated at the next election. Jayawardene however needed to maintain that kind of majority in Parliament to implement the policies which he thought was in the interests of his party and the country.

This is where his authoritarian streak came into play. The undated letters of resignation from his parliamentarians and the infamous referendum was to take care of his continuing majority in Parliament. But that alone was not going to ensure his own re-election as President.

He introduced retroactive legislation and hand picked three judges (a three-member Supreme Court bench had held, in another case, that one of the judges was ‘guilty of conduct unbecoming of a judicial officer’; Jayawardene appointed him to the Court of Appeal bypassing eighteen others senior to him; similarly the other two judges had leap-frogged over others in the table of seniority in the Supreme Court; one of them ended up being appointed by Jayawardene as Chief Justice) to see that his principal political opponent was deprived of her civic rights.

But he also brought special legislation to ensure that she would not be able to campaign for any other opponent of his at a future Presidential Election. That done, he set about neutralizing other opposition to his hold on power. He turned on the Trade Unions next. State violence was brazenly unleashed on trade unionists and hundreds of state employees sacked for participation in a strike.

The next target was the Tamil minority. There had already been evidence of a latent insurgency among the Tamil youth. The LTTE was not yet born but there were sporadic groups of militant youth who engaged in armed robbery and killing of policemen and politicians whose conduct they did not approve. In July, 1979, the Jayawardene Government introduced the Prevention of Terrorism Act, under which Jayawardene gave his nephew Brigadier (later Major General) Tissa Weeratunge carte blanche powers to wipe out terrorism in the North within six months.

The nephew duly reported after six months, amidst allegations of torture and extra-judicial killing of youth, that his ‘mission had been accomplished’. The reality was that the extraordinary powers that the PTA gave him enabled him to use heavy-handed methods in dealing with the youth resulting in the growth of an underground militancy, the birth of the LTTE and several other militant groups and spreading fear and hostility among the civilian population.

The PTA has remained in the statute book over the last thirty years. Even though there may have been a case for retaining it while the LTTE remained active, with the elimination of the LTTE, there is now no real terrorist threat that requires special legislation. The normal laws of the land are quite adequate to deal with the threat, real or perceived, from any remnant.

The dangers of retaining legislation that allows the law enforcement authorities to bypass the normal legal safeguards for the ordinary citizens are only too obvious. The extra-ordinary becomes the norm and normal activities, whether legal or extra-legal, are suppressed taking cover under the extra-ordinary legislation.

Abuses of the PTA

A clear case in point was the recent arrest of three journalists in Deniyaya who were investigating alleged misuse of state funds for construction of roads and buildings on private land. The journalists have now been released on bail by the local Magistrate but the initial reports were of an alleged conspiracy to assassinate the President. Even in the case of the SLIIT student in Malabe who was the victim of illegal abduction and assault allegedly by the Police, the initial reports suggested the involvement of the victim with the underworld.

Another less well-known case is that of a Secretary in a Christian organization. Santha Fernando was invited to make a presentation at a church consultation in New Delhi in March 2009 on the situation in Sri Lanka. To make a balanced presentation, he had apparently downloaded from the internet on to a CD a number of web pages giving a variety of news and views on the Sri Lankan situation. Naturally, some of these pages would have been from sources like the Tamilnet which had a definite pro-LTTE slant. A less transparent person or one who had sinister motives would have gone to New Delhi and downloaded all the information from the internet.

But obviously Fernando was not one such. Presumably, acting on prior information, Fernando’s bags were searched and the "offending" CD found and he was taken into custody. Six months have passed and, apart from producing Fernando in courts and claiming investigations were still proceeding, no charges have been framed against him. The recent protests in the Welikada Remand Prison referred to several others who are being similarly held under the PTA without any charges being framed against them.

Another issue is the admissibility under the PTA of "confessions" made to Police Officers as evidence before courts.

The normal law of the land provides that confessions are valid only if made before a Magistrate. This provision is for good reason. The Magistrate records the confession without the presence of the Police and has to make sure that there has been no threats, inducements or intimidation of the accused and that the confession is made of his own free will. Indeed, the Magistrate tells the accused that there is no compulsion for him to make a confession and is given time to consider before making the confession.

All these safeguards are conspicuously absent in the PTA and a Police Officer of the rank of ASP or higher can record a "confession" within the confines of a Police Station or the TID/CID office. That is why in the current case before the Courts in respect of Jasiharan, the publisher of Tissainayagam’s North Eastern Herald, he has complained of assault and threats by the Police before he was intimidated into signing a "confession" written in Sinhala which he did not understand.

Besides, he has stated that he has never met the ASP who allegedly recorded the confession. In the earlier Tissainayagam case, the learned Judge refused to accept Tissainayagam’s retraction of his "confession" for similar reasons. In fact, under the PTA and emergency regulations, the onus is on the accused to prove that the alleged confession was not made of his own free will.

Online Campaign for repeal of PTA

These complaints are not uncommon. Allegations are often made of inducements (‘You sign this and you will be released soon’) and threats (physical violence and intimidation) for refusal either to make a confession or to sign a prepared "confession". That is why the safeguards provided in the ordinary law of the land are so important and need to be restored and preserved.

This is also why the Asian Human Rights Commission, which has over the years, like the Civil Rights Movement in an earlier era, been campaigning for adherence to the rule of law and for protection of the rights of the ordinary citizen, has mounted a campaign for the repeal of the PTA. Their on-line petition which all concerned citizens are invited to sign states:

"There is no longer any reason for the Prevention of Terrorism Act in Sri Lanka; on the contrary, there are many compelling reasons as to why it should immediately be repealed. It was the existence of the LTTE and its ruthless violence that the government used to justify the promulgation and maintenance of the PTA. Now, by the very admission of the government this threat has ceased to exist.

Even at a time of grave danger the PTA was too draconian and many of the provisions in the act could not have been justified. This has been pointed out by local legal opinion, local human rights groups and governments around the world, as well as international human rights agencies and several United Nations agencies and experts.

After the defeat of the LTTE the government said that elements associated with it could remain, and that some new elements may emerge; yet every country faces this possibility all the time. If this reasoning is used to suspend the operation of a normal legal system then this would need to apply everywhere, forever. Terrorism – even war – is always possible, but if people are willing to abandon their freedoms and their normal legal rights to preempt these possibilities, draconian law will reign indefinitely.

As long as the PTA remains in operation there is reason to suspect that it is being used by the government for political advantage, as an instrument to perpetuate its own power. Complaints of oppression by the opposition and other dissenting voices will have legitimate weight.

The Act has effectively aided the destruction of the normal rule of law within Sri Lanka and undermined the independence of its judiciary; indeed litigants, lawyers and even the judges may have started to forget what a strong, functioning legal system is like. To maintain the PTA is to continue destroying what is left. The disadvantages far outweigh the advantage that the the government spokesperson may claim that it has.

An enduring PTA will continue to place the Criminal Investigation Division and the Terrorism Investigation Division beyond the control of the law, with no checks or balances against its abuse of power. Tales of torture being used, charges being fabricated and deaths occurring in places of detention are heard constantly, yet while the PTA exists there is no way to even investigate such allegations, let alone avoid them.

Sri Lanka’s policing system has collapsed; this is now a fact acknowledged by all. Yet no reform process can be set in motion, and under the protection of the PTA Sri Lanka’s police force will continue to degenerate, its people given no option but to live under its oppression, corruption and arbitrary violence.

What this means is that literally hundreds of thousands of people will suffer without any legal recourse, and large numbers will continue to live outside the protection of the law. The entire population will be affected.

It is time for everyone in Sri Lanka and beyond to earnestly request the immediate repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act by the Sri Lankan government. The judiciary must no longer be undermined by those with extraordinary power, the rule of law must be revived and all people must be given its protection."

Please see the online petition at:

http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/repealpta/

A connection?

Handing over US State Dept report-war crimes by gov & LTTE to Congress on Sep 21 postponed.[dbsj twitter]

September 25, 2009

Whither Sri Lanka liberated from the terror of ‘Tamil Tigers’?

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

Despite the annihilation of the ‘Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’, the future of Sri Lanka seems to be increasingly uncertain with the top government leaders concerned more about safeguarding their hold on power than the future of the country. Not only the comments on my last article ‘Unity not unitary will safeguard the future’ (Tamilweek 6 September 2009), but also others expressed recently by Sinhala and Tamil nationalists highlight the irreconcilable stands of the bigots on either side of the ethnic divide. However, the forward thinking Sri Lankans committed to equality, justice, national unity and durable peace in the motherland have indicated the changes needed for peaceful coexistence and better future for all ethnic communities in the war-torn nation. Unfortunately these are being ignored by the power wielders and daydreamers who think with the annihilation of the Tamil Tigers, peace and national unity have also been gained.

NYUNTC0922.jpg

[Tamils from Sri Lanka, protested as world leaders meet nearby at the United Nations for the U.N. Leadership Forum on Climate Change, New York, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009.-AP pic]

Disappointing post-war happenings

Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the independent, privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi in his analysis of the post-war developments in Sri Lanka (Ref. The Japan Times - 19 September 2009) has said:

“How elusive the peace dividend remains can be seen from Colombo's decision to press ahead with a further expansion of the military. Not content with increasing the military's size five-fold since the late 1980s to more than 200,000 troops today, Colombo is raising the strength further to 300,000, in the name of ‘eternal vigilance’. ... By citing a continuing danger of guerrilla remnants reviving the insurgency, President Rajapaksa, in fact, seems determined to keep a hyper-militarized Sri Lanka on something of a war footing”.

Regarding the forced detention of the hapless Tamil civilians, claimed by the government to have been liberated by the military from the jackboot of the ‘Tamil Tiger liberators’ in internment camps (government calls them welfare centers), the professor who is also on the international advisory council of the Campaign for Peace and Justice in Sri Lanka has warned: “Such detention risks causing more resentment among the Tamils and sowing the seeds of future unrest. The internment was intended to help weed out rebels, many of whom already have been identified and transferred to military sites. Those in the evacuee camps are the victims and survivors of the deadly war. To confine them in the camps against their will is to further victimize and traumatize them”. Similar warning has also been given by other independent analysts. The consequences of continuing the practices pursued during the time of war after the decisive military victory when the focus should be on reconciliation and building unity and peace, endanger democracy and the basic rights and freedom of all citizens.

The editorial in the Middle East English Language daily the ‘Arab News’ on ‘Tamils in Lanka’ (Sunday 20 September 2009) has said: “Despite one or two statesman-like pronouncements, the government has not actively demonstrated any clear program to win the confidence of this (Tamil) minority, whose severely circumscribed place (political space) in Sri Lanka was one of the original causes of the rebellion. The social and political reintegration of Tamils into society requires a lot more than weeding out the last concealed militants from the camps and mine clearance. It requires an active campaign to win the hearts and minds of a group of people who have escaped the rule of an uncompromising and militaristic Tamil Tiger administration, where every facet of normal life was sacrificed to the cause of rebellion and independence.

If the government thought about it, it ought to be pushing at an open door. The majority of Sri Lanka’s Tamils has to be utterly relieved to be escaping the perils of endless conflict and the harsh street justice of the ruthless Tigers. These people ought to be embracing the peace and the opportunity it brings for them to return to the distant days of peace and security. This does not, however, seem to be happening. Colombo needs to display more imagination. If Tamils feel they are merely being cemented back into their former place at the bottom of Sri Lankan society, the imposition of today’s peace is the building of tomorrow’s conflict”.

The national problem now has several facets. The multifaceted nature of the problem can be discerned from Kishali Pinto Jayawardene’s comments in her ‘Focus on Rights’ column in ‘The Sunday Times’ 20 September 2009. She has drawn attention to the unconstitutional and unethical ways the democratically elected government is functioning. The definitive way of silencing the vociferous critics of the government is by “constructive engagement on issues and by showing its determination to correct some of the more glaring problems in governance today”. Instead, it is relying on “brute force accompanied by a current Janus-faced policy of private palavering offset by unconvincing public roars that it does not care two hoots for the West”.

There is no clear “demonstrated commitment that Sri Lanka's governance structures are being worked in line with our own Constitution, not to mention international treaties that we have signed onto. What we stress is the minimum, including immediate implementation of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution bringing back consequently some measure of discipline to the police force and further, correcting more of the egregious flaws in our legal framework relating to the protection of rights. These flaws are there in the form of facts for the entire world to see. For example, can we rebut the fact that up to date, despite the enactment of the Anti-Torture Act in 1994 allegedly to give effect to the United Nations Convention against Torture, there have been only three convictions under this Act with a vast number of cases pending and more than twenty acquittals of accused police officers in the main?”

The effective enforcement of law and order, according to Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has “fallen by the way due to bad investigations, lack of witness protection, lacklustre prosecutions and a legal process delayed to the point where its very ethos becomes negated. It is the same pattern with cases of other grave human rights violations including cases of enforced disappearances from the South in the eighties as well as the more recent cases from the North and East of persons of predominantly Tamil ethnicity. It is quite amusing that the lame old excuse that a Commission of Inquiry had been appointed in respect of the North and East cases still continues to be trotted out by the government”. Another important aspect of inhuman treatment of suspects is that the practice tends to spread nationwide. KIshali who is also an attorney has said: “Many of these cases relate not to torture of persons of Tamil ethnicity committed during the war in the North and East but rather, the most mundane resort to torture as a part of the routine of law enforcement in respect of ordinary villagers, Sinhalese in the main”. It seems the government wants to sustain the abnormal conditions that prevailed during the war for political reason.

In this regard, Angilee Shah’s comment on the misuse of the powers intended to preserve national security for punishing political dissidents is relevant. To quote: “On one hand, Sri Lanka's constitution guarantees due process and personal rights. On the other, it gives the government broad powers to maintain security as it sees fit. Many countries with serious security concerns curb personal freedoms, but in Sri Lanka the effects are staggering”. The Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act have been misused to achieve narrow political objectives. The harsh 20-year prison sentence (rigorous imprisonment) imposed on senior ethnic Tamil journalist J. S. Tisanayagam for writing two articles critical of the government forces engaged in the last few months of the war in Vanni in his monthly North-Eastern magazine unknown to many until the charges against him were announced, shocked many all over the democratic world.

The anomalies in the judicial system have also been exposed by Angilee Shah. The following remark of former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva has been cited to highlight the unbalanced state of the judiciary in Sri Lanka. “At an event marking the opening of a new courthouse, the Chief Justice said that the IDPs (residents in Vanni displaced during the final stages of the war) are being held in deplorable conditions and they cannot expect justice from the law of the country."

Randeep Ramesh in the UK daily ‘The Guardian’ 14 September 2009 has also drawn attention to government’s continuation of the suspension of freedom and rights even after the end of the war. “The government argues that it has to suspend liberty, in certain cases, in order to save it. War is a nasty, bloody business where laws are observed in the breach. But it is difficult to sustain that argument once the rebels have been vanquished. ... There's little doubt that the Tamils are better off without the LTTE who created platoons of child soldiers, murdered political opponents and assassinated Sri Lankan and Indian leaders. But Tamil grievances, which sustained Tiger support despite their bloody record, are still not being addressed by the Colombo government”. Sadly, “the Sinhalese government's victory is viewed by them as the Tamils' catastrophic defeat”. With this sentiment, which the government is keen to sustain at least until the next general elections, there is little interest in moving towards sharing power with the ethnic minorities.

In this regard, Ramesh’s comment is significant. “Defusing Tamil anger and frustration will not mean partition in a land-for-peace deal, as is sometimes portrayed in Colombo. Rather it amounts to giving Tamils political and civil rights so that in areas where they are in the majority there is meaningful Tamil representation. It means Colombo handing over control of local finances, property laws and policing to local government. It means the Tamil language becoming part of official Sri Lankan life, the touchstone of minority ire. Yet even these measures are considered beyond the pale in Colombo. Instead President Mahinda Rajapaksa offers Tamils a bargain based on amnesia, not justice: forget the past and your future will be assured. The offer carries the latent threat: reject it and face the consequences of being an enemy of the state”. Can the ethnic minority Tamils remain beholden permanently to the generosity of the Executive President chosen by the ethnic majority Sinhalese? This will not be of great concern in plural societies, where ethnicity is not a politically influential factor. Unfortunately, it has been made significant by the politicians since independence by playing the ethnic card for winning votes.

At what cost another ‘hollow’ victory?

The University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) in their report issued on 18 September paying tribute to the co-founder of the movement and steadfast human rights activist Dr. Rajani Thiranagama, who was assassinated by the Tamil Tigers 20 years ago (on 21 September 1989 on her way home after work at the Medical Faculty, Jaffna where she was the Professor and Head of the Anatomy Department) stated: “The victory against the LTTE, as against the JVP earlier, would soon become hollow without political transformation that would end the legacy of conflict. Is it not a tragic irony that in 61 years of independence the State won several bloody victories against its own people, Tamils and Sinhalese, without doing any political work necessary for healing? Every time the fault lines of class and ethnicity crack, the ruling class has not sought any medicine other than the same brutal bloodletting and then with their media and experts to pat themselves on the back. In turn this class has sought relentless centralisation, indeed personalisation, of power, corrupting law enforcement and rendering the masses even more helpless against a heartless State. After decades of independence, we have a mere shadow of the working administrative and law enforcement systems left behind by the British after thoroughly subverting democracy and the accountability mechanisms that were in place at Independence. With the LTTE decimated, in place of undertaking the task of nation building and a political settlement, the rulers are once more arming themselves to the teeth. It was as though the State is destined continually to war against some segment of its own people”.

The UTHR (J) commemorative report has warnings which should be taken seriously by all concerned about the future of the island nation. The culture of impunity that has been nurtured by the Rajapaksa regime “would soon come to haunt the Sinhalese as in two publicised cases of police brutality in August 2009 in the south.
“War, though sometimes legitimate and inevitable carries its price. When it leads to pervasive suppression of truth, the wounds easily become septic”. The denial of entry of reporters to the war zone and expulsion of all foreign aid workers during the second phase (after recapturing the East) of the war against the LTTE and later after the victory, the internment of war refugees in well guarded and army controlled camps with no access to ICRC, UN agencies, journalists and even Sri Lankan law-makers were to suppress the true facts about the way the war was conducted.

The irony is that the LTTE too committed serious crimes against their own people for whose liberation they steadfastly been saying that they were fighting against the government forces. The government’s strategy also suppressed the atrocities of the LTTE. The UTHR(J) report states that the attacks by the military against civilian targets, including hospitals were provoked by the LTTE. It is not entirely incredible to say both factions in the final stages of the brutal war behaved like twins of the same stock. The brutality of the Tamil Tigers escalated after 1987. Dr. Rajani Thiranagama was only one of many victims. The then Tamil political leaders kept mum when Alfred Durayappah was murdered by the LTTE leader. Not only the very Tamil leaders but the entire Tamil community paid a heavy price for ignoring the many destructive acts carried out in the name of ‘liberation’. This is a good lesson for the priding Sinhalese blind to the culture of impunity that has grown as a result of the damaging acts of commission and omission of those at the power centre.

The disturbing situation in Sri Lanka is described as follows. “The Tamils lost confidence in the State and the security forces a long time ago. It would not be long before the Sinhalese too feel the sting as they did in the latter 1980s. A nation in which the people know the truth and has healthy democratic structures that cannot easily be subverted, is far more likely to make mature decisions. What obtains in Sri Lanka is that the entire process of governance, the police and the courts are subverted to cover up the crimes of a small coterie that controls power. In the recently concluded war the obsession with the suppression of truth seems to have no logical end. If the Government believes that the war was a great military achievement, let the Sinhalese people know the truth.” They must know at what price (not just financial but importantly loss of human lives and civil values) the military victory has been achieved. Was the victory achieved at great cost solely for asserting the might of the Sinhala majority?

Sinhala patriots

The Sinhala ultra nationalists consider the ethnic Sinhalese as the sole indigenous people and other ethnic groups as invaders. Their aim is to make the entire island as a Sinhala-Buddhist nation. A highly contentious article in the Sri Lanka Guardian 17 September authored by Anura Senenviratna, Dr MB Ranatunga, Asanka Haradasa, Sumith Silva, Sapumal Watteaarachchige, Ira Mediwake, Ranjith Wijetunge, Dhanapala Godagangdeni depicts the mindset of the Sinhala ultra nationalists. They have argued that there can be only one nation in one country. “The Nation of SL (Sri Lanka) are its indigenous Hela people whose name corrupted later to Sinhela. The tiny island of the highly ancient Hela Nation is named as Sri Lanka. The Hela Nation at length suffered torture and massacres from barbarous land robbers and terrorists. The name Lanka is an artificial name coined by foreigners to Heladiva (island of Helas). In addition, Hela was corrupted to Sin+Hela= Sinhela and Sinhala.

All these national violations committed against the Hela Nation, could have been corrected after 1948 independence from the then British land robbers and terrorists, if they did not hand over the country purposely to an anti-national clique. By naming Lanka a trap was set up for the non indigenous Tamil minority of Tamil Nadu national origin to push for an attempt to make Heladiva a second Tamil Nadu and genocide of the Hela Nation, with the collusion of 70 million Tamil kin from Tamil Nadu”. To substantiate that there is no Tamil Nation in the island (Heladiva), they have said: “There cannot be two nations in one country. For some reason, if the Tamil motherland is within Heladiva, then their demand for separation must be given today. The blatantly self-evident fact that Tamil Nadu (Tamil Country) as the 70 million indigenous Tamil country is situated within the Indian subcontinent. This is direct proof that Heladiva is the Island Country of the Hela Nation”.

“As non indigenous minority Tamils’ national origin is Tamil Nadu but have now become Heladiva citizens, they too are common citizens of the Hela nation. Their indigenous Tamilness is ONLY their private matter and should not be any threat to the host nation, given them permanent abode. If Tamil national citizenship is required the only choice they have is to return to Tamil Nadu. Tamils as an entity always tried to grab our tiny sovereign national Island country, demonstrating total lack of scruples and human refinement. The Tamil communal cliques brainwashed their docile community to the notion that Tamil homeland is Heladiva while Tamil Nadu is glaring over as the Tamil country”. This is the schizophrenic fear that was instilled in the minds of the Sinhala masses by parochial politicians keen on gaining their support in the contest for power and which later led to the establishment of an incompatible political system for the nation that is multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural. The true make-up of the nation must first be accepted and not imagine Sri Lanka as Heladiva. In fact, it is the reluctance to accept this demographic feature that led to the concept of two nations in the tiny island and as the authors have acknowledged the justifiable case for two separate states in the island. The Tamil rebels did not claim that the entire island to be the homeland of the indigenous Tamils. They recognised the Sinhala nation and the homeland of the Sinhalese and sought to formalize the division that emerged and gained strength over the past several decades because of the discriminatory policies and practices that alienated the Tamil speaking people.

To the Sinhala supremacists Sinhala majority rule is vital for maintaining the dominance of the ethnic Sinhalese. This is how the system functioned since independence in a divisive manner, where the ethnic minorities were treated as subjects or as second class citizens. They were not considered as citizens of multi-ethnic island-nation having the same rights and freedom as the majority Sinhalese. The political system denied the ethnic minorities the means to safeguard their collective interests and fulfil their aspirations. Any political solution that reiterates the ethnic majority-minority division will not help to unite the divided nation.

The ethnic problem cannot be resolved with exclusive or majoritarian mindset. The reality is the island has been the homeland of Sinhalese and Tamils for centuries even before the conquest by Europeans. The Sinhalese as a distinctive linguistic community in Sri Lanka emerged long after Vijaya and his mates landed in the island. It is useless looking backwards to the ambiguous pre-historic period, when the pressing need now is to move forward together as members of one family overcoming the challenges of the time for the well-being of all members.

Tamils need a realistic joint approach to political settlement

The division between realists and sentimentalists among the Sri Lankan Tamils is now more striking now than before the war. The latter seem to be the backers of the LTTE in the sizeable Tamil Diaspora. TamilNet widely known as the mouthpiece of the LTTE has resurrected the case for independent and sovereign Tamil Eelam in North-East Sri Lanka (Posted by TamilNet Editorial Board on19 September 2009, 13.04 GMT). Their argument is that this call based on the 1976 Vaddukoddai Resolution (VR) “was the spontaneous and definite mandate by Eezham Tamils in a totally free and democratic atmosphere. As the need for democratic political organisation unfolds afresh, Tamils have to take up the thread directly from the VR. The Thimphu principles and all the other formulas put forward subsequently under the duress of powers, and failed as negotiation models, do not get precedence over the VR as bases for political organization”. TamilNet wants the Tamil Diaspora “to peruse and correct course of any proposal that stops just at self-determination”.

In support of the view that the right to self-determination is inadequate, the following remarks have been cited. “Self-determination does not entail the right to be independent, or even to vote for independence” (Geoffrey Robertson, Penguin 2008, p165). “International law provides no right of secession in the name of self-determination” (Rosalyn Higgins, Peoples and Minorities in International Law 1995, p 33). “At best, the people’s right to self-determination connotes the right of all citizens to participate in the political process, but this gives power to majorities and not to minorities (Robertson, ibid). It is this inequity that the moderates seek to rectify via suitable power-sharing arrangement.

TamilNet had earlier on 16 September 2009 been critical of the advocates of Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) in the Diaspora. “The emerging novel concept of transnational governance will be misled, if it is orientated merely with an idea of negotiation. It is not just a negotiation platform. There is no need to show Tamils have ‘democratically’ dropped their aspiration just because some powers want it as a pre-requisite for negotiation”. This TGTE move also in the opinion of this writer is unhelpful for early settlement of the conflict to enable the tormented and traumatised Tamils in Sri Lanka to live in a peaceful and hopeful environment in their homeland. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) widely known as the proxy of the LTTE in the Parliament in Colombo too has been told by TamilNet that the party has no right to move away from the 1977 mandate of the Tamil voters for independence and sovereignty of the Eelam Tamil nation. Paradoxically, the very proponents of VR ignored it when the TULF (Tamil United Liberation Front) accepted the District Development Councils (DDC) Bill of 1980 and contested the 1981 DDC elections. In fact the TULF leader, the late A. Amirthalingam who was also a victim of the campaign of the Tamil Tigers to eliminate leaders hindering their plan to achieve the Tamil Eelam goal had told his senior M. Tiruchelvam in 1976 when the latter questioned the wisdom of moving the VR that it was to appease the agitated Tamil youth denied of higher education and employment opportunities by the discriminatory policies of the State.

The recent statements of TNA parliamentarians reflect a welcoming change in the approach to political settlement. (Ref. ‘The Island’ journalist Lynn Ockersz’s interview with TNA leader R. Sampanthan on September 11 and Rohan Abeywardena’s interview with TNA parliamentarian N. Sri Kantha in ‘The Nation’ of 20 September 2009) As mentioned earlier, the national problem has many facets; the ethnic issue is one of them. Since the TNA is willing to work towards a political solution to the National Question within the framework of an undivided and united Sri Lanka, the alliance should also approach the problem from the wide perspective of securing real democracy, good governance, rule of law and social justice essential for the future of all communities in unified Sri Lanka. The conflict is not between the Sinhalese and Tamil speaking people but between the deprived Sri Lankans in all ethnic communities and the lopsided system that denies them equality, justice, basic rights and peaceful environment for steady progress and prosperity. The reform movement has a better chance of success if it is inclusive and does not exclude the moderate Sinhalese. The differences between the Tamils and Muslims in the North-East that arose after LTTE’s ethnic cleansing actions need to be resolved amicably by the leaders of the two communities in Sri Lanka.

The TNA parliamentarian N. Sri Kantha told the interviewer: “We the TNA would be listening to only the Tamils who are here. You can take my word on that. The Diaspora is entitled to voice its feelings and views. They are entitled to it, but as far as we are concerned our masters are not beyond the shores of this country. Our masters are our own people who are still living in this country and mostly in the northeast. There cannot be any remote control from any quarter whatsoever as far as the TNA is concerned. We would never allow that”.

Conclusion

The neglect of democratic values and heavy dependence on military strength for short-term political gain is a real threat to the future of Sri Lanka as a democratic socialist Republic. Superficial peace of the kind that prevails in Burma (now Myanmar, where the Noble Peace Prize winner and leader of the National League for Democracy Aung San Suu Kyi is incarcerated), China, Iran, Libya and Pakistan and not real peace with justice and freedom is realizable.

The task of uniting the divided nation is not easy now because of the past blunders. Certainly it cannot be accomplished simply by rhetoric and threat. Structural changes are needed to enable all communities in Sri Lanka to share power equitably. This requires the recognition of the island’s demographic and regional differences without which the important tenet ‘unity in diversity’ is meaningless.

What reforms are needed for safeguarding the future of all communities and the island nation is very clear. Playing for time to avoid taking the bold decisions is to invalidate the ‘legitimacy of the just war’. This is the description given by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke in a recent interview (Daily Mirror You Tube 23 September). He said the war was just because it was the LTTE who wanted it and started the highly provocative acts in early 2006. If the reason for delaying the political decisions is to get the mandate of the people at the next general election, it is unsound particularly when no effort has been made to convince the people of the need for reconciliation and compromise. The majority decision of the ethnic minorities will be invalidated by the decision of the ethnic majority Sinhalese. This clash of two majority decisions is unavoidable when the people are ignorant of the long-term consequences of ignoring the legitimate demands of the ethnic minorities and also the promises given to the UN and the foreign governments that backed the military campaign against the LTTE.

The very enlightened remarks of the widely esteemed Justice C. V. Wigneswaran in his speech delivered on 15 September at the Marga Institute, Colombo are food for thought. He has also indicated a principled approach to the resolution of the ethnic problem. He said: “No amount of peripheral adjustments in the form of conciliatory Camps, unity songs, well intentioned Workshops and uttering of pious platitudes could bring about reconciliation and co-existence unless the underlying grievances are unearthed and solutions found for them. Reconciliation is not possible between a man fallen into a well having been pushed into the well by a person standing outside the well and that very same person so standing outside. What might appear to be a reconciliatory process would only be the foisting of the will of the person standing free outside the well on the person fallen in. We must pull up the fallen person to stand on terra firma, able to communicate on equal terms with the other person to ensure reconciliation and co-existence”.

[The writer is Former Additional Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Sri Lanka and UN Advisor, Development Economics/Planning]

SWRD Bandaranaike: Assassination of a Prime Minister

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

September 26th 1959 is an important date in the post-independence history of Sri Lanka. It was on this day fifty years ago that the Prime Minister Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike (SWRDB) of the then Ceylon passed away . He had been shot the previous day by a Buddhist priest.

The past decades have seen hundreds of political assassinations in Sri Lanka. Both Tamil and Sinhala armed groups have been responsible for these killings at different times and locations.

An executive President, leader and former leader of the opposition, cabinet ministers and ex-cabinet ministers, Parliamentarians and former Parliamentarians, provincial council ministers, heads of district councils and local authorities have all been assassinated. A head of state survived an assassination attempt but lost an eye.

The assassinations of those who held or were holding high political office have been so numerous in recent times that most people have lost count of such assassinations.

SWRD Bandaranaike

Against this backdrop the solitary assassination that occurred 50 years ago may seem insignificant to some. What has to be remembered is that the incident was the first of its type in independent Sri Lanka. The impact of that single assassination was tremendous at that time. It is pertinent therefore to delve into that assassination and its aftermath fifty years later on this day. [click here to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

Tamil detainees in Sri Lanka: “Almost living in hell”

By WSWS correspondents

The Sri Lankan government has underscored its determination to keep 280,000 Tamil civilians in internment camps indefinitely, in blatant violation of their basic democratic rights.

UN Under-Secretary, Lynn Pascoe arrived in Sri Lanka last week for further talks on resettling detainees. Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse told him his government had a target of resettling 70 percent of the people within 180 days. But he added that this target would depend on the de-mining of the former war zone in the island’s north.

As if to show that this time frame was not serious, Rajapakse said Croatia had been carrying out de-mining for 16 years and was still not finished. His message was unmistakable: the government has no plans to resettle detained civilians for the foreseeable future.

Four months have now passed since the last Tamil civilians were detained after fleeing from the attacks of the Sri Lankan military in its offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It has been obvious from the start that these so-called displaced persons’ camps are nothing but giant prisons fenced with razor wire and guarded by armed soldiers.

Hundred of thousands of civilians have been herded into several dozen squalid camps around the northern town of Vavuniya, including 160,000 in four huge centres at Manik Farm, near Chettikulam. All of the detainees—men, women and children—are treated as potential LTTE “terrorists”, underscoring the communal character of the government’s anti-Tamil war.

While the UN has feigned concern for the detainees, it has funded the detention camps to the tune of $US188 million over the past three months. This funding has given de facto support for the clear violation of Sri Lankan and international law involved in the mass detention of Tamils.

The Rajapakse government has banned independent local and international media and aid agencies from the camps. It is intent on both hiding the conditions in the camps and preventing survivors of the northern war zone from speaking out about the army’s war crimes during the final months of the conflict.

We publish below a report filed by a WSWS team that visited some of the Vavuniya camps recently.

***

We arrived in Vavuniya, where many of the detention camps are located, two months after our last visit. The government’s propaganda that the situation in the camps has improved is false.

The military maintains checkpoints to rigorously screen visitors to the town and camps, and troops conduct heavy patrolling. Everyone who comes to Vavuniya by train or bus has to register with the police, explain the reason for their visit and supply the address of their place of stay. On leaving Vavuniya, the same process applies.

The day we visited, the whole town was heavily guarded by the army and the Special Task Force (police commandos). The bus stand was completely cleared. We discovered later that there was much propaganda about “releasing” 10,000 refugees to their home areas. We saw several dozen buses parked around the Manik Farm camps to take refugees.

However, later reports revealed that at least half of the refugees had been detained in other camps in their home districts. M. Shivanandan, 49, told Reuters on September 17: “I’m disappointed to have left Vavuniya thinking that we could go home”. He was being detained at a school in eastern Trincomalee, where 320 civilians were held under army guard.

Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe admitted that people were being held in so-called transit camps. Without confirming when they would be released, Samarasinghe told Reuters they would be sent home “in a few days or weeks”. This charade took place in the lead up to the visit by UN Under-Secretary Lynn Pascoe to Sri Lanka.

Inside the camps, security has been tightened. One of the four Manik Farm camps has been divided into 15 small zones, each holding about 2,750 people. This division has been carried out, not to provide more facilities for inmates, but to monitor them more tightly, with increased military guarding. Government officials had expressed concern that large camps were difficult to control.

Last time we visited we saw long queues of several hundred people every day waiting to see their relatives in the camps. But because of harassment and intimidation by the security forces and the heavy expense of making the journey, only a few people are now arriving to see their relatives.

Earlier, relatives had to talk to prisoners by standing face-to-face, divided by a barbed-wire fence. Now five feet wide barbed-wire fences have been erected to further separate visitors and inmates. People separated by five feet have to shout to speak to each other, and no one can hear clearly. And because there are fewer crowds, soldiers are watching visitors everywhere, preventing anyone having a private conversation.

The conditions inside the camp are terrible. One recently released old man from the Manik camp told us: “Life inside the camp is almost living in hell. We faced a lot of problems after we left the LTTE-controlled areas. We were without food for several days. When asked for water, we were scolded in filthy language.

“Finally, packed like animals, we were brought here. Initially, food parcels were thrown from vehicles. Whoever got them ate, and others had to starve. Several elderly people with me died of starvation during the early days.

“The government is talking about improvements but that is just propaganda. When higher international officials come to the camps, the military arranges a good show for them. Many young men and girls have been taken from the camp and nobody knows what has happened to them.

“Sanitation is a big problem. During the past four months I took a bath only four times. All the toilets are almost full. People are suffering with infectious diseases and some have died. The government is trying to kill with disease the people who escaped their guns, and claim it is just a natural disaster. Diarrhoea, viral fever and skin diseases are very common. Children and babies don’t get milk-based foods. We always get the same routine meal—the very cheapest vegetables and rice.”

Komarasankulam camp is set up at a government school near Vavuniya. There are 2,400 people detained there, including 600 children. Visitors meet detainees in a shed guarded by several soldiers.

When we approached one police officer at around 7 a.m., he said visits were not possible because there was a “water problem” and asked us to come two hours later. Over 500 people were waiting in a long queue with plastic cans to collect water from the only tube well for the entire camp. Refugees told us they started waiting as early as 2 a.m. to collect water.

Only 45 temporarily toilets covered with polythene have been provided for the 2,400 detainees. Most of them are filled and cannot be used. The stench is all around.

There is only one doctor for the entire camp. He comes for just two hours a day. One person told us that several people had died from fever and diarrhoea. Only very seriously-ill patients are taken to Vavuniya hospital.

Because of the government’s propaganda about releasing people to relatives, many families have submitted applications. But only elderly people over 60 have been released. It is a lengthy procedure, with applications having to pass through several administrative divisions. However, the final decisions are taken by the area military commander.

Officers in the camps have informed people that even if they were to be released, no one would be allowed to resettle in Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu in the Vanni region, areas that were captured by the military in the final stages of the war.

The military has recently cleared a jungle area to set up a camp at Murasomottai in the eastern Trincomalee district, where about 2,300 refugees are detained. This is one of the so-called transit camps.

One inmate said: “We are liberated, the government boasts! But we are detained here in a jungle. During rainy days we have to stand, as there is water on the floor. Visitors are only allowed to talk for 15 minutes, then they are chased away. Snake bites are common in this camp. My 27-year-old daughter lost both her legs in Kilinochchi. I have lost my wife. This is an intolerable situation.” - courtesy: wsws.org

As If at UN, Sri Lankan PM at Asia Society Faces Pre-Screened Softball Questions

By Matthew Russell Lee

Sri Lanka's prime minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake spoke Thursday night at the Asia Society on Park Avenue in Manhattan, facing pre-screened softball questions gently raising the internment camps and freedom of the press. Even so, Wickramanayake responded testily, drawing partisan applause from the otherwise silenced auditorium.

Several facts were plainly misrepresented. The Asia Society's questioner -- who multiple times and accurately said, "I am by no means an expert on Sri Lanka" -- asked if the International Committee of the Red Cross has access to all the IDPs. Yes, Wickramanayake replied. But the ICRC has complained of no access to at least 10,000 people.

Then Wickramanayake said that two ICRC staffers were found to have "direct" ties to the LTTE and were arrested. Presumably he was referring to the two UN system staff, a question that Inner City Press wrote on a note card that was never read out by the moderator. Nor was a question about the GSP Plus tax benefit in Europe, which Sri Lanka stands to lose for human rights violations.

The evening got off to a surreal start with the present of the Asia Society, Ms. Vishakha N. Desai, saying without qualification that the Sri Lankan government means well. Then Wickramanayake delivered a sort of speech. He said "our country is nourished by Buddhism." He spoke of opportunities for investors, tourism on Eastern beaches.

Then the Asia Society's Executive Vice President Jaime Metzl took a seat and began lobbing softball questions. He said, let's turn back to Sri Lankan independence, to 1948. Wickramanayake became testy, and not for the last time. "Let us forget the past," he snapped. We want to look to the future.

EVP Metzl ever so gently raised the issue of the IDPs. Wickramanayake said the only problem is demining. "We were going it manually," he said, "until quite recently." He said now some machines have arrived. "It would have taken years," he said.

So what did Mahinda Rajapaksa's commitment to Ban Ki-moon in May, to resettle 80% of the IDPs by the end of the year, mean? One of the two is dissembling.

Metzl read out a question submitted only, "anonymously," he pointed out. took issue with why anyone would be anonymous. He said there are no problems of freedom of the press. When an audience member shouted out, "twenty years of hard labor," they were shouted down by a person sitting up in the front, in the reserved seat. Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN was observed up there. In front of the Asia Society, a fleet of blank four by fours were parked, with the Sri Lankan flag on their windshield. Entourage!

As Wickramanayake pontificated, about former LTTE supporters put in charge in the East, EVP Metzl nodded and said, as if involuntarily, uh huh, uh huh, while nodding his head. He let slip that he had just returned from Afghanistan, and that his father was an IDP for ten years after World War II. He named El Salvador as a country with a past of ethnic conflict. (Actually, there it is social class, we'll cite Roque Dalton.) Metzl's high point, he let the audience know, was getting an empty commitment from Wickramanayake that the Red Cross could contact his office. "And the Ministry of Defense," Wickramanayake quickly added. Of course.

The questions got more and more lame, culminating with "what do you pray for every night?" Wickramanayake answered, testy to the end, "I don't want to disclose that." Then the Asia Society whisked him and his entourage through a door, presumably to a reception, and the audience filed out.

Inner City Press felt a duty to come and hear, even paid to do it. In other circumstances, a refund would be in order given the weakness of the questions, and not allowing the audience or Press to ask any questions. The Asia Society created it own protest free General Assembly, and changed twenty dollars a seat for it.

courtesy Inner City Press

Red Cross not allowed

pic courtesy: Aquaview

September 24, 2009

“no crimes were committed by the army.” - Sri Lanka Prime Minsiter in NY

Rebuilding Sri Lanka after 25 years of civil war will require resettling thousands, encouraging foreign investment, and preventing a resurgence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), said Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake.

Watch the complete program

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Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake speaks at Asia Society, Sept 24, 2009. (Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society)

The war between the government and the LTTE ended in May 2009 after the military reportedly killed Tamil leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. “Sri Lanka suffered for almost three decades of destruction from terrorism by the LTTE,” said Wickramanayake. Despite victory, he said, “residual effects and related problems remain.”

Speaking at Asia Society headquarters in New York, the prime minister said resettling internally displaced persons (IDPs) is the country’s largest post-war challenge. However, he made clear that a full resettlement will take time. “You cannot have a solution overnight,” he stressed. Wickramanayake said an estimated 280,000 still remain in internment camps, as a result of the conflict.

“It is not an easy task to provide welfare to these people all at once... yet we accepted this challenge," he said. "Today, the [displaced] are being resettled systematically and efficiently.”

In an effort to expedite the recovery of the war-torn north and east, Wickramanayake called on the international community to begin investing in the island nation. “We need the support and cooperation from nations that can afford to,” he said. The prime minister stated that the government has already begun substantial reconstruction projects in the two regions.

Wickramanayake also called on nations to help Sri Lanka clear the large number of mines scattered throughout the country’s north. “Terrorists have planted landmines in playgrounds, holy sites, farm fields, and roads,” he said. “We are not ready to push our people onto these death traps.”

“Accept that we have a big problem,” the prime minister urged, “ and help us.”

In a question-and-answer session moderated by Asia Society’s Executive Vice President Jamie Metzl, Wickramanayake addressed allegations of human rights abuses by the military and criticism of the government’s treatment of displaced Tamils. The Sri Lankan government and the LTTE have both been criticized by the United Nations over alleged human rights abuses during the conflict. Wickramanayake bluntly denied allegations of human rights abuses, saying “no crimes were committed by the army.”

When pressed by Metzl to clarify under what conditions the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) would be allowed access to internment camps, Wickramanayake would only say that he supported the ICRC's work "to the extent that [they] will not disturb the normal peace and tranquility that remains within the camps." However, he would not provide any specifics.

Reported by Jamil Afridi, Asia Society Online

courtesy: The Asia Society

Thirteenth constitutional amendment is only a dead letter

by Gamini Gunawardane

Is 13th amendment to the Constitution valid any more?

My contention is that it has no validity in the present context.
My reasoning is as follows.

1. No consent

That this amendment has been forced on this country, against the wishes of the people has been sufficiently argued and therefore needs no more repetition. It is a well established legal principle that consent obtained under coercion/duress is no consent.

However, before proceeding to enumerate further reasons, I wish to focus only on three specific incidents that indicate the dimensions of this coercion and the evel of resentment that was expressed against it.

1. The fact that the Members of Parliament of the government party were made to live the night previous to the voting on this Bill, at the Taj Hotel, to ensure that none of them avoided or was prevented from attending parliament the next day for voting.

2. The fact that a Naval rating, who was a member of the Honour of Guard for Rajiv Gandhi, aimed at him a blow with his rifle butt before he left this country after signing the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord.

This incident symbolises the amount of resentment and hatred generated in a country with self-respect, towards the man who forced this amendment on her.

3. The large scale anti government violence that spread across the country which sparked off after the signing of the Indo-SL Accord.

2. Will of the People

A constitution, I believe, has to reflect the will of the people. These three incidents together with many others mentioned by different writers, show that the 13th Amendment is not the will of the people. Though technically it is considered law, in that it is now included in the constitution following due process, it is now common knowledge that how it was manipulated. People’s opposition to this new legislation could be evident from the resistance offered by different sections of the polity.

a) The main opposition party refused to contest the 1st provincial council elections held under the 13th Amendment.

b) The JVP unleashed a wave of violence that threatened to topple the government that was responsible for passing this law. They even went to the extent of killing the people who first went to cast their votes.

When the lawful avenues that are available to consult the people were effectively blocked by the very agencies who derived authority through the sovereignty of the people, it is in a way, not surprising that people chose to resort to violence to express their dissatisfaction.

c) On the other hand, the LTTE too rejected the provisions of the 13th Amendement and reverted back to war.

3. An aborted agreement

The conditions contained in this amendment were suggested to be offered to Prabhakaran in order to wean him and the other Eelam groups away from violence and force them to abandon their armed struggle. The Accord also included a condition that if Prabhakaran and the other groups refused to comply with this arrangement, India would disarm them forcibly using the Indian Armed forces.

Sri Lanka took the following steps to fulfill their part of the conditions of this Accord.

(a) Pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, in Parliament.

(b) Establish provincial councils in terms of the 13th Amendment.

(c) Temporarily merged the Northern & Eastern Provinces.

But, Prabhakaran, on his part, failed to surrender arms by accepting the 13th Amendment and enter a democratic political path promoted by this Amendment. India failed on their part to disarm the LTTE who went back to military action. Moreover, the LTTE made Rajiv Gandhi pay with his own life for his part played in the Lankan peace process.

Thus, of the three parties of the Accord, two failed to fulfill their obligations, while Sri Lanka who had only complied with her part, was left holding a 13th Amendment (provincial councils) that she never wanted, including merged Northern and Eastern provinces and further, an unfinished war with Prabhakaran.

It would appear from the outset that the SL government, even under trying circumstances, managed to successfully establish the provincial councils. Also, they contrived to merge the Northern & Eastern provinces temporarily to appease both Prbhakaran and India, under Emergency Regulations.

But Prabhakaran either failed or rejected to honour his part of the agreement while India too failed to follow the Accord by disarming Prbhakaran by use of force. Thus, other than the GOSL, both the other parties to the agreement failed to honour their part of the agreement. Thus, the accord that led to the 13th Amendment has been disregarded by two of the three parties concerned. Therefore, it cannot further have any validity today.

And, no one could insist on the GOSL for ‘full implementation of the 13th Amendment’ without honouring their part of the agreement.

4. Fictitious concepts

It is common knowledge that the LTTE approached all the peace talks held in the past with three fictitious principles which they maintained right throughout as non-negotiable, which different goverments of SL consistently rejected. They were:

1. That the Tamils are a separate nation.

2. Therefore they were entitled to self determination

3. That the Northern & Eastern provinces of SL are their traditional homeland.

All the wars were fought on this basis – to preserve territorial integrity of the country, at a great cost of life and property for the last 30 years. So many war heroes laid down their lives for this cause and so many parents had to dedicate their precious children for this cause.

It would be seen that the 13th Amendment provides for facility for the merger of two or more provinces by mutual consent. As a demonstration of this possibility, the Northern and Eastern provinces were merged temporarily through Emergency Regulations. It is evident that this provision would be a measure to deviously concede the ‘principle 3’ above which can eventually pave the way for the establishment other two ‘principles.’ We had a glimpse of this dangerous possibility when Warthrajah Perumal, the first Chief Minister of the Northeastern Provincial Council declared UDI to be given the first opportunity.

This incident would demonstrate the danger inherent in the 13th Amendment in the temptation it offers to the separatists, which can take arms against the unitary principle enshrined in the Constitution. It would thus appear that this provision would negate the result of the wars fought so hard before they were won. On the other hand, the wars fought with great sacrifice of valuable lives of both sides, negate these fictitious ‘principles’ that the LTTE based its concept for waging the Ealm war. It is not adequate to defeat it on the battle ground but ideologically too through the rejection of the 13th Amendment. Now that the LTTE, led by Prabhakaran who tendere these ‘concepts’ in their self assumed capacity as the ‘sole representatives of the Tamils’ at peace negotiations, are no more it cannot have validity any further.

5. New circumstances

The situation today is that the GOSL has by its own effort, vanquished and eliminated the intransigent enemy. So, it could not be by means of offering ‘him’ a 13th Amendment (including either provincial councils or merged Northern & Eastern provinces, which in fact ‘he’ rejected). In these circumstances, what is the just in the 13th Amendment to exist further? Whom are we trying to appease now?

Thus, in these new circumstances, fresh thinking is needed. For those reasons, at the worst, the 13th Amendment could only remain a dead letter in our constitution.

Internment of I.D.P's amounts to collective punishment

by Devanesan Nesiah

The widespread indifference to the continuing misery of 280,000 interned IDPs, most of them already unlawfully detained for about four months without any charges, is a sad reflection on the moral values of our society. The reported release of a few thousand is most welcome, but what of the remaining 270,000?

Attempts made to justify the internment on the grounds that some of the areas from which they were displaced may yet be land-mined is patently false, in that these internees could then be permitted to move temporarily to other areas to live with relatives or friends, or in accommodation provided by organisations that have already indicated a willingness to help. As in the case of other IDPs, the state could establish a few welfare (not detention) camps to accommodate the few who cannot find accommodation on their own.

Any decision to move out should be taken by the IDPs solely on their own responsibility. Concern for the welfare of IDPs cannot possibly be a reason to detain anyone or to restrict their movements or to prevent access to them. If, on the other hand, the IDPs are being held on suspicion of being responsible for criminal activity, and if evidence is available, they should be duly arrested and charged. If, four months after the commencement of their detention, there is no evidence found to charge them, they should be freed forthwith.

Is the ethnicity of the IDPs a factor that contributes to the tacit acceptance of the detention without any charges of virtually the entire population caught up in the territory conquered from the LTTE? Are they being held as prisoners of war? When natural disasters, such as the tsunami of December 26, 2006, devastated the shores of this island and the lives of hundreds of thousands of our population, many of all ethnic groups were motivated to disregard any ethnic or religious differences and help the victims. Identifying with natural disaster-stricken victims and generously helping them is an admirable characteristic of Sri Lankans of all ethnic groups. Do ethnic differences suppress our generosity when the disaster is caused by ethnicity-related political oppression or violence? Is that the kind of people we are? Is that how we see ourselves?

When the Indian Tamils in our midst were suddenly deprived of citizenship and voting rights in 1949, it was a tragedy for the one million Indian Tamils. Most of the other ethnic groups, including a significant proportion of Sri Lankan Tamils, appeared to be indifferent to the injustice inflicted on Indian Tamils. Again, when Tamil-speaking persons were suddenly deprived of their language rights in 1956, most of those of other linguistic groups appeared to be indifferent to the pain of the Tamil-speaking population. When various acts of brutal ethnic violence or ethnic cleansing took place over the years, whether of Sinhalese at the hands of the LTTE and other Tamil armed groups, or of Tamils at the hands of Sinhalese and Muslim armed groups, or of Muslims at the hands of Sinhalese and Tamil armed groups, it appeared that those most concerned were of the same ethnic group as the victims. Is such selectivity in our concerns in keeping with our Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim or Christian or ethical values? Or are our tribal instincts superseding our religious and ethical principles?

Four months ago, close to the end of the civil war, when groundviews posed the hypothetical question "Would killing 50,000 civilians to finish off the LTTE bring peace?" most of those who responded replied, "No, this is just wrong." But, sadly, there were a few who replied "Yes" or "Maybe". It may be instructive to explore our responses to a similar question: Suppose the LTTE had been cornered by the armed forces of the State and retreated into your old school premises, occupied by 1,000 students, staff, and family members, who were then held hostage by the rebel group. The school premises have been sealed off by the armed forces of the State, who effectively control all entry and exit, but are unable to rescue the captives. Any attempt by the armed forces to forcibly enter the premises to capture the rebels free the captives is likely to lead to the death of at least 500 of the latter. What is to be done?

In the heat of the conflict the instinct of the armed forces may be to go in and finish off their task, irrespective of the scale of civilian casualties. Would you recommend that they do that, or would you urge negotiating the release of the hostages in exchange for some concessions to the captors? For the captors, there is no other option available, because they are effectively surrounded. Most of us would surely urge that there should be a negotiated settlement so as to avoid large scale civilian deaths. Since the students, teachers, and family members are of our own school, it is easy to identify with the victims.

Would our concern be less and our decision be different if it was not our own school, but a remote school, and the captives are mainly of ethnic, religious, linguistic, and class identities different to our own? When Madeleine Albright justified sanctions against Iraq, even after it was known that sanctions had led to the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children as well as very large numbers of other civilians, she was rightly condemned as a racist; so too George Bush, Tony Blair, and many others who held that the invasion of Iraq was worthwhile despite the tragedy it brought on the population. Was it worthwhile for them or the Iraqi people? Are we less racist than they?

Four months ago, in the midst of the war, we could have been excused for paying inadequate attention to humanitarian issues and letting our political objectives and tribal instincts overcome our religious and ethical values. Today, four months after the end of the war, that excuse will not hold. We know that the internment is wrong as surely as we know that all the massacres and all the ethnic cleansing over the decades were wrong. Should we not urge the immediate release of those wrongfully detained?

Is the 13th Amendment the Panacea for Post Conflict Settlement in Sri Lanka?

by Gus Mathews

The Eelam wars have finally ended, but the detritus of war, most visibly the IDPs languishing in the detention camps still remain. While the search for hidden arms caches, de-mining and the weeding out of the remaining Tamil Tiger fighters is on-going the political process of rejuvenating democracy in the North is progressing unabated. Into this heady mix is also the perennial question of ‘whither the 13th amendment?’

The original administration system of nine provinces was inherited from the ex-colonial power. The new system with devolved political, land and police powers was foisted on Sri Lanka by the Indian government of Rajiv Gandhi.

This system devolved power from the centre to the provinces and represented in a large measure a microcosm of the Indian state system of governance. This system was intended to ameliorate the ethnic conflict between the minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese - a conflict that was given succour and encouragement by Rajiv’s predecessor and mother Indira during her tenure as Indian Prime minister.

Indira Gandhi’s adventurism in the mid 1980’s was for the control of Sri Lanka to enable India’s geo-political agenda in the Indian Ocean through its proxy the Tamil tigers. However the proxy Tamil tigers rebelled against the vision that her son and successor Rajiv had subsequently imposed on them and what ensued was the assassination of Rajiv by the Tamil tigers and the death 100,000 Sri Lankans and a war that was prolonged lasting nearly thirty years.

Like all solutions that are expedient and cobbled together on a whim without any thought and debate it was bound to fail. Even at its inception the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces (the cornerstone of the 13th amendment) was unceremoniously thrown out by the courts as unconstitutional.

Paradoxically this system of governance currently devoid of the seminal devolved land and police powers was implemented in all other provinces except the North due to the Eelam wars. The aftermath and the end of the wars have given way to undue haste to bring the North into the fold of the provincial system.

Unlike India, the original colonial provincial regional demarcation in Sri Lanka was not based on ethnicity – though many of the separatists would like you to believe otherwise. India’s linguistic and cultural regionalism is very clear and a federal state system was the ideal solution for a country of sixteen major regional languages and a plethora of dialects as the cohesion of India despite its nascent problems has demonstrated.

Sri Lanka on the other hand does not possess the distinct regional nature of India as Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors, Malays, Burghers and the even the smaller minorities like the Chinese have lived in all parts of Sri Lanka. Also in comparison Sri Lanka is smaller than most individual Indian states. While the Northern Province may have a majority of Tamils, the rest of the Tamil population and the other minorities are spread throughout Sri Lanka.

The question remains whether the plurality of Sri Lankan society can be maintained despite the 13th amendment?

In essence can 14 percent of the Sri Lankans who consist of ethnic Tamils of whom 7 percent live outside the North and the East (the 7 percent who live outside are also Sinhala speakers in addition to Tamil) dictate the dismemberment of the unitary nature and the state of Sri Lanka and discount the aspirations of the majority and the rest of the other minorities?

In essence can 7 percent of the population dictate a system of governance that is suited to India than to Sri Lanka – a provincial system that will create a mono ethnic enclave – a system that envisages the proverbial sledge hammer to crack a nut?

Sri Lanka is not India they both have a totally different medieval, political and colonial histories. Even the British realised this and administered Sri Lanka separately to that of India. They did not make the same mistake that they did with Burma (now Myanmar) and India – the repercussions of this are still prevalent in Myanmar today.

The majority Sri Lankans have for centuries shed immense amount of blood in the past and the present for this right to preserve the unitary nature of Sri Lanka as the Eelam wars have recently demonstrated. They are prepared to do so again and again.

It is no coincidence that the Sri Lankan army is entrenched in the North to ensure that the Tamil tiger debacle will never rear its head again and as is now will be confined to the dustbin of history. Moreover the majority Sri Lankans look upon the 13th amendment as a stepping stone for the separatists to carve out an Eelam in the future.

The TNA (Tamil National Alliance) politicians (who were in the pockets of the Tamil tigers), despite their entreaties to India the regional power, to enforce the Indo-Sri Lanka accord will not achieve the ethnic regionalism that they crave. As the Sri Lankan President has suggested Sri Lanka will only entertain an indigenous solution and comparisons with Indian or for that matter Canadian solutions will not work for Sri Lanka.

So how will Sri Lanka manage the demands of India for the solution it imposed? For a start the political dynamics are not the same as in 1987. Sri Lanka has comprehensively defeated the Tamil tigers that even the well trained and armed Indian army could not. On the diplomatic front Sri Lanka has utilised it friendship with China, Pakistan very adroitly. It is no coincidence that Sri Lanka has been awarded observer status in the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation).

Any direct interference in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka will be detrimental to India in the long run. Sri Lanka is not Bhutan or Sikkim (the relatively small Himalayan Feudal Kingdoms) that Indian military might annexed into India. Sri Lanka is a sophisticated functioning vibrant democracy that encompasses an electorate with 98 percent literacy that even during the zenith of the Eelam wars conducted elections.

Moreover does the great Indian army that met its match in the Tamil tigers have the stomach to take on the Sri Lankan forces that routed the Tamil tigers? It will be a no win situation for either side as events in the past have demonstrated.

In essence India’s interest in the 13th amendment is primarily for geo-political reasons and to partially placate the Tamil Nadu politicians who have been primarily the originators of this schism. Sri Lankan Tamil politicians took a leaf out of the DMK’s (Dravida Munnetra Kazaham) policies in Tamil Nadu and applied it to Sri Lanka. The DK (Dravida Kazaham the fore-runner to the present day DMK) movement commenced in the 1930s and was initially conceived to unite the Dravidians of South India into a separate entity called Dravida Nadu with a view to obtain Independence from Great Britain.

However with the dawn of Indian Independence all but Tamil Nadu remained as the rest of the Dravidians, namely Kerala, Karanataka, Andra etc all fell in line with the regional ethnic solution of post colonial India. Unfortunately this Dravidian Tamil aspiration took root in Sri Lanka with the Sri Lankan Tamil politicians and was instrumental in prolonging this imported schism with disastrous consequences for the Sri Lankan Tamils ever since.

It is no coincidence that Velupillai Prabaharan’s ultimate aim was to forge a Tamil state of over 70 million Tamils independent from India encompassing present day Tamil Nadu in India and Eelam (the North, East and North West parts of Sri Lanka). As the Sri Lankan President remarked ‘Sri Lanka has also fought India’s war against the Tamil Tigers’.

The colourful ethnic tapestry of Sri Lanka as a model for nationhood has been successful with the other smaller minorities and indeed with most of the Tamils who live outside the North – but it is the Northern Tamils who have rejected this model based on their flawed self importance and biased view of their ethnic separateness.

In a world where globalisation and communications is rapidly advancing is it not time that the Northern Tamils and their TNA leaders realised that their immediate future and that of their children and grand children are interminably entwined with the rest of the nation of Sri Lanka. Incidentally the other smaller minorities in Sri Lanka have thrived and have successfully retained their culture, language and religions without any discrimination from the majority.

So how do we resolve this conundrum?

How do we give the Northern Tamils the self importance that they crave for and still retain the unitary nature of Sri Lanka?

ronically the answer lies in the confidence building measures between the Northern Tamils and the rest of the peoples of Sri Lanka. The following actions are imperative:

-Indeed the constitution has already been amended giving the Tamil language official national status in government and other areas.

-The government must also re-iterate that the all Tamils despite their internal differences and wherever they live in the island nation are an integral part of Sri Lanka. It should also enact legislation to ensure that discrimination on the basis of race, in jobs and other social needs is outlawed and heavy penalties imposed. An institution and mechanisms to ensure that this legislation is not thwarted by politicians, racists and separatists alike should be incorporated into law.

- The Tamils on their part should disavow their mantra of their ‘homeland’ being the north and east and insist that indeed their concept of homeland consists of the whole of Sri Lanka.

- Legislation to outlaw any political party based on race and religion should also be enacted, and the constitution of each political party must enunciate this in clear practical terms. Hence any ultra nationalist Sinhalese and Tamil separatists political parties based on race and religion must be made to wreak the opprobrium of Sri Lankans of all ethnic origins.

- The Tamil politicians should desist from involving external countries like India and the USA into the internal affairs of Sri Lanka and should make that policy abundantly clear – hence all international contact will be only with the Government of Sri Lanka. This will the create confidence in the majority community and the other smaller minorities that the Tamils are not a fifth column for India and its geo-political ambitions. It will also strengthen the relationship of the Tamils with the rest of Sri Lankans as they would have given notice that they are not expecting outsiders to resolve their issues.

So what will become of the 13th amendment? Sri Lanka is already burdened with its imposed introduction. There is speculation and conjecture from various sources that a second parliamentary chamber is being considered in the proposed new constitution. Irrespective of the political machination that ensues regarding the nature of any future constitution, for any government of any political hue it will be politically difficult to replace the 13th amendment. It can be diluted however with regard to provincial politics and in turn enhanced on the national stage.

A provincial system without land and police powers would be appropriate with elected chief ministers and other representatives of the provinces constituting a second chamber in parliament. This second chamber can have national powers in matters relating to revision of legislation, scrutiny of public appointees, scrutiny of government spending and other executive functions. This is a function that many parliaments have in place similar to the Indian ‘Rajya Sabah’, the ‘USA Senate’ and the ‘House of Lords’ in Great Britain. This will ensure that provincial representation will also be part of the national governance by parliament.

Will these adjuncts to the Sri Lankan constitution be, in the spirit of the ‘Indo – Lanka’ accord that the Tamil politicians swear by and moreover will it satisfy the separatists? A clear explanatory education of what this means for the future of Sri Lanka and its economic and political stability must be pursued and inculcated into all Sri Lankans of all ethnic hues and disposition.

This solution will sit comfortably with the majority community and the other minorities as it preserves the unitary nature of Sri Lanka and it will also to a degree give the Northern Tamils a direct power base in the upper house to hold the President and parliament to account directly. This is a solution worth considering for the future of Sri Lanka and all its peoples.

Amnesty International: Sri Lankan army clashes with detainees

Statement by Amnesty International

A detainee was seriously injured and had to be hospitalized as a clash broke out between the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and detainees being held at a school in Vavuniya in north-eastern Sri Lanka on Tuesday.

The detainee, Sri Chandramorgan from Kanahapuram, Kilinochchi, was initially reported to have been killed by the army when he tried to escape from the Poonthotham Teachers Training College, which serves as an unofficial detention centre. The rumour sparked unrest in the camp and the road to the facility was closed by authorities.

Amnesty_logotc0924.jpg“The danger of serious human rights violations, including torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings increases substantially when detainees are held in locations that are not officially acknowledged places of detention and lack proper legal procedures and safeguards”, said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia Director.

Detention centres such as the Poonthotham Teachers Training College are irregular places of detention. Since May 2009, an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 individuals suspected of ties to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) have been detained in irregular detention facilities operated by the Sri Lankan security forces and affiliated paramilitary groups.

Several such groups are active in Vavuniya and have been implicated in human rights violations, including People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and both factions of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP).

On 25 May, just a week after the Sri Lankan government declared victory over the Tamil Tigers, Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka announced that 9,000 Tamil Tigers cadres had surrendered to the army.

Since then, there have been regular reports of arrests. Some have been officially acknowledged and reported in the Sri Lankan press and others reported by relatives of detainees in displacement camps.

Many of these detainees are being held incommunicado, meaning they have not had access to family members or legal counsel and have not appeared in court.

Amnesty International has confirmed the location of at least 10 such facilities in school buildings and hostels originally designated as displacement camps in the north. There have also been frequent reports of other unofficial places of detention elsewhere in the country.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has no access to these detainees and there is no transparency about their registration and treatment.

Incommunicado detention of suspects in irregular places of detention (i.e. places other than police stations, officially designated detention centres or prisons) has been a persistent practice in Sri Lanka associated with torture, killings and enforced disappearances.

Amnesty International has called on the Sri Lankan government to ensure that the screening process for suspected combatants is carried out in ways that guarantee the human rights and dignity of all those involved.

Arrangements should be made for independent monitoring of screening processes. Tamil Tigers suspects must be held only in recognised places of detention and be brought before a judicial authority without delay after being taken into custody.

"Screening process"

pic courtesy: Aquaview

Video: Singing fishermen of Kaluwankerny, Batticaloa

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

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Fisher folk of Kaluwankerny, in Batticaloa district sing a fisherman's song, while pulling the fishing net from the sea to the shore at mid day.They keep pulling the fishing net until the end of it reaches the shore with the fish caught. [click here to read in full ~ humanityashore.com]

September 23, 2009

Rajapaksa regime in grip of "missing the enemy" syndrome

by Dr. Packiyasothy Saravanamuttu

Is the Rajapaksa regime caught in the grips of the ME Syndrome? - Missing the Enemy, that is. Over the last two weeks, the leading lights of the regime have warned of conspiracies to destabilize the regime and even to replace it and have used the state controlled media as well as the defence ministry website to launch propaganda attacks against alleged conspirators, this columnist included.

It is the dirty nasty imperialist West and their local hirelings who are at the bottom of this. They tried to save the LTTE and failed. Now, they are determined to ensure regime destabilization and change. The extension of the GSP Plus concession, the report on war crimes to the US Senate, the Pascoe visit and continuing international concern about the plight of the IDPs are all elements of this dastardly plan. It is only the love of country of the mass of patriots, in the south in particular, their political savvy and courage that can stop this insidious plan in its tracks, whether it be through a resounding mandate for the regime in the provincial elections or through entirely suitable and grisly punishment of those identified as traitors.

The regime clearly misses an enemy. It seems to be dangerously unsure of itself in the absence of one. The emperor of yore was unaware of his nakedness. What would have happened if he were aware?

What is especially worrying is that these accounts of conspiracies to stabilize the regime and change it emanating from the heart of the regime are destabilizing in themselves. They suggest that the war in effect is not over and that Sri Lanka has no choice but to embark on a collision course with an influential section of the international community, which has traditionally been an ally of this country. What is the hard evidence for this?

It would seem to be the case that the report of the EU investigators in the context of the extension of the GSP Plus concession, has served as a catalyst for conspiracy theories. The GSP Plus trade concession was based on the ratification and effective implementation of some twenty-seven international human rights instruments and labour standards. In the Sri Lankan case, as per the terms of the concession, the EU decided to instigate into the ratification and effective implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The findings of the investigation will feed into the decision on whether to extend the concession to Sri Lanka. The concession was granted in the aftermath of the tsunami.

Media reportage of the report of the investigation and a public statement to this effect by a ministry secretary, indicate that it is negative and that the crux of the issue is human rights. Human rights, underpins the US Senate request for a report on war crimes from the State Department. Accountability in respect of human rights violations was flagged by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on a number of occasions and as far back as March of this year. It was also mentioned in the communiqué issued after the visit of the UN Secretary General at the end of May in which the point was made that this was best dealt with nationally. The issue also featured in the visit to Sri Lanka by the UN Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Lyn Pascoe. It further features in the controversy over the Channel 4 video and the comments on the investigation into it conducted by the regime, which concluded that the video was a fake. Philip Alston, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Extra Judicial Killings has called for an independent investigation into the authenticity of the video.

This week, Walter Kaelin, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on the Human Rights of IDPs will visit Sri Lanka and yet again human rights issues will be highlighted. Indeed, the fate of the IDPs encompasses many of the dimensions of the human rights issue and constitutes the litmus test for peace, reconciliation and national unity. The central concern here is that of the freedom of movement of IDPs – Sri Lankan citizens who are being detained in camps without any legal basis and in violation of international human rights and humanitarian norms.

The onset of monsoonal rains has alerted the regime to an impending humanitarian catastrophe, a foretaste of which was produced by rains in August. Consequently, there were announcements of action on the assurance given that 80 per cent of the IDPs would be returned in 180 days. IDPs, it was announced could go and live with relatives once the latter were screened and it clearly established that they were not LTTE supporters or sympathizers. However, there are reports that the IDPs are being relocated from one camp to another – from the Menik Farm camp complex to “transit” camps elsewhere in the north and east. Clearly the “decongestion” of the Menik Farm complex, which houses double the number of human beings it was built to accommodate, is being prioritized on account of the onset of the monsoon at the expense of the freedom of movement of our fellow citizens. A case in the Supreme Court taken by the Centre for Policy Alternatives and this columnist in the public interest on the rights of the IDPs is still to be concluded, on way or another.

Other aspects of the situation of the IDPs relate to the legal status and fate of those who have been identified as LTTE cadres, supporters and sympathizers, access and basic facilities. Other human rights issues that are the focus of international concern are the Tissainayagam verdict, the expulsion of the UNICEF spokesperson James Elder and the fate of UN workers held by the regime.

Human rights issues are stubborn ones. They will not go away. They cannot be dealt with by denial, bravado, defiance, conspiracy theories or neglect. Moreover they are indubitably in the national interest and to the detriment of no one other than the perpetrators of violations. At the same time, foreign policy cannot be conducted through allegation and counter allegation, shrill incoherence and what increasingly looks like incomprehension and incompetence. Most importantly governance cannot be served or sustained by conflict and conspiracy, fear, paranoia and insecurity. We are part of an international community. Human rights and the international community have to be dealt with maturely, responsibly, constructively. Surely this is not beyond a regime, which enjoys such unprecedented popularity?

This is surely not the time for enmity, but for peace, reconciliation and unity to realize the full potential of this country and capitalize on the military defeat of the LTTE.

”Chinthana Lanka” Under “Maha Rajathuma” is Like the “1984” Novel of George Orwell

by Mangala Samaraweera

In 1949, the English author, George Orwell published “1984”, a novel destined to become the classic dystopian novel of the 20th centaury. The story set in a future England, was according to the author “intended as a show- up of the perversions which have already been partly realized in Communism and Fascism” as experienced in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Orwell also described his novel as a warning to the British that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.

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Mangala Samaraweera

Had Orwell been alive today, he would have been relieved and happy that most of the world has moved away from fascist/communist forms of government to firmly entrenched forms of democratic governance – including Germany and Russia. However I am sure he would have been shocked to see the little island paradise called Ceylon which gained Independence from the British Empire in 1948, only a year before he released his novel, would become the setting for a true to life Orwellian nightmare 59 years later.

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In “1984”, the pictures of the dictator “ Big Brother” is everywhere like the giant cutouts of our own indigenous version – “ Maha Rajathuma” today. As the London Guardian wrote on 14th September “Colombo’s streets are littered with so many pictures of President Mahinda Rajapakse and his brothers that the incipient personality cult would shame a Chinese Communist”.

Actually, the giant cut outs of the President and his brothers in every possible nook and corner of our island. would have even shamed Hitler and Stalin, and to be fair on the Chinese, the modern Chinese leadership, thankfully, does not indulge in this display of hubris anymore.

However, what is distinctly and disturbingly “Orwellian” today is the “newspeak” of the Rajapkse regime, which deliberately twists language to say the opposite of what it truly means.

In “1984” the “ Ministry of Peace” actually deals with war and the “Ministry of Love” actually tortures people. In Chintana Lanka today of Maharajathuma, the Peace Secretariat actually became the chief apologist for the atrocities and human rights violations committed in the name of fighting terrorism such as the murder of Members of Parliament and journalists, extra judicial killings and white van abductions etc. during the last two years; today barbed wire internment camps are euphemistically called “ Welfare Camps” and the 280,000 + people incarcerated there are called IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) while in actual fact these people should be called FDDPs. (Forcibly Displaced and Detained Persons.)

Nearly 300,000 people were uprooted and displaced from the conflict zone and 4 months after the government officially announced the defeat of the LTTE, over 280,000 persons are held in closed camps in one of the most serious human rights crises in 21st century Asia. The only ‘crime’ these unfortunate persons have committed is to have been born in an area, which was under LTTE control for nearly two decades.

Previously they suffered under the brutal and tyrannical rule of the tigers and today they continue to suffer untold hardships and humiliations under their own government who promised them ‘liberation’ after the LTTE was defeated. Facing the proverbial ‘frying pan into the fire “ situation, the people in these camps have been denied their most basic human rights; freedom of movement, of speech and assembly, of livelihood and grievance redressed. There are also allegations that 30-40 people disappear daily from these camps and according to District Secretary of Killinochchi over 10,000 people have gone missing since these camps were established.

Like the conflict, which preceded this crises – ‘the war without witnesses’, the local and international organizations have limited access to these camps and local and international media are selectively taken to some of the showcase areas of the camp. Members from this august assembly are also barred from visiting these camps.

Because of the limited time given to me I will not take your time to talk about the atrocious conditions of these barbed wire prisons. Many of my fellow members have done so and will be doing so during the course of this debate.

However, Sri Lankans as well as our friends abroad must realize that the people held in these camps are not refugees in the normal sense of the word. The majority of the detainees have their own homes to go back to or have kith and kin in different parts of the country who are willing to put them up. They are not economic refugees either as many of them have some form of livelihood as teachers, government servants, farmers and land owners etc. Many have kinsfolk abroad who are remitting money to them.

According to a news report in the “Daily News” of 15th August 2009, the Deputy General Manager of Bank of Ceylon – I.D.Weerawansa was quoted as saying that 500 million rupees had been deposited by the IDPs over the last 4 – 5 months. ATM facilities have been opened in the camps with 21000 new account holders. Unlike the Tsunami victims of 2004 the FDDPs do not need the handouts of the well meaning people elsewhere and if they are allowed to go home they do not need the large amounts of humanitarian aid collected on their behalf by the government and other agencies. If given the freedom to choose where they want to live, the government would not need to pass this supplementary estimate for their upkeep either.

“LET US GO HOME” That is their only request at the moment. The President must recognize the right to return of the people and the people must be allowed to go to their original place or the place of their choice. The resettlement must start immediately and it must be done under the supervision of an all-party committee of Parliament. This is especially important in the face of allegations that the government is merely relocating people from these camps in similar camps elsewhere to stave off mounting local and international pressure.

In response the government says that they cannot be allowed to do so until the areas are cleared of land mines. Of course, many respond by saying that they have been living with land mines for many years but if the presence of civilians can obstruct the de mining operations, most people have kinsfolk with whom they could live with until the areas are cleared.

The defence authorities also repeat ad nauseum their other standard excuse of having 20,000 LTTE suspects yet to be identified amongst the 280,000 FDDPs. This often repeated excuse raises two interesting questions.

Firstly, it raises the question of the credibility and veracity of figures released by top defence officials. On 10th February 2008 the Army Commander said that LTTE has around 5000 fighters remaining and on 12th September 2008 the Commander said, “ 11000 tigers killed since July 2006. Only 4000 remain.” Having decimated the LTTE in May this year, it would be interesting to find out how the LTTE even in defeat has increased its numbers to 20000 in such a short period of time! It is obvious that the number of LTTE cadres fluctuate according to the whims and fancies of the Defence Ministry.

Secondly, it also raises a question on the legality of incarcerating 280,000 persons because of the inability of the authorities to identify 20,000 LTTTE suspects; this form of collective punishment for the misdeeds of a few, is illegal and totally unacceptable in a democracy.

In fact when an ageing father was taken into custody in lieu of his son suspected of DJVP activity in the South in 1991 – this is how my friend and joint conveynor of Mother’s Front, Hon. Mahinda Rajapakse responded in Parliament; Hansard – 21st May 1991- p427.

“Listen to this, Mr. Deputy Chairman ; the son has done the wrong, the complaint is against the son. They have taken the ageing father from home and keeping him at the Police in lieu of the son. Which devil’s law is this? What is this law? What is the result of this? Is this democracy? Are these human rights? Is this the five star democracy you are talking about? Is this the dhamma we hear on the radio daily? Is this the sermon preached on Saturdays?”

18 years later, when 280,000 people are being held captive in a similar manner, in lieu of 20000 terrorist suspects, we too are compelled to ask who the devil is behind this great human tragedy. The devil in question, certainly does not wear Prada but a maroon “satakaya”!

And to the devil I repeat the words of Hon. Mahinda Rajapakse from the Hansard of 21st May 1991.

“Resign in the name of god in order to protect democracy in our country and the human rights of our people.”

(The speech made in Parliament on 22nd September 2009 by Mangala Samaraweera MP).

Treatment of Tamil IDPs and Muslim Refugees: Double Standard on Human Suffering

(Part of this article, dealing up to the Indian involvement, was published in the Ceylon Daily Mirror on Tuesday 22 September 2009)

By Latheef Farook

It is heartening to note the swift international response to the misery of Internally Displaced Tamils. There is no doubt that every country ,every organization and every individual should make every effort to ameliorate the conditions of about 280,000 unfortunate Tamil IDPs who were herded and used as human shields by the LTTE against advancing Sri Lankan forces.

Moved by their sufferings, milk of human kindness began flowing like rivers as many countries in the world starting from India, United, States, United Kingdom ,Japan ,Malaysia, Australia and many more generously donated billions of rupees and offered aid packages to meet with the urgent needs of these unfortunate Tamil IDPs.

Their sufferings, began only few months ago, attracted such great attention that on the eve of the crushing defeat of LTTE one after the other top political leaders from the west ,from British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon ,rushed to the island to show their humanitarian concern.

In fact, Tamil IDPs melted the heart of Ban Ki Moon so much that four months later on September 3, 2009 while in Geneva for a climate conference he lamented that ССconditions at Tamil IDP camps have not improved and it may deteriorate further when the monsoon season arrives. Therefore civilians should be allowed out of the camps to stay with host families.

Few days later Ban Ki moon even dispatched his deputy, United Nation Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe, on 16 September 2009 to visit the Tamil IDPs and to press the government to speed up their release .Lyn Pascoe visited the Tamil IDPS in Menik farm and other places and warned theФ situation in camps is putting reconciliation at riskФ. He said the UN was devoting special energy to the displaced Tamils because the issue was critical for the country's future.

Further more Head of the United Nations Refugee Agency Antonio Gutteres promised further help for caring and resettling Tamil IDPs while Walter Kalin ,Special Representative of Ban Ki moon , is due to arrive in Colombo next week to visit IDP welfare centres.

What a great humanitarian gesture? One should admire their compassion and humanitarian concern for the Tamil IDPs.

However, all these Western politicians" human kindness dry up completely when it comes to the sufferings of Northern Muslims, driven out at gunpoints, Jaffna Muslims within two hours notice, by the LTTE, and have been languishing in refugee camps in and around Puttalam for 20 long years in appalling conditions. No UN official or Western leader came to see their plight and there were no generous aid packages to them. Perhaps, in their eyes, these Muslim refugees were not human beings?

Indian Government, for example, set aside Rs 500 crore for Tamil IDPs.It would have been nice if India, in the same spirit, had allocated at least Rs 500 for the around 130,000 Northern Muslims refugees during the past 20 years. After all their misery was caused by the LTTE which ,together with other Tamil militants ,were armed, trained and financed by India in its effort to prick the pride of Late President Jayewardene and turned this paradise island into AsiaТs worst killing field,India stated that a "broad-based political settlement" of the ethnic conflict would enable the Rs.500-crore relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation package for Tamil IDPs to be utilized in a more effective and efficient manner. Reiterating this in his 63rd Independence Day message, the Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Alok Prasad said New Delhi looked forward to working with Colombo for quick and effective disbursement of the package.

Then India asked Sri Lanka to take "effective measures" to address the concerns of displaced Tamils, stating that relations between the two neighbors hinge on the issue. Recalling his meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the Rajya Sabha that "bulk" of his meeting was focused on the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils.

"We are deeply concerned. I explained to President Rajapakse that we have legitimate concern about the welfare of Sri Lankan Tamils. It has a bearing on Sri Lanka's relations with India. I spent considerable amount of my time discussing the Tamil problem with him and expressed our concern,Ф said Singh who also informed President Rajapaksa that Colombo need to create conditions for meeting "legitimate political aspirations" of the Tamils under the devolution package.

Two days later, senior BJP leader M Venkaiah Naidu said in Chennai that Sri Lanka should take immediate steps to rehabilitate the Tamil IDPs and ensure they were resettled in their original place of inhabitations. He also urged the Sri Lankan government to accord equal rights to the Tamils as enjoyed by the Sinhalese.

Then Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna discussed the question of Tamil IDPs with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Summit. This was followed by External Affairs Minster S.M Krishna who told the Indian Parliament that Prime Minster Manmohan Singh was willing to give more than the pledged five billion Indian rupees for the resettlement of Tamil IDPs.

Meanwhile Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi called for speeding up the rehabilitation of displaced Tamils stating that his government had dispatched four consignments of relief material worth Rs 15 crore to Sri Lanka, apart from what the Indian government sends on its own.

However, none of them spoke a word about the plight of the Muslim IDPs. Where was Indian humanitarian concern when the LTTE ethnic cleansed the entire Muslim population in the north? The question is whether this is the extension of the general Indian policy of indifference and hostility towards the more than 150 million Indian Muslims who have been systematically marginalized, attacked, killed and pauperized besides being treated as outcasts.

In the midst the emerging Congress Leader Rahul Gandhi told in Chennai on 12 September 209 that the rights of Sri Lankan Tamils are very important and should be protected adding that India is applying massive pressure on Sri Lanka to protect rights of Tamils.

United Kingdom

The UKТs International Development Minister Mike Foster allocated г3 million to prepare displaced civilians to return home from the camps. The funds provide tools, vocational training, cash grants and seeds to restart their lives. Mike Foster said: Сwe also encourage Sri Lanka to allow humanitarian agencies to operate effectively by making sure relief workers can access visas and lifting the restrictions imposed on entering the camps and the Medevachchi checkpoint.

Yet not a word or penny for the Northern Muslims in Puttalam refugee camps.

United States

The United States that provided $56 million in humanitarian assistance in 2009 urged safe and speedy return of Tamil IDPs, continued access for international humanitarian organizations and the registration and provision of national identification cards to IDPs to help promote freedom of movement.

The US State Department said that the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake and U.S. Chargщ dТAffaires in Sri Lanka James Moore met 16 representatives of U.S.-based organizations representing members of the Tamil Diaspora to discuss the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka and prospects for political reconciliation.

Underscoring the importance of political reconciliation both Blake and Moore stressed the government of the need to achieve a lasting peace, promote justice and political reconciliation and dialogue with all parties, including Tamils inside and outside Sri Lanka on new mechanisms for devolving power and improve human rights. The two also recommended that the Government of Sri Lanka and the American Tamil diaspora community seek opportunities to engage on political reconciliation and the reconstruction of Sri Lanka.

Added to this, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a new donation of $15 million of food aid consisting of wheat, lentils and vegetable oil to fulfill the urgent needs of Tamil IDPs for four months and to support their early return .With this USAID, the development agency of the U.S. Government has provided nearly $59 million (Rs 6.78 billion) of food aid in 2008 and 2009.

Later the US called for Sri Lanka to release the Tamil IDPs warning of the potential for disease. Involuntary confinement is especially a source of concern given the recent rains and the coming of the monsoon season, said Eric Schwartz, the US assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration. УIt makes it all the more important that release from confinement be an issue that friends of Sri Lanka continue to raise,Ф he told reporters.

Yet not a word mentioned about helping Muslims refugees sufferings and their desire to return to their homes and lands in the north of the island.

France

Asking the Sri Lankan government to allow the Tamil IDPs to return home the French foreign ministry said the recently approved $2.6 billion dollar IMF loan to Sri Lanka should be used to improve the plight of civilians severely affected by the conflict. France reiterated that displaced people should be allowed to return to their homes and humanitarian agencies should have unhindered access to them.

Knowing the open hostility of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Islam and Muslims one cannot expect any sympathy from France for the IslandТs Muslims refugees.

Meanwhile, according to local dailies, the government promised the IMF to resettle 70 to 80 percent of the displaced civilians by the end of this year in the letter of intent signed by Deputy Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya.The immediate priority is addressing humanitarian needs of 280,000 idp.the government said in the Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies attached with the letter.

No such condition was attached to deal with the plight of Muslim refugees?

Canada

Canadian International Cooperation Minister Beverley Oda who visited the Manik Farm Welfare village in Vavuniya said her Government had provided Canadian $ 22.5 million this year to resettle the internally displaced persons.

No such visit was made by a Canadian minister to Muslim refugee camps.

This is the plight of Northern Muslims in refugees who once lived in comforts in their own homes and lands in Jaffna and other areas in the north These pictures speak volume for their sufferings in appalling conditions.

Japan

The Japanese government and the people of Japan provided Rs. 117 million to be utilized to improve the sanitary and health conditions of the Tamil IDPs. The Japanese Ambassador Kunio Takahashi saidФ the aid package will provide much needed equipment for transportation of garbage, water and waste water and will include 26 tractors, four tipper lorries, two loaders, a backhoe loader and two pick up trucks. Funds will also be used to improve roadside drains in the IDP camp sites. It is to be implemented soon by the Local Government and Provincial Council Ministry.

Unfortunately, this humanitarian concern was not extended to the Muslim refugee camps.

Australia

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith announced on 16 September that the Australian government, which earlier provided $ 5.25 million for emergency water, sanitation and support services to Tamil IDPs, would provide five more million dollars to help them resettle.

Vatican's Compassion?

The tragedy is even religious people, supposed to be preaching GodТs message of peace and compassion, were selective when it comes to expressing their concerns over human sufferings. For example, three foreign Bishops, representing Catholic ChurchТs social service arm, Caritas International, visited the Tamil IDPs in Menik Farm and Settkulam. They included ItalyТs Bishop Monsvlovnni Battista and UKТs Bishop John Stanley Arnold and Bishop John Anthony Rawsthrone. Caritas International provides cooked meals to 100,000 displaced persons.

However, their human kindness was not extended to the Muslim refugees in Puttalam.Perhaps they have forgotten that Muslim IDPs too are human beings and they too eat food?

Unfortunate Muslim victims of Tamil militancy cannot expect any such gesture from the Catholic Church headed by Pope Benedict who openly expressed his animosity towards Islam and Muslims when he said that Prophet Muhammad brought nothing but evil.

Added to all these, addressing a press conference organized by the Platform for Freedom on Thursday 3 September 2009, the opposition Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe said the government should fulfill the assurances given to the UN Secretary General that 80 percent of the Tamil IDPs would be settled within 180 days. Addressing the same press meeting, Mangala Samaraweera threatened to get the international community to punish the rulers of this country if they fail to fulfill their duty towards Tamil IDPs.

The irony is that both of them failed to mention a word about the plight of Muslim IDPТs and their sufferings. Perhaps they were not aware or forgotten?

Why didn't the United Nations and the so-called champions of human rights, rushing to protect the Tamil IDPs, turn blind to the plight of the sufferings of around 130,000 Muslim refugees for 20 long years?

Did the United Nations or any of these countries ever demand the LTTE to resettle Muslims refugees in the way they now demand and pressurize the government to resettle Tamil IDPs? After all, it is with the money raised in these countries, especially UK, US, Canada, France, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Australia and other countries that the LTTE killer machine flourished. They could have pressurized the LTTE to allow the Muslim refugees to return home.

What do we call this? Ignorance? Indifference? Discrimination? Racism? Mindset? Double Standard or whatever it may be. This is the reality in today's world where the Jewish dominated West led by the US and UK demonize and kill Muslims all over and destroy Muslim countries under the pretext of fighting a so-called war on terrorism. Perhaps the general attitude towards Sri Lankan Muslim IDPs is an extension of this campaign?

September 22, 2009

World Leaders Should Demand End to Detention Camps-HRW

Statement by Human Rights Watch

World leaders in New York for the United Nations General Assembly and the G-20 economic summit in Pittsburgh should call on the Sri Lankan government to immediately release more than 260,000 displaced persons illegally confined in detention camps, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch said it was concerned about a lack of protection mechanisms in the camps and the secret, incommunicado detention - and possible enforced disappearance - of suspected combatants.

Poor conditions, overcrowding, and inadequate medical care increases the risk of serious health problems during the coming monsoon season. Human Rights Watch also said that the authorities are not being open and honest with camp residents about when they may go home, keeping them in a state of uncertainty and anxiety.

Last week, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to European Union states outlining problems and urging governments to intervene forcefully with the Sri Lankan government.

"The civilians locked up in these detention camps have a right to liberty now, not when the government gets around to it," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "World leaders should support calls from the UN to restore full freedom of movement to these people, who already have suffered mightily from war and displacement."

Since March 2008, the Sri Lankan government has confined virtually everyone displaced by the war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to detention camps, depriving them of their liberty and freedom of movement in violation of international law. As of September 15, 2009, the government was holding 264,583 internally displaced persons in detention camps and hospitals, according to the UN, while fewer than 12,000 have been released or returned home.

Human Rights Watch said that recent government claims that a large number of camp residents had been released were false. A statement published on the website of the Ministry of Defence on September 12, claimed that the government released nearly 10,000 persons from the camps to their hometowns the previous day. However, it later emerged that they had been transferred to camps in their home districts, where they are undergoing further screening by the authorities. The Sri Lankan armed forces have indicated that the additional screening could take from several days to up to six months, even though each individual had already been registered and screened several times and cleared for release.

Sri Lanka has repeatedly promised to release the displaced persons from the camps as early as possible, including in a joint statement on May 23 by the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, and President Mahinda Rajapaksa. But four months after the end of the fighting, there has been little progress.

During a visit to Sri Lanka last week, the UN under-secretary-general for political affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, issued a strong statement calling on the government to allow internally displaced persons who have completed the screening process to leave the camps and to allow those who choose to remain to go out during the day and to meet freely with family and friends elsewhere. In response, Rajapaksa said that arrangements would be made to complete the return of the displaced civilians by the end of January, but that the return depended on the progress of demining in areas to which some would return.

"Demining is crucial, but the presence of landmines is not a valid basis for keeping people locked up," said Adams. "Many of the displaced can stay with relatives and host families far from any mined areas."

A delegation of high-level Sri Lankan officials will be in New York this week to attend the high-level segment of the UN General Assembly. Prime Minister Rathnasiri Wickramanayake will address the General Assembly on September 26 on, "Strengthening of Multilateralism and Dialogue among Civilizations for International Peace, Security and Development."

Human Rights Watch called upon world leaders to keep the plight of Sri Lanka's displaced persons at the forefront of discussions with the Sri Lankan delegation and to raise the following additional issues:

Arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance

The government has announced that it has detained more than 10,000 displaced persons on suspicion of having been involved with the LTTE. The government has separated them from their families and transferred them to separate camps and regular prisons. Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which individuals were taken into custody without regard to the protections provided under Sri Lankan law. In many cases, the authorities have not informed family members about the whereabouts of the detained, leaving them in secret, incommunicado detention or possible enforced disappearance, and, as a result, especially vulnerable to abuse.

Inability to trace missing relatives

Families in the detention camps have no access to mechanisms for finding missing relatives who might be in other camps or in unofficial detention centers. Individuals with access to the camps report that a significant number of people still do not know the whereabouts of their detained relatives, weeks and months later. Although the authorities have reportedly finished registering camp residents, the authorities are not making the lists available to people with missing relatives or organizations that do tracing. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which often traces family members, has been barred from the main camps since mid-July.

Lack of protection mechanisms in the camps

The military camp administration is preventing humanitarian organizations, including the UN and the ICRC, from undertaking effective monitoring and protection in the camps. In most cases, the military insists on being present during conversations with camp residents, preventing confidential exchanges of information about camp conditions. Even the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission, a government entity, can only gain access to the camps with military permission.

Conditions in the camps and expected deterioration during the monsoon

The camps are severely overcrowded, exacerbated by the government's refusal to release civilians. Conditions will continue to deteriorate with the onset of the monsoon season, causing additional hardship and suffering. Heavy rains in mid-August caused serious flooding, as water destroyed tents and other shelter, made cooking impossible for many, and caused roads to collapse, preventing delivery of crucial aid, such as drinking water.

Water also flooded latrine pits, causing raw sewage to flow among the tents. Aid agencies are particularly concerned about the threat of disease due to flooding during the monsoon season.

Lack of access to proper medical care

Camp residents do not have access to adequate medical care. Health facilities are rudimentary, understaffed, and under-resourced. Residents have reported that they have to wait in line for hours to see a doctor and, when they do, language barriers between Sinhalese-speaking doctors and Tamil-speaking patients often prevent effective communication. Many camps have no doctors at night, leaving residents without access to medical care in emergencies. Camp doctors' referrals to hospitals outside the camp are subject to approval by the military. On several occasions documented by Human Rights Watch, the military has rejected doctors' referrals, leading to a worsening of a patient's condition.

Lack of transparency and information

The authorities are keeping the camp residents in a state of uncertainty by failing to provide them with information about the reason for their continued detention, the whereabouts of their relatives, or the criteria and procedure for their return home. In some cases the authorities seem to have misled the displaced deliberately, such as on September 11, when they told several hundred camp residents that they would release them, when in fact they just transferred them to other detention camps for further screening.

"Sadly, the Sri Lankan government has a track record of lying, deceiving and breaking promises to civilians displaced by the conflict," said Adams. "The UN, donors, and bilateral partners should demand immediate, concrete progress and not let themselves be fooled again by empty government promises."

September 21, 2009

Rajini: 20th Death Anniversary of a True Tamil Heroine

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Twenty years ago on this day (September 21st) Rajani Thiranagama nee Rajini
Rajasingham was brutally gunned down at Thirunelvely, as she was cycling back home from the Jaffna University. She was Professor of Anatomy at the Jaffna Varsity medical faculty.

The 35 year old mother of two daughters was also a human rights activist, feminist, critic of narrow nationalism and opponent of irresponsible militarism.

Rajani Thiranagama nee Rajini Rajasingham

Her husband,Dayapala Thiranagama in a recent article on Rajini has referred to the manner in which she was killed. Here is the relevant excerpt: [Click here to read the article in full ~ in dbsjeyaraj.com]

I did not do anything to offend the government- Dayan

Former Ambassador/ Permanent Representative to Geneva, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka spoke to the Daily Mirror about the controversial removal from his post, the allegations of violations of human rights levelled against Sri Lanka, the country’s foreign relations and winning what he calls the “legitimacy war.” Excerpts from the interview:

Q: The Foreign Minister removed you from your post in Geneva despite having been given assurances by the President that your term would be extended. What happened?

A: The short answer is: I don’t know.

Q: Do you think that any issues that you brought up or said could have ruffled a few feathers in certain people–the Foreign Minister or the government of Sri Lanka?

A: Well logically an ambassador is fired if he is unsuccessful or spectacularly unsuccessful. Some might say that there are quite a few unsuccessful ambassadors that have not been fired. Either way one has to have failed or there has to have been some sort of scandal involved. By any account I didn’t fail. And there wasn’t any incident or episode: I haven’t been calling the Foreign Minister rude names or exchanging letters or telephone calls or any other mishap with a politician or official. From a rational point of view there is nothing that I could think of. I don’t think that there was anything I could have said that should have offended the government of Sri Lanka. I was defending the government, the people and the armed forces of Sri Lanka from a fairly serious attempt at a war crimes probe. And that defense succeeded. I don’t see why anyone should have been offended but who knows?

Q: Any personal vendettas that could have led to your removal?

A: I don’t know. If there had been personal vendettas I am not aware of any. I assume that decisions are made according to results and I produced results and the right results. If there were any transgression on my part I would have expected that I would have been cautioned. That I would have heard, officially and directly, that I have done something that I shouldn’t have done or I have not done something that I should have done. I was not told anything; I was not given any reasons; I still haven’t been given any reasons, but I don’t spend my time thinking about it.

I see it as a lack of logic. I was given an extension, which by the way I did not request, through a letter signed by the then Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saying that H.E. the President had asked me to remain in Geneva for another year. This leads me to believe that there is far too much subjectivity and the lack of logic in the way these things are done.

Q: Do you believe that you got a raw deal considering the significant role you played in Geneva?

A: I did have a bit of an embarrassing time, because all my colleagues there and the ambassadors were asking me this question: how is this possible? After this diplomatic triumph of the special session, why now? Some actually thought I was being brought back to be promoted! At the farewell parties an ambassador from a country friendly to Sri Lanka, said he thought I was going to be given some special national award for services rendered. So it was a bit embarrassing. Some adversaries asked if this was the reward I was being given by my country and I said, “Look this has nothing to do with my country”. There was some embarrassment but I have done my duty and it is on record and no one can take that away. It is a matter of history. That is that. And I walk away with some satisfaction. From the responses I get after my return, public opinion has been very positive and there had been a lot of ‘Thank You’ messages as people know what I have done. And that was done on behalf of the country, the armed forces and the people. And I am satisfied by that.

Q: Your stand on the 13th Amendment was something that often drew media attention. Could you elaborate more on what your position is on the 13th Amendment and the idea of devolving power to the provinces?

A: What the 13th Amendment means, very simply, is what you have in the other parts of the country. You have elected provincial councils in every part of the country, except the Northern Province. What I have been saying, as has Minister Douglas Devananda is saying–give the North what everyone else has. It is not a special privilege. When you look back at the performance of the Wayamba province when Mr. Gamini Jayawickrema Perera was Chief Minister you see that the powers vested in the Provincial Council can lead to considerable economic growth and development. That was proved and there had been scholarly research into the Wayamba success story. So a province can really develop although not every province has; but that is the failure of the leadership.

It is nothing dangerous actually; we have been having it since 1988 and in every other part of the country.

Secondly we have to remember that Prabhakaran was opposed to the 13th Amendment. He went to war against the Indian Peace Keeping Forces to prevent the implementation of the 13th Amendment. This is something that he was against. I emphasize this because some writers say that this is another way of separating the North from the South and bringing in separatism. If it were, then Prabhakaran would have supported it; not opposed it. Prabhakaran put forward an ISGA proposal, an interim self governing administration proposal, and he did agree to a thing called the PTOMS. Now these were structures through which he could proceed to his aim of a separate state but he could not do that through the 13th Amendment.

Thirdly it is declared government policy. So when I was defending the 13th Amendment I was articulating as a diplomat the policies of the Government of Sri Lanka.

I will add one thing now that I am no longer in my post. The events of the last 100 days have proved me absolutely right on the 13th Amendment. Why? It is because the delay in implementing the 13th Amendment has led to the political revival of the TNA. Now I think that it’s a good thing that the government is talking to the TNA. I think any form of dialogue with anyone is a good thing except with the LTTE.

I have great respect for Mr. Sambanthan but it is the case that the TNA is calling for the removal of the army bases in the north and for the removal of high security zones. The TNA has not yet accepted the 13th Amendment; it has not accepted the unitary state of Sri Lanka and if you talk to some of the members of the TNA, they have not abandoned the idea of a separate state of Tamil Eelam. I am not talking of Mr. Sambanthan. Now why is it and how is it that the TNA has revived? That is because the government delayed in implementing the 13th Amendment which would have strengthened moderate partners like Douglas Devananda and independent people like Siddarthan. If the 13th Amendment was fast tracked, and as Prabhakaran died, the democratic Tamil leadership of Devananda and others were given the opportunity of moving up, then you would not have people voting for the TNA.

My fear is that come the parliamentary elections in eight or nine months the North might swing towards the TNA -- and it might even win Trincomalee. All of this would be because the 13th Amendment was not implemented in time. Even the mounting pressure from the international community on war crimes charges could have been avoided if we had addressed one of their other concerns, which were the political empowerment of the Tamil people by way of the 13th Amendment. If we implemented it sooner we would have something to trade with the international community on the other issues. Right now we don’t. So on the 13th Amendment I would say I was right.

Q: Human rights allegations continue to be thrown at Sri Lanka and the platform where most of these allegations get heard is at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Was it a difficult task for you to repeatedly counter these allegations and say that Sri Lanka does not have human rights violations?

A: Well I never said that Sri Lanka didn’t have human rights violations. You see I’m not one of those people who think that just because you assert something, the world believes you. I never told lies when I was there [Geneva]. That is why I had credibility. What I did try to do was contextualize what was going on. We were at war against a ferocious enemy. The war wasn’t started by us. The Tigers started, not just this war but several wars before that. In 1987 it was against the Indo-Lanka accord, then in 1990 against President Premadasa who had spoken to them for 14 months and then again in 1995 against President Kumaratunga.

This is a war that has been forced on us and thereby it is a necessary war, a just war. We had to fight this war to defend ourselves against this aggressor and keep our little island together.

In that context, yes, there are things that have happened that shouldn’t have happened at all. But I was able to credibly emphasize the context in which this happened, which many people had forgotten. And it is also true that we could not allow the Tigers to use the democratic liberties and freedoms in our society to destroy this society. Therefore, temporarily, we had to suspend or plug what would have been loopholes. Was it tough explaining that? Yes. But we succeeded. That is why we had a 29/12 vote in our favor when the chips were down. It was tough because there was a very serious international campaign. It was a campaign supported and initiated by several Western Foreign Ministries, which have some of the oldest and most professional apparatus in the world that are centuries old. Diplomacy was basically written by these countries. These Foreign Ministries throughout the world were canvassing in capitals far away where we didn’t have any diplomatic representation. They were using carrots and sticks such as EU membership etc. So there was a formidable force out there backed by the Western media, some INGO’s and demonstrations. So the Tamil diaspora, well funded by the Tigers got into the act and there was this multi-pronged struggle; but in the end we won. It was tough but it was successful and it was rewarding.

We cannot however keep saying the same thing now that the war is over. This is very important. There were justifications - and what we said while the war was on and at the special session two weeks after the war was won cannot be said now. The special session was an attempt to penalize us for having liberated our country and to penalize out armed forces. That was the discourse that we used not only to defend ourselves but to turn the tables on our accusers and win diplomatically. We cannot keep saying the same thing with credibility 100 days after we have won the war. You have won a war, there is no more armed conflict, and still maintain the same postures, the same mentalities, the same mechanisms and the same argument that we did during the armed conflict. And that’s where we are getting into some trouble.

Q: So in your opinion what happened during the war is justified, but what is happening now is not? So are there human rights violations in Sri Lanka at the moment?

A: What I am saying is that not everything that happened during the war is justified but the war that we fought was a just war, it was not an unjust war, and we didn’t invade anyone else’s country. We were fighting for the unity of our own country. We didn’t ignore the possibility of negotiations -- so many governments, including this one, tried. All those opportunities were thwarted by the Tigers so we had no other means but to fight and we fought. Yes, there were things which should not have happened that did happen; but it was in that context of a just war and I would defend that position.

But what I am saying is that as in the matter of the PTA or the IDP issue you cannot maintain the same position that you maintained at that time when the war was on. The context is different and the argument does not have that same credibility. If you are asking me if there are human rights violations going on, almost a quarter million Tamil citizens of this country are being held behind security wire and armed guard. They are there involuntarily, and there is a Supreme Court judgment on the matter. Something is going wrong–there is something that should not be happening that is happening and something that should be happening that is not happening. And the world is watching. Even if the world is not watching we should be watching because those are our people. If we are talking about national unity and national re-integration and so on, this is our chance. We will be judged–never mind by the outside world, because it is already happening-- we will be judged by history, by posterity, by how we treat this quarter of a million people of diverse ages. I know that there are combatants that are in there–you can’t ignore that. The LTTE are a cunning enemy. We have defeated the LTTE army on the ground in Sri Lanka, but the LTTE movement is still out there globally. They will try to revive themselves and this question of security is important and we have to weed these combatants out. This number may be 10,000 to 15,000, but what about the other 200,000? What are they doing behind barbed wire?

Q: Is our victory in Geneva now going down the drain because we are not taking action over the IDP issue?

A: There is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Law from Princeton University, Richard Falk and he uses the term “legitimacy war.” I use the same term. We have won the shooting war and it wasn’t going to be easy considering the nature of the Tigers. We had to suspend civil liberties in order to rip out the entrails of the Tiger network and especially the suicide network. That had to be done. Thereby we have won the war, but we have to consolidate that victory. We must not allow that victory to be rolled back or undermined. That victory can be undermined if we fail to win the legitimacy war.

Now we are fighting the legitimacy war. Nowhere in the world, nobody, not even our friends are going to consider it legitimate if we continue to keep Tamil civilians within barbed wired camps beyond the dates we promised. We have given dates, made pledges and promises and we have to keep to them. Nobody will consider it legitimate to keep Tamil civilians of diverse ages in these camps. I have heard this argument that even in our homes we have barbed wire–but we don’t have rolls of barbed wire between our walls and our homes, do we? This kind of argument is going to damage us in the legitimacy war. We are now fighting a legitimacy war, and I don’t see us winning that.

That does not mean that we must let the Tiger suspects go. What it does mean is that we have to learn from the best practices of countries around the world. I have had friends from South East Asia that have had far larger numbers of IDP’s and ex-combatants.–armies that have been defeated that have had 1.5 million men. And what they are saying is that people can be categorized by age and separated. This is one option–the age classification. Once they are classified by age the others can be allowed to reside in open camps. Further we have good rehabilitation programmes under a fine officer and we have a good record with regard to rehabilitating ex-combatants. But the process needs to be fast tracked.

Q: You say that we have made promises. Yet the argument that the government keeps brining up is that these are not promises or pledges these are merely targets we set out for ourselves, and that they cannot resettle these people haphazardly. What is your response to these justifications?

A: I have made the same point in Geneva. Yet, we have to show progress towards those targets. If those are statements we made casually then we shouldn’t have put them down in statements that we made on May 21st and 23rd, including with the Secretary General of the United Nations. But we did that.

Now I didn’t do that. I was in Geneva, somebody here did that. Certainly the Foreign Minister and the Foreign Ministry did that. We got the communiqué and we were told to stick to the language of the communiqué, which I did. The Foreign Minister told me over the telephone that I was to strictly adhere to the language of the communiqué. Thereby it is there, written, and people are going to hold us to it. I think it shouldn’t have been done. But when you put it down in a joint statement you should know that they will come for you. This time next year, if there are kids behind barbed wire we are going to pay a price. Because, to me, the most important things to ward off are the war crimes charges. We have to protect our armed forces.

To do this we have to show progress on the other two issues. There are three issues in the joint communiqué with the Secretary General and these are the things they are now raising. One is the IDP’s, two, political reconciliation and integration and third–war crimes. Now they put war crimes at number one and they keep juggling the three issues. Thereby we have got to make progress on the other two. If we don’t, the pressure on the war crimes issue is going to mount. I think that it is dangerous and a serious matter.

Q: In the past you have made predictions with regard to various political issues like the election of Barack Obama to the White House. So what is it that you fear is coming upon on us?

A: If you go back into the newspapers I predicted that Barack Obama would be in the White House at a time when he was still lagging behind Hilary Clinton in the primaries. If you go further back, in October 2004 I wrote a signed piece to a newspaper with the title “Why Prabhakaran will lose.” I could have watered it down but I didn’t because that’s the way I saw it. I’m not an astrologer, I am an analyst. What I see is that Sri Lanka’s external relations are in a crisis. Mind you a needless crisis. We don’t have to be in this mess. Our external relations are in crisis and we are facing what I have called before, an external relations or foreign relations tsunami. It is building up. And these are all avoidable.

We stand to lose the legitimacy war if we don’t make the changes we have to in peace time. Because the war is over, and we have won. We cannot go ahead with the same mindset. I am not saying that we have to forget that there is an enemy out there, but we have to be smart. The next stage of this struggle is not going to be a shooting war–it is not going to be a hot war. There is no point in preparing for the last war again. That is not the way it is going to happen. The center of gravity of the LTTE is now overseas; it has shifted from Sri Lanka and gone global. It has shifted from the military to the political, the diplomatic, and the ideological and world opinion. Now that’s the one that you have to fight. You can’t go around with this war-time mentality looking for enemies and jail journalists for 20 years, for getting some 150,000 bucks from an LTTE fellow. You can’t do that without consequences. You look bad.

It was OK when there was a war on and you were fighting Tigers. We’ve won now–the good guys won. So now the spot-light is on us. When it looks like us versus Tamil IDPs behind barbed wire, we look like the bullies, not Prabakaran. We have to change that.

We can’t be like the princess in the fairy tale and be like “Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them all?” and be satisfied with ourselves and live in an echo chamber of our own propaganda. We put out the propaganda and not all of it is believed or even believable. We are playing to some domestic audiences but we are not actually serving the interests of the people. And we live in this echo chamber of our propaganda and we are very happy, but nobody out there is convinced.

Govt should act on four major urgent HR issues those concerning Tamils - Mano Ganesan MP

From the office of Mano GANESAN

Leader of Democratic Peoples Front
Convener of Civil Monitoring Commission
President of Democratic Worker’s Congress
President of Parliamentarians for Human Rights
Member of Parliament for Colombo District

Media Release

Issues of Resettlement of the IDPs and Rehabilitation of Ex-Combatants, Issues of the Disappeared and the Detainees are the four major human rights issues concerning the Tamil people of the country today. The national parliamentary opposition is prepared for constructive engagements with the government on above matters. We have called for the appointment of a all party committee. But the national engagement is not taking place because the government considers the whole issues private only to it, said Civil Monitoring Commission Convener Mano Ganesan MP. Democratic Peoples Front Leader Ganesan said further,

We welcome the government’s statement on the national framework for the ex-combatants. But this is a very small gesture which needs to be further enhanced on ground level. IDP resettlements at their traditional villages is very dear to the Tamil people today. We have difficulties in accepting government’s excuses for the postponement of resettlement. We believe the landmine story put forward by the government is barely credible. SL land forces traveled overland to defeat LTTE during the last phase of the war. A part of the territory is mined but government is holding the largest landmine free land for questionable political reasons. CMC is welcomes the reported assistance extended by the governments of Australia and US in the demining process.

Suspected LTTE cadres being separated from the IDPs is acceptable. We support the rehabilitation programs with the active welcome supports from Britain and US. The long held convicted prisoners linked to political violence, some are held for 16 long years, demand for incorporation in these programs.

Over one thousand five hundred detainees at the Colombo, Anuradapura, Jaffna, Batticaloa, Kandy remand prisons and Boosa detention centre demand amnesty or judicial bail. The discriminative policies of the government of providing amnesty and judicial bail to selected few is not acceptable. We note with regret that certain senior leaders of LTTE being granted amnesty and bail while suspected primary members of LTTE suffer in detentions.

Accountability concerning the persons gone missing due to enforced disappearance within last four years in both the Government and LTTE held territories is very vital. The family members and relatives of the missing persons need to know the fates of their dear ones. They need to be compensated and explained.

Civil Monitoring Commission calls upon the government for transparency in respect of all four major human rights issues concerning the Tamil people. We demand the government to come out with the identities and real numbers of the persons held at IDP camps, rehabilitation camps, remand prisons and Boosa detentions centers. We call upon the government to engage the UN agencies and national democratic opposition in addressing these four vital issues of national significance. We do not notice any space for improvement of human rights conditions and national reconciliation unless and until these minimum demands are met.

Minority grievances are real but so-called majority grievances are imaginary

My dear Brothers and Sisters!

by Justice C.V.Wigneswaran

Let me thank the Marga Institute for giving me this opportunity to participate in this Workshop dealing with the process of post war Reconciliation and Co-existence in Sri Lanka. Emphasis has been placed by the organizers on identifying the core issues and gaps in our knowledge and understanding.

The word “core” appears highly relevant to our deliberations. On one side we are to ascertain the core issues that have sparked off social tension in this Country. On the other hand, we are asked to delve deep into our respective religions, by-passing the peripheral differences, to identify common core values which could respond to the tensive situation that has arisen and usher in a framework of harmony and understanding and, ultimately, help to foster a Sri Lankan identity despite differences among the denizens of this Country.

Therefore, our first task today is to ascertain the core issues that contributed to the tension.

In the Vedas there is a story which has been used in a different context, but seems appropriate to our deliberations today. A man walks down a path early morning. He sees something across the centre of the road. He identifies it as a snake crawling across the road. He is tensed. He cries out for help. Someone comes and gets closer to the object only to identify the object in the centre of the road as a dried twig lying across the path. The illusion of the snake vanishes in the mind of the first man and the actuality of a twig is then realized. The context in which this story was referred to in the Vedas applied to our accepting the world perceived by our senses as true and real. Beyond the apparent world was the truth referred to by the Vedas.

It is my contention that a few important illusions, if I may say so, have taken control of the minds of a large section of our people, which in turn have led to the present impasse.

What are they?

Firstly, that the Sinhala speaking and the Tamil speaking people of this Country belong to different ethnic groups.

Secondly, that the Sinhala language and those speaking it are Aryans who came from North India and the Tamil language and those who speak it are Dravidians who came from South India.

Thirdly, that the Sinhalese were the original inhabitants of this Country and the Tamils were later immigrants at various stages of our history who forcibly occupied certain areas of this Country.

Fourthly, as a corollary to the above third contention that the Sinhalese occupied the Northern and Eastern regions of the Country from time immemorial until such immigrants took charge of those areas, flows the next expectation that those lands must be retrieved even by force.

Fifthly, that the Sri Lankan Tamils are a minority in this Country asking for rights and privileges far beyond their eligibility.

It is curious to note that despite excavations, finding of inscriptions and the use of modern scientific instruments and consequent discoveries pointing towards contrary views, history in recent times is being perverted to maintain the above said five erroneous contentions or illusions, hoping to instill such erroneous concepts in the minds of a large mass of humanity living in this Country. Such perversions no doubt lead to adverse consequences in the Island.

Professor Sudarshan Seneviratne has referred to historians in Sri Lanka (being)”in the process of subverting the study of history for personal ends and political expediency” ( Vide Preface,”Situating History and the Historian’s Craft” (Book Review in The Island , Colombo- 04/08/2001)).

The politicization and polarization of the academicians today has thrown up a breed of pseudo – historians who are seriously undermining proper research done so far by impartial and erudite historians.

An impartial study of history would point out and maybe confirm

1. that the Sinhalese and the Tamil speaking people of this Country have a common origin (vide Professor Senarat Paranavitana –University of Ceylon History of Ceylon Volume 1 Pages 1: 96-97),

2. that the impact of Prakrit and other languages from India on the existing Mesolithic indigenous languages, which certainly were not North Indian in origin, led to the formation and development of the Sinhalese language,

3. that there is no historical confirmation of any large scale influx of persons either from the North or South of India but that from pre-historic times the two way traffic between the South of India and Sri Lanka had been confirmed by recent excavations and other scientific evidence,

4. that there was a time when the Tamils of the North and East were Buddhists and therefore account for the Buddhist remains in those two areas,

5. that while the Tamil speaking people have lived on this Island from pre-historic times, even before the formation of the Sinhala language, there had been influx of other Tamil speaking people subsequently also, making up the occupants of the North and East of the Island and, finally

6. that the Tamil speaking people have always been the overwhelming majority in the North and East until those two regions for administrative reasons were amalgamated to the rest of the Island.

The Census statistics pertaining to the North and East during the British period when compared with the Census particulars obtained after Independence would confirm the contention that the Tamil speaking people were the overwhelming majority in the North and East at least until Independence. In the early part of the last century, in 1926, when the late Mr.S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike spoke of federalism for Ceylon, it was the Tamils who opposed it. Due to the arid nature and adverse weather conditions of the North and East and the consequent hardships experienced in their living conditions, many Tamil speaking people preferred to live in other areas in the South in amity with the other communities and therefore were not in favour of any regional autonomy of any sort.

It was the “Sinhala Only” Act of 1956 which opened their eyes to the hidden agenda among the politicians of the majority community. The successive incidents that took place until now overtly or covertly with State support have confirmed their suspicions. These included initially the determination on the part of the politicians among the majority community to drive out the Tamil speaking people from the Southern areas to the North or to foreign climes by State organized pogroms and riots, take control of areas they had occupied for centuries by State colonization and in recent times by military intrusions and thereby thin out the population of Tamil speaking people in the Southern areas initially and then the Northern and Eastern areas to make them an insignificant minority in those areas as well as elsewhere. The idea appears to be forcible integration of an entire community with the governing community after destroying the former’s individuality.

This short note regarding ancient history and modern happenings is referred to here with a view to setting out the background to enumerate the grievances of the ethnic groups which speak Tamil.

Unless the grievances are identified, reconciliation and co-existence become a farce. No amount of peripheral adjustments in the form of conciliatory Camps, unity songs, well intentioned Workshops and uttering of pious platitudes could bring about reconciliation and co-existence unless the underlying grievances are unearthed and solutions found for them. Reconciliation is not possible between a man fallen into a well having been pushed into the well by a person standing outside the well and that very same person so standing outside. What might appear to be a reconciliatory process would only be the foisting of the will of the person standing free outside the well on the person fallen in. We must pull up the fallen person to stand on terra firma able to communicate on equal terms with the other person to ensure reconciliation and co-existence.

Again, we are speaking about reconciliation and co-existence without taking into account the views of the man standing outside the well. Why should he conciliate with a man fallen into the well? Even if he is pressurized by external factors, would he want to genuinely alleviate the grievances of the man fallen into the well or would he prefer to throw, very casually, a few crumbs with disdain at him only to ease his pressure for the moment?

Maybe he might not consent to all expectations of the affected person, but would he even consider what by International standards are considered reasonable and appropriate? Maybe a desire to install stability might change him. But it would still be what he condescends to give. Not what the affected would reasonably expect on the basis of their grievances as an equal standing outside the well.

Grievances could be of two types – real and imaginary. Much of the grievances of the minorities in Sri Lanka today are positively real while the so-called grievances of the majority community are, I dare say, imaginary.

Grievances of those minorities affected centre around language, religion, land, education, economy, development, employment and so on. The grievances of the majority community harps back on certain wrongs said to have been perpetrated on them by the British before Independence which according to them need to be corrected. Having said that and having enjoyed political power and authority for over sixty years, which effectively decimated any hold real or imaginary that the minorities may have had in public service, businesses, trade and commerce, the refrain has now changed to historical wrongs perpetrated on them which needs to be corrected by measures, including retrieval of lands in the hands of minorities displacing them from their areas of habitation and foisting of their will and authority on these minorities ,subjugating them in the name of their religion with the help of the authority of the State fallen into their hands. Hence the question – “Are we really interested in reconciliation and co-existence?” Here the word “we” means those in the echelons of power belonging mainly to the Sinhala Buddhist community.

When the majority among the All Party Representatives’ Conference came up with a workable solution to the problems of those affected around the year 2006, their efforts were scuttled. The highest in the land refused to allow the report of the majority to be debated and considered. On the other hand steps were taken to maximize the State’s efforts towards the war. Now that the war has been concluded in the State’s favour, why do powers that be not want to go back to the majority report of the All Party Representatives’ Conference and consider same favourably?

If the State and its governing elite have hidden racial or ethnic or even political bias, reconciliation becomes a problem even if large sections of the people are in fact in favour of reconciliation and co-existence. Further, it would be difficult for the victims and those affected to step out of their conditioned state of mind which believes that the State is an organ of repression and aggression bent on looking after the interests of a section of the people and not wanting to alleviate the sufferings and grievances of sections of citizens other than those favoured.

The sense of frustration and hopelessness would per force go underground, so to say. It would be embedded in the hearts of the victims awaiting a chance to burst out violently. That was what took place earlier which had been cruelly destroyed.

But no amount of brutal wiping out of human species would douse the flame of freedom and justice from the hearts of Men. The Jews in millions were wiped out. But they still remain the most powerful group of human beings in this world. So long as decimating and wiping out of human beings fighting for causes perceived by them as legitimate and moral, continues to be a policy of a governing elite, Hinduism believes, the Law of Karma would take its effect. The saying that those who flourish by the sword would perish by the sword, though trite, does not lack credibility.

No doubt those who took up to violence found that greater violence brought about their exit. But how long would it take for those who resorted to such greater and more sophisticated brutal violence, especially against innocent human beings, to learn this same lesson? We have seen this happening quite often in the past. All religions have said that we reap what we sow. An understanding of this law of retribution coupled with possibly the urgent need for political stability in the Country might hold the key to reconciliation and co-existence. If we realize that we pay for the wrongs we do to others in the long run, maybe a sense of grave responsibility might overtake us. We might realize that the politics of continuing violence, politics of distrust of the past which culminated in the revocation of agreements and failure to honour promises had led us to an abyss of unrest and chaos so far and unless a positive turning back from such violence and distrust is attempted, the cycle of violence would again have its toll on us. For this, a change of heart is essential. The victor, like King Asoka, must realize the futility of war and violence. If the Buddha’s message could have kindled a sensitive string in the heart of King Asoka after the bloody Kalinga War, why cannot the same message move the hearts of the modern professed followers of the Buddha?

Hinduism teaches that if we had acted violently or foolishly so far we could change our ways radically to usher in a better future, a peaceful future, an intelligent future. Thus, the ill effects of all wrongs done to the minorities by the governing elite so far could be washed away by taking corrective action presently.

What are these corrective measures? According to Hinduism, following the Ideal of Dharma is the important corrective measure to be undertaken. The virtues that spring from the Ideal of Dharma are all based on a fundamental sense of obligation towards fellow beings and are branches from the root of Dutifulness. Even though rights and duties, being co-relatives, are two sides of the same coin, the attitudes of those claiming rights and those insisting on doing their duties are different. When we ask for our rights we are aggressive, combative and separative. Those who prefer to do their duties are yielding, peaceful and unifying.

An important result that flows from the Ideal of Duty is that the failure of one of two parties in a relationship to do his duty does not excuse the other from doing his. While there should be reciprocity to make a relationship perfect, yet duty must be done even to the undutiful. Duty must be fully discharged no matter what may be the unworthiness of the other party to the relationship. Why this should be so stems from the realization that the other will have to answer to Karma for his breaches of the law.

Importing this idea to our present predicament, we should note that performing our duties dispassionately, having acted hitherto in a selfish manner, would entail a change of heart on our part, which is essential if we are to move forward towards peace, reconciliation and co-existence. Conforming to the ideal of Dharma brings out some of the core values stressed by the Hindu religion viz.

1. Understanding of the working of the Law of Karma;

2. Realisation of the unity of creation and the interdependency of all beings and the inter-connectedness of all activities going on in the Universe;

3. The realization of the need to share resources, power and love among communities and

4. The realization of the need to build up trust among communities by each community performing its duties for the betterment of the entire Sri Lankan society.

If Truth and Reconciliation Committees in South Africa in conformity with noble Christian ideals stressed the importance of regret and atonement, we in Sri Lanka could set up a Movement which would in conformity with the ideals of Hinduism and Buddhism take us back to Dharma (Dhamma), where every person high or low, powerful or ordinary, intellectual or unlettered, belonging to a major community or minor community comes forward to perform his or her duty. There is no need to regret. Having realized our mistakes of the past, we collectively shoulder our responsibility to take forward our country towards peace and prosperity by performing our duties. We are fortunate that our Constitution has already enumerated Principles of State Policy and (Citizen’s) Fundamental Duties in its Chapter VI in Articles 27 and 28. Establishment of a just and free society, full realization of rights and freedoms of all persons, equitable distribution of the resources of the Country, establishment of a just social order, strengthening of the democratic structure of government and the democratic rights of the People by decentralizing the administration ensuring People’s participation in national life and in governance, elimination of discrimination on grounds of race, religion and language, equality of opportunity to all citizens, fostering respect for international law and treaty obligations in dealings among nations are some of the Principles of State Policy enumerated in Article 27(2) of the Constitution.

Unfortunately these are termed “Directive” principles, which means they are not justiciable in terms of the provisions of Article 29. Article 28 enumerates fundamental duties of Citizens. Thus, our laws are not devoid of the structure which recognizes the need to strengthen Dutifulness as a principle of administration, governance and social order. It is time we gave teeth to this principle of dutifulness which is the foundation of Dharma.

Conforming to the Dharma would identify the needs of the society for the present as well as for the future and the determination of all concerned to shoulder the responsibilities for the present and future. Performance of duties by all and the recognition of the principle of performing our duties towards those whom we had hitherto been at war or conflict is also part of Dharma.

Let me finally enumerate shortly some of the practical methods that may be considered by powers that be in order to bring solace to those suffering hitherto.

a. Resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons in their original areas of habitation.

b. Rebuilding houses destroyed or damaged by the War.

c. Paying compensation to those who had suffered by the War.

d. Immediate steps to fully implement the provisions of the 13th and 16th Amendments to the Constitution, especially with regard to Language.

e. Initiating training programmes for Parliamentarians on Reconciliation and Co-existence and the need to conform to the Dharma which means the stressing of their duties.

f. To discourage at the highest levels the condonation of the building of religious idols as instruments of victory symbols and aggression.

g. To fully implement the use of all three Languages in name boards in Government Departments, Road Signs, buses and other means of conveyance and transport etc., giving equal recognition to all three languages.

h. To desist from making the Military as an instrument of repression and discrimination.

i. To initiate programmes in schools which would teach children the benefits of sharing and respecting the other person’s humanity and doing their duties towards all and sundry.

j. To formulate a social structure which would emphasise the need to conform to the list of duties enumerated in the Constitution.

k. All religious dignitaries to come forward voluntarily to participate in this Movement to restore the Dharma.

The word “Dharma” should not be misunderstood as something indigenous to Hinduism and Buddhism only. It is the Ideal of Duty, the ideal of social responsibility and social responsiveness. Such an ideal had been taught by all religious leaders, be it Lord Jesus Christ or the Prophet (Peace be unto Him). We have to use our ingenuity to formulate a social instrument which would overshadow the culture of Rights with a culture of Duties. Here lies the contribution of Religions to social weal and well being.

I thank you for the patient hearing.

(Retired Supreme court judge, Justice C.V.Wigneswaran delivered this address at a MARGA Institute workshop held in Colombo ob September 15th 2009)

September 20, 2009

De-militarising Lankan Society Must Begin With Removal of Security For Minor Politicians

by Kusal Perera

“Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity. They seem to be more afraid of life than death” – James F. Bymes

It was not so in the past. Nor was it two and a half decades ago. My story was in early 1980's. I was once in the morning train that comes on the coast line from Galle. Its a very popular train, the “Ruhunu Kumari” which carries commuters from the South to the metropolitan Colombo every day. There was one old and lanky gentleman in a typical white cotton “national dress” in the compartment that I got into and had to travel standing.

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He was having a very casual “gossip” type talk with the commuters who were mainly employees in different public and private sector offices. When the train reached Kollupitiya, he got off the train with a neatly rolled black umbrella used as a walking stick and ambled out of the station. Out side the station there was a lonely black car with just an ordinary driver, that carried this gentleman away. He was Dr. W. Dahanayake, Minister of Co-operatives at the time. He perhaps was not aware then, what “security” was for politicians. Nor was there any public talk of “national” security.

The whole issue of “national security” in Sri Lanka emerged as tied to the armed conflict of the North. Every aspect of public life too got “barricaded” with it. With that came the personal security of the present day “politician” who by then had evolved differently to that of Dahanayake type politicians of the past. What really irks and irritates people is not the necessity of highlighting “national security” that can be discussed. But the high level of security that has come to accompany all shades of politicians. The first major armed security allocated for politicians became an accepted necessity, not with armed Tamil groups in the North, but with the armed insurgency in the “South” by the JVP.

With the Indo-Sri Lanka accord in July 1987, the JVP led an armed insurgency against devolution and provincial councils in the most savage way Sri Lanka had ever witnessed till then. The then UNP government of J.R. Jayawardne was thus compelled to provide security to all who politically accepted Provincial Councils (PC), both in and outside parliament. This meant that all those who contested PC's too had to be provided with armed security. Thereafter the targeting the lives of parliament members by the LTTE made armed security a fact of life in Sri Lanka.

That in brief is how SL came to be a country under a “24 x 7 armed guard” and heavy security. With the LTTE targeting high profile personalities like President Premadasa, Minister Kadirgamar, Athulathmudali, Dissanayake and the like, stricter and heavier armed security for politicians came to be socially accepted and as inevitable in unusually generalised terms.

Over the last 02 decades no politician, whether parliament or PC, moved about without armed guard and that became the most convenient show of power, for politicians. There were those who ran about with convoys of armed men with total disrespect to the public they were supposed to represent. There was no criteria or basis the public knew about, in how such armed security was allocated to politicians. Worst was that no one knew whether they were even official State security or not. That too was never questioned. The blanket acceptance of “Tiger threats” to politicians provided such beefing up of armed security for those who wanted to show their political muscle in public display.

While the question of how best security could have been organised for high profile public personalities, remain a question outside public debate, the security that was thrown into political life in the country in such abundance and for so long, has had a devastating effect on the law and order situation of the country and its democratic existence. In a country which lives with politicisation of all its State appendages including the police department, the apparent legality added to security allocated for politicians have especially in the provinces given them unquestionable ability to override policing of the society. Thus a social breed that is not accountable to law as other citizens do, or have to, has emerged with a “beyond legal” immunity that is not easily, or ever challenged.

Thus the habit of politicians moving freely with armed security that in a way suppressed the civil life of the people, has also distanced the “elected representative” from the voter who elect them. Armed security has provided the elected men and women with an acquired arbitrary discretion and an undue advantage of refusing to listen to their own constituents. This has helped develop an attitude of arrogance and of irresponsibility in politics. Despite all those negative and intimidating impact on the voter, this is being defined as “political power” and thus as high attraction even in elections.

The recent provincial council elections held and the one that is now in the running in the South, are ample proof of all that indecent brute armed power. Para military groups allowed to run for elections under political party registrations have added more offensive stink to the already gangrenous wound. Its a rolling mountain that gathers more force with the ruling elite's patronage.

Wijenayake who is still an accuse in an election related murder in Gampaha and promoted a Minister, Labour Minister Silva who goes about with presidential patronage even after his notoriously riotous attacks on media personnel and publicly claiming he could send the Kelaniya PS Chairman to where SL Editor Wickramatunge was sent, two candidates in Galle district at the provincial council elections now being held, making complaints with the police against a third candidate for threats on their lives, the CaFFE claiming law enforcement agencies are not taking adequate action and JVP election offices coming under attacks by armed thugs are all extensions of this “sick” armed security mentality that prevails among politicians.

This is a steady growth of the brute thuggery that was witnessed especially after the infamous Wayamba PC elections and at most elections over the past decades This is an extension of armed brutality that controls and intimidates the civil society, beyond elections. It has allowed not only politicians, but their irresponsible, undisciplined siblings to create chaos even at public places. This therefore calls for an end to militarisation of this society.

What ever promises the politicians make, the Sri Lankan society can never achieve any semblance of democracy, unless the society seriously takes up the issue of politicians running around with armed escorts. As for the more sensitive official positions like the President, Defense establishment heads and may be the PM and the Leader of the Opposition, one could accept continued security. Yet, what ever excuse the other politicians had previously, they don't have the right to have them now. At least the ordinary minsters, MP's and especially the PC members can not say they are threatened by Tiger suicide cadres any more.

Its time therefore to call for these ordinary politicians to be totally stripped of all security they parade with. The PM should be called upon in parliament every month, to provide a list of designations and names of those who are officially eligible for security and to declare on whose recommendations the security is provided for those considered eligible.

The whole security issue that was kept out of the public domain and at a huge public cost during the war, has no reason now to be kept so elusive and confidential. The public who bears the billions spent on security, should have at least the basic information as to who is provided security now and why.

It would in effect remove the issue of para military groups operating, as they are no more threatened by an already eliminated LTTE. The people, especially in the South should now start defining the conclusion of the war as declared by the Rajapaksa regime as one that brings a demilitarised society by default. Its just logical too that the security provided for politicians in the face of LTTE threats have to go off with the government declaring the war over. Not just the war, but the LTTE as well.

It would effectively demilitarise the society to a great extent. At least to the extent that the people would know provincial politicians who move with armed security thereafter, are those who do so illegally. Politicians who could well be called “rogue politicians”. Law enforcement agencies that are not held responsible for such public display of armed security now, could be held responsible for such misuse, thereafter.

While this may not be very palatable for most Opposition party politicians who are also vying to be as powerful or more powerful at their earliest opportunity, it is wise for the public to take up the call for demilitarisation of society, beginning with removal of security of ordinary politicians. Some things are necessary to be named, though at times the society is not ready to do so. But this society should not allow, too many Silvas, Wijanayakes, Muthuhettyges and their likes to go round with arms any more. Monday 21st the International Peace Day could well be the day for this call.

Future Chief Minister Muthuhettigama Wants to Kiss Actress Candidate Anarkali Akarsha

By Sajeewa Wijeweera

Galle District UPFA candidate Nishantha Muthuhettigama who ran into trouble with fellow candidate film star Anarkali Akarsha last week said that when he saw Anarkali’s face he felt like grabbing and kissing her rather than throwing a bomb.

“Anarkali took me to court. She does not know about the discipline in the party.”

Speaking at a press conference he said: “Anarkali ‘nangi’ also does not know about me. Either get friendly with me or else I will not allow her to come near Galle.

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Anarkali Akarsha

That is my way. I have not met this small girl yet. If she sits next to me for an hour she will be like a baby mouse”.

He charged that the police had attacked him near the Galle bus terminus while on his way home from the Galle court.

“I cannot move my legs and hand due to the attack. My watch, gold chain and my wedding ring are lost after the attack,” he alleged.

He added that the police service was corrupt and once elected to the provincial council he would take steps to ‘clean up’ the system.

“I am with the President. He should also know about these things. Persons in the Presidential Security Division who came to Udugama last week were attacking us.

Sixteen jeeps came. I say this with responsibility. They belonged to the Presidential Security Division."

He said that he would reveal the ‘naked truth’ about the police.

Noting that he would sit on the ‘Big Chair’ of the Southern PC, Mr. Muthuhettigama further said that the next Chief Minister of the Province is capable of ‘shooting with both hands’.

“I was a school cadet. My school has all those records. Except Chief Minister Pillayan the next Chief Minister of the South would be able to shoot with both hands.

But I would not shoot anyone,” he said.

He said that the UPFA would win Galle district and even the President would vote in the south to make him the Chief Minister.

“We know his pulse. We know how he works,” he said.

[courtesy: the daily mirror.lk]

Like Malaysia Ceylonese Economy Relied on Its Productive Minorities and Not Majority ethnic Group

By Razeen Sally

To most outsiders Sri Lanka is a far-away tourist destination, a tropical paradise that has fallen into a vicious cycle of ethnic conflict. To me it is closer to home. It is where I grew up; and Colombo , the capital city, is my hometown. I think of Sri Lanka as a heaven-and-hell country, consumed by its own extremes and contradictions. These play out at today’s crossroads, with the seeming end of a 26-year military conflict.

Sri Lanka is one of the loveliest places on the planet, full of exuberant multicultural colour and with warm, welcoming people. It is green and fertile almost beyond imagination, and its natural endowments support an average standard of living that has long been the highest in South Asia (the Maldives aside). It has serendipitously beguiled visitors from Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta to Arthur C. Clarke.

Flying into Colombo airport, the deep-dark green of the island, framed by the Indian Ocean, forms a soft, refreshing contrast with the harsh, parched landscapes of much of India. Once on the ground, the contrast is heightened—the streets are not as filthy; people look better fed, clothed and housed; they have better manners; and they are friendlier.

Yet this is also a country that has descended into an inferno. A gathering of seemingly pacific Sinhalese Buddhists can sometimes flip into a frenzied mob. Sri Lanka ’s hardy Tamil minority has produced one of the most murderous terrorist movements in the world. Ethnic conflict has consumed 100,000 lives. Two student-peasant uprisings in the Sinhalese south, one in the early 1970s and the other in the late 1980s, were brutally prosecuted and brutally crushed. Several governments have used paramilitaries and vigilantes to achieve military and other objectives, in flagrant disregard of the law. Sri Lanka ’s politics are infested with assassinations, thuggery, mob violence and mafia connections.

The Sri Lankan government has completed an emphatic military victory over Tamil Tiger rebels. No one with an ounce of humanity will shed a tear at the death of the Tigers’ monstrous leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and his chief lieutenants. But victory has come at great cost in terms of combatant and, above all, civilian casualties. It has been met by a wave of nationalist euphoria in the Sinhalese heartland, despair in the Tamil diaspora, and criticism of human-rights abuses by Western governments. All moderate, sensible commentators agree that Sri Lanka ’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, must follow up his military victory with a just settlement for the Tamil minority. If not, terrorism will go underground and ethnic conflict will continue to fester. But, as important, Sri Lanka ’s economy needs radical change. Without that there will be no development take-off and broad-based prosperity. A political initiative to end ethnic conflict and economic-reform initiatives are intimately related; peace and development go together.

But will it happen? Or will Sri Lanka miss yet another chance to drag itself out of the quagmire?

The Post-Independence Record

First some historical background. Ceylon (the former name for Sri Lanka ) was a model British colony, well prepared for independence in 1948, six months after India . Unlike India , not a drop of blood was shed in the transition to independence.

Ceylon was at peace, had a stable parliamentary democracy and was Asia ’s second-wealthiest nation. Per-capita income was a fifth higher than the South-Asian average. Ceylon had a prospering plantation economy and, by developing country standards, a well-developed infrastructure, an efficient public administration and judiciary, and significant achievements in health and education. Its prospects were golden. Visitors, including the economists Joan Robinson and Sir John Hicks, as well as the young Lee Kuan Yew, waxed lyrically about Ceylon ’s conditions in the first decade after independence.

Decline ever since has its source in a disastrous Sinhalese political elite pandering to the worst instincts of the Sinhalese ethnic majority and egged on by a xenophobic Buddhist clergy. The elite came from a handful of aristocratic landholding families. Many of these “brown sahibs” were educated in Britain and imbued with Fabian or Marxist ideals. They had the gift of the gab, but little inkling of real life outside their charmed circles. Sir Ivor Jennings, distinguished constitutional lawyer, first vice-chancellor of the University of Ceylon and key adviser in the run-up to independence, worried presciently that these “schoolboy politicians” would play cheap populist politics and ruin the country.

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[Malaysian Tamils during a funeral procession of a fellow Tamil A. Kugan who died in police custody under suspicious circumstances-Jan 2009]

So it came to pass

Sinhalese politicians appealed of course to the Sinhalese majority, an agrarian-based society with great laid-back charm, but one which had not created Ceylon ’s plantation-based wealth. That was mainly the creation of colonial administrators and planters, Tamil labourers, and a wider penumbra of Tamil and Muslim traders. Like Malaysia , the Ceylonese economy relied on its productive minorities with a work and education ethic, not on its majority ethnic group. But the latter inevitably took control of post-independence politics.

Successive Sinhalese-dominated governments played the populist ethnic card, especially after 1956 when Sinhalese became the official language at the expense of Tamil and English. Affirmative-action policies for the Sinhalese were rolled out, and discrimination against the Tamil minority increased. Opportunities for advancement were closed off, petty discrimination increased and human-rights abuses (especially by the police) proliferated. This sowed the seeds of the Tamil Tiger terrorist movement, culminating in an all-out violent conflict in 1983.

But disastrous economic policies played their part as well. Benign post independence conditions bred a redistributive rather than growth-maximizing mentality, directed to expanding the welfare state for the Sinhalese majority. Especially after 1956, Ceylon followed the Indian path of rampant government intervention and trade protectionism, in addition to chronic macroeconomic profligacy. This became extreme after 1970, when Sri Lanka had its version of India ’s “License Raj.” By the mid-1970s, the economy was close to ruin. Growth had come to a halt, real incomes were stagnant, public-sector subsidies were out of control, welfare expenditures were still increasing, unemployment rose to 25% of the labour force, there were balance-of-payments crises, and acute shortages and rationing of consumer goods. Crucially, welfarist policies churned out educated youth from a fast increasing population, but they had no job prospects in a stagnant economy. Disaffection led many to extremism and violence, not just in the Tamil north but also in the Sinhalese south.

The one bright spot was the major liberalisation of the economy in the late 1970s, followed by liberalisation bursts in later decades. Sri Lanka led the way in South Asia in switching from “import substitution” to “export-orientation,” and more generally in market reforms that (re)opened the economy to the world. But reform has proceeded in stop-go fashion.

Its glaring weakness has been macroeconomic incontinence. Public spending, budget deficits and inflation have not been brought under control. Nevertheless, despite civil war, macroeconomic instability and misgovernment, Sri Lanka has grown at about 6% annually. Average real incomes ($1,540 at market prices and $4,200 at purchasing power parity) are 50% higher than they are in India . Outside the fighting zones, ordinary people are significantly better off than they were a generation ago.

Key to this success has been industrialisation and a more diversified services economy. Employment in the formal manufacturing sector has more than doubled since 1980 and the share of manufacturing in total merchandise trade has increased from 5% to close to 70% of gdp.

The star in the firmament is a strong, labour- intensive garments industry—a direct product of liberalisation. The industry emerged in the early 1980s, now accounts for about 50% of total export earnings and employs about one million people.

Still, Sri Lanka is a sad tale of what might-have-been. As of 1960, Ceylon ’s living standards were higher than those of South Korea and Thailand . As of 1970, Ceylon and Malaysia had similar living standards. With peace and East-Asian style policies of macroeconomic prudence, openness to the world economy and better government at home, Sri Lanka would be where Malaysia is today (with an average real income of over $15,000 at purchasing power parity). Absolute poverty would have been eradicated, average living standards would be four times what they are now, clusters of multinational enterprises would link the economy to global supply chains, tourism would be flourishing, services would be hitched to the Indian outsourcing juggernaut, and infrastructure would be much better, as would education and health care. Above all, Sri Lankans outside the elites would have life-chances they can only dream about today.

The state of play

Fast-forward to the present. Start with politics. Power has been centralised in the presidency since 1978. The present incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is riding the crest of popular support for his single minded prosecution of the war in the north. He and his three brothers—one is the defense secretary and another is a presidential adviser on the economy—control the levers of power. Rajapaksa leads a governing coalition of leftist parties, centered on his own Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

He has proved a brilliantly successful politician. The war effort has dominated his agenda—more so than under any previous government. His strengths lie in his ability to connect with the Sinhalese small town bourgeoisie, of which he is a product, as well as the rural electorate. On the other hand, he is not a policy thinker—least of all on the economy—and has scant knowledge of the world outside Sri Lanka.

The opposition, on the other hand, led by the previously-governing United National Party, is weak, divided and demoralized. Its leadership comes from the Colombo upper-class elite, which seems utterly cut off from, and unable to communicate with, ordinary Sri Lankans, especially outside Colombo and the Western Province . Most likely, Rajapaksa will call parliamentary and presidential elections later this year, with every prospect of winning handsomely.

The danger is that Sri Lanka , shorn of institutional checks and balances, will veer—not for the first time—in the direction of a Caesarist elective dictatorship.

Other political features, visible periodically in previous decades, have also become more pronounced. Sinhalese chauvinism finds expression at the heart of government. It reinforces the worst aspects of Sinhalese pseudo intellectualism— a highly mythologised historiography that emphasises Sinhala superiority and xenophobia toward minorities and near-neighbours; a stark politicisation of Buddhism; and a parochial, inward-looking attitude toward the present and future. Intolerance of dissent and a culture of fear backed by violence, are, at the very least, not discouraged.

The armed forces are more powerful than ever. Journalists have been intimidated and several assassinated. Business people and activists from NGOs are scared of criticising the government—on economic and social issues as well as military issues. Self-censorship abounds. Rumors swirl of government-sanctioned vigilante operations against opponents (“white vans in the middle of the night”).

What passes for political debate is black or-white, hectoring and puerile. Journalistic standards are low and shoddy. Ceylon was renowned throughout Asia for its liberal culture and high standards of journalism, with space enough for reasoned, nuanced and critical debate. That has been almost extinguished— a symptom of extreme degeneration in public life and an emasculated civil society. Liberal institutions and the rule of law are the inevitable losers. Not least, Sri Lanka has become a balkanized society, with deep splits, usually boiling down to poisonous personality clashes, at every level of politics, business and society.

Economic policy has also deteriorated. The government has spent like there was no tomorrow. Defence spending has more than tripled in the last four years. Other subsidies have also increased, especially to agriculture to shore up vote banks in the countryside. A bloated public sector, employing around one million people in a labor force of under seven million, has swelled even further. It is dominated by patronage politics and packed full of illqualified or unqualified political appointees.

Monetary policy has resorted to the printing press to plug the yawning gap in government revenues, predictably stoking inflation, which peaked at close to 30% last year. Official reserves were blown away defending an untenable rupee exchange rate. Yet again, Sri Lanka faces a homebrewed balance-of-payments crisis. Borrowing on international capital markets has dried up in the wake of the global financial crisis, forcing the government to negotiate a $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Debt-servicing and unsustainable current expenditure have driven up real interest rates and crowded out private investment, as well as long-term investments in education.

State intervention in the banking sector has gone deeper. State-owned monopolies in oil and electricity have been reinforced. Hence energy and power costs remain artificially high, with inefficient delivery. Trade protectionism has increased, with a paraphernalia of additional import taxes. Discretionary powers have also been used more frequently and selectively to restrict imports, e.g., through customs delays and extra charges. The domestic private sector has been repressed with additional taxes and regulatory burdens.

The government has even set up its own—predictably loss-making—low-cost airline. And oil, arms and infrastructure deals with China , Pakistan , Iran and Libya lack transparency, to say the least. The government’s enthusiasm for these “new friends” has increased commensurately with its cooling of relations with Western governments—“old friends” who have criticised alleged human-rights abuses by the armed forces. But new friends cannot substitute for old friends: Sri Lanka trades overwhelmingly with the West; the U.S. and the European Union alone account for over 60% of its exports.

Over-regulation, regulatory opacity, frequent and unpredictable regulatory changes, and corruption keep the costs of doing business high. Sri Lanka is ranked 102nd in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2009 report. It scores particularly badly in dealing with construction permits (which involve an average of 21 procedures, take 214 days to process and cost 1,500% of income per capita); employing workers (firing costs are equivalent to 169 weeks of salary); registering property (with 8 procedures taking 83 days and costing 5% of property value); paying taxes (with 62 payments per year taking 256 hours to process and with a tax rate equivalent to 64% of profits); and enforcing contracts (with 40 procedures taking 1,318 days and costing 23% of the claim). Sri Lanka is ranked not that much better than India (ranked 122nd) and is light-years behind Malaysia (ranked 20th). Sri Lanka does better in the rankings for trade procedures, but that is still nothing to write home about. It ranks 66th in the Doing Business “trading across borders” category ( India being in 71st and Malaysia in 29th place).

Policy regression has occurred in a worsening policy-making climate. Academics and other government advisers advocate a state-directed economy, infant-industry promotion and agricultural self-sufficiency—all old ideologies that are back in fashion. Policy making is more populist, opaque and unpredictable, favouring the politically-connected and sidelining technocratic advice. This makes for knee-jerk microeconomic interventionism. Corruption and institutional rot set in long ago, but they have sunk to new depths. Today they pervade and poison all aspects of public life.

What next?

A widely-shared sentiment in Sri Lanka is that military victory will translate into peace and fast development. This fits a pattern: too many Sri Lankans, and certainly their governing elite, perennially expect a quick fix or manna from heaven. The realisation has never dawned that the world does not owe Sri Lanka a living. An East- Asian-type culture of working hard, planning for the future and earning one’s success has never taken root. That is why Sri Lanka ’s blessings—its breathtaking beauty and bountiful natural endowments— are overwhelmed by its curse of lackadaisicalness and complacency. That is true of the world of everyday work, as well as the world of policy thinking and execution. A Sri Lankan acquaintance calls it the “broken windowpane society.” The general attitude is that if a window-pane is broken, just leave it; don’t bother to fix it.

Without a serious attempt to address the grievances of the Tamil minority—from real devolution of power to the northern and eastern provinces to enforcing legal rights and removing petty discrimination— there will be no peace. The preferred alternative in some government circles—co-opting ex-rebels in the north and east and giving them Chechenya-style warlord operations to run—is clearly not viable in the long-term.

On the economic front, the danger is of creeping Russification. A parastatal network of politicians, Mafiosi and the military could extend its tentacles into business life. That is not yet the widespread reality, but it is a risk. In any event, without an economic-policy overhaul, Sri Lanka faces either slow material decline or something worse, especially with a bleak medium term global economic outlook.

The short-term imperative is to clean up macroeconomic policy: allow the exchange rate to devalue to a market-determined level, cut public subsidies, and impose order and transparency to the procedures of the central bank and the treasury. Beyond that, trade protection should be reversed, with accompanying simplification of trade and foreign-investment measures. (The latter are caught in a dense thicket of laws, regulations and government agencies.) Property rights to farmland need to be clarified and strict controls on land ownership lifted in order to raise agricultural productivity. Labour laws need to be more flexible. There needs to be deep public sector reform; a move to market pricing for oil and electricity; and, not least, big cuts in the defence budget. Drastic domestic deregulation is also imperative to cut the high cost of doing business. In the longer term, Sri Lanka needs a revamp of its rotten political culture and public institutions. Sri Lanka ’s basic problem is that it has far too much politics at all levels of society. This cramps individual freedom, particularly for the poor citizen without good political connections, and it stymies wealth-creating enterprise.

Military victory gives the government a historic opportunity to engineer the political and economic turnaround necessary for economic take-off. Given the government’s record, the chances of an enduring political settlement are not great. The odds are also against an economic- policy overhaul. But the political opposition does not provide a credible alternative. It is safe to say that without a change of political and economic direction, Sri Lanka will continue to be the broken window-pane society, and will fail to achieve its golden potential. Heaven will always be promised and just around the corner, but hell more often the reality— at least for some.

(Razeen Sally is director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels and is on the faculty of the London School of Economics.This article appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review)

Democratic world wants government to restore democratic rights

by Karu Jayasuriya

United National Party deputy – leader Karu Jayasuriya has stated that the democratic world only wants the Rajapakse regime to restore the lost democratic rights in the country.

In a statement issued on Saturday September 18th Jayasuriya has said that the envisaged EU action is only the first sign that the world has woken up to the oppressive policies practiced by the Rajapakse government.

``What the democratic world is asking of us is the restoration of democratic rights in Sri Lanka. This is nothing new for a country which is one of Asia’s oldest democracies and in fact, democratic ideals were something President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself as a young opposition MP in the late 1980s agitated for extremely vocally,’’ he said.

"The UNP believes the implementation of the 17 th amendment, which is a part of the Sri Lankan Constitution, will resolve a bulk of the problems that has dragged Sri Lanka into a group of countries considered to be having a dictatorial regime. With the appointment of a newly constituted Constitutional Council, Public Service Commission, National Police Commission and Elections Commission, the country could at least demonstrate that initial steps have been taken towards restoring democracy and the rule of law in the aftermath of a 30 year conflict.’

The statement went on to say that In this time of grave uncertainty when Sri Lanka is facing severe criticism from the democratic world, we appeal to the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to realize that alienating the world would lead Sri Lanka to isolation among the civilized nations and cause immense hardships and misery to all her people. Even at this late stage the Government must realize how serious the consequences of its actions are going to be for the people of this country. Today over a million, direct and indirect jobs are in jeopardy because the European Union is considering the withdrawal of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP +) concessions to Sri Lanka. Restriction of issue of visas to Sri Lankans traveling to some western countries, also appear to be in force.

The people of Sri Lanka need to understand that this government has long since perfected the art of propaganda and spin doctoring. Each and every adverse statement or action emanating from outside our shores and particularly from the West is being construed as a Grand Conspiracy against our tiny nation, orchestrated by terrorists and terror sympathizers. This government should bear in mind that every country in the world is expected to maintain a minimum standard of conduct in state affairs if it wished to be accepted as a civilized member of the global community. A nation or a government that allows its citizens to be abducted, tortured and killed arbitrarily with impunity, victims of LTTE terrorism kept behind barbed-wire fences, kills journalists, intimidates its detractors and opponents and clamps down on every form of dissent simply does not fall in to the category of responsible and civilized states among the community of nations.

Furthermore, the government needs to ensure press freedom even at this late stage and commence immediate investigations into the deaths of 11 journalists and 30 odd assaults on media personnel during the last three years. The absence of proper police inquiries, leave the government vulnerable and liable in the eyes of their people and the rest of the world.

We demand that the exclusive use of state media for government propaganda and the character assassination of UNP and its leadership be ceased immediately. It must be stated that during the previous SLFP and PA regimes, we never saw the abuse that we now witness on what are essentially national television, radio channels as well as newspapers paid for by the Sri Lankan tax payer. The opposition views are not reflected at all, other than when there is an attempt to insult or vilify opposition parties or their representatives.

Authorities must realize that the travel restrictions on opposition members barring them from proceeding beyond Medawachchiya, leave alone visiting the IDP Camps, is a serious violation of the rights of the peoples’ representatives. Consequently MPs had to seek legal redress through the Supreme Court in order to visit the former conflict zone. It is a shame to note that such restrictions on movement in one’s own land only prevail in dictatorial regimes such as in North Korea, or when the north and east lay in the iron grip of the LTTE. How strange then that no attempt is being made to rectify this omission immediately, since Sri Lanka is now ‘terror-free’ and supposedly liberated from dictatorial despots with proclivities towards land-grabbing.

Such draconian measures designed to silence a legitimate opposition has no doubt contributed to Sri Lanka’s image abroad being tarnished as an undemocratic country governed by a totalitarian regime.

The argument that these are internal matters which does not concern the outside world does not hold water when there is such a blatant breakdown of the law and order situation in a country. By allowing gross human rights violations to continue unabated, the Government is opening the doors for foreign intervention in Sri Lanka. A world which is determined to prevent human rights violations of the like witnessed in Rwanda, Cambodia and the Balkans in the latter part of the 20th century will not stand idly by while such excesses are being reported in Sri Lanka or elsewhere.

The first signs of the world reacting to the oppressive behavior of the Government are now being witnessed with the EU poised to abolish the special GSP + scheme for Sri Lanka. Merely labeling the democratic world "terrorists and LTTE supporters" when they speak of the need to ensure human rights, democracy and press freedom are protected in Sri Lanka will not save our citizens from what will be their tragic fate should the trade concessions be lost.

It is our view that the government must immediately act in utmost seriousness, realizing the drastic consequences of the withdrawal of GSP + to the economy and to the people of this country.

If the government fails to proceed with corrective action, then this administration should also assume full responsibility for the loss of jobs and income to a total of 1.5 to 2 million Sri Lankans whose livelihoods depend on the apparel industry’s success. Sri Lanka’s apparel industry has reached a level of competitive excellence through the tireless efforts of many, especially the likes of President Ranasinghe Premadasa whose vision saw apparel becoming the country’s largest export to the world and its biggest foreign exchange earner within two decades.

It will be a tragedy indeed if all this hard work that has gone into nurturing this industry which not only provides employment for hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans but is also now the backbone of the country’s economy should crumble due to the inability of the current regime to comprehend the realities of the modern world and desist from undemocratic actions.

As a responsible political party, the UNP has always stood for the national interest and will support all initiatives to stay the withdrawal of the GSP + through all democratic means. As a responsible opposition the UNP does not wish to see all our people suffer the consequences of the sins of a few. It is in this spirit that we have appealed to the EU recently to reconsider before withdrawing the trade concessions to Sri Lanka since over a million of our poorest people will be affected by such an action while the perpetrators of violence who are responsible for our predicament will be largely untouched

An Appeal to EU: Consider the Collective Plight of Suffering Sri Lankan People

by Savantha de Saram

This article has been written in the backdrop of the ‘initial decision’ by the European Union (EU) that the Generalised System of Preference Plus (GSP+) (and its benefits) granted to Sri Lanka will be removed. The granting of GSP+ was a much lauded move on the part of the EU and brought substantial economic relief to a country in which the majority population lived and continues to live below the poverty line. Unfortunately, it appears that the EU will now withdraw GSP+ at its most vital moment on the basis of its initial finding that Sri Lanka has not ‘effectively implemented’ National Legislation on International conventions on Civil and Political Rights, Against Torture and Rights of the Child. Although it seems that the legal luminaries who have prepared this ‘initial’ finding have cleverly drafted its basis, what is apparent to me is that the EU has in fact determined that the collective people of Sri Lanka must be accountable and suffer for purported actions of its Government.

I ask, how objective is this decision? Has reliance been placed on evidence and if so what is the nature of this evidence? Of course reports are of value but are these reports completely without bias and based on concrete evidence? A decision having such far reaching consequences must surely be unimpeachably acceptable to the objective person. Even presuming the EU decision is based on irrefutable evidence, is it equitable to punish the collective people of Sri Lanka?

Clearly, it seems that all is not fine in Sri Lanka. However, things are arguably a lot better now than they had been during the bitter war with the LTTE. The LTTE with its army of child soldiers and inhumane but effective use of suicide bombers wreaked havoc in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka now has the opportunity to show its true form in a time of peace. Why don’t we give it a chance to do so when it is no longer saddled with the destruction and misery of a civil war?

Before I make any submissions against this initial decision by the EU, let me provide the reader with a short introduction on GSP+ and the benefits of GSP+ to Sri Lanka.

The European Union (EU) provides several schemes to developing countries through which the EU extends preferential access to its markets to developing countries. GSP+ is one such scheme which principally provides duty free access to the EU. However, unlike other preferential schemes, GSP+ seems only to have been provided to countries that are categorized as ‘vulnerable’ by the EU. This seems to have been the main criterion for granting GSP+ in the first instance. Several South American countries have also been granted GSP+.

Presumably, the EU categorized these countries as being ‘vulnerable’ as well. It is difficult to imagine that Venezuela (rich in oil) was also categorized as ‘vulnerable’ but stranger things have happened. Or did the EU tweak the qualification a tad to accommodate these countries with a view to curtailing the narcotics trade?

Sri Lanka was awarded GSP+ in July 2005 it seems on the basis that Sri Lanka was ‘vulnerable’. The EU did not treat adversely the atrocities that may have been committed during the civil war that still persisted despite a fragile ceasefire.

I am advised that continuation of GSP+ is now dependent on several other criteria, the most important for the purpose of this article is the one that requires Sri Lanka to ratify and effectively implement various conventions for protection of human rights, environment and governance principles and commits itself to ratify and effectively implement other prescribed conventions. The EU seems to have focused essentially on the International conventions on Civil and Political Rights, Against Torture and Rights of the Child and Sri Lanka’s failure to ‘effectively implement’ such conventions through, inter alia, National Legislation.

However, it is interesting to note that there does not seem to be a definition of the term ‘effectively implement’. Therefore, in the absence of clear parameters or an objective threshold, it is conceivable that what amounts to ‘effective implementation’ may be interpreted in numerous ways. For instance, does effective implementation require 100% or 50% or 75% compliance? Who determines the threshold? More importantly no consideration seems to have been given to the fact that the civil war that has plagued Sri Lanka for 26 years is now over.

Does the convention on ‘Rights of a Child’ not apply to the thousands of child soldiers who were employed by the LTTE in the front lines of the civil war who are no longer in harms way? Surely, some credit should go to this country for the opportunity these children may now have to lead, as far as possible, a normal life. Does this not amount to effective implementation of the 'Rights of a Child'?

Since the granting of GSP+, the EU has become the number one market for Sri Lankan exports. The total value of Sri Lanka’s exports to the EU stands at approximately $2.8 Billion accounting for more than 37% of the country’s total exports and 50.4% of the total exports of garments. The apparel industry alone provides direct employment to approximately 270,000 people and a further 1,000,000 in indirect employment, mainly women and rural folk.

In addition, the export industry has had to implement sound labour and environmental practices in order to remain eligible for GSP+ resulting in increased costs for investors and employers in Sri Lanka that can only be off-set by the GSP+ benefits. There is also tremendous potential for direct foreign investment including investment in the war torn areas of the north and east of the Country which will benefit the war affected population of such areas. GSP+ is now more important than ever to ensure that Sri Lanka also recovers economically following the end to the bitter war with the LTTE.

I have observed on BBC news in the recent past the funerals of soldiers, young men who had been killed in action in the battles presently being fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not to mention the numerous reports and images of civilian casualties. Similar images were far too common in Sri Lanka until very recently. This Country has experienced its fair share death, destruction and misery. The only thing that has kept this country moving forward has been its people and their remarkable ability to prevail over all obstacles that have been thrown in their path. In addition to the war, this country has stood up to the death and destruction of a massive tsunami and the global economic recession. We have prevailed nevertheless, albeit badly bruised and battered.

There is now a new hope that has dawned in Sri Lanka following the virtual end to the war with the LTTE. I for one never thought I will see the day where I am able to drive my young children to school without having to worry about stopping my vehicle alongside a bus or van that may be laden with explosives. I can only try to imagine what those people who were more directly placed in harms went through day in and day out. Now that the war for all intents and purposes is over, we need all the help we can get so that this Country is able to recover from the ravages of its war with the LTTE. Unfortunately, the EU does not seem to think so.

It would appear that as far as the EU is concerned nothing less than a perfect 100% (or close to it as possible) effective implementation of the various conventions it requires Sri Lanka to implement through National Legislation is deemed as appropriate at this moment in time. One would have thought it difficult to expect such high standards even of so called developed Countries. But obviously the EU expects nothing short of perfection from Sri Lanka.

But surely, there is a better way, or more suitable alternative to the path the EU is proposing to take in this matter. Surely, it is worth considering what is at stake for this small but resilient nation! At the very least is it not possible to postpone this decision until the end of 2010 and thereby giving this country a chance to display its abilities on all fronts during a time of peace without determining its future based on its purported actions during a time of war. I urge you to consider the plight of the collective people of Sri Lanka who will suffer if GSP+ is removed. Have we not suffered enough? Is the best way forward to teach us a lesson? Give us a genuine chance for peace and prosperity.

After Bloodbath on the Beach, Sri Lanka Offers Fish Balls with a View of UN

by Matthew Russell Lee

It was a night of fish balls and denials, high above the UN. In a 38th floor that the government of Sri Lanka has rented for seven years now, the country's new Ambassador to the UN Palitha Kohona invited and greeted members of the UN press corps, urging them to eat his chips and fish balls, drink wine red or white or orange juice.

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UN's Ban and Sri Lanka's Kohona on Sept. 11

Inner City Press attended as one might a car crash: it was impossible, after seeing the barbed wire rings camps of Vavuniya and the bombed-out bloodbath on the beach not to accept an invitation to see the Sri Lankan government's other Janus face.

[Palitha Kohona on CBC-Sep 16, 2009]

Kohona shook hands for over an hour, telling the same story more than once. He recounted how good the view had been when he worked for the UN, on the 32nd floor in the Treaty Section. He didn't do it for a salary, he said, but rather for the feeling of knowing he was helping a child somewhere in the world.

Inner City Press asked how long the people in the camps would remain locked up. Let me tell you, Kohona said, the bulk of them will be home by the end of the year. What about reports that of the 10,000 who recently left Manik Farms, over half were simply taking to other camps? Kohona called that mischievous, of course there are interim camps. He asked pointedly about the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the U.S., those still not returned home.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has said both sides in Sri Lanka may have committed war crimes. Even after that, Kohona claimed that no one in the UN system had criticized Sri Lanka. Inner City Press asked him, isn't the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights part of the UN? No, Kohona answered, she has a different status. What about UN children and armed conflict adviser Radhika Coomaraswamy? She is closer to the UN, Kohona said. There are rules about what she can say.

Top UN humanitarian John Holmes, when he went to Sri Lanka early in his term, was called a "terrorist." His statements, it seems, changed after that. Kohona spoke about the meetings in Kandy in May, which Inner City Press witnesses, when cameramen told John Holmes to sit down and not block the view of the Rajapaksa brothers and of Ban Ki-moon. He's not used to that, Kohona said. He's not only a UN official but also a Sir, Sir John Holmes.

The apartment, despite the view, had a looted feeling. There was empty spaces on the walls with electrical outlets behind them. I am bringing my belongings, Kohona said, referring to a sound system. He denied that the UK had refused him a visa. He justified the government's expulsion of UNICEF Spokesman James Elder, an Australian, saying Elder violated UN rules by speaking out. Some say Sri Lanka listens in on the UN. We will have more on this and other on-the-ground developments in Sri Lanka. This article strives to just describe a surreal evening in UN world.

Kohona was naturalized as Australian, and was seconded to the UN by that country's foreign service. After four year he was supposed to return, but he says his boss Hans Corell urged him to stay. He did, for another six years until Mahinda Rajapaksa invited him to return from the diaspora to "live in a gilded cage, surrounded by guards" and put words on his final assault. There are stories still circulating in the UN, which will be told another time.

Kohona bragged Thursday how he put the treaties online. It is password protected, some pointed out, but they are online. Inner City Press asked about about the Convention on the safety of UN Staff members, referring to the UN system staff detained and they say tortured. Kohona did not answer. He chatted up interns, he glad handed long time correspondents. It seems light years away from the video depicting the Sri Lankan Army performing summary executions. It was talk of views, or carrots and dip and fish balls. Take one, Kohona said. They are a Sri Lankan delicacy. He said he will be UN active. This is something we will cover - Inner City Press

September 19, 2009

UN political chief voices concern about displaced after wrapping up visit to Sri Lanka

Source: United Nations News Service

Date: 18 Sep 2009

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in Government-run camps in Sri Lanka lack basic rights of freedom of movement, and the country is not making the expected progress towards a lasting peace in the wake of the end earlier this year to fighting between military forces and Tamil rebels, the United Nations political chief said today.

B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told a press conference in Colombo at the end of his visit to Sri Lanka that the UN and other concerned parties had not observed the progress expected after the conclusion of fighting with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May.

More than 280,000 IDPs now reside in camps in the north of the country, and Mr. Pascoe said he was concerned about the closed nature of those camps and the lack of freedom of movement for their inhabitants.

He urged the Government to allow those IDPs who have completed the screening process to leave the camps as they choose, and for those people remaining to be able to exit the camps during the day and to freely meet with family and friends in other sites.

On the last day of his visit to Sri Lanka, Mr. Pascoe held talks with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, senior Government ministers, military officials, opposition leaders and Tamil politicians. During the meetings the Under-Secretary-General discussed the situation of the IDPs as well as human rights accountability and political reconciliation. Yesterday he visited some of the camps to obtain a first-hand view of the situation.

September 18, 2009

Roots of Tamil Nadu secessionism in India

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

It was only a few months ago that the world witnessed the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at the hands of Sri Lanka’s armed forces.The LTTE popularly known as tigers posed a threat to the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka.

The tigers or LTTE espoused the creation of a separate state-Tamil Eelam-comprising the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka and launched an armed struggle to achieve this goal. For several decades the LTTE maintained territorial control over parts of the North and east and ran a parallel administration.

The military debacle of the LTTE is being viewed as the military defeat of Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka.There is an increasing tendency to perceive the rise and fall of the LTTE as a “terrorist” phenomenon alone and turn a blind eye to the underlying political causes which led to the evolution and growth of separatism among the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

Against this backdrop it would be interesting and illuminating into the rise and fall of a related development in neighbouring India. The years immediately before and after Independence from the British saw a Tamil separatist movement emerging in India too. [click here to read the article in full ~ in dbsjeyaraj.com]

September 17, 2009

Sri Lanka should permit an impartial investigation into the 'Channel 4 videotape', says UN expert

Source: United Nations Human Rights Council

Date: 17 Sep 2009

GENEVA - Professor Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council today issued the following statement:

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Professor Philip Alston

I have been requested by the Government of Sri Lanka to issue a public statement in response to the latest information provided by the Government in relation to the Channel 4 video which purports to show extrajudicial executions being carried out by the Sri Lankan Army. I have carefully reviewed the various briefings and statements made by the Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights, which are essentially based upon a detailed "Consolidated Response" issued by the Government to the local and international media on 7 September 2009 and to the diplomatic community the following day. The Government's response was summarized in the Minister's statement on 15 September 2009 to the Human Rights Council in which he stated that "four separate investigations have now scientifically established beyond any doubt that this video is a fake."

I welcome the fact that the Government is now devoting considerable attention to this issue. The legal obligation incumbent upon a Government in a situation such as this is to undertake a "thorough, prompt and impartial investigation."* My role as Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions is to evaluate whether the investigations undertaken have met the relevant criteria established under international law, and to advise the Human Rights Council accordingly.

I can attest to the fact that the investigation has been "prompt" since it was completed within two weeks of the information becoming available.

I am not, however, in a position to conclude that it was "thorough." I have not seen the original version of three of the four expert investigations. The fourth of the investigations seems to have originated as an Opinion piece in The Island newspaper, and was subsequently elaborated upon. It is not clear whether or not this was at the Government's request. The statement provided by the Minister summarizes "observations" made by the remaining three experts in presentations made at a meeting convened by the Government for this purpose. I would welcome the publication of the full text of the analyses undertaken and reports presented by each of the four experts.

The third and most important question is whether the "four separate investigations" meet the criteria of impartiality. I would note that two of the experts are members of the Sri Lankan Army, the body whose actions have been called into question. A third report is by Dr. Chathura De Silva, BSc Eng Hons (Moratuwa), MEng (NTU), PhD (NUS), Senior Lecturer, Dept of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Moratuwa, who has advised the Government in relation to a number of other similar issues in the past. And the fourth is by Siri Hewawitharana, a broadcast media specialist based in Australia, who is said to be the former head of Cisco's global broadcast and digital video practice. No other information has been provided by the government on Mr Hewawitharana, but it would appear that he is a member of a network of Sri Lankan Professionals. I would welcome more information on how he was identified and selected by the government as an independent expert.

Based on the limited information available to me, it is impossible to conclude that these four individuals, given their relationship to the Government, meet the criteria for impartiality in this context. When the actions of a Government are called into question in a matter of this gravity, what is required is to undertake an investigation by demonstrated experts who can be shown to be fully independent of the Government concerned. Two of these individuals are full-time Government employees, one has previously acted on behalf of the Government, and the basis on which the fourth was identified and selected as an expert remains unclear. I must conclude therefore, on the basis of the information made available by the Government, that the investigations undertaken cannot be characterized as "impartial".

The final question that remains is whether the information provided by the Government raises significant doubts as to the authenticity of the video. On this question, my conclusion is that the views expressed do indeed raise several issues which warrant further investigation before it could reasonably be concluded that the video is authentic. The only way to do this is for an independent and impartial investigation to take place. This is all that I have called for. Such an investigation might well conclude that the position adopted by the Government is fully warranted. I would welcome that outcome very warmly, and I hope that the Government would do likewise.

(*) United Nations Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, adopted on 24 May 1989, para. 9.

Professor Alston was appointed Special Rapporteur in 2004 and reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. He has had extensive experience in the human rights field, including eight years as Chairperson of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, principal legal adviser to UNICEF in the drafting of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and Special Adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. He is Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law.

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/executions/index.htm

Let's help Sri Lanka win the peace

by Lakhdar Brahimi and Edward Mortimer

It is now nearly four months since Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared the country “liberated” from the Tamil Tiger rebels after a 26-year war. He said then that he wanted to settle most of the displaced Tamil civilians within 180 days but, today, with 60 days to go, nearly 280,000 are still being – in the words of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – “effectively detained under conditions of internment.”

Humanitarian agencies' access to these camps remains restricted, the high commissioner said, “and the mandates of relief agencies are increasingly coming under threat.” UN staff have even been attacked. One person who was able to visit the camps was Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said, “I have travelled round the world and visited similar places, but these are by far the most appalling scenes I have seen.”

In mid-August, these camps were flooded by downpours that, according to The New York Times, “sent rivers of muck cascading between tightly packed rows of flimsy shelters, overflowed latrines and sent hundreds of families scurrying for higher ground.” When the full monsoon comes in a few weeks, no one knows how many will die from waterborne diseases, including cholera and typhoid.

Moreover, there is no public list of those being held in the camps, and many families do not know whether their loved ones are alive or dead.

The brutal methods used by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during the conflict are beyond dispute. But while the war was going on, the government claimed to draw a distinction between Tamil Tiger fighters and the law-abiding Tamil population, whose genuine political grievances it would address once the “terrorists” had been defeated.

So far, nothing like that has happened. Although the government has screened out those it believes were Tamil Tiger cadres and sent them to separate camps (where there is no international presence at all), it repeatedly extends its own deadline for releasing the civilians who are still in the main camps.

People who question this inside Sri Lanka are accused of being traitors in the pay of “the LTTE diaspora,” while outsiders are accused of using humanitarian concerns as an excuse for neo-imperialist intervention. Sri Lankan journalists who criticized the government have been arrested, beaten, jailed and, in some cases, murdered. Some foreign journalists and UN officials have been kicked out; Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are not allowed in.

In the last weeks of fighting, an estimated 20,000 civilians were killed. Government forces are accused of shelling Tamil civilians; the Tamil Tigers are accused of using civilians as human shields, forcibly recruiting them and shooting those who tried to flee. There are rumours of mass graves and television reports of extra-judicial killing, but no independent observer has been allowed into the war zones to investigate.

Friends of Sri Lanka the world over do not understand why Mr. Rajapaksa chose Myanmar as the first country to visit after winning the “war on terror.” They were concerned to read, on the government's own website, that one reason for this choice was that “the [Myanmar] generals are increasingly finding it difficult to contain insurgent groups in the country's northern frontier and are willing to learn some fresh lessons from President Mahindra Rajapaksa on how to defeat the enemy.”

That is not what the international community in general, and Commonwealth friends such as Canada in particular, wish to learn from Sri Lanka. Rather, they are expecting the country to be faithful to its democratic tradition and act on Mr. Rajapaksa's promises that the rights of minorities will be respected, that the displaced will be helped to return home and that prisoners will be treated humanely.

Sadly, the government's willingness to ignore universal principles of human rights and humanitarian law (which Sri Lanka agreed to uphold when it signed and ratified many treaties and conventions) has met with very little international resistance. Even the United States, which has urged the rapid release of all civilians and deplored the government's slow timetable on political reform, is encouraging U.S. investors to “make Sri Lanka your next business stop.”

The Sri Lankan government has won the war. It must now win the peace, and the world, including Canada, must help.

“Tough friends” must now say clearly that further economic and political support will depend on the following conditions being fulfilled:

1. The United Nations, the Red Cross and voluntary agencies must be given full and unhindered access to care for and protect civilians detained in Sri Lankan camps, then help them return to wherever in their country they choose to live.

2. A list of all those still alive and in custody should be published, so families can stop searching for loved ones who are dead.

3. Any who continue to be detained as alleged Tamil Tiger combatants must be treated in accordance with the provisions of international law, and urgently given access to legal representation.

4. Accountability processes must be established to ensure that international aid is not diverted to purposes other than those for which it was given.

5. The Sri Lankan government should invite regional and international specialists in conflict reconciliation to help rebuild lives and communities.

6. Sri Lanka should request or accept a full UN investigation into war crimes committed by all parties during the 26-year civil war.

Lakhdar Brahimi is a former UN special envoy for Afghanistan and Iraq and a former foreign minister of Algeria. Edward Mortimer is senior vice-president of the Salzburg Global Seminar; he served as chief speechwriter for UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. Both are members of the Advisory Council of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice.

Courtesy: The Globe and Mail

September 16, 2009

Al Jazeera Video: UN presses Sri Lanka to release Tamil civilians

The United Nations has vowed to press Sri Lanka to speed up the release of nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians held in displacement camps since the end of the civil war.

Critics have accused the government of keeping people in the de facto prison camps without good reason

But government officials say there may still be Tamil Tiger fighters hiding among the civilians.

Minelle Fernandez reports from Colombo.

We wish to create a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-religious Sri Lanka

By Mahinda Samarasinghe

(Following is the statement by Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe at 12th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday).

Since June this year, when we last addressed this forum, Sri Lanka has made significant strides towards a lasting and durable solution to our long-standing conflict. I wish to acknowledge with gratitude the keen interest the members of this Council have displayed in the evolving situation in Sri Lanka and wish to reassure them that, with the defeat of terrorism, the President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Government is doing its utmost to restore, rebuild and renew the foundations of a democratic social order throughout the Lankan territory.

We have taken note of the concerns expressed with regard to the internally displaced civilians by the High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier today. She chose, in her statement, to characterize the relief villages and welfare centres housing internally displaced as being no more than internment camps. This is furthest from the truth. The reality in post-conflict Sri Lanka is very different.

Nearly 290,000 hostages were rescued from the clutches of the LTTE who forcibly held them as a bulwark between their dwindling cadres and the advancing Armed Forces. These people were pressed into service by the LTTE and were compelled to place themselves at risk to protect the leadership of an increasingly desperate group.

Once the LTTE were defeated, these persons were moved to temporary accommodation facilities in schools and public buildings and later to the relief villages constructed in anticipation of their arrival.

It is true that the sheer numbers of persons arriving at these centres did stretch the capabilities of the Government and its partners to care for them but, it is a matter for satisfaction that within a matter of weeks, we were able to accommodate and provide an adequate level of care for these persons.

There were considerable challenges surmounted along the way in trying to care for these Sri Lankans. Apart from emergency food, shelter and medical care, water supply and sanitation were critical needs which have to be catered for. The national Disaster Management Centre has also taken special measures to prevent and mitigate the risk of flooding due to the upcoming monsoonal rains. Protection issues were also a concern given that the Government possessed information that some LTTE cadres had infiltrated the ranks of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and posed a significant threat.

Human rights

The Government has a responsibility to guarantee the human rights of the entirety of the population - not only the rights of the conflict-affected IDPs. Allowing LTTE cadres, masquerading as ordinary civilians, freedom of movement would have posed a grave threat to people in the rest of the country. Members of this Council and the rest of the global community knows only too well the atrocities committed by the LTTE against ordinary civilians. Given the vast caches of arms, ammunition and explosives being recovered on a daily basis in the former theatre of conflict and outside, their ability to destabilize the country and cause havoc could not be underestimated.

Resettlement

It is our position that the IDPs can and will be permitted to leave the relief villages and welfare centres once they are screened and their bona fides established. The host family scheme has recently been publicly announced and persons are permitted to reside with relatives.

Nearly many thousands of applications have been received in Jaffna and Vavuniya in just the past few days, requesting the release of IDPs to the custody of host families. It is our responsibility to ensure that these checks are stringent and thorough. This process is initiated consequent to a policy decision that was taken by the Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security in the Northern Province.

To aid this process, as at September 6, 2009, 167,908 IDPs of 75,009 families have been registered,with 110,000 temporary identity cards being handed over to the authorities for distribution. Apart from enabling their movement, this exercise of registration and issuance of temporary identity cards to IDPs is to ensure their right to eventual resettlement in their original places of residences, family reunification, provision of educational facilities to children, livelihood training programs and for the identification of disabled and handicapped requiring special care.

Since the end of successful armed operations to rescue the civilians in the theatre of conflict in May 2009, over 14,500 persons have been cleared to live with relatives. Over 31,000 persons have been reunified with their families who were separated during the military operations. Resettlement has commenced with limited returns being made possible by demining. From July to August 2009, 5,331 IDPs of 695 families have been resettled from sites in Vavuniya to Ampara, Batticaloa, Jaffna and Trincomalee districts.

Further 9,994 persons are to be returned to their places of origin in the East and Jaffna in two weeks. Of this, the first set of returns took place on September 11 with about 2,800 persons from Vavuniya IDP sites being returned to their places of origin in Ampara, Batticaloa, Jaffna and Trincomalee districts.

This included 60 university students who were sent to Jaffna. Of the older category, displaced between 2006 and September 2008 during the Eastern humanitarian operations, 2,828 persons from 762 families have been resettled in Musali DS division, in the Mannar District. Further “go and see visits” are organized for the rest of the IDPs to ensure that eventual return and resettlement is voluntary based on informed choice.

Negative campaign

Taking care of the IDPs, Government’s prime concern. Picture by Rukmal Gamage

The High Commissioner also spoke of access to humanitarian actors. Along with the several Governmental agencies working for IDP welfare, there are over 50 agencies including United Nations, international and national non-governmental organizations working alongside us to support and supplement our efforts.

Despite such progress, we can see an orchestrated campaign being conducted by vested interests to grossly distort the conduct of the humanitarian operations and the good work that is being done to care for those rescued from the clutches of terrorism.

One such incident was played out just days before the present Council session when a fake video was handed over to several leading international media institutions showing the Sri Lanka Army allegedly executing Tamils in the North.

Devastating impact

Needless to say the initial impact of this fake video was devastating to the extent that even the Secretary-General aired his grave concern to me when I met him 10 days ago in Geneva on the sidelines of the World Climate Conference.

Four separate investigations conducted in respect of this video footage have now scientifically established beyond doubt that the video was a fake.

We have shared these scientific findings with the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner, among others, and we will be taking appropriate steps to ensure that this kind of unverified broadcast is prevented from happening again.

This is the kind of disinformation campaign still being conducted against my country even after terrorism has been defeated and I can assure that we will also defeat these forces who cannot be allowed to tarnish and bring disrepute to the image of my country.

For those remaining in the relief villages and welfare centres, health has been identified as a priority sector. At present, 81 doctors are working in camps in Vavuniya and 18 are in the Cheddikulam hospital close to the Menik Farm relief village. The Health Ministry reports that by today, permanent appointments will be made to nearly 100 doctors to serve in camps and 28 doctors to serve at the Cheddikulam hospital.

Health camp

A health camp with psychosocial services was facilitated by the Air Force in Zone 2 and 3. A new psychosocial centre is opened in Zone 4. Mobile clinic facilities are operational in the newly opened Zone 6. Seven health facilities in Kilinochchi, three in Mannar and two in Vavuniya are to be completed by mid-October 2009.

In recognition of the importance placed on education by Sri Lankans, the Examinations Department established 10 special examination centres in Vavuniya for 1,236 displaced candidates to enable them to sit the G.C.E Advanced Level examination. It is significant that 166 ex-child combatants also sat the examination held last month. Temporary learning spaces have been demarcated in the IDP sites and educational services are being provided.

The Government's program could be summarized under the five heads of relief, reconstruction, resettlement, reintegration and reconciliation. Relief encompasses all the humanitarian assistance and services provided to IDPs during the present 'care and maintenance' phase. Reconstruction includes all the initiatives aimed at rebuilding the damaged and destroyed physical infrastructure on which US dollars 150 million has been spent up to now. It is noteworthy that the bulk of the funding of these operations to date have been contributed by Government. The Government is determined that the facilities available to the people in the rest of the country will be available to the people in conflict-affected areas.

The resettlement program can only be completed when demining is completed and we expect to be able to report on major advances in this area during the coming weeks. The acquisition of 10 new flailing machines using government funds will enable us to clear ground and obtain necessary certification from the United Nations agencies.

De-mining

According to the initial survey carried out by the Information Management System on Mine Action, it is estimated that nearly 1.5 million landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) contaminate an area of 402 sq km. Since the beginning of January 2009, de-mining of 25 small administrative divisions has been completed. According to the National Steering Committee on Mine Action, de-mining in 15 divisions in Musali, Manthai West and the Rice Bowl area of Mannar covering 80 sqkm have commenced and clearance is ongoing. De-mining of the Rice Bowl area is expected to be completed by mid-October to enable further resettlement. In Vavuniya, 35 divisions have already been cleared and are ready to resettle the IDPs. De-mining activities in another 10 divisions is going on.

Clearance

In Jaffna, de-mining in 14 divisions has been completed with de-mining carring out in 19 more divisions. While de-mining in three GN Divisions in Batticaloa and one GN Division in Trincomalee has been completed, clearance activities are going on in another two divisions each in Anuradhapura, Batticaloa and Trincomalee Districts.

As at the end of August, 445,370,401 square metres have been cleared of mines and UXOs. US$ 64 million has been expended for the Sri Lankan Mine Action Program through respective de-mining agencies. Of the area cleared, 335,927,614 square metres have been cleared by the Army at the cost of only US$10 million.

The rest of the area has been cleared by another eight de-mining agencies. Apart from de-mining, resettlement can only be sustainable if livelihoods and other early recovery measures are put in place. The smooth transition from early recovery to medium and long-term economic development is also being planned for.

This long-term development strategy is being developed and implemented under the Northern Spring program which will usher in a period of renewal for the people of the North.

Perhaps the most vital part of winning peace, are the efforts of the Government undertaken for the reintegration of ex-combatants. Reintegration of ex-combatants into civilian life and the attempts at normalization and reconciliation launched by President Rajapaksa are the two final components of the integrated strategy that our Government has put in place. In support of these initiatives, after wide consultation we have recently completed a national framework proposal on the reintegration of ex-combatants into civilian life.

We laid the conceptual underpinnings of this exercise in 2006 within the ambit of the disaster recovery mandate of the Disaster Management and Human Rights Ministry and began work in October 2008, long before the armed operation was successfully concluded. The framework takes a holistic view of reintegration which includes not only disarmament and demobilization followed by rehabilitation but also transitional justice, reinsertion and socio-economic integration.

Action plan

The integration process will enable those took part in the conflict to rebuild their lives and become productive members of society. We are in the process of formulating an action plan in keeping with the national framework in close consultation and coordination with the various Government focal points. We expect the action plan to be finalized before the end of September with the active cooperation of all key Government actors, civil society and our international partners.

Technical support for this is provided by the UNDP and ILO working along-side local experts. Our main focus is to ensure inter-agency coordination and a harmonized approach. This, we believe, will prove effective, prevent duplication and ensure that all agencies are working towards a common goal and are moving in one direction. It will also help build synergies among the various operational agencies who are working on individual components of an integrated strategy.

Peace

Political accommodation through an inclusive reconciliation process will be the final component in the Government's efforts to finally end nearly three-decade conflict. President Rajapaksa has already reached out to political parties to obtain support in cementing peace that is now possible after the defeat of terrorism. Successful elections have just been concluded to local bodies in Jaffna and Vavuniya.

It is significant that opposition groups were able to campaign and contest and even gain a working majority in one local authority. As we were committed to restoring democratic institutions in the East after the conclusion of operations in that region in 2007, democratic institutions must and will be resuscitated in the North for the benefit of the people.

Internecine conflict experienced by Sri Lanka for nearly three decades, has an inevitable corrosive effect on the institutions and mechanisms that ensure peace, order and good governance. We have to rebuild our institutional foundations to foster and preserve the new multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious Sri Lanka that we wish to create.

Our vision is the creation of a new Sri Lankan identity which acknowledges and cherishes the wonderful diversity that characterizes our society.

To enable this, the promotion and protection of human rights - economic, social and cultural as well as civil and political rights and the right to development - is of prime importance.

This is why, in keeping with our pledge made at the Universal Periodic Review process in May last year, we have taken steps to develop a National Plan of Action to promote and protect human rights. Work on the first draft of the Plan is nearing completion and we expect that it will provide a framework that will enable us to guarantee the rights of all of our people in the years to come.

Much has been said about the arrest, detention, trial and conviction of Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam.

What to my mind is most important in regard to this matter is that due process was observed and he was detained and tried in accordance with the law within 18 months. While the merits of the case and the interpretation of substantive aspects of the law are purely a matter for the courts to decide upon, as a member of the executive and Human Rights Minister my first concern is to see that the law is observed.

Measures

I already understand that measures are under way by his legal team to file an appeal before the appellate courts of Sri Lanka and am confident that the judicial process will mete out justice to this individual. Indeed, in comparison to journalists who have been detained for over two years in some cases and released without ever being charged in other conflict situations, Tissainayagam's trial and conviction by the regular courts of the country is less odious and offensive to human rights norms and standards.

CBC Radio MP3: Sri Lanka UN Ambassador Palitha Kohona on expelling UN officials

Hello, you must be going. Sri Lanka's former Foreign Secretary Palitha kohona explains why his country keeps showing U.N. officials the door.

CBC's Carol Off: One expulsion of a United Nations official from Sri Lanka might be an anomaly. A second U.N. official being threatened with expulsion might seem a coincidence. But now that a third is awaiting deportation, it just might have become a trend.

Earlier this month, we told you that UNICEF's spokesperson in Colombo was being asked to leave the country. James Elder is accused of having given false information to the media while Sri Lanka was in its final stages of civil war with the LTTE, or Tamil Tiger rebels.

Since the news of Mr. Elder's expulsion broke, troubles with other U.N. officials have come to light. One has been expelled for distributing satellite images of the war zone, and another was threatened with expulsion -- but negotiated to stay.

The person responsible for all this is Sri Lanka's former Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona. "Former", because Dr. Kohona has just been appointed the Permanent Representative for Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York. That's where we reached him:

PK0916TC.jpg

Dr. Palitha Kohona

CBC "As It Happens" host Carol Off talks to Palitha Kohona - CBC As It Happens - Sep 16, 2009

Click here to listen mp3 audio [8.23 mts]

Palitha Kohona says if he is to be prosecuted for war crimes just for being a Sri Lankan govt. official, "everybody working for Canadian government should be accused of committing war crimes in Afghanistan."

Video: Damilvany Gnanakumar describes camp conditions to channel 4

British medic Damilvany Gnanakumar, detained for four months in one of Sri Lanka's Tamil internment camps, describes to Jonathan Miller the bleakness of the conditions she found there:

Channel 4 UK's Jonathan Miller talks to British Tamil Damilvany Gnanakumar.

"Dead bodies everywhere," recalls Damilvany Gnanakumar. "Wherever you turn round, it's dead bodies."

ICJ Condemns Misuse of Anti-Terrorism Laws to Prosecute Sri Lankan Journalist, J. S. Tissainayagam

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), on Sep 11, 2009 released its Trial Observation Report (http://www.icj.org/IMG/ICJ_Tissa_Trial_Observation_Report_11_Sept_09.pdf) regarding proceedings before the Colombo High Court in the prosecution of J.S. Tissainayagam, a Tamil journalist. On 31 August 2009, Mr Tissainayagam was convicted under anti-terrorism laws and sentenced by Judge Deepali Wijesundara to 20 years “rigorous imprisonment.”

This is the first time that anti-terrorism laws have been used in Sri Lanka to prosecute and convict a journalist for exercising freedom of expression, despite these laws being on the books for decades. The ICJ appreciates the cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka and the presiding judicial officer in enabling the Observers to attend the trial, meet with the Attorney General and with Mr Tissainayagam and his counsel, and generally conduct their work without interference.

The Trial Observation Report focuses on describing the procedural aspects of the case and does not include a substantive assessment of the anti-terrorism laws. It raises a number of concerns regarding fair trial standards, including the judge’s interlocutory decision to allow into evidence what counsel for Mr Tissainayagam described as a forced confession, and subsequent denial of the accused’s right to appeal this decision. The Observers also expressed concern that Judge Wijesundara is the sister of the officer who signed the Indictment against Mr. Tissainayagam. While outside the general scope of this report, the Observers raised broader concerns about the Government’s unprecedented decision to prosecute Mr Tissainayagam on terrorism charges, especially in the context of attacks and threats of attacks against journalists and critics of Government policy, including public accusations by persons associated with the Government that equate such critics, and the lawyers representing them, as terrorists and traitors, for example, in commentaries posted on an official website of the Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order.

The ICJ has previously highlighted the dangers to rule of law posed by Sri Lanka’s broad array of draconian emergency laws (see Briefing Paper: Sri Lanka’s Emergency Laws (March 2009), http://www.icj.org/news.php3?id_article=4475&lang=en). These laws give sweeping powers to the Government to criminalize dissent and paint otherwise lawful speech as terrorism, potentially undermining the foundations of rule of law and democratic governance in the nation. The case of Mr Tissainayagam illustrates this danger.

“The real damage of the Tissainayagam case does not lie only in one judge’s interpretation of the law, but in the fact that the legal system is now seen as carrying out a political agenda of criminalizing anti-Government speech,” stated Roger Normand, ICJ Asia-Pacific Director. “That the Government has chosen to aggressively pursue this case against a prominent Tamil journalist even after the conclusion of the military conflict sends a chilling message of political intolerance and casts doubt on its commitment to justice and national reconciliation.”

Mr. Tissainayagam was arrested by police from the Terrorism Investigation Division on 7 March 2008. Three months later, on 25 August, he was charged with three counts under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1979 (PTA) and the Emergency Regulations 2006 (ER 2006), in relation to his criticism of the Sri Lankan Army’s treatment of civilians in two articles published in North Eastern Monthly magazine in June 2006. Following
High Court proceedings observed by the ICJ in 2008 and 2009, Mr. Tissainayagam was found guilty on 31 August 2009 of two counts of intending to “cause communal disharmony” (PTA, s.2), with mandatory minimum sentence of five years each, and one count of receipt of monies “in the furtherance of any act of terrorism” (ER 2006, reg.6), with mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. In total he was sentenced to 20 years rigorous imprisonment.

“The protection of national security and public order is a legitimate aim, but the Government in this case relies on emergency and anti-terrorism laws that are vague and over-reaching, when international law requires that they be precise and strictly necessary,” emphasized Wilder Tayler, Acting Secretary-General of the ICJ. “Where the Government’s intent is to punish expression, as in the case of Mr. Tissainayagam, there
must be a direct and immediate connection between the expression and likely violence and the intent to cause such violence.”

Sri Lanka is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Restrictions on the right to freedom of expression on the ground of national security, as contained in Article 19 (3) ICCPR, must be:

* provided by law, with sufficient precision to enable citizens to comply with the law; • necessary to protect a legitimate national security interest;

* the least restrictive means possible to protect that interest; and,

* compatible with democratic principles.

The ICJ is deeply concerned that the case of Mr. Tissainayagam indicates that the integrity of Sri Lanka’s legal system is at risk of being undermined through an unwarranted reliance on emergency laws. Criminalizing written expression without evidence of resulting violence, equating terrorism with an intention to cause feelings of ill will, stripping accused persons of basic rights, admitting into evidence confessions while in police custody and shifting the burden to the accused to prove coercion, mandating harsh minimum sentences – all of these factors pose a threat to the rights of citizens to express controversial views, a pillar of a law-based democratic society.

“The independence and professionalism that has characterized the Sri Lankan judiciary for decades is being undermined by reliance on overbroad security laws that threaten fundamental rights,” stated Roger Normand, ICJ Asia-Pacific Director. “At the heart of this case is whether the Government of Sri Lanka will abide by the rule ‘of’ law or choose to rule ‘by’ law through unjust measures exemplified in the PTA and Emergency Regulations 2006.”

During the brutal decades-long war, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam practiced violent suppression of dissent. To effect genuine national reconciliation, the ICJ calls on the Government to reverse the attitudes of distrust between communities by relying on rule of law to uphold basic freedoms on an equal basis for all citizens, rather than using emergency laws to cast a wider anti-terrorism net.

September 15, 2009

CPA refutes allegations against its Director Packiyasothy Saravanamuttu

15th September 2009, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) refutes the extremely damaging and unfounded allegations published in The Sunday Island newspaper of 13th September 2009 against its Executive Director, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu.

An article titled Govt accuses US making war crimes case against Sri Lanka with the strap line “Jehan Perera rejects allegations against himself and Paikiasothy” written by Shamindra Ferdinando cites unnamed “ministerial and defence sources” and asserts that Dr. Jehan Perera and Dr. Saravanamuttu have been “party” to a move initiated by former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and currently Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Mr. Robert Blake to “make a case of war crimes against Sri Lanka on the basis of the conduct of her armed forces, police as well as the political leadership during the recently concluded war”. Stating that the visit of Dr. Perera and Dr. Saravanamuttu to Washington DC was arranged by the State Department, the article notes that they both engaged in “Sri Lanka bashing”. The article goes on to note that according to unnamed “defence sources”, “Messrs Perera and Saravanamuttu had spoken in support of the ongoing investigation ordered by the US Foreign Relations Committee”.

“In the first instance I am very surprised and disappointed that no one from your newspaper tried to contact me in relation to a story” said Dr. Saravanamuttu in response to this story. “To even suggest that I was acting on the instructions of Mr. Blake and that I am actively a part of a move by the U.S. government to make a case against the security forces, police and political leadership of Sri Lanka for war crimes, is a travesty of the truth and a gross and malicious distortion of my position in respect of human rights violations and the culture of impunity in our country. The failure of this journalist to go ahead with this article without contacting me is an egregious violation of responsible journalism and journalistic ethics” Dr. Saravanamuttu went on to note.

Dr. Saravanamuttu was, along with Dr. Perera, invited to Washington DC by the US Institute for Peace (USIP) to speak at a public event organized by USIP and the Institute for Strategic and International Studies. This event was attended by officials of the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington DC. Dr. Saravanamuttu and Dr. Perera also attended a workshop at the USIP. This workshop was also attended by Sinhala and Tamil members from the Sri Lankan expatriate community in the US.

Dr. Saravanamuttu has sent a letter to the Editor of the Sunday Island flagging these serious concerns and requested that it is carried in full and with the prominence accorded to the original article.

A PDF of this press release can be downloaded from here - http://www.cpalanka.org/page.php?id=0&pubid=602&key=9bdd5f06c37bdab66735ca41a9457925

###

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

UN human rights chief lists tackling discrimination and impunity among top priorities

Intolerable” number of displaced people continue to live in camps, adding that in the case of Sri Lanka “ internally displaced persons are effectively detained under conditions of internment.” - Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

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Ms. Navi Pillay

UNHCR Media Centre Release:

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Monday that discrimination remains a “scourge” that affects every country, and that combating it had become one of her office’s top priorities, along with tackling impunity for attacks on civilians during armed conflict and for a variety of other human rights violations.

Pillay, who has just completed her first year at the helm of the UN human rights office (OHCHR), laid down a road map of six main priority areas in a wide-ranging opening address* to the autumn session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. She named 47 different countries and territories from all across the world in connection with themes ranging from the effect of the recession on the world’s poorest people to the brutal suppression of criticism leading in some cases to the prolonged detention, persecution or murder of political opponents, human rights defenders and journalists.

The UN’s top human rights official said there were “huge gaps” between the “lofty pledges” made by states and the realities of daily life for many of their inhabitants, pointing out that “no country in the world can claim to be free of human rights violations.”

In particular, she noted, that no country is immune from discrimination, listing by way of example 17 European countries where violence or discrimination against Roma has been recorded, ranging from fatal attacks and police brutality to forced evictions and systemic discrimination that prevent Roma and similar groups from getting access to fundamental services such as housing, health care and ID cards.

In Latin America, she noted positive developments with regard to some states’ approach to indigenous peoples, but added that “land grabs, the suppression of traditional customs, outright violence and deadly attacks continue to take place.”

While condemning the violence committed during the recent disturbances in the Xinjiang and Tibetan Autonomous Regions, she urged the Chinese authorities to respect human rights in their efforts to uphold the law, and “to reflect on the underlying causes of such incidents, which include discrimination and the failure to protect minority rights.”

Pillay, who as President of the Rwanda Tribunal had helped pioneer groundbreaking jurisprudence on rape as genocide and also co-founded a women’s rights NGO, told the 47-member Human Rights Council that the human rights of women continue to be denied or curtailed in many countries around the world. While noting some improvements in the Gulf region, she stated that the overall situation of women there “falls well short of international standards.”

The treatment of migrants is, she said, “one of the most serious human rights problems in our world today” citing the numerous deaths at sea, and the increasing tendency of states, as well as passing ships, to treat imperiled boats of migrants as “dangerous waste” rather than as human beings in distress.

“States have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil a wide range of human rights of all individuals under their jurisdiction, including all migrants, regardless of their immigration status,” the High Commissioner said.

Pillay issued a strong call to governments to combat impunity for crimes committed during armed conflicts, and in particular those directed against civilians.

“I urge the international community, including this Council, to insist on full accountability for all violations and to ensure assistance to the victims,” she said. “I also urge all those States contributing to military operations, whether it be in their own country or in other countries, to enhance their efforts to prevent civilian casualties, which in Afghanistan and elsewhere remain at unacceptably high levels.”

She noted that an “intolerable” number of displaced people continue to live in camps, adding that in the case of Sri Lanka “ internally displaced persons are effectively detained under conditions of internment.”

Highlighting another area where concerted action is needed by states, Pillay referred to an “alarming global trend” of governments, or other powerful forces, persecuting or even killing peaceful opponents and critics.

“In too many countries, brave human rights advocates, journalists and dissidents face abduction, arbitrary detention, torture and even death to defend their rights and freedoms and those of the communities they serve or represent,” she said, citing “the unfair and arbitrary detention” of Aung Sang Suu Kyi and more than 2,000 other political prisoners, which, she said “makes a mockery of Myanmar’s commitment to democratic transition.”

By way of other examples, she cited the twenty-year prison sentence imposed on Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who had criticized the army’s treatment of Tamil civilians, and the detention and ill-treatment of a prominent human rights defender in Zimbabwe, as well as the recent murders of human rights defenders in Mexico and Russia. She also called on the Government of Iran to release those detained for peaceful protest in the wake of the recent elections, and to investigate reports of their ill-treatment.

“Combating impunity and strengthening accountability both in situations of peace and conflict will remain an important priority for OHCHR,” Pillay said.

“Accountability for violations that have been committed is critical to restoring public confidence and trust,” she stated, adding that the Human Rights Council “should be prepared to confront violations wherever and whenever they take place.”

(*) Statement of Ms. Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Council, 12th session (Geneva, 15 September 2009):

Related: Sri Lanka Denies UN Assertion Refugees Held in Internment Camps [Bloomberg News]

Keeping memories alive 20th anniversary of Rajani’s assassination

by Dayapala Thiranagama

One night in 1983, soon after midnight Rajani woke me up and whispered to me that she had been asked to treat an injured boy from the Iyakkam (movement). For her, this was an act of compassion by a doctor towards her patient. For me it was a political act. I was frozen. I turned back and slept. I was caught up in the agony of belonging to the oppressor and the woman I dearly and unconditionally loved trying to ‘liberate’ her own community by undertaking her bit in the struggle. This whisper and the brief political argument that followed opened cracks in our relationship which grew wider and wider.

TC0917RT.jpg

Dr. Rajani Thiranagama

Rajani had an enormous influence on those around her. She was a mother of two young children, Narmada aged 11 years and Sharika aged 9 years respectively, at the time of her death. She was 35 years old. Rajani had begun to demonstrate an extraordinary courage and vision in her political activism defending human rights and took an uncompromising position whenever these rights were violated. The armed confrontation between the Tamil Tigers and the IPKF was at its peak at the time and no dissent was tolerated. She had had links with the LTTE and had treated injured Tamil militants before at the inception of Tamil tiger militancy. Then they were only a small band of armed men. Times had changed. Her assassins had been waiting for her on her way home after work at the Medical Faculty and she was gunned down near her home in Kokuvil, Jaffna on 21st September 1989 about 4.00pm.They came behind and called her by name. Then she was still sitting on the bike, turned back and looked at them. Eyewitnesses say that she tried to cover her forehead with her bare hands seeing the gunmen pointing the pistol at her head. They demonstrated extraordinary cruelty against a woman who had only her bare hands to cover her head against the bullets. Even after she fell on the ground they shot the back of her head with two bullets to make sure that she would not be alive to criticise them again. They showed no mercy towards the woman who had showed them such compassion and had treated them when they were injured. Her young daughters hearing the gun shots wondered who the victim would be this time.

The purpose of this account is to make some personal reflections and analysis on the life shattering individual experiences suffered by us as a young family in the unprecedented political upheavals for decades simply because we did not wish to be just observers. It also attempts to trace the political journey of two individuals with an intimate relationship in relation to the wider political process that engulfed the country.

First meeting

I met Rajani in September 1976 when the student unrest was rapidly spreading within Sri Lankan universities and there was a renewed militant student activity among the university students. An innocent student, Weerasuriya at Peradeniya had been gunned down by the police and the student militancy grew stronger in the face of such atrocities against the student movement. These were extraordinary times. The political unrest in the country had already begun to change our lives and our lives in turn were set to change the political course of the country, even in a small way, to a point of no return. I had just come out of prison for the second time after spending long years in prison in 1976. Rajani, a young Tamil woman with Christian religious background and radical political thinking had just started to influence the medics at the Colombo Medical Faculty with her thirst for justice and democracy against a repressive state apparatus that had a hallmark of historical discrimination and violence against Tamils. I had just become a university academic by this time. When we met and forged our relationship it was clear that our lives would never be the same again, for us, as well as our children who were yet to be born. We got married on 28 August 1977 in Colombo, without a ceremony, in the midst of anti- Tamil riots in Colombo. On the day we got married we stayed in Rathmalana with a Sinhalese friend of mine and her father loaded his shot gun and kept awake all night in order to protect us as a number of Tamil families had been attacked on the previous night in the neighbourhood. Our marriage brought together two ethnically, socially, politically and culturally diverse individuals into a relationship based on human understanding and deep love which appeared unshakable at the time. Once she wrote to me saying that her love for me was as deep as the ocean. With all these differences, one of the most interesting issues was how far our loving relationship with all its complexities would serve to protect our marriage during a politically divisive time when the two communities were at war and in which the Tamil minority was at the receiving end. Both Sinhalese and Tamil popular cultures had been at war with each other and the Sinhalese considered their culture was superior.

Ethnic differences

Our ethnic differences would have appeared unbridgeable at the very beginning, as I was a product of the 1956 Sinhalese Buddhist social mobility that had been created by my parents’ generation of people who were part of the Panchamaha Balavegaya. (Sanga, weda, guru govi, and kamkaru) and in turn the 1956 and its perpetuation. Its ideology had shaped our thinking and political outlook as young people who had very little to do with the Tamil community and understanding of their issues. The political issues Rajani tried to grapple with as a young medic had in fact become intractable due to the ideological and political outlook perpetuated by the 1956 social mobility amongst the Sinhalese youth, which discriminated against the minorities in Sri Lanka. This was a big advantage for the JVP to build their pro- Sinhalese political project in the late 60’s, throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Rajani was able to understand this political trend when she studied and worked in the Sinhalese areas and in Colombo. The JVP’s pro Sinhalese project showed that the Tamil democratic struggle had to be fought by the Tamil themselves as it did not accept the Tamils had specific democratic and political grievances to be resolved. It was this kind of political rejection in the Sinhalese South that drew people like Rajani to support militant organizations in the Tamil community.

Social class

Socially, we belonged to two different social classes. Rajani had a middle class upbringing in Jaffna. I was brought up in a poor peasant family in the South and the only life chance opened to me was education. As a young boy I had walk to my school miles and miles with my bare feet. My childhood poverty and deprivation and how I had to overcome these as a young boy was very distressing to Rajani to the extent that I never wanted to explain the full extent of my past to her beyond a certain point. It was a lottery that I managed to succeed in my education. Rajani had no issue whatsoever about my social class vis-à-vis her middleclass background. She defended me strongly within her own middle class family members and outside whenever it came to their attention that I had not been living up to their middle class norms.

We were also politically different and in reality these political differences played a divisive role in our marriage. I had near religious belief in the Marxist-Leninist/Maoist political agenda and Rajani wanted to apply the revolutionary success stories in other countries to Sri Lanka as pragmatic examples of social justice. It was also due to this pragmatism that Rajani became closer to the Tamil Tigers in her own political journey. In the same way this core ideological belief of pragmatism benefited her to turn her energy and emotions into human rights campaigning later in her political life when she left the Tamil Tigers.

When I met Rajani I had only just left prison I still had scars of torture all over my body and while in prison I had never expected to live again let alone have a relationship. Rajani showed extraordinary courage to accept me as I was with all the differences between us, with my own social and political past which was such a contradiction to her own middle class life and aspirations. She had to battle it over with her family. Rajani had accepted that I would one day leave her and go in order to fulfil my political responsibilities. It was also accepted we would not meet again once I left the family. My generation had undergone a tremendous change in their mind set and all our personal needs and aspirations had to be suppressed for political justice and the emancipation of the poor. We also had a very deep sense of family ties and gratitude and the need to provide for our parents who underwent untold sufferings to bring us up. This sentiment and obligations we had suppressed in the belief that social justice followed by the armed revolution would resolve this for ever. Rajani had been coming to terms with a life with our children without my presence and her expressed determination to look after them on her own. This idea was no longer sustainable when the demands upon us required us to sacrifice our expectations and throw away our perceived traditional roles. This is what exactly Rajani did. We thought at the time that even if we were not there our children would be looked after by others, particularly our comrades.

1983 anti-Tamil riots

The 1983 anti- Tamil riots had an unprecedented influence on every Tamil’s conscience and their dignified existence became untenable: either you had to accept your unequal status and keep quiet or you had to fight for justice and democracy. For the Tamil community it seemed there was no way out.However, Rajani was still unclear about the political line to be taken in search of justice and democracy. My views were clear in this regard. I never wanted to join any political organisation which would not allow you to get out if you disagreed with them. Without that kind of internal democracy it becomes a very dangerous affair if they take up arms. Additionally, here was another issue which we did not pay adequate political attention to as youthful political minds: even nominal parliamentary democracies could withstand armed struggle and demonstrate flexibility in recreating political space defeating the resolve of armed combatants. In Sri Lanaka still the political space had not been closed. We were in a hurry and the political space for the democratic struggle had not been exhausted. The failure of the JVP armed struggle in 1971 and 1987-89 as well as Tamil Tigers’ recent military defeat has to be viewed in this context, despite its own organisational and structural weaknesses.

Rajani’s pragmatic mind and her compassion were drawn to the Tamil Tigers’ political project. Rajani left for England in 1983 on a commonwealth scholarship and by the beginning of 1984 Rajani had joined the Tamil Tigers in London. I visited Rajani in May 1984 in London. Following a very painful but comprehensive discussion it appeared that there was no space for the continuation of our marriage except our joint responsibility for our daughters. We decided to part and I went back to Colombo. Rajani had become a seemingly unwavering member of the Tamil Tigers’ military project. Once our relationship had appeared to be unshakable but there were no guarantees in a time of war that we could maintain it with such divergent political views. The deep human love that brought us together over our differences had vanished for forever ever. Rajani became very distressed but her political loyalty was placed above the loyalty that had existed in our relationship. We had decided to go our own ways as our political and personal differences were irreconcilable. Our differences had their own dynamics in a relationship that became dysfunctional.

After a couple of months of my return to Colombo, Rajani had resigned from the Tamil Tigers. She wrote a letter to me breaking the news and assured me that our relationship was still as strong as during our happiest times. Rajani acknowledged our separation in these words in all my trials and tribulations you stood by me in strong love but I was cruel to you…Rajani was always open and frank. For me still there was no guarantee that it could ever be the same again. On my part I had moved on. During this time the political suppression had become acute and I was keeping a low profile. Rajani would now be returning home to her beloved people and Jaffna, to resume her work in the University after completing her Phd.

Rajani arrived in Jaffna in 1986. She became the Head of the Anatomy Department. Rajani’s political transformation was becoming impressive. She was evolving as a human rights activist and her feminist outlook look brought a new political dimension to her politics and a pioneered a new kind of people’s political agenda in Jaffna. She became a tireless campaigner for freedom and democracy against the rule of the gun. She pioneered the formation of the University Teachers of Human Rights (UTHR J) with three other academics which drew anger and wrath from both IPKF and militant groups particularly the Tamil Tigers. Rajani and others recorded all the human rights violations from all sides in the conflict. She believed the human life was so precious that no human life should be eliminated for political reasons. She also supported and was actively involved in Purani, a refuge for destitute women. She became a remarkable mother, a tireless activist and respected academic in an environment that posed a great danger to every human being there at the time.

From time to time Rajani visited me with the children in Colombo in order to make sure that they did not miss their father. During this time she also began to write Broken Palmyra with some others in the UTHR this made her an obvious target of the Tamil tigers. When I read the manuscript I had no doubt what the outcome would be if it was published. I advised Rajani that she would have to lie low and that they would not spare her if she went ahead with its publication. She agreed but the UTHR (J) had to make the decision. By the time she was gunned down, it had not been even published. The Tamil Tigers knew that it was going to be published.

Rajani clearly understood the danger to her life if she continued campaigning but she did not wish to scale down her activities and stop what she felt she had to do. Such was her indomitable courage and determination during such difficult times in the history of Tamil militancy.

Rajani was buried in her family cemetery in Nallur on 25 September 1989. I walked with my two young daughters hand in hand, the most difficult, most painful and saddest of walks in my life. Along with her, the happy days of our family were buried and the family was never the same again without her presence. We have not been able to visit her grave for twenty long years. Each day her daughters passed without their mother, brought home to them their irreplaceable loss. They joined other children in Sri Lanka who lost their parents due to the war. The irony was that it was me, not Rajani who had expected to die in the struggle and she had accepted that her role would be to care for the children. But the total opposite happened. At the beginning of our relationship I never thought that I would end my political career for the responsibility of looking after my children. I thought that my involvement in Sri Lankan politics would result in my death. That did not happen. Instead Rajani gave her life for the human rights of the Tamil people and I had to be alive for the children. I looked after them until they were independent. But my tribute goes to Rajani. It was Rajani’s solid foundation she laid in their formative years that helped me to complete the task. This situation was not specific to my children or family. Such was the dramatic transformation of the political situation and its impact on individual members in the Tamil community within a short period of time of militant activity.

Before she was gunned down, in early September Rajani was in Colombo on her way back from England after a short trip and waited for me in Colombo before travelling back to Jaffna. But I could not make contact with her. She left Colombo in disappointment. Before leaving Rajani wrote a few lines on the back of the cover of the book she bought for me in London and left it for me. This was her last note to me.

To

Him, who lives out of the paradox of deep tenderness and love –with the strive of Bakunin’s characterization of ‘a revolutionary has no interest of his own, no cause of his own…no habits, no belongings he does not even have a name’ If in this era of cataclysm and overwhelming terror – when no victories are won or end seen - if it is only reverence that this woman can pay to him who carries fire in his heart and burning determination in his spirit let it be only that

Rajani 1989.

After Rajani wrote this, she went to Jaffna. Then I received a message on 22nd September which I never wanted to hear. Her death brought the demise of my political career. Rajani’s death also made our relationship brief but our memories have become life long with rich life experiences.

The commencement of Rajani’s political journey with the Tamil Tigers brings to the fore questions about why people join certain militant organizations where dissent will not be tolerated and where criticism might lead to death. I had discussed this issue with Rajani over and over again. The elimination of ‘traitors’ was a common practice in Sri Lanka in both JVP and Tamil militant organizations. Both the JVP and LTTE killed their political adversaries and these killings showed no mercy and some of them demonstrated unimaginable brutality.

Any responsible political organization must explain to the people why they had to resort to such brutal eliminations of their critics. The JVP has failed to do it so far and it’s unlikely that they would do it after so many years have passed since their gruesome murders were carried out. They have not ruled out that they would not do it again. They eliminated those Sinhalese who advocated granting the rights of the Tamil people under the 13th amendment during 1987-89. Both the JVP and Tamil Tigers should take this issue seriously as it is a demonstration of their democratic credentials. If they choose to eliminate their political dissent without dealing with them in a democratic manner now, there will never be room for democratic freedom in the future even if they were to succeed in installing their dictatorships over the masses of people. Rajani’s death and her political legacy shows that ordinary human beings, when faced with acute degradation of human freedom under the rule of the gun will never be silent and their political reaction will be more powerful than the gun. I salute Rajani for being one of such heroic women.Rajani was asked not to return to Jaffna in 1977 from England by the family and friends in the midst of a very destructive war during a time many professionals were leaving Jaffna, but she felt very strongly to get back to serve her community. Rajani refused to listen to the same advice just before her death on her return to Jaffna.

Rajani’s assassination had weakened the Tamil democratic movement. Those who are responsible for her death should accept their political mistake if the Tamil democracy is to become a mature, responsible and viable political force in the coming years. This is because her assassination was symbolic of the political indecency, dictatorial and anti-human nature of Tamil militancy that went off track, leaving a huge political vacuum in the Tamil community.

Even though Rajani was assassinated the political ideas she fought for will never be vanquished. The pro- people political ideas she developed and analysed in Broken Palmyra provides a very powerful critique of Tamil militancy which in the name of Tamil liberation was becoming a ruthless military apparatus and using people cynically to build a dictatorship.

The Tamil democratic struggle needs peoples structures in every sphere of life that would guarantee their rights and freedom and these structures should be strengthened against corrupt politicians and the rule of the gun.

To commemorate Rajani’s life and her contribution to human rights a commemoration meeting will be held on 25th September 2009 at 6.00pm at BMICH in Colombo by the Rajani Thiranagama Commemoration Committee.

'As the shells fell, we tried to save lives with no blood or medicine'

Damilvany Gnanakumar witnessed Sri Lanka's bloody conflict from a Tamil hospital - then spent months detained in a camp. She tells Guardian UK's Gethin Chamberlain her story:

Damilvany Gnanakumar

Damilvany Gnanakumar, the British woman caught in brutal civil war. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

Related Video: Guardian UK

The young mother was standing by the side of the road, clutching her baby. The baby was dead.

Damilvany Gnanakumar watched as she tried to make a decision. Around them, thousands of people were picking their way between bodies strewn across the road, desperate to escape the fighting all around them.

"The mother couldn't bring the dead body and she doesn't want to leave it as well. She was standing … holding the baby. She didn't know what to do … At the end, because of the shell bombing and people rushing – there were thousands and thousands of people, they were rushing in and pushing everyone – she just had to leave the baby at the side of the road, she had to leave the body there and come, she had no choice. And I was thinking in my mind 'What have the people done wrong? Why are they going through this, why is the international government not speaking up for them? I'm still asking."

Four months later and Gnanakumar is sitting on a cream leather sofa in the living room of the family home in Chingford, Essex, reliving the final days of Sri Lanka's brutal civil war.

For most of those four months, the 25-year-old British graduate was imprisoned behind razor wire inside the country's grim internment camps, home to nearly 300,000 people. She was released last week, partly as a result of pressure from this newspaper, and flew back into London on Sunday.

The last time she publicly spoke about the conflict was from the hospital where she was working inside the ever-shrinking war zone in Sri Lanka's north-east. Then, the national army had surrounded the small sliver of land where the remnants of the Tamil Tiger guerrillas held out and where hundreds of thousands of civilians had taken refuge. She had been in despair: a shell had just struck the hospital and dozens were dead. "At the moment, it is like hell," she said then.

Gnanakumar was one of a small group of medics treating the wounded and providing a running commentary to the outside world from behind the lines. For months she had managed to stay alive while around her thousands died. At night, she lived in bunkers dug in the sand. During the day, she helped in the makeshift hospitals, dodging the shells and the bullets, tending the wounded and the dying, as the doctors tried to operate with butchers' knives and watered-down anaesthetic.

Now her damning account provides a powerful rebuke to the claims of the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, that the defeat of the Tamil Tigers was achieved without the spilling of a drop of civilian blood.

Born in Jaffna in the Tamil-dominated north of Sri Lanka in 1984, Gnanakumar and her family moved to Britain in 1994. Until 28 February last year, she had not been back. She had just completed a biomedical degree at Greenwich University, but her short-lived marriage was on the rocks and she decided it was time to make a clean break. She left the house, telling no one where she was going.

Arriving in the capital, Colombo, she headed for Vanni, the Tamil heartland, to stay with a relative she calls her brother (her real brother is back in the UK, along with her two sisters). There seemed little sign of danger, but by June 2008 fighting was getting worse: the Tamil Tigers, or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), still thought they would be able to negotiate a ceasefire, as they had done in the past, but the government had other ideas. They were determined to destroy the LTTE once and for all. Gnanakumar decided to stay on to try to help those who were trapped by the advance.

Even before the arrival of the government's ground forces, there had been regular air raids by air force Kfir jets. But in early January artillery barrages began, forcing the population to move.

That was when the reality of the war hit Gnanakumar for the first time.

"It was raining and … you could see everywhere on the road the blood is running with the water and the bodies were left there because there was no-one to identify who was dead and who is alive, the bodies were just laid down on the floor and that's the first time I saw dead bodies and wounded people crying out, shouting."

Wherever they stopped, they built a bunker, digging down until they could stand up in the hole, cutting down palm branches and laying them across the top for a roof and packing sandbags on the top and around the sides.

As the frontline advanced, trapping as many as 300,000 people inside a shrinking enclave of LTTE-held land, Gnanakumar went to the makeshift government hospital, which had moved into a former primary school, and volunteered to help, dressing wounds and administering first aid.

Her laboratory training had not prepared her for anything like this, but she learned as she went along. As the fighting intensified, they were treating as many as 500 people every day in two rooms. "They had a shortage of medicine but they had to somehow save the people. The last two weeks or so there was a shortage of everything."

With replacement blood running out, she had to filter what she could from the patients through a cloth before feeding it back into their veins. When the anaesthetics ran short, they diluted them with distilled water. "I watched when there was a six-year-old boy," she said. "They had to take off the leg and also the arm, but they didn't have proper equipment, they just had a knife that the butchers use to cut the meat, and we have to use that to take off his leg and arm. He cried and cried."

As the army closed in, it got worse.

"People were running and running to get them safe away from the shell bombing, but they couldn't and it came to a point where we thought we are all going to die, there is no way we can be safe anymore here, but we just have to take it. I mean, you can't get out of the shell-bombing. I didn't think that I would be alive and I would be here now. I said OK, I'm going to die, that is the end of it.

"One day I was inside the [operating] theatre and the next room was bombed. We had a lot of the treated people left in the room for the doctors to go and monitor and they all died in that shell bomb. And they [the Sri Lankan forces] again bombed the hospital and one of the doctors died in that."

Inside the hospital, there was no respite. Gnanakumar cannot forget the day a mother was brought in, injured, clutching her baby.

"She had the baby on her lap, the baby is dead and the mother didn't know and the doctor said: 'Don't tell her, because if we tell her now she will start crying out and shouting and … we have to save the mother first.' So we said: 'OK, give the baby to us, we'll look after her you go and get the treatment from the doctor,' and only after she got the treatment we told the truth, that your baby is dead. I can easily say it, but at that moment I was in so much pain, the innocent baby, the mother didn't know the baby was dead, she thought 'my baby is sleeping'.

"There were so many incidents. Another time the mother was dead and the baby was still suckling."

The fighting was getting closer. They ate what they could find and slept, those who could, in the occasional lulls.

"You have to be ready to run, you can't relax and go to sleep, any minute you just have to be ready," she said.

Gnanakumar could not take any more. On 13 May the hospital had been hit, killing about 50 people. "The bunker right next to ours had a shell on top of it and there were six people in the same family died and three were wounded.

"I saw them … suddenly I start hearing people are crying out and I thought, it has to be somewhere really close … I came out of my tent and I saw blood everywhere and the people – I couldn't even imagine that place, there was blood and then the bodies were into pieces everywhere and my brother said: 'Just pack up and let's get away from this place.'"

In the last five days, she says, she believes about 20,000 people died. It is a very high estimate, though the UN has acknowledged the true death toll may never be known. Tamil groups such as the Global Tamil Forum say her account corroborates their own figures drawn from interviews with survivors.

Over the course of the three-decade war, it is estimated that up to 100,000 people died. But independent confirmation of the death toll in the final days has been impossible. The Sri Lankan government has barred independent journalists from the war zone to this day, and has expelled UN officials and aid workers.

Meanwhile, the survivors of the final assault have been spirited away inside sprawling camps in a militarised zone.

It was to those camps, at Menik Farm, that Gnanakumar was taken. Following that last bombing, she joined thousands fleeing towards the government lines. "We start moving and after walking about one hour or so we saw the Sri Lankan army. They were saying: 'Come, you are safe now, food will be provided for you.' There were bodies everywhere, like into pieces. We had to just walk." That was when she saw the mother agonising over what to do with her dead baby. No one had time to bury the bodies, she says. Some pushed them into bunkers and covered them with a little sand. That was the best they could do.

That night, they slept in a school, then they were taken by bus to the town of Vavuniya. She called her mother: "I said, Mum, just get me out of here, I just want to get out of this place. And the phone got cut off."

The Sri Lankan government has built a series of camps to house the estimated 300,000 people who poured out of the war zone. It claims that it needs to hold the civilians until it can weed out the former Tamil Tiger fighters; its critics, including many UN organisations and independent aid groups, question why, even if that is true, it needs to imprison children and the elderly behind barbed wire, and why it has not more quickly identified the rebels. Despite pledges to start sending the internees back to their homes "at the earliest possible opportunity", the UN says only 2,000 have so far been released.

There was no food the first day Gnanakumar arrived, and she had lost contact with the people she had been with. She slept in a tent with strangers.

Even after the privations of the war zone, conditions in the camp still came as a shock.

"Wherever you go there are big queues, whatever you want you have to queue. The toilets are terrible, I can't describe how disgusting. Flies everywhere, mosquitoes, unhygienic … People had all sorts of illnesses.

"People have lost their family members, they are separated from their families … and they are going through depression."

Accounts circulated of rapes and murders, of people disappearing. Some people committed suicide: a teacher was found hanging from a tree.

Military intelligence officers were roaming the camps, looking for former Tamil Tigers, she said. "It is an open prison, you are free to walk but you are inside a prison, you are not allowed to step out. You can't. There were guards everywhere and checkpoints."

A couple of days after she arrived, the British high commission made contact through the UNHCR. An appeal from her parents in the Guardian brought fresh hope and a flurry of activity: she was moved from the overcrowded zone two to zone one, the part of the camp the authorities show to visitors.

"I was there when the UN secretary Ban Ki-moon came in … He stayed there for about 10 minutes and just went. Why didn't he go into the camp and talk to the people and spend some time asking them what their problems were? I thought he has a responsibility and people were expecting something from him. They expected much from him and he just spent 10 minutes and that's it."

The officials told Gnanakumar she would be staying for a couple of days and would then be released. "And then the 48 hours turned into three days and then it turned into weeks and months and I thought OK, now I understand it is not going to happen." She was interrogated five times – what was she doing there? Why had she been in the hospitals?

The call to say she was going home came last week. She was taken to Colombo to meet the president's brother, Basil Rajapaksa.

"He said OK, you went through so much in the country and now you are released you can go and join your family and be happy. He wasn't sorry about it." She was then handed over to British officials.

She speaks in a matter-of-fact way, rarely betraying emotion. Her hair has been tied back tightly – she had beautiful hair before she left, she says, but lost most of it in the camps. She is not sure what she will do now, maybe something in the field of medicine.

"I'm happy and proud of myself that I was able to help the people. I still think it is unreal that I am in the UK … I never thought I would be alive and coming back, even in the camp.

"After looking at the people dying and dead bodies everywhere, it is like nothing threatens me any more, it is like I have had the hard time in my life and I think I am prepared to take up whatever happens in life now.

"I'm not that old Vany that sits down and cries for little things. I'm stronger now after going through and seeing all that problem. My mind is clear now." [courtesy: Guardian UK]

TIME Q & A: Stephen Rapp, Obama's Point Man on War Crimes remarks on Sri Lanka

by Sulakshana Gupta

As chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Stephen Rapp witnessed many firsts, including the first ever convictions for the recruitment of child soldiers and the first convictions for sexual slavery and forced marriages as crimes against humanity. Now he's joining the Obama Administration as ambassador-at-large for war-crimes issues and taking his pursuit of justice to the rest of the world.

SRTC0915.jpg

Stephen J. Rapp

Why does the U.S. need an ambassador-at-large for war-crimes issues?

This position was established during the second term of the Clinton Administration. [It] was particularly needed in the '90s, when we saw the beginning of international criminal tribunals for the first time since Nuremberg, with the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and then the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, both with the support of the U.S. This office focused on coordinating the cooperation that these tribunals needed to bring people to trial.

The U.S. is yet to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). How does your appointment further U.S. involvement with the ICC and international law?

The decision about the ICC treaty has to be made by the President of the U.S. In 2002, Congress passed the American Service Member's Protection Act that prohibited U.S. cooperation in the ICC in many areas. [There was a fear that U.S. soldiers could be targeted in politically motivated prosecutions.] But it also included a provision that U.S. authorities could cooperate to bring to trial individuals like [former Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic. I think you can expect that the current Administration won't go back on what the second Bush Administration did after 9/11 with regards to unsigning the ICC treaty.

So the U.S. does not want its own citizens to be held accountable for crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq?

In my point of view, if there were acts of torture, they violated American law because America ratified the U.N Convention Against Torture. If we were part of the ICC, we would be expected to investigate these issues, and if there were a strong case, you would expect prosecution. That's what the U.S. is doing anyway. We respect one of the guiding principles of the ICC that the international court has jurisdiction that is secondary to the national court. Whether we are part of the ICC or not, we will conduct ourselves so that no prosecutor at the international level would ever have cause to take up a case against an American citizen.

Sri Lanka: Welfare or War Crime - by: kuratna64

Which countries do you hope to focus on?

There are situations that have already been handed to us. There is a report from the Department of State on the war in Sri Lanka due in Congress [on Sept. 21]. Additionally, the office, together with the Secretary for Global Affairs and the Secretary of State, has the responsibility to collect information on ongoing atrocities, and it is then the responsibility of the President to determine what steps might be taken towards justice. Like the canary in the coal mine, we give the signal that something very serious is occurring.

Do the requirements of peace get in the way of justice?

I think we've learned that contrary to fears, holding people accountable for atrocities does not make the problem worse — it makes it better. When Milosevic was indicted for ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, people were convinced that they would never have peace and he would be worse than ever. Within a short time he was charged and jailed in his own country. In Sierra Leone there was a peace agreement that gave the rebels amnesty, but that was not genuine peace. When the government said they needed to try those that bore the greatest responsibility, that's what hastened the end of that conflict. Justice is a necessary ingredient to the establishment of peace. There's always an argument that justifies doing nothing, but you can't defer it forever.

What problems came up in the pursuit of international justice in Sierra Leone?

The concern all of us had was that we were conducting justice in a comfortable courtroom with long trials and well-paid attorneys. Prisoners had single cells, and they had committed the worst crimes. A mile away in the local prison there were simply no resources. Cases can't go forward, witnesses are lost, and people stay in detention for many years at a stretch. [If I was] to do it over, I would try to develop a court within the national system. That would be my preference. Maybe not a court that costs $30 million a year like the Special Court, but an appropriate court.

Does your remit restrict you to conflict zones, or can you focus on human-rights abuses in places like Burma and North Korea?

My job deals with atrocities, genocide and war crimes. Human rights and international humanitarian law are closely related, but my focus is on the latter. I'll be working not just with new developments and existing courts but also unhealed wounds created by past atrocities, in Cambodia for instance.

With [special envoy] Scott Gration in Sudan and now you, is there a trend toward diplomatic engagement with war criminals and the systems that shield them?

We want genocide to stop but also want the conflict to stop. Issues like contact with governments that have committed these crimes always come up. We should have no nonessential contact with indicted individuals. It is preferable to meet with people who are not accused, but sometimes you need to have that contact. There are different approaches that can be taken, but working that out is something I look forward to doing. [courtesy: The Time]

September 14, 2009

'Mahinda Rajapaksa offers Tamils a bargain based on amnesia, not justice'

Mahinda Rajapaksa offers Tamils a bargain based on amnesia, not justice: forget the past and your future will be assured. The offer carries the latent threat: reject it and face the consequences of being an enemy of the state,” writes Randeep Ramesh, in an OPED article for the Guardian UK on Mon Sep 14th.

The writer recently filed several other reports from Sri Lanka that appeared in the Guardian on the situation of Tamils.

Full text of the OPED article, as follows:

Tamils rail under Sri Lanka's heel: The Sri Lankan government's ruthless repression of the Tamil people is sowing the seeds of future rebellion

By Randeep Ramesh

When the Sri Lankan government routed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on the sandy beaches of the country's north east, few would have predicted that the government offensive would continue. Yet in the months that have followed there has been little magnanimity, let alone reconciliation. Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians are still being kept in camps surrounded by barbed wire. The victorious army is being expanded – a bizarre peace dividend in a country that had to be thrown an IMF lifeline earlier this year.

This is really zero-sum identity politics: the Sinhalese government's victory viewed as the Tamils' catastrophic defeat. Colombo's streets are littered with so many pictures of president Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers that the incipient personality cult would shame a Chinese communist. The triumphalism in Colombo means those who dare to question the government are deemed Tiger collaborators, terrorist sympathisers or Tamil secessionists.

These charges can discredit virtually any position in Sri Lanka. The result is a surreal and deadly political climate where even though the entire leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was wiped out in May, the government is on a war footing to kill off a comeback.

The government argues that it has to suspend liberty, in certain cases, in order to save it. War is a nasty, bloody business where laws are observed in the breach. But it is difficult to sustain that argument once the rebels have been vanquished.

It's also impossible to see how beating up journalists or imprisoning writers for 20 years or expelling diplomats or threatening political thinkers in times of peace can be seen as anything but state intimidation, designed to kill off the idea that the Tamil minority could argue for parity with the Sinhalese majority.

If opinions cannot be changed through democratic debate, there's a risk that the gun will return to Sri Lankan politics. There's little doubt that the Tamils are better off without the LTTE who created platoons of child soldiers, murdered political opponents and assassinated Sri Lankan and Indian leaders. But Tamil grievances, which sustained Tiger support despite their bloody record, are still not being addressed by the Colombo government. The gap between minority demands and Colombo's intransigence is laughably small.

Defusing Tamil anger and frustration will not mean partition in a land-for-peace deal, as is sometimes portrayed in Colombo. Rather it amounts to giving Tamils political and civil rights so that in areas where they are in the majority there is meaningful Tamil representation. It means Colombo handing over control of local finances, property laws and policing to local government. It means the Tamil language becoming part of official Sri Lankan life, the touchstone of minority ire. Yet even these measures are considered beyond the pale in Colombo.

Instead president Mahinda Rajapaksa offers Tamils a bargain based on amnesia, not justice: forget the past and your future will be assured. The offer carries the latent threat: reject it and face the consequences of being an enemy of the state.

The intolerance of dissent and menacing tone will result in the Tamils seeing themselves as a people under occupation. They will feel beholden to the generosity of a president over whom they have little influence, as his political base is drawn from a rural, chauvinistic Sinhalese population.

Rather than liberating the Tamils from terrorism, the government risks making them feel newly repressed. This will not lead to rapprochement, but will sow the seeds of future rebellion. [courtesy: The Guardian UK]

September 13, 2009

Thirukumar Kandasamy of NYC: The Magic of Immigrant Charm

by Venkat Srinivasan

The customer, dressed in whites, looks flustered as she stares at the menu on the "NY Dosa" cart at Manhattan's Washington Square Park. She asks the man behind the cart details about his dosa's ingredients.

"Rice and lentils, only," he explains. She isn't convinced and asks again.

"All vegan, just rice and lentils," he assures her. Hesitant but now a little more satisfied, she gets her dosa packed.

 

Credit Adi Narayan

"That lady," he points to her as she leaves. "She's Jewish-American, you know. I've seen her before. It's for Yom Kippur."

It was Rosh Hashanah actually, but that's not the point. Serving a long line of hungry customers at a busy square in downtown Manhattan, Thirukumar Kandasamy, it would seem, knows his constituency. Nobody knows him by that name though.

"I don't care how people refer to me," he says, laughing. "The news guys, they call me Thiru 'The Dosa Man' Kumar!" Then, a little Shakespearan touch.

"For some people, name's a big thing," he reflects. "I am always happy. Nothing's too big a problem."

Every morning, Thiru starts work at 5 a.m., preparing food for the day at a kitchen in Queens. He hitches his cart to his roomy 1986 black Chevy, drives across the Queensboro Bridge to Manhattan and sets up by 11 a.m. at Washington Square. "I completely rebuilt it myself," he says, pointing to his truck (Thiru used to race and rebuild motorcycles). The sign, "NY Vegan Dosas - Price Range Inexpensive", is painted on the Chevy's rear, along with subway directions to his location.

Facing New York University's quaint law school building, Thiru's cart is an icon in this leafy neighborhood. It is frequented by artists, hipsters, students, dogs and their owners, tourists walking off the beaten path, and shutterbugs taking photos of the park's giant squirrels. The cart is a crowd-puller in itself, embellished with a "Little Vegan Monsters" sticker, a label guaranteeing "No Transfat, No Dairy Products, No Animal Products," and at least 30 articles about him from around the world. A movie poster cutout of Kamal Hassan herding a cow is mounted on the side.

And then, there's Thiru and his food. Before he scoops up a cup of batter to make the crisp, thin 'rice and lentil crepes,' he leans over his pushcart to check the number of unsold bottles of water. Then, in a swift motion, he simultaneously pours the batter into a frying pan, spreads it evenly with the cup in his right hand, sprinkles olive oil from a bottle in his left hand, and shouts, "Doll-uh, doll-uh, cold wat-uh."

That's water for a dollar. In reality then, Thiru never really markets his dosas.

"Lots of water left," he tells his new assistant, Maguba. "You set it up?"

"Yea, I did," replies the young girl with soft eastern European accent.

"Then why didn't you push it on the side?" he asks, pointing out that she should have sold a bottle to everyone who bought food. "Gotta be fast, fast!"

 

Thiru doesn't really need to market his dosas anymore. After being a finalist for two years, he won the 2007 Vendy Award for Best Street Cart Vendor in New York City. He's been covered by Time Out New York and has appeared on Oprah Winfrey's website. A regular wrote a Rastafarian song about him titled 'Dosa Man.' Another designed an "NY DOSA" T-shirt, and Thiru markets those too, along with his water, for about $15 each. Tourists bearing stories about him from East Asian publications pose with him for photographs. Thiru, a 40-year-old first generation Sri Lankan-American, is a star in his own inimitable way.

He sports a thick moustache, a beige cap with an 'Om' stitched on it, and a wide smile. He wears a gold chain around his neck, a silver-tinged earring in one ear, and a weathered green apron over his black jeans. And he chats up everyone. "He takes time to chat with each customer," says V.V. Ganeshananthan, an author who recently had Thiru cater the book party for her new novel.

Thiru's dosa lunches cost $6 at the most (a lunch elsewhere in that part of Manhattan will probably cost around $10). By using olive oil and avoiding any milk products, he an lay claim to the healthiest dosas around. By selling them on a street corner in an area of Manhattan known to be favorable to experimentation, he also guarantees himself a market and distinguishes himself from every other Indian restaurant in the city.

Two other recent and unrelated events seem to favor Thiru and vendors like him. The economic recession hit everyone, either directly or psychologically. "The recession is making people cook more," said Ruth Reichl, the editor of Gourmet magazine, speaking in March this year to a group of students at Columbia University's journalism school. Reichl was also convinced that the American market was going to see a change in food trends. The magazine's March issue had a Korean food spread, and Reichl felt the success of movies like Slumdog Millionaire meant that Indian food would be one of the upcoming trends, to the extent that one believes in them.

The apparent hunger for all things South Asian and the economic recession's ripple effects that tempts people to realize again the value of cheaper food both come at the beginning of another New York summer. Locals flock to the parks, tourists flock to New York. The stars seem to be aligned for South Asian street food in New York.

In the gridlock of graduate students, bankers and entrepreneurs in downtown Manhattan, Thiru stands alone as a street entrepreneur, an immigrant who started with little and redefined success in the restaurant business.

Thiru arrived in New York City in 1995 via the green card lottery -- the U.S. offers 50,000 visas annually to individuals from underrepresented countries. "I applied on a whim," he says, in Tamil. "The future wasn't great in Sri Lanka for me."

He had many jobs in Sri Lanka, including being a diving instructor and working at a travel agency in Colombo. In New York City, Thiru worked a series of jobs, in construction, at a gas station, an iron factory, and then finally, a restaurant. After a lengthy wait for a city vendor license, he set up his dosa cart in 2001.

Krishnaraj Kaviraj Das, a yoga teacher, has visited Thiru's cart since he started seven years ago. "I just didn't find his taste and texture replicated elsewhere," he says. Thiru makes Das a special large dosa and lets him decide how much he should pay for his food. He cuts special deals with other old friends like Kostain, an artist. "I help him set up the stall," says Kostain, "and in return, he gives me food for free."

It hasn't been an easy business for Thiru either. While carts have lower overheads than restaurants, city approval can take three to five years. Thiru estimates that operating his 25 square-feet cart costs as much as $24,000 per year, including licenses, taxes and running expenses. While he does not disclose how much he makes annually, his food remains relatively inexpensive and he is the only earning member in his family. "I have no margins," he says. "I have only once increased my dosa price by $1 over the last seven years."

The city laws are stricter for street vendors than restaurants. "A restaurant that puts up its sign on the sidewalk may be fined a maximum of $100," says Sean Basinski, founder of the Street Vendor Project, organizer for the Vendy Awards. "But a vendor who obstructs a path may be fined $1,000."

But the unfavorable vendor laws don't tempt Thiru to operate a dosa restaurant instead. "Nothing unique about a dosa restaurant," he retorts. "Vegan dosa cart, I'm the only one in the U.S."

It is a pride that manifests itself when he talks about his daughter, who started freshman year at Columbia University this month. "Hard work pays off," he says, adding that he intends to write a book in 2010 on his story.

It is nearing the end of another busy weekday afternoon. "We have only masala dosa and plain dosa left," he tells an approaching customer.

"Masala dosa," she replies.

"Sure thing. I'm going to add the roti inside the dosa too, O.K.?" He mashes the potato-filled roti appetizer and spreads it within a plain dosa. An unsold appetizer and an unwanted dosa morph into something that leaves both of them happy.

"End of day special," he tells her. "For $4. For you, anytime, miss." It would have usually cost $6.

How does he gauge how much to cook, day after day?

"According to the weather, man. Today's a rainy day, Saturday, no events around here. I bring only one tray of samosas."

The next how brings up a smile on his face. "I've been doing this for seven years," he says.

At 4 p.m., Thiru has his own first bite for the day. "Talk to me, girl. This is New York," he tells Maguba. He laughs out loud. His food is sold out.

He gets up to clean the cart, and wipes off his running nose, sniffling intermittently in the drizzle. "I didn't wear jacket while cooking," he says. "Got wet in the rain." His black ski pants keep him dry waist down.

"Ready , ready, quick," he says to Maguba, pointing at the cart's metal surface. "Yesterday I did everything, you weren't there. You got to wash it today. You didn't clean underneath."

"I am cleaning, I am cleaning," Maguba says, with some annoyance.

"Did you clean the door?"

"Where, outside?"

"No, inside. Gimme, gimme. I'll clean outside."

"Seri, seri," says Maguba, in Tamil. O.K., O.K.

Thiru and Maguba put all the empty containers on the truck. He drives the truck up to the curb, attaches his cart to the hitch on the rear bumper, and gets in, ready to drive, while Maguba covers the boxes with a tarp and jumps onto the passenger seat. Loud Tamil hip-hop blares from the open windows. Thiru looks at his gas tank.

"Tomorrow got to do gas," he says. He smiles as he pulls away onto the road once more, to get groceries for the next day. "Today's O.K. Fast, fast, faaaast!" [courtesy: The Huffington Post]

Mahinda regime is neither proletarian nor socialist

by Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne

Some people believe that the Mahinda regime, is an anti American, anti West, nationalist regime. One cannot blame them too much when, the old Left including Vasudeva is busy white washing this regime. The old Left too, insist that the Mahinda regime is progressive and better than the UNP regime. Of course, they find it difficult to explain the political and social policies of the regime. In our presence, in husky voice, with rosy cheeks they claim that they are there for tactical reasons. They deny that they have betrayed any Marxist principles.

On the other hand, their presence is a powerful instrument available for the regime. Government propagandists have made use of this fact to win the hearts of many left oriented regimes in the third world. Recently we saw that even Hugo Chaves has fallen into the propaganda pit of the Mahinda regime. We were shown a picture of Colonel Gaddafi keeping his hand on the shoulder of president Mahinda. But Gaddafi has changed a lot from the time when he was seen as an arch enemy of the American imperialism. Today, the world has changed so much that we are unable to say where the other hand of Gaddafi was. In fact, he could have been whispering to Mahinda not to shout too much against the West, while squeezing the belly of Mahinda with the other hand.

Indirectly helped

This is a global development. In the 50s and the 60s in the so- called third world, we witnessed the rise of nationalist populist leaders with strong anti American rhetoric. They were all dependent on soviet Russia and the Red China regime. However, in spite of their claims for socialism, all of them were products of the economic boom in the western world. at that stage, Western powers were interested in certain democratization in the developing world in order to facilitate capital investment. Hence, they indirectly helped populist leaders in their radical steps, as long as these did not push towards a special alliance with the Eastern powers. In fact, only one of these radical movements really, went out of control; that is Cuba. All the other populist leaders made radical changes to remove maligned sections of the neo-colonial establishments. The Mc Namara policy of the World Bank showed the real nature of the global capitalist policy.

By now the world has changed. The populist movements started by leaders such as Nehru, Sukarno, Bhutto, Nasser, Ben Bela, Peron and Bandaranaike have ceased to be anti American or anti capitalist. In India, the modern Gandhis are hand in glove with the Western powers. In fact, they work as the regional leaders of global capitalism. Man Mohan Singh is not an agent of Obama but really a guru. Similar changes have taken place everywhere.

Capitalist agenda

The collapse of the Stalinist states, only accelerated the degeneration of third world national populism. However, unfortunately the vocabulary and the rhetoric still survive, creating illusions in the minds of the people. In Lanka, the rise of Mahinda to power is some times depicted as a second coming of the MEP of maha Bandaranaike.

The picture is made easy by the participation of all left parties, except of course the Nava Sama Samaja party, in the coalition. But, the Mahinda regime today, is completely dependent on American and Indian handouts. It is indebted to these powers in all aspects. Hence, it is an anti proletarian, Sinhala chauvinist regime following the global capitalist agenda. To claim this as an anti American leadership is as bad as claiming that the Obama leadership as been anti American.

In fact in the US there are people who seriously believe that Obama is a secret communist agent sent to destroy the free society led by the rich whites. They accuse him of taking over control of banking and industry. Also, they condemn his attempt to revise the healthcare policy. Both are according to them, neo communist policies! In a world of such lunacy it is not surprising to see intelligent people defining the Mahinda regime as a progressive nationalist regime.

The collective conscience of the silent majority

By Kishali Pinto Jayawardene

Scrutinizing the Tissainayagam judgment this week indicates two primary points that define current parameters in regard to freedom of expression in general and freedom of the press in particular in Sri Lanka.

First, the government used the standard of the 'ordinary or reasonable man' to contend that the writings in issue constituted an incitement to communal hatred among communities or racial and religious groups, as prohibited by Section 2 (1) (h) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, No 48 of 1979 (as amended) read with Sections 113(1) and 102 of the Penal Code. This argument was accepted by court citing cases on defamation decided by the English courts in 1940 and 1971 applicable primarily to the context of individual reputation being affected. The impugned writings in the little known North Eastern Monthly alleged in July 2006 that the government was not offering adequate protection to the Tamils in the North with the state security forces being the main perpetrator of killings and in November 2006, that the population of Vaharai is being depopulated and starved by the government refusing them food as well as medicines and fuel.

The 'ordinary man' standard

The truth of the second allegation in particular was disproved by the evidence of an officer of the Human Rights Commission, called as a witness for the defence who later turned hostile. The credibility of this allegation is, of course, highly contested. Regardless, the applicability of standards measuring defamation to an offence as vaguely defined as incitement to communal hatred between communities or racial and religious groups, (which rule incidentally would find many of the government's own propagandists guilty in several respects), will undoubtedly be pressed in appeal. The application of this general standard to the readership of a little known magazine read not by the general citizenry but by a selective category is an allied question. Though a Buddhist priest, lawyers and a politician were called as witnesses for the defence to testify that the writings could not be construed as incitement to communal hatred, these opinions were dismissed on the basis that the individuals in question subscribed to a particular opinion in regard to the war and did not reflect the 'ordinary man' standard. The contrary (and apparently single) opinion of the defence's hostile witness was accepted.

Conviction upon a confession

Secondly, the conviction of the accused under Emergency Regulations on the third charge of obtaining money from an LTTE source to run this little known magazine, rested primarily on a confession. This was alleged by Tissainayagam to have been coerced. The trial judge also used the fact that two payments of Rs 50,000 each had been deposited by anonymous persons into the relevant bank account in March and April 2007 to mean 'invariably' that the depositers were not readers or subscribers but rather terrorist sources.

This conviction on the third charge also raises some relevant points of discussion. As has been long critiqued in similar cases, the accused has the burden to prove the fact of coercion under the PTA and relevant emergency regulations, virtually an impossible task. In this case, it was alleged that the purported confession was, in any event, tampered with which allegation was not accepted by the trial judge. Interestingly, the case law cited in this respect includes the late Justice Mark Fernando's individual opinion in Nagamani Theivendran v. the Attorney General (SC Appeal No 65/2000, SCM 16.10.2002 separate judicial opinions by Justices Ismail, Fernando and Wigneswaran) in which the undoubtedly conservative view was taken (as contrasted to Justice Fernando's general thinking in regard to the protection of individual liberties), that a conviction upon an uncorroborated confession under the PTA or any other law was lawful and proper.

The 'manufacturing' of confessions

Though only Justice Fernando's opinion is cited by the trial judge in the Tissainayagam judgment, Theivendran's Case however exhibited a sharp division of judicial opinion on this point between Justice Fernando and Justice CV Wigneswaran who wrote a separate 26 page opinion contending strongly that 'the general civilised law of the country frowns upon the admission as evidence, of confessions to police officers' given the fact that (as remarked previously) the dangers of 'confessions being 'manufactured' in police stations through physical or mental intimidation. It was also observed that such admittance by a 'politically motivated law, (ie the PTA), was contrary to Sri Lanka's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Apart from the division of judicial opinion on this point, both judges agreed with Justice Ismail that, the reliability of a confession must be most rigorously tested against the evidence and surrounding circumstances. In that particular case, the confession was held as not being 'sufficient and trustworthy' to convict the accused. The Court of Appeal, which had affirmed the High Court's conviction based solely on a confession, relying on its earlier precedent in the Singarasa Case, was held to be in error. While the question as to whether this test was satisfied in the Tissainayagam Case remains to be decided on appeal, this most recent High Court judgment highlights anew the importance of a definitive judicial ruling settling the applicable law on this point.

Calling for reconciliation

This judgment should be subjected to more detailed scrutiny which is not possible in this column due to space constraints. However, from a wider perspective, this pattern of the use of anti terrorism law as an instrument of media repression needs to stop now. We saw similar patterns in regard to the use of criminal defamation provisions which was halted only with the repeal of those provisions. Surely we have learnt from those mistakes? A radical change needs to take place in our thinking in regard to the need for reconciliation after conflict. The collective conscience of the silent majority in this country compels this.

courtesy: The Sunday Times

Traces of civilisation that existed 300 yrs before Vijaya’s arrival found in A’pura

by Cyril Basanayake, Anuradhapura corr, The Island.lk

tccity914.jpg

The research pit

Excavations at Atulu Nuvara (Inner City) of Anuradhapura have yielded evidence of an ancient civilization that had been engaged in the domestication of horses and cattle and wetland rice cultivation about 300 years before the arrival of Prince Vijaya.

Former Director General and present Advisor to the Department of Archaeology Dr. Siran Deraniyagala, under whose supervision excavations are being conducted, said the findings had been dated with the help of absolute dating techniques including Carbon-14 or radiocarbon dating system overseas.

Evidence of the ancient civilization had surfaced from a pit 22 feet below the ground level near the old Temple of Tooth Relic, old Vijayaba Palace and the Gedige Premises at Salgahawatte area in the Atulu Nuvara. The one-hundred-meter-long and 75-foot-wide pit had also produced evidence of the use of iron, earthen and ceramic ware, Dr Deraniygala told The Island.

Over 45 Carbon 14 tests had been conducted on the items unearthed from the pit, he said.

Dr. Deraniyagala said among the items found were potsherds bearing Brahmi inscriptions, teeth of horses, pebbles and fragments of gold jewellry. There was also evidence of brick walls, underground drains, wattle and daub structures and a Muragala (Guard Stone).

Dr. Deraniyagala said his research pit, which has layers producing a vertical outline of several different cultures, would not be filled but kept as it is as an exhibit after the conclusion of the on-going research project.

The research team comprises local experts and a group of research students of Prof. Kay Kohlmeyer from the Berlin University. Excavations Officer A. A. Wijeratne, Regional Excavations and Museums officer Gamini Navaratne, Archaeological Assistant Thusita Agalawatte were engaged in the excavations conducted under the supervision of Dr. Deraniyagala.

Dr. Deraniyagala said with the help of newfound evidence it could be concluded that there had been an advanced culture which was on par with any foreign culture in the region in 500 BC, 300 years before the arrival of Prince Vijaya, mentioned in Sri Lankachronicles.

The University of Berlin had assisted in the excavation as well as conservation of the artifacts found from the site, Dr Deraniyagala said.

courtesy: The Island

TNA for political solution within undivided Sri Lanka – Sampanthan

by Lynn Ockersz

'We will continue to work towards a political solution to the National Question within the framework of an undivided and united Sri Lanka. The TNA’s aim continues to be substantial political autonomy for the Tamil and Muslim peoples in the areas they historically inhabit in this country. It is our assessment that the Tamil-speaking people are strongly behind these aims. We want to engage in political activities which would emphasize this position’, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leader and veteran Tamil politician R. Sampanthan said.

Questioned by this journalist in an interview on Sept. 11, whether the Tamil people are continuing to be committed to the ‘federal option’ in these post-LTTE times, the TNA chief said that ‘there is no question about it’. He explained that ‘our people want to live in this country as equals with adequate self-rule’ and ‘ do not want to be treated as second class citizens; they do not want to be treated as subjects’.

The TNA leader also said that his party’s Sept. 7 meeting with President Rajapaksa was focused on the situation of the IDPs. ‘Insofar as the activities of the government in relation to the IDPs are concerned, we are prepared to work with the government to alleviate the conditions of the IDPs and to facilitate their early resettlement’, he explained. However, the TNA would not be compromising its principles in the process of doing so, he said.

Excerpts of interview:

Q: It was reported that the TNA had recently met with the President for the purpose of working with the government. Does this have a factual basis?

A: The TNA met the President and some others in government on Sept. 7, in order to discuss the situation of the Internally Displaced Persons. In the camps in Vavuniya there are said to be some 280,000 people. There are reports that these people are undergoing a great deal of deprivation and suffering with the setting in of the monsoon. I have always stressed that these IDPs must be resettled in the lands from which they were displaced, at the very earliest. The government had made a commitment to India, the EU and the international community, that they would substantially complete resettlement of at least 80% of the IDPs within 180 days. At the meeting we pointed out to the President that already more than 90 days had elapsed since this commitment was made and that in our assessment not more than 10% of IDPs had left the camps. We said that this situation caused concern; because with the monsoon things would only become more difficult and we expressed concern whether the government’s resettlement programme could proceed in terms of the government’s commitment. A very substantial settlement is expected to be completed before the expiration of 180 days.

We also had other issues to raise in relation to the IDPs, such as landmines and screening, and so the meeting was really focused on the well being of the IDPs. Insofar as the activities of the government in relation to the IDPs are concerned, we are certainly prepared to work with the government to alleviate the conditions of the IDPs and to facilitate early resettlement. We told the President that we were unhappy with the mechanisms now in place to implement these tasks and we are not aware that there is a very clear road map or programme in regard to the settlement of the IDPs.

We said that that we substantially represent our people. Of the six Members of Parliament from Vavuniya, five are from my party. Of the nine MPs from Jaffna, eight are from my party. These MPs are prevented from visiting the camps and meeting the IDPs. These MPs have no say in the resettlement of IDPs. The Task Force set up to resettle IDPs consists of Mr. Basil Rajapaksa, Presidential Advisor, military and government officials from the national and district level and public officials from outside. We said that we are not satisfied with this mechanism and that it should be reconstituted and that we should play a greater role in it. The representatives of these people in Parliament, that is, should play a bigger role in their resettlement.

The President listened to us very carefully and said that he would get back to us in regard to these matters after he consulted with the Security Council.

We also said that friends and relations of these IDPs who are prepared to accommodate them in their homes must be allowed to do so, in order to reduce the numbers in the camps. The government also seems to be thinking on these lines, particularly in view of the difficulties caused by the monsoon, and they said they would insert advertisements with some information in the Jaffna newspapers, to enable friends and relations of these IDPs to take steps to have them released and accommodate them in their homes until they are resettled in the lands from which they were displaced.

Another issue which was raised by us was the position of those persons who were detained by government troops from about January 2009 when civilians started coming from the conflict zone to government-controlled territory. These persons were taken into detention en route in Omanthai at the camps itself but there is no definite information available with regard to these persons. Who was being detained? Where were they being detained? When were they taken in? We said these were matters of grave concern to the relatives of these detainees and we insisted that the government should release a list of the names of these persons who have been detained to enable the families of these persons to know the real situation of those who have been detained.

We also gave the government a list of those areas, which according to our information, did not require demining or could do with minimal demining. We said that with regard to these areas, government could proceed with resettlement earlier than for other areas. We said that demining should be gone ahead with in terms of a programme which would facilitate early resettlement.

We also raised the issue of screening IDPs. We told the government that these persons are not armed and that they are in your custody. As long they are in your custody there is nothing they can do, we said. With regard to releasing them, it is easier for the authorities to decide who are not LTTErs so that they can determine who the LTTErs are. There is no need to be keeping everybody there until your screening process is complete. We said screening and demining could not be an excuse for the resettlement process to be delayed.

These persons have been bearing the brunt of this war from 2006. The government has been claiming that it has been fighting the LTTE. But today there is no LTTE. Still these people are suffering. This is cruelty. They cannot be expected to suffer any longer.

We told the government that this is a matter that should be dealt with, with the utmost seriousness. The government has to keep its commitment. We are not at all satisfied with the progress made thus far.

Q: How did the President respond to your views?

A: He said ‘we will settle it, we will settle it’. He said he would not have settled everyone by 150 days, but by the 169th day a lot would have been done.

Q: What’s the TNA’s future programme?

A: We told the President that three of our members have been killed. The government must ensure our security in the North-East. We said we want to engage in political activities in these areas. We should be enabled to freely engage in political activity, particularly with regard to the upcoming elections. That is our right.

Government should disarm all paramilitary forces who are still around and ensure complete law and order. We pointed out that there is no need for the government to depend on them any longer.

Q: What will be the principal issues on which you would be grounding your politics?

A: We would be primarily working towards a political solution within the framework of an undivided, united country. The Tamil speaking people should be granted political autonomy to carry on their affairs in their areas of historical habitation. In our assessment, our people are very strongly behind these objectives. We want to engage in political activity which would make this position clear to everyone.

Q: Do you believe the Tamil people are still behind the federal option?

A: There is no question about it. Our people want to live in this country as equals with adequate self rule in areas they have historically inhabited. They don’t want to be treated as second class citizens. They want to live with dignity and self-respect. [courtesy: The Island.lk]

September 12, 2009

Al Jazeera video: Media war in Sri Lanka

The civil war has ended in Sri Lanka but the media war continues, Al Jazeera's "Listening Post" segment looks at recent events:

In May, the Sri Lankan army defeated the seperatist Tamil Tigers in a military push that left 20,000 civilians dead in the last month of fighting alone.

The Listening Post has previously reported on how the Sri Lankan government prevented most of the media from entering the war zone.

UN human rights groups and journalists are working to uncover the truth about the last bloody days of the battle.

A disturbing video has surfaced that appears to show cold-blooded executions. The video has provoked an immediate response from the Sri Lankan government and a fight over the veracity of the footage is being waged all the way from the capital, Colombo, to London. [Al Jazeera]

Power sharing & postwar paths for Sri Lanka

by Dayan Jayatilleka

(An extended version of remarks delivered ex tempore at the launch of Power-Sharing in Sri Lanka: Constitutional and Political Documents, 1926-2008, edited by Rohan Edrisinha, Mario Gomez, VT Thamilmaran and Asanga Welikala, published by the Centre for Policy Alternatives)

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) volume on power sharing is an indispensable work not only for the researcher but also for thinking Sri Lankans and non-Lankans thinking about Sri Lanka. Choose whichever metaphor: it maps the landmarks along one of three axial routes of the Lankan crisis; it catches the contours of one of the three pillars between which Lankan political development takes place and the crisis continues. I refer to three thematic problems or issue clusters, namely that of the North-South axis, the ethno-national question, of power sharing between centre and periphery or the constituent communities of the island; the rich-poor axis, the socioeconomic question, that between the haves and have-nots, the elites and the mass; and the country-world axis, that of the island and its relationships with the world. The first and third issues are to do with various dimensions of identity, internal and external.

It is my settled conviction that none of these three problems can be successfully addressed without addressing the other two. An attempt to resolve the ethno-national without sensitivity to mass deprivation and nationalist or patriotic sentiment only makes that attempt vulnerable to a populist or plebian backlash. This is also why I am of the view that neither the elitist neoliberal cosmopolitanism that informs the editors/publishers of this work nor the neoconservative populism that is currently the dominant ideology, will be able to resolve the problem of reconciling Sri Lanka’s collective identities. That will require a centrist, social democratic or progressive liberal perspective rather like that of India’s Congress party or the US Democrats.

This volume has a magnificent collection of essential texts which mark the attempt at a solution from 1926 onwards. They are the footprints of a journey. The introductions attempt to track the search for a settlement. The volume itself is somewhat flawed and uneven, which do not and must not take away from the value of the volume and worth of the editorial-institutional exercise. The volumes flaws, its omissions and absences, are symptomatic of the crisis of cosmopolitan neo-liberalism and the failure of the negotiations option of conflict resolution.

The general introduction of almost ten pages has but two references to the LTTE, the longer of which is all of a single sentence! The sectional introductions vary in quality, ranging from some excellent ones which cover the early segments, the colonial and post-colonial periods. The introductions decline in objectivity as the volume moves on in time, becoming increasingly subjective, tendentious, and even rather dodgy in the period covering the 1990s to date.

The crux of the issue which the texts in the volume address was most pithily stated by young SWRD Bandaranaike in 1926, when he warns prophetically of impending crisis, pointing out that a centralized form of state presupposes a homogenous society while no society anywhere in the world as “communally” heterogeneous as that of Ceylon has, to his knowledge, successfully sustained a centralized state form. In sum, the young Bandaranaike pointed out the dysfunctional asymmetry between the “base” or “substructure”, the underlying social formation of the island with its poly-ethnic mosaic, and a centralized political “superstructure”.

This contradiction remains unresolved eight decades after its embryonic articulation by him, but it does not remain unaltered. Inasmuch as the recently concluded Thirty Years War arose out of this contradiction and insofar as that war ended in the decisive victory of one side, the state, and defeat and destruction of the other, the underlying contradiction itself cannot but be drastically altered by the new politico-military balance of forces in which the strategic military hegemony of the state is in all probability, unassailable. However, the decisive, and to my mind, wholly welcome, military defeat of the LTTE can alter the contradiction but cannot abolish it. Sri Lankan society seems divided between those who assert that the underlying problem remains despite the outcome of the war and those who claim that the problem itself has been resolved or effaced. Too few seem to transcend these dual dogmatisms to comprehend that there is a complex mix of continuity and change, the ratio of which is difficult to determine: the problem remains, but has changed; the problem has changed, but remains.

The Communist party texts of the mid 1940s (a line that extended at least until 1952, though the volume fails to note it) demonstrate a sharpness of perspective that confirms my long held belief in the theoretical and intellectual superiority at the time, of the Communist movement over the older and larger LSSP or Samasamajist tradition. It bears discussion as to whether the comparatively more multiethnic composition of the top leadership of the CP in relation to the LSSP, contributed to the dominance of the latter in Sinhala society and the former in Jaffna.

The segment dealing with the 1980s has several interesting omissions. The broadest domestic consensus in favor of provincial-level devolution in Sri Lankan politics, a detailed set of documents issuing as a small volume from the Political Parties Conference (PPC) of mid 1986, convened by President Jayewardene at the written suggestion of Vijaya Kumaratunga, leader of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP) and signed off on by the UNP, SLMP, LSSP and CPSL, is absent from the collection. Nowhere is the possibility discussed that, especially given the verified success of the North Western Provincial Council under Chief Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, the 13th amendment and the North East Provincial Council failed not so much because of insufficiency of devolved powers but because of a full scale war by the LTTE and Chief Minister Vardarajaperumal’s adventurist attempt to outflank the latter on the Tamil nationalist front by leveraging (and entrenching) the presence of the IPKF.

In the section dealing with the 1990s there is a text representing a “civil society initiative” from a Movement for Constitutional Reform, which bears no signatures. However the volume omits the far more significant civil society initiative of 1984, that of the United Nations University (UNU) South Asia Perspectives Project and the Lanka Guardian Publishing Co, which produced a platform for devolution bearing the signatures of all Sri Lanka’s intellectual heavyweights of that time.

The selection from the 1990s makes a passing reference to but omits any documents of the All Parties Conference convened by President Premadasa, of which the Mangala Moonesinghe Parliamentary Subcommittee was an outgrowth. The post 2000 selections strangely fails to include the most significant critique of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), that of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), presented in Parliament in September 2002 if memory serves, and authored by Lakshman Kadirgamar. It is a critique which bears no references to antiquity or claims of the intrinsic cultural and civilizational superiority of the Sinhalese; it was based on law and international law in particular, and central to the critique was that of Lines of Control and implications for sovereignty. This text is dropped and instead the critique of the CFA that finds representation in the volume is the more extreme one of Wimal Weerawansa and Co. as referred to by the Supreme Court in its judgment on the PTOMS (2005).

Matters become mildly hilarious when the introductions get to the mid 1990s and beyond. The 1995 and ‘97 “union of regions” packages of the Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga administration are applauded, and we are informed that for a ‘variety of reasons’ (which remain unspecified) the conflict ‘resumed’ and the brave reformist enterprise designed by her progressive advisors was reprehensibly abandoned. What we are not informed of is the truth: the conflict ‘resumed’ because the LTTE resumed it by blowing up two Navy boats in Trincomalee harbor in April 1995, just as it ‘resumed’ in 1990 when the Tigers re-launched the war despite the 14 months of face to face talks that President Premadasa held with them, and it had ‘resumed’ in 1987 when, after the Indo-Lanka accord of July, and while the Sri Lankan state and the pluralist Left fought a civil war against the anti-devolution JVP, the Tigers went to war against the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) in October. The conflict ‘resumed’ – hopefully for the final time -- in 2006, when the LTTE, dominant in an internecine war against the Karuna rebellion, used the opportunity as casus belli to lash out against the Sri Lankan armed forces and State, which it had grossly underestimated, as it had Mahinda Rajapakse, Southern public opinion and the determination of the Sinhalese.

Most telling is the gushy definition of the CFA-ISGA-PTOMS paradigm and period (2005-6) as “Near Agreement”. This is especially ironic at the current moment when humanity commemorates the 70th anniversary of the commencement of World War 2, and there is a global consensus that the abandonment of the Spanish republic, the appeasement of the Nazis by the western democracies at Munich and the (reactive) pact between the USSR and the Nazis, were the colossal failures of morality and nerve, opening the way for Nazi aggression and the War. The CFA-ISGA-PTOMS phase was our Munich, which was roundly rejected by the incoming political leadership, its apt choice of military leadership and above all the overwhelming bulk of public opinion located primarily in the South (as tracked by every opinion poll). Thus the section of the volume breathlessly billed as “Near Agreement” is more happily understood as “Nearing Nandikadal”.

Most surrealistic is the yawning discrepancy between the volume’s editor-publishers’ perception of the CFA and that of the LTTE itself as expressed in the Tigers’ statement of 2007 (contained in the volume), on the 5th anniversary of the CFA:

“ …Unprecedented in peace efforts in the island, the CFA was formulated with the full support of the international community…It recognized Tamil Eelam’s de facto existence, with its unique characteristics: a distinct population; a government comprising a defense force, a police force, a judiciary, a civil administration and other institutions for effective governance of a people, and capability of entering into agreements with other governments with a line of control reflecting the ground reality of the existence of the Tamil homeland demarcated with recognized borders”. (p766)

This sense of the CFA was the one thing that the Sinhala people and the Tigers agreed upon, and still do! It’s the reason why any opposition leadership tainted by association with the CFA will be unable to restore the basic competiveness of the main democratic Opposition party in the electoral marketplace and reverse the ongoing meltdown of its mass base. Without a UNP leadership that re-locates to the centre and re-identifies itself with mainstream mass opinion, without a UNP that re-brands and re-launches under leadership that is not suffused in the radioactive dust of the CFA-ISGA-PTOMS, there will be no viable alternative government. Without one, there will be no checks and balances on the Government, nor course corrections by its leadership.

Those who, like me, are dismayed by the grip of fundamentalist, fanatical and neoconservative ideologies and pressure groups would do well to track their upward trajectory. The large number of seats for the JVP was not conceded by Mahinda Rajapakse but by Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and her negotiators such as Mangala Samaraweera, who felt they had to accommodate a political force that had grown exponentially during the phase of and in reaction to Ranil Wickremesinghe’s CFA. Overall, the JVP and JHU grew rapidly in reaction to the decade of politically hyper-inflationary, Utopian proposals, beginning with the 1995 union of regions package and culminating with the PTOMS which conceded predominance (5:3) to the LTTE, the armed terrorist militia, over the legitimate Government of Sri Lanka in its crucial regional or middle tier.

One cannot help but wonder why President Kumaratunga did not commence in 1994-5 with the already existing 13th amendment (perhaps upgrading it by building back the residual matters left over from the Indo-Lanka Accord), or the Mangala Moonesinghe proposals which bore her mother’s signature, rather than attempt an overly ambitious opening venture such as the union of regions. A possible explanation is that she fell for her ideologues’ account of a handsome peace mandate, forgetting the glaringly obvious: she contested against a UNP that had been decapitated by serial LTTE assassinations, not to mention an opponent who was a novice to politics and not even a party member. Another explanation is that she had a vested interest in a brand new constitution because only that would have enabled her to transcend the two term limit.

My basic point is that the lamentable influence of the Sinhala hard-line pressure groups is a backlash against the at best vacillating (CBK) and at worst supine ( RW) nature of the more pluralist cosmopolitan SLFP and UNP leaderships, which failed to rise to the challenge posed by current history and defeat the Tigers.

Thus one of the fundamental aspects of the Sri Lankan crisis today is a Government that is alienated from the minorities and an Opposition that is alienated from the majority. A majoritarian approach cannot sustain, while a minoritarian approach cannot succeed.

The most serious issue I have with the editors/publishers of the volume is their assumption that it is inherently contradictory to wage a war and push for devolution. These same intellectuals do not perceive the contradiction between an elected government inevitably having to respond to a terrorist militia that has launched a massive surprise attack on the state and simultaneously waging a unilateral mass campaign for peace (Sama Thavalama, the Peace Caravan), thus undermining its own recruitment drive. That absurdity apart, the notion that waging a necessary war against terrorism and the implementation of reforms are inherently contradictory, posits a dangerously dogmatic dichotomy shared by the neoliberal pacifists and the neoconservative populists. Realists (Russia’s Putin) know that a successful strategy against separatist terrorism organically links devolution—power sharing with the local community or local allies-- with a military campaign, whether devolution precedes, parallels or follows military victory.

In his remarks, one of the editors of the admirably useful compilation, Asanga Welikala, said that the two alternatives available in Sri Lanka seem to be those of “accommodation” or “assimilation”. For my part, I demur, and argue that there are not two but three alternatives out there. The first is accommodation on the basis of power sharing, or what I call the Chechen model (to the accompaniment of much shuddering among liberals). This involves a full on military offensive to destroy separatist terrorism, followed by a modest but very real local autonomy and rule of the liberated or re-taken area through partnership with the local leaders (or what a cynic might call local proxies). The second model is that of equal assimilation, assimilation which can be successful only on the basis of equality of citizenship and non-discrimination, in which the Sri Lankan Constitution changes in such a manner that no community, be it ethnic, linguistic or religious has a Constitutionally entrenched privilege. (Any doubters about the non-secularity of the Sri Lankan state should dip into the famous Robert D. Kaplan’s essay on Sri Lanka in The AtlanticMonthly).The third model is of Occupation; of unequal assimilation at the centre and internal colonialism at the periphery. I am not saying that the State is attempting this. What I am saying is that these are the ideological options out there in society. I for one do not consider the third option to be diplomatically viable or strategically sustainable.

We don’t have to have so-called independent inquiries into any Tom, Dick and Harry allegation-Rajiva Wijesinha

By Krishnan Guru-Murthy

The spokesman for Sri Lanka's ministry of disaster management responds to claims that his country was involved in human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings

[Ch 4 UK interview with Prof Rajiva Wijesinha]

KGM: You’ve been urged by the international community to investigate human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings. Have you started yet?

RW: Yes. Sri Lanka has had commissions of inquiry when evidence is presented before us. I think the problem with this particular video is, it’s a gross generalisation.

When Philip Alston wrote to us, I wrote back to him immediately. We were slightly worried about the fact that Mr Alston, contrary to his promise to us previously, actually sent us a letter at 2.45 in the afternoon and followed this up with a public press release that contradicted what he…

KGM: But he wants an independent inquiry…

RW: I’m sorry. Can I finish? What he said in the letter to us is, could we have an investigation by Sri Lanka?

Now, when you send a letter at 2.45 and follow it up 45 minutes later on a Friday afternoon with a claim for an independent inquiry, that makes a mockery of the letter you’ve sent us.

Now, we have the feeling that Professor Alston – he’s done this before, he’s quite a nice man but gets carried away by idealism… You know, the last time we thought he’d attack us he spent a long time against Nato.

I think there’s a certain political element in this. I’ve actually wondered why he hasn’t pointed out there was some extra-judicial killings in Sri Lanka which were very bad, but these have not been asked inquiry into.

KGM: But have you actually held the independent inquiry? Has it begun? And in what form is it independent?

RW: I’m sorry, but we don’t have to have so-called independent inquiries into any Tom, Dick and Harry allegation. We pointed out to him that we had an extra-judicial killing a couple of weeks ago. We are sorry he wasn’t concerned about that. But that’s because it was not grist to the mill of LTTE…

KGM: This isn’t a Tom, Dick or Harry allegation. This is an allegation that the United States ambassador to the UN says gives her grave concern.

RW: What we wrote to Philip Alston was to say…

KGM: Let me finish the question.

RW: I’m sorry. I’m answering your question. Your question was about the video. We wrote to Philip Alston to say, very gently: “Do you have any evidence of such an incident taking place? Or are you telling us that a video was shown by Channel 4? In that case, could you tell us perhaps where this incident took place or when it took place? Or ask Channel 4, if they wish to conceal whoever told them, to at least give some information so we can proceed.”

KGM: So you’re not going to go looking for evidence of extra-judicial killings until somebody comes to you and says: “This is when we believe the incident happened. This is who we believe was involved”? You’re not going to go and interview armed forces personnel to find out?

RW: How can we go into generalisations? We’ve gone into this video itself which, as you say, you haven’t actually given to us, but we’ve gone into what we could see of it.

We have found certain discrepancies. There were some technical ones which I believe your correspondent, if he was there at the press conference…

KGM: We’ve just listed those.

RW: Yeah. But no, you haven’t mentioned the technical difficulties. What you’ve mentioned is certain discrepancies. You didn’t show that wonderfully moving leg. You didn’t show the way in which the man who was shot in the back of the head went down very smoothly, like that.

So these are areas in which we would now like you to at least tell us who these Journalists for Democracy are.

When I spoke to you a bit earlier, I’m glad that I gave you all the points I was going to make – which was a bit more than you did to our high commissioner, because when you invited him to speak, they asked to see the video before and you refused to show it to him.

KGM: Well, that does bring us to another question, really… Let me get another question in for a second, because you say when we approached your high commission on the day of this, just before broadcast, they gave us an extensive denial. And that has been your position throughout. They gave us that denial without having actually seen the video themselves…

RW: They asked to see it and you refused.

KGM: And you stuck to that position all the way through.

RW: I’m sorry. They asked to see it. You refused to show it to them. You said your policy was not to show these things… I’m sorry, this is what you said.

But you’ve showed it to a so-called independent human rights expert – you haven’t told us who he is – who said it was authentic.

At some point you’ve got to realise that you’ve got to be at least consistent.

KGM: Fine. OK. The point is, you’ve got to convince the United States and the United Nations and governments like Norway, who described this as more than solid evidence to accuse the Sri Lankan government.

Now, have any of them, since you came out with your rebuttal this week, come to you and said: “OK. We’re convinced. We drop our concerns”?

RW: Well, we’ve written to Alston and he hasn’t replied to my last letter. The Norway… Mr Solheim is not the Norwegian government. We have had discussions with the Norwegian ambassador in Sri Lanka.

KGM: None of them have accepted your version of events, have they?

RW: Well, they have not actually mentioned a version of events. Solheim said very clearly the video does not seem to be authentic. He didn’t say it was obviously false.

But he, like you, hides behind this wonderful suggestion: “We’re not responsible for this. We don’t know if it’s authentic – but have a look.”

And I think that sort of approach, that I think you’ve been taking up, is really an attempt to put doubt in people’s minds, whereas your responsibility was (a) to check that video carefully, as our experts have done.

We’ve now shown you what we think is wrong. Prove that we weren’t wrong. Show us that that leg did not move. You can change the video again.

And also, most importantly, you talk about the Journalists for Democracy and say because they’re Sinhalese, it must be authentic.

Let me tell you that this is not a matter of race. People can be wicked, whatever race they are. Most of the Tamils in Sri Lanka are relieved the LTTE is over.

But this particular group have had a lot of ties with the opposition in Sri Lanka. We know that. I told your people this morning. Investigate, please.

KGM: OK. You’ve had a chance to make that clear. Professor Wijesinha, thank you very much indeed for joining us today. [courtesy: ch 4 UK]

September 11, 2009

Ensure Freedom of Choice and Provide for Peaceful Reconciliation

Media Release by National Peace Council of Sri Lanka

The decision of the Government to release displaced civilians in the welfare camps in the North to relatives willing to house them is a very welcome move. This positive pronouncement follows discussions that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had with leaders of the Tamil National Alliance. There has recently been a heightened concern regarding the conditions in the camp and the inadequate resources available to prepare for the monsoon rains which are imminent. There have been calls for the immediate release of at least one third of the detained population in order to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. The government has taken a commendable step in responding to these concerns, signalling a concern for its Tamil people and taking positive measures towards their future wellbeing.

As a precondition to release, those wishing to leave the camps will go through a rigorous process of screening and identification. The National Peace Council calls upon the government to conduct this procedure quickly and transparently, so as to prevent the additional duress that a protracted process may cause. There are also reports of government plans specifically directed towards elderly persons in the camps who are highly vulnerable to the physical difficulties of life in the camps. The construction of homes for the aged in five regions throughout the North and East is also a positive contribution to their welfare. Through these measures, it is estimated that about one thousand of the elderly civilians who are currently being detained will be able to move out of the camps, and, it is hoped, on to normalized lives ahead.

However, it is imperative that civilians who qualify for housing, but would prefer to remain in the camps with their loved ones should not be forced to leave. We urge the government to ensure that freedom of choice is maintained. The burden of conflict has devastated large areas of the North, leaving many with access to food, schooling and other resources only within the confines of the camps. Those who wish to extend their time in the camps must thus be allowed to stay.

In addition, the process of de-mining and rebuilding areas in the conflict zone must be expedited in order to ensure a quick, safe and sustainable return to all the people. This will ensure that all decisions taken by the currently displaced and detained population will be based on a free choice with a range of improved options. In the meantime we call upon the government to continue with its efforts to improve conditions in the camps and to provide a clear, transparent and accessible timetable of when all the displaced persons will be released.

NPC also urges the government to strengthen the political dialogue with the TNA and those who have obtained a democratic mandate from the Tamil people of the North and East. We urge the Government to use this opportunity to rebuild trust and good relations between itself and the Tamil people, give priority to the needs of the people, and allow them to resume a meaningful existence as soon as it possibly can. Allowing these dispirited civilians the freedom to decide their own future will assure the Tamil population of the government’s respect and concern, and will provide for a peaceful reconciliation in the years ahead.

No change in dire camp conditions - CAFOD

As monsoon floods loom, CAFOD (Catholic Fund for Overseas Development) has called on Sri Lanka’s government “to end the forced confinement” of hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians. “Nothing has changed over the last three months for the people that are living in the camps. They are overcrowded with poor sanitary conditions and inadequate health care,” CAFOD’s head of international programmes said this week.

Another CAFOD official who visited one of the barbed-wire ringed militarised camps told the BBC this week that “a potential crisis could brew there if the rains come through and those camps are still as congested as they are [now].”

Despite pledges to the international community to resettle most of the displaced Tamils by end of the year, CAFOD says little has been done while freedom of movement for the people in the camps remains restricted, as is access to the camps by the international community.

“At the moment this process [of return] is painfully slow. The Sri Lanka government must make good its commitment by making a start and allowing the most vulnerable groups to return home,” CAFOD said in a statement.

Meanwhile, CAFOD official Geoff O'Donoghue visited the camps with two British bishops, the BBC reported.

The full text of the CAFOD statement follows:

We are calling on the government of Sri Lanka to end the forced confinement of hundreds of thousands of survivors of the country’s long and bloody conflict and allow them to go home

Since the war ended, more than 280,000 Tamil survivors are still living in overcrowded and unhealthy conditions in camps in the north of the island.

Freedom of movement for people forced to leave their homes remains restricted, as is access to the camps by the international community.

Pauline Taylor McKeown, CAFOD's head of international programmes, says: “Like many of these situations, the dilemma is that the issue has faded from the headlines but the problem has not gone away.

“There are no bombs going off around them anymore but the hardships they face are a long way from being over. The majority of these people are civilians and it is difficult to see what security threat they could pose.

Overcrowded

“Nothing has changed over the last three months for the people that are living in the camps. They are overcrowded with poor sanitary conditions and inadequate health care.

“There are concerns about what may happen when the monsoon rains arrive in the next couple of months.

“They need to know what is going to happen to them next and part of this is knowing when and where they will live. It’s vital their homes are made safe so they can return as quickly as possible

“The people have basic food and supplies but many remain traumatised and due to restricted movement are still separated from their families causing even more distress.

“There are thousands of orphans, elderly people, and those with disabilities who are helpless and need to be moved urgently.

“They need to know what is going to happen to them next and part of this is knowing when and where they will live. It’s vital their homes are made safe so they can return as quickly as possible.

“At the moment this process is painfully slow. The Sri Lanka government must make good its commitment by making a start and allowing the most vulnerable groups to return home.”

We are working through our partner Caritas Sri Lanka, who have had staff killed during the conflict. They have been able to get into to the camps shortly after they were set up at the end of the conflict.

Caritas Sri Lanka is distributing food and other essential items to over 70,000 people. They also provide a limb-fitting service to those injured during the conflict, as well as trauma counselling and schooling for children.”

Freedom needed

They are hopeful because they are living without shelling and conflict. We must do everything we can to keep this hope alive

Fr Damian Fernando, director of Caritas Sri Lanka, says: “These people have suffered massive hardship and have much more to face. It is freedom that they need. They must be able to find their families and be resettled as soon as possible so they can lead dignified lives.

“People must be allowed to go home and the international community must be there to help them rebuild their lives so they can start to earn a living and have the freedom to live on their own without aid.

“It’s important to say that despite what has happened to them and the suffering they still face the people in the camps have not given up their fight for life.

“They are hopeful because they are living without shelling and conflict. We must do everything we can to keep this hope alive.”

On August 15th an unprecedented number of Sinhalese pilgrims in their tens of thousands were free to travel and attend the famous feast at the Our Lady of Madhu Shrine.

Due to the conflict, this area has been inaccessible to people from the south for many years.

Both the new Archbishop of Colombo and the Bishop of Jaffna called for lasting peace and spoke against the continued detention of the internally displaced people, recognising that they did not have the freedom to come and worship.

Jaffna Bishop Thomas Sauvdranayagam, himself a Tamil, said: “We look forward to the day when our brothers and sisters living in camps will settle down in their home towns to begin a new and better life.”

Karu Jayasuriya Appeals on behalf of UNP to European Union to Reconsider position on GSP ,Tariff Concession

Sri Lankas chief opposition United National Party has appealed to the European Union requesting the EU to reconsider its position on GSP and tariff concessions for Sri Lanka. The full text of the appeal issued by UNP deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya is reproduced below:

We are greatly disturbed by reports indicating that Sri Lanka’s deteriorating human rights record may lead to the country losing its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus concessions granted by the European Union, following the release of the preliminary investigations report on the country.

As opposition members of parliament, although we share the concerns regarding the rapid erosion of democracy and the blatant violation of the fundamental rights of citizens, we also firmly believe that collective punishment would not be in the interests of those of us and our friends in the world who wish to see a better day for our beloved country and all its people.

The GSP Plus tariff concession scheme granted by the European Union has been a lifeline to the Apparel and Garment Industry in Sri Lanka, which directly employs over 270,000 persons and nearly a million persons indirectly. It is the largest export commodity from Sri Lanka and the GSP + has ensured that Europe is now the number one export market for Sri Lankan apparel. Exports to Europe now represents 52% of the apparel market contributing 3.4 Billion dollars and 9% of GDP. These concessions have enabled Sri Lankan enterprises to compete with other nations which have the advantage of cheaper infrastructure and labour costs. Withdrawal of this concession would most definitely be a death blow to the Apparel industry with devastating repercussions for the whole economy that would no doubt affect many, especially in the rural sector. Several other products such as Fisheries, Gems and Jewellery, and rubber products will also suffer.

Although we realize the EU investigations have its due procedures and reporting methods, we appeal to all member states to understand that the withdrawal of the concession scheme would only hurt the people of Sri Lanka and that the regime would be largely unaffected. Hundreds of thousands of workers and their dependents would most likely lose their livelihood if Sri Lanka is to lose this trade concession.

The silencing of the free media in Sri Lanka which was carried out by a systematic campaign of intimidation that included the brutal killing of journalists has ensured that the Government holds sway over most of the conduits of information to the people. In the event of the GSP Plus scheme being discontinued, there is little doubt that the authorities would swing the focus of our predicament and sell it to the innocent citizens as a grand conspiracy.

The United National Party shares the concerns of the civilized world over the deteriorating state of freedom and democracy in Sri Lanka. As the country’s main opposition, we have continuously called on the government to take necessary measures to release the quarter million Tamil civilians currently being held behind the barb-wired fences of internment camps as soon as possible. The UNP has implored the powers to stop the intimidation of the free media which has seen editors brutally killed in broad daylight, others assaulted, and publishing houses shut down.

The battle to restore democracy and freedom in Sri Lanka is a cause we are duty bound to espouse and fight for. We implore the European Union to consider the repercussions of withdrawing the GSP + concession to Sri Lanka since it would be the poorest of our people who would suffer the most by such an action. Collective punishment of a whole community would not serve the cause of freeing Sri Lanka from the threat to democracy. We respectfully request therefore that the EU reconsiders its position and refrains from withdrawing this important trade concession granted to Sri Lanka.

Karu Jayasuriya
Deputy Leader United Naitonal Party

Counting the human cost of Sri Lanka’s conflict

by Amnesty International

The Government of Sri Lanka announced a plan on 23 May to resettle most civilians displaced by conflict by the end of the year. The government’s target of 80% was later revised downward to 60%.

The 180-day process was to include both people newly displaced by fighting in the north, as well as people who had been displaced for extended periods of time.

Some Sri Lankan families have been displaced for years or decades and the process of resettling them has been ongoing. Minister of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services Rishad Bathiudeen told Sri Lanka’s Parliament in August that the Government had re-settled more 59,000 war-displaced families in recent months, mainly victims of earlier displacements in the east.

According to UN relief statistics, as of 28 August, 266,567 people displaced by conflict in the north after 1 April 2009 remained in camps and hospitals. This is down from about 280,000 in June. Almost 250,000 of them were in Vavuniya district.

The Government’s plan to return people to their places of origin has four phases, with families from eastern Sri Lanka and Jaffna returned first, followed by Vavuniya, Mannar and finally from the former LTTE strongholds of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. The Office of the President is responsible for coordinating this plan.

By the end of August, 6,490 people were reported to have been released from camps to stay with host families or in elders’ homes by the end of August. The majority of these people were elderly or disabled. 5,123 people were returned to Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara districts between 5 August and 28 August.

On 26 August, some 800 Hindu and Catholic priests were released from camps for displaced people in Vavuniya. On 20 August, 130 people displaced in 2006 were moved from sites in Batticaloa District to Trincomalee District, but they were unable to return home because their land is within a military-designated High Security Zone. They have been accommodated in a school and another public building.

Displaced face uncertain future as government begins to unlock the camps

Only a fraction of nearly 300,000 people who were displaced by recent fighting in the north east of Sri Lanka have been allowed to leave government camps since the war ended in May. More than a quarter of a million people remain detained and under military guard in crowded, unsanitary conditions that are still far below international standards.

The government finally agreed on Tuesday to allow displaced people wishing to leave the camps to stay with relatives who were willing to accommodate them, but families of the displaced told Amnesty International they had not been consulted by the government about the process for leaving and were sceptical of the government’s screening process.

Monsoon rains due in October threaten to swamp tents and flood latrines. Pre-monsoon rains have already flooded some camps and forced people to relocate within the camps. However, the government of Sri Lanka, citing varying security concerns, has continued to prevent people from leaving.

"If the government follows through on its promise, it could considerably reduce overcrowding," said Yolanda Foster of Amnesty International. "The next hurdle these people face is the bureaucracy associated with the government’s ‘screening’ process, which is intended to weed out members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam it says are still hiding within the civilian camp population."

One family member of the displaced held at Manik Farm reacted with caution to the announcement. "The government has made many promises... we cannot be certain that our relatives will be offered a chance to leave, they will probably get caught up in unnecessary red tape and delays."

Nobody but the authorities really knows how the screening works or what criteria they use to determine if someone is a security threat – all that is known is that it takes time. By the end of August, the government said that it had registered about half of the newly displaced people. This means that there must be about 130,000 to go.

The government has also said that it has detained about 10,000 people suspected of ties to the Tamil Tigers – the real numbers could be higher. These detainees are held without charge or trial, in what are described by the government as "rehabilitation camps". Their whereabouts and conditions of detention in many cases are unknown.

The International Red Cross (ICRC) said Friday that it is being denied access to these detainees. Incommunicado detention has been shown to greatly increase the risk of torture and extrajudicial killing. There is a long history of both in Sri Lanka.

Cabinet Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in early September that the government would re-settle displaced people in the North as soon as the de-mining process was completed and infrastructure and basic services were restored. However, true reconstruction and resettlement of areas devastated by war could take many months.

Playing with Words
"'Resettlement', 'return' and 'release' are terms that are often used interchangeably to discuss the fate of Sri Lanka’s displaced people," according to Yolanda Foster. "Resettlement and ‘return’ imply durable solutions to the problem of displacement. 'Release' simply means people are free to go."

"As an immediate matter, the government should allow freedom of movement for all the displaced, even if durable solutions such as resettlement take longer. All Sri Lankan citizens have a right to liberty and freedom of movement, regardless of where they reside.

"In the case of displaced people, this means both choosing long-term accommodations and more temporary arrangements, such as staying with family members or friends. If they choose to remain in the camps for want of a better alternative, displaced people should also be at liberty to come and go."

Durable solutions to Sri Lanka’s massive displacement problem will not happen overnight. De-mining, where necessary, is time consuming, costly and difficult; rebuilding infrastructure takes time. When displaced civilians are freed from camps and allowed to return to their home areas, they may well have to live in temporary accommodations for a long time while they rebuild their lives.

Judging from earlier efforts to find durable solutions for displaced civilians in Sri Lanka – including people displaced by natural disasters outside the conflict zone – it could be years before many of them are effectively "settled."

Controversy continues over discrepancies in the official count of people in the camps. A report from the Vavuniya District Secretary (the highest ranking local official in the area) to local police stated that as many as 10,000 displaced people who fled the conflict zone through May 2009 were unaccounted for.

This discrepancy may be due to several factors: bad record keeping; some detainees escaping the camps by bribing officials; and, of most concern, the unknown fate of thousands of displaced people, many of them suspected of being LTTE cadres, in the custody of Sri Lankan authorities. Enforced disappearances have been reported by families in the camps.

The government’s ban on most international protection activities remains in place. Humanitarian workers are not allowed to talk to camp inmates or to enter tents in the camps.

"Without independent monitoring of the human rights situation in the camps and unimpeded human rights protection activities by humanitarian agencies, it is difficult verify these reports," said Yolanda Foster.

"A transparent, independently monitored screening and registration process would provide a more accurate count of the number of people detained in the camps, would help facilitate family reunification and releases, and could help identify the whereabouts of people who may have been have arrested."

"Pottu Amman" and the Intelligence Division of the LTTE

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Shanmuganathan Sivashankar alias Pottu Ammaan a.k.a. Pottu, the intelligence division chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was judicially confirmed dead last week when Colombo High Court Judge Kumudini Wickremasinghe allowed an amendment to the indictment filed in the trial regarding the murder of former Foreign affairs minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

Submitting a report to court ,Deputy Solicitor-General Kapila Waidyaratne asked for an amendment seeking to exclude the names of LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran and his intelligence chief as chief accused in the indictment.It was stated that both had been killed in May this year in the Karaithuraipatru AGA division of Mullaitheevu district.

Prabhakaran was killed on the banks of the Nandhikkadal lagoon on May 19th while Sivashankar alias "Pottu Amman" was killed on May 18th while trying to cross the Nandhikkadal lagoon by boat with a group of tiger cadres.

[Click here to read the article in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

September 10, 2009

Govt. violates constitution by detaining Wanni I.D.P's charges Ranil

By Gihan de Chickera and Kelum Bandara

The government is acting outside the law and violating the Constitution by holding more than 250,000 displaced people at camps in the Wanni District, opposition UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe charged yesterday.

Mr. Wickremesinghe who spoke during the emergency debate said no law in the country allowed the government to detain people in camps without detention orders.

TGTC0910.jpg

File photo shows a Sri Lankan Tamil girl at a makeshift hospital inside a camp complex in the north-AFP pic

“The regulations under the Public Security Ordinance made no provision for such detention,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said. “It is clear that Wanni citizens are not being held in government camps under any law. This is illegal. We have a government that is acting outside the law and violating the Constitution. We do not accept the argument the government is acting in the interest of displaced people.”

He said that under regulation 19 of the Public Security Ordinance the Defence Secretary must issue a detention order against a person suspected of being a threat to national security.

“Therefore if the government is going to hold 250,000 people under Regulation 19, there will have to be 250,000 separate detention orders. But no such detention orders in respect of these 250,000 people have been issued,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said.

He said the government had three months to identify LTTE members among the displaced people and 9,000 suspects had been identified and emphasized that those not suspected of any involvement with the LTTE must be free to leave the camps.

“All displaced people must be free to leave if they have alternate accommodation and there is no detention order against them under Regulations 19 which provides the right to resettle in their own villages,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said.

He said the government had refused permission for opposition MPs to visit the refugee camps, and urged parliament to rectify the situation and called for the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee to oversea the resettlement of the displaced people.

Meanwhile, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said in Parliament yesterday that the government was finding it hard to cope with the almost 300,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) because they had estimated that there were only 70,000 civilians in the Wanni when fighting broke out between the military and LTTE.

“The government stuck to their position that only 70,000 persons were in the Wanni, but more than 300,000 came out, proving the government figure to be inaccurate. Furthermore, the government sent food and essentials only for 70,000, and was totally unprepared for the 300,000 that came out,” said TNA leader R. Sampanthan during the debate on the Emergency in the House.

Mr. Sampanthan said the government did not seem to have the resources to resettle the IDPs expeditiously as only 8.5 percent of them had been resettled after three months.“The government gave a commitment to India, the UN and the International Community that the resettlement of IDPs would be 80 percent complete within 180 days,” said Mr. Sampanthan.

COURTESY:DAILY MIRROR

Cabinet Approves Regulations for Speedy Implementation of Tamil as Official Language

By Sandun A. Jayasekera

In a move that will be welcomed by many, the public will now be able to sue officials of the State, Provincial Council, Municipal Council, Urban Council and Pradeshiya Sabha if they do not communicate with the public in a preferred language, according to new regulations to be gazetted next week.

“This follows from a decision to implement the ‘National Language Policy’ under the 13th Amendment in a bid to expedite the process of finding a durable solution to the ethnic conflict. The government will designate officials in government offices and local government institutions with the specific responsibility of implementing the Official Language Policy,” Constitutional Affairs and National Integration Minister D.E.W. Gunasekara said yesterday.

He said cabinet approval was granted to ‘Delegate Responsibility for Implementing the Official Language Policy’ as a further step in relation to the language policy of the 13th Amendment.

Under the gazette notification, specific responsibilities would be delegated to Ministry Secretaries and Heads of Departments at national level while it would be implemented at provincial and local government level through Chief Secretaries of Provincial Councils, Secretaries of Provincial Ministries and Departments, Municipal Commissioners, Urban Council Secretaries and Pradeshiya Saba Secretaries.

Chief Official Languages Implementation Officers who are responsible in ensuring the implementation of the Official Language Policy is required to posses a sound knowledge of the law relating to the Official Languages Policy and connected regulations.

He or she must evolve a framework for the due implementation within his or her institution of the strategic plans for adhering to the provisions of the Constitution regarding the official language.

They must put in place a scheme containing provisions which will enable sufficient supervision of the plan and must take suitable remedial measures to overcome difficulties that arise hindering the due implementation of the plan.

The officer must submit reports when necessary to the Constitutional Affairs and National Integration Ministry, the Official Languages Commissioner and the Official Languages Commission Chairman.

The Official Language Implementing Officer must be responsible for ensuring that his subordinates posses sufficient acquaintance with the law relating to the Official Languages Policy.

The officer is required to formulate strategies for ensuring that the law relating to official languages is compiled with and has enforced such strategies, formulate a suitable scheme for implementing, monitoring and evaluation.

“It is a well known fact that the language issue was one of the main grievances of Tamil speaking people when they attend to their day-to-day official requirements. The lack of a specific mechanism to implement the Official Language Policy in letter and in spirit has hindered the co-existence among the communities and has led to the thinking that Tamil speaking people are discriminated against,” Minister Gunasekara emphasized.

“In future I do not expect to receive complaints from Tamil citizens about receiving official letters or replies in a language alien to them. It will be the fundamental responsibility of Official Language Implementing Officers to ensure the public receive official documents in a language they desire,” Minister Gunasekara stressed.

COURTESY:DAILY MIRROR

Sri Lankan government opens up captured territory for investors

By Sampath Perera

Since the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May, the Sri Lankan government has pressed ahead with extensive plans to attract foreign investors and set up Special Economic Zones inside captured rebel territory. The pattern in the “liberated” northern areas follows similar developments in the Eastern Province, which was brought under army control in 2007.

In its final offensives, the military depopulated large swathes of land stretching from Mannar in the northwest to Mullaithivu in the northeast. Thousands of civilians were killed in indiscriminate aerial bombing and artillery barrages. Most of the remaining civilian population—around 280,000 people—were herded into squalid internment camps, where they are being held indefinitely.

Since May, the government has announced the Uthuru Wasanthaya (Spring of the North) program, which follows on from the previous Nagenahira Navodaya (Reawakening of the East). These plans are not aimed at providing ordinary people with housing, schools, hospitals and services, but at opening up these areas for investors.

According to the US business magazine Forbes, the government’s estimate for fixing the devastated economy in the North and East is at least “a $5 billion business”. Investment advisor Jim Rogers, co-founder of Quantum Fund, told the magazine that Sri Lanka was a compelling investment destination. “I have seen that when a long war like this ends, there rise enormous opportunities for investment,” he said.

Chinthaka Ranasinghe, research director for the blue chip Sri Lankan company, John Keels, told Agence France Presse: “These areas [in the North] have been virtually bombed out. This throws up enormous potential for investment. A large number of houses need to be built.” Keels added that with “new roads, schools, telephone and electricity lines ... the investment rebound will be spectacular.”

President Mahinda Rajapakse told Forbes that he would open a Singapore-style “one stop shop” to facilitate foreign investment. The magazine revealed that the government plans to offer a 15-year tax holiday to investors in the country’s Special Economic Zones (SEZs). The Board of Investment (BOI) is seeking $4 billion in direct investment by 2012, quadrupling the current level.

In the East, a SEZ in Trincomalee is already receiving investment and the government is planning two more SEZs in Batticaloa and Amparai. The BOI has also given approval for investment in the LTTE’s former northern headquarters of Kilinochchi and is establishing a new office in Jaffna to coordinate its activities in the North.

Under conditions of global economic recession, very cheap labour and lucrative government incentives in the island’s former war zones have become attractive.

Kumar Dewapura, chairman of Tristar Apparel Exports, has opened a factory in Trincomalee employing 1,000 workers, with the assistance of a 50 million rupee ($US425,000) BOI loan and a five-year tax holiday. He told the media last week: “There are orders if you can make it at the right cost. You only need to control cost and be competitive.”

Another garment manufacturer, the multinational Brandix, has invested 250 million rupees in the eastern district of Batticaloa and received similar government benefits.

The acquisition of land for various projects, including power plants, agriculture and SEZ construction, has become a major activity in the Eastern Province. The investment company Touchwood, which plants trees for commercial harvesting, has announced a request for 20,000 acres from the government, emphasising that foreign investors are looking for a minimum of 1,000 acres.

As part of the promotion of Trincomalee as a tourism area, the Tourism Ministry has unveiled plans to allocate 500 acres of land for hotel projects. It is also proposing to set aside another 4,000 acres of land and coastline for resort development.

President Rajapakse signalled his economic plans to exploit LTTE-held territory even before breaking the 2002 ceasefire and relaunching the civil war in July 2006. His government announced an SEZ of 675 square kilometres in the Sampur and Muttur districts in February 2006, even though the area was under LTTE control at the time.

In May 2006, the government took the unprecedented step of declaring that whole SEZ area to be part of a High Security Zone, covering the land, 14 mainly Tamil villages, and all adjacent waters. Two months later, Sampur and Muttur were among the first targets of the army’s renewed offensives. Under the regulations covering High Security Zones, no person, boat or vessel can enter the area without written permission from the authorities.

A study published in April this year by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions found that 4,249 families, totalling 15,648 people, were affected by the declaration of the Muttur/Sampur High Security Zone. In August and September 2006, the army cleared the area, not only of LTTE fighters, but much of the civilian population. In October 2006, the government licensed the SEZ to open for investment.

The war in the East drove nearly 300,000 civilians from their homes. The Sri Lankan web site Groundviews reported in August that the government, military and police were forcibly resettling families in newly cleared jungle areas in the Eastern Province, rather than their original villages and towns.

A similar process is being initiated in the North, which is being prepared for permanent military occupation. New military camps, high security zones and police stations are being established throughout the depopulated areas formerly held by the LTTE. Far from planning to demobilise soldiers following the end of the war, the army has announced a further expansion.

The Rajapakse government initially announced its intention of holding Tamil civilians in detention camps for three years. Amid international criticism, it promised to resettle 80 percent of the 280,000 detainees within 180 days, but the pledge was quickly shelved. The government’s priority is to establish infrastructure for investors.

The first international company to announce plans in the North is Dialog Telekom, the Sri Lankan unit of Malaysia’s Axiata Group Berhad. The corporation will spend $20 million this year to set up 60 mobile phone towers, Agence France Presse reported.

India has completed a feasibility study for a 400KV undersea power cable costing 20 billion Indian rupees (approximately $400 million) and is finalising an agreement with the Sri Lankan government. The cable will extend via the Jaffna Peninsula to other areas of the country.

The speed with which the government is opening areas captured from the LTTE to investors makes clear that the war was never about “liberating the country from the clutches of LTTE terrorism” as the government claimed. Rajapakse rejected peace talks and relaunched the war in 2006 in order to establish the economic and political dominance of the Sinhala elites over their Tamil counterparts.

Since the end of the war, Rajapakse has declared an “economic war” for “nation building”. The government’s economic plans in the North and the East underline the purpose of this new “war”: to suppress the working class and transform the island into a premier cheap labour platform for local and foreign investors.

courtesy: wsws.org

Mahadevan Sathasivam: Batting colossus of “Ceylon” cricket

By Premasara Epasinghe

The study of the past events, especially, political, social, and economic development of a country can be defined as HISTORY. The nation that forgets the past has no future. There were some politicians, who opposed the teaching of history in our schools sometime ago. They fell by the wayside totally, rejected by the people.

Sports history is fascinating and thrilling. I strongly feel that our present sportsmen and sportswomen should read and do an indepth study of our "Sporting Greats," so that they in turn can emulate their great deeds. Undoubtedly, the characteristic of this great sportsmen will be a role- model to most of our young, up and coming sportsmen and sportswomen.

Today, I feature the most exciting, adventurous batting artist that displayed his born talents as a Colossus in the playing field of cricket. He occupied centre stage during the period spanning from 1940-60s. The colourful figure tormented not only the local bowlers, but also international bowlers of repute; from India, Pakistan, England and Australia.

He is none other than Mahadevan Sathasivam, popularly known as M. Sathasivam. ‘Satha’ was a product of Wesley College, Colombo.

Once, I drove to Kandy to commentate in a match played at Asgiriya accompanying the legendary Gamini Goonasena, and famous cricket writer Rajan Bala from India.

Rajan presented his latest book titled ‘ALL BEAUTIFUL BOYS’ to me, a readable, lovely cricket book, written in simple language in his own inimitable style. Turning the pages, I came across an interesting chapter on Ceylon Cricket. The famous author Rajan Bala in this chapter pays a big tribute and a bouquet to M. Sathasivam. He quotes from an past Indian cricket captain, brilliant off-spinner Gulam Ahamed.

Quote: "I have bowled at Bradman, Harvey, Hutton, Dennis Compton, Keith Miller, The Terrible W’s -Weekes, Worrel and Walcott. If you ask me a question, who is the most difficult batsman that I have ever bowled, I will mention a name that some times you will not know. He is M. Sathasivam of Ceylon. I will never forget how he thrashed me in Chennai."

M. Sathasivam was the most feared batsman during this era. As Nalanda opener cum wicket- keeper in the Champion Side of 1957, 1 was very fortunate to witness the double century of Sathasivam at the NCC grounds. He represented the "Champions Side" against the "Rest." The cream of Sri Lanka super stars, were in action. This was the best innings I have ever seen in my life. I have seen the best of cricket in the world to a certain extent. Sathasivam was a batting artist. I have never seen a batsman who plays the ‘late cut’ so beautifully. It is a "Sathasivam Special."

Sathasivam wore cream flannels and a cream coloured, fuji silk long-sleeved shirt. Like the famous Douglas Jardine, the English captain of the "Body Line Series" in 1930s, he wore a handkerchief round his neck and harlequin cap adding colour to his personality. His footwork was excellent. For him, there was nothing called a good or a bad ball. While batting with his superb concentration, he turned the good ball to bad balls. With his hallmark stroke, late-cut, he could pierce through the slip cordon, third man, gully or point at will.

Once I had the good fortune of playing for Saracens against Tamil Union. Nalanda coach, ever-green Gerry Gooneratne, captained the Saracens side. Gerry as a successful captain, has "foxed" Satha many a time. His ploy was simple. In this particular match, Gerry, used his off-spinner Mahinda Athulathmudali, when Satha arrived at the crease. Gerry laid a trap. He got the tall, lanky off-spinner ‘Atu’ to bowl three deliveries outside off-stump. Satha’s beautiful late-cut was a treat to watch. Gerry instructed Atu, to allow him to play his famous stroke. The fourth ball spun from middle to leg. Satha moved and cut it. Gerry applauded his beautiful late-cuts. "Nice shot Satha," "Beauty Satha" and encouraged him to go for his pet shot freely. The fourth ball, he misjudged and cut through gully uppishly. Gerry rolling to his left, held a brilliant catch to dismiss Satha. We were all in cloud nine.

Those days the clash between Singhalese Sports Club (SSC) and Tamil Union AC was like a Greek meeting a Greek. It was the local "Cricket Derby." The two teams consisted of the best cricketers of the island. The centre of attraction was Sathasivam. S.S.C. and Tamil Union always maintained a very cordial relationship. S.S.C. possessed the shrewdest captain, Col. F.C. De Saram. The S.S.C. camp planned their strategy weeks ahead, to get Satha out early. ‘Pappa Saram’ planned a different "coup" to dismiss Satha early. He was invited to the S.S.C. for a social gathering the day before the match. The S.S.C. members entertained Satha, till the morning hours. He did not go home. He slept in the car. On the match day, he went straight to the dressing room and had a good shower.

Winning the toss, S.S.C. invited Tamil Union to bat first. Within twenty minutes, they captured openers for 24 runs. Sathasivam walked in to the middle. He straight away went in to action. By lunch, he reached the magical three figure mark with 17 hits to ropes. F.C. De Saram’s, ‘Coup de Et’ failed. Although in different camps Satha and F.C. were best of friends, and played cricket with the true spirit of the noble game. Satha is so close to Col. F.C. De Saram that he used to address him as ‘Derrick.’

Another incident that is etched in my mind is a statement by R. Rangachari, the former Indian pace bowler. I commentated the first ever cricket commentary for Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation relating to the First Test between Sri Lanka and India in 1982. I’m very grateful to late Mr. M. J. Perera, one of the most respected civil servants, and one of the top administrators who selected me as one of the commentators for that Test. Rangachari was the curator. He said the best innings he had ever seen was the double century of Sathasivam at Chinnaswamy Stadium.

The legendary West Indian Learie Constantine’s Commonwealth team visited Ceylon in 1950. In a rain affected match at the Colombo Oval, Sathasivam scored a brilliant 96. In an earlier match against India in 1945, he scored 107. In a Gopalam Trophy match, Sathasivam scored an epic innings of 215, the highest individual score made at Chinnaswamy Stadium till 1950.

Sathasivam was a controversial figure. He was in remand jail, charged for the murder of his wife. After he was acquitted, he once again played for Tamil Union in the Division Two Tournament.

News went round the city that Sathasivam is back at play. Thousands flocked to see their hero after a lapse of about five years. The match was played as BRC ground, Tamil Union versus BRC. After the fall of the 2nd wicket, Sathasivam walked in. The spectators gave a grand ovation. Satha took his guard. A young fast bowler, to show his might and arrogance, send a ‘bumper’ to Satha. He ducked. The bowler’s intention was to frighten the old man. He send another ‘bumper.’ It should be reminded that during this period there were no helmets. Satha, slowly walked up to the young bowler and had said very politely: "Son, I am an old man, like your father. Don’t try to injure me. Don’t bump at me."

The fast bowler, with his tail up, bowled another ‘bumper’ to Sathasivam. The batting maestro positioned himself well and hammered a mighty six and dispatched the ball over the mara trees and the ball was deposited at the nearby Havelock Rugby Ground.

September 09, 2009

Is conscience of state clear on treatment of IDP's?

by Lynn Ockersz

The government of Sri Lanka, as should be expected, has taken strong exception to what it claims is fabricated video footage, telecast over the UK’s Channel 4 TV, showing the Lankan security forces, apparently, carrying out what could amount to war crimes, in the concluding stages of their mid May assault on the LTTE in the North. The government and other concerned sections could very well be right in describing the content of the video as a ‘doctored’ attempt at tarnishing the image of the state, but would issuing denials and making a case for ‘foreign conspiracies’ prove effective in fighting what they make out is a continuing disinformation campaign against Sri Lanka?

At bottom, the tussle here is over the truth and the condition of the IDPs is very much at the heart of this struggle. The state may, in fact, be caring for the displaced persons to the best of its ability, while proceeding with the screening of IDPs, which, from the national security point of view is justified, but how could, both local and international opinion, be doubly certain that this indeed is the case? In other words, how could one ascertain the truth or falsity of the claims made by the state? These are the posers any reasonable person is bound to raise and which the state is obliged to answer, if it is concerned about its credibility.

If the ‘conscience’ of the state is clear about the way it is treating the IDPs, including LTTE surrendees, then, it should not shy away from public scrutiny. It should enable the people to access credible information about the IDPs and connected issues, not only from it but also from legitimate sources which are operating independent of the state information apparatus, but which have reasonable access to the camps.

One is inclined to think that the government is needlessly cagey or secretive about the condition of the IDPs. We have it on the authority of no less a person than the founder of the Sarvodaya organization, Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, that the condition of the Northern IDPs has been improving over the past few months, although their situation was not rosy at the beginning, when they rushed in their hundreds to the camps, at the end of the military conflict and the authorities – quite understandably – found it difficult to cope with the huge influx of humans and to cater to all their needs. It is relevant to mention that Sarvodaya is at present helping out in the task of fending for the IDPs and has an almost continuous presence in the camps.

This being the case, why is the state inclined to keep the public in the dark, as it were, about the real condition of the IDPs? As long as the state continues in this ‘defensive’ mode it would be only inviting wild rumours about the internal conditions of the camps and like matters, which would be grist to the mill of those sections which are intent on tarnishing the image of Sri Lanka. The Channel 4 allegation is a case in point.

It is plain to see that the state would need to follow a more liberal policy with regard to media access to and scrutiny of the IDP camps, if it is not to engage in needless, superfluous efforts at fighting ‘disinformation campaigns’ of foreign or local origin against the country. It should conceive of a more liberal media policy to be in its interests because the continuous disclosure of the truth would put the "enemies of the state" on the defensive rather than give them an opportunity to make scandalous allegations against the state.

Accordingly, the government should consider providing the country’s media with opportunities to access the IDP camps, if indeed, it is making preparations to resettle and rehabilitate the IDP population and is not subjecting it to any sort of repression. Sri Lanka and the world need to learn the truth and, in all probability, the national interest would be effectively served through such an exercise because the issues raised by the media in regard to the IDPs, would lead to open, hopefully meaningful public debate, which would, then, enable the state to carry out its functions in the camps more competently and knowledgeably, if this is not already happening. Right now, the state seems to be intent on keeping the country’s media out of the camps, for reasons best known to it, and this could prove counter-productive from the point of view of the national interest.

From the little information that is trickling in, the state does seem to be doing some reasonably good work in regard to the rehabilitation of ex-LTTE cadres, but even on this score the government seems to be fighting shy of keeping the public fully informed. There was the case, for instance, of some former LTTE members, who had surrendered, being rehabilitated and provided employment in Malaysia, through the cooperative efforts of the state, but here too the government, apparently, chose not to highlight its useful work. Why?

This was a chance going a begging because the story was published in a local newspaper at the time the Channel 4 allegations were given free play in sections of the international media. Here was a chance to prove that the Lankan state could treat former ‘enemies of the state’ humanely, but the opportunity was not made use of.

Sri Lanka seems to have emerged as a case study and proof of the thesis that there could be no discussion of democratic freedoms and equitable development without the envisaging and implementation of a free and responsible media. May be, given current security concerns, the media cannot be provided ‘free and unlimited access’ to the IDP camps, but some access would need to be provided if the state is concerned about putting the record straight about its work in these camps.

There are no visible signs that the government is extra keen on bringing about national reconciliation right now, but if it ever gets down to this task, the resettlement and rehabilitation of IDPs would occupy a prominent position in this programme of work and the state would need to rely on all sections of the media to prove to the world that earnest efforts in the direction of reconciliation are underway. This could be facilitated by adopting a more liberal policy with regard to media access of IDPs.

Besides, if equitable growth or development in the real sense of the word, is to be achieved by the state in the future, there would need to be proof that development is seeping into the North and East as well. Only a free and unshackled media could report back that this is indeed happening or otherwise. In the case of the latter, the state would be in a position to take remedial action. Hence the close link between democracy, free expression and development.

President has power to "pardon" Tissainayagam immediately

By Kishali Pinto Jayawardene

It was a week dominated by the unprecedented sentencing of senior journalist JS Tissainayagam to twenty years hard labour under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) No 48 of 1979 (as amended) and prevalent Emergency Regulations for the writing of two articles in a journal some years back.

A third charge related to the obtaining of funds to run that journal, thereby constituting the collection of monies for the furtherance of terrorist acts.

In this manifestly tragic drama, there was still time to marvel at the exact comedy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' claims that President Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot pardon Tissainayagam at this stage until the legal process was exhausted. It was further asserted that the widespread condemnation, both domestic and international, was an attempt at "undermining the independence of the judiciary of Sri Lanka." Clearly the terminology used by the Ministry hinted at the use of contempt of court powers.

The matter of a presidential pardon

In the first instance, those responsible for writing these press releases at the Ministry are well advised to acquaint themselves with the relevant provisions of the Constitution, namely Section 34(1) which grants the President the power to pardon any offender "convicted of any offence in any court within the Republic of Sri Lanka."

Mark in this regard the significance of the term 'any' in this constitutional provision making it clear that the question of presidential pardon does not limit itself to the stage of final appeal. Among other cases in this respect, recently, President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself pardoned CWC leader Arumugam Thondaman in 2008 after Thondaman was found guilty of contempt of court and imposed a suspended sentence by the Nuwara Eliya Magistrate. So, the question then becomes appropriate; is the Ministry then taking upon itself the power to limit the constitutional authority of the President?

This matter of a pardon is, of course, by the way. Tissainayagam has not himself asked for a pardon. The granting and acceptance of a pardon implies that the offender has accepted the fact of his or her guilt and the applicability of such to this case is not all that easy.

Contempt of court

A critique of the decision by the High Court on the basis of which Tissainayagam was sentenced, must await detailed scrutiny of the decision itself. However, the point must be made - and made strongly at that - that such critiques cannot offend the principle of contempt of court if they are based on a valid and reasonable examination of the legal basis on which the judgment had been delivered.

It is precisely for the purpose of meeting such absurd attempts at stifling freedom of expression, where ordinary folk are at sea on the parameters of the law that a draft Contempt of Court Act was approved by the Bar Council of the Bar Association some years back and sent to the government. This specifically stipulated that fair and reasoned criticism of decided judgments (even of the lower courts) do not amount to contempt of court. A similar stand has been taken by others, including the Editors Guild of Sri Lanka and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (in its previous term).

This principle is not, by any means unusual. It is followed as a matter of fact in countries such as India and the United Kingdom. In developed jurisdictions, a claim that fair critique of a judgment of a lower court would amount to contempt would invoke extreme hilarity if not amazement. We, on the other hand, still continue to struggle with this most basic right of free expression and opinion, forcing many analysts to tiptoe around issues that should be discussed forcefully, angrily and honestly

Symbol of subversion of law

But to revert to the central issue of the Tissainayagam case and more particularly the fact that his defence counsel was absolutely right when he warned in court that the fate which had befallen his client was directed at every other critic of this government. In other words, what we have here is a symbolic and highly potent warning, restricting even the remaining and terribly narrow spaces that exist to speak freely and write freely. The wide range of weapons used in this respect includes not only the detaining, killing and jailing of critics but also character assassination of the most foul kind.

The anti-terrorism laws

The entire saga of Tissainayagam's detention, (for some months without being formally charged) occurred in a particular context, the validity of which would no doubt be argued in the higher appellate courts. This deserves detailed scrutiny in a critical analysis of the High Court judgment itself.

The question of his alleged confession is yet another facet of this problem. Tissainayagam's purported confession was relied on by prosecutors to allege that he had obtained monies from sources linked to the LTTE. The defence contended that this charge was based on a coerced confession from Tissainayagam which had anyway been tampered with and was inherently contradictory on manifold points.

For years, successive governments have been called upon in vain to ensure that these confessions, in many cases, obtained through physical or mental duress, are not admitted. The safeguard that a court may rule upon their admissibility is obviated by the fact that the burden is on the accused to prove that the confession was made under duress. Bringing about a balance in the law in this respect now seems more far distant than at any other point in the past.

Courage under fire

One picture that I saw of JS Tissainayagam this week showed him managing a smile at the camera. This is the indelible picture of a journalist, ethnic Tamil as he is, being sentenced for expressing his opinions in this paradise isle where (apparently) we have now seen the dawn of a new age with no minorities or majorities.

This is a telling picture indeed for those in the media who strive with all their might and main, most unsuccessfully, I may add, to prevent honest criticism of the most profound injustice. It is to be hoped that in time, they will get their due deserts if their own invective has not already crucified them.

But make no mistake about this, those responsible for what has happened to Tissainayagam today include not only the operators of a deeply subverted system which detained and indicted him under draconian anti terrorism laws. Rather the responsibility must also be borne by those journalistic hacks masquerading as his 'colleagues' and his 'friends' who give covert impetus to the totalitarianism of those in government, weep as they may crocodile tears at what has befallen him.

One major part of this totalitarian drive, (and I use this term quite deliberately), is to subvert and corrupt the law, be it by detaining and indicting journalists under subversive anti terrorism laws in one instance or by papering over patterns of extra judicial executions and enforced disappearances through corrupted Commissions of Inquiry in another instance. Critics who expose these cover-ups are then subjected to scurrilous abuse of the worst kind.

In a very fundamental sense therefore, some within the media community are very much to blame for the terror that now plagues the media to the extent that to practice true journalism today would invite the worst retribution of its kind. Tissainayagam is among many who are paying the price. As to how many more would be added to this list in the future remains to be seen.

COURTESY:SUNDAY TIMES

Karu Jayasuriya taking over UNP leadership can make a difference

by Kalyananada Godage

The well read correspondent Shani in her article in the issue of the Island 0f 29th August has referred to a statement made in Parliament and stated "He is devoid of party politics. He obviously spoke from his heart when he made an impassioned plea for the IDPs housed in various camps. He marked himself as a rare and mature politician, a breed that we thought was o the verge of extinction, when he stated that the military had played its role and done its duty and it was now up to the politicians to to play their role and do their duty so that our country could move forward as one embracing diversity and promoting unity".

Mr. Jayasuriya in his speech to Parliament stated "Mr. Speaker, the people in these camps are not strangers, they are our people. We cannot and should not anymore hardship to befall these civilians who are citizens of this country". He went on to say, "We must feel their pain. It is only when these people are resettled that we can truly and wholeheartedly celebrate the military victory achieved by our heroes, which will then be complete in every manner. We as a civilized nation cannot continue to allow our own people to suffer like this anymore …."

Does not this intervention and the mature thinking he exhibits ask the question, is it not time that Mr. Karu J was invited by the UNP to take over the leadership of the party from the serial looser? There is no doubt that the UNP has absolutely no chance to win the next Presidential election so they should prepare for the general election at least to ensure that they win a sufficient number of seats to be able to be able to discharge their democratic obligation in the Parliament and ensure that there would be no dictatorship by the SLFP led coalition. A three fourth majority by the governing party would spell the end of true democracy in this country. The UNP has a duty to prepare from now to prevent such a situation and this cannot be done under the leadership of Ranil Wickremasinghe, so a new post of Senior Advisor or Patron should be created and he could be elevated to that position.

If a vote is taken in the party there is little doubt that Karu J would be invited to take over the leadership. What has been unfortunate is that he appears, for reasons best known to him, not projected himself in the manner of certain unsuitable others. He is indeed the man for the times, for he has stood for politics of conciliation; do we not recall the initiative he took along with Prof GL Peiris , Milinda Moragoda and some others to forge a common agenda to cooperate with the government on five important national issue only to see it sabotaged by Ranil W, which resulted in him and that group leaving the Party to cooperate with the government.

The political culture of this country has been built on adversarial, confrontational politics without regard to the national interest. Our politicians have missed the wood for the trees. This is the unfortunate tradition which we seem to want to perpetuate. The cement that has held this form of confrontational politics together has been, the vulgar pursuit of political power, for with it goes the opportunity to mount the gravy train and get rich quickly. In the process have we not become a morally degenerate society?

Politics in this country is today a blood sport-governed by the rules of the slum---where the criminal underworld rules and where the scum of our society predominate. Politicians were, for some years, the patrons of the scum but the wheel appears to have turned and the scum from the slums, with their values, have begun to lord it over the politicians. Some have even become politicians.

The form of politics that is found in the West -and which we have had in this country until 1977 appears to have gone out of the window with the Constitution of 1978, which created a constitutional dictatorship, but I am certain that this is not forever. Political Parties in this country represent organized hatred. The blood sport could result in a blood bath at the forthcoming Parliamentary elections unless we do something about it.
Karu J has always stood for a cooperative approach. President Rajapakse’s strongest personality trait and strongest asset, to my mind, is his inborn ability to bring people together, Mr. Karu Jayasuriya has also this ability and is also a ‘team man’, their records of including everyone whenever possible stands as evidence. Today they have a historic opportunity of ending confrontational politics in this country. If they only seize this opportunity they would certainly be remembered as two of the great leaders this country has produced.

Politics in the early years of our democracy was value driven; the politician valued his self respect. That was a time when our politicians both of the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ would stand-up and defend unswerving commitments to a value based society. Such a cadre of politicians would stand-up for a core of such progressive convictions; defending areas of national sovereignty in general, irrespective of personal self-aggrandizement considerations. Almost all our politicians of yore came to serve and almost all of them pauperized themselves.

The President could introduce a system that makes for power sharing through participatory decision making. It could be a variation of the system that prevailed at a national level under the Donoughmore Constitution and worked very well. The most urgent and important need today is to usher in an age of cooperation and leave behind us the age of confrontation which has done immeasurable harm to this country; whilst other countries are galloping ahead we are moving backwards. The disease of confrontation has spread to all levels of our society, The politician is at the bottom of this ; we must pull back from the abyss in our national interest. Our political parties must learn to coexist and make political cooperation and art form.

Our political culture has become more and more based upon materialistic values, prior commitment to supporting progressive social policies, has also diminished. Social policies had originally been developed from a view that Sri Lanka, a poor country, could be transformed into a model progressive "participatory democracy". There was a certain value placed on the community. Addressing the poverty situation that prevailed was the first priority; to support the quality-of-living of our citizens inclusive of education, (CWW Kanangara introduced free education in 1944 which has transformed our society like no other), healthcare and food irrespective of personal access to financial resources. Maybe that we created a dependent society and in the process the people lost their self confidence and also a sense of social responsibility; it is conceded that the people unfortunately came to depend on politicians for hand-outs and elections became auctions, the party that offered the most was elected. The people did not feel, as a ‘new age politician’ has stated, "that they could work positively towards changing their own lives and the lives of their children and the community". This ‘nurse-maiding’ of the people killed their spirit, though it was a fundamentally humane approach to development and human security. Sri Lanka was intended to be a progressive participatory democracy, but we have lost our way somewhere along the road.

Today the cancer of corruption is all pervasive. The political system itself breeds corruption, The electoral system is a macabre caricature as an instrument to electing a government. No politician could contest at any level unless he is prepared to spend millions. Yes they spend millions to get elected and after that use their power to recoup their expenditure and to build a nest-egg for the next election and also for their generations to come, They have no compunction about using their office to make money, If we wish to reduce the level of corruption then we MUST reform the electoral system, retain the PR system, do away with the three Preference votes and reintroduce the electorate and do away with the district as the electorate.

Politics without corruption, rooting out the hate culture, and promoting communal amity and good governance are the four main factors that will decide the future of all political parties. Our political leaders must come to terms with the fact that no political party or group of politicians is forever and it is in their interest to think in terms of the generations to come. If only the principal political parties accept that they need to cooperate to pull this country out of the rut we are in, then the people will be eternally grateful and this is where a person of the calibre of Mr. Karu Jayasuriya coming in to the leadership of the UNP would make a difference.

Britain denies visas for Arjuna Ranatunga and Palitha Kohona

By Easwaran Rutnam

The British High Commission in Colombo yesterday refused visas to outgoing Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona and former Deputy Tourism Minister and MP Arjuna Ranatunga, government sources told Daily Mirror last night.

According to well informed sources Dr. Kohona and Mr. Ranatunga had submitted their passports to the British High Commission for a visa to London but to their surprise the passports were returned without any valid reason for turning down their visa applications.

BHCTC09010.jpg

Protesters spray political messages on the wall of the British High Commission during a demonstration in central Colombo May 18, 2009-Reuters pic.

The Foreign Ministry’s Chief of Protocol, through whom Dr. Kohona’s passport was forwarded to the British High Commission, later sought an explanation for returning the passport but a High Commission official had reportedly told the Foreign Office that the Foreign Secretary should be personally present at the High Commission to obtain the visa.

However the Foreign Ministry had insisted that Dr. Kohona had no reason to be personally present at the High Commission to obtain the visa as he was the Foreign Secretary of the Country, government sources told Daily Mirror online.

The Foreign Ministry had later again sought a visa to London for the Foreign Secretary, but the second attempt too was rejected with the High Commission saying there was not enough time to process the visa.

An angry Foreign Ministry, which insisted that the application was given with 24 hours notice, had made several attempts to contact the British High Commissioner and his Deputy to seek their intervention but they could not be contacted over the telephone, the government said.

The government is of the view the British High Commission had violated diplomatic protocols by rejecting a visa for the Foreign Secretary and parliamentarian Arjuna Ranatunga and felt this had further strained relations between Britain and Sri Lanka.

Dr. Kohona left the country late last night to take up his new post at the United Nations as the Permanent Representative to Sri Lanka.

Government sources said Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama was expected to summon the British High Commissioner Dr. Peter Hayes today to seek an explanation over the visa rejection, particularly to the Foreign Secretary.

Earlier Attorney General Mohan Peiris was also inconvenienced by the British High Commission which asked him to appear in person for an interview to grant a visa.

Attempts by Daily Mirror to contact the British High Commission spokesman for a comment on the incident were futile.

COURTESY: DAILY MIRROR

It is a dim spotlight the world shines on Sri Lanka and the human rights abuses that occur there

Sri Lanka's war on the tragic truth

by Amanda Hodge, South Asia correspondent, The Australian

The expulsion from the country of Australian-born Unicef spokesman James Elder this month, for speaking out against those abuses and child casualties in the bloody final stages of Sri Lanka's 26-year long civil war, dims it further still.

Elder was one of very few aid workers on the ethnically riven island nation who was prepared to brave the wrath of the Sinhalese-dominated government to highlight the plight of civilians, especially children, during the war and in its aftermath.

As Unicef's chief of communications in Sri Lanka, this was his brief and his responsibility.

That the government's chief spokesman, Palitha Kohona - an educated and charming man who spent several years as an Australian diplomat and many more as a UN official - should suggest otherwise is, as Unicef itself said this week, bordering on ludicrous.

Kohona, also an Australian citizen, has accused Elder of supporting a terrorist organisation and espousing the views of the pro-Tamil news website Tamil.net by highlighting issues such as child malnutrition in government-run internment camps.

About 250,000 internal refugees are now held in camps while the government de-mines the former rebel-held north and weeds Tamil militants from civilian populations.

It is a preposterous accusation, particularly given the Tamil.net forum far more often selectively reflects the news of the day than breaks it.

The government's real gripe would seem to be that Elder has contradicted the state propaganda saying no civilians were killed in the last stages of the war and that all is well in the camps.

The Sri Lankan government, as the victor in the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, is determined to write its own history and is brutal in its suppression of inconvenient facts.

Led by the country's former human rights activist Mahinda Rajapakse and his two brothers, Basil and Gotabhaya, the government has successfully cowed most local media and aid organisations.

Local journalists have been arrested for casting the government in an unflattering light. Some have been murdered.

The media are refused independent access to overcrowded and unsanitary internment camps - about to get far worse with the coming monsoon.

In a self-penned eulogy that anticipated his own assassination last January, Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga wrote: "Murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism."

In the weeks leading to Rajapakse's May victory declaration - as the army bombarded rebel forces along with a massive civilian population it knew was being used as a human shield - most aid groups took the view it was better to temper their comments and remain in the country for the mop-up than risk expulsion.

Elder continued to brief journalists and highlight abuses on both sides.

As triumphant Sinhalese Buddhists crowded the post-war streets of Colombo and Tamil Hindus sheltered indoors, he told The Australian: "People have paid a high price for this peace. Thousands have been killed, including large numbers of children."

In the weeks that followed, other aid groups would back those claims.

The UN now estimates as many as 20,000 civilians were killed in the final mayhem, as army shells rained down on as many as 200,000 civilians squeezed into a tiny land sliver between the two sides.

Elder called for aid groups to have unfettered access to the camps, to bring in medical aid and supplies.

"It's important to remember these people have arrived in camps in the worst possible state," he said. "They are hungry and sick, and many still have untended wounds from the war."

Hardly the statements of a terrorist sympathiser.

Some aid workers say Sri Lanka has become an almost intolerable place to work. Best known in Australia as a tropical holiday island, Sri Lanka is in fact a police state. Whether the massive security apparatus - considered a necessity during wartime - will be dismantled in peace remains a test of the Rajapakse regime.

The other will be whether Rajapakse delivers on his promise for a political settlement that grants some autonomy to the Tamil minority and addresses legitimate concerns over their discrimination.

But as Robert Kaplan wrote in the Atlantic Monthly: "Like the Serbs in the former Yugoslavia, the Jews in Israel, and the Shi'ites in Iran, the Sinhalese are a demographic majority with a dangerous minority complex of persecution."

The international community continues to hold out carrots - such as the $2.5 billion IMF loan granted in July - even as the Rajapakse government bites the hand that feeds it.

In the last days of the war it lashed out at all international attempts to broker a ceasefire so civilians could be evacuated from the conflict zone.

In return for huge arms purchases, China and Russia have given Sri Lanka cover at international forums such as the UN Security Council, blocking all attempts at censure.

This week, Sri Lanka adds another weapon to its diplomatic arsenal: Kohona flew out of Colombo yesterday for New York, where he will be Sri Lanka's ambassador to the UN.

No doubt his diplomatic grounding in our own Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, including a three-year stint in the Australian embassy in Geneva, will assist him.

DFAT has refused to comment on Kohona's role in Elder's expulsion, or on his Australian citizenship, other than to say the decision "was made by a Sri Lankan official acting in his official capacity".

Britain and the EU have backed calls by the UN Human Rights Commissioner for an independent investigation into alleged war crimes on both sides. Australia has remained mute on the issue.

The US and Britain made public their decision to abstain from the IMF vote, a move widely interpreted as a shot across the Rajapkse government's bow. The Rudd government has not revealed which way it voted.

In that context, Elder's willingness to poke his head above the parapet is even more impressive.

It's a shame that for that bravery he has had it lopped off. [courtesy: The Australian]

Aussie James Elder the second to face expulsion from Sri Lanka

by Amanda Hodge, South Asia correspondent, The Australian

AN Australian aid worker facing expulsion from Sri Lanka is the second Australian this year to be threatened with deportation from the ethnically divided nation for speaking out against human rights violations and war casualties.

Unicef spokesman James Elder has been ordered to leave Colombo by September 21 by the Sri Lankan government, which claims statements he made highlighting the suffering of children during the war and in post-war internment camps amounted to supporting Tamil Tiger separatists.

Mr Elder's expulsion notice, signed by former Australian diplomat turned Sri Lankan foreign secretary Palitha Kohona, came just three months after the UN's spokesman in Colombo, Gordon Weiss, also faced deportation threats.

The two men are notable in Sri Lanka's aid community for speaking out on human rights abuses on both sides of the conflict and highlighting civilian casualties. Their comments were in defiance of government denials that heavy bombardment of the Tamil Tiger-held north earlier this year killed civilians.

Mr Weiss became the subject of mass demonstrations in Colombo and vitriolic newspaper editorials from government mouthpieces in May for describing the last weeks of the three-decades-long conflict as a "bloodbath".

Mr Weiss said yesterday: "There was some talk of (visa being revoked) but it never happened and my visa was ultimately extended."

The Sri Lankan government had made no secret of its position that "you're either with us or against us", he said.

Local journalists have been arrested for reporting human rights concerns, others have been murdered, and the media are still refused independent access to camps where more than 280,000 war refugees are being forcibly detained.

Dr Kohona told The Australian this week Mr Elder should be treated no differently to any other Australian caught breaking the rules of a sovereign nation, and accused him of "supporting a terrorist organisation".

His comments have raised fears for the safety of Mr Elder, a NSW-born father of three, in a nation riven with ethnic chauvinism and post-war tensions.

Unicef has strongly defended Mr Elder, labelling the allegations against him as "bordering on ludicrous".

"Through Mr Elder, Unicef has consistently spoken out against the suffering of children on both sides of the intense hostilities earlier this year and called for their protection," executive director Ann Veneman said in a statement yesterday. "Unicef unequivocally rejects any allegation of bias."

Dr Kohona is a dual Australian-Sri Lankan citizen who worked as an Australian diplomat in Geneva and Canberra, as well as for the UN, before accepting a ministerial post with the Sri Lankan government. He takes up a new post today as Sri Lanka's ambassador to the UN in New York.

Sydney University's Centre of Peace and Conflict Studies director Jake Lynch said recent statements by Dr Kohona that no victor ever faced war crimes charges rendered him "an entirely inappropriate candidate to represent a UN member state".

"For Kohona to be seemingly boasting that he and his colleagues will not face war crimes charges and then be sent straight to the UN is an indication of the contempt the Rajapakse government has for the UN and its authority," he said. [courtesy: The Australian]

An open letter to all those dealing with Human Rights, Workers’ Rights and Women’s Rights

by Selvi Tiruchandran

In 2003 Women’s Education & Research Centre (WERC) did a survey of the Domestic Servants employed in Colombo. And having realised the injustice done to them by the System of Recruitment and the general treatment given to them by their employers, we met a host of people including the Ministers of Labour and other concerned groups and brought to the attention of the ILO and some Trade Unions.

However, no one except the National Workers Congress paid any attention to the issue, and the system continues till today without any amelioration procedures or processes. The general apathy of the political and the civil society continue unashamedly. And what is the consequence?

Today we hear of the deaths of the two under-aged domestic servants.

How many more deaths do we have to count?

Will the authorities who have the power to make and amend laws listen to us at least now? We reproduce below what we published in the media and sent to persons and organisations in 2003.

* Registration of Domestic Aides with the Department of Labour by employers, who shall keep the department informed of changes in the place of employment of those registered, to be made compulsory with a fine of Rs. 20,000/= for failure to do so.

* Domestic Service to be regulated by contract as full, part-time or on hourly basis with social benefits accruing to each category.

* EPF and ETF to apply to Domestic Aides

* Leave entitlement of Domestic Aides should be determined. E.g:

1) One Day a week/total of 30 days per annum

2) Sick/medical leave

3) Maternity leave

* Minimum wage of Rs. 3,500= per month, subject to higher actual wage negotiated between employer and Domestic Aides leading to a contractual agreement as envisaged at 2 above

* If employment is full-time, a rest period of 2 hours, twice a day should be provided

* Privacy ensured – provision of separate sleeping area and bath and toilet facilities

* Employers permit normal interaction with visiting family members, provided the letter has indicated their relationship and frequency of visits mutually agreed upon.

The age of the domestic servants, we feel, should be the concern of any authority and institution that have to monitor the recruitment procedures.

We have now two Ministers in the present regime who are from the Left Movement of the Old Left. Do they still want to help the working class of their country or have they abdicated working class interests and want to reform the Capitalist System?!

Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran
On behalf of WERC

September 08, 2009

Gala of the Udappu guarding deities

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“Whatever I am offered in devotion with a pure heart-a leaf, a flower, fruit or water- I accept with joy” ~Bhagavath Gita



Lemon rice and curd rice are being given to devotees

As the Sun began to spread its rays towards Udappu, people of this small hamlet began to bustle, devotees thronged the temple. The roosters were still crowing while mild breeze blows, trees dance for the mild breeze. [Click here to read and see more]

Rajapaksa must intervene and set Tissainayagam free-“Hindu” Editorial

Full text of editorial, The Hindu, Sep 9, 2009

The August 31 verdict of a Colombo High Court sentencing the veteran journalist and columnist J.S. Tissainayagam to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment under the country’s draconian anti-terror law has raised concerns across the world on the state of freedoms in the country. The punishment is extremely disproportionate to the alleged crime of writing articles criticising the military in his North Eastern Monthly magazine. Tissainayagam, an ethnic Tamil who wrote in English and was a regular newspaper columnist, was arrested by an anti-terrorism division of police in March 2008. He was not formally charged or produced in court until August 2008, when he was indicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The court made a determination that his column, which was a mere expression of opinion on the government strategy in the war against terror, was intended to cause racial or communal disharmony. His raising money to run his magazine was construed as raising funds for the promotion of terrorism. The shock over the judgment is understandable as it is the first case in which a journalist had been charged and convicted under the PTA of 1979 and has come in the post-Prabakaran Sri Lanka that eagerly awaits reconciliation, after the military defeat of the LTTE in May this year.

Even before the court pronouncement, the case of Tissa made international headlines. On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, United States President Barack Obama referred to the lack of media freedom in many parts and to the case of Tissainayagam along with another as “emblematic examples of this distressing reality.”

Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that has consultative status with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), has called on the Council to intercede on behalf of the jailed Sri Lankan journalist. The incarceration and prosecution by the state and the court’s judgment have the effect of intimidating reporters and editors who may want to question the government’s anti-terror campaign and strategy.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has earned all-round praise for his successful military campaign against the LTTE, should heed democratic voices and intervene urgently in the matter to set Tissainayagam free. Even in difficult times, the Sri Lanka Parliament had in 2002, during the tenure of Ranil Wickramasinghe and Chandrika Kumaratunga, repealed law relating to criminal defamation. The core post-war theme espoused by the government is, “let’s forget the past and rebuild the battered nation.”

The Tissa episode is an opportunity for the government to move towards reconciliation as well as to ensure that basic freedoms are protected.

(This is a reproduction of the editorial headlined "Blow to media Freedom" in "The Hindu" of September 9th 2009)

Tissainayagam, Northeastern Herlad and Reporters Sans Borders

by Kath Noble

When J.S. Tissainayagam was sentenced to 20 years in prison last week, the entire world howled in protest. Rarely has a decision of the Sri Lankan courts been so roundly condemned.

It is natural. Although we have been told very little about the case, we do know that it rests on what Tissainayagam wrote. The Government says that he took money from the LTTE for the purpose, but the sum alleged is so tiny as to be insignificant, especially for a person like him with marketable skills and connections to funding agencies.

An article on the Defence Ministry website claims that Rs. 150,000 was deposited by an LTTE cadre in the account that Tissainayagam used for a publication called Northeastern Monthly. He would later come to raise many times that amount from an international organisation with whom the Government has signed a memorandum of understanding.

This is the first occasion on which somebody has been pursued through the legal system for what they have written about the conflict, and that shocks. So much has been said and argued by people on all sides during the last three decades. It seems bizarre to start prosecutions now, with the main threat to the country neutralised. That the sentence Tissainayagam received was so harsh simply compounds our horror.

Reporters Without Borders demonstrated its usual lunacy in blaming the judge.

Judges can do nothing other than assess the case before them and apply the law as it currently stands. They cannot look into whether others who have committed similar offences have been punished, nor can they check to see whether the legislation in force remains appropriate or whether the minimum sentences decreed under it are reasonable.

The fact is that the Prevention of Terrorism Act is a draconian piece of legislation, as all such bills tend to be when they are introduced at times of great stress. It is said that the Sri Lankan law is based on its British equivalent, passed just days after the worst of the IRA bombings on the mainland, in which 21 people died and almost 200 were injured. Our Home Secretary actually described the act as draconian when he introduced it in Parliament in 1974, adding that nobody would want such powers to remain in force for a moment longer than was necessary.

That turned out to be quite a while. A new and rather more circumspect law was drafted in 2000, after the Good Friday Agreement that put an end to the Northern Ireland conflict had been signed. There continued to be violence by dissidents, but the authorities recognised that the situation was much less dangerous than it had been previously.

Some of the harshest measures had been relaxed earlier, of course. The use of internment for those suspected of being members of terrorist organisations, which in practice turned out to mean the IRA and other groups from the Catholic community, was discontinued in 1976. Interrogation techniques that were found by the European Court of Human Rights to amount to torture had been officially abandoned by then as well.

I hope readers will permit me a small deviation from the point to note that the latter didn’t happen in practice. Ironically, it was the debate on the Channel 4 video apparently showing Sri Lankan soldiers executing prisoners in the Vanni that reminded me of British involvement in torture. Reference was made in one article to fake photos that were published in The Daily Mirror in 2004, resulting in the sacking of its editor. In fact, we discovered later that the soldier who is suspected of having duped the newspaper had actually been involved in abuse in Iraq, albeit not recorded on film.

One of his colleagues, who is the only British soldier to be convicted of a war crime to date, was found guilty in 2007 of causing the death of an inmate at a prison in Basra. Two years had passed before anybody was charged, and it had taken another two years for him to be given a sentence of one year in prison. Six others were acquitted of torture for lack of evidence.

The more sanctimonious of foreign critics should pay attention. Meanwhile, the rest of us ought to remember that the fact that what was published had been faked, which the Ministry of Defence proved rather than just asserted within a matter of days, didn’t mean that the basic story wasn’t true.
Coming back to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, a number of parallels with the Sri Lankan scene immediately spring to mind.

The admissibility of confessions has always been a highly questionable part of the legislation, given the longstanding inability of the Police to wipe out the use of torture, and it should be dropped at once. Likewise, the length of time a suspect can be held without trial must surely be reduced immediately too. Eighteen months is a long time by any standards, providing the Government with an unnecessarily effective weapon to use against its detractors.

The threat to Sri Lanka was far greater than that posed by the IRA, giving the authorities some justification for retaining these very dangerous powers since 1979, but nobody could argue that this is still the case. As in Britain, the change in situation necessitates a review of the Prevention of Terrorism Act to see which measures are genuinely needed and which could be dropped in the wider interests of society. That measures introduced to combat terrorism have been most injurious to Tamils cannot be questioned, so moderation of the approach would make a useful contribution to reconciliation as well.

The prevailing law and the penalties available under it need to be suited to the circumstances in which the country finds itself at the time.

It would help the Government to avoid some of the blame, too. Reporters Without Borders was in the minority, with just about every other commentator declaring that the administration was responsible for the fate of Tissainayagam.

This returns us to the case itself.Mystery has surrounded what Tissainayagam wrote ever since he was arrested, thus permitting the usual suspects to claim that it showed that the media was completely shackled. We knew his rather innocuous work for The Sunday Times, but interviewing Prabhakaran seemed easier than finding aficionados of Northeastern Monthly. The Government contributed to this information blackout by publishing only two sentences with which they had taken issue, one claiming that the Army had deliberately withheld food from civilians trapped with the LTTE during the offensive in the East, and the other suggesting that they were behind many of the killings happening in the Province at the time. This encouraged people to think that there wasn’t much to the case.

It turns out that Northeastern Monthly is available on the internet, and readers interested in understanding the background should go through the archives. They can be found on the Tamil Canadian website.

One of the most fascinating aspects of what Tissainayagam wrote over the four year period that he was editing Northeastern Monthly is how wrong it turned out to be, politically speaking. From his rather innocent assumption that Ranil Wickremasinghe would triumph in the 2004 general election, through the curious assertion that Karuna’s defection would not prove to be important, to his very entertaining claim that the LTTE’s decision to help Mahinda Rajapaksa get elected president in 2005 was smart because he would be less capable of running a military campaign, Tissainayagam was quite ludicrously misguided.

More relevantly to the case, he wasn’t a moderate. Tissainayagam wrote in support of the LTTE, and I don’t mean in the way that some extremists on the other side claim that anybody critical of the Government is pro-terrorist. He made it clear in his articles that he was a Tamil nationalist who believed that the LTTE had an important role to play on behalf of his community. He treated them as the sole representative of Tamils and never had a critical word to say. Calling for his fellows to rise up against the Government wasn’t beneath him either.

This casts a different light on the matter. Reporters Without Borders had better change their minds about that new award they have created in honour of his journalistic integrity, because it is going to make them look very stupid indeed. Whatever the truth of the two sentences the Government has emphasised, these debatable assertions are not the real issue.

Tissainayagam is not being punished for his reporting. He may have done useful work in the process, drawing attention to some genuine problems and putting across a different point of view that challenges our understanding of events, but that was not the purpose of Northeastern Monthly. Anybody who reads it will see for themselves.

It is right to challenge such activities, but we instinctively know that the route taken with Tissainayagam is not the correct one. The LTTE is destroyed, and a line should be drawn under all that has gone before this point.

Many people have contributed in different ways to the incitement of communal disharmony and violence over the years, and from all communities. It would be impossible to go into it all now, and perhaps to do so would only stir up unhelpful feelings. What matters now is the prevention of further terrorism.

Tissainayagam may well have changed his mind about the wisdom of his position in the new circumstances, as politicians are wont to do, and giving him the chance to do so would have been infinitely better than continuing the prosecution.

COURTESY:The Island

General Fonseka's Emergence as Strong Leader causes ripples in Politics

by Col.R.Hariharan

Local elections in the North

The month saw the first move towards normalcy in the war torn Northern Province with conduct of largely trouble free elections for the Jaffna Municipality and the Vavuniya Urban Council on August 8. Though these elections were only local, they were an indicator of post war Tamil perceptions. The success of the elections proved that remnants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had neither the will nor the capacity to interfere with the process.

Though only 20% of the total of 100,000 voters was polled in Jaffna, according to observers it actually worked out to 40% of available voters as many did not receive their voting cards. The ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) spearheaded by the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP), its anti-LTTE Tamil coalition partner, won 13 of the 23 seats of the municipal council paving for the election of its nominee as the mayor.

On the other hand, in Vavuniya the voter turnout was 52%. However, the ruling coalition had a rude jolt when the pro-LTTE coalition - the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) - came out as the largest party winning five of the 11 seats while the moderate Peoples Democratic Front (PDF) came second. The verdict indicates strong support to the two issues propagated by the TNA - preservation of Tamil identity and demand for autonomy. It was also a public disapproval of the government policy of detaining 300,000 war displaced Tamils of Vanni in temporary camps instead of allowing them to return to their homes. The President can be expected to make plans for realignment of his support base among Tamil political parties to ensure he gains Tamil votes in the next presidential as it could become crucial.

However, in the elections for the Uva Provincial Council in the south held at the same time, the UPFA came out on top polling 72% of the votes and securing 25 of the 34 seats. The main opposition United National Party (UNP) polled only 22% of the votes and won only seats. The Leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was routed. It polled only 2% of the votes polled and secured only one seat. This indicates the strong support the President is enjoying in the south, following his victory against the LTTE.

Continuing woes of displaced people

The international criticism of Sri Lanka’s performance in handling humanitarian and human rights issues gathered further momentum as monsoon rains flooded some of the camps added to the misery of displaced people detained there. Both the U.S. and the UK came out with strong statements asking Sri Lanka to rehabilitate them speedily.

The government and the UN agencies were blaming each other for establishing the camps in low lying areas and providing poor infrastructure facilities. There appear to be differences within the government on the issue of repatriation the displaced people to their villages. The Defence Secretary had made it clear that unless the inmates were screened for identifying LTTE elements in their midst, they would not be allowed to go. On the other hand other ministries have been trying to soft pedal the issue citing the need to complete the mine clearance operations going on in many parts of Northern Province. It was clear that the government was dragging its feet over the issue perhaps due to internal differences.

However, perhaps in deference to Sri Lanka’s promises to India and the mounting international criticism probably one third of the inmates are likely to be released during September. Further delay in this respect is likely to embarrass the Indian government which could come under public pressure in Tamil Nadu.

Human rights issues

The President expressed his concern over growing high handed behaviour of police and ministers which reached a new high during the month. One minister was arrested for freeing an arrested person from a police station. A senior police officer and his wife are being prosecuted for kidnapping, torturing and killing three students. A crackdown against police corruption and misconduct is under way. According to the head of police as many as 189 policemen were under investigation during the month. However, there is a strong nexus between politicians and corrupt police elements and the cleansing operation is unlikely to yield satisfactory results in the near future.

Sri Lanka army plans

The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Sarath Fonseka, in his first public appearance in nearly three months speaking on ‘Winning Military Strategies - Lessons for Managers,’ said the Sri Lanka Army’s strategy of acting like guerrilla organisation, restructuring of the Army, ending corruption, increasing its strength and firepower and organizing a direct chain of command that went from the top to grass root levels as the key elements that ended the LTTE terrorism. It is significant that he had touched upon corruption – an issue that had plagued armed forces for a long time. He also said that most of the targets engaged by the air force and navy were based upon the revamped military intelligence.

General Fonseka’s emergence as a strong leader has had its ripples on politics as well. He has disowned an e-mail containing a statement purported to have been issued by him which had been circulating. The statement containing extremely right wing views and Indian slant was highly critical of present political leadership as a whole. Though the e-mail lacked credibility it appears to have created ripples in political circles.

LTTE’s survival pains

The tentative efforts made to rebuild the leadership-less LTTE with the installation of Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP), its senior most surviving leader and international representative as General Secretary, collapsed after his dramatic arrest in Kuala Lumpur and rendition to Colombo on August 6. Sri Lankan intelligence in coordination with Malaysia and Thailand carried out the operation and took him into custody when he had gone to Kuala Lumpur for a meeting with two Sri Lanka Tamils related to the late Nadesan, political head of the LTTE. KP was flown to Colombo via Bangkok in a special Sri Lankan aircraft.

There had been lots of speculation about the circumstances of his apprehension. They range from involvement of foreign intelligence agencies in the operation, some LTTE blacklegs turning informers, and the hands of expatriate Tamils turning against KP. Whatever be the truth behind the arrest, it was a remarkable achievement of Sri Lanka intelligence. With KP’s arrest, the LTTE’s succession struggle is likely to start all over again and the process may not be smooth. Sivaparan alias Nediyavan, related to the late LTTE political wing leader Tamilchelvan, and who opposed the rise of KP earlier, was tipped as successor. The Norwegian police are reported to be keeping a watch on Nediyawan who is living in exile there.

The Sri Lankans have made a number of arrests and recovered sizeable quantities of arms from caches in Colombo and Vanni based upon information given by KP. India will undoubtedly welcome the arrest of KP who is suspected to have been involved in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination plot and other cases of gun running in India.

[This analysis of activities in Sri Lanka during August 2009 was written on August 31, 2009 for South Asia Security Trends published by www.security-risks.com who hold the copy right.]

courtesy: www.security-risks.com

September 07, 2009

Unreasonable, ungrateful attitude of Sri Lanka-Guardian UK Editorial

Full Text of Editorial, Guardian UK, Sep 8, 2009:

The Sri Lankan government is hugely dependent on outside aid in its efforts to deal with the human consequences of the war which the island had to endure for more than a quarter of a century. High military spending, collapsed tourism revenues, disrupted agriculture, reduced trade, and, to make matters worse, natural disaster in the shape of the tsunami have all undermined the economy.

The government simply does not have the resources to undertake, without international help, the work of repairing infrastructure, restoring economic life, feeding and temporarily housing large numbers of displaced people, and then returning them to their old homes in conditions approaching normality. Long before the war reached its end earlier this year, United Nations agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and scores of voluntary organisations were all present in Sri Lanka ready and anxious to mitigate the impact of the fighting on ordinary people. They were kept at arm's length by the Sri Lankan authorities, who brooked no interference with, or oversight of, their military campaign. There was reason to hope that, with victory, this attitude would change. Unhappily, it has not. Colombo is still severely restricting access to the north, particularly to the area of the final battles, and to the camps where an estimated 280,000 people displaced by the fighting are detained.

The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, came to Colombo a week after the war ended to ask for "unhindered access" to those camps. UN agencies have instead found themselves hampered in their attempts to bring in the materials to make life in the camps bearable, particularly vital as the monsoon breaks. Voluntary agencies have similarly found themselves blocked by regulations which seem to change weekly, if not daily, while some ICRC offices have been closed down on government orders. Independent travel by journalists is banned. In addition, the government reacts with fury to any criticism, from whatever source, of its slowness in getting the refugees out of the camps and back to their homes.

The secretary general's reward for the low-key approach he has taken to the Sri Lankan crisis since he assumed office has been to be ignored. Now the Sri Lankans have served an expulsion order on the Unicef spokesman, James Elder, after he warned that the monsoon would cause chaos and suffering in the camps. The Colombo government wants aid but it also wants to micromanage the way it is deployed and to bully those who have the job of delivering it. It is time that the donor nations and the agencies formed a united front to resist this unreasonable and ungrateful attitude.

Boston Globe urges President Obama’s call for release of Tissainayagam and uprooted civilians

Full text of Boston Globe editorial, Sep 7, 2009:

Journalists rarely set out to become like the proverbial canary in a coal mine. But in certain places, at certain times, they can’t help themselves. If they insist on doing their jobs and a government doesn’t like what they publish, they may be thrown in prison or killed by an assassin who goes unpunished. And usually, where reporters and editors are treated this way, a greater humanitarian catastrophe is at hand.

Hope - Barack Obama - Shepard Fairey

So it is with J. S. Tissainayagam, the Tamil editor of a defunct monthly magazine in Sri Lanka who was sentenced a week ago to 20 years in prison under a law that criminalizes writings intended to create communal disharmony. The terrible irony is that 280,000 Tamil civilians displaced by the government’s victorious war against the separatist Tamil Tigers are currently suffering and dying in flooded, ill-provided camps. This is a real source of communal disharmony. This is what makes Tissainayagam a canary in a coal mine.

On World Press Freedom day, President Obama cited Tissainayagam’s case as an example of what can happen to journalists who displease governments intolerant of criticism. Obama should call for his release and for Sri Lanka’s uprooted civilians to be returned to their homes.

No return to the gallows-CRM opposses death penalty

Full Text of Press Release by CRM

The return of executions will diminish and degrade us all”, says the Civil Rights Movement (CRM), in an urgent plea against the resumption of judicial hangings. The state has an obligation to calmly weigh the pros and cons of such an important issue. The responsibility of political leaders is to lead, to guide.

Citing a unanimous eleven-judge decision of the highest Court of South Africa, CRM says that punishment should be commensurate with the offence but it does not have to be equivalent or identical. "The state does not have to engage in the cold and calculated killing of murderers in order to express its moral outrage at their conduct".

The greatest deterrent to crime, this South African case held, is not the death penalty but “the likelihood that offenders will be apprehended, convicted and punished. It is that which is lacking in our criminal justice system".

CRM stresses the irreversible nature of the death penalty, and the danger of executing the innocent. The integrity and reliability of the police investigation is crucial, for it is here that the evidence emerges on which a man may be convicted. This is why no system of last-stage review by distinguished judges is an adequate safeguard. “Can we say?” – asks CRM - “that our investigative, law enforcement and legal system is such that there is no real possibility of innocent people being convicted and scapegoats being hanged?” There is special danger in “high profile” cases where there is public outrage, and consequent pressure on the police for quick arrests. The poor and the disadvantaged are the most likely victims of miscarriages of justice.

The cruel nature of many murders, and appalling suffering of the victim’s relatives, is recognized. But to end a particular individual's life at a particular place, date and time, as a deliberate and predetermined act of the state, is in turn extreme cruelty. Murders should be categorized, with varying minimum sentences. A parole system should review remissions, and where appropriate the victim’s relatives should have the right to be heard.

A procedure set up in the UK in 1997 to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice had, by end July 2009, resulted in 280 convictions being quashed. In some instances the accused had been hanged, others would have been if not for the abolition of the death penalty. In a separate document CRM summarises ten such sample cases.

THE FULL TEXT OF CRM’S STATEMENT:

NO RETURN TO THE GALLOWS

CRM opposes death penalty

The proposal to resume, after a lapse of over thirty years, the practice of judicial hangings, is a matter of the gravest concern to the Civil Rights Movement.

Recent horrific murders; the growth of organised crime

The Civil Rights Movement (CRM) is certainly mindful of the horrific crimes that have shocked us all in recent times -- the Rita John rape and murder case, the Hokandara murders, the murder of Inoka Sewwandi, the murder of Judge Sarath Ambepitiya, the Lasantha Wickramatunga murder, the Angulana murders, and -- preceding these -- the rape of Krishanthy Kumaraswamy and the killing of her and her family. These and other gruesome events have hit the media headlines; yet other equally grave crimes of violence against individuals take place with less or no publicity. CRM is also mindful of the problems of underworld and organised crime including large-scale drug trafficking and contract killings. Our organisation by no means underestimates the serious law and order problems facing the authorities. But remedies must be sought elsewhere.

Resumption of hangings no solution

Most people who support the death penalty do so on the assumption, sincerely believed, that it will reduce grave crime. This is an assumption that needs to be carefully examined before embarking on such a serious step as the imposition of an irreversible punishment. In CRM’s view it is no answer to the problem of law and order; it will only serve to divert attention from truly effective measures, and make the national scene more brutal than it already is.

Extreme cruelty

The retributive element of punishment has to be included in our penal policy in a responsible way and should not preclude all possibility of rehabilitation of offenders. Admittedly, there is sometimes a demand from some elements of the public for the ultimate penalty. This may be understandable, but that does not mean it should be allowed to prevail over other considerations. Over the centuries, there has been a steady progression away from this type of punishment -- away from public executions, mutilations, and other torture, inflicted sometimes for comparatively trivial crimes. Society today looks back with abhorrence at such practices. It is the responsibility of an enlightened government to give the lead to this movement towards the adoption of more rational and humane approaches to the ills of society, and to resist a reversion to earlier attitudes. The resumption of hangings in Sri Lanka today would be a retrograde step in the progress of our country.

The absolutely cruel nature of many murders, and the appalling suffering of the relatives, cannot be gainsaid. This does not detract from the truth that the ending of a particular individual's life at a particular place, date and time, as a deliberate and predetermined act of the state, is in turn an act of extreme cruelty. Those who have had personal contact with condemned prisoners and their family members, in the days when hangings did take place, have experienced at close quarters the particular horror of this punishment, and feel it is one the state has no right to inflict on any human being. As the Constitutional Court of South Africa pointed out, punishment should be commensurate with the offence but it does not have to be equivalent or identical. "The state does not have to engage in the cold and calculated killing of murderers in order to express its moral outrage at their conduct".

Much of the problem is not only that many crimes go undetected or unpunished, but also that, when a death sentence is commuted, a uniform sentencing system applies. Rather than hanging some offenders, the alternative is to categorise murders into various degrees, which carry different minimum prison sentences, coupled with appropriate review mechanisms which take into account the circumstances of the crime. There should be parole boards to consider remissions of sentence; in appropriate cases these might give a hearing to relatives of victims. Such measures would go a long way to satisfy the legitimate public complaint when persons convicted of particularly grave crimes are released after what appears to be an unduly short period.

The ‘deterrent’ argument

Nowhere has the death penalty (as opposed to other punishments such as long-term imprisonment) been shown to have any special power to deter the commission of crime. An international survey of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations and revised in 1996, concluded that this research "has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment, and such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming. The evidence as a whole still gives no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis".

Diversion from real need

Reliance on the death penalty diverts attention from the real solution, which is prompt and efficient investigation of crime followed by effective prosecution and conviction.

"The greatest deterrence to crime is the likelihood that offenders will be apprehended, convicted and punished. It is that which is lacking in our criminal justice system."

The above is from the judgment of the Constitutional Court of South Africa cited earlier which held the death penalty unconstitutional. The eleven judges were not only unanimous, each wrote a separate and carefully considered judgment. These judgments in their sum set out a comprehensive and compelling case against the death penalty; they merit study and consideration by any person concerned with, and in particular any person involved in decision-making on, this issue.

Irreversibility and the danger of executing the innocent

We said earlier that the death penalty has no proven special deterrent effect above other forms of punishment. At the very highest, its effect is uncertain. Two things about the death penalty are, however, certain beyond dispute. One is that it is irreversible. The other is that sometimes innocent people have been convicted and executed. These certainties are another compelling reason why this particular punishment should have no place in our criminal justice system. The most prominent miscarriages of justice in the UK have been for crimes that produce the greatest outrage and the loudest calls for vengeance.

Reliability of police investigation; discrimination against the disadvantaged

Can we say that our investigative, law enforcement and legal system is such that there is no real possibility of innocent people being convicted and scapegoats being hanged? It is vital to remember that the process which may end at the gallows begins, not at the trial stage, but at the initial stage of investigation of the crime.

The integrity and reliability of the police investigation is absolutely crucial, for it is here that evidence emerges on which a man may be eventually executed. This is why no system of last-stage review by distinguished judges is an adequate safeguard. Numerous events in Sri Lanka, several in recent times, show it would be unwise to act on the basis that the police will always act fairly, impartially and within the law. Added to this is the pressure the police are under to “solve” and make quick arrests in the case of particularly horrific or other “high profile” crimes. In such cases, when the evidence seems to lead in one direction, there will be a temptation to cut corners, and a reluctance to explore all avenues for possible alternative perpetrators.

CRM is also disturbed by indications that underworld elements appear to have support of politicians who in turn influence police investigation. The poor and the disadvantaged, who do not have the capacity to search for evidence that would indicate their innocence, and who have less access to competent and experienced lawyers, are the most likely victims of miscarriages of justice.

Of course the danger of wrongful conviction applies equally to crimes punished by imprisonment. But the unique nature and awesome finality of the death sentence places it in a category apart.

Experience elsewhere

There are a disturbing number of recorded instances in other countries where persons have been found guilty and the conviction has later been found unsafe. In some cases they have been executed, in others they would have been had the death penalty not been abolished. Notably, there have been cases where the police or the prosecution has suppressed evidence favourable to the defence. Persons advocating the death penalty would be well advised to study developments following the setting up of the Criminal Cases Review Commission in the UK in 1997 to investigate suspected miscarriages of justice. This is an independent public body of eleven Commissioners with about 100 staff, and has wide-ranging investigative powers. Where it feels there is a “real possibility” that a conviction will not be upheld it refers it to the Court of Appeal. A quick skim through the results only of murder cases reveals over fifty persons whose convictions have thus been set aside as unsafe, including those of Mahmood Mattan (hanged 1952) and George Kelly (hanged 1950). Many others were fortunate that their convictions were after the UK abolished the death penalty and they could therefore be freed from prison.

As at end July 2009, out of 397 convictions examined to conclusion by this procedure, 280 had been quashed. In one case it was revealed that a culture of corruption and perversion of the course of justice had prevailed at the relevant time in the police station concerned, in respect of which the investigating officer was later jailed for bribery. Other instances included non-disclosure to the defence of relevant material, deficiencies in conduct of the defence including insufficient pre-trial preparation by lawyers, and serious challenge to medical expert witnesses in a series of other cases. Fresh evidence has established psychiatric illness which impaired the ability of the accused to instruct defence lawyers; linguistic expert evidence has shown that an alleged confession was unlikely to have been recorded in the manner claimed by the police. In the case of 19-year-old, illiterate and mentally backward Derek Bentley, the judgment quashing the conviction stressed the particular importance of a calm approach in cases which evoke public outrage. The judge’s summing up in that case was palpably unfair and would have made the jury feel there was no option but to convict. To their eternal credit the jury nevertheless added a recommendation to mercy, but to no avail and Bentley was hanged.

Moves towards abolition abroad and at home

There is a clear international trend towards abolition of the death penalty, more than two thirds of the countries of the world having abolished it in law or in practice. In 1965 there were only 25 abolitionist countries. By the end of 2008, 92 countries the world over had by law abolished the death penalty for all crimes, and some 46 more were abolitionist in practice. Notable among third world countries who abolished the death penalty during the past 20 years are South Africa (despite its serious problems of violent crime), Senegal, Rwanda, Angola, Mozambique, Nepal, Philippines, and Bhutan (where Buddhism was specifically mentioned as the reason). It is a significant mark of the abhorrence with which the death penalty is now viewed, that life imprisonment is the most severe penalty that can be imposed by either the International Criminal Court, or any of the ad hoc international tribunals that deal with crimes against humanity and genocide.

In Sri Lanka, attempts to abolish the death penalty commenced before independence. In 1928 the Legislative Council adopted a resolution moved by D.S. Senanayake that capital punishment should be abolished. Similar resolutions were thereafter at various times proposed by Susanta de Fonseka of Panadura, Dr A.P. de Zoysa of Colombo South, and MP for Kandy Fred E. de Silva. By decision of the very first Cabinet meeting of the government of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1956, the Suspension of Capital Punishment Act suspended the death penalty for a trial three-year period, and the famous Norval Morris Commission was set up to examine the issue. However in the aftermath of the assassination of Prime Minister Bandaranaike the Act was repealed by the caretaker government headed by W. Dahanayake. Executions resumed, but fell into disuse again after 1976. In our country over a long period of time repugnance at the death penalty has been felt and expressed by individuals of varying political colourations, and is a matter that should and can be taken out of party politics.

The Responsibility of Political Leadership

The state has an obligation to calmly weigh the pros and cons of a question of such importance, without being influenced by uneven moods and sudden passions generated by gruesome murders. This is an issue on which public opinion can easily shift. People may look to the death penalty impulsively when they hear of a shocking crime, but change their minds when its special deterrent effect is shown to be unproved, when alternative punishments of long prison sentences are suggested, when the danger of conviction of the innocent is remembered, when the widespread opprobrium in which executions are held in other societies is realised, and when the stark horror of an actual hanging comes home to them.

If , in the yearning we all share for a safe life, some people mistakenly press for the death penalty, we do not blame them. But the responsibility of a leader is to lead, to guide. Our society is complex and contains different strands, some inspiring, some frightening, at times even within the same individual. We have to nurture the good and discourage the bad. The return of executions will diminish and degrade us all.

Unacceptable in any circumstances

The return of the hangman as part of our public life is, in CRM's view, unacceptable in any circumstances. Defence of life and defence of the state may sometimes justify the taking of life by law enforcement officials, but even in such cases the use of lethal force is constrained by legal safeguards to prevent abuse. Judicial execution, on the other hand, is not an act of defence against an immediate threat to life. It is the premeditated killing of an identified prisoner for the purpose of punishment, a punishment which could take another form.

There is an urgent need for careful and serious study of crime in Sri Lanka, and of the problems of investigation and law enforcement. CRM urges that executions not be resumed under any circumstances, and that real solutions to violent crime, both short and long term, be identified and meticulously pursued.

CRM
Suriya Wickremasinghe
4, Charles Circus,
Colombo 3
tel. 2573887 email nad@ slt.lk

New Ch 4 video: Footage reveals Sri Lanka camp conditions

New film appears to reveal the victims of Sri Lanka's war suffering poor conditions in UN-funded camps.

They are among the victims of Sri Lanka's civil war, living in camps funded by the UN.

Now footage has come to light apparently showing how bad conditions are in the camps - patients on intravenous drips lying on mud floors, a man so weak he is unable to brush the flies from his face.

The mobile phone footage, from the group War Without Witness, was reportedly shot two weeks ago in Vavuniya, in northern Sri Lanka, where 200,000 displaced Tamils are being held.

The concern now is that when the monsoon rain season begins, the camp will be flooded.

The plight of Tamil children was raised by Unicef spokesman James Elder, who has just been expelled from the country after being accused by the government of spreading Tamil Tiger propaganda.

[Courtesy: Channel 4]

CPA Special Report: 'Trincomalee High Security Zone and Special Economic Zone, September 2009'

The Centre for Policy Alternatives’ (CPA) latest report ‘Trincomalee High Security Zone and Special Economic Zone, September 2009’ brings to the fore critical issues of national security, development and the fundamental rights of the citizens.

Click to Download PDF File full report:Trincomalee High Security Zone and Special Economic Zone

The report highlights the significant dividends obtained from the reduction of the High Security Zone (HSZ) including civilians return to their homes and land. Though some returns have taken place, the report highlights that there still remain over 6000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who are unable to return to their land as a result of the HSZ. The issues raised in this report are timely given the ongoing discussions on resettlement, relocation, reconstruction and development for the North of Sri Lanka.

Questions remain as to why a large area of land is needed as a HSZ, especially in light of the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009. As the report highlights, there are no signs that the HSZ will be further reduced. Instead the Government is increasingly referring to the area as an exclusive Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and is already in the process of establishing a coal power station. As a result of the HSZ and SEZ, thousands of IDPs are displaced and dispossessed of their land which they have resided in for decades, if not centuries. The CPA report highlights the lack of information available to the affected populations and lack of transparency of Government plans for the area. The manner in which this issue has been dealt with raises serious questions regarding the Government’s commitment to due process and respect of the fundamental rights of its citizens, in addition to the role of humanitarian agencies in assisting the Government in this questionable relocation process.

CPA has presented policy alternatives, mounted a legal challenge through a fundamental rights case and critiqued the HSZ and SEZ in Trincomalee since 2007. The present brief is an update of the status of the HSZ, the situation of the IDPs from the HSZ who remain displaced and on the implications of the HSZ and SEZ. It is based on four field visits undertaken in 2009, two to Trincomalee and two to Batticaloa where discussions were held with government officials, humanitarian actors, donors and affected communities.

###

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

Time of thugs causes darkness at noon

By Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

In the last fortnight I personally and directly experienced the more vicious and thuggish expressions of the politics of hate and harm and hurt. In the space of two weeks I received an anonymous death threat in the post and in common parlance, was detained at the airport on the instructions of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID).

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Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu (file pic)

These two incidents are clearly unrelated and therefore merely coincidental in the span of a fortnight – the death threat is anonymous, the TID is a stalwart arm of the state. They however, constitute a chilling illustration of the potential costs and likely consequences of daring to dissent in this our beloved land. Daring to dissent and to constructively critique the prevailing orthodoxy and in doing so outlining an alternative vision and future for Sri Lanka, is what I believe I do and in the strongest conviction of it being an affirmation and celebration of our democracy, rather than an act of treason against the motherland.

I have written to the powers that be about the death threat and made an entry regarding it at my local police station. An investigation, I assume is proceeding. I have attempted to make contact with the TID, but have been unsuccessful so far. Greatly appreciative of the support and solidarity of friends and colleagues, I continue to dare to dissent and to celebrate our democracy, precisely because it is in dire peril.

Every act of intimidation, abduction, detention and killing is a grave and nasty threat to what is left of our democracy. Every act of intimidation, abduction, detention and killing that goes undeterred and uninvestigated reinforces the culture of impunity and nurtures further violations of rights. The culture of impunity is a cancer that will destroy any pretence we have of being a decent, democratic or humane society.

What I have been the target of in this unfortunately, memorable fortnight pales into insignificance in the context of the grisly catalogue of crimes and violations fellow citizens have endured, continue to do so and fallen victim to from the Wanni to Angulana, from Tissainayagam to Lasantha Wickrematunge and others numbering in, yes, thousands.

This must stop. But it does not. It is the Time of the Thugs and it will be so indefinitely, if we allow ourselves to be suffocated by collective cognitive dissonance.

The death threat was anonymous. It contained gross distortions of the position taken in public by my organisation, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and I on the extension of the GSP Plus trade concession. GSP Plus is based on the ratification and effective implementation of some 27 human rights instruments and international labour standards. As part of the terms of the extension, the EU could launch an “investigation” – the term used in the GSP Plus document – into this and in the case of Sri Lanka chose to do so in respect of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and the Child Rights Convention (CRC).

The position taken by CPA and I is that a win/win outcome of the issue is entirely possible, desirable and indeed necessary. The trade concession can be extended and human rights protection strengthened. No zero-sum outcome need even be contemplated.

I am accused in the letter of supplying information to the External Affairs Commissioner of the EU with the objective of denying Sri Lanka an extension of the concession. Therefore I have to be killed. The letter makes the rather curious point that in my particular case the government will NOT be involved. No one, it goes on to say, will be able to identify my would be murderers, who claim to be acting on behalf of families in the garment sector who will be impoverished as a consequence of my dastardly deed.

By going to the extent of explicitly absolving the government of the crime to be committed, the criminals though preferring cowardly anonymity are bold enough to insinuate that the government is involved in crimes of this nature! Perhaps this will invest the investigation with greater urgency and purpose; perhaps this is an occasion for a robust affirmation of the government’s commitment to human rights, rule of law and good governance? The sheer chutzpah of these creatures of the culture or is it, cult of impunity!

In the airport incident, I was confounded by the information that instructions to question and detain me had been issued as far back as February. I have been through Katunayake airport on numerous occasions since then and in the country too for months at a stretch. Why did the TID not contact me earlier and why was I not detained at the airport on any number of earlier occasions since February? Does the answer lie in the realms of incompetence, quiet corners of discretion, in some twilight zone or in the heart of darkness given so unreservedly to impunity?

I may or I may never know. I was allowed to leave and told in response to my repeated inquiries as to what it was all about, to get in contact with the TID in Colombo. This, I continue to try to do.

What is it all about? Was there a mistake made or a message conveyed? Assuming the latter, am I to behave differently? Delve deep into the inner recesses of my memory to unearth some act that could be construed as treasonable, some contact who turned out to be a terrorist, a colleague who turned out to be tragically misguided or continue to dare to dissent and affirm our democratic rights?

On turning 51 today, I am resolved to not go gently into what is more and more a darkness at noon, rather than that good night, and rage, rage against the dying of the light. [courtesy: The Sunday Leader]

IDP camps will be ready for monsoon-UNDP Rep

UNDP Resident Representative Neil Buhne says he is confident that work in IDP camps will be completed before the monsoons. In an interview with The Sunday Leader, Buhne stated that several programmes had been implemented to handle monsoon flooding.

He also said the government was committed to resettle the people through its development programme in the north. "Resettlement is something that we support, something that we think is the best solution. And I think the government feels that as well. They have stated a number of times that very good work has been done by the Presidential Task Force on the 180 day plan. I think it shows that they are serious about trying to facilitate the resettlement," he said.

By Arthur Wamanan

Q. WITH the monsoons expected next month, what action has the UN together with the government, taken to make sure that IDPs do not face the problems they faced due to rains last month? How is the UN preparing to handle this situation?

A. I think everybody is concerned about it because of the heavy rains that took place about three weeks ago, which exposed the difficulties in the sites at Menik Farm, particularly, because they are low lying, newly cleared forest areas, and because of the nature of the soil. But I think the government has taken a number of measures which are helpful and they are trying to accelerate the resettlement, moving people to Jaffna, moving people to the east and to other places, which would reduce the number of people in Menik Farm.

Second, there is a programme that is being managed by the Disaster Management Centre of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, and the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLRDC ), with assistance from us, that is installing drains in all the main areas of Menik Farm. Work had already started before the earlier rains began. But it hasn’t been finished yet and is scheduled to be finished before the monsoon begins. There’s also work going on to delineate areas where it’s not good for people to stay because it is difficult to drain, and where it is necessary to decommission the toilets in the area.

Third, we are trying to improve the water supply, because some of the water comes from a river, and when it is rough it runs with a lot of mud in it. So we’re having to put additional filtration plants together with the Water Board and helping develop new wells. In summary, there is a lot of work going on to prepare, first by reducing the number of people there and second by trying to improve the conditions for the people who may need to remain.

Q. Are you confident that the work will be complete before the monsoon?

A. I am confident that the work will be completed before the monsoon, if the monsoon doesn’t come early. However, I don’t think that’s going to solve all the problems because of the nature of the site. It will be muddy, and living in the shelters and tents there during the monsoon is not an easy situation for the people. If there is a cyclone coming or something very serious, there have to be other arrangements, and I know the government is actively looking at alternatives in the event of a cyclone, which could cause serious damage.

Q. Is there a plan for resettling the people and has it been put on paper? How is that process being carried out? Do you think that they will be resettled within the next three months?

A. Well, resettlement is something that we support, something that we think is the best solution. And I think the government feels that way as well. They have stated that a number of times and very good work has been done by the Presidential Task Force on the 180 day plan. I think it shows that they are serious about trying to facilitate the resettlement. It’s hard to know exactly how many people are going to be resettled over the next few months. I think the commitment to move people back to Jaffna, the east, and parts of Vavuniya and Mannar South is very good.

I think the extent and speed of larger resettlement will depend, to a large extent, on how quickly and effectively land can be certified as cleared of mines and unexploded weapons. There is work going on, but it takes a while. We hope the government can meet the commitment that it made for 80% basically by the end of the year and we are doing our best to work with them to help meet that commitment.

Q. With regard to the de-mining process, how far has it gone? And how is it progressing?

A. Well, I think it is a very hard job. Because, for example, the focus right now is on areas around the rice bowl, and there was also a lot of work around Madhu Church earlier to try and make it suitable for the pilgrimage to the shrine. Those are the areas where the fighting was very heavy from March to June last year. There was a major defence line. So there is a huge amount of unexploded ordinance, various mines, and all sorts of devices people have not even seen before.

So it’s going on more slowly than anyone had hoped. It is not because there is not a good effort, it’s because there are a great deal of mines. And I think there has been an improvement in the working coordination between everybody since this phase began. I think the fact that the Indian government has also made available a couple more teams coming in through their operators is a good thing, too.

Q. The Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP) mid-year report said that there was a gap of US $ 32 million dollars in funding at that time. What is the situation now? And what has the response from donors been?

A. The mid-year review also increased the amount of money that was needed for the CHAP in recognition of the emergency, with so many people coming out. The funds are coming in. I think we have around 60% of the revised CHAP request of $270 million. But we would prefer that the funds that are coming in focus more on helping people return or helping people get settled and start their new lives But right now, a lot of the money is being spent on maintaining the camps, because that’s where the people are now and where the help is needed.

Q. The UN has been accused of poor efficiency when it comes to project management, not only in Sri Lanka but in many parts of the world. In some countries, only 10 cents to the dollar reaches the recipients. For every dollar spent by the UN on IDPs how much of it goes to the IDPs? How do you respond to the accusation?

A. I don’t agree with the accusation. I think some of the accusations come from countries where the UN has complex operations where there are peacekeeping, policing, and/or political elements to it, for example, places like Congo, Sudan or Haiti, or earlier operations that were in Liberia or East Timor. And that increases expenses exponentially. What we are doing here is purely humanitarian work and development. That costs much less.

The way it works is that we get donor funds in addition to our own UN funds. And they are often used for the actual, physical things, whereas the organisations themselves are covering the bulk of their staff costs, usually from their own budgets. There is no common rule. It varies from agency to agency, but it is almost the opposite of the figure you gave, with the bulk of funds reaching the recipients. And we try to really focus on getting as much as we can from people working with partners in government and non-governmental organisations to help increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the assistance.

I think it also has to be recognised that the staff we have here are not “overhead”. The staff, who are primarily Sri Lankans, are working very, very hard to help deliver the assistance, working together with the government, and in some cases also transferring and building national capacity.

Q. How many foreign consultants and experts will the UN hire for these projects?

A. I don’t know the specific number for every project. But I can give you a rough idea of the number of UN staff in the country as a whole. There are roughly around 1,900. Around 1,670 are Sri Lankans and 230 are international staff. And those are people employed all over the country and in Colombo, where there are regional offices as well. The largest number outside Colombo are in Vavuniya, Batticaloa and Jaffna. But it is not so large when compared with the budget of the operations that we have here.

Q. Last week, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, called for an independent investigation into the authenticity of a video alleged to show extrajudicial executions. Have you officially conveyed the message to the government?

A. There are a series of people who are called Special Rapporteurs who are appointed through and report to the UN Human Rights Council. They are well known, eminent individuals in their areas, and the UN supports their work, but they are independent and not part of the UN staff structure. The objective in creating the rapporteurs was that their independence gives them the ability to look at all issues objectively. However, their findings are their own and do not represent the official UN position. Their findings are conveyed regularly to the Human Rights Council, which then decides what action to take, if any. Therefore, Mr. Alston’s report represents his view as a Rapporteur and it is not for us to convey it to the government. [courtesy: The Sunday Leader]

Sajith Premadasa and the UNP: Lead, follow or get out of the way

By Gamini Rohan Bandarage

Sri Lanka’s political firmament is comprised of three main fragments at the moment. (a) The government and its henchmen, riding high on the defeat of the LTTE, (b) The main opposition – weak, impotent and making a few pathetic attempts at a comeback, and (c), the most interesting group of the lot, a handful of opposition members conspiring to keep their party in opposition for the longest possible time – with a little help from movers and shakers in the ruling party of course.

Once upon a time, it would have been unthinkable to throw the name of Sajith Premadasa into this melee. For all intents and purposes, Sajith has appeared the greenest of UNPers, popular in his electorate, refusing to cross over to the government along with the other defectors and seemingly gentlemanly even in his handling of the inner party coup against UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. How then, have things done such an about face to reveal that Premadasa, has not only been a ringleader among the conspiring jumbos but is one intent on keeping the UNP in opposition for at least another seven years?

For the longest time, unbeknownst to many UNP stalwarts, Premadasa has been in a brown study about his personal political future. Since Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat at the 2005 Presidential election, Premadasa adopted a fiery approach towards the attitude of the UNP Leader to political matters. However, being the shrewd character he is, he kept these opinions intensely private, except when he shared them with those he considered his closest confidants.

Premadasa was of the opinion that Wickremesinghe should lose election after election for the UNP. He constantly ran down party candidates at elections and revelled in the UNP’s consecutive defeats. Despite his distaste for the politics of Wickremesinghe however, Premadasa was careful to stay out of trouble with the party leader and whenever leadership struggles ensued within the party in the aftermath of election losses, Premadasa would steer clear of the controversies.

Privately, he would support the conspirators, applauding their attempts to oust Wickremesinghe but also throwing cold water over their plans by telling them, rightly so, that the UNP Leader would never step down. His constant refrain was that Wickremesinghe had no clue how to win elections or choose the right team to do the job. Ironically though, he never volunteered to play such a role on behalf of the party. Instead, he would make use of every opportunity to complain publicly that he was being sidelined since his own leadership skills were a threat to Wickremesinghe’s survival.

While the UNP’s internecine battles have raged, there has simultaneously been a steady swell of opinion regarding the fact that Premadasa appears to be the only potential replacement for Wickremesinghe. But the truth of the matter is that the last thing Sajith Premadasa wants is leadership thrust upon him in any capacity within the UNP. His sole ambition is to steer clear of the hot water Wickremesinghe and Co. find themselves in at this time and to lie very, very low. However, in the process, he will spare no pains to establish with all and sundry that he is not being given the opportunities that he should receive within the party as an up and coming, young leader of the UNP.

That such an apparently ardent UNPer is doing his utmost to jeapordise his party’s prospects merits serious investigation. In fact, for some months now, his near and dear ones have expressed serious concern about Premadasa’s inability to see the forest for the trees. He was heard to mention at a social gathering recently that President Mahinda Rajapaksa was doing a wonderful job and that the UNP stood no chance of winning any elections in the near future.

Sajith Premadasa learnt at an early age that he can get his way at any expense to the country. He was after all, son of the most powerful man in Sri Lanka. He is therefore focused firmly on 2016, the probable date of the next presidential election, when after some 11 years of Rajapaksa rule, he reckons Sri Lanka will be ready to hand the elections over to the UNP on a platter. Until then, Premadasa is hoping that his strategy of keeping mum and allowing his party to languish in opposition as long as possible will similarly hand the UNP leadership over to him on a platter.

To this end, he limits his political career to innumerable photographs in the newspapers and to harassing businessmen into providing him with vast amounts of money, with which he then purchases sewing machines and the like for Hambantota’s poorest of the poor, thereby bloating his self-image with someone else’s money. This Kotalawela-esque behaviour now has business people running for cover when they see his number flash on their mobile phones or happen to run into him at a social gathering.

Premadasa suffers from a bad case of silver-spoon syndrome, which has him believing that the UNP is part of his personal inheritance. Perhaps realising that he lacks the confidence, innovation and credibility required to win the leadership of the Grand Old Party, Premadasa is hoping that the UNP will deteriorate to such a degree that he will be its de facto leader, six years down the road. He is hoping to evoke the avatar of his father, Ranasinghe Premadasa, the second executive president of Sri Lanka to sentimentalise party members into seeing him as heir apparent of the UNP.

Despite having piggybacked on his father’s fame and popularity among the grassroots throughout his career in politics, Sajith often attempts to distance himself from the less savoury aspects of his father’s character, criticising President Ranasinghe Premadasa publicly in order to prove he is an impartial observer of politics. What many do not know is that Premadasa takes largely after his mother and that there was never really much of a relationship between father and son, R. Premadasa relating better to his daughter than he ever did to his soft-spoken son.

One might say that Sajith’s decision to distance himself from the negative aspects of his father’s leadership shows a certain maturity of character, but the tragedy is that the son also lacks the vision and energy of the father, making him unsuited to public office in any way, except for the saving grace that he is the only son of one of Sri Lanka’s former presidents.

As with many of the UNP’s problems, it is often easy to find solutions by studying the party’s history. There was not much love lost between President J.R. Jayewardene and his Prime Minister, R. Premadasa, but the personality clashes rarely spilled over into collective party matters. Premadasa was a force to reckon with at any election and played no small part in prolonging the UNP’s 17 year stint in office.

Despite his running issues with the likes of Dissanayake and Athulathmudli and whatever his many sins during his presidency, nobody can accuse Premadasa Senior of being disloyal to the UNP or jeopardising his party’s interests on the national political stage just to spite his detractors.

In this, tragically, his son differs greatly. While it is no secret that Sajith Premadasa sees Wickremesinghe as a weak and impotent party leader, Premadasa takes this grouse to another level. While opportunity abounds, especially in this period of non-existent leadership, for Sajith to step up to the plate and infuse some energy into the party rank and file, he chooses the path of least resistance. In this, he not only undermines the party leadership but denies the UNP any chance of raising its head against a highly popular incumbent administration.

The latest controversy in the UNP’s ongoing internal struggles is the now suspect allegiances of the leaders of the rebellion. Serious doubt has been cast on Johnston Fernando, Lakshman Seneviratne and others, who have been the most vociferous campaigners in the movement to oust Ranil Wickremesinghe. In the intrigue and high drama the facts are murky, but the UNP will soon grapple with the question of how best to deal with Fernando and Seneviratne who have been identified as double agents allegedly doing the bidding of the government which is keen to ensure the inner party struggles continue to steal focus from what are now almost bi-monthly polls.

This development not only makes Sajith Premadasa’s own manouevers more suspect but also seriously undermines some very necessary action to change the party leadership and revamp the party machinery in order to make it a viable opponent at future elections. While other party seniors such as Ravi Karunanayake and S.B. Dissanayake have opted to step into the fray and take on the government in any way possible at whatever cost, Premadasa has played it safe, a fact that has not been lost on the UNP membership.

Perhaps all these factors have contributed towards Premadasa’s recent statements about teaching the government an unforgettable lesson at the Southern Provincial Council election to be held in October. Indeed, for a politician who specifically requested representation from the Hambantota district, he has done little since the election was announced in terms of putting up some resistance to the Rajapaksa juggernaut in the area.

There is no question that if anyone is to counter the Rajapaksa popularity in the south, Sajith Premadasa is the man to do it. He has not only his years of philanthropic work in the region to his credit but the indelible legacies of his father to back up his cause. The deep south is littered with President Premadasa’s visionary infrastructure facilities that continue to serve the community today. It is also a wonderful opportunity to test his popularity and determine whether his support base in the south can propel him towards national leadership at some future date.

These are key areas to build on and motivate the UNP base with and it is hoped that even at this late stage, Sajith’s sense of duty towards party and country has been stirred. The time has certainly come for Premadasa to take up a challenge and prove he is up to the task. With the UNP in crisis the way it is today, it does not need any more selfish politicians looking out solely for themselves. Indeed if Sajith sees himself leading the UNP one day, it is his duty as an organiser today to be a valuable team player.

Success they say cannot be pursued; it ensues as an unintended by product of efforts concentrated in the direction of a worthy cause. Internal battles aside, the majority of the opposition and many moderate sections of Sri Lankan society believe that defeating the Rajapaksa government is a worthy cause. The question is, does Sajith Premadasa agree?

Gamini Rohan Bandarage can be contacted on bandarage@rediffmail.com

UNICEF defends spokesman after expulsion order

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

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has defended its spokesman in Sri Lanka, saying the official did nothing wrong after the government ordered his expulsion from the country.

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A young girl cries among the injured in the final days of the conflict. Children were often the biggest victims of the 26-year-old conflict-IRIN pic

The Sri Lankan government said over the weekend that it had ordered James Elder to leave because of comments he made about the civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

But Sarah Crowe, UNICEF's chief of communication for South Asia, said Elder had been doing his job by "speaking out on behalf of those who do not have a voice. We categorically stand by all the statements we made throughout the conflict and since the conflict on the situation of women and children in Sri Lanka," she told IRIN.

The Island newspaper in Sri Lanka on 7 September quoted an unnamed government official as saying Elder had caused damage to Sri Lanka and strengthened the LTTE's propaganda. The official said the expulsion would not be reversed.

Elder, an Australian citizen, has until 21 September to leave Sri Lanka.

Crowe said contradictory statements had been issued by government spokespeople and ministers over the matter, and that UNICEF was still trying to find out the reason behind Elder's expulsion order.

"We are still seeking absolute clarity on the reasons, and if there isn't some kind of miscommunication and misunderstanding," said Crowe.

She said UNICEF would appeal the decision and take the case to UN headquarters in New York if the Sri Lankan government did not change its mind.

"If it does come to this, and the government doesn't appear to be rescinding the decision, we would have to take it to a higher level," Crowe said.

"We would find it most regrettable if they were not going to rescind the decision," she added.

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In the last days of the conflict, children often suffered the most-IRIN pic

The government declared victory against the LTTE in May this year, ending a 26-year war that has killed thousands of people.

Some 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled the fighting are languishing in government camps in the north of the country.

More than three months on, access to the camps by journalists - both international and local - remains highly restricted.

Elder had spoken about the poor conditions affecting children there, and the general effects of the war on them.

However, Crowe said UNICEF would continue its work in the war-torn country. "We will continue to uphold our mandate. That will not change," she said.

A Summary of the Order Delivered Against Journalist Tissainayagam on Aug 31st 2009.

1.Between the 1st of June 2006 and the 1st of June 2007 you have with persons unknown to the prosecution, with intent to commit a crime with a common intention with or without premeditation by word, sign, or visual representation have caused to wit arousing communal feelings by editing, printing or distributing the magazine called North Eastern Monthly, you have conspired and committed the offence punishable under s.113(b) and s.102 and The Prevention of Terrorism Act.

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Tamil journalist and columnist J.S. Tissainayagam-Reuters pic

2. You have in the same course of events, have published or distributed the articles listed herein in the North Eastern Monthly magazine and committed the offence as referred to in the above law.

3. You have in the course of the said events, collected money or made payments on terrorism or aided and abetted by collecting money for the said magazine, North Eastern Monthly has committed the offence as referred to in the Emergency Regulations published on the 6th of December 2006.

The Prosecution summoned 10 witnesses and marked documents P 2(1) to P2(8) and P3 and P4. The defence summoned 8 witnesses and marked 30 documents on behalf of the accused Tissainayagam. The First Witness was A.S.P. Ananda Raj Ranasinghe who marked the confession of the accused as P1, which was recorded in Tamil and translated to Sinhala by S.I. Razeek.

Police Inspector Harendra Janakantha said in evidence that on receipt of information on 06.03.2008 he had visited the house of the accused and others and thereafter on the 7th he had visited the residence of the accused at 3.30 p.m., but arrested the accused on the same day at 6.50 p.m. at the T.I.D. as he was functioning as the Director of Rennaissance Publications Ltd. an Outreach media.

At this stage the learned Judge commented “contrary to what was recorded in the beginning, that as the accused could speak in Sinhala proficiently that his statement was recorded in Sinhala and the same was translated and read to the accused with the assistance of S.I. Razeek. Inspector Janakantha was unaware of a confession of the accused being recorded on 08.09.2008.

The Second witness for the prosecution, the General Manager of Vijitha Yapa Bookshop, had said in evidence that he used to sell about 50 copies of the magazine, a month handed over to him by the “association..”

The next witness Rathnasabapathi from Dialog had said that the accused was using the mobile phone bearing No. 0773059503 for approximately four to five years. Another witness from Dialog, named Ruwan Ratnayake had said that the telephone that was taken from the custody of the accused had been issued by him and used by the accused for a period of approximately three years.

The next witness was from Sri Lanka Telecom, named Priyantha Manorathna had said in evidence that the telephone No. 021-2285179 has been issued by Sri Lanka Telecom to a resident in Killinochchi by the name of K. Gnanakuma and that the accused has called the said land phone about 21 times over a period of two years and five months.

Next witness was the Manager of the Hulftsdorp branch of the Hatton National Bank who had said in evidence that Rennaisance Publications had an account in his branch and that the accused along with two others were the Directors of the same. He had given details of certain remittances and withdrawals of Rs. 50,000 each on two occasions and a debit of Rs. 100,000.

Next witness Nishantha Pushpalal had said in evidence that he has raided the premises No. 313 of Jampettah Street and taken about 50 copies of the magazine North Eastern Monthly into his custody which were of the July publication. The topic of the editorial of the said magazine “Providing security to Tamils now will define northeastern politics of the future” was marked as P3 (1) and the passage, “It is fairly obvious that the government is not going to offer them any protection. In fact it is the state security forces that are the main perpetrators of the killings” was marked as p3(1)a.

It was alleged that the article published on page 16 with the heading “with no military options the government buys him by offering watered down devolution”, was alleged to have been written by the accused was marked as P4(a). Further the passage contained therein, “Such offensives against the civilians are accompanied by attempts to starve the population by refusing them food as well as medicines and fuel with the hope of driving out the people of Vaharai and de-populating it. As this story is been written Vaharai is been subject to intense shelling and aerial bombardment,” was marked as P4(a)1. The same witness said in evidence that the North Eastern Monthly magazine was not legally registered at the Information Department.

Next witness for the prosecution was S.I. Mohamed Razeek. He said in his evidence that the “Hour 17” has been changed and altered by someone other than him. He had further said in evidence that he had started to record the evidence at 1900 hours and finished at 2330 hours and that the alterations made on different places of the statement were in fact made by the accused.

Next witness Dias Jayasundara had said in evidence that the accused has on one occasion called the No. 021-2285179 in Killinochchi and the accused had received eight calls from that same number and said that the accused, though resided in Colombo has had connections with the northern area.

The accused gave evidence in English and had said that he is not proficient in Tamil, but in English. He had also said that he worked with the Marga Institute to dawn peace for the Government of Sri Lanka and that he was also an active member of the Parents Congregation of the Disappeared Sons and Daughters Association, and further that he had also written articles in English with names of those who disappeared in the south and brought them to the attention of the foreign institutions for the love of peace and to help the youth of the south.

Further he had fought for the rights of the employees, whilst at Marga and thereby, he lost his job. Thereafter he worked at an institute called Medium and provided facts as per the requests of Unicef. He has also written about the children who became destitute as a result of the north-east war and his articles were translated to Tamil by other persons, and that for the first time he wrote something in detail in Tamil, was when the confession was recorded as alleged by Razeek.

He had also said that Razeek had threatened him from time to time to make the “confession” which was under duress and involuntary. He had further said that he had never received money from the LTTE, but raised the money for his publications commercially. He had spoken to the members of the LTTE though he did not know their names and in some instances met them for the purposes of finding facts and none of the articles he had written were created to help terrorism.

The Learned Judge has opined that since the confession was written in his own hand-writing it cannot be said that he had no Tamil knowledge. Upon his own evidence she had further come to the conclusion that as per his own statement from the dock, he has had connections with the members of the LTTE and its leaders. Therefore it cannot be said that the persons whom he spoke to, the members of the LTTE were not known to him by name. As an educated person and a journalist it cannot be trusted that he spoke to persons by phone, unknown to him by name.

The President of the Association for Disappeared Children, Shakyananda has said in evidence in detail, the contribution the accused had made in writing to the United Nations, for the disappeared Sinhala youth and further said that the accused had helped him during the peace accord time to visit Killinochchi and Jaffna to free the police and army officers who were held by the LTTE. He had further said that the accused had also written articles against the LTTE, of which he was unable to produce any. He did not know the contents of the charges and further said that he is not a reader of the magazine published by the accused.

Attorney-at-aw Vasudeva Nanayakkara gave evidence for the defense, and said that he was the founder of the Association of the Parents of the Disappeared Children. He has opined on the article marked as “X” in the schedule and said that the same contained nothing inflammatory and it was drawing the attention of the conduct of the Army.

Attorney-at-Law Manori Muththetuwegama has opined that the impugned article is not inflammatory.

Next witness Kulasiri Hemantha Silva of the Human Rights Commission had said in evidence that he did not accept that the government did not distribute food, water or medicine to the civilians in the north-east. He had said that the article marked “X” is inflammatory and could cause dissension amongst communities.

The Deputy Director of the National Library Walimunige Sunil, marked in evidence nine articles of The Sunday Leader as V15 to V23 and six articles of Daily Mirror as V24 to V29.

Next defense witness was Ven. Baddegama Samitha who had said that the accused had been of assistance to the Association of Parents of Disappeared Children of the south and categorically said that the article marked “X” is not inflammatory.

The learned Judge went on to decide that there was no dispute on the authorship of the article “X”. It was the duty of the court only to examine whether the article was written or published with the intent to compel the readers to commit a crime or whether he conspired to the same effect. It is a fact that the accused collected the proceeds of this magazine and that he deposited and withdrew monies from his HNB account.

Kulasiri Hemantha De Silva had said in evidence that people of Vaharai were distributed with food, medicine, fuel and medical facilities. The accused having intentionally written inaccurate facts has therefore intended to cause criminal action and to create dissension among communities and anger. What did he then intend to create in the minds of the reader? Essentially to create criminal activities amongst communities. Therefore these publications clarify that he had a criminal intention. The meaning of such publication has to be understood by court in the way an ordinary man would understand it.

Morgan Vs Odhams Press Ltd states “ordinary man has to be taken as a guide. Then we must accept a certain amount of loose thinking as he does not formulate reasons in his own mind.”

Hough Vs London Express states that “ in the case of words defamatory in their ordinary sense the plaintiff has to prove no more than that they were published. He cannot call witnesses to prove what they understood by the words. The only question is might reasonable people understand them in defamatory sense.” Therefore accused’s writings clearly creates hatred and anger in the mind of a person to commit a crime. The accused has deposited and withdrawn monies and collected the proceeds of the sales of the magazine.

Some of the persons who deposited money into his account had not divulged their names. If the readers have deposited money there is no reason why they shouldn’t divulge their names. Therefore essentially these monies were not deposited by the readers but to aid and abet terrorism.

The accused has withdrawn the monies soon after they were deposited in the account in the HNB. Therefore the same was done to publish this magazine. Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Manori Muththetuwegama and Ven. Baddegama Samitha hold the same political view and cannot be equated with that of the general public. Therefore their understanding differs from that of the general public. The fact that he prepared a report to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva is of no relevance to this case. Other defense witnesses gave evidence on what the accused had done for the Association of Parents of the Disappeared Youth in the South has no relevance to this case. It cannot be said that associated un-named persons who were members of a terrorist organisation by telephone.

The confession was accepted in evidence and there he had stated that he had gone to the north and met the LTTE leaders. At the end of 2003 or 2004, Jessekaran had met the accused and told him that he will get the funding to print the same as per his wishes. In 2005 a person called Baba had called on his mobile phone and said that he was calling from Killinochchi and invited the accused to come to Killinochchi. He had accepted the invitation in 2005 and visited the peace zone. Therefore the fact that he has been calling Killinochchi is true.

After the accused went to Thundikulam he had met Balathi, Father Karunarathnam, B. Balakumar, S.G. Thamilselvam and Balraj and the said persons have informed the accused of the political subjects. Balraj has stated of the war victories of the Tigers and that if the war starts again they were ready for war. Thamilselvam had said that the war may commence again due to political actions of Sri Lanka. The accused has returned to Colombo and reported in his magazine of what he saw in Killinochchi.

He has gone back in February and met Malawa, Ganeshnadan, Thamilselvam and the displaced persons who had come to Killinochchi. At one stage at 2006 Baba had offered money for the magazine and the accused had refused as they could continue with the magazine though they had financial difficulties. On three occasions in 2006 or 2007 Baba has sent money amounting to Rs. 50 000 each. Then I told him not to send money as it could create problems and he refrained thereafter.

The defense submission that Ven. S. Mahinda Tibetian, and Anagarika Dharmapala have also published statements that are inflammatory, did not mean that they would create communal disharmony.

If Baba had put money to his account after he said no, why did the accused withdraw the money? Therefore it is corroborated that he has accepted funds to publish their opinion and create conflict. The confession was accepted as voluntary on 09.05.2008 after the voir dire inquiry. Once the confession is voluntary the accused could be convicted on his confession alone. As per Morgan Vs Odhams, when a publication is made, the publisher should consider the nature of the reader. That means, how would a reasonable person read and react is what has to be considered.

The defense evidence is rejected as it has not been able to create any doubt on the evidence of the prosecution. Therefore I convict the accused on the 1st, 2nd, and the 3rd charges.

Date 31-08-2009

September 06, 2009

Training in ethics for working journalists

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

As per Joseph Joubert-French Moralist and Essayist’s quote "To teach is to learn twice", it was another new and energising experience for me to train a bunch of budding journalists from the Eastern part of Sri Lanka. I was motivated as the demand was high, and I had to deliver.

There were 15 journalists including two females. They were from Batticaloa and Ampara districts. It was encouraging to see that all of them were keen to learn, and willing to make a difference in their journalistic work. They showered their interest to be more responsible while they report stories. There was a collective spirit to learn and make a change. [click here to read in full in HumanityAshore]

East - West and half born Sinhala “Jesu daruwa”

by Kusal Perera

I t was a lazy evening ebbing into a wet Saturday night, after a Friday poya holiday. This was a Sri Lankan evening, down what was better known as “Flower Road” during a “long weekend”. The acoustically elegant but not so modern hall of the Colombo Ladies College, was quietly but hurriedly accommodating the culturally affluent in urban Colombo. This year the crowd was somewhat different though, to that in previous years.

[Nanda Malini - Tharuda Nidana] A tribute to Nanda Malini and to one of her famous songs

The reason perhaps was that the “Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka” (SOSL) in its 52nd Season was to provide music to two versatile and respected musical personalities of the exclusively Sinhala world. That for the first time too, such an “experimental” blending of Sinhala songs were to be made with chamber music of a large symphony orchestra that has for decades been proud to play classical music of the best celebrity composers in the West.

As Professor Ajith Abeysekera who worked out the chemistry of this new blend of Western orchestral music and the not so classical, popular Sinhala song told a few days before the event, they (SOSL) were “......not really trying to do fusion. That is not the idea. We haven’t done anything to make them sound Western, but we make use of orchestral colour with entirely western instruments. It’s very interesting.”

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[Sa parasangaya 2006-pic: Anuradha Ratnaweera]

True to his words, there were no improvisations to melodies and no change of style and pitch in signing. The two artistes, Visharadha Nanda Malini and Sangeethvedi Victor Ratnayake simply stood in front of two mikes and sang 06 of their best songs each, as they had been singing for the last 30 or 40 years. They did well. They sang their best. Yet there was something amiss. Was it the “orchestral colour” that Prof Abeysekera said they were adding that went missing ?

The “orchestral colour” the Symphony orchestra had when they played 02 Western Classical operas, in contrast to their musical backing of the 02 singers, was what missed out in the show. There seemed some restraint in musicians playing their musical score for what was arranged for the songs. The musical mood was “cautious ” in their accompaniment of the two singers.

This feeling of alienation of a sort was clearly audible, in all songs sung, except in the one that had a Church choir influence. Music opened up in its symphonical style for the song “Jesu swamy daruwane...” when Nanda sang her heart out on that. This is one song that broke off from the orthodoxy of the now established Sinhala music form reaching out to a choir style melody. That then made a rare link between the singer and the orchestral players. With all other songs sung that Saturday night, obviously they felt a distance to the style, melody and the
quality of voice of these 02 very “Sinhala” singers.

That had to be expected, although most in the audience seemed not to. Yet it was an experience to feel the difference. The Western classical music as we hear and enjoy them now, has a long history of many centuries, evolving from the time of the Greek empire. Shut to public performances during the Roman era, it sustained the group or “large gathering” character of playing many instruments at churches, funerals and at places of religious worth. This form of “concert” music then evolved into philharmonic or symphony music through the European “Renaissance” to the modern world.

Through its evolution, it has gained much with written music for large orchestras with different instrument families. Growing in a liturgical social context that had the advantage of “printing” much before other societies outside Europe, Western classical music flourished in a disciplined design as decided by composers.

Writing music before it is played out, composers searched for very many variations that saw intricately complex relationships between its emotional content and the intellectual means by which it is achieved. This complexity in emotions and intellect is the forte in Western classical music where “soprano” voices have gained a prestigious presence as capable of delivering both emotion and intellect.

The ability to stand up in singing for such musical composing, was what went missing with the two singers who are schooled in a completely different musical tradition. Schooling in the borrowed North Indian “Hindustani” (Utthara Bharatheeya) music here in Sri Lanka is not even a century old. Then “Ceylon” looked towards North Indian classical music as one that was opposed to British rule. The Sinhala elite looked towards a musical tradition that was anti British in colour.

Thaniwennata~ Victor Ratnayake

This Hindustani music that satisfied the politics of the pre independence Ceylonese too has a long and strong history of growth, starting as devotional appeals to God Krishna. It had its influence from early Persian folk music and later from the Arabian traditions with the Moghul empire. The long path of evolution of Hindustani music is esoteric and is based on “ragas”, each said to be devoted to a different emotional state.

So is the other South Indian tradition of Carnatic music. That too is very religious from its origin and has very much less influence from Persian and Arabic traditions. Yet these two neighbouring music traditions that Sinhala song and music derives their theoretical base, grew into perfection through rituals and intellectual discourse. They therefore needed extremely devoted and committed learning and training.

Music and art become living cultural traditions through long evolutionary exercises in society and then become part of social life in them. A society that lives with such endemic traditions horning its skills with every generation for centuries and not decades, develops an intellectual component that in art forms takes on high aesthetic values. This is common in both Western classical music and in Indian “raghadhari” music in two different planes of intellectual
entertainment.

Yet the Sinhala society in its entire history, greatly influenced by Theravada Buddhism had no such cultural base.

The Sinhala culture lacked any music tradition and its folk forms were extremely mediocre and primitive to even assimilate a strong music tradition. There was also no “palace culture” of Sinhala music and dance that could have at least provided a niche for such acceptance and nurturing of Hindustani music. Therefore in Sri Lanka, the modern day Sinhala music begins as purely an intervention from the outside world from the 16 century when with the Portuguese and the Dutch, their “Baila and Kaffringa” entered into coastal social layers and much later in early 20 century the Hindustani music was brought in that then turned into an academic exercise in its later years.

The first singers and musicians therefore came from backgrounds that were not Sinhala and when they were Sinhala, they were from a church training. The first few who ventured out to secure learning and training in Hindustani music too were from such church backgrounds. That was in late 1940's and they became pioneers who experimented with a new Sinhala musical tradition. That was more in the realm of lyrics as aptly seen in the difference between Saranagupta Amarasignhe – Deva Suriyasena type of songs and Ananda Samarakoon - Sunil Shanta variant. It was their simple Sinhala lyrics that compelled them to try out melodies to carry their lyrics from early 1940's into the 50's.

There were few others too who were also seeking out a Sinhala identity in music and what was tried out by all of them was developing a popular Sinhala song, different to those early Sinhala songs with a Dravidian flavour. What they lacked was not only a strong culture, but also a strong entertainment market that could sustain them. An entertainment industry that was absent in the “welfare State” economy the early Ceylon carried after independence. Except for the old “Radio Ceylon” they only had a cheap fledgling cinema that was not very much open for experimental songs and music. The possibility of training and developing professional Sinhala musicians as classical exponents of that art form, had very little or no scope within post independent Sri Lanka.

Ustad Vilayat Khan (1928-2004), performing in London in 1993

This therefore diluted early efforts in establishing “Shanthi-nikethan” type musical schools. Horana “Shripali” that was graced by Rabindranath Tagore at its birth, gradually turned into an ordinary school in the area. The State sponsored “Haywood” as an aesthetic training institute that can boast of popular Sinhala artistes like Victor Ratnayake, Sanath Nandasiri, Amara Ranatunge, late Gunadasa Kapuge to name a few, was not in any way a substitute for classical music teaching of high order. It could mostly turn out Music Teachers for primary and secondary government schools of the day. Very creative classical exponents of the art in the calibre of Pundit Ravi Shankar,Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, wasn't therefore Sri Lanka's pride and fortune.

This has not changed to the better, even after the economy was opened up 03 decades ago. In modern societies that do not promote democracy and thus can not afford a healthy “night life”, the possibility of establishing strong cultures of performing art including music within an entertainment market, is one that does not happen. The absence of “night life” not only deprives an entertainment market, it deprives the society of healthy discourse too.

An indispensable necessity in developing critical intellectual interventions that in turn catalyse intellectual growth and development of art and culture. Sinhala music is one that has therefore not attained the classical perfection of its borrowed musical traditions even after many decades of continued indulgence. This is reason why Sinhala music has not been able to produce Ravi Shankars and Ali Rakkhas who could perform with awe as oriental musical giants alongside Western musicians.

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[Italian opera star Andrea Bocelli (L) performs on stage with the Abruzzo Symphony Orchestra at the Colosseum in Rome on May 25, 2009 during a charity concert to an audience of just 380 to help rebuild the conservatory in earthquake-stricken L'Aquila-Getty Images]

This perhaps was what lacked at the Ladies' College auditorium that night. While a standing ovation accepted the effort of the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka, a question that remained glum and dumb was whether a Western classical symphony that had grown with complex relationships between emotional content and intellectual aesthetics could effectively be the musical facilitator for yet to be born Sinhala classics that had stopped with light pop songs. Again the answer would only be theoretical and not practical in a society that has little wherewithal to meet such challenge.

Andrea Bocelli - Besame Mucho (2006)

Blackcaps cricketers cowardly and duplicitous on humanitarian support

Full Text of Statement by Global Peace and Justice-Auckland

Global Peace and Justice-Auckland is angry the Blackcaps cricket team has bailed out on humanitarian support for the 280,000 Tamil people incarcerated in military camps following the recent civil war.

Before the cricketers left they met with representatives of the New Zealand Tamil community, along with GPJA, where the team was requested to use its high public profile to help keep the international spotlight on the humanitarian crisis facing the Tamil population.

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New Zealand Herald: Auckland Tamils want pressure put on the Sri Lanka Government over the military-run camps. Photo / Debrin Foxcroft-Sep 7, 2009

NZ Cricket and player reps agreed they would do what they could without getting involved in the politics (which they were never requested to do). With this in mind no protests were organised against the team leaving for Sri Lanka.

Subsequently agreement was reached between Fonterra, World Vision and representatives of the New Zealand Tamil community whereby the Blackcaps would publicly and symbolically facilitate the transfer of milk powder products from Fonterra in Sri Lanka to World Vision for the victims of war in the military camps where there is an on-going humanitarian catastrophe.

The Blackcaps then got cold feet with Dave Currie (NZ Cricket manager with the Blackcaps) refusing to allow the cricketers to take part. Currie says he fears for the safety of the players. If helping feed starving people with milk powder is going to compromise player safety then what are the Blackcaps doing in Sri Lanka in the first place?

The team has cowered in silence, complicit in the oppression of the Tamil population.

Amnesty International has a campaign “Unlock the Camps” which aims to put pressure of the Sri Lankan government to allow free access to the camps for humanitarian organisations and the international media. The Sri Lankan government refuses and the cruel oppression continues while the Blackcaps turn a blind eye.

The Blackcaps have lost on the field in Sri Lanka but their behaviour off the field has been far worse. It has been cowardly and duplicitous.

Sri Lanka expels Unicef official

by BBC.co.uk

Sri Lankan authorities have ordered a senior United Nations official to leave the country over comments he made during the war with Tamil Tiger rebels.

James Elder's visa has been cancelled over his "propaganda in support of the Tigers", a spokesman told the BBC.

Mr Elder, a spokesman for the UN children's agency, Unicef, regularly spoke to the media on the plight of children caught up in the conflict.

Sri Lanka declared victory in its war against Tamil Tigers in May.

Mr Elder had raised UN concerns over the fate of children and civilians regularly during the final stages of the government assault in northern Sri Lanka.

In February, he said he had seen injuries suffered by the children, including "babies with shrapnel wounds, gun shot injuries and blast wounds".

He also condemned the recruitment of young children by the Tigers.

'Propaganda'

P.B. Abeykoon, an official at the department of immigration, said Mr Elder's visa had been cancelled as of 7 September and he had been ordered to leave immediately.

"But the UN appealed for more time and we extended until 21 September," Mr Abeykoon told AFP news agency.

He said the government decision had been taken months earlier.

Palitha Kohona, permanent secretary at the Sri Lankan ministry of foreign affairs, told the BBC Mr Elder had issued statements "which were not exactly based on facts, which were not researched, which were essentially reflective of the LTTE [Tamil Tigers'] perspective.

 

We strongly feel that he should continue to act as an impartial advocate on behalf of Sri Lanka's most vulnerable women and children
Sarah Crowe
Unicef official

"He was doing propaganda, in our view, in support of the LTTE."

A Unicef official said on Sunday that James Elder had been "Unicef's voice advocating on behalf of those who do not have a voice - children and the most vulnerable".

"We strongly feel that James Elder should be allowed to continue to act as an impartial advocate on behalf of Sri Lanka's women and children," Sarah Crowe, Unicef's regional chief of communications, told the BBC.

The Sri Lankan government maintained tight control over media coverage of the fighting in the final stages of the war and journalists depended on the UN and other aid officials for information.

Among others, Mr Elder spoke about issues like malnutrition among children in the refugee camps which attracted wide attention. [courtesy: BBC.co.uk]

Prevention of Terrorism Act is not journalists-NPC

Full text of Media Release by National Peace Council of Sri Lanka

The prison sentence of 20 years with hard labour passed on a senior journalist and editor of the North Eastern Monthly, J S Tissainayagam has come as a great disappointment to all who cherish the freedom of media and the right to free expression of political ideas. This is a case that attracted a great deal of publicity, both nationally and internationally, on account of the issues at stake. The Colombo High Court found Mr Tissainayagam guilty of having violated the Prevention of Terrorism Act by writing articles aimed at creating communal disharmony and for raising money for a publication that violated the law.

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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.-Reuters pic.

The National Peace Council believes that at the root of the harsh prison sentence is the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which is a draconian law with a disproportionate impact that is aimed at apprehending terrorists and not journalists who use the pen and not the sword to influence the politics of the society in which they live. Mr Tissainayagam was the first journalist to be formally charged under this law for his writings. A number of eminent witnesses had given evidence at the trial that Mr Tissainayagam was not a person who would incite communal disharmony and had stood for human rights in general, including the rights of Tamil people affected by the war. This was our conviction too.

It is also a matter of concern that sections of the government have attempted to intimidate those who speak out against the judgment claiming that any criticism may result in a finding of contempt of court. This further stifles freedom of expression which has long been established as a fundamental right in Sri Lanka. NPC calls on the government to abolish the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act insofar as they can be used against the media, and to reconsider the use of this law in the aftermath of the war. We also appeal to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to demonstrate statesmanship in a time of ethnic polarization, and to use his prerogative of a presidential pardon to uphold the freedom of media and the right to free expression of ideas.

Governing Council

The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organisation that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.

September 05, 2009

Sept 5th: Mervyn de Silva’s 80th birth anniversary

An 80th birth anniversary in postwar Sri Lanka

by Dayan Jayatilleka

I reflect possibly for the last time for a few years to come, let’s say five, on Mervyn de Silva, former editor of the Daily News and Sunday Observer, former editor-in-chief of the Lake House and the Times groups of newspapers, founder editor of the Lanka Guardian magazine, founder-president of the Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka — and my father — on his 80th birth anniversary, having returned home to a country of victory in war and uncertainty in peace; a country of renewed hope and expectation and polarized postwar prospect. It is a country in which the majority of citizens are rightfully grateful to the political and military leadership for vanquishing a deadly, existential enemy that had terrorized the island for decades, and which successive dithering administrations had failed to overcome. It is also a country that, having won the shooting war, needs to win the "legitimacy war" (Richard Falk).

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Mervyn de Silva

Nowhere is the postwar polarization more evident than in the matter of the IDPs, where the discourse of the impassioned liberal humanitarian clashes with that of the neoconservative "securocrat". Both forget the multidimensional character of the reality of the problem. The war is over. The worst guys lost. The IDPs are humans with inalienable rights, and fellow citizens with rights equal to ours. They were also part of the mass base of a separatist terrorist army, by whichever mixture of consent and coercion. Some went from Jaffna with the LTTE after Riviresa in late 1995, while most Tamil civilians didn’t and many headed in the opposite direction.

These are the multiple realities, but the liberal focuses on the purely humanitarian aspect, naively forgetting that of security, while the neoconservative security bureaucrat forgets that though they were once part of the mass base of the enemy, no child or old woman or man belongs behind security wire and armed guards (unless convicted of an offense by the courts). La guerre est finie. The war is over and we have won; furthermore, we are the majority and for all these reasons it is incumbent on us, the South, the Sinhalese to be magnanimous. Post war security must be understood in the broader sense of "human security": whereas the human cannot be secure if the state is threatened, conversely the state cannot be secure if the human being is under siege.

My last day as Ambassador/Permanent Representative, August 20th, would have been my parents’ 54th wedding anniversary. The circumstances of my return to Colombo bore a strange resemblance to one of Mervyn’s, 45 years ago, on which my mother Lakshmi and I accompanied him. The July 17th fax from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs instructing me to relinquish my post in a month, was sent on the day that the top-level Sri Lankan delegation returned from the Non Aligned Summit in Sharm el Sheikh. Mervyn, the island’s foremost expert on the Middle East would have noticed that for the first time, the Sri Lankan speech made no mention whatsoever of peace in the Middle East; not even a passing reference in the softest, most moderate tones, despite the fact that the NAM Summit was being held in Egypt. Furthermore, there was not a single reference to the 2nd NAM summit in Cairo at which Sri Lanka was represented by an SLFP leader nor any mention of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, with whom Sri Lanka had the warmest relationship. Mervyn would have immediately noted the sharp turn or deviation in the traditional foreign policy of Sri Lanka and especially the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

This is not, however, the strange symmetry that I was referring to. In 1964 Mervyn de Silva covered the 2nd Non Aligned Conference for Lake House and accompanied the Sri Lankan delegation led by Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike and Felix Dias Bandaranaike. He took my mother and me (aged 7) along. Sri Lanka’s ambassador in Cairo was the elegant and hospitable Lakshmi Naganadan, a friend of my parents. On his return from the NAM summit in Egypt, Mervyn was facing the sack. This was September and just months away from the centre-left coalition’s myopic effort to "take over" Lake House, i.e. bring it under state control. As we know, the effort proved abortive thanks to the deft footwork of Esmond Wickremesinghe, and led to the collapse of the SLFP led administration, paving the way for elections which brought a UNP led coalition to office. The take-over bid was revived in the early 1970s by the returning centre-left coalition, this time successfully.

Mervyn had his well known political sympathies, but was never an apparatchik, and always maintained his own distinctive position. Maintaining his intellectual independence and attempting to rise above the fray, on occasions he found himself caught in the crossfire. It turned out that the Lake House bosses had received information that the leaders of the Government had decided to "nationalize" the press; that this decision had been made in Cairo, and that Mervyn had been in on it or worse, actually lobbied for it. This was of course arrant nonsense, because he was as opposed to the state takeover of the press as he was to the biases of private oligopolistic ownership, and in the early 1970s, as Editor of the Daily News, privately urged Mrs. Bandaranaike not to take over Lake House just as he had urged the owners of Lake House not to be as openly biased towards the UNP as they were during the election of 1970 which he assured them the SLFP would win.

Then as now, facts hardly get in way of intrigue in board rooms, mansions and palaces of the various factions of Sri Lanka’s ruling classes, so Mervyn’s innocence in this matter was irrelevant. He was to be dismissed from Lake House. Almost directly from the airport he went with me in tow to the notorious Press Club (also known as "Simeon’s joint" after the owner — whose son, a long-time driver of a fellow ambassador, hailed me in Geneva) to pick up the news from his fellow journalists who ranged from pro UNP Dharmapala Wettasinghe to the Communist BA Siriwardene; hard drinking men bound by camaraderie of a shared university life and professional integrity.

In the event Mervyn was not fired — that was to happen at the peak of his career, as Editor Daily News and Editor in Chief Lake House, at the hands of the SLFP and Prime Minister Bandaranaike, over a decade later, in late 1975 or early ’76. What happened in 1964 after the 2nd NAM summit in Egypt was that Mervyn was downshifted around, bitterly dismayed to realize that he would not be made Editor of the Daily News, and physically penned into a small partitioned space, pale blue boards with frosted glass or plastic, with a Communist sympathizing personal assistant or "peon" in Bermuda length khakis, named Pedris

(whom Mervyn promptly dubbed "Pedro the Fisherman"). Confined to that small cubicle with the room of the Editor Observer mere yards away and within sight ("Mervyn mahattayava koodukarala" — has been caged Pedris would tell me) overcrowded with paper clippings, books and magazines, Mervyn spent the UNP years 1965-1970 writing some of his most scintillating and searing pieces, from the satirical column Off My Beat to essays on Che Guevara’s Diaries, the Vietnam War, and the history of the CIA. After school, I would hang around my old man’s cubicle. Mervyn’s writings would return to the radicalism of these years when he founded the Lanka Guardian, on the first May Day immediately after the promulgation of JR Jayewardene’s 1978 Constitution.

Mervyn’s advocacy of balance for the sake of credibility, sustainability and enlightened self interest, fell on deaf ears, whether those of the owners of the private media, organically linked to the UNP, then as now, or the state, in the hands of the SLFP with its self-image of patriotism and progressivism. He was finally made Editor when the voters dislodged the pro-West elite rule of the UNP, and promoted to Editor-in-Chief and Director when the SLFP administration "nationalized" Lake House against his advice (he preferred that the state purchase a sizeable shareholding in the private press). Whereas in any other political culture Mervyn would have made it to the top of the journalistic ladder by sheer ability, in Sri Lanka it took a particular combination of sociopolitical circumstances, a particular conjuncture. He would never have had the opening to be the great editor he proved himself to be were it not for the contradiction between the UNP and SLFP and the fissuring open of the frozen Establishment by the masses backing the centre-left coalition, and the lack of credible support among English language professional journalists for the SLFP cause. The contradiction inherent in that confluence of circumstances was that the very qualities which made Mervyn the most credible and skilled representative in the media of the broad centre-left cause, also opened a gap between him and the "line" (though perhaps not the enlightened self interest, of which there was no notion) of that SLFP administration. As the larger crisis mounted, the response of the SLFP administration, just as that of the centre-right Jayewardene administration which would follow it, was to tighten up, crack down, and replace individuals capable of offering an autonomous analytical opinion with "team players" and "committed loyalists". Mervyn would say jokingly that he "might have been willing to consider playing a serf, but they wanted a slave".

Under the increasingly vengeful SLFP administration of the 1970s, a senior Daily News journalist Fred de Silva was sent to jail, with the Justice Ministry pushing hard for a lesson to be administered. Today, J. Tissainayagam, a journalist with pro-Tiger views, faces 20 years hard labor, for writing articles allegedly causing racial hatred. Tissainayagam’s views were repugnantly pro-Tiger, but as Mervyn would have editorially insisted, repellent views in a publication must be repelled by equivalent means of newspaper articles and argumentation; by the force of argument rather than the force of law and the state.

Mervyn was too left for the UNP, too liberal for the Left, too Westernized for the SLFP nativists and Lake House trade unionists, too pro Soviet and pro Cuban for the SLFP’s ‘China wing’, too Maoist for the pro Soviets, and simply a "CIA agent" (yesteryear’s "RAW agent") for Samasamajist second raters. Tarzie Vittachi put it best when he said of Lankan labeling: "Sri Lanka is the only country in the world where every rumor is a fact, where there can be a smoke without a fire, and every man with five bucks more in his pocket than you is a CIA agent". He might have mentioned a Harvey & Hudson shirt and YSL tie.

In a period of the overall decline of the Sri Lankan media and the deterioration of the climate of regime-tolerance of independent journalism, Mervyn de Silva’s stellar achievement as Editor Daily News was a brilliant anomaly, going against the tide. It was an individual achievement which was never replicated; an achievement of an individual whose knowledge and understanding of English literature and matchless use of the resources of the English language, thorough familiarity with local politics, mastery of world politics and international relations, non-conformist temperament and irreverent humor could not sit well with the sociopolitical and ideological trends that had set in and would become dominant. A Third Worldist, he derided parochialism, and was for "rapid, radical structural change", not leveling down.

At the height of his success as Editor Daily News, Mervyn could have quietened down, conformed, consolidated his success and played it safe. His prose style had certainly matured; the tone less edgy and surer. Mervyn’s higher loyalty was not however, to the leader or Government, political project or party line, ideology or perceived national exigency, but to the highest values, traditions and norms of his vocation, and to the compulsions of his own critical intellect. In 1972, when the government was at the zenith of its power, flushed with its successful military suppression of the JVP insurrection and passage of its Republican Constitution, and armed with the prolongation of Emergency powers, Mervyn began to dissent, writing editorials cautioning about youth perceptions of discrimination and stirrings of militant unrest in the North. In 1973, the Daily News under Mervyn gave fair coverage to the funeral of former Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, and he penned one of his most poignant editorials on Mr. Senanayake’s contribution to the national ethos. The Cabinet and the cabal of relatives and retainers inhabiting the Byzantine corridors of Temple Trees and Rosemead walauwwa, from Lake House chairman AK Premadasa right up to the PM’s Coordinating Secretary, began to regard their most successful and internationally respected editor as a problem.

The trigger of his gradual exit from Lake House and the ranks of the State was predictably an article. It was a piece by Mervyn in The Economist (London) on how the Chilean coup of 1973 was playing in the local political theatre, illustrated by a less than flattering photograph of the PM. Mervyn found himself the target of a fatwa: if he wished to remain Editor he could no longer write to the foreign press. Thus did the SLFP deprive itself of a toehold in the international media established by the only Sri Lankan journalist who was broadly sympathetic to that party. Though Mervyn complied for a while, it was only a holding operation. He was soon kicked upstairs as Senior Editorial Advisor, and then out the door. Two years later in 1978, when JR Jayewardene used the Business Acquisition Act to silence the newly revived Times Group and sack Mervyn who was its editor in chief, my father, the only journalist to be editor-in-chief of both major newspaper companies, became the only editor to be fired by both the SLFP and the UNP. He went on to found the Lanka Guardian magazine, plunging into alternative journalism, having been master of the mainstream.

Throughout his conscious life, as schoolboy, university student and journalist, at Law College, Lake House and Lanka Guardian, in the New York Times, the Washington Post and on the BBC, Mervyn de Silva spoke in his own voice. That voice was informed by a sensibility that sought the vital centre and a self-assurance that valued the broader over the narrower, the higher over the lower: profession over family, nation over ethno-religious identity, world over nation, reason over received wisdom, modernity over antiquity, choice over heritage, critical judgment over collective belief, independence over cultural conformity, individual freedom over group loyalty, universal over parochial, and the human, over and above all else.

Government need to intervene before the Plantation worker agitation goes out of hand-Mano Ganesan MP

From the office of Mano Ganesan
Leader of Democratic Peoples Front Convener of Civil Monitoring Commission

Full Text of Media Release:

Government should not leave the plantation wage crisis totally to the hands of trade unions and plantation employers though the collective agreement is signed between the unions and the employers. It is high time now for the government to intervene to find a balance between the interests of plantation workers and the economy of the nation. This is in recognition of the fact that it is Tea and Rubber plantation workers bring the largest commodity export income in actual terms said DPF Leader Mano Ganesan MP in a statement issued today. Ganesan who is also the president of plantation trade union Democratic Workers Congress (DWC) said further

Members of our DWC are also participating in the agitation carried in the estates currently. We are not a signatory to the collective agreement but the LJEWU of the UNP. We along with CWA and NUW have made our positions very clear to UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe on this issue. Plantation worker community is the most under developed in the country. The national poverty line is 14% but it is high as 32% in the plantations according to the World Bank survey. These contrasting figures bring out sad living conditions of the plantation worker families.

President Rajapakse has accepted this hard fact in his budgetary speech made in November 2008. But I am not holding this government for this sad state of affaires in the estates. The poverty and under development of the plantation community had developed over last many decades. Those who claim to represent this community in every successive governments since 1970s should take the major blame. The isolated poor Plantation workers need a pay hike to the level of five hundred a day. It has all it’s justifications.

The government should treat this whole issue with the national perspective and stand by the interests of the plantation community. Lately now traditional expenditures of the managements towards the worker welfare have been taken over by the government. The employers should be told to cut down the massive management expenditures and meet the just demands of the workers. The agitation today is very peaceful. We have given very strict instructions to our members to stay calm. But the fear is that certain sections who have vested political and monetary interests may misguide the innocent workers.

We have the responsibility in heart. Therefore I call upon the government’s immediate intervention. I already discussed with Labour minister Athavuda Senaviratna. This should not be left totally in the hands of trade unions and plantation employers.

Mano Ganesan MP
President of Democratic Worker’s Congress
President of Parliamentarians for Human Rights
Member of Parliament for Colombo District

Fax: +94112435961 Email: ganesan@eureka.lk

Post Box 803 Colombo SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka: Unity not unitary will safeguard the future

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

The protracted bloody war for the division of Sri Lanka into two separate autonomous states ended with the declaration by the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa that the military had completely crushed the LTTE. The top Tiger leaders were also killed in the final stage of Eelam war IV which ended on May 19. The war against the LTTE was declared as allied to the ‘war on terror’ waged by the powerful countries elsewhere. Although the war has ended, the war mindset is being sustained by the government for political reason. At the same time the President keeps talking positively about peace, equality of all citizens, reconstruction and development of the war-torn island. But the contradictions and vacillations with regard to the political solution to the long-standing ethnic problem have raised doubts about the future of the country and the people.

NSTC0905.JPG

[A man reads the newspaper as the war was nearing an end-pic by humanityAshore]

It is astounding, despite the several uprisings that destroyed many lives and property, and the lack of social, economic and political development because of the divisive ways the governments functioned since independence, there is no sign of real change towards uniting the divided nation and fulfilling the aspirations of the people in the different provinces. On the contrary, the post-war triumphalism has energized Sinhala nationalism. Sinhala supremacists are happy they can play a dominant role in national politics. If the present party leaders exploit this trend for their political advantage, the country will get back to the pre-war volatile period. Making peace soon after the war is the logical move. It requires different kind of determined effort. Failure to secure permanent peace will diminish the value of the military success.

Action on the political front has been postponed with the view to get political mileage from the military success. Even the APRC chairman Prof. Tissa Vitharana’s devolution package is not revealed to avoid arguments that might jeopardize the envisaged landslide in the next general election. Under the present system, it is virtually impossible for a party to obtain two-third majority. However, this approach is risky as the euphoria over the victory in the battle field will not continue to eclipse the need for corrective actions to resolve the national problems. The factors that led to the present tragic state must be removed for the country to advance on several fronts. The myths and prejudices that influenced the negative thinking of powerful leaders should also be left behind. The main aim of this article is to expose the myth the centralised governing system under the unitary structure, safeguards the future of the Sinhalese as well as the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

Unitary structure and majoritarianism

Past Sinhala nationalist politicians were determined to uphold the supreme power of the majority ethnic Sinhalese. Any proposal that empowers the ethnic minorities was rejected because of their concern that it would undermine the dominant ruling power of the Sinhalese. The unitary structure supports the Sinhala majority rule. This has been the stand since independence and it has not changed despite the national tragedy. In fact with the annihilation of the LTTE, the faith of some Sinhala nationalists in the unitary structure has increased. This is evident from their opposition to any devolution of powers and even the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, which is now part of Sri Lanka’s Constitution. This Amendment would not have been viable, if it violated the tenets of the 1978 Constitution. Article 2 states: The Republic of Sri Lanka is a Unitary State”.

Speaking at a commemoration of ‘National Bhikku Day’ at the Public Library auditorium in Colombo on August 26, Ven. Dhambara Amila Thero said: “Despite defeating the Tiger organization the national struggle has not ended. ...From the beginning, we have said there were no solutions for this issue in round table discussions, seminars or agreements. Many said federalism is the solution for the national question. Some said there should be devolution of power. Even today some come out with the same solutions. The formula of the separatist front today is for a ‘maximum devolution of power through the 13th amendment.’ We demand that the President should not be deceived by these conspiracies and drag the country again toward destruction. We also remind him not to hold abrupt presidential elections and take the country towards a dictatorship. In 2005 we chanted ‘Jaya Pirith,’ influenced the standpoint of the Nation, defeated the representative who represented foreign ideology and brought Mahinda Rajapaska to power not to divide this country; not to go for a dictatorship. If Mahinda Rajapaska attempts such a path the same Bhikkus who chanted ‘Jaya Pirith’ could create a social standpoint that would bring the end of this government and allow the Bhikkus to chant ‘Anichchawatha Sankara’.” (‘Lanka Truth’ 28 August 2009)

This statement reveals the uncompromising, inconsiderate and aggressive stance that contradicts the noble teachings of Lord Buddha. It also reminds of the role played by the Buddhist Disciples in abrogating the 1957 Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact. All sensible Sri Lankans regardless of their ethnic and religious background do not want the division of their motherland. But they do not expect the government to prevent division by repression. The government decision after crushing totally the armed Tamil rebels to increase considerably the size of the army and their presence in the liberated North-East suggests repressive move to safeguard the unity and future of the island-nation. This autocratic line of thinking is not new. Some seem to think they are still living in the time of ancient Sinhala rulers.

In the unitary system, it is the Sinhalese electorate that selects the main governing party. The two rival parties competing for power to govern the entire country are the SLFP and UNP. Elections have been contested and won directly or indirectly not on pressing national economic or development issues but on perceived ones considered as a threat to the future of the ethnic Sinhalese. One hallucination is the feeling among Sinhalese that they are in the minority, since the Tamils in Sri Lanka have more than 60 million brethren across the Palk straits in south India (Tamil Nadu). Egoistic politicians in Sri Lanka seeking to sustain or enhance the support of the Sinhala populace exploited the ethnic division for achieving their narrow aims. It was also politically useful for them to sustain this division. In this backdrop, unity and sustainable development were mirages.

A case in point is the following statement of the head of the State and head of the Government. President J. R. Jayewardene after the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom told the UK Daily Telegraph: “I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people… now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion… the more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here… Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy.” No other Sri Lankan leader has expressed so bluntly his or her political thinking. But this does not mean others had liberal views or the will to act generously from a wide national and not narrow political angle.

Tamils wanted unity in diversity

The Tamils did not even ask for a federal structure at the time of independence. In 1927, the Kandyan Sinhalese chiefs suggested a federal polity consisting of the Tamil areas of the Northern and Eastern provinces, the Low Country Sinhalese provinces and the Kandyan Sinhalese province. Later, it was S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike who advocated this system for the island. When the Sinhalese leaders proposed federal structure, their intention was to uphold unity in diversity.

Paradoxically, the Tamil people rejected federalism even after independence when S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and other Tamil leaders left the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, an allied party in the first post independence government and formed the Federal Party (Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi). The breakaway party leader S. J. V. Chelvanayakam lost the KKS seat in 1952 when he contested as a federalist. This is recalled to convey the acceptance of the centralised administrative system by the Tamil voters following the assurance given by the then national leader D. S. Senanayake that the members of all communities in the independent State would have the same rights. An important lesson learnt from this and subsequent experience is - assurance of one leader is not a substitute for firm safeguards against rights violations rooted in the Constitution.

At the time of independence all Tamil speaking people wished to live with the Sinhalese in the peaceful and promising island that was the envy of many Asian leaders. No Tamil wanted to emigrate. During the 1950s and 1960s, Tamils proudly emphasized their Ceylonese identity notwithstanding the 1956 Sinhala only Act. This stance changed dramatically after 1970, when discrimination against the Tamil speaking people made them feel as unwanted second class citizens. The Tamil youth seeking higher education or employment were the ones most terribly affected. Some took up arms in utter desperation. The LTTE leader forcibly took control of the revolt by eliminating other youth leaders and was determined to advance the break-up process started by the Sinhala political leaders. His enemies were the moderates agitating for a peaceful settlement in united Sri Lanka and not the ultra Sinhala nationalists unsympathetic to the ethnic minorities.

Tamils had no qualms with the 1947-1948 Soulbury Constitution because of Section 29. It confirmed the earlier undertaking given by the first Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake that all citizens will have equal rights and no one will be victimized because of his/her ethnic or religious background. Section 29(1) stated: ‘Subject to the provisions of this Order, Parliament shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the Island’. Subsections (2), and (3) of Section 29 contained the following inhibiting provisons:

29(2): No such law shall – (a) prohibit or restrict the free exercise of any religions; or (b) make persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities or religions are not made liable; or (c) confer on persons of any community or religion any privilege or advantage which is not conferred on persons of other communities or religions; or (d) alter the constitution of any religious body except with the consent of the governing authority of that body.

29(3): Any law made in contravention of subsection (2) of this section, shall to the extent of such contravention, be void.

Before the adoption of Sinhala as the sole official language of the bilingual nation, the schools in Jaffna on their own initiative mobilised the services of Buddhist priests to teach the Sinhala language to Tamil students. They abandoned this arrangement soon after the Sinhala only Act was enacted in 1956. Ethnic Tamils as others in democratic multi-ethnic societies wanted to hold on to their ethnic identity while embracing the collective Ceylonese identity. Tamil nationalism was then not a threat to unity and peace. Attachment to one’s ethnic or religious group does not mean disloyalty to the country of residence. It is not the Tamil people who sowed the seeds of separation. This is not an opinion but the whole truth.

Distorted democracy

Democracy is assumed to mean simply majority rule. This makes sense when the plural society is undivided and the only division is confined to politics – the theory and practice of government. This has not been the case in Sri Lanka since independence. The politically powerless minorities had no say in national or provincial policy decisions and administration. The 13th Amendment sought to devolve some powers to the provinces but the half-hearted implementation failed to achieve the intended result. Selecting the political party and the President to govern the country in any way they want without the foolproof mechanisms to ensure accountability, rule of law, human rights, fundamental rights and democratic freedom of all citizens is not the democracy that is needed for a bright future of the nation and all the people. The reluctance to implement the 17th Amendment also indicates the attachment of powerful leaders to the corrupt democratic system.

A vital fact that is being ignored is no group can expect to have a sustained wellbeing by depriving the future of other groups. This is obvious from the poor socio-economic developments seen in the different provinces where the majority of residents are Sinhalese. The political leaders who regarded themselves as national leaders could not visualize the future of the people and the nation in the real setting of the society and the aspirations of different communities.

Unwilling to accept realities

Many Sinhalese leaders opted to ignore the diverse demographic and regional makeup of the island nation. Some extremists considered Sri Lanka as a Sinhala Buddhist nation. There is no proof to claim that the entire island is the exclusive homeland of the Sinhalese. When the British gained control of the entire island, the five administrative provinces (now expanded to nine) were determined on the basis of the different settlement and self-rule patterns that existed before the conquest. The island was inhabited by people of different races and religions for centuries. Most settlers in the North-East were non-Sinhalese and Tamil is still the mother tongue of the majority of residents there. The claim that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist state and other minority groups are immigrants has no basis. Hinduism is the religion of the early dwellers. It was the Hindu chieftains who helped spread the teachings of Lord Buddha in the island. Buddha himself was a Hindu, who felt the need to reform some ancient beliefs.

The fact that the Sinhalese are not the major ethnic group in all parts of the island is a matter of concern to the Sinhala supremacists. The state sponsored colonisation schemes were intended to settle Sinhalese in traditional Tamil areas in the North-East. New Sinhala names replaced the time-honoured Tamil names of villages in the colonised areas. Such actions damaged the trust of the Tamils in the governments in Colombo. With the government policies and practices that isolated the minority Tamils threatening their future, they felt the need to preserve the North-East inhabited mostly by Tamil speaking people as their homeland. Had the governments accepted the innate diversities and focused on promoting unity and balanced development of all provinces, Sri Lanka would be as peaceful, stable and developed as Singapore. Ironically, the moves to deny the North-East as traditional homeland of Sri Lankan Tamils backfired. This claim of the anxious Tamils intensified.

Nation building has not been in the agenda of Sri Lankan governments. National interest either assumed a distorted meaning or was completely ignored. Sri Lankan leaders after gaining power were concerned more about consolidating their position than promoting unity. It is well known many Lankan leaders who promised earlier to abolish the Executive Presidency considered to be undermining the parliamentary democratic system opted to retain it after getting elected to the powerful post and exercising the supreme power as the head of the State, head of the government and head of the armed forces. This also reflects the kind of problems obstructing the changes needed for a better future. Although many consider the present constitution of Sri Lanka as unhelpful for strengthening the democratic process, there is no concerted pressure from the people to change it. The beneficiaries as intended by the designers are the elected few wielding the power of the people.

Behind Singapore’s success

According to official statistics, the population of Singapore as of 2008 was 4.84 million, of whom 3.64 million were Singaporean citizens and permanent residents. Various Chinese linguistic groups formed 75.2% of Singapore's residents; Malays 13.6%; Indians 8.8%; while Eurasians, Arabs and other groups formed 2.4%. 42.5% of the residents are Buddhists; 14.8% have no religion; 14.6% Christians; 13.9% Muslims; 8.5% Taoists; 4% Hindus and 1.6% of other faiths.

The official languages are English, Malay, Chinese (Mandarin) and Tamil. The national language of Singapore is Malay and it is used in the national anthem. English is the main (link) language and has been heavily promoted as such since the country's independence. The use of English became widespread in Singapore after it was implemented as a first language medium in the education system and it is the most common language. In school, children are required to learn English and one of the three other official languages. However, the second most common language in Singapore is Mandarin, with over seventy percent of the population having it as a second language.

The way Singapore nurtured unity and national identity while embracing the diverse ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural features of the citizens is a telling lesson for those who are seriously concerned about the future of Sri Lanka. The Chinese, Malays, Tamils and other Singaporeans have held on to their distinct ethnic identities and social customs after independence. All are proud to be recognized as Singaporean. Their separate ethnic identity is subsidiary to the common national identity. It is the unity of all ethnic communities and their common national interest that enabled Singapore to advance swiftly. Sri Lankans who have visited Singapore recently know the contrasting qualities of the lifestyle of average Singaporean and Sinhalese. This dramatic development happened after Singapore gained independence. The average per capita income of Sri Lankans then was higher than that of Singaporeans. The reasons for this change are in the earlier comments.

The farsighted approach of Singapore’s political leaders to national unity and progress is seen from the following brief commentary.

Singapore’s National Pledge, recited on occasions of national importance such as the National Day Parade states: “We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people, 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 our nation”. Interestingly, it was drafted in 1966 by the then Foreign Affairs minister of Sri Lankan origin Mr S Rajaratnam. 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. Sadly, in Sri Lanka, this is overly lacking. The Sinhala supremacists are anxious to change the traditional settlement pattern of the population. They will probably care about the country after the desired change. This is another wishful thinking like that of the late LTTE leader.

The National Flag of Singapore consists of two equal horizontal sections, red above white; where the red segment has a white crescent moon beside five stars placed in a circle. Red symbolises universal brotherhood and equality of man. White signifies pervading and everlasting purity and virtue. The crescent moon represents a young nation on the ascendant, illuminated by the five ideals as symbolised by the five stars. The five stars represent the ideals of Singapore - democracy, peace, progress, equality and justice. Sri Lanka’s national flag depicts the supremacy of the ethnic majority and the secondary status of the ethnic minorities.

All governments in Singapore have remained secular. Religious groups have not been prevented from having views on national issues but people with an approach to a national issue based on their religious beliefs must accept that other groups may have different views informed by different beliefs and they have to accept and respect that. However, direct involvement of priests in politics was disapproved. In this regard, the following statement of the father of the nation, Lee Kuan Yew in his1987 National Day Rally Speech is relevant. He said: “Churchmen, lay preachers, priests, monks, Muslim theologians, all those who claim divine sanction or holy insights, take off your clerical robes before you take on anything economic or political”. Tolerance has been inculcated in the minds of all citizens.

The four basic rules for religious harmony, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stated at this year’s National Day Speech are: (i) All groups must exercise tolerance; (ii) Keep religion out of politics; (iii) Government must remain secular; and (iv) Maintain the common space that all Singaporeans share. Similar rules for communal harmony in Sri Lanka should be declared.

Education has played a major role in promoting tolerance and national unity in Singapore. Sri Lanka’s education system produced the opposite result. It exacerbated the ethnic division and mistrust between the ethnic communities. Moreover it ignored the emerging needs of students in the new world as well as those of the entire country. On this important topic, Shyamalee Mahibalan Murugesu has said: “Singapore’s main emphasis from its inception has been to provide a great education and instil a discipline system where every citizen will be governed by its rules..... Singapore’s world class education system is an inspiration to the world” (Posted by transCurrents on August 26, 2009).

Shyamalee’s analysis also highlights the destructive path taken by the Sinhalese political leaders. “Singapore displays the strength of unity in diversity, whereas Sri Lanka portrays its inability to unite a diverse society. Our leaders have consistently followed a policy of asserting the rights of the majority community and playing down or ignoring the rights of minorities. They are unable to come to terms with the universal nature of humankind and the equality of all human beings. By insisting on religious and ethnic supremacy for the majority community they are relegating Sri Lanka to the dustbin of history whilst other nations forge ahead.”

Worrying developments in post-war Sri Lanka

Developments in post-war Sri Lanka also give rise to some concern about the future of Sri Lanka. Tisaranee Gunasekara in her article ‘Towards an unjust Sri Lanka’ in Asian Tribune 30 August 2009 said: “Last week, the newly appointed police spokesman was busy, revealing details about a plot to assassinate the Defence Secretary, declaring the reactivation of ‘special 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? Are we about to see the beginning of Eelam War V? 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?”

Her comments point to the part played by an invented enemy or an anticipated threat which as mentioned earlier is unduly concerned about winning elections. The power seekers by portraying themselves as the protectors hope to defeat their political opponents. The top leaders in the present government are anxious to keep the past terrorist threat in the minds of the Sinhalese hoping this would induce them to rely on the government for their protection. The continued detention of Tamils in the temporary camps is also justified by the alleged infiltration of Tamil Tigers. Some open-minded Sinhalese citizens have raised the important question. How the Sinhala people and media would have reacted, if the detainees in such camps were Sinhalese?

The Island Saturday columnist Shanie in the August 29th edition also drew attention to the contrasting attitudes towards tragedies in the North and South. “There is public outrage now at the extra-judicial killings and violence in the south, both after persons are taken into police custody as well as in alleged encounters with the Police. There was also public outrage at the cruel separation of two baby elephants from their nursing mothers. These incidents stirred the public conscience because they were rightly highlighted and exposed by the media. Why is there no similar outrage at the treatment being meted out to the civilians in the IDP camps (in the North)? Is it that, because they were in the Vanni under the "rule" of the LTTE, they are considered lesser citizens than the rest of us? Many of us are quick to assert that the suffering civilians in the Vanni have been liberated from the clutches of the LTTE but are unwilling to liberate them from being interned in the camps against their will. We are happy to expose the hypocrisy of some western governments but are unable to self-examine our own hypocrisy”. Attention has also been drawn by moderate Sinhalese to the contrasting ways the rebels and their supporters in the South were treated after crushing their rebellion to the current treatment in the North after quelling the revolt of the Tamil Tigers. It is true the latter were heavily armed and threat to the future of the nation but this should not deter the victor from showing magnanimity from the stand point of reconciliation and unification of the divided people.

Conclusion

The reluctance of the leaders on both sides of the ethnic divide to accept realities is responsible for the national tragedy. Even during the time when the Tamil Tigers kept sizeable part of the North-East region under their control, lasting peace and future for the Tamils remained uncertain. Those who lived in their own dream world, failed to recognise this.

The approach to national unity and lasting peace must be holistic based on equality and sovereign rights of all the people. As stated earlier, democracy in Sri Lanka is weak lacking many fundamentals. Devolution should be considered as inherent to the democratization process. The argument that many Tamils are living in the South and therefore devolution is not needed is just another prejudiced view. Making peace is the natural culmination of successful war effort. It has to be assuring to all communities to prevent the re-emergence of the problems that led to the war. As stressed earlier the future of the Sinhalese depends on the future of all other ethnic groups. Unity cannot be imposed; it has to be achieved by shared interests and mutual trust . Future of Sri Lanka depends on the realization of these ideals.

[The writer is Former Additional Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Sri Lanka and UN Advisor, Development Economics/Planning]

September 03, 2009

Upali Cooray: the Unrepentant Marxist

by P Rajanayagam

(Text of the tribute by, P. Rajanayagam, Editor of ‘Tamil Times’, on behalf of Upali’s friends and comrades at his funeral on 3 September 2009)

We are gathered here today to remember, pay tribute and bid farewell to our friend, colleague and comrade, Upali Cooray, whose untimely death on 21st August 2009 has grieved us all.

Upali’s professional qualifications included a BSc (Hons) in Economics (London), LLB Hons (London) and MA in Business Law at London Guildhall University.

Called to the Bar in 1974, Upali practised as a Barrister. Upali was also a Senior Lecturer in Law at London Metropolitan University and taught in many areas including Immigration Law and Comparative Labour Law.

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Upali Cooray

As a committed human rights lawyer, Upali has worked tirelessly for the unrepresented in Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom. Upali’s practice has included a large amount of cases in Immigration, Employment, Criminal, Housing and Family Law.

My association with Upali spans a period of over fifty years. Upali, by his natural inclinations and ideological persuasion was the classical version of “the Leftist” fighting for causes and defending cases that others would not touch.

Like many of us belonging to his generation, Upali cut his political teeth in the Sama Samaja movement, beginning as a youth leaguer, then being a member, and later playing leading roles in political and trade union struggles.

The 1960’s were traumatic times for the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), and for that matter the entire left and working class movement in Sri Lanka. When the majority of the leadership of the Party began to embrace the strategy of coalition politics, it was resisted and opposed by the Left Tendency within the Party to which Upali and I belonged. When the LSSP, at its historic two-day conference in June 1964, decided by majority vote to enter into coalition politics, those of the Left Tendency, which was at that time led by Edmund Samarakkody, Bala Tampo, Merryl Fernando and V. Karalasingham, broke away from the LSSP and founded the LSSP(R). Among others, Upali and I were also elected to the Central Committee of the new party.

There is no doubt that the decision of the LSSP and the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CP) in 1964 to enter into coalition politics determined the fate and future of not only these parties, but also the entire left and working class politics in the country. These parties from the 1940s had been powerful bastions on the Left having substantial support with branches and youth leagues functioning throughout the length and breadth of the country. They had under their political leadership and control almost the entire working class movement. These parties had well acclaimed leaders with intellect and stature who were acknowledged as political giants even by their opponents. Even at the worst of times, these parties between them were able to win 15 to 20 seats in parliament. However, today these parties have become a pale shadow of their long, powerful and glorious past having insignificant impact on the politics of the island nation. Would these parties have suffered this fate had they avoided the strategy of coalition politics and continued to remain as champions of the Left fighting the cause of the oppressed and marginalised is a question that is worth pondering.

Upali was one of the founding members of the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality (MIRJE) in July, 1979 of which Fr Paul Caspersz was the President. It was founded in the context of rising violence particularly in Jaffna where the military had been deployed, Emergency rule had been imposed and the draconian provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act had been invoked leading to widespread and gross human rights violations.

Upali “was one of the moving spirits in MIRJE and a key organizer of many of its activities. He was a co-author with Paul Caspersz and me of the first MIRJE publication, “Emergency’79”, the first publication to deal with the human rights violations in Jaffna that began in 1979.” (Rajan Philips)

Another report in the form of a booklet titled “What happened in Jaffna: Days of Terror” published by MIRJE graphically details of uncontrolled violence including arson that was unleashed in Jaffna May 1981 in the course of which the Jaffna public market and its shopping centre, the TULF office, the residence of the then Jaffna MP Mr V Yogeswaran and most tragically the Jaffna Public Library were set ablaze which was described by Sri Lanka’s most famous Bibliographer Ian Goonetillake as an exercise in “cultural incineration”

Though well versed in the theoretical concepts of Marxism, Upali was not dogmatic. He was the quintessential political activist and campaigner agitating for causes he believed in. Upali was always in the vanguard of struggles of the oppressed people all over the world and played prominent roles in anti-colonialist, anti-capitalist, anti-war and anti-racist campaigns.

As the ethnic conflict escalated Sri Lanka, there was massive proliferation of human rights abuses including detention without trial, torture, extra-judicial executions and involuntary disappearances. It was during this period that Upali became one of the leading figures who set up many campaigning organisations in the UK such as the “Ceylon Solidarity Forum”, “Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners”, “Friends of the Disappeared”, and the Committee for Democracy and Justice in Sri Lanka”.

In regard to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, Upali firmly rejected the strategy of war and violence and forcefully argued for negotiated political settlement that recognised the legitimate rights of all nationalities. He denounced and campaigned against violations of human and democratic rights, political assassinations and other excesses for which successive Sri Lankan governments and the LTTE were responsible.

Above all, Upali was a man of action. He believed in the capacity of the downtrodden people to make a better world by transforming the exploitative socio-economic and political conditions to which they were subjected. Believing that organising, educating and empowering of the oppressed people was the key to their emancipation, Upali helped to creating alternative institutions. He helped in setting up a Women’s Centre and a Legal Advice Centre in the Katunayaka Free Trade Zone. He set up a Resource Centre for Community Groups with modern printing machinery and internet technologies to help community groups in mass communication. He also set up another Centre in Balangoda providing for a meeting place for Tea plantation workers. He facilitated the setting up a charity “Lanka Care” to enable bright students from poor backgrounds to further their education by the provision of financial assistance.

One of his longstanding comrades, Rajan Philips, recalls an incident to illustrate Upali’s commitment to those who have been wronged or whose rights have been violated: “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 would have celebrated his 70th birthday on the 17th of this month. Sadly it was not to be. No amount of tributes to Upali would compensate for the irretrievable loss his wife Sylvia, son Alex, and daughters Samantha and Jasmine have suffered. May they be consoled that many of Upali’s compatriots will cherish his memory and his services for ever.

Even in death, Upali stands tall as he has been throughout his life, a courageous stalwart of the Left and the valiant champion of the oppressed and marginalised. The casket containing his mortal remains, at his own request, is draped in the red flag with the hammer and sickle and the humanist service that is being performed today profoundly demonstrates ‘the unrepentant Marxist’ that Upali has been until his death.

Today, we bow our heads and salute Upali in celebration of his life and service to humanity which he performed with courage, conviction and dedication.

3rd September 2009

September 02, 2009

U.S. voices "grave concern" about Sri Lanka video

* Fears video may show Tamil rebel executions

* U.S. calls video "very disturbing", seeks details

* Not clear if U.N. Security Council to take up issue

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US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, in Jun 2009-pic: Getty Images

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 2 (Reuters) - The United States voiced grave concern on Wednesday about video footage that a Sri Lankan group says shows government soldiers summarily executing Tamil rebels in violation of international law.

These reports are very disturbing, they are of grave concern," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters. "We'd like more information as we formulate our own national response."

Rice was reacting to video footage aired last week on British television which, according to a Sri Lankan advocacy group, shows government forces executing unarmed, naked, bound and blindfolded Tamils during the army's final assault to smash Tamil Tiger rebels earlier this year.

The Sri Lankan government has dismissed the video as fake.

Rice, who holds the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council during the month of September, said it was not yet clear whether the council would take up the issue.

"I'm not aware of a council member proposing that this be discussed on the council agenda but obviously these reports are very fresh and that could change," she said.

Previous attempts to formally raise the issue of Sri Lanka's conduct during the final months of its 25-year war against the Tamil Tiger rebels met resistance from Russia and China, who opposed official council discussion of an issue they said was an internal matter for the Sri Lankan government.

Philip Alston, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said on Tuesday he hoped the United Nations would launch an investigation to determine whether Sri Lankan soldiers did in fact summarily execute Tamils, which would be a violation of international law.

Alston acknowledged there was no certainty the video was authentic. Britain's Channel 4 television said it got the footage from advocacy group Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka.

"There's nothing on the surface to indicate that it is not authentic and, if that's the case, it would raise very grave concerns," Alston told Reuters in an interview.

HUMAN SHIELDS

A spokeswoman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the United Nations took all reports of serious human rights violations and war crimes with the "utmost concern" and that the Channel 4 video was "no exception".

Sri Lanka's government has repeatedly denied that its forces were guilty of war crimes or human rights breaches during the last months of its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), whom it defeated in May.

U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes has said several thousand civilians were killed during the final phase of Sri Lanka's war against the LTTE, when the rebels retreated to a narrow strip of coast in northeastern Sri Lanka.

The rebels brought hundreds of thousands of Tamils with them, whom U.N. officials said were used as human shields.

U.N. and Western officials accused Sri Lanka of using heavy artillery to shell areas that it knew were heavily populated with civilians, killing many of them in the process. Colombo denied the allegation.

(Editing by Phil Stewart) [Courtesy: Reuters]

The Channel 4 video footage can be seen here:

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

Totalitarian leader was once a young idealist fighting for human rights

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which?”

– Animal Farm by George Orwell

The year was 1989. A violent youth insurrection that had terrorised the Sri Lankan populace was being brutally quelled by the state establishment. Bodies were burned on rubber tyres and the charred remains were left on every street corner. Hundreds of corpses were polluting the major rivers of the island’s south-west. Disappearances, arbitrary detention and revenge killings were the order of the day. With a government at the zenith of its power determined to crush the insurgency through force, leaving a trail of innocent victims in its wake, a young Sri Lankan opposition parliamentarian from the rural south decided to take a stand against the country’s deteriorating human rights situation and the state terror being unleashed upon his fellow citizens.

Travelling to Switzerland without a penny in his pocket and on an air ticket purchased for him by a friend, the young politician entered the building of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) in Geneva and parked himself in the lobby. Over several days, he waylaid every delegation passing through those halls, using each opportunity to tell members of the world community about the tragedy that was unfolding in Sri Lanka. So eager and relentless was the young man that he was finally given a special meeting at the UNCHR to present his case. Back in Sri Lanka he organised anti-government campaigns and founded organisations that looked into disappearances. He was, if anything, the face of the agitation campaign against the regime of the day, the street fighter determined to secure the rights of the oppressed and release them from the brutal grip of state terror.

That man is now Sri Lanka’s fifth executive President, elected to office in 2005 and credited with having achieved the impossible by defeating the world’s most ruthless terrorist organisation that was fighting for a separate homeland in the island’s north-east. With his government being accused of gross human rights violations and heavy-handed tactics in the name of quashing terrorism, the President calls rights campaigners ‘traitors’ if they are Sri Lankans and ‘terrorists’ or ‘terrorist agents’ if they happen to be foreigners. And so, beyond the signature moustache and the shawl he still wears around his neck, there is no resemblance between the starry-eyed Mahinda Rajapaksa from Hambantota, fighting for the rights of his citizens in Geneva and the corpulent, shrewd politician occupying the premier seat of power in Sri Lanka today.

If one were to set aside the remarkable victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for just a moment, the other most significant legacy of Rajapaksa’s presidency is the veritable death of the free Sri Lankan media. The independent press has been muzzled, strangled, beaten and killed in the last four years and the intimidation is by far the worst the country has ever seen. Coercion of the media commenced shortly after the government decided to push for a military victory over the Tamil Tigers.

While previous Sri Lankan governments used press censorship and criminal defamation laws to keep the media in check during sensitive military operations, Rajapaksa would have none of it. Instead, he continued his monthly meetings with newspaper editors and year-end media galas, at which he assured the country’s top journalists that he had no axe to grind with them and promised to solve all their problems. But all the while, Sri Lankan journalists were being abducted, brutally assaulted and in several tragic instances, killed, every time they took a tough stand against the government or the military.

Still Mahinda Rajapaksa feigned ignorance, sent wreaths expressing his sympathy and provided the token policeman to protect editors and senior journalists. Other members of his administration railed against the press, calling them traitors and accusing them of colluding with the Tamil Tigers. His brother and the country’s powerful defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa famously told the BBC earlier this year “either you are fighting terrorism or you’re a terrorist”.

Where attempts to beat and kill media personnel into submission have failed, the administration has simply purchased publishing houses for millions of rupees or convinced newspaper proprietors to join the ruling party, effectively suppressing any dissenting views being expressed in those publications. The current ownership of Sri Lanka’s few publishing houses tell a tragic story: The Lake House, nationalised in 1973, now functions as the government’s print media wing, Upali Newspapers is owned by the brother of a minister in Rajapaksa’s government, the proprietor of Sumathi Publishers is as of late a government politician and the Rivira Media Group was purchased by a close relative of the president, one week after the deputy editor of its English weekend newspaper The Nation , Keith Noyahr, was abducted in front of his home and brutally assaulted. Only two publishing houses of repute in Sri Lanka have so far managed to remain out of the government’s realm of control, although one has already suffered the brutal murder of its editor in chief.

The plight of the electronic media is no better with the only television station taking a slightly tougher stance against Rajapaksa's government being targeted earlier this year. Its news studio was bombed and staff intimidated by an armed gang of over 20 people who to this day remain at large, leading to widespread speculation that the perpetrators were being afforded some measure of state patronage.

This frequently violent suppression of the media indicates an interesting metamorphosis of Rajapaksa. When he was minister of labour and later prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa was nicknamed the ‘cabinet reporter’ by his predecessor and then Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga for faithfully leaking sensitive cabinet information to his many friends in the media. One such friend was none other than Lasantha Wickrematunge, the slain editor of Sri Lanka’s Sunday Leader newspaper, killed on Rajapaksa’s watch.

A famous anecdote in Sri Lankan media circles runs to the effect that Wickrematunge would meet Rajapaksa outside his official residence at 4 a.m. once a week in order to obtain the latest inside information on government dealings. Yet as far as the Rajapaksa Administration post-2005 was concerned, Wickrematunge was public enemy number one, a journalist who refused to bow down to government pressure and insisted on publishing scathing anti-government pieces and criticisms of the government’s execution of the war in his newspaper. In the editorial published posthumously in which he anticipates his death, Wickrematunge places blame for his assassination squarely on the shoulders of Mahinda Rajapaksa, charging that the president would know his killer but do nothing to bring him to justice. It was an ominously accurate prediction.

Eight months have lapsed since the day Wickrematunge was stabbed in broad daylight by assailants on motorbikes and despite repeated assurances by the president and his government that his killers would be found and prosecuted, the case remains unsolved. In short, the inquiry into Wickrematunge’s killing has gone down the same path as investigations into scores of other incidents of assault and murder of journalists in Sri Lanka: nowhere.

The strangulation of the Sri Lankan press contributed in no small measure to the government’s resounding success against the LTTE. The Rajapaksa administration had a trump card in its favour no government that had gone before possessed. Public opinion was firmly on its side to the point where the populace chose to overlook rampant corruption and mismanagement on all other fronts in order to allow the President to finish off the Tamil Tigers. This perception was created largely because the government’s tactics of intimidation ensured that the mainstream media jumped quickly on to the military bandwagon. Every night for almost a year the Sri Lankan people were fed a daily diet of war news, reported by media personnel embedded with the Sri Lankan armed forces or official military footage.

For the first time in the history of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict, the state propaganda machinery worked as well as that of the Tamil Tigers, an advantage that Rajapaksa’s government managed to capitalise on with incredible prowess. The press was barred from the battle-zone during the last days of the military push, rendering that phase of the conflict a war without witness and giving rise to the kind of video footage we saw last week on Channel 4 News allegedly of Sri Lankan soldiers summarily executing what appear to be captured Tiger cadres.

With the mainstream media muffled, even today, four months after the war was officially declared over, the average Sri Lankan citizen possesses access only to the government version of events in the country. And because the majority of news filtering through to the masses is overwhelmingly positive, Sri Lankans are growing less and less inclined to believe dissenting opinion which hints that all is not well in paradise.

Remarkably, the Sri Lankan people continue to see Rajapaksa as the sole liberator and master of their destiny, turning a blind eye to the stark realities of repression, nepotism and cold-blooded murder which have been the hallmarks of this regime. Mahinda, Basil and Gotabhaya make up the Rajapaksa Triumvirate, three brothers who alone control the future of Sri Lanka. Both the President’s brothers were residing in the US and returned to the country only when Rajapaksa was on the verge of ascending the presidency.

The victory against the Tamil Tigers is being portrayed as a triumph of the three brothers – President, Presidential Advisor and Defence Secretary of Sri Lanka respectively – and with this feather in their caps, the Rajapaksas have begun constructing a political dynasty of a magnitude Sri Lanka has never seen before. From the country’s envoys overseas to the lowliest provincial political candidate, public office is littered with persons holding the Rajapaksa name or bearing close filial ties to the “royal family”.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, who assumed office promising to abolish the presidency, is now looking to amend Sri Lanka’s constitution to allow him to contest a third presidential term. He still has two more years to go in his first term. The government propaganda machine has already begun projecting the President as a “ Maha Raja” or ‘great king’ and there are not so subtle hints about his ‘reign’ extending for decades to come. The people of Sri Lanka are fed regular doses of this propaganda through the state-controlled media and pennants on every street corner depicting him as the all-uniting King of Sri Lanka. Songs of praise ‘to the king’ are now sung at all his political rallies. With no credible opposition in sight, Sri Lanka may well be seeing the beginning of the Rajapaksa monarchy taking shape. It is exactly this kind of totalitarian rule Rajapaksa himself fought so hard against in his idealistic youth. But that, clearly, was a lifetime ago.

The author is a Sri Lankan who wishes to remain anonymous because of possible threats to his life.

September 01, 2009

Tradition bound Udappu, the charm of a Tamil village

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

"Udappu” is situated between the Dutch Canal in the East, Indian Ocean in the West, Poonaipitty village in the North and Pinkatti village in the South. According to some reports, that there was a flood in this area earlier, and it was called “Udaippu” afterwards. Another report says that people were looking for pure water and sea side, while searching for such place they found “Udaippankarai”. Later, the name derived from “Udaippu” to “Udaippankarai” to “Udappu”, which is currently being called.

[Click here to read the article in full in HumanityAshore.com]

Sentenced Journalist Tissainayagam is Prisoner of Conscience says Amnesty International

The full text of a statement issued on 1 September 2009 by Amnesty International

A High Court in Sri Lanka sentenced journalist Jayaprakash Sittampalam (JS) Tissainayagam to 20 years rigorous imprisonment on Monday, for writing and publishing articles that criticized the government's treatment of Sri Lankan Tamil civilians affected by the war. The court said the articles caused "racial hatred" and promoted terrorism.

AITC0901.jpgAmnesty International said that it considers JS Tissainayagam to be a prisoner of conscience, jailed solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression in carrying out his profession.

JS Tissainayagam was the first Sri Lankan journalist to be formally charged (and now convicted) under the country's draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for his writing.

The verdict comes in the context of increasing pressure on Sri Lanka's journalists. More than 30 media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka since 2004. Many others have been assaulted, abducted, threatened or forced into exile. Sri Lankan journalists say that the government is responsible for many of these incidents and has failed to protect against others.

JS Tissainayagam was arrested in March 2008 and detained in police custody for five months before he was charged with an offence. He and two colleagues were eventually accused of bringing the government into disrepute (a charge that was later dropped) and inciting racial and ethnic animosities through material published in a short-lived monthly magazine called the North East Herald. He was also accused of raising funds for the magazine to further terrorist objectives.

The right to freedom of opinion and expression is protected under international law and is also recognized in the Sri Lankan Constitution. Sri Lanka has misused the PTA and the Emergency Regulations (ER) to silence a critical voice and violate Mr Tissainayagam's rights to freedom of opinion and expression.

Tissainayagam's indictment was based on passages from two articles which expressed critical opinions about the government's treatment of Tamil civilians affected by armed conflict. A July 2006 editorial headlined, "Providing security to Tamils now will define northeastern politics of the future" concluded: "It is fairly obvious that the government is not going to offer them any protection. In fact it is the state security forces that are the main perpetrator of the killings."

A second article published in November 2006 addressed the humanitarian situation in the eastern town of Vaharai, where warfare included attacks on civilian areas. It accused the government of starving and endangering civilians to further political and strategic military objectives.

The prosecution also put forth as evidence an alleged confession made by Tissainayagam while in police custody. Tissainayagam maintains that he was tortured by the police and that the confession was forced. The Court ruled that the evidence was admissible. Sri Lanka has a long history of torture and ill treatment of prisoners. Under the PTA, the burden of proof rests with the accused to prove that the confession was made under duress or torture.

Tissainayagam was arrested on 7 March 2008 by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lankan Police in Colombo when he went to the police seeking information about the arrests the day before of two colleagues, B Jasiharan and his wife V Vallarmathy, a printer and owner of the building that housed the offices of Outreach Sri Lanka, a website Tissainayagam edited. Arrested along with Tissainayagam was reporter K Wijayasinghe, who accompanied him to the TID offices. The website's visual editor Udayan, and G Gayan Lasantha Ranga a video cameraman, were also arrested separately on 7 March.

After repeated inquiries by Tissainayagam's family, the police eventually confirmed that they had detained him and the others because they suspected them of being members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Early on the morning of 8 March, TID officers raided Tissainayagam's home, searched it without a warrant and seized a copy of the Northeastern Monthly Magazine.

Wijayasinghe, Ranga and Udayan were released without charge on 19 March 2008, the day that Tissainayagam filed a Fundamental Rights Case in the Supreme Court alleging violation of his constitutional rights to freedom from torture, equality and equal protection of the law, as well as freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention.

Tissainayagam and his co-defendants were indicted in August 2008 for alleged violations of the PTA and the ER. The PTA had in fact been suspended following the ceasefire agreement between the government and the Tamil Tigers in February 2002. In prosecuting Tissainayagam for articles and activities conducted in 2006, the prosecution applied the PTA retroactively.

The Sri Lankan government dropped the charge of "bringing disrepute to the government" on 9 September 2008 but retained other charges related to editing, printing and fundraising for the magazine. Jasiharan was charged with aiding and abetting Tissainayagam to further terrorism. Vallarmathy was charged with the offence of aiding and abetting her husband Jasiharan in these acts.

On Monday, High Court Judge Deepali Wijesundara announced her verdict, finding Tissainayagam guilty of writing articles intended to create communal disharmony and of raising money for a magazine whose articles violated the PTA. Tissainayagam's lawyer has vowed to appeal the sentence.

Amnesty International denounced the verdict as a direct violation of Tissainayagam's right to freedom of expression and more broadly as an assault on press freedom in Sri Lanka. The organization called for the immediate release of Tissainayagam and his colleagues, and an end to the use of the PTA to silence peaceful dissent.

CPJ award goes to jailed Sri Lankan journalist

Statement by CPJ

The Committee to Protect Journalists announced today that it will honor imprisoned Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam with a 2009 International Press Freedom Award. Tissainayagam, left, sentenced today to 20 years in prison on specious charges of violating anti-terror laws, is one of five journalists who will be honored by CPJ at a ceremony in November. The full slate of awardees, selected by CPJ's Board of Directors this summer, will be formally announced in September.

A Colombo High Court sentenced Tissainayagam to 20 years of hard labor in the first conviction of a journalist under the country's harsh anti-terror laws. Tissainayagam, known as Tissa, suffers from poor health and said his confession to the charge was extracted under threat of torture, according to his lawyers.

"We are announcing this award today to highlight the depth of outrage at this unjust sentence," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon . "Its harshness and the retroactive nature of the charges reflect vindictiveness and intolerance. We are calling today for Tissainayagam's release--an appeal we plan to repeat at our awards ceremony, when the world's leading journalists gather to demand press freedom for all of our colleagues."

Terrorism Investigation Division officials arrested Tissainayagam, an English-language columnist for the Sri Lankan Sunday Times and editor of the news website OutreachSL, on March 7, 2008, when he visited their offices to inquire about the arrest of colleagues the previous day. He was held without charge under emergency regulations before his indictment in August 2008 for articles published nearly three years earlier in a now-defunct magazine, North Eastern Monthly.

Judge Deepali Wijesundara said articles Tissainayagam wrote for the Monthly in 2006 incited communal disharmony, an offense under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, according to international news reports. She also found him guilty of raising funds to publish the magazine, itself a violation of the anti-terror law. The Monthly folded in early 2007.

The anti-terror laws were relaxed in 2006-07, according to CPJ research. Under a cease-fire accord then in effect between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the government pledged not to detain people under the statutes. The government re-enacted provisions of the anti-terror laws after the cease-fire dissolved in early 2008, according to international news reports. Tissainayagam will appeal the sentence, the reports said.

The two colleagues, Vettivel Jasikaran and Vadivel Valamathy, also face anti-terror charges for aiding and abetting Tissainayagam. Published reports indicate they have not gone to trial. Jasikaran, who also worked on OutreachSL, owned a printing business that helped publish the Monthly. Valamathy had no reported involvement with the magazine beside her personal relationship with her companion, Jasikaran.

"The retroactive sentencing sets a very dangerous precedent. The government has singled out articles written during the cease-fire, when terrorism laws weren't even in effect," said Simon. "It sends a very clear message to journalists who've ever criticized a government policy: Anything you've ever said could suddenly be evidence against you."

U.S. President Barack Obama highlighted Tissainayagam's case during his World Press Freedom Day address in May.

Hundreds of prominent journalists will gather in New York on November 24 to recognize Tissainayagam and the other honorees. Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international correspondent, will be the host; Robert Thomson, editor-in-chief of Dow Jones and managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, is chairman of the event.

A CPJ special report, "Failure to Investigate," chronicles some of the growing incidents of attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka , including circumstances surrounding the murder of outspoken editor Lasantha Wickramatunga in January 2009.

Submit channel 4 tape to forensic expert

By Mangala Samaraweera

The battered international image of our country has been dealt another severe blow with the airing by Channel 4 in the UK of a video clip implicating the Sri Lankan government of extra judicial executions. Subsequently, this horrendous video clip was picked up by other mainstream international channels and many other leading international newspapers also gave this shameful news item extensive coverage.

The accusations raised against the Sri Lankan Government over the last several months of “human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity” are all at play in this single video clip. and the demand for an independent international investigation has again gathered momentum as a result. The UN Special Rappoteur on Extra- Judicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions, Mr. Philip Alston has already said that it is the government’s responsibility to set up an independent investigation to probe into the authenticity of this video clip.

Under these circumstances, when the reputation of Sri Lanka is at stake, it is imperative that the government acts in a credible and mature manner in meeting the serious allegations. Instead, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London says that the video clip is “doctored” while the Foreign Secretary along with the state run media has attacked everyone who raised their concerns about this gruesome video clip and are as usual talking about an international conspiracy to tarnish the image of our country. If this is so, an opportunity has arisen for the government to prove to the whole world the veracity of its conspiracy theory.

It is a well-known fact that video clips can be doctored using sophisticated digital

equipment. However there are Forensic Video Tape Experts who can issue an authenticity certificate of videotapes, which are recognized in civil, and criminal litigation cases internationally. These forensic experts can also provide tape-tampering analysis of suspect video clips. Armed with such certificates, the Sri Lankan Government must then proceed to initiate legal action against Channel 4 and the other media institutions for airing a video clip that by proxy has damaged the image of the Sri Lankan people.

This is the time for the government to take the “bull by the horns” and prove its credibility to the world once and for all. It is not only the credibility of the Rajapakse regime, which is at stake, but the very reputation of our country is also at stake. Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans (especially the Sinhala Buddhist majority) now stand in the dock of international public opinion accused of heinous crimes. If we miss this opportunity, we will providing ample grounds for further suspicion and accusation on “human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity” will be taken more seriously than ever before.

Tape authentication and initiating legal action in international courts may be a costly exercise but whatever money the government spends on clearing the name of our noble “dhammadeepa” will be money well spent

Mangala Samaraweera
SLFP - Mahajana Wing leader

Channel 4: UN probing Sri Lanka 'executions'

By Nick Paton Walsh

The UN says it is viewing with 'utmost concern' a video broadcast on Channel 4 News which allegedly shows Sri Lankan troops executing prisoners.

The images are 'horrendous' and, if authentic, are a serious breach of international law.

The United Nations’s own expert called for an investigation into footage broadcast by this programme.

But there are accusations that the organisation failed to speak out about alleged atrocities committed in the dying days of Sri Lanka's war against the Tamil Tigers.

Philip Alston, who is the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, explained whether he thought the pictures were authentic. - courtesy: Channel 4 UK

Fidel’s ethics of violence: “Deserves Attention…Makes Genuine Contribution”

Fidel’s ethics of violence: the moral dimension of the political thought of Fidel Castro. By
Dayan Jayatilleka. London: Pluto Press. 235pp. Index. £17.99. isbn 0 7453 2696 2.


Reviewed by Clive Foss

Prof Foss teaches history at Georgetown University, Washington DC, where he offers courses in the history of dictatorship, as well as the fall of Rome and the rise of Islam. His most recent books are Fidel Castro and The Tyrants

At first sight, this seems like an implausible and naive work: Fidel Castro is famed as a revolutionary, a skilled politician, a man of incredible activity and accomplishments, but hardly as a philosopher. Anyone familiar with his torrent of pronouncements realizes that they often have to be taken with a pinch of salt, and that Fidel is not above bending the truth to his own purposes. Jayatilleka tends to believe what he reads and to take a very uncritical point of view. Yet this work deserves attention because it presents an aspect of Castro’s policies that seems obvious once pointed out, but hardly ever gets stressed by his biographers (though it does come out in his recent ‘autobiography’, My life, a series of interviews with the prominent French journalist Ignacio Ramonet).

The thesis of this work is that Fidel’s idea of the correct and incorrect uses of violence is central to his political thought: although his success was based on war, he never used violence against unarmed civilians, did not carry out executions without trials, and did not kill ideological opponents. He avoided assassination and treated enemy captives well; he avoided torture, murder and a reign of terror. His most enduring legacy will not be military, social or economic, but his political thought. Although some of this may need qualification, the general idea makes sense. Its corollary, that Castro introduced an ethical dimension to Marxism that gave it moral superiority over capitalism and helped Cuba survive the collapse of the Soviet Union, is far more questionable.

Jayatilleka sees Castro as combining the idealism of Savonarola with the realism of Machiavelli, avoiding extremes: he did not let power slip from his hands like Sukarno, Allende or Gorbachev; or capitulate to capitalism like China or Vietnam; or retreat into isolation like North Korea. Comparison with Mao Zedong is telling and could be pursued further. Both he and Castro began their revolution from a remote mountain base where they developed successful tactics of guerrilla fighting though neither had formal military training. They treated the locals well, neither stealing nor raping, and they released captive soldiers, letting them join the rebels or sending them home. The similarities end here: in power, Mao carried out violent purges, ‘thought reform’ and mass executions. Castro did none of that. His revolution, unlike the French, Russian or Chinese, was not followed by a bloodbath. He did order or allow a few hundred executions, often with dubious legality, but most often solved the problem of opposition by letting dissidents leave the island. Castro might look less unusual, though, if compared with two other popular heroes who took power by war: Julius Caesar and Kemal Atatürk also showed clemency to their opponents.

This work constantly stresses the moral superiority of the Cuban revolution, shown by its international humanism and its distinction between the right and wrong use of violence, which makes it unique among revolutions; the distinction is not Marxist, but is Castro’s own contribution. Hence, according to Jayatilleka, his regime’s long survival. Why did the other socialist states collapse? Because, it seems, their unrestrained use of violence led to a moral and ethical weakening, destroying the advantage they had over capitalism. Specifically (in an interesting chapter, pp. 27–59), socialism failed to triumph in the 1970s despite a promising beginning because of fratricidal strife and leftist fundamentalism, extremes that Castro always avoided. No notion here that communism might have collapsed because it went against natural human desires for freedom and property, that it imposed a violent tyranny, or that it manifested supreme incompetence in running an economy. Nor that Fidel’s regime might owe its survival to its very isolation in an island where the party controls all information.

Jayatilleka constantly takes Castro’s pronouncements at their face value. For example: Castro was mistreated without end in prison (he and his men were housed in the relatively cushy hospital wing of the prison); a revolution that accepts aid from embezzlers who have plundered the republic betrays its principles (Castro got a huge handout from Cuba’s crooked ex-President Prío to support his revolution); Cuban police have never broken up a popular demonstration (Castro sent in the tanks against the housewives of Cardenas in 1962, crushing Cuba’s last demonstration till 1994); Castro did not persecute the Church (well, he did not massacre priests, but he did kick them out and take over their schools).

Leaving aside the author’s idealization of the western hemisphere’s last dictator, his obliviousness to the real faults of the Cuban regime and his often tedious repetition of his main point, this work makes a genuine contribution by assessing the difference between Cuba and other revolutionary regimes in their use of violence and sheds an indisputably favourable light on one aspect of Fidel Castro’s ideology.

Clive Foss, Dept of History, Georgetown University, USA