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May 31, 2010

What is the Agenda of India on Sri Lanka Now?

by Kuldip Nayar

I wish I knew what India’s policy on Sri Lanka is. It now favours reconciliation between the Tamil minority and the Sinhalese majority. Not long ago, it stood for devolving power to provinces in a federal structure. True, the two communities have no other option except to co-exist, as they have been doing all these years. But the lackadaisical attitude towards Tamils, particularly in all walks of life, has to go before they gain confidence that they are equal citizens.

I wish Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had made a statement on Sri Lanka in his maiden press conference at Delhi. He has to put pressure on President Rajapaksa to make his promise on decentralisation of power good. Even in the midst of fighting against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Sri Lankan government was voicing such a promise.

Some argue that New Delhi should have intervened before the decimation of the LTTE so that it could have had some room to prevail upon Colombo to accommodate the Tamils. Authentic reports have it that India supplied weapons to the Sri Lankan army even during its operation against the LTTE. Colombo should have been made to give Tamils concrete concessions at that time and it would have done so because it wanted to finish the LTTE once and for all. But, on the contrary, India never withdrew its hand from supplying arms to Colombo.

Probably, New Delhi did so because it could never get off its chest that it had committed the original sin of training and arming the LTTE. Then the policy of India was to create a force which would help the Tamils, who were being evicted from their land in the north and who were maltreated all over, without getting their due. It is unfortunate that the LTTE became a Frankenstein and came to nurture the ambition of an independent state.

Maybe, the menace that the LTTE subsequently became had to be ended in the way President Rajapaksa scotched it. In a way, New Delhi should have been happy that the force which killed Rajiv Gandhi has been eliminated. Yet there is a feeling in South Block that its say at Colombo has been further reduced. But then, this is because India had no persistent policy. It reacted according to situation that would prevail in Sri Lanka.

If only New Delhi had a set goal to win a place for Tamils under the sun, it would have settled the matter long ago even during the time of President Jayawardene, who told me once that Rajiv Gandhi was the captain of the ship and they would do whatever he commanded.

Why the vague word of reconciliation has been substituted in place of concrete devolvement of power is because of the panic that has gripped New Delhi after Beijing has announced a large investment in Sri Lanka and given an undertaking to develop the Trincoomali port. Instead of ticking off China for its blatant policy of encircling India — Beijing is making larger investment in Nepal too — New Delhi has made a retreat on its resolve to enforce a federal structure in Sri Lanka.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi could have given an ultimatum to the Manmohan Singh government on Tamils in Sri Lanka. But he, during his visit to Delhi, was interested only in saving Union Telecommunications Minister A. Raja who is mixed up in the Rs 40,000-crore scandal involving 2G mobile bands. Even when Karunanidhi talked about the Tamils, he did only cursorily.

Meanwhile, more and more stories of what the Sri Lankan army did to thousands of civilian Tamils, caught in the crossfire between the LTTE and the Colombo forces, have come to light. It was terror perpetuated on innocent men, women and children. Some 20,000 Tamils were killed. Sexual abuse and the rape of women were yet other atrocities clearly proved against Sri Lankan military and they would amount to crime against humanity and Geneva Convention.

One aspect of the government policy that facilitated a variety of atrocities was the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) of 1979 which designated the LTTE forces as “terrorists.” It further undermined some of the safeguards in the justice and military legal systems, leading to significant abuse. Evidence shows that maltreatment of the dead also took place.

The resulting atrocities of rape, torture, assassinations, “disappearances” and withholding of food, water and medical supplies brutalised and threatened the survival of the Tamil community. The use of artillery and illegal weapons such as white phosphorus and cluster munitions places the government outside accepted international legal standards. It is not surprising that charges of atrocities, ethnic cleansing and indeed genocide have been levelled at Colombo. War crimes and crimes against humanity clear appear to have been committed.

The Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) on Sri Lanka has already held an inquiry. In its report, it has regretted that after repeated pleas and in spite of the appalling conditions experienced by Tamils, the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council failed to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate those responsible for the atrocities committed. The tribunal has emphasised that if normal conditions are to be restored in Sri Lanka, the government must establish, as a matter of urgency, an independent and authoritative Truth and Justice Commission to investigate crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by parties in conflict.

Colombo has appointed an eight-member Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission on the events ranging from the aborted ceasefire pact in 2002 to the military defeat of the LTTE in May last year. But the Commission is looked at with suspicion because there has been a big gap between the words and deeds of the government where it concerns issues of human rights, good governance and accountability.

What President Rajapaksa does not realise is that he has vanquished the LTTE but not the sense of grievances nursing in the hearts of Tamils. If he does not do anything to win them over, some other LTTE would emerge. Already the Tamils living abroad have begun telling the international community that Pesident Rajapaksa has no intention of treating the Sinhalese and the Sri Lankan Tamils at par. This can damage his and his country’s credentials of being democratic.

Therefore, I come back to the question that I asked in the beginning. What is India’s policy on Sri Lanka? New Delhi has been trying to convince it to adopt a federal system and decentralise power for the last two decades with no results. What is on its agenda now?

The torch carrying young ambassadors of the TGTE

By Shan Sundaram

From May 17th to 19th, 2010, Tamil elected representatives from UK, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, France and Denmark Norway and Sweden came to Philadelphia, the historical land mark of USA for its independent in 1776-for the first assembly of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) with an illuminating message to the world that the democratic and political phase of Tamil people is well and alive.

Participating as the elected representative for the State of New Jersey at the Inaugural Sessions of the TGTE was a solemn, emotional experience that also enthralled the sense of Tamil pride and hope above all.

The hope which shone like the sun through morning mist on that bright spring day in Philadelphia – that our resilience is rising along, especially with the younger generation of Tamils – elected as representatives and being very much involved in the progress of TGTE.

Representatives of all ages have been elected, some of them not born in Sri Lanka. Among them are well educated professionals, such as Attorneys, human rights activists, business people, scholars and philosophers representing all walks of life. They only believe in democratic and transparent approach, the very tool known to them in aspiring and pursuing their goals.

Everyone conducted the affairs with a great understanding and friendliness at the Inaugural Session of the TGTE. The prevailing sense is that all is about collective thought and finding solution for the Tamils.

TGTE's "Young Ambassadors" at the Inaugural Session in Philadelphia~click on pic for larger image

The next generation representatives of TGTE - the young roving ambassadors-are activists having a rapport with their elected political leaders, civil society and well wishers of Tamils around the globe whilst setting a firm foot in their professional aspirations. They are bright and motivated.

Their awakening in the aftermath of Tamil genocide, the war crimes leveled on Tamils and continued denial of basic rights and livelihood of their brethren in Sri Lanka has given them this mantle to inspire others as well in the spirit of serving on TGTE. They understand the difference between Sri Lanka’s continued propaganda of hoodwinking the world and real situation of Tamil people of Sri Lanka. They are aware of Tamil people’s inability to express their suffering, grief, fears, mercy, denial of law and order, fear of getting killed for someone else's misconduct and being a subject of collective punishment in an environment seeing the ‘absence of war’ but still without ‘peace’.

They are like the first generation of Jewish people who woke up amidst World War II to stand against the genocide of their people. Now shedding light on the slow and rolling genocide of Tamils and bringing justice is the cry they pledged in Philadelphia.

The hope and inspiration that everyone summed up when bidding farewell to the Inaugural Session are many but primary of them, is that the torch has been passed to this new Tamil generation and they are marching forward toward freeing their people.

They say that the world is beginning to knock their doors in order to help the suffering Tamils in Sri Lanka. These are democratically elected army of young ambassadors who are tireless in seeking accountability from the world for the actions related to the onslaught of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

They are about solutions, willing to walk the walk and not just talk. Perhaps the world would have a chance as well to take an inspiration or two from this group, the offspring of a society largely detached from their social fabric and disseminated trans-nationally since the July 1983 pogrom of Tamils.

(Shan Sundaram, TGTE member representing The State of New Jersey)

The latest Commission of Inquiry in Sri Lanka - Another exercise in deception

by M.C.M. Iqbal

Louise Arbour of the International Crisis Group is reported to have said during an interview in the BBC that the government violated the laws of war by blurring the line between combatants and civilians, and that its killings of civilians were not accidents.

Perhaps in response to this, speaking to the BBC Tamil Service recently, the Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Palitha Kohona is reported to have said that the commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation set up recently by the government is sufficient to investigate the allegations of humanitarian standards and human rights violations during the war.

Let us therefore have a look at some of the commissions of inquiry appointed by the governments in the past to check how effective they have been to understand the veracity of the statement made by Dr. Kohana with regard to the current commission. It is common knowledge that several commissions of inquiry had been appointed from time to time to inquire into disappearances of persons and other serious human rights violations in Sri Lanka. I do not intend to go into matters relating to all these commissions now.

Instead, as a sample, I propose to deal with the two Commissions of Inquiries into Disappearances to which I was the Secretary and the Commission of Inquiry into Certain Serious Human Rights Violations in the recent past where I was an adviser to the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP). The IIGEP had been invited by President Rajapakse, to dispel the fear expressed widely at that time, on the efficacy of such commissions. He wanted give credibility to that commission by asking the IIGEP to ensure that the investigations and inquiries conducted by that Commission are in keeping with internationally accepted norms and standards.

Commissions of Inquiry in Sri Lanka, are appointed in terms of the provisions of the Commissions of Inquiry Act. This Act provides for the President to appoint such Commissions whenever he thinks there is a need to find out more information on any matter of national interest and direct such Commission to inquire or investigate and report to him on matters set out in the Mandate given to such commissions. In other words, their inquiries should be strictly confined to the terms of reference. It is mandatory for the Commission to submit the report to the President and not to make its contents public.

In 1994 three such commissions known as Zonal Commissions on Disappearances of Persons, were appointed to inquire into and report on disappearances of persons after 1st January, 1988 , while another was appointed in 1998, known as the All Island Commission on Disappearances, to inquire only into the complaints received by the Zonal Commissions and remain un-inquired. These Commissions handed over their Reports in September 1997 and May, 2000, respectively.

These Commissions, inter alia, reported that they came across evidence that several torture chambers managed by the police and the military existed in different parts of Sri Lanka during the relevant period. Many persons who had been taken to be caused to be disappeared had been tortured in these chambers to elicit information from them. A few of them had escaped. They appeared before the Commission and gave evidence on the gruesome manner in which they and others who are no more, had been tortured. They even gave the names of the persons who had been managing these torture chambers.

It was the same in the case of more than ten mass graves in the in various parts of the country. Information about them had been made available to these Commissions by persons who knew about them. These graves have still not been disturbed. All that the Commissions could do in respect of these torture chambers and the mass graves was to list the locations of the torture chambers and the mass graves in their Reports and make a recommendation that the President should take further action to investigate into them.

They could not investigate into these because their mandates did not authorize them to do so. Up-to-date no action whatsoever had been taken on this recommendation about the torture chambers and mass graves. Instead, some of those who were alleged to have been responsible for these, are still in service having received promotions in their respective services. Others have retired without having to face any consequence on their dastardly criminal actions.

The same is true with regard to the recommendations made to take disciplinary action against several police and military personnel whose misconduct during the performance of their duties came to light during the investigations. There was evidence of their violation of departmental rules and regulations in dealing with complaints of disappearances, detention of persons taken into custody, destruction of Police information books relating to the relevant period, in spite of a directive by the Inspector General of Police to preserve these books and make them available for investigation by the Commissions.

As stated earlier, these Commissions were mandated to inquire only into complaints of disappearances that occurred after 1st January, 1988. This resulted in a large number of disappearances of persons that occurred prior to that being excluded from being inquired into.

Similarly, the Commission that was appointed in 1998 had a specific limitation debarring it from inquiring into any new complaints but was authorized to deal only with those complaints which had been received by the Commissions appointed in 1994 and remain un- inquired. Consequently this Commission could not inquire into about 12,000 new complaints received by this Commission. This number included complaints of about 600 persons from the North who had disappeared following the military operation in 1996 called ‘Riviresa’ after which the government took control of the Jaffna Peninsula from the LTTE, and about 7000 complaints of persons who had gone missing in the Batticaloa District during the relevant period.

To cap it all, the manner in which action was taken against those police and security forces personnel and others against whom the Commission reported that there is credible material indicative of their responsibility for the disappearances, is a sad reflection on the sincerity of the successive governments in dealing with perpetrators of such incidents. This only helped to perpetuate the culture of impunity which had, by this time, pervaded into the police and security forces personnel. Consequently the families of the victims of disappearances are yet to receive justice being meted out to them though nearly 20 years have lapsed since most of these incidents had occurred while many of them who had given evidence on the alleged perpetrators live in frustration seeing them still in service after having caused the disappearance of their loved ones.

A Report of the International Commission of Jurists reveals that "The lack of state accountability for human rights violations in Sri Lanka crosses ethnic divides, all governments and political parties. Neither the regular criminal justice system nor commissions of inquiry have been able to satisfy the state’s obligation to its citizens."

It appears that the only useful purpose served by these Commissions was to help successive governments to know who and who in the police and security services are experienced and competent in effectively carrying out disappearances of persons, so that those in these governments who required their services could use them when the need arose. It is perhaps such persons are the ones behind the disappearances that continue even today, and are often conveniently blamed to be acts of unknown persons.

Another matter that needs to be remembered is that the Commissions of Inquiry Act does not place any obligation on the part of the President to make public the findings of any Commission of Inquiry. There are reports of several commissions appointed in the past that have never been published. Others have been published only in parts. It is the sole discretion of the President to publish the whole or any part of the Report if he so desires or not publish them at all.

It may not be known to many that a special report was called by the then President Chandrika Bandaranayake into the killing of a prominent politician in a hilly district, allegedly by another who had contested him. The Commission concerned did an exhaustive investigation and reported that there was enough evidence against the alleged person who was at that time a prominent Member of Parliament. Yet no action was taken against him. The wife of the person who was killed was later made a minister and the matter ended there. No action whatsoever was taken on this Report which was never published !

Similarly, When a prominent Muslim leader was killed following a helicopter crash, to stem the allegation that he had in fact been murdered the then government appointed a commission to inquire into the circumstances of his death. That Commission conducted extensive investigations and submitted its report. That report was never published but the wife of the deceased was later made a Minister and a large amount of money had been paid to her and her siblings as compensation. The matter ended there.

Journalistic ethics prevents me from mentioning the names of the persons concerned but these facts cannot be denied by those concerned.

Commissions of Inquiry were initially appointed to appease pressure from human rights organizations or the people, to end systematic violations of their rights. But successive governments have followed a pattern of subverting them. In fact, the non-implementation of the many recommendations of these Commissions on the need to deal with the perpetrators swiftly and effectively, promoted the culture of impunity prevailing among the police and the security forces personnel to become galvanized. What is more, the Commissions spared no efforts in making well considered recommendations on the steps to be taken to prevent the incidence of disappearances of persons in the future. These recommendations are gathering dust in the archives of the President.

Let me now deal with the Commission appointed in year 2007 to inquire into serious human rights violations such as the killing of five university students in Trincomalee, the killing of seventeen employees of and NGO in Muttur, bombing of a children’s home in Sencholai in the Mullaitivu District, etc. The series of such high profile incidents that took place during that period resulted in a public outcry for the government to end such incidents. President Rajapakse decided to appoint a commission to inquire into such incidents to contain the surging pressure on him from various quarters.

Given the past experience on what happened to the disappearances commissions and many others, both the local and international human rights organizations expressed their reservations on the outcome and efficacy of the Commission proposed by the government. Consequently, the President himself came out with a suggestion that he was prepared to invite a few International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) who could be tasked to ensure that the proposed Commission conducts its investigations and inquiries in keeping with international norms and standards and does not end up the way the other commissions in the past had ended.

The Commission of 2007 was created with seven members. A few days after the commencement of the proceedings of this Commission the IIGEP found that the services of a representative of the Attorney General (AG) was being availed of by this Commission to lead the evidence in respect of the cases the Commission was mandated to deal with. Former Chief Justice of India – the late Justice Bhagawathy who headed the IIGEP had to point out to Justice Udalagama who was the President of the Commission, and later to the President himself of the impropriety of the AG leading the evidence of witnesses during the proceedings of the Commission which was inquiring into the propriety of the investigations already carried out by the police. Both the President and the head of the Commission persisted on insisting that the AG should be there and that he is an independent official. Haggling over this issue went on for some time.

IIGEP was told that they being foreigners, did not understand the nuances of the laws in Sri Lanka and the independence of the AG. Subsequently IIGEP had to obtain the opinion of two eminent retired judges of renown, on the question of the independence of the AG and the justification for the involvement of the AG in the proceedings of the Commission. They gave a well-considered written opinion to the IIGEP, confirming that the Attorney-General is not an independent official and that the role played by the AG in the proceedings of the Commission was a conflict of interest as the AG’s representative had advised the original investigations in the cases which had been mandated for inquiry by the Commission. Even though this was pointed out, the AG’s representative continued his role in the Commission and eroded the Commission’s real and perceived independence. Incidentally, this particular AG who has now retired has been appointed as the Chairman of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.

In view of the high profile nature of the cases the Commission was inquiring into, witnesses to the incidents were hesitant to come before the Commission and give evidence for fear of reprisals. Though the IIGEP insisted on the need for a law to protect witnesses coming before the Commission, the government failed to take meaningful and effective steps to provide protection for the witnesses.

Eventually the IIGEP had to abort its mission stating that they (I quote), found there a lack of political and institutional will on the part of the Government to pursue with vigour the cases under review by the Commission, with the intention of identifying the perpetrators or at least uncovering the systemic failures and obstructions to justice that rendered the original investigations in to these cases ineffective.

Ultimately the term of the Commission which was mandated to inquire into 15 high profiles cases was not extended even though inquires in the cases concerned had not been completed. That Commission then ceased to exist, confirming the suspicion that the government was not even at the outset, keen on investigating into the serious human rights violations concerned. A report this Commission is said to have handed over to the President, has never been made public.

From the disclosures I have made so far about what happened to the Commissions referred to, it would be clear that in Sri Lanka, successive governments had been appointing Commissions not with the honest intention of finding out what actually happened and to mete out justice to the victims, but with the intention of deceiving the people concerned and the international community. Commissions have always helped governments to divert pressure on the government regarding the relevant issues.

The commissions appointed so far, have failed to address the serious questions that have been affecting Sri Lanka in the conflicts in the recent past. These commissions have been condemned by international organizations as well as by local human rights groups who have published extensive reports and analysis on the workings of these commissions. Amnesty International has called the work of these Commissions as “Twenty Years of Make Believe” in a report analyzing the work of these commissions. The International Commission of Jurists has published a work on this subject entitled “Families of the Disappeared, Still Waiting for Justice”. The reports of these organizations only confirm the fact of the ineffectiveness of these Commissions.

There isn’t a single commission appointed by the government so far whose report or findings had been taken seriously and steps taken to implement their recommendations. In fact, all such commissions have only been exercises of denial of state responsibility, in instances when they had been mandated to look into violations of human rights.

The recently appointed ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ in connection with the incidents relating to the conflict, is bound to be another attempt at deception by the government which has now become well known for adopting such dubious tactics. As stated earlier this Commission is headed by the former Attorney General who crossed swords with IIGEP when he was in service and was well known for his pro-government views. His personal links to the President since their youthful days are also known.

Another key member of this Commission is the former representative of Sri Lanka at the UN where he had been vehemently defending the government’s blood bath in the beaches of Mullaitivu during the war. It is widely alleged that the President’s brother, the Defence Secretary who claims to have managed the war, had committed violations of the rules of war and is responsible for the death of large number of civilians. In the circumstances how can one expect this commission to conduct its proceedings without any bias ?

It is obvious from the very beginning that this Commission is going to be another in the series of deceptive commissions appointed so far, and would suffer the same fate as most of the other Commissions. To cap it all, the President was heard to say at an interview Al Jezeera has had with him recently, that he was not going to punish any of his soldiers who fought the war valiantly to defeat the LTTE ! This statement is a pointer to the Commission not to find any military personnel guilty of any violation of the rules of war or even the human rights of the victims of war. Isn’t that statement of the President enough to expose the dubious intention of the President in appointing this Commission ?

Independent International accountability mechanism must be established for Sri Lanka

Opening Statement by Ms. Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Council 14th Session:

Geneva, 31 May 2010

Mr. President,
Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I congratulate the twelve newly elected members of the Human Rights Council and warmly acknowledge the work and commitment of those States that have already served or continue to participate in this body. The process of reviewing and strengthening the Council, which is already underway, will require utmost dedication, determination and energy on the part of all past and current Council members, all their peers, as well as the whole range of other stakeholders in the UN system and civil society. Our ultimate goal is to make the Council more efficient and more effective in serving the interests of rights- holders everywhere. I will be addressing this topic at the Council’s next session in September.

I recently presented my second report on OHCHR Activities and Results which highlights ways and means by which we seek to implement the OHCHR’s mandate. Let me reiterate at this juncture that, in the past year, we have sought to be ever more vigilant to counter deeply rooted and chronic human rights violations in many countries. These include repression, discrimination, injustice and violence, as well as rapidly unfolding challenges to human wellbeing, which undermine civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

In this presentation I shall address forthcoming events of relevance to the Council’s work and provide an update on specific situations, as well as outline issues for advocacy.

The Millennium Development Goals Summit in September 2010 may have great bearing on the work and vision of the Council in general. It is also eminently pertinent to some of the discussions that will engage this body both in its ongoing main session and in its planned side panels.

From the outset, allow me to recall that the Millennium Declaration, from which the MDGs derive, resolved to make the right to development a reality for everyone and to free the entire human race from want.

The Millennium Declaration recognized that a denial of rights engenders or perpetuates dire conditions of exclusion and want, including poverty. In turn, poverty undermines basic human rights, such as access to food, to shelter, and to education. It entrenches discrimination and marginalisation and makes it difficult for victims to obtain justice and remedies when their rights are violated. In sum, poverty, discrimination and marginalisation are both causes and effects of violations of economic, social, cultural, political and civil rights.

The MDGs did not call for lofty and vague commitments. Rather, they envisaged plausible, applicable and actionable policies to be delivered by 2015.

In a March 2010 report, “Keeping the Promise” the Secretary-General emphasised that progress along the MDG’s path must be guided by the norms and values embedded in the Millennium Declaration and international human rights instruments, which uphold the principles of non-discrimination, meaningful participation and accountability and create the foundation and conditions of human welfare.

Mr. President,

The Millennium Declaration considers gender and discrimination as cross-cutting issues. Progress in the search for equality in those two areas is a prerequisite for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

We should recall that global averages of MDG targets often fail to take account of the poorest of the poor. Indigenous peoples, people of African descent, minorities and other victims of racial discrimination are often hidden behind the statistics, and their needs and rights remain unattended.

Let me be clear on this score: Governments bear the primary responsibility to counter these and other forms of intolerance, marginalization, disadvantage, poverty, inequality and exclusion. However, the international community can be an important partner in their efforts.

Women and girls often experience multiple forms of discrimination and represent the majority of those living in poverty everywhere. Their situation demands particular attention.

In this regard, I wish to commend the Council for its forthcoming panel related to maternal mortality and morbidity. Every year, more than half a million women and girls die, and millions more are disabled through pregnancy and childbirth. These deaths are not inevitable. They could be prevented if women had access to the basic care which has been available for more than 60 years. It is not by coincidence that Goal 5 - Improving Maternal Health - of the Millennium Development Goals is the furthest away from realization. Clearly, sustained and specific attention must be devoted to correct this chasm. The study on "preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights" that the Council asked my Office to conduct will be discussed in an interactive dialogue on 14 June 2010. I believe that it may offer useful elements to such reflection.

As we prepare for the MDG Summit and review progress towards the achievement of the MDGs, I urge all States to keep the full realisation of human rights, including the right to development, at the forefront of their action and progress.


In this context, let me draw your attention to the germane issue of the Declaration on the Right to Development. Its 25th anniversary will fall in 2011. This event, too, presents an opportunity to reflect on how to carve larger areas of freedom and welfare in a world of scarce resources and in the face of natural and man-made calamities.

The dialogue on the right to development has reached a critical stage. I hope that the next phase of deliberations will continue to focus on realizing the Declaration’s vision for the improvement in human well-being and the empowerment of individuals and communities to fully participate in making the important choices that affect them. Allow me to recall that the Declaration reiterated the centrality of attaining equality of opportunity for all. It underscores that States, supported by the international community through international cooperation, have the responsibility to create the conditions necessary to enable individuals and peoples to realize their aspirations for the basic human dignity that is at the core of human rights. These calls, too, must be heeded.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me now to update you regarding specific human rights situations in many parts of the world.

The past month has marked the first anniversary of the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka. I call on the Council to reflect on the commitments made by the Government of Sri Lanka when the Council held its special session to address the serious concerns which had arisen in the last stages of the fighting in that country. Since then, some progress has been made in the return and resettlement of internally displaced persons and the partial relaxation of emergency measures. Concrete initiatives must now follow to provide justice and redress to victims and generally to promote accountability and longer-term reconciliation. The Government has recently created a Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation to address some of these questions. However, based on previous experience and new information, I remain convinced that such objectives would be better served by establishing an independent international accountability mechanism that would enjoy public confidence, both in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

I have been following closely the unrest in Thailand during which lives were lost. I recognize that the authorities have the responsibility to restore order. In doing so, however, they must abide by international standards concerning the use of force and due process for those detained. I also recognize efforts that the Royal Thai Government has made over the past couple of months to resolve the situation, including the establishment of a “road map” for national reconciliation. To foster longer-term political reconciliation, I urge the Government to ensure that an independent investigation of recent events be conducted and all those found responsible for human rights violations are held to account.

I welcome the decision in Nepal on 28 May to extend the Constituent Assembly by one year. I hope that this period would be utilised to finalise a new constitution with the strongest possible human rights protections and to complete other components of the peace process. I look forward to renewing OHCHR’s mandate in the country to continue our support to the peace process.

I strongly condemn last week’s indiscriminate attacks in Pakistan and India in which civilians were targeted and killed. I express my deepest sympathy to the victims and the survivors.

Turning now to Africa, I wish to draw your attention to human rights developments in the context of electoral periods. Many elections have taken place or are scheduled in the near future in the region, including in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Madagascar, Niger, Rwanda, Sudan, and Tanzania and Togo. It is of fundamental importance that in the lead up to the ballot and in its aftermath freedoms of expression, assembly, association and movement and all other human rights are upheld. I call upon all the countries that recently have held or are preparing elections to take all necessary measures to safeguard human rights, to minimize the risk of violence, and to allow the airing of different views as well as the broadest participation of candidates. Human rights defenders must be protected and enabled to operate freely. I have made this point repeatedly regarding national human rights defenders whose life is often at risk. The same rights apply to international advocates.

Regarding specific situations of concern, I note that following the violent clashes between communities which took place in Nigeria in January and March this year, my Office continues to receive troubling information on the situation in Jos, with serious concerns for the risk of further violence. I encourage the Government to work closely with local authorities and civil society to take effective measures to prevent the recurrence of violence by addressing its underlying causes, and by punishing abuse. Measures to address the issue of hate speech are also of paramount importance.

I take this opportunity to highlight the important national consultation process on transitional justice process that was just concluded in Burundi. I am pleased that my Office was able to assist the people of Burundi to make their voice heard about how they wish to address past human rights violations. Their commitment to justice as a way to achieve durable and sustained peace is commendable.

As you are aware, the possibility of reducing the scope, or withdrawing military components, of UN peace-keeping operations has recently been discussed in relation to Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo. While some progress has been made in consolidating peace in both countries, considerable challenges remain, notably from the point of view of the protection of civilians. I cannot over-emphasize that the reduction or withdrawal of UN military forces must not put at risk the lives and security of civilians. OHCHR is looking at ways to ensure that attention to human rights issues does not suffer from the reconfiguration of peace operations. Responses to changing needs on the ground must always be crafted by including a human rights perspective. I request the support of the international community to ensure that human rights remain on the agenda in the concerned countries.

On a different note, I am pleased to announce that OHCHR is in the process of establishing a country office in the Republic of Guinea. Since the release of the report of the International Commission of Inquiry on the 28 September 2009 events, the Government of Guinea has closely cooperated with OHCHR. The key objectives of OHCHR in Guinea are to support the Government’s efforts to protect human rights, in particular to fight against impunity.

Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council,

Haiti is a country where prior to and in the aftermath of last January’s devastating earthquake, a vast array of human rights concerns converge. As the Secretary General noted, Haiti’s plight is a reminder of our wider responsibilities. The massive international response at the donor conference in March 2010 is a positive example of international cooperation. In view of your forthcoming debate on the follow up to the Council’s Special Session on Haiti on 16 June, allow me first to draw your attention to the situation of 1.5 million IDPs. Protecting displaced populations, especially women, children and persons with disabilities, as well as other vulnerable groups, continues to be a matter of priority. We will continue working with the Government of Haiti, in coordination with the Special Envoy to Haiti, and of all relevant stakeholders to ensure the application of a human rights-based approach in reconstruction activities. Ultimately, the aim is to overcome economic and social inequalities. My Office, in coordination with relevant UN entities on the ground is also working closely with the authorities in strengthening national protection systems.

As elsewhere, sexual violence remains of great concern in Colombia. My last report to the Council highlighted sexual violence by armed actors as well as threats to women human rights defenders by State intelligence services. The report urged the Government to put into effect a policy of “zero tolerance” on sexual violence for its armed forces. Consequently, my Office in Colombia has engaged in a dialogue with the President and the Minister of Defense on this matter. I am pleased to inform you that the Government has pledged to apply such a policy later this month.

Before updating you on my own field activities, let me convey my continuing concern regarding the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory. I have expressed my concerns over military orders 1649 and 1650, recently implemented by the Government of Israel and I am pursuing discussions on this matter. In the Gaza Strip, the blockade keeps undermining human rights on a daily basis. There have been marginal increases in the amount of goods allowed into Gaza recently; but the current situation falls far short of what is necessary for the population to lead normal and dignified lives. I condemn once again the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel. Last March in southern Israel, a migrant worker was killed in such an attack. I am shocked by reports that humanitarian aid was met with violence early this morning reportedly causing death and injury as the boat convoy approached the Gaza coast.

And now, allow me to briefly highlight some of the missions I have undertaken in the past few months.

Last March, I conducted my first visit to Italy where I held open discussions with the Government about the situation of migrants, asylum-seekers and Roma in the country. I have expressed concern at the treatment of migrants and the Roma as a security problem rather than focusing on a policy of social integration. I also discussed the importance of establishing a national human rights institution to promote and protect human rights.

In April, I visited the Gulf Cooperation Council States. In the course of this ten-day mission I met authorities at the highest level, civil society representatives and the press. The important reforms spearheaded by the Heads of States themselves are very welcome. I was encouraged by human rights developments in a number of areas, including increased compliance with international obligations. More human rights treaties are being considered for signature and ratification and national human rights institutions are being created. I learned of significant progress made in the education of women in all of the countries that I visited, and noted serious efforts to address trafficking in persons. My discussions covered the need to increase protection of migrant workers, especially migrant domestic workers. In noting some progress in this area, too, I offered my Office’s assistance in fostering further change. I look forward to our continued cooperation.

Last month, I addressed the Jubilee Biennial Conference International Association of Women Judges in Seoul. During that visit, I was pleased to meet with the two Vice Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, as well as the National Human Rights Commission, to discuss possible areas of collaboration.

Also last month, in the course of my visit to Japan, I met Prime Minister Hatoyama and other senior officials, as well as representatives of civil society and minority groups. I was encouraged by the Prime Minister's commitment to human rights reforms in Japan, particularly the ratification of optional protocols to human rights treaties and the establishment of a national human rights commission. I believe these steps will improve access to remedies for all in Japan and help to address patterns of discrimination against minorities, migrants and other disadvantaged groups. During that visit, I met with the families of Japanese nationals who were abducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea over the past several decades and whose fate has not been adequately clarified by the DPRK authorities. I urge the DPRK to resume dialogue on these cases and to facilitate an independent investigation into the whereabouts of the disappeared.

I would like to inform you that I am leaving tomorrow for Uganda and Kenya. I look forward to visiting those two countries and to assess how my Office can continue to support these countries in addressing their human rights challenges. In Uganda I will address and attend the review conference of the International Criminal Court.

I consider of paramount importance getting a firsthand view and to receive firsthand accounts of human rights conditions on the ground. These interactions are at times heartbreaking and difficult. They are also invariably refreshing and reinvigorating.

I wish you an equally reinvigorating discussion and thank you.

Video & Text: Journalism has the power to be a force for good - Christiane Amanpour at Harvard Commencement

“Where would we be without a press that’s uncovered injustice, corruption, inhumanity—or a press that’s on the cutting edge of reform, civil rights, desegregation and of all the smaller but vital issues that affect us every single day?” declared Journalist Christiane Amanpour, in her Commencement Address to Harvard Class of 2010 on May 27th 2010.

Video of the full speech and report in Harvard Crimson as follows:

Christiane Amanpour—CNN’s former chief international correspondent and future host of ABC’s “This Week”—said that her “first act of courage” as the 2010 Class Day speaker would be to remove her suit jacket in this afternoon’s “incredibly hot” weather, a reported 88 degrees.

Amanpour urged students to find their passions, travel the world in an age of increasing global interconnectivity, and—above all else—be informed citizens.

Along the way, she alluded to a variety of historical figures ranging from Robert F. Kennedy ’48 to Elizabeth Taylor’s seventh husband, the Republican senator John W. Warner.

Most notably, however, her speech referenced former Secretary of State George C. Marshall’s commencement address, delivered on the same spot 63 years before and considered among the most famous in Harvard’s history.

In his June 1947 address, Marshall articulated the need for massive American support for the rebuilding of Europe, which had been devastated during World War II. According to Amanpour, Marshall’s words ring true in a world in which the United States still must determine its role in the future development of countries like Afghanistan and Haiti.

“America’s challenges today remain the same,” Amanpour said, echoing Marshall’s sentiment that “what seems far away will nevertheless affect you even here.”

Amanpour said that as a journalist, she has to come believe deeply in people’s responsibility to keep themselves informed, adding that she hopes members of the class of 2010 will consider becoming journalists after graduation.

“I am a true believer in the power of this profession to be a force for good,” she said. “Where would we be without a press that’s uncovered injustice, corruption, inhumanity—or a press that’s on the cutting edge of reform, civil rights, desegregation and of all the smaller but vital issues that affect us every single day?”

Amanpour noted, however, that she is often troubled by the lack of substantive discussion in public discourse.

“I believe so deeply in the promise of America and Americans that it does frustrate me to see the limited discussion of important issues in public spaces,” she said. “And yet as I travel all over the world, people know everything about you and everything about your country.”

At the end of her speech, Amanpour recounted her own career path, which began after she arrived at CNN in Atlanta after her own graduation with only $100 and a suitcase. She said she worked nights and weekends to achieve her goals and reminded the graduating seniors that “there’s no such thing as effortless success.”

But Amanpour, who said that she, too, will graduate from her “alma mater” of CNN this fall, sympathized with the graduates she addressed.

“I’m sure that all of us graduates here today share same sense of excitement, the same sense of promise of a brave new adventure, the shadow of fear, trepidation, and anxiety as we hurl ourselves out of our comfort zones,” she said. ~ courtesy: The Crimson/ Harvard ~

Full 2010 Commencement Day speech delivered on May 27, 2010

Mahinda Rajapakse is a Sinhalese Extremist Says Lee Kuan Yew

by A Special Correspondent

In a new book entitled ‘Citizen Singapore: How To Build A Nation - Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew’ by Prof Tom Plate, published by Marshall Cavendish, a subsidiary of Times Publishing Ltd, Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has expressed his opinion on Sri Lanka after the war.

Lee Kuan Yew is acknowledged as one of the architects of modern Asia and a pioneer of the Asian economic miracle, which has set in motion a historic power shift from the West to the East. Singapore was just rated as having the most competitive economy in the world and Lee Kuan Yew is regarded as the epitome of a successful and visionary leader. He is credited with being one of the first to predict the new rise of China. His views are highly regarded and influential in governing circles and among policy elites around the world.

Sri Lanka “is not a happy, united country” he says, and is not optimistic about its post-war direction. “The present president of Sri Lanka believes he has settled the problem; his Tamil Tigers are killed and that is that.” In what is probably the most controversial remark on the subject by a world famous political personality who has never fought shy of controversy, Lee Kuan Yew refers to the Sri Lankan President’s ideology: “ I’ve read his speeches and I knew he was a Sinhalese extremist. I cannot change his mind”.

Though wielding a well-deserved reputation as a ‘forceful’, ‘hardnosed’ and ‘tough-minded’ leader, Lee Kuan Yew had almost ‘cringed’ at any analogy with today’s Sri Lanka, leading interviewer-author Tom Plate to observe to Lee that his system of government was ‘much softer, consensual and intelligent’ than that in Sri Lanka.

Lee Kuan Yew’s views have been sought after by leaders the world over, with Henry Kissinger saying that two generations of US Presidents have benefited from his advice. He is known to have influenced the thinking of China’s leader Deng Hsiao Peng and India’s Prime Ministers leading to India’s ‘Look East policy’. Malaysia’s Dr Mahathir Mohammed writes that Lee Kuan Yew “will go down in history as a very remarkable intellectual and politician at the same time, which is not a very often thing”, while Prof Samuel Huntington says that he “has made Singapore absolutely unique in this part of the world, by making it as one of the least corrupt political systems in the world...Now that is a tremendous achievement”.

The full text of his remarks on Sri Lanka follow:

"Another example is Sri Lanka. It is not a happy, united country. Yes, they [the majority Sinhalese government] have beaten the Tamil Tigers this time, but the Sinhalese who are less capable are putting down a minority of Jaffna Tamils who are more capable. They were squeezing them out. That's why the Tamils rebelled. But I do not see them ethnic cleansing all two million-plus Jaffna Tamils. The Jaffna Tamils have been in Sri Lanka as long as the Sinhalese."

"So what Asia saw was ethnic cleansing?"

"That's right."

"They will come back, you think?"

"I don't think they are going to be submissive or go away. The present president of Sri Lanka believes he has settled the problem; Tamil Tigers are killed and that is that."

I look up from my notes and with a sense that here we might be seeing a side of LKY that is under-reported, I say: "See, that's really fascinating point, because to the extent that we have any sense of who you are at all, we think of you as this hard-boiled force­ first guy. But in fact your system of government is much softer, consensual and intelligent, whereas what the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka are doing is a caricature of an LKY who never existed."

Lee fights a cringe, as if fighting off a bad memory-or my bad analogy. He starts to say something, then stops, then leaves it at referring to Sri Lanka's president: "I've read his speeches and I knew he was a Sinhalese extremist. I cannot change his mind."

Undertaking battles that cannot be won is not a particular trademark of LKY's pragmatic success formula. Neither is a religious obeisance to so-called pure democracy as the form of preferred government. He does not mention that Sri Lanka is a democracy, based on one-citizen, one-vote. He's not against democracies when they work. He's against defending them just because they are democracies. This position strikes me as more consistent than the U.S. relationship with other democracies: we support them only when we approve of them, denouncing them (or worse) when we don't.

He is also opposed to defending propositions that have little factual foundation simply because they are politically correct. He does think, by and large, Chinese people work harder than many other nationalities or ethnicities (though not, for example, more than the Japanese). In fact, he suspects the 21st century will be a Chinese or Asian one. He thinks the Tamils deserve more respect than the Sinhalese have given them. He doubts the average Malay will ever become a hard-charging workaholic, as are many Chinese ... as are (as we will see later) many Israelis ... and as are the Japanese. In fact, the Japanese are so driven that they serve to underscore the point that even an inefficient democratic system of government is not necessarily an impediment to economic growth." (pp. 55-56)

The book, the first in a series ‘Giants of Asia’, is a set of lengthy interviews conducted by Los Angeles based scholar-journalist Prof Tom Plate, a respected American commentator on Asia, whose Op-Ed column in the Los Angeles Times is the longest running column in the US press on Asia-America. A lecturer at the US Pacific Command (Hawaii), Tom Plate has been consistently and sharply critical of the Tamil Tigers in his writings.

From Mannar to Beruwela: The dangers of offshore drilling for oil

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

The unprecedented – but perhaps not unpredictable – floods in Colombo and Gamapaha districts demonstrated both the danger and the unsustainability of the ‘Build Baby, Build’ approach to development. Development is far too serious a business to be left to politicians and officials made short-sighted by ignorance and avarice.

This month’s deluge indicated the necessity for ordinary people to take an interest in extraordinary ‘development projects’ in their areas, because when the powers-that-be make errors, it is the powerless who are called to pay for them, with their property, their health and even their lives.

The steady decline of water retention areas in the Colombo district due to hyper-construction is a visible reality. The dangers inherent in the current craze for highways were cast into sharp relief by the fact that the Navy had to blow a blast hole in the earthwork of the Colombo-Katunayake Expressway to enable floodwaters in the Gampaha district to recede. According to residents, areas which had never known flooding succumbed to the deluge this time, because, ‘water has collected on the land to the right of the incomplete expressway project’. As a resident stated, ‘The authorities should have thought about these things when they started this project…. This is a glaring instance of the authorities ignoring the people and their advice and going ahead with a project” (The Sunday Times – 23.5.2010)

Sri Lanka is a small country and what it needs are not a host of new expensive highways but the repairing and the proper maintenance of the existing road network and the building of an adequate system of drainage. Unfortunately the authorities are unlikely to abandon the ‘highway craze’, because, though improving the existing road network would be far more effective and far less costly (both financially and environmentally) it would drastically reduce money-making opportunities for the well connected (via massive contracts). Similarly, it is the state which grants building permits to construct in water retention areas. For example, a plan to build an amusement park in a major water-retention area in Rajagiriya-Nawala is currently on hold not because it did not receive official sanctions (it did) but because some of the residents in the area managed to obtain a restraining order from the courts. If the residents lose the court case, the project will go ahead, and Colombo will witness a far more devastating flood, someday soon.

Though the floods have receded, the problems are far from over. Doctors are warning about the possibility of epidemics (caused by contaminated water) while the affected people will have to put their shattered lives back in order – no easy task given the general economic situation. Unfortunately, with no major election in the offing, the regime seems more interested in the IIFA awards and doing cosmetic surgery on Colombo for the benefit of the visitors. The Opposition is too busy navel-gazing to ask serious questions about the regime’s current and future construction plans and indeed its very approach to development. For instance the plan to build on the Galle Face Green and to construct a new Galle Face Green by reclaiming the sea should be re-examined by independent experts for its environment impact. The mere fact of the deluge proves the colossal incapacity of the Environmental Authority to make accurate environmental impact assessments of large-scale projects. For instance, the opposition needs to demand that the official environmental impact assessment for the Katunayake Highway be tabled in parliament, so that it can be re-evaluated by the public in the light of the recent deluge.

There is a connection between the Lankan floods and the still unfolding crisis created by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. The financial and economic costs of the Gulf of Mexico oil-spill will be colossal while its human and environmental costs are incalculable (for instance, according to some experts, the health of the people living in the affected areas will suffer permanent damage).

The tragedy is that this was a preventable tragedy. The Deepwater Horizon explosion happened because of insufficient regulation and lack of oversight. This state of affairs was caused by the Bush-era craze for deregulation and the mutually profitable nexus between the oil industry and those government officials charged with overseeing the operations of off-shore drilling. According to media reports, the US Interior Department which is responsible for the regulation of off-shore drilling warned about the possibility of ‘back-up system failures’ in oil rigs 10 years ago. The warning went unheeded. For instance, in 2007 a regulator from the Interior Department said that ‘blowouts’ (like the one which happened in the Gulf of Mexico) are rare and that even if they happen their effect, including on the environment, would be far from significant. Given such a lackadaisical attitude, an avoidable tragedy became inevitability.

According to an official report released last week, a cosy relationship exists between the American oil industry and the officials of the Mineral Management Services, the Agency within the US Interior Department charged with overseeing offshore drilling. Many of the ‘overseers’, whose first task should have been to ensure the safety of the drilling operations, turned a blind eye in return for expensive gifts and other benefits from the oil companies. Given this context, the inability to prevent the fateful explosion and to react to it with sufficient rigour in the initial stages are explicable. So is the fact that the day the Deepwater Horizon oil well exploded, the US Interior Department gave 27 new permits for offshore drilling, including 2 permits for BP which owns the Deepwater Horizon. Of these 27 permits 26 were granted regulation exemptions, including the 2 permits given to the BP, a privilege also enjoyed by the Deepwater Horizon oil well.

Juxtapose the Lankan flood crisis and the US oil spill crisis and the composite picture contains a clear warning of a future danger. According to media reports, Sri Lanka will begin offshore oil drilling, perhaps as soon as next year. Our offshore oil deposits have been divided into 8 blocks, extending from Mannar to Beruwela.

Blocks I and II have been given to India while China has picked up the southernmost Block VIII. Some of the agreements are signed already though they have not been made public or even discussed in parliament. Off-shore drilling is new to Sri Lanka and the relevant regulations will have to be prepared from the scratch. Given that the entire country (and future generations too) will have to bear the costs of any ‘accident’ in this field, the regulations must be discussed in parliament and made known to the public.

What is the regulatory framework prepared for off-shore drilling projects? What are the safety precautions? Does Sri Lanka have any overseeing authority or has a carte blanche been given to India and China? If there is an accident of the Deepwater Horizon sort, who will be responsible for dealing with it and who will pay its cost? These are not esoteric questions, especially given the recent tragedies caused by ill planned and unregulated construction projects (including road construction under the Maga Neguma) in Sri Lanka and off-shore drilling in the US. Neither India nor China is noted for concern for human and environmental costs of development. As a result both countries are suffering from severe environmental degradation. Consequently there is no reason to believe that either country will act with sufficient circumspection in little Sri Lanka. If at all, both are likely to be more willing to risk large scale environmental degradation (with its attendant economic and human costs) in Sri Lanka, than in their own countries.

Imagine an accident just 10% as serious as the Deepwater Horizon oil well explosion off the Lankan coast. Imagine its impact on this small island, on its coast and its sea, its economy and its environment, its flora and its fauna, and its people. Being small, our capacity to absorb and withstand the impact of such an ‘accident’ would be negligible. Being poor and underdeveloped, out ability to handle the economic costs of such an accident would be minimal. The damage caused by the Katunayake Expressway alone indicates that the possibility of such a danger cannot be dismissed out of hand, since our authorities seem either unable or unwilling to take even the minimal safety precautions or to heed any warnings.

Sri Lanka should use her oil deposits, but with a far greater degree of care than has been displayed in previous development projects. Unfortunately a government in severe financial trouble can be motivated by money alone – lease the oil wells as soon as possible to make a fast buck. Such a government is unlikely to be concerned by potential risks and dangers. In fact such a government is likely to dismiss warnings as nonsense at best and verbal sabotage at worst.

According to media reports, the President has taken over the Petroleum Resources Development Agency. Off-shore drilling too has become a ‘Family-subject’. The evolving Rajapakse attitude to development indicates the possibility of a militarist approach to economic tasks. Consequently non-antagonistic contradictions could be interpreted as antagonistic ones and any act of dissent, however democratic, seen as enemy action, and treated accordingly. Trade union and public protests can thus be labelled ‘economic terrorism’ and responded to in non-democratic ways. Such an approach would render difficult, if not impossible, any peaceful public opposition to harmful ‘development projects’ such as the Eppawala protest. Oil drilling may even be declared as falling within the field of national security and the regime might impose a media blackout on oil exploration.

The dominant opinion considers oil to be the panacea for all our ills. But the experiences of other third world countries outside of the Middle East demonstrate that oil can be a mixed blessing at best. Whether the presence of oil benefits a country and its people depends on many factors, especially the attitude and the actions of its government. Where the government is corrupt or inept and lacks commitment to public welfare, oil has caused more harm than good, Nigeria being the most obvious case in point.

Development is a public concern. Therefore development projects should be open to public scrutiny. The Opposition should at least demand a two-day debate on the flood disaster; ideally it should carry out an investigation into the causes of the deluge and suggest and demand remedial measures. The Opposition should also demand that the government table in the parliament the agreements it has signed so far with India and China on off-shore drilling. The regulatory framework prepared for off-shore drilling should be made public as well.

The May deluge demonstrated that politics has an impact on even the most non-political of us. When governments do not act in the best interests of the governed, the governed suffer. Therefore it is both the responsibility and the duty of the governed to ensure that governments make as few mistakes as possible in governing. Good governance and intelligent governance are not just debating points; their presence or absence impact on all of us, intimately. In the absence of an effective opposition, citizens have no choice but to take upon themselves the task of overseeing and regulating the acts of the government. Silence and inaction, ignorance and indifference carry a heavy price, as we experienced this month.

May 30, 2010

When we abandon justice to secure peace we get neither

by Kofi A. Annan

The establishment of the International Criminal Court followed the gravest of crimes committed in Rwanda and the former Republic of Yugoslavia. In both cases, as we know to our shame, the United Nations and international community failed to take decisive and forceful action to protect the victims.

These terrible events did however, shock the world into action. Ad-hoc tribunals were set up to bring those responsible to justice. The Rome conference in 1998 agreed to establish an International Criminal Court to help end the global culture of impunity.

As the states party to the Rome Statute — which set up the I.C.C. — meet in Uganda this week to review progress, we can reflect that the balance has been tipped in favor of justice. More than two-thirds of U.N. member states have signed or ratified the Rome Statute and a permanent Criminal Court now exists.

The result is that in the face of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, the default position of the international community is no longer impunity but accountability.

Where such serious crimes are credibly alleged, investigation will now follow unless those denying the need for international justice can demonstrate that their national judicial mechanisms are serious and credible. This is, by the way, something yet to be done convincingly by those involved in the intensified conflicts in Gaza and Sri Lanka last year.

Getting this far has not been without major challenges. Powerful governments remain resolutely opposed to the I.C.C. Three permanent members of the Security Council — the United States, China and Russia — refuse to ratify the Rome Statute, as do others who aspire to permanent membership.

So while celebrating progress so far, we can’t be complacent. The opposition of those hostile to the I.C.C., combined with the inertia or distraction of those who support it, could mean the balance could easily tip away from justice.

And new challenges loom, including a debate within Africa, and beyond, about whether the pursuit of justice might obstruct the search for peace. The critics ask why leaders would want to make peace if the result for them is an appearance before the I.C.C. and the prospect of prison.

But in countries as far apart as Rwanda, Bosnia and Timor-Leste, we have learnt that justice is not an impediment to peace but a partner. When we abandon justice to secure peace, we most likely get neither. Indeed, impunity can, and has, contributed to renewed conflict as we saw in Sierra Leone.

The parallel pursuit of justice and peace does present challenges, but it can be managed. We must be ambitious enough to pursue both, and wise enough to recognize, respect and protect the independence of justice.

This debate has been intensified by the African Union’s call last year, following the prompting of a few leaders, for member states not to cooperate with the I.C.C. in enforcing the indictment issued against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan.

But we must not allow the views of a powerful few to threaten the aspirations of many. When I meet Africans from all walks of life, they demand justice: from their own courts if possible, from international courts if no credible alternative exists.

Indeed, African countries and their civil society played a major role in setting up the I.C.C. Sub-Saharan Africa is the largest single regional block in its membership.

In four of the five cases from Africa before the I.C.C., African leaders themselves referred them or are actively co-operating with the investigations. They have asked for international help to bolster their country's judicial capacity.

In all of these cases, it is the culture of impunity, not African countries, which are the target. This is exactly the role of the I.C.C. It is a court of last resort.

But it is not just African countries which face challenges if we are to continue the momentum towards justice.

Questions of credibility will continue as long as some of the world’s most powerful countries stand outside the jurisdiction of the I.C.C. What sort of leadership is it that absolves the powerful from the rules they apply to the weak? We must demand that those who seek global leadership accept the duty of promoting global values.

We need to see a new wave of countries ratifying the Rome Statute after the Kampala conference, so that a permanent International Criminal Court becomes a universal one.

Further progress also depends on states genuinely exercising their primary responsibility, under the Rome Statute, to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for grave crimes.

There must be no going back or lessening of momentum. Our challenge is to protect the innocent by building a court so strong, universal and effective that it will deter even the most determined of despots.

Opening the Rome Conference as U.N. Secretary-General, I told delegates that “the eyes of the victims of past crimes, and of the potential victims of future ones, are fixed firmly upon us.”

That remains the case. We must not let them down.

Kofi A. Annan is former U.N. secretary-general (1997-2006) and the convener of the Rome Conference. [Op-Ed courtesy: The NYTimes.com]

Dutugemunu doctrine: Devolution and autonomy not demographic incursion

by Dayan Jayatilleka

Interestingly of the four pieces I have read on the first anniversary of the war, three are by Indian analyst/commentators, of whom two are military professionals: Gen Ashok K. Mehta’s Manekshaw paper No 22 for the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (New Delhi) on ‘How Eelam war 4 was Won’ (which cannot be read by any patriot or anti-fascist without a lump in one’s throat or mist in one’s eyes), the piece by Col R Hariharan in The Hindu and by PK Balachandran in the Indian Express. The fourth is by a youthful security researcher Sergei de Silva Ranasinghe writing in the respected Australian periodical, The Diplomat.

Within Sri Lanka and among Sri Lankans, the debate on the war may be differentiated into four positions:

(i) Those who condemn both the war and the voices that justify it and approve of its results (such as mine),

(ii) Those who applaud both the war and its aftermath, condemning both the critics of the war and the post-war present.

(iii) Those who criticise both the present policy of the state and the past of the Tigers, while either criticising or observing a vow of silence on the last war and the politico-military leadership that took it to success. This position is both intellectually dishonest as well as a-historical: it seems to assume that Prabhakaran and his Tigers were whisked away by a magician or wished away by pious preaching.

(iv) Those who advocated and supported the war and still do in retrospect, refusing to allow a reversal or revision of the ‘correct historical verdict’ that it was a necessary and Just war, while simultaneously seeking and struggling for a just peace. This stance holds that external-internal (chiefly but not exclusively Indo-Lanka) dynamics would open space for the transition from a Just War and victory—which requires consolidation-- to a Just Peace.

This last position (which I hold) doesn’t seem to be much in evidence and may even seem unrepresentative, but its fundaments (‘we supported Sri Lanka’s war and are pleased you won, but you must not waste time, and should move towards a sustainable peace based on a political settlement with the Tamils’) are shared by all those states which supported the Sri Lankan war effort by military, economic and politico-diplomatic means, i.e. the majority of states in the international system, including all of Asia. More pertinently, all public opinion surveys, including the most recent (Colin Irwin’s surveys of 2009 and 2010 for the Univ of Liverpool) reveal that in respect of its basics, this is indeed the position of the vast majority of Sri Lankans (anti-Tiger, pro-war, pro-victory, pro-Mahinda, anti-federalism, pro-enhanced provincial devolution within a unitary system). Irwin surveys of 2009-2010reveal total congruency with the 2007 MARGA Institute opinion survey introduced and summarised by Godfrey Gunatilleke. In that 2007 poll:

• the large majority -- 84% -- favour a total military defeat of the LTTE and recapture of the territory presently held by it

• While only 22 % approved a federal solution, most of the respondents -- 87 % -- were in favour of the provincial council system. 51% wanted the two provinces to be de-merged and continue as separate provinces

What is utterly significant is that no mainstream political formation, leadership, or intellectual tendency comes close to this binary view. The government reflected and implemented the first part, which no preceding administration did. The CBK administration ignored the majority view on the second aspect, and toyed with the minority view, possibly under the ideological influence of the peace lobby. The Sinhala ultranationalists ignore the preference for provincial devolution, as do their targets and foes, the cosmopolitan liberals, who go for the federal model.

This brings us to the challenge of today and tomorrow. Provincial autonomy must be fought for because there is a serious danger that it will go by the board. It is a battle that can be won because there is a bed-rock of public opinion in favour and the realities of external factors and forces pushing (or at least nudging) in this direction. Ironically, the ‘moderate’ TNA and ‘enlightened liberal’ opinion is not for it; preferring to push for a federal or quasi-federal outcome. The problem is that there is no significant public support for it and enormous public opposition to it. As philosophical method cautions us, ‘Is’ cannot be derived from ‘ought’. Realism teaches us on the contrary that ‘ought’ must bear relation to ‘is’, by which is meant that in order to be feasible, the ideal aim -- ‘ought’ -- must not be simply a wish-list, but a projection of the most progressive tendencies and probabilities of the present.

A sustainable peace is not easy to conceptualise. For it to be implementable it must be viable and for it to be viable it must guarantee security – both ‘national’ and ‘human’ -- and be in accordance with the strategic needs of the Sri Lankan state. It is, in short, problematic and must not merely be prescribed but ‘problematized’ by public and policy intellectuals. Years after the war, the Sinhalese and the Tamils, the two major communities on the island have lessons to learn, but are they doing so? Will they do so? It is far too late in the day to place postures of politically correct punditry ahead of the political truth, however deep one has to cut and drill down in order to get to it and however deep the truth itself cuts when expressed coldly and analytically.

Antonio Gramsci drew an important distinction between the West and the East, by use of metaphor. In the East, once you capture the main fortress, you win the war, but in the West, you may capture the fort but then you see a complex network of fortifications and tunnels etc snaking all round. This spoke to the difference between the East where ‘the state was everything and civil society nothing’ and the West, where the opposite was true. Therefore in the East you can win by war of manoeuvre and frontal assault but in the east you have to fight a long and patient war of position, capturing trench by trench, which takes time. This is the strategy of the long march through the institutions, where one accumulates intellectual, cultural ethical and moral leadership, so that you have established consensus before the final a decisive assault.

Whether they know it or not, the same experience has been undergone by the Sinhalese and Tamils. Both the Sinhalese and Tamils thought that each other resembled a relatively simple ‘Eastern’ formation (in the Gramscian sense) which could be knocked out by a frontal blow, while the reality is that both have a ‘Western’ configuration, with significant complexity and ‘reserves’.

The Tamils thought that Prabhakaran and his miraculous Tigers had punched the Sinhala armed forces into submission and always would. They did not understand that however many Mankulam ( 1990), Mullaitivu ( 1996) and Elephant Pass (2000) fortresses fell to the enemy, behind these forts and this army, were the Sinhala people who just kept resisting; refusing to give in. Similarly when the armed forces beat Prabhakaran last year and decimated the Tigers, the Sinhalese thought that the Tamils had been decisively beaten at Nandikadal and thus it would be easy to cow them. The Sinhalese did not understand that behind the Tigers were a globalised community, the mobilised Diaspora.

In my perspective on Sri Lankan politics, especially the politics of ethno-nationalism, I have gravitated to what might be called a combination of the Realist and Prudentialist schools. While the Idealists range from Kant to Kofi Annan, and the Realists range from Thucydides, through Machiavelli, to Lenin, Morgenthau and Kissinger, the Prudentialists claim ancestry from Aristotle, Montesquieu, Pascal, and Tocqueville through to Raymond Aron. More recently the Prudentialist school became indistinguishable from the new Ethical Realist tendency (Anatole Lieven). I agree with those who consider the best post-war Western strategic and foreign policy thinkers such as Reinhold Niebuhr, George Kennan and Stanley Hoffman, to be Ethical Realists.

The father of the Realist school of political theory and international relations, Thucydides, tells us that as Athens grew strong there was apprehension in Sparta. Applying realism I conclude that the outbreak of the war was inevitable as was the LTTE’s defeat. The policies and practices of the decade extending roughly from 1973-83, pushed the Tamils to the brink of what must have seemed like eternal victimhood and servitude. This posed an existential threat. The Sinhalese gravely underestimated the Tamils. Given their sense of selfhood, deriving in part from their numbers in the neighbourhood, their global spread, and the status they enjoyed in other parts of the world, they decided to make a fight of it. That much was inevitable. What was not was the nature, the character of that war; its duration and its dynamics.

A Realist reading would similarly yield the following conclusion: Given the sheer demographic weight and the fact that the Sinhalese as a collective are unique to the island of Sri Lanka, it was inevitable that they would fight back, especially when, with the CFA, the ISGA demand and the emergence of the LTTE air arm, it looked like the Tamil Tigers would establish a dominant position on the island while raiding the South at will, murdering its leaders and keeping the Sinhalese in their thrall.

In this stage the Tamils and the West, underestimated the Sinhalese, and lost the war. That too was inevitable, given the numbers and the Sinhala sense that their backs were to the sea and they had no strategic space to retreat. Then, they morphed from lambs to lions, rose against the Tigers and devoured them.

The international targeting of Sri Lanka on this first anniversary of the victory in the war shows that the Sinhalese have once again underestimated the Tamils, who despite their military decimation, have a significant global ‘reserve army’ and international leverage sufficient to bring an avalanche down on the head of the Sinhala leadership.

Following in the tradition of Thucydides, a Realist reading would remark that there are three strategic perspectives for and of the island. Some among the Sinhalese hold that though the island holds more than one community, given the overwhelming superiority of numbers and the civilizational-linguistic uniqueness of the Sinhalese, they must enjoy sole ownership of the island, while the minorities remain as tenants. The second perspective is that of many Tamils who hold that given their numbers off the island and their cultural-civilizational antiquity and achievements, they should have co-equal sovereignty with the Sinhalese over the island -- that being the animating spirit from 50:50 to the ISGA/PTOMS.

The third perspective, which is the Realist-Prudentialist one that I share, is that given the existence of more than one community on the island, power and sovereignty must be shared between them all; given the Sinhalese specificity and huge demographic preponderance on the island that power and sovereignty cannot be shared equally and must of necessity be unequal and hierarchical; and given the external ( regional and global) spread and demonstrated leverage of the Tamils, that unequal sharing cannot be quite as unequal as the Sinhalese would wish.

So the Realist-Prudentialist perspective would conclude that the solution is for both communities to accept that there will be neither sole ownership nor equal partnership but there will be shareholder ship by all communities; a shareholding in which the Sinhalese will have a majority but now quite as overwhelming as they would wish. The Tamil share or stake will not be merely tokenistic but they will be minority shareholders, even in combination with other minorities. This is the case because the domestic balance of power is such, and the Sinhalese have a much bigger stake, existentially, in Sri Lanka than does any other community. They cannot but be the major stakeholders of and in the island. This is a consociation model of sorts but I would prefer to see it as uneven, hierarchical sharing of political space and power. It is not a model of Sinhala political monopoly, but of Sinhala political pre-eminence (hegemony?) in power relations. This is not to be mistaken for unequal rights the level of citizens: all citizens must have equal rights, in law and enforcement, be they Sinhalese, Tamils or of any other ethnicity. This is a model of equal citizenship but of unequal political power and influence; a domestic Yalta model. It is a model that is neither a hyper-centralised unitary one (1972-1988), nor a federal, still less con-federal one, in which the units have a veto (union of regions package, ISGA). It is a strong state, unitary not federal, centralised but not hyper-centralist, with a degree of autonomy that is sufficiently broad to be authentic and centripetal, but sufficiently circumscribed not to be centrifugal.

After the war, the only serious conversation should be about negotiating the degree of unevenness in a necessarily, inevitably hierarchical of power relations in a structure of shared power and sovereignty among the citizens of our common island home. My personal perspective is that the deliberation should take place somewhere within the square constituted by the 13th amendment (1988), the draft Constitution of August 2000, the APRC Experts Committee ‘majority report’ (2007) and the APRC proposals of 2009.

Some may observe critically, that mine seems an ethnic if not primordial perspective, and that this is not the way things are in other parts of the world. However I am a universalist who has grown to respect the Aristotelian contribution of focusing on specificity and particularity, in historical time and geographic space. For instance, India has many nationalities and is thus multi-polar while Sri Lanka’s demographic and power distribution is bi-polar, if not strictly on the island, then in a sub-regional frame. Our problem is to prevent the bi-polar distribution from becoming a perpetual zero-sum game. Singapore has four national languages, but its communities (Chinese, Malays, and Indians/Tamils) have a regional or global presence. The Sinhalese do not. The Tamils do. This means that the Sinhalese feel they cannot afford a level playing field. They are apprehensive about a trade off, in which they retain an uneven playing field with politico-cultural space at the periphery, because of the proximity of Tamil Nadu and the fear of osmosis. This is why under Mahinda Rajapakse there is dawdling on movement in either direction: equality at the centre or space at the periphery. For better or worse, the Sinhalese do not have the external component of national strength and power, to avoid making reform on one or the other, without a world of pain being brought down on them. This past week’s international offensive is just the arrowhead.

The Sinhalese simply do not have the strategic space to afford the generosity of conceding equal power on the island, but they do not have the strategic weight globally to retain sole power or sole ownership of the Sri Lankan state. They are simultaneously too strong (on the island) and too weak (off it). The Tamils are too strong off shore, to be crushed as a collective under the Sinhala jackboot though Prabhakaran was, but they are too weak on the island to carve out the political arrangement that fulfils their self image and self-esteem. A prudent, pragmatic compromise is imperative.

Departing further from postures of politically correct pedagogues, I would argue that a Realist re-reading of Dutugemunu (a reading I had ventured in print slightly a decade ago) would trace the contours of such a pragmatic compromise. Dutugemunu of Mahavamsa legend evokes polarised responses: hero to the Sinhala chauvinists, anathema to the cosmopolitans. In a pioneering and valuable critique Gananath Obeysekara homed in on the consolatory episode in which the dying king is assured that his pangs of conscience are not in order. While I agree with Prof John Richardson that this prevented the ‘Dharmasokan turn’ on the part of Dutugemunu and thereby Sinhala Buddhism, my own point is the facile resolution of the question of violence prevented the wrestling between religio-philosophical ethic of non-violence and the state imperative of the use of violence, which in the Christian case resulted in the theology of Just War, which has become a part of secular political philosophy. But I digress: the Dutugemunu legend contains a doctrine which I believe to be the viable strategic solution of our dilemma.

The Dutugemunu doctrine is twofold:

(A) The Indian ocean at our back and a Tamil kingdom in the North (with a Tamil hinterland further back) gives us little strategic space; given this strategic situation, a rival Tamil power centre on the North of the island will always be strategically intolerable and will have to be eliminated; The island’s geopolitical situation dictates strategic uni-polarity. Thus, a unitary state, not federalism still less con-federalism.

(B) The Mahavamsa legend has it that having won the war Dutugemunu appoints a Tamil ‘sub-king’ to rule the area ‘in accordance with the traditions and customs’ of the area and its people. Thus devolution and autonomy, not demographic incursion.

Now, the cosmopolitan liberal idealists refuse to accept the grand strategic validity of Proposition (A), and the contemporary Sinhala chauvinists fail to practise, indeed do not accept the validity of proposition (B). The fact that Sinhala chauvinism has deviated from Dutugemunu is a massive vulnerability which cannot be exploited ideologically because there is no one to do so, since that would require acceptance of and adherence to Proposition (A), in order to have viability and legitimacy, and indeed strategic soundness. The two propositions constitute an inseparable, organic strategic unity; a strategic synthesis. What makes matters more interesting is that public opinion surveys from 1997 (available in a PRIO bibliography) right up to the University of Liverpool’s survey of 2009-10 conducted by Prof Colin Irwin, reveals majority support precisely for the combination of the two propositions of my Realist reading of the Dutugemunu doctrine: strong centre, unitary state, no federalism or Indian model, tri-lingualism, zero tolerance of a parallel Tamil army, improved devolution and provincial autonomy.

I am a universalist-modernist who is also a pluralist, because I recognise uneven development. The universal is an abstraction which is mediated by the particular in order to become real-concrete. Some think that world history is heading in one political direction – which I do not, preferring to think that each model has its advantages and disadvantages and that history remains open. Even though I respect and applaud genuinely universal norms and standards, I am enough of a votary of uneven development to know that not every state or society is at the same level of development as the other and that states have to go through a process of evolution. A reading of the Springtime of Nations, namely Europe in 1848, would reveal a picture of ethno-lingual nationalism as the propellant of nation building and a zero-sum game with minorities, rather like post Independence Sri Lanka. That first great wave of European nationalism and state-building left an unfinished problem of internal ‘national questions’.

Sri Lanka, like many societies in the periphery, was impacted by colonialism with paradoxical results: one the one hand, internal development was retarded, holding back certain changes that would otherwise have come about, and on the other hand, accelerated certain processes ‘artificially’ as it were, rendering their results rather rootless in the native soil and consciousness. This is so in the matter of nation and state building. There are stages of political growth and Sri Lanka and many states in the global South at different stages of politico-historical development from those in the First world. Therefore, notions of nation, nationalism and nationality and concepts of citizenship are rawer and rougher edged, less refined and evolved. Is Demos of mature or mid- modernity, Ethnos of and in early modernity? We have a historical journey to complete, towards a universalism which accommodates pluralism; towards modernity, guided by Reason.

The Drivers and Scenarios in Post-War Sri Lanka

by Prof.Sumanasiri Liyanage

My focus in this essay is not what happened in the past but what can be envisioned for the near future particularly with regard to the national question in Sri Lanka. The security forces comprehensively defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) one year ago.

However, the transformation of peace writ small that was achieved in May 2009 to peace writ large has yet to be achieved and the steps taken in that direction are, in my opinion, inadequate. Although the simultaneous operation of so many variables in complex situations makes predictions almost impossible in social science, it is possible to identify possible future scenarios through the analysis of key drivers that undergird future changes. Here, I identify four key drivers and four scenarios, though one is a very remote possibility.

Context and Drivers

(1) Vacuum in Tamil nationalist politics:

Comprehensive military defeat of the LTTE and the decimation of its entire leadership have created almost an unbridgeable vacuum in Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka. All other trends in Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka revolved round their attitudes towards the LTTE, when the latter enjoyed an unchallengeable military capability. The two options that were available to other Tamil nationalist parties were either to be a proxy to the LTTE (TNA) or to be an opponent of it (EPDP, TULF, TMVP). When the LTTE were decimated, none of these two tendencies were in a position to present a viable Tamil nationalist political position. There are no signs that this political vacuum will be filled in the immediate future.

(2) The rise of exclusive Sinhala nationalism:

The second contextual factor that is a determinant in future scenarios is the presence of Sinhala exclusivist nationalism, the manifestation of which may be traced in the mid-1990s. Since the first years of this century, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and Hela Urumaya have been in intense competition to emerge as the most prominent and vocal Sinhala party. Although electoral strength of the two parties are not that significant, it is interesting to note that both have been capable of influencing the two main political parties, the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, to change their stand on national question.

(3) Over-securitization of the state:

Prioritization of state security is a natural growth of nearly 30 years of armed conflict that totally disturbed the equilibrium between civil society and military in favour of the latter. Although the armed conflict between the government security forces and the LTTE came to an end a year ago, the involvement of the military in political decision-making remains undiminished. Hence, it is not only a phenomenon but is also an attitude. The government seems to look at almost everything from the prism of its own security, which deeply influences its practices and policies in many spheres.

(4) External relations:

Under the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, there has been a paradigm shift in Sri Lanka's foreign policy. As Gotabhaya Rajapaksa recently outlined, three main elements of Sri Lanka's new foreign policy are: (1) Sri Lanka is non-aligned country, so that it maintains friendly relations with all the countries in the world; (2) Sri Lanka has shifted the focus of its foreign policy from Western countries (US and EU) to countries in the region; (3) Sri Lanka maintains special relations with India so that its foreign policy decisions will be consistent with the security concerns of India (limited external self-determination). While these three pillars will remain unchanged, it seems that the government will make a serious attempt to re-win the support of the West, as it is imperative especially from the point of view of economics.

How will these conditions and drivers affect the way in which Sri Lanka deals with the national question post-war? In one of my previous articles, I envisioned that Sri Lanka was heading towards East-Asian type of democracy. The post-election scenario appears to have strengthened the movement in this direction. The way in which the new cabinet was formed signifies that Sri Lanka is now heading towards the adoption of the American style of cabinet-making rather that of the Westminster system that is party based. I do not intend here to discuss possible changes in political landscape at macro level, but confine my analysis to how these changes will impact deliberations on the national question in Sri Lanka.

In what follows, I identify four possible scenarios and assume that the actual developments may combine the characteristics of all these four. Although the fourth scenario is a very remote possibility, we may not be able leave it out completely at least in a theoretical exercise as militant organizations have shown high degrees of resilience. How the first three elements will evolve and morph will also depend on the strength of non-Sinhala nationalisms, the democratic forces, the activities of the opposition parties and the pressure from external actors.

(a) Developmental welfarism:

Some section of the ruling coalition and Sinhala elites appear to think that there is no separate or specific Tamil national problem. The problems the Sri Lankan population has faced are, to them, problems of underdevelopment that include poverty, unemployment, regional inequalities and class-based inequalities. These problems are common to the Sinhala population in peripheral regions and to Tamil populations living in the Vanni, Mulathivu or Mannar districts. Tamil youth took up arms as Sinhala youth did in 1971 and 1987-89. According to this view, a specific ethnic/national expression was given to it by the Tamil separatists backed by imperialist forces who sought the destabilization of the region. Now this terrorist threat has been defeated. So, what is imperative now is to address the general and common issues of underdevelopment. Of course, a protracted war has made the Northern and Eastern provinces more underdeveloped because the circumstances did not permit the implementation of development projects that took place in other regions.

So, special attention to these areas in new development strategies is warranted. This is quite a strong notion within as well as outside the ruling coalition. A large part of the business community also thinks in the same way. Negenahira Udanaya and Uthuru Wasanthaya are concrete expression of this developmental welfarist perspective. The strength of this strategy is that it emphasizes basic material needs of the majority of people that have to be satisfied. However, its main flaw as demonstrated in the last elections lies in the fact that people have basic needs like security, identity and the recognition of identity that are also of an equal existential importance. When those non-material needs are neglected, the experience shows that people tend to interpret the lack of physical and material needs in ethnic terms.

(b) Assimilationist Strategy:

President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced in his speech to Parliament after the conclusion of war last year that there was no division in the country thereafter between the majority and minority, and the division that actually existed was between the people who loved the country and those who did not. He reiterated the same idea in his exclusive interview with the Editor of the Hindu, N. Ram. Of course, this statement should not be interpreted to give the meaning that the President wanted all to be integrated into one single community shedding their cultural differences. What he implied was an overarching Sri Lankan identity making other identities subordinated to it.

Assimilationist strategy gains its strength in my opinion from two sources. First, it flows from the idea of civic nationalism that has been constantly identified with democracy. While accepting the presence of different cultures, it posits, what Habermas called, constitutional patriotism. However, in real politics, civic nationalism except in exceptional cases tends to be defined from the prism of majoritarian cultures neglecting or marginalizing pluri-cultural characteristics of the society. Hence, there is a possibility, in highly divided societies, that non-dominant communities may come forward to resist such an overarching identity. Secondly, it appears to be fitting into prevailing demographic realities of the island.

(c) Power-sharing arrangement:

Since 1987, two major political parties in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party have accepted that some form of power-sharing is needed to satisfy Tamil nationalist demands. When the President announced that his government would implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution fully until new proposals were ready, many believed that it would be the point of departure or benchmark in future constitutional reform. In the Parliamentary election in 2010, the UPFA made an appeal to the voters that the UPFA be given a two-thirds majority in Parliament so that it could initiate long awaited constitutional reforms. However, the UPFA did not reveal the major changes that it proposed to introduce in making new constitution. Changing the electoral system was the only aspect that was stressed during the election time.

Prior to the election, three suggestions were flagged. The suggestions were: (1) full implementation of the 13th Amendment (may be with some minuses); (2) the introduction of a second chamber; and (3) a bill of right that was initiated by Milinda Moragoda as a former Minister of Justice. The negative signs are visible in the arena of real political practice. First, there is no genuine effort to implement the 13th Amendment. Secondly, the implementation of many development programs is done by the government, almost completely neglecting elected provincial bodies. This is clearly visible in the Eastern Province. Thirdly, the President has so far not taken any action against the activities of the Governor in the Eastern Province whose own actions are under constant contestation from the elected provincial council. Finally, there has been a significant Sinhala national opposition within and outside the government to any kind of power-sharing arrangement. The recent statement by Minister Wimal Weerawansa against Indian Foreign Secretary's statement demonstrates this anti-power-sharing sentiment in government.

(d) Back to Confrontational Politics:

If the government gives into Sinhala exclusive forces and assumes that the large section of the Sinhala masses are against any kind of consensual politics, are totally unconcerned about the Tamil national issues and the issues relating to other numerically small nations and ethnic groups, the re-emergence of exclusive Tamil nationalist politics may be unavoidable.

The epicentre of Tamil exclusive nationalist politics has been now transferred to the diasporic community.

Although it may not happen in the immediate future due to the high magnitude of the defeat suffered by the LTTE and continuing vigilance of the security establishment, the presence of trained combatants and stockpile of arms hidden in various places may facilitate an emergence of militant groups like in the late 1970s. ~ courtesy: The Island ~

India is indebted to Sri Lanka for destroying the LTTE and not the other way about

by S.L. Gunasekara

It is wholly unthinkable for a Head of State of a sovereign state to take any draft of proposals [whether the first or the last] for constitutional reform to a prime minister of a foreign country for his approval!

Yet, the Asian Tribune reports that President Mahinda Rajapaksa proposes to take the first draft of the Proposals for Constitutional Reform to the Prime Minister of a foreign country – namely India. Since it is hardly likely that such draft would be taken to Manmohan Singh for his ‘reading pleasure’, it must follow, if that report is true (I sincerely hope it is not), that the draft will be taken to Manmohan Singh to obtain his approval! Why on earth should the Head of State of Sri Lanka take to the Prime Minister of any foreign country any draft of proposed constitutional reforms of our small but sovereign country for his approval?

The Asian Tribune has also reported that India is bringing pressure to bear on Sri Lanka to fully implement the 13th Amendment as a quid pro quo for India’s assistance to Sri Lanka to crush the LTTE (in the last stages of the ‘war’).

All these news items appear to spring from the wholly false premise that Sri Lanka is indebted to India for its assistance in crushing the LTTE. The truth, however, is the opposite – for it is India that is now and will forever be, in debt to Sri Lanka for the damage caused to our People and our property by terrorists nurtured, trained and armed by the Government of India, with at least the full and complete knowledge that those terrorists would use the skills imparted and weaponry gifted to them by India to murder our citizens and destroy our property on our soil.

Even though India did help us to destroy the LTTE at the last stages of the ‘war’, that, to my mind, does not in any way make Sri Lanka indebted to India – because there would have been no ‘war’, which lasted thirty years, but for India’s unforgivable and treacherous behavior as the ‘Regional Thug’ (or ‘Regional Power’ as those addicted to the dishonest lingo of diplomacy would describe her). We must not forget now or at any time hereafter that it was India that nurtured, trained and armed the LTTE and other terrorist gangs to kill our citizens and destroy our property and enmesh us in a war that took thirty years to end. Let us also never forget that when we were on the verge of crushing those ‘terrorist protégés’ of India in 1987, it was India that prevented us from doing so by the use of raw thuggery. Had India not so used its thuggery at that stage, tens of thousands of lives and billions of rupees worth of public property and funds would have been saved.

I do not, by this, mean that we must bear a grudge against India or exhibit signs of animosity towards her. What I do mean is that when India or any other person attempts to tell us that we must respect India’s ‘concerns’ and/or be grateful to India for helping us to crush the LTTE at the last stages, we must never fail to recall these facts so as to put the matter in its proper perspective. It is true, no doubt, that India sent the IPKF and that the Tigers killed over a thousand of her troops – but all this springs from the treacherous acts of India in training and arming the LTTE and other terrorists groups to murder our citizens on our soil and destroy our property. Thus, while I do sympathize with the families of Indian troops who were killed, maimed or injured, I cannot help observing that it was ‘poetic justice’ that Indian troops as well as India’s ‘favourite son’, Rajiv Gandhi were killed by those whom India trained and equipped to kill.

The constitution of our country is a matter entirely for us, and not for India, not for the Maldives Islands nor any other country on this earth. Likewise, the question of whether the Northern and Eastern Provinces are to be remerged or not is also a matter entirely for our country and not for India nor the United States of America nor any other country on this earth.

In this regard, we must remember that the sole issue that should engage our minds when engaging in the exercise of constitutional reform is whether the new constitution will serve the needs of our people.

That bundles of garbage called the Indo-Lanka Accord and the 13th Amendment forced down our throats by means of India’s naked thuggery and the pusillanimity of our then President J. R. Jayewardene are incapable of benefiting our country. Those bundles of garbage did not provide for devolution of power to the ‘People’, but only for the conferment of excessive powers on the leaders of our political parties most of whom were possessed of ambition instead of principle, and avarice instead of commitment to the ‘People’. The numerous outrageously shoddy and equally opportunistic alliances forged in Colombo by the leaders of parties for elections to those `White Elephants’ called Provincial Councils without even a passing thought for whether there was agreement on policy, and the ‘tippexing fiascos’ at the local authority and parliamentary elections constitute a small part of the evidence that makes evident the magnitude of the disaster imposed on this Country by those bundles of garbage.

The extent to which such garbage has served to create or exacerbate communal strife was exemplified by the struggle for the Chief Ministership of the Eastern Province in the aftermath of the election thereto when one faction claimed that `Pillaiyan’ should be Chief Minister because he was a Tamil and the other that Hisbullah should be Chief Minister because he was a Muslim, with neither faction paying even a minute fraction of a thought for who was more competent!

There is no reason at all why our sovereign nation should formulate for the governance of our Country a constitution that will help the foreign Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to satisfy or appease the raucous and wholly idiotic demands of the rabble-rousing politicians of Tamil Nadu.

We must also bear in mind the fact that the garbage called the Indo Lanka Accord is in no way binding on us. Even if that so-called ‘Accord’ had been entered into by us voluntarily, India by blatantly violating her most fundamental obligation under it by failing to disarm or ensure the disarming of the LTTE and other terrorist gangs by August 3, 1987, and being an idle [and perhaps approving spectator] of the grisly sight of armed LTTE terrorists slaughtering over 200 Sinhalese and Muslim civilians between Trincomalee and Chenkaladi between the September 30 and the October 7, 1987, rendered that piece of garbage a dead letter, and/or absolved us of any duty [even if such existed] of complying with any of its terms.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has no mandate from the People of this country to fashion a constitution according to the demands of India.

One reason that motivated the people including me to vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa was the exemplary manner in which he withstood foreign pressure.

The mandate he received therefore behoves him to continue to withstand such pressure from whatever source it comes.

Mahinda Rajapaksa owes it to the Nation to maintain that sturdy independence he earlier displayed and thereby endeared himself to us all.

May 29, 2010

Sinhala symbols, war, peace and ethnic reconciliation in Sri Lanka

by Dr. A. R. M. Imtiyaz

On May 17, 2009 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the major Tamil resistance movement, admitted defeat in the war that was waged without any witnesses and vowed to silence guns against the Sinhala-Buddhist state.

On May 18, Sri Lanka security forces announced that the LTTE Chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, was killed by Sri Lanka’s military in a firefight that signaled the effective end to one of Asia’s longest-running military conflicts. There was and is a strong perception in the south of the country that Sri Lanka would embrace peace because the LTTE has been militarily defeated. This short article attempts to discuss some issues surrounding the symbols and also focus on how ethnic symbols are powerful and why they often become barriers to win peace when they are being politicised for war (by political forces).

Analytical Notes

Sri Lanka, which has been practising democracy since 1931 (well before independence), now ranks as one of the poorest states in Asia and is notorious for the Tamil Tigers who were and are claimed to be a revolutionary product of the country’s seven decades old democracy. In other words, the competent political outbidding of Sinhala politicians on Sinhala-Buddhist emotions and symbols against the minorities, particularly the Tamils eventually produced a state-seeking violent Tamil resistance movement, which erased the country’s stunningly beautiful global image as a tropical paradise and made the country one of the most dangerous places on Earth to live in.

Democracy in deeply divided societies can trigger dissonance and instability if politicians embrace irrationalised-emotional cards such as ethno-nationalism to win a political position. On the other hand, these symbols have a profound influence on the masses, who take political and religious sayings literally, particularly among economically and socially disadvantaged groups. Hence, when politicians employ symbols and myths, it is often with underlying political agendas, which serve to enable them to cling on to power without addressing other pressing socio-economic questions.

To induce people to make choices, political actors make use of existing or primordial identities of targeted groups such as language, mother-land, religion, ethnic values, national flag and food. The identity of the groups always matters and is sensitive because it shapes their decisions and existence. Thus, it is likely that groups would respond positively to the needs of political actors when the latter sympathetically plays politics on the formers’ identity. Moreover, these symbols often work well in non-peace situations or to mobilize war against ethnic enemies.

These symbols, on the other hand, would induce the people to make choices and support hostility or war against the others who do not share their symbols. This is the bottom line of symbolic politics theory. The essence of this argument, in S.J Kaufman’s words, is that “people choose by responding to the most emotionally potent symbols evoked.” Therefore, theoretically, we can define symbolic politics as a sort of political game by political elites and politicians on arousing emotions to win and hold a political power rather than educate the masses in a logical way to address the issues.

Peace, War and Symbols in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s Sinhala political establishment used Sinhala symbols in both war and peace with the LTTE. They were used and are being used to consolidate power of the Sinhala political class and to alienate the non-Sinhalese, particularly the Tamils. In fact, the politicization of ethnic differences began in the 1950s. Successive Sinhalese political parties formulated policies such as Sinhala Language Only in 1956. This made Sinhala the only official language in the state and sharply discriminated against the Tamil speaking population. Then an educational standardisation policy in 1972 allowed Sinhalese students to enter Science and Medical schools with lower scores than the Tamil students. The Constitution of 1972 conferred special status to Buddhism both in the state and for the public.

Besides, peace packages of the successive Sinhala ruling class did not provide either genuine political autonomy, in clear political science language power-sharing democracy nor did they have the political guts or need to seek a solution beyond the current unitary state structure, which is one of the major symbols of the Sinhala nation. The regime, led by Mahinda Rajapaksa that came to power in 2005 by employing Sinhala symbols such as war against the LTTE and anti-peace slogans, successfully defeated the LTTE in May 2009 with the anti-Tamil statehood campaign and with the support of the global political, economic and military aid.

The global actors assumed that the regime would deliver peace. But it is a plain fact that the regime in Colombo is not interested in building peace, and in fact, it is difficult for the regime to commence genuine peace when the Sinhala political elites had used the symbols in its war against the Tamils. The political elite may think it can retract its symbolic promises once in power. However, a recent study on Sri Lanka’s political outbidding strategies points that, when they have employed religion and/or ethnicity to maximize their votes or consolidate power, politicians find it next to impossible to backtrack on their divisive promises. And the same problem befalls their successors.

War destroys all possibilities for peace when it is being used by dominant groups against the weaker section of the masses or marginalised groups. The key nature of symbols in politics is that when they were being used for war against the others, it would not permit any politicians to use the same symbols to build peace. This is the result of politicisation of symbols. In Sri Lanka, the Sinhala symbols (such as language, flag, and territory) were being politicised both for politics and war. Hence, politicians would find difficulties to fight the same symbols and to give justice to the ethnic others. This explains the difficulties pertaining to winning peace under the Rajapaksa regime.

Evidence does not suggest that the Rajapaksa regime has the political will, or for that matter maturity to challenge symbols and to broker peace with the ethnic Tamil nation and minorities. In actual fact, peace is a more serious business than war, and when divided and conflict-ridden societies represented by power-hunger elites who resort to symbols to cling to power, peace would face severe challenges. The fact is that ethnic reconciliation is a serious political exercise, and given Sri Lanka’s current political climate and inability to seek a political solution beyond the unitary state structure any hope for true reconciliation and evocative democratic practices will effectively wane.

At the height of the war in 2009 - in Mullivaaykkaal ~click on pic for larger image

One of the major challenges for ethnic reconciliation directly links with the war crime accusations targeted at the Sinhalese dominated security forces. The way the war had been fought by the Sinhala political and military establishment to defeat the LTTE triggered global concerns. As luck would have it, this ugly war, in the name of a just war, was naively applauded by some political intellectuals who often serve those in power. The war won without witnesses and the Tamil deaths, including children, constituted some acts that can be safely cited to make a case for ethnic genocidal war against the Tamil nation. It is also true, according to the ICG, that the LTTE and its leaders committed some forms of war crimes.

But when the State kills its own people, it loses legitimacy to represent and rule the people.

The recent sources suggest that the security forces got the order from the top (political and military hierarchy) to kill everyone, including Tamil civilians. Moreover, according to the International Crisis Group investigation, many thousands of Tamil people may have been killed in the so-called “No-Fire Zone” due to government fire “than previously estimated and targeted hospitals and humanitarian operations as part of their final onslaught on the rebel Tamil Tigers.”

The findings are very serious, and thus there must be global efforts to push for an impartial international investigation on this grave human slaughter allegedly committed by the security forces of Sri Lanka. On the other hand, State killing and war fades the prospect of ethnic reconciliation and peace between the Tamil-Sinhala nations, because they reveal the State’s nature and its desire to uphold Sinhala symbols and identity. Sri Lanka would not experience any serious ethnic reconciliation as long as (1) there are allegations of war crimes against the Tamil nation and (2) Sinhala elites constantly pursue hostile symbols for electoral and war purposes.

Conclusion: Three Alternatives

The future, however, offers three stark alternatives; (1) kill all Tamils (another form of all out war against the Tamil nation) (2) power-sharing package and (3) partition. Ethnic war will increase into pogroms, ethnic cleansing, emigration, and genocide. Violence leads to retaliation and counter-retaliation, as society rides a downward spiral of distraction.

Chaim Kaufmann pointed out, “war itself destroys the possibilities for ethnic cooperation.” The second alternative is to find a solution that provides guarantees for security, stability and ethnic peace, which can be materialised in ethnically divided societies through restructuring the State system with power sharing (consociational democracy). Such a peaceful resolution cannot be won by force.

This requires genuine efforts to build power-sharing measures with the Tamil nation and minorities. The military defeat of the LTTE provides opportunities to commence serious discussions on power-sharing with the Tamil nationalists. In actual fact, power-sharing could strengthen Sri Lanka’s democracy, its war-ridden economy, and bring about religious and ethnic harmony. But many Tamils both at home and abroad (Tamil Diaspora) are completely convinced that Sinhala political establishment would not offer any meaningful power-sharing democracy or federal system. The behaviour of successive Sri Lankan Sinhala rulers correctly proves the Tamil conviction.

If there is resistance to offer power sharing, the third option is partition. The demand of separation becomes strong when a power-sharing arrangement is not possible. Some may fear that partition may further strengthen the ethnic hostilities between two nations, but even if it provokes a period of violence, it would offer the separated ethnic groups much needed stability and security in the near future. In actual fact, the demand for separation would not be in vain if the separation reduces the ethnic fear and offers social and political security, as well as stability, to the different ethnic groups.

As I discussed in my research on ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, “partition experiences of Pakistan from India, Eritrea from Ethiopia, Bangladesh from West Pakistan, and Greeks from Turks on Cyprus all show that partition can be helpful, even if it is less than completely successful in terminating violence.” Moreover, the experiences of Kosovo and the possible partition (in 2011) for the Christians in South Sudan further validate the case for partition when ethnic nations refuse to live together.

It is not clear to what extent the developments of the past can help resolve the basic issue at stake: whether, federalism – as repeatedly asked for by the Tamil nationalists, Sinhala political elites will not go beyond the failed 13th Amendment. Then again, one would have to be a considerable optimist to believe that the global pressure will compel Sinhala ruling hard-line elites to change direction toward the Tamil question.

(Dr. A.R.M. Imtiyaz’ research and teaching are mainly focused on ethnic politics and Islamic transnationalism. He has published widely in peer-reviewed international journals. He currently teaches at the Department of Political Science, Temple University, Philadelphia, USA, and is affiliated as a research fellow to Global Vision, Kandy, Sri Lanka.)

Mervyn and his merry men paint Nuwara-Eliya red during Wesak

by Lanka Sherlock

The notorious Sri Lankan deputy minister of Highways was seen having Sunday lunch with his entourage at a private club in Nuwara Eliya, which is located near the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club. Mervin sporting Sun glasses was seen in the dining room of the prestigious club with his wife, having been invited by Dil, a club member.

Dil is allegedly a colleague of Duminda Silva, who worked together in the tea industry in Sri Lanka, but today Dil, Duminda and Mervin are also said to be active in the "pharmaceutical" industry.

The club has a rule displayed in the car park stating that vehicles should not be reversed into the parking bays in order to avoid damage to the extensive gardens. But several vehicles of Dil and Mervin;s entourage had their vehicles parked abusing the clubs rules. It seem that to these Pharmaceutical giants seem to be above the clubs rules. One Mitsubishi 4 X 4 vehicle parked in this manner had its numberplate displayed at WPC 2008-2009, abusing the nations legislation on the registration of motor vehicles. This vehicle also had a Buddhist flag.

The club also has a rule that one member should not be allowed to book more than two rooms. But in this instance, Dil had rounded up a posse, to Welcome the learned doctor in the dining room, where a sumptuous meal was laid out for not only Dil's resident guests, but some of Mervin's contingent from outside.

Some members of the club left in disgust as they did not appreciate the company of such gentleman of quality.

The club has a private chalet in front of the main building, which was occupied by Dil and his entourage and liquor was being consumed at this chalet generously during this holy Wesak weekend. Although Mervin is known to have banned liquor shops in his constituency, it seems that Wesak is a time to drink and make merry for some of Mervin's pals.

Fighting Windmills? Diaspora and Militarism in Post-Conflict Lanka

by Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake

“Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, "Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants?

I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless."

“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.”Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.”

“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone.”

—Part 1, Chapter VIII. Of the valourous Don Quixote’s success in the dreadful and never before imagined Adventure of the Windmill.

“Resisting the (terrorism) discourse is not an act of disloyalty, it is an act of political self-determination and it is absolutely necessary if we are to avoid another stupefying period of fear and violence like the Cold War. There is little doubt by now that terrorism discourse creates its own reality.

Joseba Zulaika in Terrorism: The Self-fulfilling Prophesy (2009: 2)

The weather gods have intervened to arrest the war gods in Lanka. Victory celebrations that were to feature military hardware, air power, and parades scheduled for V-Day on May 18, 2010 on Galle Face Green, while Colombo’s ordinary citizens were subject to yet another security lock-down to protect the Victors have been indefinitely postponed. Pre-monsoon rains and floods have displaced many poor and vulnerable families, living in “unauthorized shelters” (that the Urban Development Authority now headed by the valiant Defense Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa is given to knocking down), in Southern Sri Lanka. It is apparent that the funds and energy spent on victory celebrations, would be better spent on rehabilitation of flood victims (almost 500,000) and, one might add, the 50,000 war displaced Vanni IDPs who still remain in camps.

Since the war ended a year ago on May 19, 2009, there has not been a single “terrorist” attack in Sri Lanka, as Ravinath Aryasinghe, Lanka’s Ambassador to the European Union pointed out in Brussels recently. Yet the State’s (anti)terrorism discourse continues with rumors of the LTTE regrouping in South America. Ravinath noted that the war had moved with the Diaspora to the Western hemisphere; an overstatement that seems to be more in concert with the Colombo regime’s propensity to fight windmills a la the valiant Don Quixote, ever in search of villains on the horizon. Of course, a few ethnic entrepreneurs in the diaspora whose livelihood may depend on marketing “liberation” have announced a virtual state of Tamil Eelam in cyber space. This may not be the best way to keep up the pressure on the GoSL to treat its minorities right, since the declaration a Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) has been enormously helpful to those inclined to pursue post-conflict militarization and in-securitization in Colombo and the northeast.

Citizens of Lanka from all communities who were relieved and grateful to the armed forces for ending the war are increasingly confounded by the new (in) securitization and continued military footprint in Colombo, as well as, the permanent State of Emergency. The purchase of close circuit television (CCTV) cameras with training for service personnel (in Singapore), to secure the posh neighbourhoods of Colombo’s Cinnamon Gardens through which the Presidential entourage passes daily, is one such example of extravagance in the interest of post-conflict (in)securitization aka. fighting windmills. Meanwhile, on the roads dug up for CCTV power lines, an unsuspecting pedestrian has fallen into a pot hole or two and broken her leg during the pre-monsoon down pours. Whose security is it, anyway?

Did the war end after all? The Diaspora and Amnesia

It is easy to forget that “terrorism” comes to an end somewhere, sometime, somehow, since the global ‘war on terror’ discourse is seamless, endless and has no exit strategy. As Harvard Political Scientist, Audrey Cronin, has noted in her book “How Terrorism Ends”: “Amid the fear following 9/11 and other recent terror attacks, it is easy to forget the most important fact about terrorist campaigns: they always come to an end–and often far more quickly than expected”. Before the war ended we had become used to the idea that it would go on for a long time. Various local and international conflict and peace experts in the business of predicting and sometimes rendering “protracted conflict” a self-fulfilling prophesy had said so. Extended exposure to violence on an of screen also tends to anesthetize the public and creates an endless plateau just like the non-existent term limits of Sri Lankan political leaders impervious to the fact that all good things must come to an end. But it seems that the post/conflict (in)securitization has a more material explanation: the Army Commander that helped win the war is locked up and the V-Day celebration would have been like Hamlet without the Prince!

Post/modernist pronouncements on the end of “grand narratives” seem rather misplaced these days since “terrorism” appears to have become a new international grand narrative of sorts, of course. The terrorism narrative like previous grand narratives of progress, development and the forward march of civilization that underwrote various forms and phases of imperialism has a political economy that benefits among others, the security knowledge industry, the arms trade, and the “terrorism” spin mill. Terrorism discourse mimics other grand narratives as antithesis or apocalypse. As Brezinski has noted in an article titled “Terrorized by the War on Terror” in the Washington Post, in March 2006: “Constant reference to a “war on terror” did accomplish one major objective: It stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue. The war of choice in Iraq could never have gained the congressional support it got without the psychological linkage between the shock of 9/11 and the postulated existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Support for President Bush in the 2004 elections was also mobilized in part by the notion that “a nation at war” does not change its commander in chief in midstream. The sense of a pervasive but otherwise imprecise danger was thus channeled in a politically expedient direction by the mobilizing appeal of being “at war.”

As the one year anniversary of the defeat of the LTTE approached the terrorism spin-mill worked overtime to equate the Tamil diaspora with’ terrorism’, rather than highlight the manner in which it sustains family and kin who survived the war back home. The constant repetition of stories about LTTE arms catches and arrests of members works to re-produce the terror discourse and legitimize militarization and the extra-ordinary security for the ruling family in post-conflict Colombo. While a few members of the Tamil diaspora have declared a Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE), in exile and are engaged in anti-GoSL propaganda overseas the great majority has little interest in a Tamil cyber-nation-state. Several Tamil diaspora organization are actively opposed to TGTE, particularly, those who are conscious that ‘long distance nationalism’ may negatively affect the prospects of their kin in Lanka to live in peace and security.

It is well known, as with the Palestine/Israel conflict that Diasporas often tend to be far more intransigent and unwilling to compromise than those who remained at home, but the international context that enabled the LTTE become a powerful global terror network during the post-Cold war period of unfettered globalization, no longer exists. Tamil and Sinhala ultra-nationalism and extremism is most visible at this time from the respective diasporas, but there is also an emerging disconnect between the diaspora leadership and those in-country who wish to compromise, co-exist, and work with “other” communities to build back better. The declaration of a virtual state of Tamil Eelam merely serves to legitimize continued militarization in post/conflict Lanka, and the concomitant (in)securitization of minorities. It is not the best way to keep up the pressure on a regime that may suffer the Macbeth syndrome.

Different Strokes to Mark V-day

Before the intervention of the weather gods, the Sri Lankan State had called on its citizens and subjects to celebrate V-Day with pomp and ceremony, and ordered flags flown in all official buildings in the districts. The public of the Capital, particularly residents of snooty Colombo 7, where the Hambantota interlopers have been ironically on a tree-cutting, road- beautifying, charm-offensive, (consonant with the Urban Development Authority (UDA), being handed over to the Defense Ministry), had once again braced itself to be inconvenienced by ‘security’ arrangements for the ruling extended family. On the other hand, Tamil politicians and the TNA had called for a day of mourning, since the defeat of the LTTE represents to them the defeat of Tamil nationalism. Civil society meanwhile tried to be tempered and emphasized the need for balance, proportionality, dignity, and respect for the grief of those who lost kin when marking the first anniversary of the end of armed violence in Sri Lanka. At the same time, the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch saw fit to renew calls for accountability for war crimes to mark the first anniversary of the end of war in Lanka. Unfortunately, they may also have renewed the Macbeth complex of the establishment – fear of trees and the ghosts of murdered souls– (Out, out, damn spot and all that…), that seems to be at the root of Sri Lanka’s post-conflict militarism and insecurity.

What is to be done?

The best and only way to ensure that Lanka becomes the “wonder of Asia” and honor those who defeated terrorism is to ensure that there would not be a recurrence of violence. Rather than fighting windmills and appointing commissions to reveal lessons already known, the government’s best option would be to set things right on the ground in Lanka by ensuing speedy and dignified resettlement of the war displaced, securing minority rights, reparation, and reconciliation among the various ethno-religious communities. For this, fully implementing the 13 Amendment to the Constitution in the North and East would be a beginning. These should be the priority at this time, rather than constitutional changes to extend the term of the Presidency.

Unfortunately both the head of State and the Opposition seem to suffer the same malaise—an aversion to relinquish power and dislike for term limits on political power, to ensure that they move on and hand over to the younger generation, which may partly explain the propensity for youth uprisings and rebellions among youth from the different ethnic communities in post/colonial Lanka. The Buddhist principle that “all things change” must surely apply to politicians in the land of the peaceful one and those in power today must know that they are merely custodians of the land who need give way to others tomorrow? The United National Party must sort out its internal crisis speedily rather than dragging its feet and mimicking the government on reforms, in order to engage the UPFA government on the priorities for constitutional reform since most Presidents of Lanka have displayed an unseemly aversion to giving up power when their term runs out. But until Wickramasinghe passes on the torch to someone else, this may be a case of the pot to call the kettle black!

Finally, during the Tsunami disaster local civil society organizations worked ceaselessly, across ethno-religious identity lines to assist those who were displaced, and to help them resettle and reconstruct. The Sri Lanka diaspora also contributed enormously to relief and recovery. More than the government and international donors (the UN which consumes most of the funds raised for disaster victims again mourning about donor fatigue), similar efforts by civil society with the help of the Diaspora should be able to see the war-displaced resettle with dignity rather than living in miserable temporary huts once they have returned to their home villages, as is the case in much of Killinochchi and Mullaithivu. The scale of assistance necessary to support the conflict-displaced at this time is far smaller than on the first anniversary of the Tsunami disaster. Perhaps some of the energy and funds of the TGTE may be diverted to help the Vanni IDPs and returnees, and the Defense Ministry remove restrictions on access to the north — to prevent “terrorism” becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy again in Lanka?

Rediscovering the youth link in Sri Lanka’s post-war reconciliation process

by Sri Lanka Unites

A young boy from a border village in Polonnaruwa had fiercely sworn to hate the Tamil race. Living on the borderlines of the conflict, he lost his mother and father to a brutal LTTE attack in the height of the war.

Rationality not prevailing, he blamed all Tamil people for the loss of his parents, and the pathetic state of his life for years afterwards. A couple of months after the war’s end he decided that this hatred was eating him alive, and in his words said, "it was like you drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die". He is now making small but determined steps towards reconciliation, and has been actively engaging with Tamil youth of his age. He has just completed a Tamil language course, and is fluently conversant in it.

A young student in a prominent Jaffna school was invited to a youth conference in the South. It was his first time out of the North, and the wounds of war were still raw. He had lost relatives to army bombs, his friends had mysteriously disappeared. He was averse to the idea of meeting Sinhalese people, but eventually decided to go. On the long drive down the A-9, he nervously recollected the stories he’d been told, of Sinhalese mobs determined to destroy. But, as he recalls, "I arrived at the youth conference to a very different kind of mob", a mob, he said, of friendly Sinhalese boys and girls who cheered him and his colleagues on, celebrating their arrival after a ground breaking journey from the North. As he recalled, his heart would be forever transformed, and stereotypes firmly broken.

A group of students from Kandy decided that their mono-language classes have divided them for too long, and come together to fight a local dengue outbreak that has killed several and hospitalized dozens more. It is the first time that the students from the Sinhala-speaking stream and Tamil-speaking stream have spent that much time together, let alone work on a massive community service project that the whole town is proud of.

Meanwhile, in a school in the town of Mannar a group of young Tamil boys stay behind for hours after school to help a group of new students who had been recently admitted, and were severely lagging in their work, and were constantly looking uneasy and withdrawn. The new students are ex-LTTE child combatants, recently rehabilitated. The Mannar boys say that before they reconcile with other ethnicities, they need to bridge divisions among their own.

What do these young people have in common? They are all part of the war generation, and have been affected by the conflict in some way or another. Yet, they all have a deep love for their country and a passion to see it achieve greater things. They have all made a firm commitment to never let hatred and war divide Sri Lanka again. They are part of a generation that is intent on taking proactive steps towards reconciliation, responding to needs that they see evident in their daily lives. But would it have been possible before May 2009?

The absence of war

It has been a year since the end of a violent 30 year-long struggle; a struggle that exerted a considerable cost both on our country and its people. The President and his Government must be congratulated for defeating the elements that sought to divide our country, and for ushering in an era conducive for young people like us to believe in a better future. The 19th of May 2009 marked a crucial turning point in Sri Lanka’s history, and provided us with a new window of opportunity to rebuild as one nation. This military defeat of the LTTE saw Sri Lanka standing on the cusp of an era where an all too familiar polarized society could be replaced with one that is determined to correct the wrongs of the past, and commits to heal the wounds of the present. This is not just a task for the state, but for every citizen.

Reconciliation: Paving the way towards a lasting peace

A year ago Sri Lanka looked a very different place. The burdens of war made economic development cumbersome and rapid growth impossible. With the end of the war, however, we see great prospects for rebuilding lives, regaining livelihoods and broad economic progress. Although the conflict has ceased to exist in its violent form, traces of conflict, mistrust and division still remain. The need for reconciliation couldn’t be greater. Since the end of the war last year, ‘Sri Lanka Unites’ Youth Movement for Hope and Reconciliation has championed the cause of reconciliation in the grass-roots of Sri Lanka. It is now encouraging to see national-level attention to the issue moving beyond rhetoric, and ‘Sri Lanka Unites’ welcomes the appointment of a Presidential Commission to report on ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation’. We hope that the members of the Commission treats its weighty task as a decisive step in peace-building, allowing us to dig deeper beyond the surface of the conflict, recognize the mistakes of the past and pledge to not repeat them. It must initiate a healing process that enables divided societies to move forward in a spirit of true national reconciliation. Sri Lanka Unites eagerly awaits the results of the Commission’s deliberations, and sincerely hopes that the process is credible, comprehensive and inclusive in nature.

A call to care for all those affected

We commend the ongoing relief and rehabilitation efforts of the governments and donor agencies in the North and East. We urge the government to work closely with donor agencies to ensure that the remaining internally displaced Sri Lankans are resettled swiftly, with their basic needs adequately met, and ensure that those who have been recently resettled are provided adequate means to rebuild their lives. While commending the government and donors in aiding the disarmament, demilitarization and reintegration (DDR) process of ex-combatants, we hope that all civilians affected by war are given adequate psycho-social support and assistance to return to a productive life. The bloody war has left Sri Lanka with an unprecedented number of orphans and widows, who are alone and marginalized, and urgently need caring for. Whether it is the widow of a fallen soldier from Moneragala, or an orphaned child who lost her parents in the crossfire at Puthumatalan, families have been torn apart, and need urgent and careful healing. The disabled and maimed are too numerous, soldier and civilian alike. Only once we have in place a concerted effort to help them all rebuild their lives, can we truly celebrate the end of terror.

Civil Society must play its role

Sri Lankans must recognize that conflict-transformation is not a task exclusive to the government or wholly dependent on State initiatives. Waiting passively for national actors to foster reconciliation singlehandedly is naïve.

Civil society has a valuable and undeniable role in complementing, strengthening and accelerating the Government’s efforts. It is then our responsibility as citizens of this country to abandon our all too familiar ‘wait and see’ approach in favour of a proactive stance in promoting hope and reconciliation. Despite this strong civic role, this work cannot take place in isolation. If the state is not part of the process, there will be no process. We urge the government to actively and open-mindedly engage with organisations such as ours and others, which are taking a bottom-up approach to reconciliation and are supporting, rather than competing with or undermining, the government’s top-down approach.

The New Sri Lanka: Youth leading positive changes

The youth present a viable solution for the country’s post-war future. In fact, as we have seen through our work, youth not only demonstrate strong potential as future leaders, but as leaders and change-makers of today. It is the youth who will engage in reshaping the next decades, giving leadership to the positive changes that must take place if Sri Lanka is to achieve a sustainable peace. Unfortunately, while being worst affected by the conflict, the youth have often been the ‘missing link’ during the numerous peace-building efforts attempted over the years. Sri Lanka Unites seeks to change that.

We are a bold movement that aims to restore this ‘youth voice’ by empowering young people to champion the cause of reconciliation in their schools, homes and communities, adopting a focused effort to nation-building. The movement comprises of an ever-growing countrywide network of dynamic students, intent on fostering the spirit of reconciliation among fellow youth from every race, religion and region. Most young people in our Sri Lanka Unites movement know people who have endured great difficulties on account of the civil war, often having experienced great trials themselves, but they have resolved to take collective responsibility to overcome the violence of the past thirty years.

These young people have already embarked on a number of successful peace-building initiatives across the country. Through these, they are constantly demonstrating the power of young people in championing positive changes in their communities. They have inspired other youth as well as influenced local government and business leaders. These youth will eventually be the new generation of Sri Lankans - moderate and informed citizens who firmly believe in pluralism and collective prosperity. They are united in their pledge to make better choices and seek better solutions. We hope that our nation’s leaders find examples in them, and pledge towards this too.

Managing water, preventing floods

by Rajan Philips

Pre-monsoon rains in May wreaked havoc in as many as five Provinces. The Western Province was the worst, with all three Districts, Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara recording significantly high rainfall over long durations. Puttalam District in the Northwestern Province, Galle District in the Southern Province as well as parts of the Sabaragamuwa and Central Provinces also received heavy rainfalls.

The cumulative effects were severe and extensive. The rains added a few more hundred thousands Sri Lankans to the national category of "internally displaced people." Properties were damaged and roadways became inoperable. Many areas in Colombo were badly affected by the rain including: Jawatta Road, Thurstan Road, Torrington Avenue and Wijerama Mawatha areas, as well as Borella, Dematagoda, Grandpass, Kotahena, Maligawatta, Maradana, Narahenpita, Nugegoda, Pettah and Rajagiriya. Coastal areas were affected in Puttalam while the Munamalwatta River flooded many areas in Kalutara.

The national parliament, built on an island on a lake, had to be closed because of flooding fears. Government’s plans for the first anniversary showcasing of the war victory over the LTTE were literally rained out. Now the scramble is on to clean up the city in time for the 2010 International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards celebrations scheduled for June 3-5.

Many roads and roundabouts within Colombo went under water, and the Colombo-Kandy Road was impassable at several places. The airport operations at Katunayake were badly affected and flights had to be diverted to Chennai. Vehicular access to the airport was impossible at times and a helicopter service was provided for wealthier passengers to access the airport. The new airport road under construction for ten years was a major cause of floods in areas around the airport – Wattala, Mabole, Ja-Ela and Seeduwa areas. The half-built road was preventing the flow of water like a dam and had to be blasted by the Navy to create an outlet.

The intensity and the duration of the storm was unusual. The Colombo Observatory reportedly recorded 132 mms of rain between 8.30 a.m. and 2.30 pm in one day, while 24 hour monitoring outside Colombo ranged from 95 mm to 313 mm. According to Indian observations, Kerala and other parts in South India have been experiencing even more intense pre-monsoon rainfalls, but there have been no comparable reports of flooding and damages.

The major cause of the floods in Colombo has been identified as the inadequacy of the drainage system. Omar Kamil, Chief City Administrator of the Colombo Municipal Council, has drawn attention to the under-capacity of the City’s drainage system, built in 1938 when Colombo’s population was 80,000, to meet the current conditions when the resident population is ten times more and another half a million visitor population is also there to account for.

Put another way, the built-up areas in the City have increased considerably reducing the green space for infiltration and increasing the volume of water that has to be drained out after every rain. This phenomenon is not limited to the City and the flood experience of outer districts attests to that.

What is worse, even the existing drainage system has not been properly maintained. Apart from garbage and dumping, there has also been encroachment onto drainage facilities involving unauthorized construction. According to Mr. Kamil, longstanding drainage canals like the Torrington canal and St. Sebastian canal were not functioning to capacity, affecting the runoff to the sea and spilling over to roads adjacent properties.

Wetlands and swamps help in retaining rainwater and help avoid floods in addition to their numerous ecological benefits. Failure to protect and enhance these wetlands, and, worse, the blatant abuse of wetlands for official reclamation and unofficial dumping are also a major reason for the floods.

The Water Cycle

Even before the floodwaters could subside, political mud was found in enough quantities to throw around. There are also plenty of easy targets for casting blame. Shanty dwellers and local authorities have received the bulk of the blame, even though they are the least resourced and powerless in the pecking order. The Urban Development Authority has been singled out for special blame by Ministers and Secretaries, conveniently forgetting that the UDA has been under the charge of UPFA Ministers and officials for sixteen years.

The gravity of the situation forced the President to declare a moratorium on ministerial jaunts overseas, and give priority to disaster management and relief measures. As long term solutions, Ministers and municipal leaders are musing about uprooting shanty dwellers without compensation, revamping the drainage system according to a new Master Plan, and digging large ponds to retain rain water and prevent flooding. But these measures by themselves can be counterproductive.

Shanty dwelling is a social problem that needs to be addressed on its own and not as a flood preventing measure. In nature’s water-cycle involving evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and surface runoff/infiltration, social control is feasible and applied almost totally in regard to the end phases of runoff and infiltration. Even here, the extent of control is negligible to the natural water balance but is vital to the survival and prosperity of societies.

In the hoary tradition of Sri Lanka’s hydraulic civilization, the emphasis was on the control of surface runoff and retention of large bodies of water for cultivation and food production. In pre-modern times, vast open spaces also facilitated infiltration of rain water into ground water. Modernity and urbanization have shrunk the open spaces and replaced them with impermeable built environment, thereby reducing the scope and opportunities for infiltration, and increasing the amount of runoff.

Engineers found ways for conveying the runoff as quickly as possible as a fluid nuisance away from the built environment. But the conventional engineering approach to continuously create capacity for ever increasing runoff involving the building of large ponds and conveyance channels as well as widening rivers – has found to be counter productive in many instances.

The more sustainable approach is to promote development and building activities that have low impacts on the natural system, and to undertake measures that will enhance the natural system – particularly the wetlands and rivers and waterways. Central to this approach is also the realization that rainfalls should not be treated as inconvenient runoffs causing floods, but a valuable resource that can be used in many ways. The same realization underpinned the old hydraulic civilization.

After defeat I wanted to quit but the party wanted me to stay – Ranil

An Incisive Interview with Ranil Wickremasinghe

By C.A.Chandrprema

Question: Who, or what, was responsible for the numerous defeats that the UNP had to suffer for the past fifteen years or more? We are, of course, aware that this losing trend began before you became the party leader. But after you took over the party, it has continued ... ?

Answer: This party has suffered two major splits from which it has taken time to recover. The first one was in 1951, when S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike broke away. With that we lost our position as the major party in the country. It was only in 1977 that we managed to regain our former position. We were, of course, in government in between in 1960 for a very short while because the other side was divided but we lost again once they united. Then in 1965, we had a narrow victory. But it was only in 1977 that we regained our predominant position, which we held until 1993. But, by that time events had taken their toll on the party. The communal riots of 1983, the conflict in the north, the uprising in the south, and finally the impeachment motion against president Premadasa.

The number of votes we got at the 1994 parliamentary election were far less than the votes president Jayewardene had received at the 1982 presidential election. We came back to the 1982 position in terms of votes only in 1999, but by that time, the number of voters in the country had increased. We were unlucky in that election – if not for the assassination attempt on Chandrika it was becoming a close run election, and I felt I had a lead. In 2001 we won, but had the JVP and the PA come together, we would have been in a minority. In 2004, they came together and we lost some votes to the Hela Urumaya, but we picked up again by about a million votes in 2005, and had the Tamils been allowed to vote we would have won. To pick up a million votes within about 15 months was a great achievement. Then again events changed and with the end of the war, President Rajapaksa went for elections early because he thought if he held on for two more years, he might not be able to make it. But, the situation will change, and we have to plan for that. It is now a new fight in the post war scenario. I think we are all responsible for what happened, the set backs as well as the victories.

Q. It may be the case that the UNP missed the target narrowly at the presidential election of 1999 and again in 2005. The latter instance was very close fought election and had the LTTE allowed the Tamils to vote, one never knows which way the cookie would have crumbled. Despite that, there is this feeling that if a party leader loses for whatever reason, that he should resign ...?

A. After 2005, I offered to move away but the reaction of the party was different, that’s why I stayed. This time also after the presidential elections, I told the Working Committee that I was willing to step down, but the Working Committee said I should stay on. After a setback, the leader should offer to go and allow the party to decide. I have never moved away from that.

Q. With each defeat that the party suffers under your stewardship, there is a toll on credibility. Are you conscious of the self-fulfilling nature of that process?

A. Defeat takes a toll. But, credibility is a thing that comes back. All I am concerned with now is how to change the party to meet the new situation and I am dependent on what the grassroots says. I have never tried to hang on. I asked the Working Committee about what I should do and if they felt I was a hindrance it was best for me to move out before the Reforms Committee started their work. But they said no, and I stayed on.

Q. If the Working Committee asked you to stay on, after 2005, that was to lead the party. But, when it came to the last presidential election, you took a back seat and the UNP backed Sarath Fonseka’s candidacy. Now that too brings down the credibility of the party for not having someone to field at a presidential election. Also it was a major mistake. People like myself could see a mile away that he was not going to get what you got in 2005, and I said so in print. So how could the party make such a miscalculation?

A. Generally, there was the feeling that we should have a common candidate at that election. The JVP had said that they were willing to support a common candidate and that view was also prevalent in the UNP. Actually there were two views in the UNP with some saying that there should be a UNP candidate and others saying that there should be a common candidate. I asked them for their views and a lot of them were for the common candidate. I felt then that we should go ahead and back the common candidate.

Q. But you are the leader of a political party in a democracy. You are also a prominent member of the International Democratic Union. So you can’t be a passive onlooker in this. Yet you fielded a man like Sarath Fonseka who is fresh out of the military and has not been house-trained into the ways of democracy. You heard the things he said on the public platform. You saw the damage that he did to the entire common Opposition and to himself as well with such pronouncements. So how is it that you countenanced the fielding of such an individual at a presidential election?

A. We disagree on the assessment of Fonseka. But I don’t want to talk about that now. We had taken an earlier decision which I forgot to mention, that the executive presidency should be abolished. This had been discussed even with Prof. Tissa Vitarana. So, we felt that if the common candidate was getting everyone together to go in immediately for parliamentary elections after abolishing the executive presidency with the common candidate not exercising the powers of the executive presidency for more than a few months, that would be okay.

If the UNP put forward its own candidate, the votes would have been split between us and the JVP, which was also asking for the abolishing of the executive presidency. The other point was that because of this decision to abolish the executive presidency, had the UNP contested and won, I would have had to step down to contest the prime ministership. This was a major factor which made me think that if we were going to abolish the executive presidency anyway, and there was an agreement with the JVP and many other groups to run a common candidate, and the winner would not be called upon to run a government but would have to form an all party government to call for parliamentary elections, it would be the party that won the parliamentary election that would govern the country.

Q. You seem to seriously believe that had Fonseka been elected president he would have abolished the executive presidency and relinquished power… ?

A. They would have had to immediately go in for parliamentary elections. There was no way of putting that off. The parliament could have gone on only until the 22nd of April. So, we had to dissolve parliament and the new parliament would have to be elected. Once elected, the president had no way of dissolving the newly elected parliament for one year. So, the new Cabinet could have brought forward the amendment (to abolish the executive presidency) and if there had been a two thirds majority, it would have been carried. The president would have had no role to play in that process. But, it would have been better to do it with the agreement of the executive president than have him oppose it. We backed Fonseka because he gave us the assurance that he would cooperate in the abolition of the executive presidency.

Q. Let’s discuss what many people see as major blunders that the UNP has made over the past few years. Do you think that the policy the UNP followed with regard to the war was the correct line to take?

A. We had to deal with issues of terrorism and the causes for it. We felt that while you deal with terrorism by military means – even when I was prime minister we had made provision for it if the ceasefire broke down – you should use the amount of force that was required at that time. Dealing with terrorism did not in any way justify the suppression of the media and certain restrictions on liberties in the country which had no connection with the campaign against the LTTE.

Secondly, we felt that it was best that the main parties agree to whatever political solution that was there and to put it forward early because then the LTTE had to say whether it was going to accept it or not. That would have created an opinion among Tamils that what the LTTE was doing was wrong. One of the problems that we face now is not having had some solution on the table earlier. Now, the war is over and we have to look at the reconciliation process. It’s a question of how you deal with issues of terrorism. International terrorism has to be dealt with in a different way. When it comes to domestic terrorism, the underlying causes have to be dealt with. If however terrorism does not go away, then you have to look at the military option.

Q. In 1971, J. R. Jayewardene supported the SLFP government when they had to face the first JVP insurgency. Even after he came into power in 1977, he didn’t initiate any inquiries into the way in which that insurgency was crushed. So, his position was very principled. He supported the democratically elected government against terrorists. What people say is that you didn’t support the war effort in quite the same way... ?

A. In 1995, when the war resumed, we supported the government and the main thing they wanted us to do was to sit down and discuss the new Constitution. We agreed to many things, but we could not agree to the concept of the union of regions. When that was taken out we did come to an agreement but the last minute inclusion of provisions for the continuation of the executive presidency, was a major issue for us. Other than that as far as the war was concerned, unless civil liberties were trampled, we did not vote against the Emergency. Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga at that time and Mahinda Rajapaksa later said that we were not supporting them.

Every government says that of the Opposition. But when president Rajapaksa wanted to bring out a political solution and wanted us to sign the joint MOU in 2006, I signed it. When the war was on we took up the question of restrictions on civil liberties which affected not only the media but even the political parties. Some of the abductions in the south were of Tamils whom we knew were not involved with the LTTE in any way. We also raised issues about how the civilians were being looked after. Other than that we have not in any way opposed the war effort, but we had a different view on strategy. Any Opposition has to have a different view on strategy. Tell me, where have I ever said we shouldn’t fight? Dealing with terrorism is very complex. You have to deal with it both politically as well as from the security angle.

Q. But the feeling in the country is that you and certain other members of the UNP actually ridiculed the war effort. Those comments on Thoppigala that you made and other comments about Alimankada and Pamankada and any gona being able to fight a war have taken their toll in terms of public perception... ?

A. Spin is a part of the game today! All I said was that Thoppigala had first been cleaned out during the time of President Premadasa and it was a jungle and it had been done by the commandos. I was going on statements that president Premadasa and Janaka Perera made at that time. Even today General Sarath Fonseka agrees to that.

Q. Because of that ceasefire agreement that you signed, people have the impression that you are an appeaser and not someone who fights terrorism. In hindsight do you see the ceasefire agreement as a mistake?

A. All I can do is to quote Prabhakaran who called it a trap and me a fox and preferred to be with president Rajapaksa. By 2000, the army had suffered major setbacks. But because of the assistance that we got it became a different fighting force by 2004. The army had to take time to train and the economy had to be put back on track. The Tamils also had to see that there was a genuine effort at peace. And as for the failure of the ceasefire, the fault lies with Prabhakaran and not with me. If you ask any army officer he will tell you that during Operation Jayasikuru in the late 1990s the fighting was very intense in the Vanni, but this time the same commitment was not to be seen among Tamil youth.

Q. When the LTTE unilaterally broke off the peace talks in 1995, Chandrika Kumaratunga came out fighting. She called Prabhakaran a megalomaniac and launched military operations against them, the highlight of which was the capture of Jaffna. But you didn’t react in quite the same way when the LTTE violated the ceasefire, did you?

A. There was no breach of the ceasefire agreement when I was Prime Minister. The sea was not covered by the agreement, and we told them that. They had a different interpretation and they paid the price for it. President Kumaratunga captured Jaffna but what happened thereafter? The military suffered a setback. I had to take over from that point onwards. The army was trained and for the first time we could get weapons from India, we had intelligence, we got help from America and from Europe. It was because of this help that the LTTE funding network was broken up in the West. That’s why they could not get any missiles. From what I understand, the LTTE smuggled the planes into the country in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster.

Q. Are you suggesting that your ulterior motive for entering into the ceasefire agreement was to destroy the LTTE by other means?

A. I wanted to bring peace, but I don’t know what Prabhakaran’s intention was when he entered into it. If he wanted peace, the path was open.

Q. There is this perception in the country about the way you went about implementing the ceasefire agreement and the way you reacted to the war...?

A. It’s no longer a question of the war but how you face the future. Those are the issues. It was said of J. R. Jayewardene that he was the most unpopular politician, but he won the largest majority. I am not saying that of myself but people said he could never win an election. The public perception is that the UNP is good at economic management. That is a plus point. That is also one of the reasons why Mahinda Rajapaksa went in for elections early. There is also the question of how we are going to face the international community. On those fronts the UNP has a good track record.

Q. If that is so why did the 2001 government fall in just two and a half years?

A. We had a tough time as we took off. For the first time the economy had experienced negative growth. Our opponents were worried that if the money started coming in, we could not be shifted out. There was also the fact that the PA and JVP together still had more votes than we.

Q. Let’s move on to the internal reforms within the UNP. Are you satisfied that these latest proposals will lead to a substantial change in the fortunes of the party?

A. The first step will be the amendments to the party constitution. That by itself will not lead to victory. There has to be unity in the party. Then we have to go down to the grassroots. Our grassroots organisations have been weak over the last three to four years. Some of our organisers have neglected things. If you don’t attend to that and to political education and grassroots level propaganda, nothing will happen. Generally, the voter turnout is around 75% at a parliamentary election. We didn’t see that this time. Nearly 2.5 million didn’t vote. The government peaked at the presidential election. Those who didn’t vote didn’t vote for the UNP either. Some people had lost faith in the system. There are also the new voters who are going to come into the system and who would have experienced only UPFA rule except for the two and a half years that we held power. So we have not got to aim at that. You need new faces, both at the top and the grassroots level together with the committed experienced people.

Q. Are you happy at the introduction of the elective principle in making leadership level appointments?

A. The elective principle has always been there. Even now the power lies with the Executive Committee. This power has always been delegated to the Working Committee. Any election at the national executive level would have ended up not in electing a leader but in a whole lot of stay orders. So we felt that this provision had to be changed. There is another principle that has been brought in that the election of leaders should be as far as possible by unanimous choice. It is difficult for a party to be changing leaders annually. A new leader especially should have the stability to carry on. All these have been major concerns and that is what is being discussed now.

Q. In the various arguments that went back and forth about the need for party reform, there was the allegation levelled at you in a weekend newspaper, that you have been keeping the bulk of the money that comes into the party at election times. The sums mentioned range from hundreds of millions to billions.

A. This issue came up at a Working Committee meeting. The Reforms Committee was mandated to go into what changes should occur in the way financial matters are handled in the party. That will be stage two of the reforms. I don’t keep money. As far as my assets are concerned, I have filed the details in accordance with the law. The party accounts are handled by the Treasurer and these have been duly audited. At election time, the candidates get the bulk of the money. At presidential elections, there is a committee appointed to run the campaign and some people are put in charge of the funding. Money is collected in different ways. Sometimes people come and give money or they undertake certain tasks – if you need vehicles, they will provide you with vehicles. The presidential candidate does not have the time to be looking into money matters. Whatever he gets is passed on to those handling finances.

In 1982, Mr. Panditharatne and a few others handled it. In most elections, your expenditure is more than what you have got. If you win it’s easy to raise the money to pay but if you lose it will take longer. In 2005, both presidential candidates spent more than they received. In 1982, president Jayewardene was the only one who had a surplus. He didn’t tell us the amount, but he told some key people and said that he would be spending that money to build the new party headquarters in Kotte. I have told those responsible to tell the Reforms Committee how much had been received and how it was spent at the last presidential and parliamentary elections. We are far more transparent than some other organisations. Look at the banks. Details have been coming out worldwide that the banks were concealing accounts. This has been happening even in Sri Lanka. In 1994, when we wanted to go into the affairs of banks they were against it. In one case it was terrible, the chief man in the bank had given a lot of money to a Korean company and the bank nearly went down and Mrs. Kumaratunga had to sort it out after 2004. And they talk of transparency! I am surprised at this type of thing. Then about the allegation made in that weekend newspaper – only one newspaper had made it and this newspaper had received money from the UNP for Sarath Fonseka’s presidential campaign.

Q. Was it you or Sarath Fonseka who gave the money?

A. I didn’t give that money, but it was from the UNP side. The money was raised. I also told some people. The money was given to them in three tranches. Now they have got a businessman to throw mud at me and when this businessman gave an interview to that newspaper in his office, the editor of the newspaper and the head of the company were also present in the room, but that is not revealed in the interview. So where is transparency? We are the only party that has said that there must be limits on expenditure and there must be public funding. The problem now is that big money can take over political parties. We saw this from the fights over preferential votes.

In India you can see how big money is taking over political parties. That way, I must compliment Germany, where political parties are publicly funded and today they can take on the financial sector and impose a tax without a problem. Whatever the business community gives, is also what they have got from their customers. There should also be a cap on donations. In the USA you can’t donate more than $ 5,000. The media should take up this issue. In Jamaica, the chief drug smuggler to the USA backed the prime minister. The USA wanted this man extradited but the PM refused despite the protests of the Opposition. Then the US Congress threatened to cut off aid and the PM reluctantly agreed to extradite the man. Then fighting erupted in the capital the government lost control of parts of the city, the ruling party split and the man in question is still missing. In many parts of the world, there are worries about the underworld or big money taking over political parties.

Q. You are now leading a party that had been resoundingly beaten at elections and for the next five years or more there will be no major elections. What does the future hold for you and the party?

A. We have to see how the post war scenario unfolds. It’s a bit to early to say now either from our side or the government side. ~ courtesy: The Island ~

Louise Arbour on the responses thus far to ICG report on Sri Lanka

Louise Arbour, President and CEO of Crisis Group, on the report "War Crimes in Sri Lanka" and the Sri Lankan government's response to the report thus far:

Video on ICG website:

ICG Video, Released on 25 May 2010

May 28, 2010

US State Dept Video & Transcript: Secretary Clinton Meets With Sri Lankan Minister of External Affairs G.L. Peiris

Sourece: US State Department

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets With Sri Lankan Minister of External Affairs G.L. Peiris at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC May 28, 2010:

SECRETARY CLINTON: I am delighted to welcome Dr. Peiris here to the State Department. I first met him 15 years ago when I was in Colombo, Sri Lanka. And it is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to discuss Sri Lanka’s efforts to rebuild after more than two decades of violence and terrorist activity that have deprived the Sri Lankan people of the progress they deserve. Dr. Peiris is a capable, experienced public servant whose leadership is helping to move Sri Lanka toward renewal and reconciliation and, we hope, to greater peace, prosperity, and security for the future.

The United States has long been a friend of Sri Lanka. Our countries share a history of democratic institutions, and we have an active USAID program that has invested more than $1.9 billion in Sri Lanka since 1956 and is currently helping to create new opportunities for people who were displaced by the conflict.

Since the LTTE terrorist group was defeated one year ago, USAID has rebuilt or repaired seven schools and a hospital damaged by the conflict, launched public-private partnerships in northern and eastern Sri Lanka to create the equivalent of 5,000 full-time jobs in former conflict zones, supported work training for young people to spur economic development, and provided extensive aid and assistance to internally displaced people seeking to return home. The United States will continue to provide Sri Lanka with humanitarian and de-mining assistance to help heal the wounds of war and bring lasting peace and prosperity to the country.

As part of this effort, the minister and I discussed Sri Lanka’s Reconciliation Commission. The United States strongly supports political and ethnic reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Such commissions of inquiry have played an important role in advancing accountability and redressing wrongs in other countries emerging from periods of internal strife. Sri Lanka’s commission should apply the best practices from these other commissions and should have the mandate to investigate any allegations of war crimes.

We also discussed the issue of internally displaced persons with the minister. There has been tremendous progress and many thousands and thousands of such internally displaced persons have returned home. And we discussed the need to continue the safe, dignified and voluntary return to homes. Sri Lanka has made progress, and we will continue to support efforts to safeguard the rights of IDPs and complete their relocation.

After decades of LTTE rule in the north, the Sri Lankan Government is committed to re-establishing democracy. I was very pleased by the briefing I received from the minister about the many steps that are being taken to return to democratic order. Sri Lanka will remain a strong, united country by drawing on the strength of all of its citizens, valuing the diversity of its people, and ensuring equal rights for everyone.

So once again, I want to thank Minister Peiris for our productive discussion today and commend him for his commitment to the reconciliation process. The United States pledges our continued support to Sri Lanka, and wishes the Sri Lankan people and the government success in this very challenging but important work ahead.
Mr. Minister.

MINISTER PEIRIS: Let me begin by thanking Secretary Clinton very sincerely for her initiative in inviting me here to the State Department at this very critical juncture in our country’s contemporary history.

It’s a time of great promise and hope for Sri Lanka. New vistas of opportunity are opening up in every sector of life in my country. Today, we have two singular advantages. One is an honorable and enduring peace consequent upon the eradication of terrorism. The second strength we have is an unprecedented degree of political stability which the country has not achieved during the last 25 years. As Secretary Clinton pointed out, we are proud of the tremendous progress that we have made during the short space of one year.

With regard to the resettlement of internally displaced people, an excruciatingly difficult problem, we were not really well equipped to handle it at the time we were called upon to do so unexpectedly. We have been able to resettle people in their natural habitat. But we have not been content with that. It is not a question of just resettling people physically, but we want to ensure a restoration of livelihoods so that they’re able to live their lives with dignity without bitterness or rancor. That’s very essential.

The other challenge, of course, was the reactivation of the electoral process which had been dormant for a long period because of the turbulence in that part of the country. And there is a need today for political space to be provided for the emergence of a legitimate democratic Tamil leadership, particularly at the local government level, because the LTTE had destroyed the leaders of the Tamil community just as much as they had annihilated the leaders of other communities.

And one of our principal challenges in Sri Lanka is to revive, to strengthen, institutions of democracy. And now that the country is returning to normal, I expressed President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s thanks to Hillary Clinton for the steps that have been taken by the State Department to remove the Travel Warning on Sri Lanka that is a recognition of the improvement, the basic (inaudible) improvement of the security situation.

The government went to parliament just three weeks ago to remove more than 70 percent of the emergency regulations under which the country had been governed for as long a period as almost five years, and this demonstrates the political resolve of the government to expunge these regulations as soon as possible, not to apply them for one moment longer than they are necessary. We believe, Madam, that there is a strong correlation between economic contentment and political motivation. As we move forward towards a political motivation as we move forward towards a political resolution of the country, we want to ensure that the people of those areas live with a sense of dignity and well being. So these are some of the challenges that we are facing in our country at present, and this is the trajectory that we envision for the future.

We have, in Sri Lanka, a very committed, courageous political leadership that is capable of grappling with these problems. And we look forward to a multidimensional relationship with the United States on the lines of what is envisioned in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee report of Senator John Kerry and Senator Lugar, who have called for a broadening and a deepening of the relationship between our two counties at this time. I think there’s a role for American companies to come in and to participate vigorously in the rebuilding of infrastructure, in the resuscitation of democratic institutions. All of this is possible and we look forward, Madam, to a rich and deep relationship with the United States in the new and exciting situation, which has arisen in my country.
Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Minister.

MR. CROWLEY: We have time for questions (inaudible).

QUESTION: My question is for both of you and it concerns the reconciliation commission that Sri Lanka is setting up. Human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, today basically said that the parameters of this commission are much too narrow and that there really should be an independent international investigation of the alleged war crimes that occurred at the – in the last month of the war. And I just wonder what your reflections are on that.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the United States supports the creation of the reconciliation commission. It’s a commission on lessons learned and reconciliation. The end of the conflict in Sri Lanka is, as the minister said, a promising opportunity to move forward on ensuring greater respect for the human rights of all Sri Lankans.

Experience in other countries has shown that such a commission that has the credibility and legitimacy within the country has a valuable role in advancing accountability. And we are very supportive of the approach taken by the Sri Lankans. We, of course, will continue to work with them and to observe this commission. We expect that it will be given a broad enough mandate with the resources necessary to be able to follow the trail of any evidence that is presented.

It is especially important that commission members be and are perceived as being independent, impartial, and competent. And the minister has told me in our meeting that that’s exactly the kind of people that are being appointed to this commission. We expect that the mandate will enable them to fully investigate serious allegations of violations and to make public recommendations that commission members and potential witnesses must enjoy adequate and effective protection, and the commission must be able to work with the governments so that the government will give due consideration to the recommendations. And we expect that this commission will reflect the desires and needs of the citizens of Sri Lanka who were, after all, the primary victims of this long and terrible conflict.

I think that the steps that have been taken by the Sri Lankan Government are commendable, and we are supporting that effort. The minister and I talked about the continuing role of the United Nations, which intends to have an independent oversight role. But I think that this commission holds promise and we hope and expect that it will fulfill that promise.

MINISTER PEIRIS: Well, I think the point of the (inaudible) is the observation by Secretary Clinton that the paramount consideration is the needs and the priorities of the people of Sri Lanka. Commissions of this nature have made a useful contribution to healing processes in other parts of the world, in post-conflict scenarios. But the focus has to be on the local culture, on the local situation.

So it is our firm conviction that the commission which has been set up in Sri Lanka consisting of the people of stature and independence with a mandate that is broad enough to address the critical issues – the mandate specifically empowers the commission to give their minds to these issues. Adequate financial resources have been placed at the disposal of the commission, and the commission enjoys a broad measure of public support within Sri Lanka, which is a decisive consideration.

So our plea is that we be given the space to allow the commission to begin its work without impediment or without hindrance. And certainly, along the road, if we feel that there is a need for support, then we would certainly be happy to engage in a dialogue with the United Nations to get the benefit of the wisdom and the experience of the United Nations.

But we think that at the start, the commission must be given every encouragement to set about its work, and there must be a presumption that it is going to succeed. We must begin on that note. It’s going to succeed. We want it to succeed. And we want all our friends abroad to support us vigorously and unreservedly in that endeavor.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll go to Charley (inaudible).

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, thank you. So many eyes today on the oil spill, and we know there have been some offers of assistance from other countries. From where you stand, from your perspective, do you want more offers of assistance? And are you disappointed that more hasn’t been accepted by the United States and the oil company, as so many people in the United States are clamoring for more booms, et cetera? And also, what message do you have to America’s neighbors who may experience the ill effects of the spill?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Charley, the United States Government is working every second of every minute to mitigate the effects of this terrible oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We are very grateful for the generous offers of assistance that we’ve received from 17 countries and the European Union, including the European Maritime Safety Agency, the environment unit of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Environment Program, and the International Maritime Organization.

Countries from all over the world have offered general assistance and then some have made very specific offers, including experts in various aspects of oil spill impacts, research, and technical expertise and equipment, including booms, dispersants, oil pumps and skimmers. And we are very thankful for all of these efforts. The U.S. Coast Guard, which is the lead agency in the U.S. Government’s response efforts, continues to monitor developments, evaluate specific needs, assess offers of assistance, and determine our response.

While no offers of direct material assistance have been required by the United States Government thus far, we have accepted and are grateful for assistance in the form of notification regarding the spill sent by the International Maritime Organization to its member states and coordination of EU offers of assistance. And BP has accepted boom and skimmers offered by the governments of Mexico and Norway in coordination with the Unified Area Command. We are in very close, constant communication with other countries that border the Gulf.

This is just a terrible environmental disaster and we are working very hard with all of our partners to try to contain it, prevent further damage. But because of the extraordinary nature of this particular disaster, it is taking some time to fully bring to bear all of the material that is needed. But as the President said yesterday, this is the highest priority from the President on down to every federal government representative that is in the Gulf trying to work to mitigate the impact. But we are, as I said in the beginning, very grateful for the concern and the offers from our partners and friends around the world.

MR. CROWLEY: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, are you sending that (inaudible) to Sri Lanka for humanitarian aid?

SECRETARY CLINTON: We are continuing to provide to humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka. We are doing so as a part of our very long partnership with Sri Lanka. And we support the Sri Lankan Government’s efforts to expedite the delivery of such humanitarian assistance. As I said, the number of internally displaced persons has dropped dramatically. We are still providing humanitarian assistance to those who remain in the camps, but we’re moving far beyond that to repair schools, to help with infrastructure, to create jobs.

So the emergency humanitarian aid has moved to be broader than just the immediate necessities because, as the minister has said, we agree with the Government of Sri Lanka that it is not enough merely to return people to their homes. We have to help them recreate livelihoods, we have to rebuild and repair schools, we have to provide the necessities of life to the people who are returning after this conflict finally ended, and help the Sri Lankan Government and the people of Sri Lanka build a firm foundation for peace, security, and prosperity.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you all.

The politics of transnational Tamil Eelam Government

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

A significant event in Tamil transnational politics occurred a fortnight ago in historic Philadelphia city in the US state of Pennsylvania. About 70 -75 persons gathered on Monday May 17th for a three-day conclave. The venue was the National Convention Center situated on Philadelphia's Independence Mall at 525 Arch Street.


[Click to continue reading on dbsjeyaraj.com]

'Trust' is the only process we now depend on after defeating 'terrorism'- President Rajapaksa

Following is the full text of interview BY Al Jazeera with President Mahinda Rajapaksa aired on 27 May.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
Welcome back to 101 East.

This week we are in Sri Lanka as the nation marks its first anniversary after the end of the near 30 year civil war.

Speaking exclusively to us, is President Mahinda Rajapaksa. One year on after declaring victory over the Tamil Tigers, how do you think your country is doing?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
Now people are moving freely, moving from north to south, south to north. So people are mixing, so they do their businesses. People are getting used to each other, they've started to trust each other, so this is the only process that we can depend on.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
But a year on, some people are saying that you have not addressed the grievances that started this war in the first place. The Tamil community still feels marginalized. How do you ....

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
I don't agree with that, because some politicians are making these issues. Or some NGO's. Now if you go to the camps and if you ask them what do you want first? They will say I want my house back, I want a job, I want to educate my children. They will not ask for anything else. So first what we must do is resettle these people. Give them the facilities, give them the things that are enjoyed by others in the south. Why not? Let them enjoy that first, then the people will... once they elect their own people, their representatives, into parliament, into provincial governments.... And then we can discuss with them, we can have a dialogue.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
What do you then say to the Tamil diaspora who are overseas who say you are not doing anything for the Tamil community?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
Unfortunately, this is the problem, because they don't want to come back to Sri Lanka. They are enjoying themselves. They have never visited Jaffna. They have never visited beyond Colombo to the north. They have not met the people. They have not discussed with them. Now I am meeting the common man, whether in Jaffna, or Trincomalee or Batticaloa. When I speak to them, I speak to the ordinary people. The masses. But find out from these people whether they have been to Jaffna, whether they have been to Kilinochchi.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
You now have Tamil groups who say they want representation. You have Tamil politicians who say they want a bigger representation of the community. How can you trust these people?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
I trust them. They have to trust us also. I trust them, so that's why I called them to have a dialogue with me. Otherwise I wouldn't have, because I know that they, most of these politicians who supported the Tiger movement, the terrorists, they represented them in parliament. So now it's up to us. So we have called them. They have to come with us. They must understand our difficulties also....the difficulties of Government. They must compromise, we are ready to compromise. Because for me whether they are Tamil, Muslim or Sinhalese, it's immaterial.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
You inherited this long drawn out war. You ended this war. Do you think, in your mind, was it inevitable to lose that many civilian lives, especially towards the end of the war?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
I deny it, because we never killed any civilians.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
You can categorically, confidently say that the Sri Lankan army never targeted civilians?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:

Fauziah Ibrahim:
How sure are you? How can you be so sure? It's a war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
It's a war, you're right. By the way the people came to this side, to the government-controlled areas, you can see. If Sri Lankan army acted in a different way, against the civilians, they would never have trusted us. They wouldn't have walked into our camps. 300,000 people. So that shows our army, they trusted our army. Otherwise they wouldn't have walked in. This is why I'm saying this.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
If you are so confident that the Sri Lankan army did not commit any crimes, or war crimes during the conflict, why not allow for an independent body to come in and make their own independent investigation?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
This is an internal matter. I don't want my internal matters to be inquired by any other country or any other NGO's. So we will look after that. That's why we appointed a commission so if there is any violations, we will see.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
So you're saying that this commission that you've appointed will investigate alleged war crimes?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
If there is anything like that, they will come and complain to us and we will enquire into it.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
Will you take action against those who have committed these crimes?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
Yes. Certainly, certainly.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
Even if they're on your side? Even if they are connected to you?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
If it is a crime, whether it is my relation, or my army commander or anybody. It is immaterial. It's a crime, crime is a crime, so we have to punish them. We can't punish a person for defeating terrorism. So if the international community wants to punish Sri Lanka for defeating terrorism, I'm not for that.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
You can understand the international community's concern though. If you have an internal investigation, a government that is investigating itself. Where is the transparency? How can we be sure there will be .....

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
You don't ask that from the Americans! You don't go and ask that of the British about Iraq, or Afghanistan or what is happening in Pakistan? Be fair with us...be fair with us... don't treat Sri Lanka like this because we defeated terrorism. Unfortunately, other countries couldn't defeat terrorism yet, although we have done that.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
Earlier this year, you had an overwhelming electoral victory. And so did some of your family members as well. Now some of your family members are in very high positions in your cabinet. You have brothers in the Economic Development posts, in the Defense sec post and speaker of Parliament. .....there are some 300 other relations who occupy important government positions.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
Who gave those figures? 300 relations ... I will tell you, the whole country is related to me. The whole country.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
It's a huge family?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
Huge family.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
But you can see how, there is this accusation of nepotism ....

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
How can you say that?

Fauziah Ibrahim:
Because your family members are in very high positions ...

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
No, no they have been elected by the people....

Fauziah Ibrahim:
.... Very important positions .....

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
No, only one! Now he is a minister, I have appointed Gothabaya as the Defense Secretary, yes.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
That's a very important position..

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
Yes, why not? I have to trust my Defense Secretary.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
And the only person you can trust is those in your family?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
No, No ... He is capable, and he has shown that he is capable and I can trust him. So why not?

Fauziah Ibrahim:
What do you then say to critics who say that you are now building the Rajapaksa political dynasty?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
I won't. Why should I? It's up to the people. People are electing them, what can I do about it? When they don't want them, they will kick them out. All Rajapaksas will be kicked out. So they have to deliver. If Rajapaksas are delivering, what else do they want?

Fauziah Ibrahim:
Will you be changing the constitution to get rid of the president's term limit?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
It's up to the parliament.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
Are you in favour of it?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
Yes, I don't mind if it's the Presidential system, or the Prime Minister system. I have no problem, because I'm going to win again.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
You're confident of this? Why do you say that?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
People will trust me. I know that people will trust me. When I asked for two thirds majority, they gave me.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
It has been said that you have no tolerance towards any form of opposition, any form of political opposition.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
I completely reject that. This is all propaganda.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
By whom?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
By the opposition. By the opposition and the NGO's who are being paid by some of these other organizations.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
Going forward and as Sri Lanka tries to rebuild itself after a near 30 year war, and reconciliation as you say is trying to take place. What do you think is the biggest obstacle that faces your people?

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
We have to build that trust as soon as possible and it's building up. This is the challenge we are ready to take. So, after 30 years we took the challenge to defeat terrorism, so we took that challenge and won. Now it is the economic development, so we do that. Within one year, we resettle the people. 90% have been resettled. By December, everyone will be resettled in this country.

Fauziah Ibrahim:
Mr President, thanks for speaking with us.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa:
Thank you.

HRW: Letter to Secretary Clinton on the Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)

Dear Secretary of State Clinton,

We are writing in advance of your meeting with the Sri Lankan Minister of External Affairs, GL Peiris, to encourage strong US action to end impunity for war crimes in Sri Lanka.

One year after the end of the armed conflict, Sri Lanka has failed to undertake any meaningful steps to investigate serious allegations of laws-of-war violations, despite repeated calls from the international community to do so. A commission of inquiry that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa created on May 15, 2010, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), is not empowered to investigate such allegations and seems designed to deflect international criticism rather than to uncover facts and ensure accountability.

Research conducted by Human Rights Watch and other organizations has established that both government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) committed grave violations of the laws of war during the decades-long internal armed conflict, which ended in May last year. Violations by both sides were particularly widespread during the last months of hostilities. According to a conservative United Nations estimate, 7,000 civilians were killed and more than 13,000 injured from January to May 2009.

The international community, including the United States, has on several occasions called upon the Sri Lankan government to comply with international law and investigate alleged violations and to hold perpetrators accountable. Just days before the conflict ended, President Barack Obama called on the Sri Lankan government to end the indiscriminate shelling of civilians. The US Congress expressed its concern about alleged violations by directing the Secretary of State to submit a report detailing incidents that might constitute violations of international law. In October 2009, Stephen Rapp, the US ambassador at large for war crimes issues, called on Sri Lanka to conduct a "genuine" investigation into allegations of war crimes shortly after his office released a congressionally mandated report on violations of international humanitarian law in the final months of the conflict. In December 2009, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake said that violators should be held accountable. Also in December, Congress directed the State Department to examine what measures Sri Lanka has undertaken to address allegations contained in Ambassador Rapp's October report.

Calls for investigation have also come from the UN. A joint statement by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President Rajapaksa on May 23, 2009 underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The statement said that "[t]he Government will take measures to address those grievances."

However, one year after what the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs chief, John Holmes, described as a "bloodbath" in northern Sri Lanka, there has been no investigation or accountability for the widespread violations committed by government forces and the LTTE. High-ranking Sri Lankan officials continue to insist that no violations took place during the finals months of hostilities, dismissing overwhelming evidence as falsified or invented as part of a conspiracy against Sri Lanka.

On May 10, 2010, US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, welcomed Sri Lanka's intention to establish a commission of inquiry, listing a number of criteria by which to assess whether a commission of inquiry would play a valuable role in advancing accountability. Now that the LLRC has been created, it is clear that it falls short of many of the criteria that Rice listed.

The LLRC's mandate-on the failure of the 2002 ceasefire-is largely unrelated to the massive abuses by both government forces and the LTTE in the last months of hostilities, and the commission does not have an explicit mandate to investigate alleged violations of international law. The terms of reference do not provide for adequate victim and witness protection, the lack of which has significantly hampered previous Sri Lankan commissions.

The commission's newly appointed chairman has stated that proceedings will not be public, raising concerns that the findings and recommendations will not be made public either. President Rajapaksa has yet to publish the report of the 2006 Presidential Commission of Inquiry almost one year after that commission ended its work. The government has also not published the findings from a committee established in November 2009 to examine allegations of laws-of-war violations set out in a report produced last year by the US State Department, despite an April 2010 deadline.

There are also questions about the independence and impartiality of the LLRC. Chitta Ranjan de Silva, the commission's chairman, is a former attorney general who came under serious criticism for his office's alleged interference in the work of the 2006 Presidential Commission of Inquiry. The attorney general's role was one of the main reasons why a group of 10 international experts, the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), withdrew from monitoring the commission's work. The IIGEP stated that it had "not been able to conclude...that the proceedings of the Commission have been transparent or have satisfied basic international norms and standards."

The LLRC is just the latest in a long line of ad hoc bodies in Sri Lanka that have failed to advance accountability for human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. Since independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has established at least nine such commissions and numerous other inquiries, none of which have produced any significant results. There is no reason to believe that this new commission will be any different.

We urge the US to state publicly that the Sri Lankan government has not fulfilled its obligation to investigate allegations of laws-of-war violations and that the new commission does not meet criteria set out by Ambassador Rice. The US should call on Secretary-General Ban to establish an independent international investigation without further delay. Given its seat on the Security Council, the US can play a crucial role in pressing for genuine accountability in Sri Lanka. The US played such a role in bringing about an important international investigation into the July 2009 massacre in Guinea.

A failure to hold the Sri Lankan government accountable for violations by its forces would send a dangerous signal that, when combating armed opposition groups and terrorism, international law can be flouted with impunity. The consequences for civilians caught up in such conflicts would be disastrous.

We thank you for your attention to these urgent matters.


Elaine Pearson
Acting Asia Director

Peace: the gargantuan challenge

By Kalana Senaratne

The war which came to a conclusion on or around 19 May 2009 was a necessary one, for terrorism had to be defeated. It was evident that the LTTE did not know any other way of resolving disputes. Negotiations had failed. In fact, negotiations were meant to fail; for the desire of the LTTE was the creation of the separate ‘Tamil Eelam State’. Such demands, such separatist demands, were non-negotiable.

‘Terrorism’, however, was only one facet of the problem. The moment that ugly facet becomes non-existent, the moment there is an absence of a violent armed conflict, problems which remained unresolved, problems which could not be resolved through the use of force, re-emerge, re-surface. Political developments which soon followed the defeat of the LTTE proved this, to some extent. An acrimonious debate ensued concerning the 13th Amendment. Then, unfortunate developments surrounding a confused, misguided and revengeful Army Commander unfolded in quick succession. Thereafter the people, a vast majority, indicated on whose side they stood; at the Presidential and General elections. As a consequence, there is, now, a very strong government (i.e. one which cannot be brought down easily). There is also a very weak opposition (i.e. one which cannot be resuscitated easily).

Soon after the defeat of terrorism there arises the obvious question of whether terrorism would re-surface in the future. This question in turn raises much broader questions. Now that violent terrorism has been defeated, how, and in what way, should different ethnic groups co-exist within a multi-ethnic State, peacefully? How, and in what way, should we, the people, act? How long would it take for ‘peace’ to arrive, and from where (if not from our heart), would ‘peace’ begin its long journey? What should be done, what should we do, to achieve ‘peace’? And, why do we still ask this latter question, in a country which is full of ‘peace-loving’ and friendly people? Are we, really, a ‘peace-loving’ people, and if so in what way, to what extent? Are problems the creations of politicians only, of successive Parliaments, of Parliamentarians? Or is the Parliament, its composition, a microcosm of the larger society that we live in?

It’s not always possible to answer such questions, such complicated questions, in any satisfactory manner; there may not be any clear answers to such questions, anyway. Yet, there may be certain obvious facts which escape our attention. Perhaps, the answer to many of our political problems rests in our own attitudes and perceptions, in our ability to ‘compromise’. But how difficult it would be to reach a compromise, by changing our deeply-held, deep-rooted, beliefs, attitudes and perceptions?

Such changes in our own attitude and approach are necessary when considering some of the critical challenges facing the country, today. Two such challenges would be: the ‘devolution of powers’ and the ‘promotion and protection of human rights and equality’ - issues on which people hold very strong and uncompromising views.

Devolution and power-sharing

Consider the critical and contentious issue of devolution of powers - the “most intractable problem” - which touches that strong ‘nationalist nerve’ in many people, across the Sinhala-Tamil ethnic divide. It is one problem concerning which some form of a ‘compromise’ is quintessential, the resolution of which calls for that need to “hammer out a compromise”, as the late Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar put it, when he spoke in Parliament, in favour of the 2000 Draft Constitution (Kadirgamar: a distinguished politician, a statesman, who opposed the LTTE and was shot and killed by the LTTE, but nevertheless strongly believed in the idea of ‘power-sharing’, in the need for some resolution of the conflict, based, perhaps, on the lines of the 2000 Draft Constitution).

But, today, on the issue of devolution, is ‘compromise’ possible? Or is there any evidence to suggest that a ‘compromise’ is forthcoming?

On the one hand there are the strong opponents of devolution, who claim that devolution is unnecessary, that it is “development and not devolution”. The argument that the mandate received by President Rajapaksa does not make any significant reference to ‘devolution’ is also raised. The 13th Amendment is claimed to be unnecessary and an absolute failure. Recently, a subtle rubbishing of the 13th Amendment did take place when Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa was interviewed by Al-Jazeera. President Rajapaksa, during his interview on Al-Jazeera, did not make any significant reference to the notion of devolution or power-sharing too.

On the other hand, the case in favour of devolution/power-sharing resonates strongly in the views expressed by many Tamil politicians, in particular; from ITAK’s R. Sambanthan to UPFA’s Douglas Devananda. Reference is made not only to the 13th Amendment, but also to, for instance, the 2000 Draft Constitution and the APRC-Majority Report of the Panel of Experts.

How then would there be a compromise? One would not believe in the concept of a ‘traditional homeland’ or in a merged North-East, and would dismiss these ideas as political myths. But the fact that the majority of the North and the East consist of Tamil speaking people is not a myth, along with the fact that this demand for power-sharing had always been the predominant demand of the Tamil minority, or its representatives, elite or otherwise.

In such a context, how does one approach the issue of ‘devolution’? Perhaps the responsibility falls on both (or all) ethnic groups. The political leadership representing the majority would need to understand that this notion of ‘devolution’ cannot be rubbished off easily, cannot be dumped in a political dustbin, so conveniently and easily as one would like to do. The political leadership representing the minority would also need to understand that their demands would need to be couched in less inflammatory language; a language which does not resemble that of the Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam, for instance. There would also be a need to approach the idea of power-sharing from a citizen’s perspective; to regard devolution as a tool that empowers the people at the periphery; as a tool that effectively challenges an all-powerful centre, whenever necessary. Yet, it would be a serious mistake to imagine that that kind of approach means that the unit of devolution ought to be the Gamsabha or Janasabha.

In reaching this compromise, or in trying to reach this compromise, there is also another critical factor which needs to be borne in mind; i.e. that ‘devolution’ would not work in any serious and meaningful sense unless there is a serious commitment, a parallel and simultaneous commitment, to constitutionalism, the rule of law, the establishment of independent institutions and a firm resolve to promote and protect human rights and equality. One should be naïve to imagine that significant devolution would resolve all problems, even if there is no serious commitment shown regarding the above.

Human rights and equality

But this too is a significant challenge. On constitutionalism and the rule of law, Sri Lanka’s track record, unfortunately, is a dismal one. And importantly, this is so with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights and equality; an issue over which many seem to have very fixed, even uncompromising, views; an issue, then, which needs to be approached with a changed attitude and mindset, today.

In this regard, there is too much emphasis placed by the present regime on the ‘Western factor’. Some of the major powers of the ‘West’ are certainly hypocritical when accusing other States of human rights violations. Such hypocrisy needs to be exposed. But in doing so, there is a tendency on the part of the regime to view the notion of ‘human rights’ as some Western-liberal notion, without realizing that the moment one considers ‘human rights’ to be a mere Western notion, one’s resentment towards the West shapes the way in which one approaches all notions perceived to be Western notions; forgetting completely and even conveniently, the importance attached to the topic of human rights protection in our own Buddhist teaching and philosophy (or in any other religion) for example.

Hence, unless this attitude changes in a more positive way, there wouldn’t be any progress in relation to the improvement of own human rights standards. President Rajapaksa reminded the world in September 2007 that human rights have been an essential part of Sri Lanka’s cultural tradition and human rights protection is “nothing new for us”. True. But one needs to go further, and prove, that this is so even today, that this cultural tradition has not stopped, that it continues. And, isn’t it a shame for a country with such a rich and glorious tradition, to be continually reminded of the importance of human rights protection, and that too, by the EU or the ‘West’?

Ensuring ‘equality’ too is a significant challenge, unless one’s attitude doesn’t change. Why so? If one is burdened by that problem highlighted by scholars such as KM De Silva and AJ Wilson - the ‘majority with a minority complex and a minority with a majority complex’ - then, ‘equality’ becomes a terrible problem; a problem that threatens one’s perceived status (that dominant or rightful status) in society. Demanding ‘equality’ or the respect for ‘equality’ is easy, but that demand becomes meaningless in the eyes of such a person with the majority/minority complex, if he/she is not ready to accept what ‘equality’ would necessarily mean; i.e. inter alia, equal status in society, equal citizenship, opportunities based on meritocracy, independent institutions etc. Ensuring ‘equality’, too, is a great challenge.


Numerous other problems and challenges confront Sri Lanka, one year after the conclusion of the war; in sum, a gargantuan challenge is before a nation and its people. However, an opportunity, a tremendous opportunity, has arrived, now that there is an absence of violent conflict. Success depends on how well that opportunity is used by the politicians and the people.

May 27, 2010

No move yet towards genuine reconciliation and lasting peace

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

A year has passed since the Sri Lanka military eliminated the LTTE (18 May 2009) in the Eelam war IV that was started confidently by the Tamil Tigers. Their supreme leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, his family and the LTTE's entire top brass were cornered and killed.

Prabhakaran’s body was found near the Nanthikadal lagoon in the Mullaitivu district, north-east Sri Lanka. Following the military victory, the governing party led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, acclaimed widely in Sri Lanka as a remarkable hero, gained impressive victories in the political contest at both the provincial and national levels. In the April 2010 parliamentary election, the ruling UPFA secured 144 seats out of the total 225 seats under the proportional representation scheme. Thus, the SLFP-led coalition failed to get the crucial two-thirds majority by just 6 seats. But, this is not an obstacle for effecting the constitutional changes needed for promoting unity and creating favourable conditions for lasting peace and socio-economic development. Sri Lanka has been one sovereign state for several decades but not a fully integrated nation.

Peculiar post-war priorities

N. Shanmugaratnam in his analysis of the post-war activities has pointedly drawn attention to the peculiar priorities of the government, which are inconsistent with the aim of ‘winning the peace’ (From ‘Post-war’ to Political Solution and Development in Sri Lanka posted by transCurrents on May 8, 2010). He has quite rightly said: “The transition from a state of absence of war towards an environment of durable peace is a politically governed process that involves structural changes aimed at transforming the conflict that led to the war while concurrently addressing the latter’s consequences. ‘Post-war’ and ‘post-conflict’, therefore, are not synonymous”. Certainly, the people residing in Sri Lanka “are in a post-war but not yet in a post-conflict situation”. Genuine reconciliation also requires positive actions on the political front. These should address the grievances of the ethnic minorities, caused by decades of discrimination, neglect and intimidation, which are associated with the lopsided governing system exploited by the main political parties in their struggle for power.

The subtle plan to safeguard the integrity of the state without weakening the existing Sinhala majority rule is evident from the reluctance even to implement fully the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that entails the devolution of the formally approved powers to the provinces. Soon after the war ended Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa promised to go beyond the 13th Amendment (13A+) for settling the political problem that led to the vicious war. This was presumed to be via substantial devolution and sharing of powers. But no move was made to fulfil the promise. Even after the demerger of the North-East Province on legal grounds, there is reluctance to accept province as the unit of devolution. There is much confusion here, which is apparent from the alternatives proposed by some Sinhala majoritarians in the present UPFA government.

From a countrywide perspective, the disturbing thing is that although the post-war government had no problem in going for meaningful national reconciliation and winning the real peace, it opted to give importance to development. Development per se and that too decided centrally as in the past cannot bring about lasting peace. Suitable actions to undo the damages done in the past by previous regimes that divided the nation and denied peace and prosperity to the masses in all parts of the island will help immensely to put the past behind and inspire the people to be confident of their future.

In ‘The Sunday Times’ article (Posted by transCurrents 16 May 2010) the influential Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that it would be “foolish” to relax military control given the possibility that the LTTE might regroup. His article conveys the real plan of the government headed by his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa for sustaining the present centralised system that guarantees Sinhala majority rule all over the island with the assistance of the armed forces. There are plans to keep them permanently in the former LTTE-controlled areas in the North. The exclusive emphasis on development is also expected to quash the demand for devolution.

The Defence Secretary did not deny that there was a case for political reform. He said: “I hear a clamour for political reforms in the North and East and I understand and appreciate that. But I do also sincerely believe that priority should be given not to political reforms but to infrastructure development and attending to the other basic social needs of the people. .. The people of the war-ravaged areas now need roads, electricity, drinking water, schools, hospitals and jobs, much more than they need amendments to the constitution.” The clever way the latter is dealt with not ruling out completely the long overdue political reforms is seen from the announcement these would follow after the people of the war-ravaged areas have rebuilt their lives. It is amazing the government that secured near two-thirds majority in the April parliamentary election cannot proceed with political reforms and infrastructure development simultaneously.

Hindering developments

The grand plan to celebrate the first anniversary of the resounding victory in the war against the LTTE was marred by the heavy monsoon floods and the clamour of international organizations, particularly the International Crisis Group (ICG), Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) as well as the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for impartial international investigation on the methods of warfare during the final stage that destroyed many innocent lives in violation of international law. The ICG’s disturbing report on ‘War Crimes in Sri Lanka’ issued on 17 May 2010 continues to resonate. Moreover, the alarming report filed by Channel 4 News reporter Jonathan Miller based on the interview with a Sri Lankan senior army commander and a frontline soldier that was televised on 18 May 2010 augmented the resonance. The print and electronic media in several countries also gave importance promptly to the contents in Jonathan Miller’s report. Apart from the alleged atrocities like indiscriminate killings and torture before execution, the other striking allegation is that these horrid acts were carried out by the soldiers on the orders from the top. Apparently, the soldiers were told not to bother about differentiating between combatants and non-combatants. The earlier controversy over the killing of those surrendering with white flags remains unresolved.

The following are excerpts from Jonathan Miller’s report posted by transCurrents on 18 May 2010 with video footages:

“A senior Sri Lankan army commander and frontline soldier tell Channel 4 News that point-blank executions of Tamils at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war were carried out under orders”. One frontline soldier said: "Yes, our commander ordered us to kill everyone. We killed everyone." And a senior Sri Lankan army commander said: "Definitely, the order would have been to kill everybody and finish them off”.

"I don't think we wanted to keep any hardcore elements, so they were done away with. It is clear that such orders were, in fact, received from the top."

The May 18th Channel 4 News also recalled its earlier broadcast: “In August 2009 Channel 4 News obtained video evidence, later authenticated by the United Nations, purporting to show point-blank executions of Tamils by uniformed Sri Lankan soldiers. Now a senior army commander and a frontline soldier have told Channel 4 News that such killings were indeed ordered from the top”.

The disclosures by the Sri Lankan army personnel also support the allegations in the latest (17 May 2010) report of the ICG, which has drawn worldwide attention. As usual, Sri Lankan government dismissed these reports on the shocking happenings during the final phase of the war as baseless and a conspiracy to discredit its grand victory by the LTTE sympathizers and foreign elements keen on destabilising the government that is popular with Sinhala patriots. Ironically, the allegation of international conspiracy against Sri Lanka is also helping to deflect the attention of many humble Sri Lankans away from the pressing economic problems.

Ms Louise Arbour current president of the ICG and former chief prosecutor in international war crimes trials also condemned vociferously the inhuman acts of both the warring parties and the Sri Lankan efforts to prevent independent international investigations on deliberate violations of human rights and international law. She appeared live on Channel 4 News to outline options available to the international community to prevent the "Sri Lanka option" gaining currency. The ICG report defines this option as "unrestrained military action, refusal to negotiate, disregard for humanitarian issues, keeping out international observers including press and humanitarian workers".

On the eight-member panel appointed recently by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to glean lessons learned from the war, Louise Arbour said, "There’s no reason to expect from the government's past record that it's got any intention to investigate or put in place an appropriate accountability mechanism." Apparently with no legal power to investigate the alleged abuses, this panel like the previous highly publicised commissions of inquiry is not taken seriously by discerning persons.

Human Rights Watch, a global human rights monitor, said on May 21 that it had examined over 200 photos taken on the front lines in early 2009 by a soldier from the Sri Lankan Air Mobile Brigade and had new witness accounts of troops shelling civilians. Witnesses had told HRW of government forces shelling civilians, mainly women and children, who were standing in food distribution lines in late April and early May 2009. HRW said, all these confirm the need for a full impartial investigation of the happenings during the final stages of the war. It also accused Sri Lanka of consistently failing to probe allegations of rights abuses. The culture of impunity is responsible for the failure to bring to justice many offenders involved in abductions, involuntary disappearances and even killings of civilians outside the North and East.

The fact that Sinhalese too are victims of this culture is indicative of the extent of the damage to the society as a whole. Although the war ended conclusively a year ago, the government does not want to give up the special powers exercised under the Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The country is still under the state of emergency. The leaders anxious to continue the military-style rule will seize any thing, real or imaginary, to justify the pseudo democratic rule. This happened earlier when the presence of over 6o million Tamils in South India was cited as a possible threat to justify the consolidation of the Sinhala majority rule.

The full report of HRW including some distressing photos was posted by transCurrents on 20 May 2010. On the formation of the ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC) May 17, 2010 it said: “the latest in a long line of ad hoc bodies in Sri Lanka that seem designed to deflect international criticism rather than to uncover the facts. The mandated focus of the commission - on the failure of the 2002 ceasefire - is largely unrelated to the massive abuses by both government forces and the LTTE in the last months of hostilities. Nor does the commission appear to have been designed to uncover new information: the commission's terms of reference do not provide for adequate victim and witness protection”.

On the appointment of C. R. de Silva as chairman of the commission (LLRC), the report noted: “Chitta Ranjan de Silva, is a former attorney general who came under serious criticism for his office's alleged interference in the work of the 2006 Presidential Commission of Inquiry. The attorney general's role was one of the main reasons why a group of 10 international experts, the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), withdrew from monitoring the commission's work. The IIGEP stated that it had "not been able to conclude...that the proceedings of the Commission have been transparent or have satisfied basic international norms and standards."

Besides, Elaine Pearson, acting Asia Director at Human Rights Watch is reported to have said: "Yet another feckless commission is a grossly inadequate response to the numerous credible allegations of war crimes. Damning new evidence of abuses shows why the UN should not let Sri Lanka sweep these abuses under the carpet." The fact that the LTTE used civilians as human shields during the height of the war is well known. Many other dreadful actions such as forcible conscription of children, the deployment of child soldiers in the frontline, suicide bombing that caused many civilian casualties and brutal punishing, including summary killings of dissidents are well known.

It is obvious the LTTE leader believed there was no choice other than absolute violence using methods that were condemned internationally as reign of terror to achieve his political objective. Unlike previous governments, the government under the leadership of Executive President Rajapaksa decided that the LTTE can be defeated only by unconventional methods, similar to those used earlier by the LTTE. Strangely, there is also some similarity in the methods of seeking the political goal. An in-depth study on the reasons for abandoning Mahatma Ghandi’s non-violent approach and embracing violence to achieve a risky political goal is useful for a genuine reconciliation process.

The Daily Mirror on 22 May in its editorial column lamented no commander, senior officer or even soldier, who took part in the decisive battle, had ventured “to tell the story how the forces defeated the world’s most sophisticated terrorist group”. “In any other country after a war victory of the nature and magnitude of that of Sri Lanka’s recent one, there would have been dozens and dozens of books written by those who took part in the battle”. The numerous queries about violations of human rights and international law raised by various international organizations provide the simple answer. In the present fearful situation, who will have the guts to chronicle the war victory honestly reporting the inhuman actions of both the warring parties? Not surprisingly, only some sketchy reports have appeared so far.

In conflict or connivance with UN?

(Col.) R. Hariharan, a retired Indian Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, who served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence, currently associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group has also commented on the appointment of the ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) - (Blog: www.colhariharan.org; Also posted by transCurrents on 23 May 2010). He has said:” Apparently, Sri Lanka after trying other methods to ward off the flak at the UN on the issue of Sri Lanka’s human rights violations during the war for more than a year has adopted the face saving way of appointing the LLRC. Things came to a boil when the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon persisted with his proposal to appoint a panel of experts to look at the issue. Of course, Sri Lanka had tried all means including a botched attempt at getting the NAM representatives to pass a resolution against the UN Secretary General’s move. Significantly, India -Sri Lanka’s closest ally in the sub continent – did not vote for Sri Lanka at the NAM representatives meeting.” The veteran analyst also thinks Sri Lanka is not taking seriously the responses of her traditional allies to the disappointing post-war developments that ignore the long-term national interests.

Sri Lanka has been successful in sidelining moves by the UN to investigate the many abuses alleged by international rights groups. Their demand for an impartial international investigation into alleged atrocities contrasts sharply with the failure of the UN to demand accountability from the Sri Lankan government. Last year, the Sri Lankan president promised the UN Secretary General that he would look into the question of accountability. The latter has so far not appointed the promised committee of international experts to investigate the alleged crimes by both sides though not abandoning the promise given last year. Apparently, Amnesty International and the Crisis Group have taken the UN to task for its failure to act decisively to push for accountability. The latter went so far as to recommend that the UN should open an inquiry into its own conduct in Sri Lanka. The ICG head, Louise Arbour even talked of the UN's "silence – verging on complicity" with the Rajapaksa regime. During a press conference at the U.N. headquarters in New York on May 25, before meeting with Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs Prof. G.L. Peiris, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon rejected claims that the United Nations in any way abetted possible war crimes taking place in Sri Lanka during the final phases. He made this statement answering a question from a journalist. Sri Lanka is recently in the forefront on several newsworthy subjects. UN never had to publicly defend its conduct on grave charges as in the present Sri Lankan case.

A PTI report posted by ‘infolanka’ on May 24 stated, G. L. Peiris the new External Affairs Minister of sovereign Sri Lanka would ask UN chief Ban Ki-Moon not to interfere in its internal affairs and not to go ahead with the probe into alleged war crimes. On the eve of his maiden meeting with Ban Ki-Moon he is reported to have said: "...There is no justification legal or moral for this step (UN probe) to be taken at this time" and not “complicate matters at this stage. It's not going to do any good. It has the potential of doing real harm in a situation where the government of Sri Lanka, against overwhelming odds, is trying to move the processes forward."

The missing moves

The telling report of the Inter University Students Federation on the post-war situation is an eye-opener to those playing the protector of the nation. The report at the very outset dramatically states: “War is over, war is over, war is over. That is the chant moaned by the government and its associates through the last 11 months. But we would like to ask one question. Is it all right now? Or is it comfortable now? The simple meaning of this is ‘you think it’s all over after the war is over?’ We clearly remind you about one thing. Though the war is over, the problem is not over. It’s in its primary stage, or it is worse than that” The conclusion is plain and timely. “The people should be given rights. The people should be given democracy. The people should be given freedom. That is the way to build real national harmony”.

Many independent analysts have said reconciliation is difficult unless both sides admit their mistakes. This is the basic link between truth and reconciliation. Some have mistakenly termed the ‘Lessons learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ as Truth and Reconciliation Commission Unity and peace are being sought via undemocratic means intended to give the powerless ethnic minorities no choice other than accepting the dominant rule of the ethnic Sinhalese. The subtle move to convince the ethnic minorities that this system will be non-discriminatory is unlikely to succeed, particularly when the government failed to act resolutely on the rehabilitation and reconciliation processes. Moreover, the callous ways the Tamil war victims were treated are unhelpful. 300,000 were incarcerated in military camps under harsh conditions. They were denied basic facilities for the sin of living in the LTTE-controlled Vanni. In the excessive desire to continue exploiting last year’s military victory for political advantage, the first anniversary of the military victory was planned to be observed triumphantly on a grand scale ignoring the feelings of fellow Tamil citizens. The memorials erected by the Tamil Tigers for their fallen cadres were systematically destroyed after the war by the government soldiers. It is amazing the powerful leaders are behaving contrary to the wishes of their own supporters.

Desmond Tutu and Lakhdar Brahimi, members of the Elders, a group of eminent global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007 in their article that first appeared in the Guardian, UK and posted by transCurrents on May 22, 2010 while acknowledging the government’s effort to repair the war-damaged structures and resettle the displaced persons have drawn attention to other work required for building trust and unity. To quote: “Repairing the physical environment can be easier than rebuilding trust, however. Without trust, peace will remain fragile and a return to violence, which no one wants, will always be a threat. Here the Elders want to express deep concern about the lack of progress. It is a failure that risks increasing the sense of Tamil grievance and resentment, deepening the suspicions of the Muslim community and squandering the benefits of the military victory, even for the Sinhalese majority. If Sri Lanka is to build a more inclusive and democratic state for all its ethnic communities, there is an urgent need for far-sighted political leadership, able to reach out to all communities and serve all its citizens”. Many politicians seem to be focussing on the near and not the long-term future of the people and the nation as it existed before the disintegration. Respect for democracy, human rights, recognized rights of minorities in plural society, equality and justice are vital for Sri Lanka’s future.

People and politicians

The findings of recent opinion surveys on the proposals of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) to settle the national problem vital for lasting peace and well-being of the entire nation revealed by Dr Colin Irwin of Liverpool University are very interesting. He made an important contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process and his recent survey findings are very relevant to the present confusion about the way forward towards a stable, united and prosperous Sri Lanka. Padraig Colman in the article (18 May 2010) titled, ‘Sri Lanka’s way forward’ has said: “Irwin’s latest survey (3) found the proposals are acceptable to Sinhalese, Northern and Eastern Tamils, Up-Country Tamils and Muslims. Even the ‘significant minority of Tamils from the Northern Province’ who still want to keep the ‘right to secession’ will give this up for the complete package of APRC reforms”.

According to Dr. Irwin: “The results for the test of the APRC proposals in Sri Lanka are certainly as good as, if not better than the results for the Belfast Agreement poll, and in Northern Ireland the people were able to make peace on the strength of those results”. But the APRC proposals are not the “home grown” variety President Rajapaksa and his clique want.

Padraig Colman has also drawn attention to the willingness of the majority of Tamils in Sri Lanka to live amicably with the Sinhalese in undivided Sri Lanka. In this regard, the comment of DBS Jeyaraj has been cited. The latter wrote: “The future and well- being of the Tamil people are inextricably intertwined with that of Sri Lanka and its people. All future efforts to secure rights and share power have to be within the unity, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of Sri Lanka.” It is also important to stress under the present conditions given the necessity to be friendly not only with neighbouring India but also other traditional donor countries, the future and well-being of the Sinhalese too depend on the way the ethnic minorities are treated by the central government in Colombo. In this regard, it is significant that the setting up of a “Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam” by some Eelam seekers in the Tamil Diaspora has been strongly condemned by all Tamil political parties currently functioning in Sri Lanka.

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka’s analysis of the way forward for the war-torn island - (“The big Sri Lankan story” The Sunday Island 16 May 2010 and also “Political solution: People are ready now but are politicians?” posted by transCurrents 16 May) - is also based on the findings of the study conducted by the University of Liverpool under the direction of Dr Colin Irwin, entitled ‘War and Peace’ and the APRC Proposals” (www.peacepolls.org).

He has emphasized: “there is a remarkable convergence and consensus between all communities, in accepting the proposals as a whole as well as in its component parts. As Colin Irwin’s summary registers, probably for the first time there are almost equal levels of acceptance among Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, of reform proposals. What I consider most dramatic though, is the above 80% agreement between Sinhalese and Tamils on enhanced and streamlined power sharing with the provinces within a unitary framework”.

The point this writer too made earlier that the Rajapaksa regime had no problem in going for a political settlement based on sensible power-sharing arrangement with all ethnic communities, particularly after the annihilation of the LTTE is buttressed by Dr. Jayatilleka’s comments. He has come to the conclusion that the high degree of agreement between the Sinhalese and Tamils means the following:

1. It gives the lie to the thesis of an intractable ethnic conflict; an ethnic zero-sum game.

2. It proves the existence of a moderate majority in each ethnic community.

3. It demonstrates the presence of an overwhelming majority, cross cutting ethnic lines, for moderate reforms based on devolution and power sharing, within a unitary state.

4. If the APRC proposals are accepted as the final settlement, President Rajapaksa gives the lead, and the move is made without delay, the vast majority of the country will readily agree, and a decades-long problem can be resolved, enabling sustainable economic takeoff, the shift of world opinion in our favour and the defeat of externally based plots against us.

Successive governments have claimed they acted in the national interest. The concept itself is in conflict with the collective interests of all peace-loving citizens, who want secure and amiable living conditions for the well-being of present and future generations. The presumed ‘national interest’ of politicians is influenced by their own political aspirations. Moreover, there is no consensus on the concept of nation. There cannot be common national interest when there are two or more concepts of nation within the society.

Many countries with multi-ethnic communities and different traditions associated with some regions within each state are stable and free from internal conflicts because their political system accommodates the interests of all the main communities. For example, the English, Scots and Welsh co-exist peacefully as equal citizens of Great Britain, while upholding their regional interests because of the devolved system. The belief that centralised majoritarian rule safeguards the unity and territorial integrity of the sovereign island is baseless. This is the stark lesson learnt from the tragic developments that occurred since independence that resulted in the separatist war. The governing structure in both the 1972 and 1978 Constitutions ignored the need to protect the legitimate freedoms and rights of all ethnic communities and the cohesion of the single multi-ethnic nation. The way the unitary system functioned presumed the existence of one exclusive Sinhala nation.

The exclusion of the ethnic minorities in the decision-making process, especially on matters concerning their safety, security, rights and general well-being is central to the present crisis.

Unwilling to accept established facts

Although many reasonable persons consider the post-war time to be opportune for settling the national problem logically, the problem is there are powerful leaders who for some reason are averse to the real facts. Promising rhetoric without corresponding actions have misled those awaiting a permanent political settlement to the national problem that culminated in the separatist war. The reason for dodging the structural changes known to many within and outside Sri Lanka is the unwillingness to recognize the true formation of the island State, especially the diverse demographic features of the provinces. As indicated in the previous article, the advocates of Sinhala nation do not want to accept any proposal that recognizes the traditional settlement pattern of the ethnic communities. For centuries, the settlers in the North and East were mainly Tamils and Muslims. The mother tongue of the latter too is Tamil. The two communities interacted harmoniously, respecting the religion and customs of others in the two provinces. The rise in Sinhala and Tamil nationalism did some damage to this relationship. Nevertheless, it was a reckless and costly decision of the LTTE leader to forcibly evict the resident Muslims from their habitats. The present Muslim and Tamil leaders recognise the importance of reconciliation and building trust.

Michael Roberts in his recent article on Sri Lanka – ‘Challenges Today: Weevils in the Mind’, posted by groundviews on May 22, 2010 has said that “the infrastructural projects must be supplemented by genuine hearts and minds work. The first principle here is to treat Tamils as human beings. This means space for their ‘Tamilness’ and recognition of the fact that they are a nationality or nation. Following and amending Seton-Watson, a “nation” can be said to exist as a force whenever “an [articulate and politically significant] section of its members are convinced that it exists.” This position was reached by the Sri Lanka Tamils between 1949 and 1956; but has since developed deep roots through the crucibles of war and suffering”.

The fact that the Tamils were not part of the Sinhala nation is obvious from the traditional law of the Tamil country of northern Sri Lanka, codified under Dutch colonial rule in 1707. The Dutch, to facilitate the administration of their colonial territories in Ceylon, established there an elaborate system of justice based on Roman-Dutch law and the customary law of the land. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, a Dutch official spent three years in the Tamil country collecting their traditional law; this collection, after a revision by a group of prominent Tamils, was promulgated as authoritative in 1707. Although partially outdated, much of the Thesavalamai is still observed today as law in parts of Sri Lanka.

In his well researched article captioned: “The Malvana Convention of 1598, and other historical conventions” (Daily Mirror, 15 February 2010), Anthony Hensman wrote: “Let us turn with relief to the hard, testable, provable, empirical world of scientific historical theses. Here we have the benefit of three historical documents of immense weight and indisputable authority and veracity i.e. the Malvana Convention of 1598, the Nallur Convention of 1616 and the Kandyan Convention of 1815. The first was signed in 1598, on the one hand, by King Philip 11 of Spain [ of Armada fame] as king Philip 1 of Portugal, in his capacity as king of Portugal and , on the other, by the nobility of Kotte assembled in Malvana.

In like manner the second was signed in 1616, on the one hand, by King Philip 111 of Spain[son of the former] as King Philip 11 of Portugal in his capacity as king of Portugal, and on the other, by the nobility of the kingdom of Jaffna, assembled in Nallur, whereby the latter freely acknowledged the sovereignty of King Philip and swore fealty to him as King of Jaffna, by virtue of the conquest of the kingdom by the Portuguese forces in 1616. Here again, it may be noted that the contracting parties are the King of Spain, as king of Portugal, and the representatives of the people of the kingdom of Jaffna, an independent, legally constituted, diplomatically recognized, political entity – a sovereign state. There is no mention of a state of Ceylon or Lanka or any other name.

By these two treaties the Crown of Portugal came into possession of the two separate states of Kotte and Jaffna, and they were so governed by the Portuguese crown as two territories”.

So what is the problem in accepting the Tamils in Sri Lanka as a separate community entitled to political rights like those possessed by the Sinhalese in the South within one undivided state?

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

Tamil American Peace Initiative Responds to SL Foreign Minister’s US Visit

Tamil American Peace Initiative Responds to SL Foreign Minister’s US Visit and Calls for International Investigation into War Crimes

With the arrival of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris in Washington this week, Tamil American Peace Initiative (TAPI) urged members of Congress and the Obama Administration to press the international community to pursue independent investigations into the alleged war crimes that occurred during Sri Lanka’s twenty-five year Civil War.

“Many in the international community have been calling for an investigation since the end of the war,” said Dr. Karunyan Arulanantham, a TAPI spokesperson. “The Sri Lankans who suffered abuse and lost family members and livelihoods can no longer wait. Justice must come to Sri Lanka.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Union have already called for independent investigations. Additionally, various human rights groups, including the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, have also called for an independent investigation into war crimes, crimes against humanity and human rights violations. Despite these calls, UN efforts to investigate have been stalled.

The groups cite violations on both sides in the war, however they present evidence that places most of the blame on the Sri Lankan troops. The alleged crimes include intentional bombings of civilians and humanitarian organizations; extrajudicial abuse and detention of unarmed civilians and former combatants; the use of child soldiers; harm to civilians and civilian objects; the killing of captives or combatants seeking to surrender; individual disappearances; and inhumane conditions.

TAPI is particularly concerned with the Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris’ recent request for the UN to refrain from appointing a panel to advise the Secretary General concerning an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity. Peris has demanded that the UN allow the Sri Lankan government to handle all such investigations.

This demand is particularly disturbing because the government-appointed chairman of the commission, Chitta Ranjan de Silva came under serious criticism for alleged interference with a similar investigation in 2006. As Arthur Dewey, former US assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration has said, “De Silva was the architect and enforcer of the attorney general’s conflict of interest role with respect to the 2006 commision… nothing good for human rights or reconciliation is likely to come from anything in which De Silva is involved.”

TAPI is urging law makers to raise these issues and to push for an independent international investigation into crimes committed during the war.

TAPI agrees with the Congressman Hon. Danny Davis, who stated in a Floor Speech commemorating the one-year anniversary of the end of the Sri Lankan war that “All parties complicit in violating human rights must be held accountable. Only then can the Sri Lankan people really move forward in trying to achieve peace and stability on the island.”

About TAPI

The Tamil American Peace Initiative was formed by a group of Tamil Americans to help bring lasting peace, justice, democracy, good governance and economic development to Sri Lanka; to focus attention on the destruction of Tamil communities and culture caused by 30 years of war; and to demand an end to the continuing oppression of Tamils on the island.

GL Cancels Washington Press Club address abruptly

Tweet bundle from the twitter pages ~ by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Lankan External affairs minister Prof.GL Peiris scheduled to address the National press club in Washington

GL was to address the National Press Club Newsmaker press conference May 27th in the Zenger Room, the National Press Building in Washington

Tejinder Singh, Chair of the NPC Newsmakers Committee says Peiris did come for the meeting but suddenly left premises without speaking

He was to speak on U.S. relations with Sri Lanka in a new era of peace and reconciliation & expected to focus on the reconciliation process

An address to the newsmakers conference at the NPC is regarded as very prestigious & has the potential to influence US public opinion

The Lankan external affairs minister's NPC address was an important prelude to his meeting US secretary of state Hilary Clinton on May 28th

There is much speculation about the reasons compelling Prof. Peiris to cancel the address abruptly & leaving after arriving at NPC premises

External ministry officials in Sri Lanka have confirmed the "Cancellation" but declined to comment on the reasons for the controversial move

Vesak Day Celebrations in Sri Lanka

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Vesak encompasses the birth, enlightenment (Nirvana) and passing away (Parinirvana) of Gauthama Buddha. Prince Siddhartha was born on the Fullmoon day in May known as Vesak in 623 BC in the Lumbini Park in Kapilavathu, which is in modern Nepal.


Click to read and see more [humanityAshore.com]:

-Vesak Day Celebrations in Sri Lanka

-Sri Lanka College of Journalism celebrates Vesak

May 26, 2010

Children building bridges of friendship across the ethnic divide

By Anne Abayasekara

“Many little people in many little places do many little things that can change the world”, wrote Capt. Elmo Jayawardana in a recent newspaper article entitled, “Peace Begins With Me”.

Recently, I saw an instance of this, here in Colombo – little people - Tamil-speaking children from the East coming to spend a few days in Colombo in the company of Sinhala-speaking children who made them feel welcome and accepted.

To quote Capt. Elmo again, “We hate some people because we do not know them, and we will not know them because we hate them.”

So here was a visible, tangible, carefully planned effort to start building a bridge of friendship by helping children from East and North and South to meet and mingle together in congenial surroundings - an imaginative approach towards changing hard-line attitudes that too often prevail on both sides of the divide in our country.

The Library Project launched earlier by CandleAid (formerly known as AFLAC) saw the opening of 66 libraries in southern schools. A great team headed by Priya Cooray has been engaged in doing something positive with regard to Children Of The Conflict (COTC). It has also arranged education sponsorships for children of military personnel who gave their lives or who have been disabled, in the war.

With the end of the conflict, CandleAid moved swiftly in the direction of the North and the East as well and, happily, it has now opened a chain of school libraries from Jaffna to Kalmunai via Trincomalee. The focus, however, now goes beyond setting up libraries, to “Uniting Children”. CandleAid has had the vision to see a way to use the libraries as a means of linking schools in the North and East with schools in Colombo and elsewhere to build bridges of friendship between the communities.

It is what Capt. Jayawardena (who, with his wife Dil was the moving spirit behind AFLAC and who now guides CandleAid), calls “the soul of the effort”.

Methodist College, Colombo, which was quick to respond to the idea, was invited to send a group of students and teachers to Wesley High School in Kalmunai and this took place in February this year when “Mithuro”from MC journeyed to Kalmunai to meet their counterparts, “koottalikal” in Wesley High School.

On March 21, there was a reciprocal visit from Kalmunai. Forty children – girls and boys - spent a few days at Methodist College and renewed their commitment to peace and goodwill in our land. The boys were kindly received for the night at St. Joseph ’s College, but they were conveyed by van to MC in time for breakfast each morning and they went back to their hospitable lodgings only after dinner.

A team of four first year A/Level MC-ites had been given the task of planning a programme for the visitors and their own girls, helped by a couple of teachers. It meant that their short school holiday was almost fully taken up with devising plans to make the most of the all-too-short period of interaction between `mithuro’ and `koottalikal’, but they threw themselves whole-heartedly into the project and came up with an excellent programme.

On arrival, the visitors were greeted by their MC mithuro running up to them with bunches of colourful balloons in their hands and this was a great hit, especially with the younger children. The National Flag and the flags of both schools were hoisted by the two Principals. The school songs of both were sung, as was the National Anthem.

Various other interactions took place. English was the link language for many of the children. I spoke with a few boys and girls whose English was as fluent as that of a Colombo child and I learnt that they studied in the English medium class.

Those who weren’t so familiar with English, were not shy to speak in “broken” English in their eagerness to communicate with their Sinhala-speaking friends whose knowledge of Tamil was limited. One of the latter told me, later: “When we tried to speak the few words of Tamil that we knew, they were very appreciative. It made us want to learn Tamil.”

There were some Tamil children among the MC mithuro, which helped matters. The Kalmunai group was not exclusively Tamil, but included some Muslims too. One night the whole lot watched an English movie which all enjoyed.

There were discussions on given topics like “What do you think of the aims and objectives of CandeAid.” Children were invited to relate a story they had learned from a friend on the other side and one child related how her friend in Kalmunai had helplessly watched a friend of hers being washed away in the tsunami in December 2004.

During one session, someone had spontaneously begun to sing “We shall overcome….” and all the children had taken it up enthusiastically, both the Kalmunai and the Colombo children singing together with one heart and voice.

There were visits to the Planetarium, the National Museum and the zoo and a stop to view the Parliament building from the outside. CandleAid hosted a lunch at KFC for the whole lot. All the participants took part in a significant act.

Methodist College had blocked out a section of a wall and all the children daubed their hands in coloured paints and pressed their palm-prints on to the wall.. When the handprints were dry, each child wrote her/his name against her/his own handprint.

Unlike the Berlin Wall, this is a wall that will serve as an enduring reminder of how, here in Sri Lanka , children were brought together in friendship. The visitors had enjoyed going to the `Janakala Kendraya’ in Kotte where they watched artists and craftsmen at work and also bought souvenirs to take home.

There had also been an unscheduled stop at the House of Fashion on their way back from the zoo! It wasn’t only the teachers who were pleased by this, for many of the children had come prepared to do some shopping. The young visitors from Kalmunai were keener to buy gifts to take back to their families, than to make any purchases for themselves.

The culminating event of their last evening prior to departure, was a joint art exhibition by the art students of both schools. A great deal of trouble had been taken over this and the 141 paintings, each one neatly mounted, made a colourful display on the wall of the gallery leading off from the MC auditorium.

These pictures had all been done prior to the visit to Colombo so that they could be mounted and be ready for exhibition. The Chief Guest was Ms. Sheila Richards, a distinguished Old Girl of Methodist and presently CEO of the Neelan Thiruchelvam Trust.

Ms. Richards commended the meeting of students from the two schools as a step in the right direction of breaking barriers and of working towards real peace and reconciliation.

When it came to parting on the last day, there was much exchanging of addresses and telephone numbers and it was evident that new friendships had begun. The departing children each received a card on which was written: “We will always remember you –your friends at Metho.”

So ended a very worthwhile and meaningful interaction between schoolchildren from Kalmunai and Colombo , but it was only the start of the friendships they have formed and the forerunner of many other such exchanges in the future.

The Principals of both schools and their teachers, were enthusiastic promoters of the initiative taken by CandleAid. It was a costly venture financially and was made possible by the generous donations of many people. A stated aim of CandleAid is to function as “a link between your generosity and someone else’s need”.

It is to be fervently hoped that other schools will link up in the same way. Children are our hope of a better future for our country. Where the older generation has messed up, they can reach out to join hands with all who make up this multi-cultural, multi-religious country and together work to build one united and harmonious Sri Lankan nation in which the rights of all its citizens are ensured.

UNHRC’s paralysis over Sri Lanka testament to IC’s failure to act when needed - Amnesty Int'l

Global justice gap condemns millions to abuse

Torture in 111 countries, free speech curbs in 96, unfair trials in 55

A global justice gap is being made worse by power politics despite a landmark year for international justice, said Amnesty International today in its annual assessment of human rights worldwide.

Launching Amnesty International Report 2010: State of the World’s Human Rights, a 420-page report documenting abuses in 159 countries, the organisation said that powerful governments are blocking advances in international justice by standing above the law on human rights, shielding allies from criticism and acting only when politically convenient.

“Repression and injustice are flourishing in the global justice gap, condemning millions of people to abuse, oppression and poverty,” said Claudio Cordone, interim Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“Governments must ensure that no one is above the law, and that everyone has access to justice for all human rights violations. Until governments stop subordinating justice to political self-interest, freedom from fear and freedom from want will remain elusive for most of humanity.”

Amnesty called on governments to ensure accountability for their own actions, fully sign up to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and ensure that crimes under international law can be prosecuted anywhere in the world. It said that states claiming global leadership, including the G20, have a particular responsibility to set an example.

The ICC’s 2009 arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir, for crimes against humanity and war crimes, was a landmark event demonstrating that even sitting heads of state are not above the law. However, the African Union’s refusal to cooperate, despite the nightmare of violence that has affected hundreds of thousands of people in Darfur, was a stark example of governmental failure to put justice before politics.

The UN Human Rights Council’s paralysis over Sri Lanka, despite serious abuses including possible war crimes carried out by both government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also stood as a testament to the international community’s failure to act when needed. Meanwhile, the recommendations of the Human Rights Council’s Goldstone report calling for accountability for the conflict in Gaza still need to be heeded by Israel and Hamas.

Worldwide, the justice gap sustained a pernicious web of repression. Amnesty International’s research records torture or other ill-treatment in at least 111 countries, unfair trials in at least 55 countries, restrictions on free speech in at least 96 countries and prisoners of conscience imprisoned in at least 48 countries.

Regarding the UK, Amnesty’s report is sharply critical of the UK’s continued reliance on “diplomatic assurances” in deportation cases where individuals were likely to be at risk of torture or other abuse if sent to countries like Algeria or Jordan. The UK is also criticised for ignoring repeated calls during 2009 for an independent investigation into allegations that UK intelligence officials were complicit in torture and other human rights violations; last week’s announcement of a judge-led inquiry into the issue may finally be about to set this right.

Amnesty’s report shows that human rights organisations and human rights defenders came under attack in many countries, with governments preventing their work or failing to protect them.

In the Middle East and North Africa, there were patterns of governmental intolerance of criticism in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Tunisia, and mounting repression in Iran. In Asia, the Chinese government increased pressure on challenges to its authority, detaining and harassing human rights defenders, while thousands fled severe repression and economic hardship in North Korea and Myanmar.

Space for independent voices and civil society shrank in parts of Europe and Central Asia, and there were unfair restrictions on freedom of expression in Russia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Uzbekistan. The Americas were plagued by hundreds of unlawful killings by security forces, including in Brazil, Jamaica, Colombia and Mexico, while impunity for US violations related to counter-terrorism persisted.
Governments in Africa such as Guinea and Madagascar met dissent with excessive use of force and unlawful killings, while Ethiopia and Uganda among others repressed criticism.

A year after the conflict ended, thousands of Sri Lankans are still living in displacment camps. No investigations into allegations of war crimes over the passed 26 years have begun.

Callous disregard for civilians marked conflicts. Armed groups and government forces breached international law in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka and Yemen. In the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel, Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups unlawfully killed and injured civilians. Thousands of civilians suffered abuses in escalating violence by the Taleban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or bore the brunt of the conflicts in Iraq and Somalia. Women and girls suffered rape and other violence carried out by government forces and armed groups in most conflicts.

Other trends included:

* Mass forced evictions of people from their homes in Africa, for example in Angola, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, often driving people deeper into poverty
* Increased reports of domestic violence against women, rape, sexual abuse, and murder and mutilation after rape, in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Jamaica
* Millions of migrants in Asia-Pacific countries including South Korea, Japan and Malaysia faced exploitation, violence and abuse
* A sharp rise in racism, xenophobia and intolerance in Europe and Central Asia
* In the Middle East and North Africa, attacks by armed groups - some apparently aligned to al-Qa’ida - in states such as Iraq and Yemen, heightened insecurity

Globally, with millions of people pushed into poverty by the food, energy and financial crises, events showed the urgent need to tackle the abuses that affect poverty.

“Governments should be held accountable for the human rights abuses that drive and deepen poverty. The UN review meeting on the Millennium Development Goals in New York, USA, this September is an opportunity for world leaders to move from promises to legally enforceable commitments,” said Claudio Cordone.

Women, especially the poor, bore the brunt of the failure to deliver on these goals. Pregnancy-related complications claimed the lives of an estimated 350,000 women, with maternal mortality often directly caused by gender discrimination, violations of sexual and reproductive rights, and denial of access to health care.
“Governments must promote women’s equality and address discrimination against women if they are going to make progress on the Millennium Development Goals,” said Claudio Cordone.

Amnesty International also called on G20 states that have failed to fully sign up to the International Criminal Court - USA, China, Russia, Turkey, India, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia - to do so. The international review meeting on the court, beginning in Kampala, Uganda on 31 May, is a chance for governments to show their commitment to the court.

Despite serious failures in ensuring justice last year, many events revealed progress.
In Latin America, investigations into crimes shielded by amnesty laws were reopened, with landmark judgments involving former leaders including the convictions of former President Alberto Fujimori of Peru for crimes against humanity and Argentina’s last military president, Reynaldo Bignone for kidnapping and torture. All trials in the Special Court for Sierra Leone were concluded apart from the on-going trial of former President of Liberia Charles Taylor.

“The need for effective global justice is a key lesson from the past year. Justice provides fairness and truth to those who suffer violations, deters human rights abuses, and ultimately delivers a more stable and secure world,” said Claudio Cordone.

Related: Amnesty International Online Petition: Call on UN to investigate Sri Lanka rights violations

Pro-LTTE diaspora pursue Eelam agenda without any thought about Tamils living in Sri Lanka

By Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

"Innaa Seytharai Oruthal Awar Naana-
Nan Nayam Seythu Widdal" (Thirukkural –Tamil)

(Perform a good deed in return, to those who have harmed you, in order to shame them-my translation)

It is one year since the LTTE was militarily defeated at Nanthikadal, 300,000 victims of this war ended up as 'Internally Displaced Persons' in camps and several thousands, both combatants and non-combatants, died. In the past year, Provincial Councils have been elected anew, the President has been re-elected and the general elections have been held for a new parliament.

In the past year, the people, who were not in the war Theater, have enjoyed peace, sans terrorism. The woes of those who faced the brunt of the war and its brutal end however continue unabated!

Have we learned our lessons from the war and its brutal end, and done what we should have? Sadly, we have done neither. The victims of the war- principally the Tamils in the Vanni, who paid the price for someone else's war, became the victims of political chicanery, in the hands of Diaspora Tamils, their politicians, their militant turned democratic groups, the international community and the Sri Lankan government.

The initial and very welcome approach of the government to meet the needs of the IDPs and resettle them as fast as possible, was blunted by the Tamil Diaspora, Tamil politico- militant groups and the international community. The IDPs are those who survived the war and were the direct victims of everything wrong with that war. In the midst of utter destruction, destitution and wretchedness, they unwittingly also became an instrument to torment the government.

The Tamil Diaspora and the international community conveniently ignored the fact that a brutal war spanning several decades in a poor country, had just ended. Instead of supporting and urging the government to move fast on IDP resettlement, rehabilitation and re-building issues, everything possible was done to divert its attention to issues of lesser or no concern. The Tamil Diaspora at large, to its eternal shame, did not respond, as it should have to resolve the problems of these IDPs. The victims of their selfish and thoughtless pursuit of Tamil Eelam were abandoned on the doorsteps of their sworn enemy! Vested interests in the Tamil Diaspora had the need to display the IDPs and the issue of the war-dead as their new beggar's wound, to seek sympathy for their Tamil Eelam project.

Vested interests in the international community on the other hand needed a stick to make the Sri Lankan government toe their line. It seemed the woes of the Tamils as living and battered humans mattered little to the Eelamites and the bleeding hearts in the international community! This paradox baffles me yet.

The LTTE was hell-bent on precipitating the last Eelam war and was in no mood to listen to voices of caution. It prepared itself for decisive war during the life of the ceasefire agreement and misused the opportunities that arose during the Tsunami to facilitate relief efforts, to further this objective. The Sri Lankan government met this challenge and threw everything in its power to win the war. It was an opportunity the Sri Lankan government was rightly determined not to miss. These aspects of the genesis of the war and the viciousness of the LTTE and the misery and damage to human life, structures and society it had left in its wake, were conveniently forgotten. The fact the LTTE could be yet lurking in the urban areas and the Vanni jungles to wreak its revenge was conveniently ignored. The fact that the Sri Lankan government and the Sinhala people had not forgotten how the LTTE misused even the Tsunami to prepare for war was also ignored.

The fact that the Sri Lankan government and the Sinhala people, who were painted as the arch enemies of Tamils, had to overnight become their saving angels, overcoming decades long acrimony, mutual hurt, injury, suspicions, fear and distrust, was not appreciated. However, the Sinhala people and the Sri Lankan government largely proved they were up to this challenge. Yesterday's enemy became today's friend. This was proof, if any were needed that we are one people at heart.

The Sri Lankan government was accused of malafide intent, running Nazi-style extermination camps and deliberately imposing the worst misery imaginable on the displaced in terms of food, water shelter and health care. There were also allegations of rape and torture. The fact that thousands of humans, in the most miserable state, who had seen death and had been near death; who were injured and maimed; who had lost their near and dear; who were starved and just clinging on to life; were given refuge in these camps was conveniently forgotten. The fact that these displaced persons had to be cared for under difficult circumstances and unimaginable constraints, while having to be protected from the devious designs and depravity of the LTTE and its supporters, were also ignored.

How the tragedy that befell the people of the Vanni was deliberately engineered by the LTTE over several years and accentuated in the last days of the war, were conveniently ignored. These unfortunate people unwittingly became just one more tool in the devious political designs of distant spectators and trouble- makers. The LTTE had once again become more important than the Tamils living in Sri Lanka. The Tamils in Sri Lanka were only incidental in the grand scheme for an LTTE Eelam! This brand of heartless politics is an insult to our humanity.

Sadly, some people enriched themselves at the expense of the misery of these IDPs. The weak and the poor were condemned to live in the camps, while those who had money and influence, but were guilty in the eyes of the government and the armed forces, were able to buy their way out. Those who had tortured the Tamils in the name of liberation in the last phases of the war also bought their way out, leaving the victims to the mercy of the government. There was money made in building the camps and in the provision of food.

Tamils preyed on these IDPs. Muslims preyed on these IDPs. Sinhalese preyed on these IDPs. Government officials and officers of the armed services and police preyed on the misery of these IDPs. Tamil politicians and supposed to be ex-militants, preyed on the misery of these IDPs. The pro-LTTE Diaspora preyed the most on the misery of these IDPs. The International community, which did help to some extent, played into the hands of these predators, by diverting the attention of the government from the needs of the living to liability for the dead.

On the brighter side, people all over the Island, the majority, rallied to help these unfortunates. Every Buddhist temple and Sinhala village collected clothing and food for these unfortunate people. Tamil charities and organizations also came forward to do their mite. The hill country Tamils and Muslims all over the island also did what their resources would permit. However, a majority of Tamils with origins in the north and east, but living in the 'South', did not do as much as they should have. They were busy mourning the LTTE and a lost cause! This wave of national sympathy and magnanimity was ignored by the Tamil politicians and the Tamil Diaspora at large. A spontaneous urge for national reconciliation and healing were ignored and a rare opportunity permitted to fizzle out.

The provincial elections in the east, which preceded the final defeat of the LTTE, have made way for a Provincial Council that is trusted by neither the people nor the government. It is made up of persons who are incapable of rising to the challenges confronting their people. It was a window dressing to placate the international community. The elections to the Jaffna and Vavuniya Municipal Councils held soon after the war ended were similar exercises in cussedness. Men, women and groups who should not have been permitted to exercise any power, are exercising what ever power they are permitted ( mainly to feather their own nests and satisfy their bloated egos), over a people who have been broken to an extent that is difficult to imagine. Most of these persons are unqualified to manage even a corner grocery store!

The recent general elections have also made way for a distorted, enfeebled and disinterested Tamil electorate to elect men and women who have to answer for many past and present sins. Men and women who have no idea where they should take their people and how, have been elected to lead a people mired in misery and have no time to think of the morrow, except in terms of survival. Men and women who should be in jail for their crimes or are answerable for supporting sheer evil, and rabble rousers who are a curse in any society, have been ensconced as Tamil leaders by the short sightedness of the government. Tamils in Sri Lanka need 'Visionary and able Giants' and not 'War Lords, Common Thugs and Cheap Politicians' to lead them at this moment in their history.

The government has failed in its duty in not having disarmed and marginalized the Tamil paramilitary groups soon after the war ended. This has aroused much suspicion among Tamils about the intentions of the government and Sinhala polity. The government has chosen to ignore the gun culture, extortion rackets and the politics of terror that persist among these ex-militant groups. The government has thus delivered a helpless people into the hands of political vultures. This failure has also played into the hands of the pro-LTTE Diaspora. The gratitude the government owes these groups, in return for their services during the war, should not be at the expense of the Tamils. They should be retired to greener pastures, to enjoy what is left of their now useless lives, instead of being foisted on the Tamils.

The pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora on the other hand are busy pursuing their Eelam agenda unmindful of its consequences on the Tamils yet living in Sri Lanka. They are busy creating the illusion that, what was in every way right under the LTTE has become wrong in every way after its defeat and demise. The illusion that women, who were safe under the LTTE, are no longer safe from sexual harassment is one theme in their arsenal. The fact that women were quite safe in the north and east prior to the advent of Tamil militancy is conveniently forgotten. The fact that female cadres were sexually abused by males in positions of command within the LTTE is of course a subject that will not be openly discussed.

The other theme is that the general security of the Tamils has deteriorated in the absence of the LTTE, with incidence of kidnapping for ransom, murders and other crimes increasing in the north and east. The Tamil Net is spearheading this propaganda effort, supported by some Tamil politicians and local newspaper outlets. The fact that the LTTE and other so-called liberation movements helped criminalize and lumpenize Tamil society is conveniently forgotten by these purveyors of doom. The crime that is beginning to show its ugly face in the north and east are the result of the activities of Tamil Para-military groups and the residual elements of the LTTE mingling among the people. I suspect there may also be a deliberate attempt to subvert normalcy and development by paid agents of the LTTE.

The third theme is that Tamil lands in the north and east are being colonized and Sinhalized under the auspices of the government. The fact that the LTTE was instrumental in providing at least part of the reason for mass migration of Tamils, and the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Tamils, is conveniently ignored by these purveyors of doom. The LTTE gave more importance to holding real estate than the lives of the people it claimed to represent exclusively. Now we have plenty of land and very few people. If there is a vacuum, air will rush into fill it! Where there is need, there will be supply. Let the Tamil Diaspora return in their thousands to fill the human/ human resource vacuum and use potentially productive lands! Their Eelam agenda and utter indifference to the misery they have caused the people whom they claim to care, defies logic. What I see among the pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora is hypocrisy and chicanery of the worst kind.

The voices of sanity and decency have to prevail in Sri Lanka. The noise of the extremes -Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim- has to be muted. The stand of the government on issues relating to the Tamils, other minorities and the north and east, should be clearly and unambiguously explained. The government has to be like Caesar's wife, beyond suspicion. The government should make a visible effort to educate the Sinhala polity on the crisis facing the Tamils as a people and the need to accommodate them as equal partners within the Sri Lankan identity. This is a delicate period in Sri Lanka's history. Wounds in the social fabric have to heal and a new vision has to unfold.

This vision has to encompass all the people in Sri Lanka. Individual, group and citizenship rights have to be not only respected, but also strongly defended by the government. The government should not only be fair, but also appear to be so. Justice has to come to the fore in our lives.

The government has to make the efforts on a war footing to mobilize resources to resettle, rehabilitate and provide livelihood for the internally displaced and war-affected, in a proper manner. The Tamil Diaspora has to rally to this cause whole- heartedly and generously. The government has to make a concerted effort to invest in all facets of development in the north and east, and pave the way for both external and internal inputs. The Tamil Diaspora and other Tamils in the South have to contribute to this effort. A new political leadership has to evolve to carry these efforts forward. Eelam is a long lost cause. Tamils are a realistic people. Let us not waste our time and money pursuing the unattainable and unneeded.

The government has to implement the 13th amendment and plus (which was promised) through interim and appointed Provincial Councils for the north and east in the first phase. The Eastern Provincial Council should be dismissed and Provincial Councils for the north and east appointed. Men and women of integrity, proven ability and vision should be appointed to these councils. They should function for three to five years before elections are held. These councils should be empowered and supported by the government to carry out the mission of restoring normalcy and developing these provinces. These Interim Provincial Councils should be permitted to function as autonomously as possible within the law, without undue interference from the government and Tamil politicians. We need persons with experience and talent to run these councils initially.

These councils cannot be the repositories of the remnants of Tamil militancy. The ordinary Tamils in the north and east must see tangible improvements in their lives soon. Words and elections do not mean anything to them now. Democracy of the sort we have in Sri Lanka and particularly in the north and east, do not mean anything to a people, who have no hope for the morrow!

Appointing competent Provincial Councils for the north and East will win the hearts and minds of the Tamils and show that the government honest about its intentions. The three to five year period proposed would give the time and space for the Tamils to recover and evolve a new political leadership. This period will also give the government and the Sinhala polity the time to accept the north and east as integral parts of the country, and dissipate existing suspicions and lingering doubts. The Tamils will also have the time and space to understand that being part of Sri Lanka, is a better option to an LTTE Eelam. These councils should be up and running properly to convince those Tamils, who yet perceive that they are powerless because of the demise of the LTTE, that the government and the Sinhala polity are ready to grant them a measure of autonomy to manage their affairs more efficiently.

Security concerns are yet paramount and should be addressed in a sophisticated manner. High security zones should be progressively dismantled. Tamils and other minorities should be recruited and integrated into the armed forces and police. The armed forces and police should become national in their content and cease to be identified as 'Sinhala'. The resurrection of the LTTE or a similar grouping should be prevented at any cost. However, this should also have at its heart the need to win over the Tamils to the cause of a united (and since insisted on, a unitary) Sri Lanka.

It is also important that laws are passed making statements and acts that arouse communal passions and seed national divisions, irrespective of the direction they originate, criminal offences of the highest order. Introduction of an equal opportunities law would also be an act in the right direction.

Tamils in Sri Lanka have to concede the north cannot be their exclusive preserve. Sinhalese who want to live and work in the north and east of their free will, should be able to do so and be welcomed. On the other hand, the government should not as a matter of policy permit state-aided colonization of any sort, unless as part of a nationally accepted plan. Historical claims and counter claims to land and the ownership of the Island are for textbooks and academic discussions. The only undisputed ancestral claim all humans have is for Africa, the cradle of humankind!

The population distribution prevalent at the time of independence should be the benchmark, while taking into account current circumstances and realities. Sri Lanka is one country and it belongs to all of us. However, the rights and sensitivities of predominant communities in particular areas should be respected. Conditions should be created for Tamils to be proud of their Sri Lankan identity. This should be the challenge for the government and the Sinhala polity in the years ahead.

Prabaharan's mother (Mrs. Parvathy Vellupillai), should be brought Colombo and provided the best treatment and health care possible, in the best hospital. This will prove to disaffected Tamils and the world at large that we are yet a forgiving and decent people. She is ultimately an old mother, who has unfortunately lived to see her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren die in the battlefields and the husband pre-decease, who deserves our sympathies. This gesture should be the high note in celebrating the first anniversary of defeating the LTTE.

I yet remember the late Major Raja Uyangoda telling me in 1987, when I sought his help (at the army camp in Kilinotchchi) to cremate the remains of my mother and brother who had been killed by the IPKF in Navatkuli, "Don’t worry. Your mother is like my mother". That was the height of chivalry. That was the high point of Buddhism. That was the high point of our- a Tamil and a Sinhalese- being fellow Sri Lankans. That was the high point of our common humanity.

The time has come for everyone in Sri Lanka to become more civilized and recognize that we are humans first and Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and others next. It is my belief that in the long run Tamils and history will be thankful to President Rajapakse for eliminating the LTTE scourge. If he is able to find a durable solution to the communal problems plaguing Sri Lanka for six decades, to the satisfaction of all the peoples of Sri Lanka, he will be thankfully remembered as a notable figure by history.

Ganeshwary Santhanam, “I’m blessed to be alive”

Reported by IRIN News

BATTICALOA, Ganeshwary Santhanam, 31, is one of thousands of women who joined the now defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which fought for an independent Tamil homeland for more than 25 years.


Like many Sri Lankans returning to their homes, Ganeshwary hopes for a better future- pic by IRIN contributor

She joined the movement - branded a terrorist group by many - and left during the ceasefire, got married to another fighter and gave birth to a son, before being pressured to rejoin the LTTE in 2006. Like thousands of Sri Lankans returning to their homes today, she hopes to build a new future.

“I joined the LTTE almost 10 years ago to fight for the freedom of the Tamils. My parents were not happy about my decision. I dropped out of school due to the war. My childhood dream had always been to become a Bharathanatya dancer, but my dream was never fulfilled.

“After serving in the movement for nearly 10 years, I left the LTTE during the ceasefire time in 2002. I got married to an LTTE cadre, and gave birth to a son. We were a happily married couple.

“But in 2006, that life of normality was to change when I was pressured to join up yet again. During that time, I was given rigorous training along with other women in the village and proved myself a better fighter than most.

“At the same time, it was very difficult because I was worried about my family. I always thought if I die who will look after my family? Memories of my family were always in my mind when I was on the battlefield. On the other hand, I did not have a choice to decide this on my own and I continued to fight. I prayed to God to save me and let me live for my husband and son. Later, my family and I would become displaced from our village. I gave birth to another son and am currently jobless, as is my husband.

“The war was terrible – so much suffering and loss. I want to educate my children and make them better citizens. I want to forget the bitter past and forgive others and lead a peaceful life.

“I have fought in the battlefield, but I managed to survive without any injury, while many of my fellow fighters died on the spot. It’s a miracle of God. I am blessed to be alive.”

IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) is part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Any solution has to be withing the framework of a unitary state - G.L. Peiris

Interview with Sri Lanka's Minister of External Affairs by Foreign Policy Magazine

Some 300,000 civilians were caught up in the final days of the military campaign to end the Tamil Tiger insurgency in Sri Lanka last year. Women, children, and elderly Tamils were shelled, used as human shields, denied access to aid, and shuttled into overcrowded camps.

And though much of this has been known for months, on May 19, the International Crisis Group went further in perhaps the most thorough investigation yet. In an explosive report, the organization charged that the "Sri Lankan security forces committed war crimes with top government and military leaders potentially responsible."

The specific charges leveled in the report include the intentional shelling of civilians, hospitals, and humanitarian operations. These actions, the report says, were "made substantially worse by the government's obstruction of food and medical treatment for the civilian population." The report also accuses the Tamil Tigers, known formally as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), of intentionally killing civilians, though the lion's share of the casualties were government-inflicted. Finally, the report raises the concern that other countries will pursue the "Sri Lankan Option" -- "unrestrained military action, refusal to negotiate, disregard for humanitarian issues -- as a way to deal with insurgencies and other violent groups."

The report came out just ahead of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G. L. Peiris's visit to the United States, where he is meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. congressional leaders, thinks tanks, and finally Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday. In an exclusive interview with Foreign Policy's Elizabeth Dickinson, he said the Crisis Group's allegations were "nebulous" and politically motivated and dismissed concerns about the arrest of former presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka. Excerpts:

Foreign Policy: What is the purpose of your trip, and how have your goals been received so far?

G. L. Peiris: A whole new situation has arisen with the defeat of terrorism. Sri Lanka is a country with immense potential. Our per capita income in the late 1940s and early 1950s was the highest in that part of the world -- way ahead of Korea, Thailand, and Malaysia. Then we had this problem [of the Tamil Tiger insurgency], which set us back. Now, all of that has been consigned to the past; that's the difference. My visit here is basically to bring [this] to the media's attention.

FP: The International Crisis Group recently released a report documenting allegations that both the Tamil Tiger insurgency and the government were involved in actions that constituted war crimes. What is your response to that report -- and the allegation of war crimes in particular?

GLP: If you look at the report, the allegations are not attributed to any identifiable source, so verification is therefore not just difficult but impossible. There is a kind of veil of secrecy shrouding the sources [in a way] that is destructive of any kind of transparency or verifiability.

Secondly, the report is couched in vague, nebulous language. One sentence in it says that tens of thousands of civilians were killed. What does that mean? Ten thousand? Twenty thousand would be tens of thousands. Ninety thousand also would be tens of thousands.

Thirdly, the timing of [the report] does raise very significant doubts about motivation, about bonda fides. It was clearly intended to coincide with the first anniversary of the cessation of hostilities and the defeat of the LTTE [Tamil Tigers]. The interesting thing is that all this was coinciding with important events that were taking place with crucial repercussions for Sri Lanka: meetings in Brussels on the 20th and 21st with the European Union. [What was at stake was] duty-free entry into the markets of the European Union for a wide range of products from Sri Lanka, particularly apparel products. The European Union had given notice for a possible suspension of these benefits because of human rights violations and allegations.

Then, [there has been] the pressure on the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, to nominate a panel of experts [to investigate the situation]. He was being harassed every day. It is a custom of the U.N. to have media briefings every day at noon, so every day he is being inundated with questions.

The president of Sri Lanka has appointed a commission consisting of eight very distinguished people [who can] examine the evidence to see whether any individual or group of personas have been guilty of war crimes. What I told the secretary-general emphatically during my meeting with him is to give it a chance. If there are problems that surface later, shortcomings, deficiencies, then we will come to the U.N. and say: We would like assistance with the following. But don't foist it on us. That will simply make the work of the commission more difficult, and within Sri Lanka there would be public resentment because that attitude would seem patronizing.

FP: Some have suggested that, as part of the reconciliation process, Sri Lanka should give regions more autonomy, particularly the Tamil-dominated north. What is your government's view?

GLP: The policy of the president's government is that any solution has to be within the framework of the unitary state. But within the unitary state, we are going to put in place a political solution that will be fair and equitable to all the communities that live in the country. [We need] to work toward the development of a national identity, a national consciousness.

FP: How is the return of displaced persons from the large camps in which they have been held proceeding?

GLP: In one year's time, we have achieved a great deal. If you look at countries in these kinds of situations, it has taken them 20 years, 30 years. But we started with 297,000 people who had been displaced, and now we have resettled 80 percent of them.

Local government elections could not be held in that part of the country for a long time -- more than a decade -- because of the turbulence. Now we are holding elections in order to provide space for the spontaneous emergence of a genuine Tamil leadership.

FP: After the national presidential election, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the president's opponent, was arrested. Why did that happen?

GLP: Because General Fonseka, like all of us, is subject to the laws of the land. He contested the election -- these allegations came up earlier. The president was very keen that nothing should be done to prevent [Fonseka] from contesting the election. So he contested the election, and he lost.

FP: When you said "subject to the laws of the land" specifically which law are you talking about?

GLP: He is accused of dishonesty, cheating, criminal misappropriation -- the purchase of arms. He abused his position in order to confer very large benefits on a company that was run by his son-in-law. Those are crimes in your country; they are crimes in our country. And just because a man contests an election does not mean his is exempt from the operation of those laws.

FP: But General Fonseka worked with the president for some time, for example in undertaking the final operations of the campaign against the Tamil Tigers. If these allegations were known, why was he not removed from his position then?

GLP: This evidence came to light at a certain point. While the election campaign was going on, this was known. But had any action been taken during that period, it certainly would have been suggested that these matters were being pursued to harm his campaign, so nothing was done during that period to forestall that criticism. He was allowed to carry on his election campaign without any hindrance whatsoever. The election took place, and he lost -- by a huge margin. Thereafter, the criminal process was set in motion, as indeed it had to be. It could have been done before the election. But we thought that was not right.

FP: What would have happened if he had won?

GLP: If he had won, then he would be the president of the country. So I can't answer that question, because then his government would have had to decide. I can't speak for a government that might have come into being in a hypothetical situation. - courtesy: Foreign Policy -

May 25, 2010

Talk Economics SL: "10 yrs since the Indo-SL Free Trade Agreement"

Tweet bundle ~ from a live update of The Institute of Policy Studies Seminar, reviewing SL-India Free Trade Agreement May24-25:

IPS just kick-started 2 day conference on "10 yrs since the Indo-SL Free Trade Agreement"

Sarath Amunugama (Dep Finance Min), top public officials, biz leaders and economists present.

IPSTC520.jpgVikram Misry, Deputy Indian High Comm, pledges to fix current hiccups and strengthen the trade agreement.

Dep. Indian High Comm calls for stronger linkages in biz value-chains b/wn the 2 economies.

SL enterprises w/ strong standing in India - Brandix, MAS, Heritance, Colombo Dockyard.

Indian brands making strong headway in SL - Indian IOC, Ultratech cement, Bharti Airtel, CEAT tyres.

Dr.Kelegama (Exec Dir, IPS) - nearly 65% of Indian imports to SL hv been outside the FTA, esp. fuel.

Colombo Dockyard is main ship-building and repair provider to India, 78% of biz is w/ India.

Sri Lankan Airlines is the biggest foreign airline operating in India.

Publicity value for SL from IIFA likely to touch $150mn - Dep. Indian High Comm.

Looking at the Achievements, Challenges and Road Ahead, 10 yrs since signing the agreement.

"FTA signing was political decision, economic rationale follwed" -KJ Weerasinghe(fmr DG Dept. of Commerce).

"Lets have more joint ventures, integrate supply chains" - Sarath Amunugama (Dep. Finance Min.).

"Proposed CEPA (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement) is abt fixing current flaws, as much as abt opening up further" -Santosh Jha, Indian High Comm.

"Key aim of an FTA should be creating more jobs" - Koshi Mathai, IMF Country Rep in SL.

CEAT Kelani & Lanka Ashok Leyland, examples of successful Joint Ventures -Saman Kelegama(IPS).

"Time for SL to figure out its India strategy. Do you want to export more tea or more ships?"-Santosh Jha (Indian HC).

Exports to India grew fast in first 5 yrs of FTA but recent decline due vanaspathi/copper collapse.

Rapid rise in Indian investment in #srilanka since signing FTA in 2000 -Deshal De Mel(IPS).

SL IT firms, Interblocks and Microimage, developed tech solutions for Indian banks and telcos.

India is 3rd highest export destination, but need to diversify product range - Deshal de Mel (IPS).

Sales of MAS lingerie range in India 'Amante' has grown by 100% each year since 2007.

"Need better legal frameworks w/ India to support govt's 5 Hub vision" -Rohan Samarajiva (LIRNEasia).

"India pushing for more bilaterals, working on the basis that Doha is dead" -Rohan Samarajiva (LIRNEasia).

"No wonder we hv to go for bilateral FTAs, SAARC is deader than Doha!" -Rohan Samarajiva (LIRNEasia).

"let's sign the CEPA and fully integrate w/ the Indian economy - a rocket that's abt to take off"- Rohan Samarajiva.

"Trade is much more diversified than under any other agreement" -Govt's chief trade negotiator Gomi Senadheera.

"Need to analyse if informal trade has fallen due to the FTA" -Dr.Sarvanathan(Point Pedro Institute).

"Trade is much more diversified than under any other agreement" -Govt's chief trade negotiator Gomi Senadheera.

"Need to analyse if informal trade has fallen due to the FTA" -Dr.Sarvanathan(Point Pedro Institute).

"Revive plans for Indo-SL bridge+direct link to Talaimannar, KKS" -Dr.Sarvananthan(Point Pedro Institute).

Altho hard to quantify, peripheral benefit of the FTA has been big, e.g.70% Indian transhipment handled by CMB.

At Indo-SL FTA conference, Minister Amunugama says "go for more Joint Ventures, integrated production" http://bit.ly/aduGTO

day 2 of the Indo-SL FTA conference Colombo. Todays topics: making the FTA more effective,pvt sector views, way fwd

"agreement was signed in a hurry, not enough stakeholder dialogue at that time" - fmr. DG.

"mutual recognition agreements for quality standards must be fastracked"-SL's fmr. chief trade negotiator.

"this was a marriage between a sumo wrestler and a ballet dancer" -Bandula Perera.

"FTAs must benefit the people. Hv we analysed how many jobs were created/lost by this FTA?" –industrialist.

Indian H.C. Commerce Secr calls on SL govt. to kickstart CEPA talks, disappointed that it's stalled.

"we hv learnt to better address stakeholder concerns, valuable for future treaties" SL's fmr Trade Chief.

North&East of SL to get ice plants, crucial to leverage fishing industry potential there http://bit.ly/cro8fZ

SL more investor-friendly than India, no. of Indian investments growing - Rajesh Ratna, Indian Economist.

"quality of SL products set new benchmarks in Indian industry" - Somi Hazari (Indian biz leader).

Broader, effective stakeholder consultation is key to ease public concerns surrounding a trade agreement.

...but transparency is tricky, limitations in revealing key negotiating points to broader public.

Successful SL firms in India - Brandix Lanka operates massive 1,000 acre textile park.

"pick winning SL brands & push them hard in India, catalyse Joint Ventures"-Rohantha Athukorala (UNOPS).

Successful firms in Indian mkt - 53% of Colombo Dockyard's ship build/repair revenue generated frm India.

Click for updates from Institute of Policy Studies

Militant rebel voice Maya 'MIA' Arulpragasam: Fusion of style, music and controversy

by Lynn Hirschberg

On the Grammy Awards in 2009, Maya Arulpragasam, also known as M.I.A., performed her biggest hit, “Paper Planes,” a rap song that infuses rebellious, defiant lyrics with the sounds of her native Sri Lanka, a riff lifted from the Clash, the bang-bang of a gun and the ka-ching of a cash register.

M.I.A. on the roof of the Ohm Building in New York

pic by Ryan McGinley for The New York Times: click on pic for larger image ~ for more pic and audio on NYTimes.com

VBS’s creative director Spike Jonze spends a Saturday in London with MIA

Maya, as she is called, was nine months pregnant (to the day), and while she was onstage rapping about “some some some I some I murder, some I some I let go” — in a black skintight, body-stocking dress, transparent except for polka-dot patches that strategically covered her belly, breasts and derrière — she began to experience contractions. As the pain hit, Maya was performing with the male titans of rap (Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, T.I.) and she later told me that she thought all the free-floating testosterone caused her to go into labor. While American rappers today tend to celebrate sex, wealth and status, Maya, who grew up listening to the politicized rhymes of Public Enemy, takes international dance beats and meshes them with the very un-American voice of the militant rebel. In contrast to, say, Bono or John Lennon, with their peacenik messages, Maya taps into her rage at the persecution of Tamils in Sri Lanka to espouse violence: while you’re under the sway of the beat, she’s rapping, “You wanna win a war?/Like P.L.O. I don’t surrender.”

Although her publicist had a wheelchair ready and a midwife on call, Maya, who has a deep and instinctive affinity for the provocative, knew that this Grammy moment was not to be missed. It had everything: artistic credibility, high drama, a massive audience. The baby would just have to wait. The combination of being nearly naked, hugely pregnant, singing incendiary lyrics and having the eyes of the world upon her was too much to resist. And she was riveting, upstaging the four much more famous guys and dominating the stage. “That’s gangsta,” said Queen Latifah, one of the show’s presenters.

Three days later, her son, Ikhyd (pronounced I-kid) Edgar Arular Bronf­man, was born. His father is Maya’s fiancé, Ben Bronfman, son of the Warner Music Group chief executive and Seagram’s heir Edgar Bronfman Jr. In one of many contradictions that seem to provide the narrative for Maya’s life and art, Ikhyd was not, as she had repeatedly announced he would be, born at home in a pool of water. As usual, she wanted to transform her personal life into a political statement. “You gotta embrace the pain, embrace the struggle,” she proclaimed weeks before Ikhyd was born. “And my giving birth is nothing when I think about all the people in Sri Lanka that have to give birth in a concentration camp.”

As it happened, Maya, who is 34, gave birth in a private room in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “Ben’s family insisted,” she told me a year later, when we met in March for drinks at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, in nearby Beverly Hills. Before the Grammys, Maya and Bronfman moved to Los Angeles from New York, buying a house in very white, very wealthy Brentwood, an isolated and bucolic section of the city with a minimal history of trauma and violent uprisings. “L.A. is a lovely place to have a baby,” Maya said. She’s surprisingly petite and ladylike, with beautiful almond-shaped dark brown eyes and full lips that she painted a deep red the day we met. Maya has a unique tomboy-meets-ghetto-fabulous-meets-exotic-princess look that, like her music, manages to combine sexy elements (lingerie peeks out from under her see-through tops) with individual flourishes (she designs elaborate patterns for her nails) and ethnic accents (the bright, rich prints of Africa are her wardrobe staple). Like all style originals, Maya wears her clothes with great confidence — she knows how to edit her presentation for maximum effect. At the Beverly Wilshire, she was wearing high-heeled pumps with leggings under a hip-length, sheer white tunic woven with gold threads and an outsize black jacket that looked as if it might be on loan from her boyfriend. Her only jewelry was a simple diamond engagement ring.

“We went to the Grammys, we had the baby and we bought the house,” Maya said as she studied the menu, deciding on a glass of wine and French fries. “A month later, all this stuff was happening in Sri Lanka” — the Tamil insurgency was being defeated amid reports of thousands of civilian casualties — “and I started speaking up against it. And then, within a month, I found out my house was being bugged, my phones were being tapped and my e-mails were being hacked into. I was getting death threats, like ‘hope your baby dies.’ The biggest Sinhalese community is in Santa Monica, people who are sworn enemies of the Tamils, which is me.” She paused. “I live around the corner from Beverly Hills, and I feel semiprotected by Ben and, if anything happens to me, then Ben’s family will not take it. Jimmy Iovine, who runs Interscope, my record company, said, ‘Pick your battles carefully — don’t put your life at risk,’ but at the end of the day, I don’t see how you can shut up and just enjoy success when other people who don’t have the fame or the luxury to rent security guards are suffering. What the hell do they do? They just die.”


pic by Ryan McGinley for The New York Times ~ more pictures

Maya’s tirade, typical in the way it moved from the political to the personal and back again, was interrupted by a waiter, who offered her a variety of rolls. She chose the olive bread. Maya’s political fervor stems from her upbringing. Although she was born in London, her family moved back to Sri Lanka when she was 6 months old, to a country torn by fighting between the Tamil Hindu minority and the Sinhalese Buddhist majority. In the ’70s, her father, Arular, helped found the Tamil militant group EROS (Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students), trained with the P.L.O. in Lebanon and spearheaded a movement to create an independent Tamil state in the north and east of the country. EROS was eventually overwhelmed by a stronger and more vicious militant group, the Tamil Tigers. In their struggle for political control, the Tigers not only went after government troops and Sinhalese civilians but also their own people, including Tamil women and children. “The Tigers ruled the people under them with an iron fist,” Ahilan Kadirgamar at Sri Lanka Democracy Forum told me. “They used mafia­like tactics, and they would forcefully recruit child soldiers. Maya’s father was never with the Tigers. He stayed away.”

In 1983, when she was 8, Maya, her mother and her two siblings moved to London. Her father stayed in Sri Lanka. Throughout her music career, which began in 2004, and especially around the time of the Grammys, Maya has used the spotlight to call attention to Tamil grievances. She named her first album “Arular,” after her father. Even though her father was not a Tiger, she also used tigers on her Web site and her album artwork and she favored tiger-striped clothing. This was not an accident. By the time her first album came out, the Tamil cause was mostly synonymous with the cause of the Tamil Tigers. Maya, committed to the cause, allied herself with the group despite its consistent use of terror tactics, which included systematic massacres of Sinhalese villagers. (In turn, government forces were known to retaliate against Tamil villages and were accused of supporting death squads.)

In the press, Maya was labeled a terrorist sympathizer by some; others charged her with being unsophisticated about the politics of Sri Lanka. “People in exile tend to be more nationalistic,” Kadirgamar said. “And Maya took a very simplistic explanation of the problems between Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese government and the Tamils. It’s very unfair when you condemn one side of this conflict. The Tigers were killing people, and the government was killing people. It was a brutal war, and M.I.A. had a role in putting the Tigers on the map. She doesn’t seem to know the complexity of what these groups do.”

But many of her fans didn’t listen too closely to her lyrics, concentrating instead on the beat, the newness of the sound and her own multiculti, many-layered appeal. She was an instant indie darling (although “Arular” sold only 190,000 copies in the United States). Her songs were creative and abrasive in an intoxicating way, and it didn’t hurt that Maya was absolutely great looking. She quickly became a style icon: like that of all great pop stars, her anger and spirit of revolution was mitigated by sex.

“Maya had all the pieces of the puzzle,” Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope Records, told me. “When I met her, I thought, Who wouldn’t want to sign her? Her politics didn’t matter to me. The whole game is about waiting for that moment to move popular culture. Maya can move the needle. I want to go where she’s going to take me.”

Iovine may have instinctively realized that in fusing style, music and controversy, Maya evoked Madonna. While Madonna has always been more interested in writing melodious, catchy pop songs and less interested in niche hipster credibility than Maya, they share a gift for grand self-invention. Like Madonna, Maya is not a trained musician but instead a brilliant editor, able to pick and choose and bend the talents of others to fit her goals. They share an enormous appetite and a discerning eye for the intertwined worlds of fashion, art and music. “Madonna is the one,” Maya said. “Madonna did amazing songs. She had an amazing sense of style, without a stylist. And she was flawed, and sometimes she admitted it. I’ll fight the fight for Madonna. I think she should send me some chocolates or something to thank me.”

Yet while Madonna stuck to sex and the Catholic church for her headlines, Maya is compelled by a violent separatist movement and the politics of resistance. Her allegiances have fueled her music and her rhetoric. In January 2009, while the civil war in Sri Lanka was raging, Maya repeatedly referred to the situation as a “genocide.” “I wasn’t trying to be like Bono,” Maya told me. “He’s not from Africa — I’m from there. I’m tired of pop stars who say, ‘Give peace a chance.’ I’d rather say, ‘Give war a chance.’ The whole point of going to the Grammys was to say, ‘Hey, 50,000 people are gonna die next month, and here’s your opportunity to help.’ And no one did.”

Her rhetoric rankles Sri Lankan experts and human rights organizations, who are engaged in the difficult task of helping to forge a viable model for national unity after decades of bitter fighting. “Maya is a talented artist,” Kadirgamar told me, echoing the sentiments of others, “but she only made the situation worse. What happened in Sri Lanka was not a genocide. To not be honest about that or the Tigers does more damage than good. When Maya does a polarizing interview, it doesn’t help the cause of justice.”

Unity holds no allure for Maya — she thrives on conflict, real or imagined. “I kind of want to be an outsider,” she said, eating a truffle-flavored French fry. “I don’t want to make the same music, sing about the same stuff, talk about the same things. If that makes me a terrorist, then I’m a terrorist.”

AFTER BUYING THEIR home in Brentwood, Maya and Bronfman, whom she met in New York shortly after the breakup of his band, the Exit, decided to build a recording studio in the house. “It was very grown-up,” Maya recalled when we were in L.A. Bronfman, who is tall, soft-spoken and protective of his fiancée, now works with Global Thermostat, a technology company that is working on ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and is a founder of Green Owl, an environmentally conscious record label and sustainable-clothing line. “Everyone got so freaked out when they heard we bought the house,” Maya continued. “When we moved in, we imported all our English friends. Suddenly, everyone was living with us — eight people at once. For the first time, I had something called the comfort of your own house, and it turned into a commune: they all came for two days, and they never left. My producer, Blaqstarr, was living there. And then Cherry, who sings with me, was staying with us. And Rusko, who was also producing, was there all the time. My brother arrived. And in the end, we had three people to a room. We ended up buying a second house for everyone to live in.”

In August 2009, they started recording Maya’s third album, which will be out in early July but still didn’t have a title when I saw her in March. “We’re one big, horrible family,” Rusko said when I called him in Los Angeles, where he moved permanently, to talk about making the record. Blaqstarr also moved to L.A. “We follow Maya,” he said. “Her studio was like a biodome connected to her house. I lived in the studio. Everybody was hanging out; there was only one kitchen, and we’d all meet up in the kitchen.”

When Richard Russell, the head of XL Recordings, Maya’s British label, visited the house, he told her it reminded him of how the Rolling Stones recorded the classic album “Exile on Main St.” in a villa in the South of France in the ’70s. “I told Richard I felt so disconnected from the world I had known,” Maya recalled. “And he said, ‘The best music can come out of that.’ It was certainly different. I’d be writing lyrics upstairs, and Blaqstarr would be doodling downstairs, and I’d hear bass lines through the floorboards. I’d get inspired and leave the baby monitor on and go down to the studio. There is almost no cellphone reception at my house, and we couldn’t always find our land lines. It was easy to shut the outside world out. And I was making music for me again.”

The album (“I’m thinking of naming the record Nano, because nano bombs are the hip thing”) is still dominated by political lyrics, but the music is more melodic. On several tracks, Maya even sings. “I had to try,” Maya said.

Diplo said, “I made her sing.” He was a producer of her first album as well as “Paper Planes” and was also Maya’s boyfriend for several years. “Maya is a big pop star now, and pop stars sing,” he said. “For me, making this record wasn’t easy. In the past, we were a team. But Maya wanted to show us how much she didn’t need us. In the end, Maya is postmodern: she can’t really make music or art that well, but she’s better than anyone at putting crazy ideas into motion. She knows how to manipulate, how to withhold, how to get what she wants.”

What Maya wants is nearly impossible to achieve: she wants to balance outrageous political statements with a luxe lifestyle; to be supersuccessful yet remain controversial; for style to merge with substance. “If you want to be huge, you have to give up a lot,” Michelle Jubelirer, Maya’s longtime lawyer, told me. “Maya vacillates between wanting to be huge and maintaining her artistic integrity. That’s her dilemma.”

On a crisp, sunny day in mid-April in London, Maya and her publicist, Jennie Boddy, were in a car being driven to the home of a Sri Lankan wedding photographer. Instead of doing standard publicity photos to promote her still nameless album, Maya had the idea of using a photographer she found in the phone book who worked, as many Sri Lankan photographers do, in an almost Bollywood style, by inserting a simple picture, in this case of Maya, into dozens of fantastic, almost surrealistic tableaus. A few days ago, Maya hatched this plan, which like most Maya plans was inventive, artistic and, in an unsettling way, combined the high with the low. “I’ve had my eye on some jewelry from Givenchy forever,” Maya told me, as we inched our way in bumper-to-bumper traffic. “It is millions of dollars’ worth of gold jewelry. To wear it for these pictures, Givenchy had to send a bodyguard. I liked the idea of a photographer shooting me in his council flat in all this gold, knowing that the jewelry requires a bodyguard.” She paused. She was wearing opaque brown stockings, very small, tan leather shorts that laced up the front, high-heeled ankle boots and a fluorescent yellow bra that periodically flashed through a loose, open-knit Phat Farm sweater topped by an oversize dark brown jacket. Maya’s nearly black hair was pulled into a bun on top of her head, her nails were colored in an elaborate checkerboard pattern and she had applied a dark indigo powder to her eyebrows. It was an exotic mix: her body was downtown and her face was uptown. “All of what I’m wearing is American,” Maya said. “If I was a terrorist, I wouldn’t be wearing American clothing.” She paused. This may have been a joke, but Maya rarely laughs. She speaks carefully, slowly, with a kind of deadpan delivery. Like a trained politician, she stays on message. It’s hard to know if she believes everything she says or if she knows that a loud noise will always attract a crowd.

Maya had flown to London nearly a month before and was living with Ikhyd at her mother’s apartment an hour outside the city. Initially, she came to see her mom and work on the album art and the first video, for the song “Born Free,” which is, strangely, not the first single. But she needed to renew her U.S. visa, and until her immigration lawyer could resolve the matter, Maya was stuck in London. “I want to be back in New York by May 3,” she said, staring out the window. “I’m invited to the Met Ball, and all my girlfriends say: ‘Oh, the Met Ball! I want to go to the Met Ball!’ ” The annual Met Ball for the Costume Institute is a yearly black-tie gala held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is co-hosted by Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue. “I’m going with Alexander Wang” — the fashion designer — “and I wanted to wear a dress made out of a torn-up American flag,” Maya added. Wang made a hand-crocheted, gold-metallic dress over a black leather bodice instead.

Maya has a complicated relationship with America. When she was recording “Kala,” in 2007, her second album (named after her mother), her request for an artist’s visa was initially denied. (Maya maintains it was because of her song lyrics; the State Department is not obliged to give applicants a reason for denying them entry.) She had wanted to make a more classic hip-hop record in Baltimore, where Blaqstarr then lived, or with Timbaland in L.A. but instead, recorded it all over the world. She traveled to Liberia, India, Angola, Trinidad and Jamaica (“where they have the cutest boys”). “Kala” is layered with sounds like tribal beats, dance hall and the lush musical productions of Bollywood. One track, “Bird Flu,” combines 30 of India’s top drummers in a crazy rush of rhythm. Maya was finally granted a visa and recorded “Paper Planes” in New York, but came back to England so that two sets of twins from Brixton could sing the backing vocals. She felt this inclusion made a kind of political statement at a time when England was spending millions of pounds on weapons and war. However incoherent the reason, the chorus of “Paper Planes” is contagious. “I never thought the song was political,” Diplo told me. “Mostly, Maya was making fun of American rapper culture. ‘Paper Planes’ was making fun of being what American kids are into, of being ‘gangsta.’ ”

She also recorded a song, “O Saya,” with A. R. Rahman, a composer and perhaps the most powerful producer in India, that ended up on the “Slumdog Millionaire” soundtrack. “O Saya” was nominated for an Academy Award, and in 2009, she was to perform on the awards show. “It was after Ikhyd was born,” Maya recalled, “and they told me they’d wheel in a bed and let me perform the song in bed.” She paused. She declined their offer when she found out that the televised song would be edited down to a minute. “It was too little time.”

Maya rolled down her window and pointed. “That church saved my life,” she said, as we drove past a church in East London. “Christ Church! That’s the last time I got to be a high-school dropout: I should have been in school, and a youth worker at the church, who had been in prison, grabbed me and slammed me against the wall one day and said: ‘What is the matter with you? If you stay around here, you’ll end up living in one of these apartments with six babies before you’re 20.’ I used to be hanging about, getting into trouble. He changed my life.”

After leaving Sri Lanka in 1983, her mother moved Maya and her brother and sister to Phipps Bridge Estate, a housing project, or council flat, in South London. It was rough. “We lived in a notoriously racist area called Mitcham,” Maya said. “It’s where all the skinheads lived. I was shot at for being a Tamil in Sri Lanka, and then, everyone was calling me a Paki in London, and I’m not even Pakistani. My mom sat me down and said, ‘When they call you that, tell them to sod off.’ ”

When Maya arrived, she knew only two words in English, she says: “Michael” and “Jackson.” She learned English from the radio, television and newspapers. Her mother, Maya claims, got a job as a seamstress, hand-sewing on medals for the royal family. “She worked for the queen for 25 years,” Maya said, as the car finally emerged from traffic. “And now, they’ve taken my mom’s U.S. visa away. A 65-year-old woman is counted as a terrorist, and America supports that.”

When she was a child, Maya sat under the table while her mother sewed and caught fabric scraps as they fell. “The first thing I made was a bra,” Maya said. “Two circles in pinky red, blue straps.” Her father remained in Sri Lanka (whenever they saw each other, he was introduced to Maya as her uncle, so that the children wouldn’t inadvertently reveal his identity). Maya claims that she has not seen him in years. Diplo told me a different story. “I met her dad in London with her,” he said. “He was very interested in sustainable living and was teaching in London. But he wasn’t a good father.” Whatever the truth is, Maya has gone from trumpeting her father’s revolutionary past in order to claim that lineage to playing down his politics to support a separate narrative. “He was with the Sri Lankan government,” she now maintained, when I saw her in Los Angeles. “He’s been with them for 20 years. They just made up the fact that he is a Tiger so they can talk crap about me.” (Her father could not be reached for comment.)

Maya has always been interested in having a political agenda, no matter how murky. In 1993, Maya applied to Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in London; she had decided to become a filmmaker. “I never thought I’d go there,” she says now. “Someone mentioned it to me once — they’re like, ‘Oh, my god, there are so many good-looking people there.’ One day, I was standing outside of it, and I decided I needed to go there. I wanted to make documentaries about people who didn’t have a voice. I wanted to be the messenger.”

During her interview for the school, Maya says, she told the admissions officer that if he didn’t accept her application, she would become a prostitute or a crackhead or the best criminal in the world. “I said to him, ‘Don’t make me do it,’ ” she says now, smiling. “ ‘If you don’t let me in, there’s only one option: I become a hooker.’ He said, ‘That is emotional blackmail.’ It might have been, but I couldn’t stand that one person had that much power over my life, that if he said yes or no, it would change everything.”

He eventually said yes; that in Maya he saw rebellion and that art colleges need rebellion, or at least that’s how she remembers the reaction. For four years, she concentrated on directing movies, but she was not patient enough for the form. “Film is not instant enough for the person I am,” she said. Maya switched to videos (which were faster), and her classmate, Justine Frischmann of the band Elastica, asked her, in 2000, to create the artwork and a video for the band’s second album, “The Menace.” Frischmann and Maya became roommates, and when the two went on vacation to a small island off Saint Vincent in the Caribbean, Maya began tinkering with Frischmann’s Roland MC-505 Groovebox. “I was bored,” Maya recalled. “And I saw the machine. I’m tone deaf and not very musical, but I like dancing, if that counts. I’ve got rhythm. Justine had disappeared for about six hours, and I waited and waited, and I finally thought, I’ll just make something. The second song I made was ‘Galang,’ and I didn’t plan on singing it myself. When we got back, I scouted girls to sing it, and I would tell them, ‘This is how you do it: “Galangalang a lang lang,” ’ and none of them could do it right. So I thought, I need to do it myself.”

If she was reluctant, her nervousness didn’t last long: “Galang,” original and addictive, became her calling card. In 2003, she put “Galang” and two other songs on a 12-inch record. Diplo, whom she had not yet met, was hosting and working as a D.J. at parties in Philadelphia. He was given “Galang” by an editor from i-D magazine in London. He began playing the song and talking up Maya. “I was D.J.ing at a club called Fabric,” he told me, “and when she walked in, I was playing ‘Galang.’ This was before she had a major record deal. She met me, and we started a relationship. Maya was into the whole terrorism gimmick at the time. It was all underground back then. In the beginning, she was trying to be different. She understood that no one was doing what she was doing.”

Even though she had a record out, Maya had never performed. “In 2004, I went onstage for the first time,” she said. “They put a mike in my hand and pushed me out the door into the crowd. I did the three songs I had recorded and got out. It was the worst day of my life.” But it didn’t stop her: she has always been focused. “Maya’s got a lot of hustle,” Richard Russell said admiringly. Russell’s XL Recordings is a small but influential label in Britain that puts out an eclectic mix — Thom Yorke, the White Stripes, Devendra Banhart, Adele, the Horrors. The label’s office is located near Portobello Road in what feels like a cluttered house, the front door nearly undetectable beneath a woodcutlike painting by the artist Stanley Donwood that depicts London being swallowed by a tidal wave.

“In 2003, Maya turned up here and said, ‘I heard you’ve been looking for me,’ ” Russell told me when I went to see him. “She decided that we were going to put out her music. And since Maya is able to will the universe and is an obvious force of nature, I found myself saying yes.”

He was impressed by “Galang,” but he was still hesitant. “There was a lot of cynicism about Maya,” he said. “She wasn’t a musician, and she had no basic musical craft. The label’s ethic is music that’s quite serious, and we work with people where music is not a way to become famous. It’s everything they’re about and, with Maya, people couldn’t see beyond the fact that she wasn’t a musician. Now, as much as I respect musicians, nothing takes the place of ingenuity and inspiration and originality. If you’ve got that spark, something to say and you’re determined enough, it might be quite interesting.”

When Russell signed her, he imagined Maya as a kind of English answer to American hip-hop. Just as the Beatles and the Stones channeled American R & B, Russell said he felt that Maya would rework the sounds of rap music from the States. “England is good at being mongrel,” Russell said. “Maya is a mixture of black American culture, Sri Lankan culture, art, fashion. We mix it up well here and sell it back. As a country, we’ve always known how to do that. You see that in ‘Galang’: the different ethnicities, the art vibe, the Missy Elliot influence. Maya got it right and added to it.”

Until she signed with XL, Maya was working as a clerk in a store called Euphoria. “I was ringing up a sale when Richard called me to tell me he was going to put out my record,” Maya said, as the car pulled up to a housing project in East London. “I told him, ‘You need me!’ and he said, ‘I don’t need you, but I want you.’ ” She smiled. “That was the right answer.”

RAVI THIAGARAJA, THE Sri Lankan photographer, answered the door of his flat and invited Maya in. Unlike most people, Maya is not tethered to her phone (“I have an iPhone,” she told me, in her child-of-Godard mix of politics, paranoia and pop. “I like to be very close to the C.I.A., F.B.I. and Sri Lankan government. I want to be completely reachable at all times”), but she’s never far from her acid yellow Mac laptop, which is inscribed with the M.I.A. logo. Her life is there: song lyrics, ideas for her Web site, the secret video she’s working on, photos of Ikhyd, unfinished artwork and more. As the photographer and his wife ushered us into the living room at the rear of the house, they wished Maya a happy Sri Lankan New Year. “I had no idea it was today,” she said, as she settled into a sofa and clicked open her laptop.

“Would you like some rice pudding?” the photographer asked. Maya explained to me that rice pudding is the traditional celebratory food for the Sri Lankan New Year. Maya said no, and the photographer went to get the pictures.

He handed Maya a disc, and she slid it into her computer. There were dozens of shots, each featuring Maya dripping in gold. She was wearing seven or eight thick gold bracelets on each wrist, heavy earrings and what appeared to be ropes of gold attached at the throat like a tight gold turtleneck. “I wanted to look like an Iranian princess,” Maya said. In the photos, the rest of her outfit was casual: a black hoodie, black T-shirt and black leggings. In each shot, Maya was carefully placed in a scene, like a gold-clad visitor from another planet. In shot after shot, she was perched on different thrones, posing with dancers, encased in a bubble ascending to heaven. Three Mayas were disco-dancing together on a fluorescent Day-Glo floor, two Mayas were facing each other in a heart, multiple Mayas were covered in cascading roses. She was positioned in front of a pyramid, in a pyramid and above a pyramid. In most of the shots, Maya appeared to be a very wealthy deity.

Although she was pleased, Maya, in her editing mode, wanted more options. “I love the car backdrop,” she said. “Do you have one with a yellow Porsche?” Maya studied her computer screen. “This could be a possible album cover,” she said. “And I’d love a calendar, if you can make one. Twelve months of these pictures.”

An hour passed, in which Maya reviewed dozens of other backdrop possibilities. When she’s working, her concentration is total. She rejected a palace shot as being too much like something the Sex Pistols did and nixed a nature scene with a picket fence. It was hard to imagine what the initial photo shoot was like: this flat was so humble and the Givenchy jewelry was so Midas that the contrast, while striking, also seemed a little unkind. And yet, the pictures were fascinating and memorable. Maya’s concept, though somewhat mocking (of both sides), was clever and original. She took an art form that is common in India and added her own flavor to it, which is, more or less, her gift as an artist.

“Are you the singer?” somebody said. A neighbor had come to use the photographer’s computer and saw Maya sitting on the couch, studying her photos. “Uh-huh,” Maya said, looking up. The neighbor seemed stunned. “What are you doing here?” he said. Maya smiled. “Why wouldn’t I be here?” she replied.

THE FOLLOWING NIGHT, at 9 p.m., Maya was at the Alpha Centauri recording studio, sitting in front of a huge soundboard, her computer open on her lap, listening to two versions of “Born Free,” the track that begins her new album. The first “Born Free” was mixed very loud and emphasized the hard drum sample from the band Suicide that anchors the song, while the second version was quieter and more rhythmic, less rock and more rap. “I like the first cut,” said Courcy Magnus, a producer from Philadelphia, who along with his producing partner, Kyle Edwards (who is based in Atlanta), had flown to London to work with Maya. Although her still-untitled record was, technically, finished, there wasn’t a song that popped out to Interscope, Maya’s American label, as a perfect single. They loved the record, but as Diplo told me, “Albums now are a hit song and 11 other songs that are attached to it.” The goal for Magnus and Edwards was to invent that hit.

“I need a beat for this song,” Maya said. She played a short bit of music on her computer. It was a scrap of a song — classic and simple, almost pop. “Melody is not something I do,” Maya said. “I’m trying to do things I can’t do.” The producers nodded, eager to please. “Do you want more creative drums?” Edwards asked. “More percussion?” Maya said nothing. She stared for a second. “Jay-Z should have been on this beat, and he would have had an amazing hit,” she said finally. “I felt like I was doing something that belonged to Jay-Z.”

The producers played her tracks that didn’t have much to do with what Maya had played them. It was a beginning. “Producers are important,” Iovine had told me. “Every song starts with a beat and a sound and that usually comes from the producer. I run my company through record producers. I started out as a record producer. If I let myself go, that’s where the wind takes me. But the trick is — and Maya is amazing at this — to fuse the style of the producer with the artist. Maya is a great judge of what works: she knows how to get the best from her producers.”

Each song is invented differently, but generally Maya likes to whittle her songs down from long jam sessions. “We recorded everything live at the house in L.A.,” Rusko, who produced half the album, including the first single, “XXXO” (which he worked on with Blaqstarr), told me. “We’d record 20-minute takes of Maya doing different vocals and 20 minutes of me doing different beats. On ‘XXXO,’ we tried all this stuff before we got the end result. Maya has ideas that can’t be physically done. She wants this sound or that sound — the tracks already exist in her head. In the end, she has a plan for everything.”

Diplo wasn’t allowed to work at the house (“Her boyfriend really hates me,” he said), so Maya and he recorded “Tell Me Why,” perhaps the closest thing to a pop-radio song on the record, at Red Bull Studios in Santa Monica. “It was my birthday; I was on mushrooms,” he recalled. “It was a special atmosphere: I found the sample” — a patch of music lifted from a song by the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers — “and Maya actually whistled. I did 15 demos for her before she finally chose that track. Even if she hates my guts, she knows that we can do crazy stuff together. The sound on her records is unlike anyone else’s, and we all take that very seriously.”

In London, the mood was different. Although she ended up working in the studio until 5 in the morning, Maya was concentrating on other aspects of the record — the top secret “Born Free” video was set to go viral in a week; she still had to do the artwork for the album; and she had to decide what to call the album. She didn’t seem particularly interested in creating a hit. “If we do another song, I want it to be something new,” she said. “And right now, my mind is on other things.

THE NEXT DAY, we were back in the car, on our way to East London to meet with Hermione de Paula, a design team that Maya wanted to hire to create some clothes for her to wear on tour this summer. “I am so tired of stylists,” Maya said. “They are ruining individual style. If Patti Smith was starting now or Debbie Harry, the stylists would try to dress them, to change them. Their style would be lost.” Maya, who was wearing jeans made out of denim that had been quilted into a tribal pattern and a loose crocheted top in red, wanted the Hermione de Paula girls to incorporate her ideas with their existing designs that she had seen on their Web site. “They have a jumpsuit that I like,” Maya said. “But instead of using their fabric, I want them to use a fabric that’s made from a document I found.” She took out her laptop and clicked on an official-looking typed letter that had been censored. Black bars erased certain words. “I’d like to turn this page into fabric,” she said. “I know someone who can do that. And then I want to take that fabric and make it into a jumpsuit. I’d like to turn censorship into fashion.”

It doesn’t stop there: Maya would like to build a stage show around the idea of censorship. When a patron enters the club — “We could only do this in small places,” she acknowledged — every move would be limited. If you went to certain areas, alarms would go off and you might be asked to leave. “I want to be like the government,” Maya said. “It could be interesting.”

The censorship tour is doubtful — Maya is currently booked into large outdoor arenas. She finds performing stressful. In June 2008, she announced at the Bonnaroo festival that her performance there would be her “last gig.” But the record business in 2010 demands touring to ensure record sales, as well as secondary revenue, mainly from T-shirt sales. “Maya has to perform live,” Iovine told me. “That’s the key to success today.” Her tour also gives her an opportunity to spread her anti­establishment/​conspiracy-theory message. “I feel like art has a responsibility to make things visually interesting and stimulating,” Maya said now, as we waited, as always, stuck in traffic. “But, at the same time, I like questions. I can’t get a visa right now because of things I’ve said. And that’s wrong. If certain words are banned, then that has to be written up on every box of crayons or paints or on every pen. There needs to be a warning on everything I use to write with that says, ‘Do not write these words, or we will put you in jail.’ ” Maya paused. “And if that’s what America is, then the American people should know that.”

She paused again. “America also has no sense of humor,” she continued. “There’s this show in England about kids who want to be terrorists. It’s brilliant! The kids are buying Ajax to make bombs and trying to think of new ways to do suicide bombings. It’s really, really cool.” She paused again. “Because I think that’s funny, I’ll probably be called a terrorist.” She sighed.

After nearly an hour of driving, we arrived at the designers’ studio. The two women, who were dressed alike in black, loose-fitting tops and platform boots, greeted Maya like a long-lost sister. Their studio was cramped, and two small dogs were happily jumping about near a rack of clothes. Maya’s eye immediately went to the jumpsuit. It was very fitted, with a high Peter Pan collar and cutouts that would reveal flesh on either side of the waist. The girls showed Maya one of their dresses, a slinky column in shades of gray. “No dresses,” she said flatly. “I want to invent an idea for this album, and that idea is based on a uniform. A jumpsuit is like a uniform.”

Maya seemed to be going for a combination of sexy and militaristic. She showed the girls her fabric ideas on her computer, and they were amenable. “Nike is the uniform for kids all over the world,” Maya said for no apparent reason. “And African design has been killed by Nike. Africans no longer want to wear their own designs.” The designers said they thought that was terrible. “The best sportswear is on Blackwater operatives,” Maya continued, referring to the agents who were clandestine guns for hire in Iraq. The designers nodded, but they clearly had no idea what she was talking about. “I want to have a uniform like theirs.”

The oddity of using a garment linked to mercenaries to convey a very different message seemed to elude Maya. As we got ready to leave, she became surprisingly strict with the designers. You are part of my team, she seemed to be saying. And, as part of the team, you must live up to my vision. “I want everything on this album to be a collaboration,” Maya said. The women looked both proud and nervous. They were now recruited.

ROMAIN GAVRAS, THE director of the video for “Born Free,” arrived in London from Paris in April with the master version of the nine-minute minifilm. He was late, because of the ash cloud from Iceland that had engulfed Europe and closed down airports. Gavras had taken the train. All week, Maya was unusually secretive about the “Born Free” video — she would mime zipping her lips whenever anyone asked her about it. Although she showed the video to Richard Russell at XL (“People need to decide if they think it’s valid,” he told me when I asked him about it), she hadn’t sent it to Interscope, even though she planned to release the video in America in four days. “The Interscope lawyers will want to send the video to a censorship board,” she said now. Maya was sitting with Gavras, a tall, bearded man dressed completely in dark blue, from his knit ski hat to his jeans, in XL’s conference room. “I didn’t really approve the video,” she said jokingly. “He hijacked my song.”

Maya met Gavras, who is the son of the politically charged filmmaker Costa-Gavras (his 1969 film “Z,” which won the Academy Award for best foreign film, was a kind of antifascist thriller designed to expose corrupt tactics within the Greek government of the early ’60’s), when she played Paris a few years ago. “He hit on my friend,” Maya recalled. Gavras is willfully notorious: in 2008, his video for the song “Stress,” by the band Justice, depicted a Parisian street gang who steal, destroy tourists’ cameras and beat up innocent bystanders. “For a few months, I was one of the most hated men in France,” Gavras said at the time. “It was fun. It was an amazing free promo,” he continued, adding that in France, “you can only get that much press if you have sex with children.”

Gavras had asked Maya if he could shoot the video for “Paper Planes” on the Mexican border. “I didn’t understand the lyrics,” he said. “I thought it was about illegal immigration.” Maya was game, but Interscope vetoed his idea. “Interscope won,” Maya said. “I don’t want them to win this time.” She paused. “So, do you want to see it?”

Unlike, say, her performance at the Grammys, which was a perfect fusion of spectacle (a nine-months-pregnant woman rapping in a see-through dress) with content (Maya’s fervor was linked to the music), the video for “Born Free” feels exploitative and hollow. Seemingly designed to be banned on YouTube, which it was instantly, the video is set in Los Angeles where a vague but apparently American militia forcibly search out red-headed men and one particularly beautiful red-headed child. The gingers, as Maya called them, using British slang, are taken to the desert, where they are beaten and killed. The first to die is the child, who is shot in the head. While “Born Free” is heard in the background throughout, the song is lost in the carnage. As a meditation on prejudice and senseless persecution, the video is, at best, politically naïve.

“The video was more than fine with me,” Jimmy Iovine told me later that night. Despite Maya’s efforts, he had seen it. “I didn’t even have a blink.” A canny showman, Iovine knew that the video would get attention, that Maya would get her visa (which she did) and that all the noise was good for business. He has a long history of driving record sales with violent imagery: in the 1990s, Interscope was home to Death Row Records, where Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Tupac Shakur made millions rapping about all things gangsta. Iovine also appreciates the outrageous: Interscope’s biggest artist is Lady Gaga, who has melded big-time theatricality with disco-based pop, a kind of love child of Elton John and Madonna.

“With our video, we were really copying ‘Telephone,’ ” Maya says now, referring to Gaga’s recent video with Beyoncé. “Both our videos are road movies. We kill people, and they kill people. They start out in a prison, and we start out in a squat, hunting people down.” Maya zipped her lips again. “I can’t talk about Gaga anymore,” she said. “All I’ll say is, it’s upsetting when babies say ga-ga now. It used to be innocent. Now, they’re calling her name.”

Maya feels that Gaga is not original, that she mostly borrows from the Abba playbook, and she gets annoyed when Gaga is compared to Madonna. “You can’t really say that Gaga is culturally a change,” Maya said. “Madonna was truly unique.” Gavras nodded. “And Madonna was pretty,” he said. “Pop stars should be pretty.” Maya flipped open her computer. “Do you want to see this amazing parody of ‘Telephone’?” she asked. “It’s brilliant!” Gavras stood behind Maya and watched. “This parody has three million hits,” Maya said. “That’s way more than I’ve ever had.”

Downstairs at XL in a small recording studio, the producers Magnus and Edwards were working on Maya’s potential hit song, and the XL publicists wanted her to concentrate on her European press. She had finally decided on a title for the record, which was meant to be an artistic rendering of her name. “I need to figure out what to wear for a photo shoot for tomorrow,” Maya said. “I think we should go shopping.”

Gavras and Maya left XL and headed for Portobello Road, a few blocks away. As Maya pointed out the sights (“Stella McCartney owns that building”), she sorted through the racks of clothing that dozens of dealers had set up on the street. She didn’t want to go back to the studio. “I’m in the visual part of my brain now,” Maya said, as she held up an outsize yellow sweater. “The musical part of my brain is shut down.”

While Gavras talked on the phone, Maya walked ahead. She passed a small shop that sold Indian clothing and pottery, most of it cheaply made. There were sparkly shawls and gauze tunics crowding the window. “I used to buy a lot here when I lived in London,” Maya said. She spotted a tiger costume, complete with whiskered hood, hanging next to an orange sari. “Look at that tiger!” Maya said. “I could wear that at the photo shoot tomorrow!” She paused and considered the implications of dressing up as a tiger. “It’s probably too much,” she said finally. “It might seem like I was making a joke.” ~ courtesy: NYTimes.com ~

Lynn Hirschberg is a longtime contributor to The New York Times Magazine.

Siri Kotha is the last Nandhikkadal: war will be "over" only after the UNP is liberated

by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

One year after the victory, the last battles of the war remain to be fought and won. One is the diplomatic and opinion battle against those who seek to persecute Sri Lanka for its ‘unauthorised’ victory. That battle is in the best possible hands, those of Prof GL Pieris. The other battle is the intellectual one, to ensure that world history will absolve us and uphold a verdict that Sri Lanka’s was a Just war.

The third is the battle for devolution because Sri Lanka’s narrative before the world that it was Prabhakaran and his Tigers and neither the State nor the Sinhalese who were preventing justice and fair-play for the Tamils through the full implementation of the existing provisions of our Constitution which make for provincial autonomy. The fourth is the legal and political battle to preserve democracy.

These however, are not the most important of the last battles left over from the war, which have to be fought for the consolidation of last year’s victory. The most important last battle is that against Prabhakaran’s political partner and ally; the leader who provided the space for Prabhakaran to build an air-force: Ranil Wickremesinghe. The war will be finally over and the country will be safe only when Ranil Wickremesinghe has paid the price for his policy of appeasement by losing the party leadership; the main democratic alternative, the UNP, is safely in patriotic hands; and elections to the Northern provincial council have been held.

The British Labour party is to hold an election to choose its leader. Two brothers, David and Ed Miliband are the front runners.

Irrespective of what their political fortunes are at the time, the US Democrats and Republicans hold bruising internal elections, the primaries, to choose a leader, because this enables the selection of the most popular and bestows legitimacy on the leader who may go on to the president of the United States, holding the most powerful post on the planet.

Does anyone say that the UK Labour party, having suffered a serious defeat, should not ‘risk’ an open election for fear of weakening the party still further? Is the ‘too risky due to divisiveness’ argument used about the US Democrats and Republicans at the lowest ebb in their political fortunes (the Democrats under Reagan or Bush, the Republicans under Clinton)?

Obviously not, because that would be utterly nonsensical: How could a leader who has proved his or her popularity and gained legitimacy by winning an internal election, weaken the party? Secondly, how could a party not benefit by ditching an unsuccessful and unpopular leader by a democratic method? Thirdly, if elections inevitably cause splits and weaken political entities, and therefore should be avoided, why on earth have multiparty elections in a country?

A last ditch argument has it that Gen Sarath Fonseka as UNP leader would surrender the present leaders of the country to an international war crimes tribunal. Now this is really scraping the bottom of the argumentative barrel. The choice before the UNP is not Ranil Wickremesinghe or Sarath Fonseka but Ranil Wickremesinghe or Sajith Premadasa. Other patriotic personalities such as Karu Jayasuriya, Rukman Senanayake would make good Opposition Leader and UNP chairman respectively, while Dayasiri Jayasekara would be a fine Deputy Leader to Sajith’s party leader. Sarath Fonseka will become an option someday, only if society feels the need for change and Sajith has not taken over the party leadership. In short, those who think that Sarath Fonseka would be a danger should support, not oppose, the accession of Sajith to the post of leader without further delay. It is only such a change over that can pre-empt an even more drastic change such as that represented by General Fonseka. It must be said however that Sarath Fonseka cannot be denied either his place in History or in national politics someday, due to his considerable contribution as a co-architect of the titanic victory over Prabhakaran’s LTTE, though he has damaged his reputation and prospects as a future leader by his egocentricity and adventurism.

The replacement of Ranil Wickremesinghe as UNP and Opposition leader is one of those happy moves that would be a win-win outcome, with a great many beneficiaries and very few losers. What would be the positive outcomes and who the beneficiaries?

1.The UNP and the Opposition: it would no longer have to carry the electoral kiss of death that is the ‘brand’ of un-patriotism, appeasement and treachery which is currently carved on its collective forehead. It will be able recover and to punch its social weight.

2.The State, government and the armed forces: Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP is the aircraft carrier for the INGOs and foreign interests that are waging a propaganda war against Sri Lanka. So long as their favourite Ranil is in play, they will try to de-stabilise Sri Lanka in order to effect regime change and place him at the helm. If his comprador leadership is replaced by a patriotic one, these elements will be far less motivated to campaign against Sri Lanka because they will have no local allay and option. No UNP leader but Ranil would be likely to collaborate with an international inquiry against Sri Lanka

3.The public: a strong Opposition would mean a government that was on its toes. The people could get the best out of the Government while having a viable democratic alternative.

4.The business/investor community, local and foreign: A viable opposition could keep economic and financial institutions and processes more transparent and accountable. A UNP leadership with a popular, more social democratic and patriotic profile could someday form a modern, investment friendly administration which was also protected from a social backlash.

5. The judiciary, the public service, the armed forces and the mass media: all institutions of the state and civil society could function more autonomously and with less intimidation, interference and distortion, because the administration would have to function with less impunity if there were an effective and viable Opposition as a ‘shadow government’.

The country can exit the cycle of history defined by the war, only when the UNP, the second major political formation in the island, is liberated and that party brought back into the national mainstream by bringing it into line with the national ethos. The SLFP survived and prospered because, in 2005-6, it came under a new leadership that was patriotic. That transformation has to occur in the UNP for it to become similarly reinvigorated. There is an unfinished task left over from the war. Siri Kotha is the last Nandikadal. The party with the elephant symbol needs a Kandula – a Kadol Atha- to break through the gates of the Siri Kotha and Cambridge Terrace citadels, dislodge the Tiger appeasers and empower the patriots. Only then, after this final battle of the war is fought and won, can we put the war finally behind us.

What the UNP needs now is hope; the hope that can only come from a page turned and a new beginning made. The UNP changed leaders with the Hartal of 1953, and the electoral debacles of 1956 and 1970. This permitted the UNP to limit its stay in opposition and the SLFP‘s in office to one term each time! Now let us recall what happened when the UNP did NOT change its leadership after electoral defeat. It retained the same leadership after 1994, with the result that the UNP has remained in opposition since, i.e. for 15 years, with the next scheduled election six years away. Imagine the party’s fate had it not changed its leadership after 1956 and 1970! If it makes the move to Sajith this year, then with elections 6 years away, he has time to grow into the leadership and with the vital factor of renewed hope; the UNP has the time to reorganise from the grassroots, throughout the country.

Aspiring to bring Tamil population, including Tamil expatriates as an integral part of a united Sri Lankan people, Minister G.L. Peiris says

"'Change' and 'hope' are popular words in the modern political lexicon, but I cannot think of two words that better exemplify what is now occurring in our country,” External Affairs Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris wrote on a Huffington Post blog post to mark his first visit after 'defeating terrorism' and as Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs to Washington DC today.

He emphasizes that Sri Lanka hopes to bring Tamil population, including Tamil expatriates as an integral part of a united Sri Lankan people.

Full text of the article as follows:

Today is my first visit to Washington since my appointment as Sri Lanka's Minister for External Affairs. My visit marks a point of progress for Sri Lanka, following a difficult period in our history, one year on from the end of the Sri Lankan conflict.

After 26 years of conflict and daily acts of terror, we have witnessed our first year of peace. No-one who lived in Sri Lanka during the last thirty years would underestimate the magnitude of the change the country has undergone this past year nor the significance of our first anniversary of peace.

For almost three decades, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a terrorist group banned in over thirty democracies worldwide, including here in the US, had held the people of the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka under their repressive control. Today, Sri Lankans can celebrate that the country will never have to face such internal conflict again. 'Change' and 'hope' are popular words in the modern political lexicon, but I cannot think of two words that better exemplify what is now occurring in our country.

We just had the first peacetime Presidential and Parliamentary elections where all Sri Lankans were able to exercise their vote freely, previously denied to many Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese civilians in the North and East by the LTTE.

A year ago, Sri Lankans were unable to travel to the North and lived under the intimidation by the LTTE. One year on, the key A-9 artery road linking the North and the South of the country is once again throbbing with life and activity, reflecting the resumption of commercial and human contact with the North.

Internally displaced people have been returned to their homes as the land has been cleared of mines and infrastructure restored. A rich rice harvest will be produced from agricultural lands that had been indiscriminately mined by the LTTE. Companies from a diverse range of sectors from food processing, plastics and glass recycling, garments to ready-mix concrete are looking to establish a presence in the in the former conflict zones. The banking sector is flourishing, with several international names now operating in Jaffna, the capital of the North.

In the Eastern Province, the economy has been revitalised, with the investment of USD1.7bn. In this area, infrastructure has been restored, Tamils now form a bulk of the police force, all citizens participate in regional politics, employment is growing and tourism is thriving. In the North, we have initiated an accelerated programme of development, investing USD2.6bn over two years.

We are establishing a Commission to look at the lessons learnt from the conflict. The Commission will provide recommendations on actions that can be taken to boost reconstruction, rehabilitation and support reconciliation within Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa has expressed his determination that no-one will be left behind in the new Sri Lanka, and the Commission will help achieve this important objective. We have a responsibility to ensure no future generation has to experience the anguish that we underwent during the last three decades.

In our external affairs we are committed to an open multilateral framework based on the principle of mutual respect. To that end, Secretary Clinton's message of congratulations and invitation to Washington when I assumed my role last month was warmly received. We look forward to many years of constructive engagement and dialogue with the United States as well as other Western nations.

But constructive engagement does not stop at a Government-to-Government level. I have instructed my embassies to engage with Tamil communities abroad, to boost dialogue within these communities and, we hope, improve understanding. We may not be able to bring all the former voices of the LTTE among Tamil expatriates to the table, but I hope we can bring the Tamil population with us, as an integral part of a united Sri Lankan people.

One year ago, Sri Lankans saw an end to terror, an end our people scarcely thought possible. A year on, our people are embracing the opportunities it brings. We are making steady progress. I believe the painful shared memories of the past era of terror will drive our country on to many more years of peace and prosperity. We welcome international support and assistance as we work towards this enduring goal.

LTTE among Tamil expatriates to the table, but I hope we can bring the Tamil population with us, as an integral part of a united Sri Lankan people. ~ courtesy: Huffington Post ~

May 24, 2010

Say It! Look @: A Virtual Youth Commons for Sri Lanka

Say what you want to say, look at what others are saying; learn, network, communicate and shape the world you are going to live in. This is the message going out to youth as the World Bank Colombo office launched its Say it! Look@ program on the 1st May on channel ETV at 8:00 to 8:30 P.M.

The World Banks Say it! Look@ program is an innovative new intervention to leverage the new media-old media ecosystem to hear voices of young adults on key issues that have an effect on their lives.

The rational is to provide a virtual interactive space on the Net, as well as through an introductory monthly TV documentary a virtual Youth Commons where Youth can express their opinions, join in discussions, interact and build networks via Blogs.

I wholeheartedly believe the Defence Secretary knew to pick the right man for the right job at the right time

by Apsara Fonseka

I remember the day we finally ended the battle against terrorism. It was May 19th mid afternoon when my father got the call saying that the war is finally over and they have found the body of the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, near the lagoons

I remember my father first calling the Defense Secretary and letting him know. Then he called the President to convey the good news. He then left for office to give the good news to all Sri Lankans. At once we could hear fire crackers all around the city. Everyone was celebrating victory in their own way with their own reasons. To me, it was a relief that at least my father’s life won’t be endangered anymore. For once, the whole country was together. This was a good feeling and I was glad I was in Sri Lanka to enjoy it and feel the glory of peace.

Although my memories of the victory days are clear, there are some memories that stay clearer than others. Like the day after LTTE leader’s body was found, I told my father, "you know, now that the job is done, they will not let you rehabilitate the army. They will kick you out of this position." His answer was, “these people are not like that. I asked them for a year and I think they will keep their word. They know there is much to be done after a war." I talked back by saying, “believe me, they do not care. At the most, they will give you 4 months."

Undoubtedly, two months after the war ended, the Presidential Secretary asked my father to give up his position within three days. Three days? Really? How can a person settle all job duties done for the past four years within three days?

However, the minute I heard the news, my first words to my father was, "I told you, they don’t care about rehabilitation or life after war for that matter." And for the first time after a long time, he and I, we both agreed.

Life has not been easy for us. I’m sure some people will say that we brought it on our selves. They are right. We did bring it on our selves. We brought it on because my father wanted to make a difference. Wanted to bring justice to the country and its people and wanted to stop corruption. So, they’re correct, it is our fault for having an honest, patriotic father who does not bend against corruption. But, honestly, does he or my family deserve any of this?

The biggest mistake he did was standing up for what he believed in. Is that wrong for a person to do so?

Would you not want to stand up for what you believe?

I get many e-mails asking me to apologies to the President. I think to myself, alright, what am I supposed to apologies for?

For standing up for what we believed in?

If I knew that running for presidency was even much riskier than fighting a war, then yes, I might have told my father to think twice. At least the terrorist did not come after family members. But, my father stood up for justice when a lot people wanted to but didn’t. And although it does bring us much pain than you can ever imagine, at least I’m able to be proud of my father for standing up for what he believes in.

I agree, ending the war was not a one man job. It is group effort. However, in any group, there are people who fund the necessities, people who architect the plan, people who work hard to achieve the goal and people who suffer and sacrifice for it.

Planning strategies to end a 30 year war is not easy. I’ve seen it being done night and day. And I’ve lived through it. It definitely has a lot to it. It is hard for a person who has been out of the army, say 15 to 20 years, to actually all of a sudden come to a position and be an architect. To be able to do this, you need to have experience, dedication, familiarity of the situation, the will power to never give up or let go of the vision. You need to be able to believe and never let go of what you believe in. There is no doubt in my mind that the government gave the backing to end the war. But, backing by itself is no use if there is no one actually to plan the job and do it. Face it, we’ve had the backing for many years, but we were lacking the tactical and strategic capabilities to do so.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with Maj. General Shavendra Silva at a dinner just after the victory. My sister and I were in the midst of thanking and congratulating the higher ranking officers for their efforts and hard work. As a daughter of an army officer, I was tremendously proud and felt blessed to be able to talk to each and every one of the war hardened heroes. They all had their own regrets and happiness to share. While some regretted the fact that they have not been able to spend enough time with their families, the others were proud of their achievements and was enjoying their hard work.

The thing I remembered most about Maj. General Shavindra Silva and my conversation is, when I congratulated him and said that we were proud of everything he has done, He said, "We just listened to your father and did the needful so no need to be thanking us." In my mind, I thought that was very humble and honest of him to say so. I had much respect towards his words. Although most of them after wards went on national television to disgrace my father and to give a bad impression about him at the presidential elections, a part of me still has some respect towards them as they did have a hand in bringing peace. And I would also always make the excuse for them and say, they had no other choice.

Like I said before, ending the war does not go to just one person. Like the Defense Secretary said in his letter to the media, he always gave the forces what was asked from him. This is definitely something to be thankful of. And I believe he did. But, by any means this does not mean that he was the mastermind behind the strategies. This does not mean that he was asked to be the architect. If by any chance he could have done it, why then change the Ex-Army commander Maj. Gen. Kottegoda when he clearly had two more years in the position? Why then bring my father to finish this war?

With all this said, I whole heartily believe that Defense Secretary knew to pick the right man, for the right job at the right time. He knew he wanted to end the war and he knew that my father would be the best man to achieve that goal. At the same token he also knew after the war Maj. Gen. Jagath Jayasooriya would be the best commander to politicize the army and get it ready for elections. So, yes, I do believe that he did do the right thing by choosing the right man at the right time and it is because of this, that we are able to celebrate this war victory.

I spoke to my father in the morning today. He has a tendency to ask how I am although he is the one illegally detained. I said I’m alright and told him that I was listening to a person talk about her relationship problems and was thinking to myself that these things are not problems anymore compared to what we have gone through. His answer amazed me. He said, at least we are alive, we all have each other. Think about the people who have lost their sons, brothers and fathers?

We have not lost anything compared to them. Although these words embarrassed me as to my way of thinking, It showed me how blessed I am to have an honorable father as him. It showed me that this week, it’s not about politics. It’s not about the glory of the parades with thousands of soldiers. It’s not about talking bad about people and making someone’s life miserable. It’s about remembering the fallen and respecting the living hero’s.

Remembering how brave they fought for the country and how proudly they let go of their future for the sake of ours. It’s about honoring the heroes and doing what is right for their families. Although it is evident that my father, my family, several other brave officers and their families (who were sent on retirement) and many more patriots, who very well deserves to enjoy this glory may not get the opportunity and the pleasure of doing so, let us all remember our brave soldiers and their families who deserves our respect. Let us remember our true war heroes among the glory of parades and glamor. Let us remember the ones who "actually" did the job and sacrificed their tomorrow for ours.

Remembering all our heroes who fought for a better future,

On behalf of my family,


Apsara Fonseka

Pax Sinica: How China gained at the expense of the West in Sri Lanka

by Peter Popham

Ayear ago, one of the world's most brutal and pitiless terrorist groups, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), was hunted down and exterminated on a strip of beach in the far north-east of Sri Lanka .

In a war that had dragged on for 27 years, more than 80,000 on both sides had died, hundreds of thousands had lost their homes and the future of one of the most idyllic tropical islands in the world hung in the balance. Suddenly it was all over.

In defiance of all predictions, the war was brought to a swift and bloody end. The plight of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians caught in the middle was brushed aside: a Chinese veto prevented the UN Security Council from even debating the issue, let alone sending monitors to investigate. Foreign journalists were barred both from the conflict zone and the prison camps set up for Tamil survivors, as was David Miliband when the then foreign secretary flew in to try to find out what was going on. Local journalists critical of government action were terrorised into silence.

Then on the morning of 19 May, after a final gun battle lasting an hour, the bodies of 18 of the top Tiger leaders were found sprawled among the mangroves. Among them was the supreme leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. The war was over.

It was a great victory, the emphatic end of a terrorist gang whom no one in their right mind would mourn. But it was achieved in the teeth of opposition from the US and its allies, and at appalling human and moral cost. How had it been allowed to happen?

The answer, in one word, is " China ". When the US ended direct military aid in 2007 over Sri Lanka 's deteriorating human rights record, China leapt into the breach, increasing aid to nearly $1bn (£690m) to become the island's biggest donor, giving tens of millions of dollars' worth of sophisticated weapons, and making a free gift of six F7 fighter jets to the Sri Lankan air force. China encouraged its ally Pakistan to sell more arms and to train pilots to fly the new planes. And, crucially, China prevented the UN Security Council from putting Sri Lanka on its agenda.

Suddenly, thanks to China 's diplomacy, the hectoring of the US and Europe didn't matter any more. After nearly 500 years under the thumb of the West, the immensely strategic little island in the Indian Ocean had a new sugar daddy – one with a very different conception of its duties. Sri Lanka's "traditional donors" had "receded into a distant corner", the country's Foreign Secretary, Palitha Kohona, told The New York Times in 2008. "Asians don't go around teaching each other how to behave," he said. "There are ways we deal with each other – perhaps a quiet word, but not wagging the finger."

Money, arms and diplomatic cover are necessary preconditions for taking a war to its logical conclusion, but they are not enough. Also required is ideological cover: a casus belli that must go beyond the thirst for revenge, communal hatred or the urge of the majority to impose its will permanently on the minority. It must be possible to sell it as a just war. For this purpose, as Bob Dylan recognised a long time back ("With God on our side"), religion comes in handy.

Enter the Sinhalese Buddhists.

We in the West by and large have a pretty foggy understanding of Buddhism, but one thing we know for certain is that Buddhists are for peace. So the idea that the war party in Sri Lanka – not just in the past five years but throughout the years of independence – was identifiable with Buddhist monks does not sound right. It's like finding Trappist monks engaged in a talk-athon or Orthodox Jews running a pork pie factory.

Buddhists don't do war. Look at the Dalai Lama: for 50 years he has strained every fibre to prevent Tibetan resistance to Chinese oppression turning violent. He has a great line on this challenge: "In the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher."

Up close, Sinhalese Buddhism looks as harmless and pacific as any other variety. Visit any temple in the country during Poya or full moon day, a monthly national religious holiday on the island, and you will find scenes of perfect serenity as families dressed all in white offer food to the monks in their saffron robes, then picnic under the trees or stroll around the whitewashed stupa.

By contrast, listen to the words of the Venerable Athuraliye Rathana in 2002: "There are two central concepts of Buddhism," the monk said, "compassion and wisdom. If compassion was a necessary and sufficient condition, then the Buddha would not have elaborated on wisdom or prajna. Hitler could not have been overcome by maitriya [compassion] alone. Today there is a discourse about peace in Sri Lanka . It is an extremely artificial exercise and one that is clearly being orchestrated under threat of terrorist attack."

Imagine those words coming from the mouth of the Dalai Lama and you get an idea of how sharply the views of some Sri Lankan monks diverge from the pacific Buddhist norm. He is not saying "bomb the hell out of the Tigers, as the Allies destroyed Hitler". But the implication is clear enough.

How did Sri Lankan Buddhism veer off so sharply from the other schools? Buddhism was born in northern India in the 6th century BC, and spread throughout the subcontinent and beyond. But eight or nine hundred years later it began to lose ground to new schools of devotional Hinduism, which steadily supplanted it. Eventually it disappeared from the Indian mainland altogether.

Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka watched this process with alarm, and hatched a way to stop it at the coast: they wrote a new book of scripture, the Mahavamsa, to establish indissoluble links between the historical Buddha and their island. The Mahavamsa claimed that the Buddha had visited Sri Lanka three times and had declared it "dhammadipa", "the island of righteousness" – a sort of Buddhist Promised Land, where the Sinhalese should rule and Buddhism should be unchallenged. The Mahavamsa, although not accepted by scholars as a core teaching, helped to ensure that the island remained Buddhism's last remaining outpost in the subcontinent. But there was a price to pay: a vein of intolerant chauvinism, inimical to the religion elsewhere, became part of its permanent baggage.

After independence in 1948, Sri Lanka 's Buddhists established themselves as a fierce, intimidating nationalist presence. Although the fourth prime minister, Solomon Bandaranaike, had done the Buddhists' bidding in making Sinhala the official language, he temporised over Buddhists taking over schools run by Christians. So in September 1959, a monk called Talduwe Somarama pulled a revolver out of his robes and shot him dead.

When Mahinda Rajapaksa won the general election of 2004 to become Prime Minister, the Norwegian-negotiated ceasefire of 2002 was already unravelling. One year later, he became President , but even though the island's peace was increasingly fragile, it was still unclear where his policy was headed. His party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (founded by Bandaranaike), was, like the opposition, still supposedly committed to the stuttering peace process. The champions of all-out war were limited to 10 newly elected monk MPs and another small extremist party.

Then, in August 2005, the Tigers assassinated Lakshman Kadirgamar , Sri Lanka 's highly regarded foreign secretary, himself a Tamil, and peace quite suddenly disappeared from the scene. The following April, the Tigers abruptly cancelled scheduled peace talks in Geneva, and six days later Rajapaksa's new army chief, General Sarath Fonseka, was nearly killed by a Tiger suicide bomb. As the war shadows deepened, monks were again on hand to hurry things along.

On 21 July, the Tigers shut off sluice gates to a reservoir near Trincomalee in the north-east, depriving nearly 30,000 people, many of them recent Sinhalese settlers, of drinking water and water for their fields. A group of politicised monks rushed to a temple near the reservoir and announced that they were going to march on the Tigers' lines and fight them to the death.

It was merely a stunt: as one Sri Lankan journalist who covered the event recalled, "they did not have the numbers or the public support to take on the LTTE during the march. As they were walking they were stopped by the military." But it succeeded in sparking the new war: the air force attacked Tiger positions on 26 July, after which ground troops began the operation to take charge of the gates. The war's final phase was under way.

Like it or not, the pax sinica is spreading across the world: in return for getting the West off Sri Lanka's back, the Chinese got to build a new port at Hambantota on the south coast, a vital link in the "string of pearls" they are constructing across the Indian Ocean, from Burma to Pakistan. But just as significant as the success of the Chinese is the failure of the Western model.

The annihilation of the Tigers took practically everybody by surprise. Sri Lanka had been battling it out against the improvised forces of the Tigers since 1983, but victory never seemed close. Under its charismatic founder and leader, the Tigers fought with fanatical zeal in jungle terrain that was ideal for guerrilla warfare, and the government troops, with their cautious, conventional tactics, were no match for them. Whenever victory seemed on the cards, heavy pressure from India and the West brought the two sides to the negotiating table. A ceasefire signed in 2002 was greeted by the outside world as a major step towards achieving a federal solution. That agreement slowly unravelled, but when the war restarted informally in July 2006, the Tigers still controlled nearly one-third of the island.

By spring last year, the Tigers had lost nearly all their territory and were boxed into 85 square kilometres of jungle – but even then, outright government victory seemed improbable.

Why? Because however brutal their tactics, the Tigers had succeeded in establishing the idea that the Tamils, discriminated against for many years by the Sinhalese majority, were entitled to their own homeland. The conventional wisdom held that this war neither could nor should have a military outcome, but a diplomatic one. Like errant children, both sides would eventually come round: a ceasefire, peace talks, some kind of settlement imposed by pressure from the West and facilitated by the Norwegians was the only way out of the mess, however unsatisfactory. The Tamils would run their side of the island, the Sinhalese would run theirs.

There were plenty of arguments against such a resolution. For one thing, the island's Tamils are by no means confined to the north and the east. Under British rule, Tamils were favoured for government jobs; today Tamils constitute a majority of the population of the capital, Colombo . At the other end of the social scale, tens of thousands of poor Tamil peasants were brought in under the Raj as indentured labour to work on the tea estates. Both Colombo and the estates were well outside the region the Tigers wanted for its sovereign state. But in a small island polarised between warring ethnic groups, and with a history of ethnic cleansing on both sides, what sort of future could Tamils outside "Eelam" look forward to?

But the prospects for Tamils who found themselves inside the state that Prabhakaran wanted to carve out of the island were hardly more promising. During his 25 years in control, the guerrilla leader had been distinguished by one characteristic above all: utter ruthlessness. He had eliminated every possible rival for power, killing all moderate and pacific Tamil leaders as well as those who favoured the gun. He had subjected Tamils both inside the island and in the diaspora to punitive taxes to fund his war, and had forced thousands of families to give up their children to fight as soldiers. He had ordered pogroms against Muslims in the area he controlled, forcing thousands of them to flee, as well as massacring Sinhalese civilians.

Within the ranks of his guerrilla army he demanded total dedication, inventing the suicide bomb as a weapon of war and requiring his cadres to carry cyanide capsules so they could kill themselves rather than submit to enemy interrogation. On the rare occasions he appeared in public, including his one and only press conference in 2002, he always wore military fatigues, cultivating the image of the single-minded guerrilla leader – but family snaps unearthed after his death showed him living in luxury.

His challenge in 2002 was to convince the world that the man who had ordered the assassinations of both the Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and the Sri Lankan president, Ranasinghe Premadasa, was capable of re-inventing himself, Sinn Fein-style, as a civilian leader worthy of international respect. But it was a transformation that proved well beyond him: his reflexive response to any crisis remained the same – to murder the people he held responsible. The idea that a man of his kidney could run a plausible democratic state was one of the sicker jokes of the decadent period of US diplomatic hegemony.

But even if Prabhakaran had turned out to possess the political gifts of a Gerry Adams, there is a strong argument to be made that the West had no business trying to dictate peace terms to the legitimate government of the island, faced with an astonishingly brutal insurgency.

The reuniting of Sri Lanka under Sinhalese domination fills many in the minority community with foreboding: a Tamil businessman in Trincomalee told me that he fears the arrival of another wave of government-sponsored Sinhalese colonisation. He also talked of how the new arrivals impose their symbolic presence by installing Buddha statues.

There was plenty wrong with the Sri Lankan polity in the years after independence, and there is plenty still wrong with it today. In the words of the then UN high commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, now president of the International Crisis Group, after her visit in October 2007, it is a country where "the weakness of the rule of law and prevalence of impunity are alarming". But the idea that these wrongs could be righted by splitting this small island down the middle into two armed camps, and putting one of the halves in the pocket of a homicidal maniac, is one of the crazier ideas to have gained currency in our times. ~ courtesy: The Independent ~

Is the U.N. complicit in Sri Lankan war crimes? - Louise Arbour

from Turtle Bay ~ Reporting from inside the United Nations

Louise Arbour, the head of the International Crisis Group, called for an internal review of the U.N.'s conduct during Sri Lanka's bloody 2009 civil war, telling Turtle Bay that the organization's abandonment of national staff in a conflict zone and its failure to speak up more forcefully about abuses made it "close to complicit" in government atrocities.

Arbour said the United Nations compromised its principles for a lofty goal: to preserve the ability of aid workers to provide humanitarian assistance to those in desperate need of it. But she faulted the U.N.'s acceptance of "absolutely unacceptable" visa limitations on international staff and the U.N.'s decision to withdraw foreign staff from the northern Sri Lanka province of Vanni in September 2008, on the eve of government forces' final offensive against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, leaving behind "very exposed" local Sri Lankan employees.

Her organization also cited one case from June 2009 in which the United Nations "was slow to react" to the abduction and torture of two U.N. national staff members who were detained on suspicion of collaborating with the Tamil Tigers, and "made no serious protest at their mistreatment."

"The U.N. should look at how it behaved in the whole episode," said Arbour, a former U.N. war crimes prosecutor and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. "I think it's a very sobering moment where the United Nations should reexamine the price it is willing to pay to maintain humanitarian access."

In a press conference Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon responded angrily to suggestions that the U.N. shared responsibility for the violence. "I totally reject those allegations." He said he would move forward with the establishment of a panel of advisors to counsel him on how to hold perpetrators accountable for crimes during the decisive final months of the decades-long war.

Arbour's remarks follow the release last week of a report by her organization alleging that the Sri Lankan military may have killed more than 30,000 civilians during its 2009 military conquest of the country's Tamil rebels. The report also alleges that the Tamil Tigers, one of the world's most brutal insurgent movements, also committed massive war crimes, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to serve as human shields, and murdering those who sought to flee to safety.

Arbour called for an independent investigation into war crimes by both government forces and the Tamil Tigers, warning that lingering bitterness fueled by the conflict will serve as an inspiration to future insurgents. She also faulted the U.N. Security Council for failing to use its powers to constrain Sri Lanka, and the Human Rights Council for issuing a statement praising the government at the end of the conflict for defeating one of the world's most ruthless insurgencies.

"U.N. agencies allowed themselves to be bullied by the government and accepted a reduced role in protecting civilians, most notably with their quick acceptance of the government's September 2008 order to remove all staff from the Vanni," the ICG report stated. "The Human Rights Council chose not to defend humanitarian law, but instead passed a resolution praising the conduct of the government. All of this has eroded further the standing of the U.N. in Sri Lanka and elsewhere."

Arbour's views hold particular weight at the United Nations, where she served in Ban's cabinet and worked alongside many of the officials she is now criticizing. Her remarks echoed her contribution to a 1990s debate on the U.N.'s role in war crimes in Bosnia and Rwanda.

The U.N. is "not a gigantic evil machine but I think there were probably some who made judgment calls that were overly cautious or prudent," Arbour said. "My own suspicion, knowing some of the players in the environment, is it's always for a good reason. It's always not to aggravate the government or make sure they can stay in the game as long as possible. That's exactly why it's so important to look at the facts and start asking are we getting to a point where we are almost complicit with the government in our desire to maintain the delivery of services."

For Arbour, the Sri Lankan war constitutes a defining moment for the United Nations and for Secretary-General Ban, who has faced criticism from rights groups for failing to push earlier for an outside investigation into possible war crimes during the conflict. Arbour said while she welcomed Ban's plan's to set to a panel of experts to explore how perpetrators might be held accountable, she wished he had done so immediately after the conflict.

She also criticized Ban for meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka and failing to press for an independent investigation. Ban traveled to Sri Lanka after the conflict ended and signed an agreement with the Sri Lankan leader that placed responsibility for ensuring accountability for war crimes with the Sri Lankan government. The deal was struck just as the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, was pressing the Human Rights Council to establish an independent inquiry into war crimes in Sri Lanka.

"The fact that the secretary-general went and stood with the president at the very end of the war when some of us had been for months screaming about what was happening in Sri Lanka -- I don't want to say it was disappointing," Arbour said. "Well, let's put it this way: I would have preferred an immediate call for accountability. I wish that what we're talking about now was a conversation that had taken place this time last year, immediately after the conflict."

U.N. officials defended Ban's response to the crisis, saying he publicly urged, and worked tirelessly to persuade, Rajapaska and the insurgents to observe a pause in fighting to allow the release of hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped between the warring camps. They say that the U.N. is frequently required to rely on local staff to deliver assistance as a last resort, noting that they have done so in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and other conflict zones.

"The U.N. actually supplied the people with humanitarian assistance, at great risk to its staff," said Nicholas Haysom, Ban's political advisor. "There are times when, on grounds of safety, you have to make tough calls about whether and when to remove international staff, or even national staff, and yet how to continue to deliver humanitarian aid, and we've had to do this in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Haysom said that Ban was among the "most vocal" leaders in the international community raising the alarm about events unfolding in Sri Lanka. "He was one of the first to do so."

U.N. diplomats and observers said that Ban was raising concerns about the violence, both publicly and privately, but admitted that his heavy reliance on quiet diplomacy had little impact on Sri Lanka's behavior.

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

Hasyom said the secretary-general has little power to enforce his views on a sovereign government, particularly when he doesn't have the full backing of the Security Council. "If the council is not backing you, you only have so much independent leverage or power."

Arbour said that the failure to confront the excesses of the Sri Lankan conflict now may lead to further abuses later. The so-called Sri Lanka option -- brutal military counterinsurgency combined with a total disregard for the laws of wars or international condemnation -- has been gaining currency in countries faced with threats from insurgencies or militants. Her agency cited reports that the Sri Lanka option has seeped into the political debates in countries dealing with militants or insurgents, including Burma, Colombia, India, Israel, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand.

"I understand the rationale," Arbour said, referring to the U.N. decision to maintain its humanitarian operations in the face of compromises. "It's the only way we're going to get humanitarian deliveries," said Arbour, noting that Sri Lanka should prompt a full reevaluation of U.N. humanitarian policies. "But there must come a point where you really have to ask: Are you now paying a price that is so high that you become almost complicit in terrible actions by governments?" - courtesy: The Foreign Policy - Posted By Colum Lynch -

'The sooner Canadian Tamils accept reality about "Independent homeland" is the better for Sri Lanka and Canada'

Quoting the International Crisis Report on the Tamil Diaspora to say that the “Dream of many Canadian Tamils for a truly independent homeland is dead,” The Globe And Mail in an editorial on Tuesday May 25th writes that "The sooner they accept this reality, the better for Sri Lanka, and for Canada."

Full Text of the Editorial as follows:

A secessionist Tamil government-in-exile, with the largest bloc made up of Canadian Tamils, will not improve the life of their brethren in Sri Lanka, and will only succeed in impeding that country’s ability to rebuild after its recent bloody history.

Rather than relive old battles, Canada’s Tamil diaspora should support peace and reconciliation in their homeland. Otherwise, Toronto, home to half of Canada’s estimated 200,000 Sri Lankans, risks becoming a base for disaffected members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the group that fought for a quarter century for an independent homeland.

Some experts believe Canada is already an appealing destination for the Tigers, banned here as a terrorist organization in 2006. Professor Rohan Gunaratna, an international terrorism expert based in Singapore, believes some of the 75 Sri Lankan refugee claimants found aboard a rusty vessel last October off the shores of British Columbia took part in terrorism and have connections to the Tigers.

Officials are expected to intervene in more than a dozen of these asylum-claim cases, to argue that the migrants are inadmissible because of possible ties to terrorism or smuggling networks.

The Sri Lankan army crushed the Tigers last year, with a particularly brutal final campaign that displaced hundreds of thousands of Tamils from their homes in the north and the east.

A report released last week by the International Crisis Group called for an independent investigation into alleged war crimes committed against civilians by the army. Government troops intentionally shelled civilians, hospitals and food distribution points, the report said.

The Tamil diaspora should help pressure the government for an independent, credible investigation into these terrible abuses.

But reviving the Tigers’ hopeless cause is not helpful.

Last month in Toronto, thousands of members of Sri Lanka’s diaspora turned out to vote for a “transnational government” for a non-existent Tamil state. Canada had the largest bloc of seats in this government-in-exile, which critics called a soft rebranding of the Tigers, though candidates denied it. This election went ahead although the new government in Colombo includes 14 Tamils, suggesting it is possible for them to find a political voice within a united Sri Lanka.

Tamils abroad must now help Sri Lanka move forward. Another report by the International Crisis Group says that the Tamil diaspora is “out of touch,” and “still in thrall to the LTTE,” observing that its fundraising networks still exist.

“The dream of many Canadian Tamils for a truly independent homeland is dead,” the report concludes. The sooner they accept this reality, the better for Sri Lanka, and for Canada.

May 23, 2010

Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is a little too late

By Col. R. Hariharan

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has appointed the much awaited ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC). The Island newspaper in its editorial ‘Some V-day thoughts’ voiced the pertinent question, “Why should we expend our time and energy to reinvent the wheel?”

The appointment of the commission had been in incubation for nearly a year. Actually Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in the UN had spoken about his government initiating a mechanism for fact finding and reconciliation at the UN Security Council Interactive Briefing in June 2009. And after taking so long, why did President Rajapaksa choose the ‘Victory Day’ eve to appoint the commission?

Apparently, Sri Lanka after trying other methods to ward off the flak at the UN on the issue of Sri Lanka’s human rights violations during the war for more than a year has adopted the face saving way of appointing the LLRC. Things came to a boil when the UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon persisted with his proposal to appointment a panel of experts to look at the issue. Of course, Sri Lanka had tried all means including a botched attempt at getting the NAM representatives to pass a resolution against the UN Secretary General’s move. Significantly, India -Sri Lanka’s closest ally in the sub continent – did not vote for Sri Lanka at the NAM representatives meeting. Did Sri Lanka take a hint? I do not think so.

Since it went to war Sri Lanka government had tied itself in knots over issues of violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. This had been cause of great concern to civil society both at home and abroad. The state of emergency and the Prevention of Terrorism Act energized during the war came down heavily on any criticism of the government. The sentencing of veteran journalist and columnist J.S. Tissainayagam, sentenced to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment under the anti-terror law was a typical act that put Sri Lanka in the black book of global media. The case attracted so much attention that even the U.S. President Barrack Obama had expressed his concern about it.

The adverse international reaction became worse when the issue of war crimes, particularly as allegations of death of thousands of civilians in the closing stages of war due to army shelling, gathered more mass. The voices at the UN became more strident and critical of Sri Lanka. And Ban ki-Moon’s move was the culmination of these rumblings in Sri Lanka.

Logically, immediately after the victorious war with the elimination of the Tamil Tigers leadership, Sri Lanka should have unshackled all the restrictions imposed during the war. That would have partly met the just demands of civil society; it would have had the advantage of improving the credibility levels of Sri Lanka. But it has not happened so far.

However, it appears President Rajapaksa is trying to tackle this issue by taking small measures to reduce the pressure at a time of his choosing. Tissainayagam was released on bail on the eve of the recent elections. And after the return of the President from the SAARC Summit at Thimphu, early this month the newly appointed Minister of External Affairs Prof GL Peiris announced the President had pardoned the journalist. Did his talks with the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh during the Summit influence the decision? To be charitable to India, we can think so. If we look at the timing of the appointment of the LLRC it would appear to be so as coincidentally India’s Secretary for External Affairs Ms Nirupama Rao had touched upon the fringe of issues in Sri Lanka that are of concern to India.

If local and international political expediency was behind the appointment of the Commission, it is a little too late as the issues have been ignored for over a year and the critics have gained considerable mileage. In any case, a UN official in New York has clarified that it was not going to stop Ban ki-Moon from appointing an expert panel. According to a media report, the UN official said President Rajapaksa’s commission and the UN Chief’s expert panel were two different concepts due to which Ban Ki Moon would not reconsider appointing his panel. And the UN Secretary General would send his Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe to Sri Lanka as soon as clearance is given by the government there.

The UN official’s observations appear correct if we look at the terms of reference of the Commission given in media reports. These are to examine and report on the following aspects:

(a) The facts and circumstances which led to the failure of the ceasefire agreement and the sequence of events that followed thereafter up to May 19 2009

(b) Whether any person, group, or institutions directly or indirectly bear responsibility in this regard.

(c) Lessons learnt from these events in order to ensure that there will be no recurrence.

The wording of the terms of reference is vague and general, rather than specific and pointed. So even if the commission completes its job, it provides sufficient room for endless legal quibbling to delay any action. They will be subject to interpretation whether they cover major issues of civil society concern.

The International Crisis Group has just come out with a detailed report on the war crimes committed by the armed forces and the LTTE. Channel 4 has kindled the fire of war crimes with more inputs. And General Fonseka had brought parliamentary focus on the issue of war crimes. Sri Lanka has to face these issues and take action. International donors who had been supporting Sri Lanka are already weary of its attitude. According to the UN, the country has received only 24% of the total funds ($ 337 million) required for continuing the humanitarian operations. So the appointment of the LLRCis not going to quell strident voices against Sri Lanka. Nor is it going to improve Sri Lanka’s international credibility.

The Commissioners appointed under provisions of Section 2 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act (Chapter 393) has eight prominent personalities as members including at least three with Foreign Service background. Among them is HMGS Palihakkara, former foreign secretary, considered a man of high integrity.

But the issue here is not much as what the LLRC does or finds, but whether its efforts would produce useful results to increase the credibility of the President and the government. After all there had been many commissions in the past which had faced endless obstacles and delaying tactics from the administration. So we can expect the LLRC to make only limping progress in the coming years as every point is debated.

Such squabbling is not unknown. Statutory commissions like the Election Commission, Public Service Commission, Police Commission, Human Rights Commission and the Bribery and Corruption Commission have suffered as appointments to them were mired in political controversy. This has literally ground them to halt and the President is likely to propose amendment to the constitution to enable him to go ahead with the appointment of chairmen and members of these commissions.

Sri Lanka government should ponder over the Island’s original question: “Why should we expend our time and energy to reinvent the wheel?” The newspaper has justified its question aptly:

“Lessons that all of us have already learnt and have yet to learn from thirty years of fighting are fairly well known. Some of them are: no community can or must try to suppress another; violence does not pay; this country does not belong to any particular community; all communities belong to it; it is too small to be divided among different communities but certainly large enough for all communities to live in peacefully.”

What has been happening in Sri Lanka brings to mind what Arthur Miller said in The Crucible: “a political party is equated with moral right, and opposition to it with diabolical malevolence. Once such an equation is effectively made, society becomes a congerie of plots and counterplots, and the main role of government changes from that of the arbiter to that of the scourge of God.”

Time is an irredeemable resource and Sri Lanka has already wasted over 20 precious years in debating what was obvious. Why waste time on more meaningless commissions? It is time to get on with positive action, now that the war is over. And to get going Sri Lanka needs an attitudinal change. That is the lesson number one to be learnt. -[saag]

President approves TNA visit to Menik Farm IDP camp but Defence Secretary disallows It

12 Members of Parliament of the Tamil National Alliance undertook a trip to the Vanni to visit the several camps in which civilians were being kept, to visit the detention camps in which the young Tamil people were detained and also visit the several areas in the Vanni where resettlement and rehabilitation are said to have commenced.

The objective of the visit was to ascertain true factual position. HE the President was kept informed of the visit by letters and he was kindly requested to facilitate the same. Mr. R. Sampanthan, leader of the TNA Parliamentary Group kept in constant touch with the Secretary to the President Mr. Lalith Weeratunga with regard to the visit. The visit accordingly commenced on Friday the 21st May and was to continue on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd May.

Mr Lalith Weeratunga Secretary to the President was kept informed of the dates of the visit and the visit had his total concurrence, implying that the President himself concurred with the visit.

On Saturday the 22nd May around 9 am the TNA Parliamentary Group arrived at the entrance of Zone 4, one of the camps in which the civilians were being kept. The team was informed by the Brigadier in charge that there was no approval for the Parliamentarians to visit the camps and that the Defence Secretary had informed that the visit should not be allowed. Mr R. Sampanthan contacted Mr Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the President and explained the position. The Secretary to the President stated that he would sort out the issue and requested the Parliamentary Group to remain until the matter was settled. After waiting for about an hour at the entrance, efforts to contact Mr Lalith Weeratunga were not successful.

Accordingly after about one hour the Parliamentary Group left the entrance of Zone 4, leaving behind with the Presidential Secretariat the phone numbers on which Mr. R. Sampanthan could be contacted. There was no further contact with Mr. R. Sampanthan.

This act of denying entry to the elected representatives of the people, who are being kept in these camps is an affront to the legitimate democratic rights of these people and an insult to the whole democratic process. This despotic act has been committed by persons, who obviously have a great deal to conceal.

We request all the people in Sri Lanka and the world at large including the United Nations and its relevant organs to take cognizance of this act of unbridled authoritarianism.

We condemn this dictatorial act and call upon the Sri Lankan government to take corrective measures.

(Press Release of the Tamil National Alliance)

Listen to what Tamils themselves have to say about their life and experience

A Reply to a Sinhalese friend

by Charles Sarvan

You write to say that Sri Lanka is now free of danger, the Tamils are at peace and contented, and I should come on holiday. It is kind of you, a testimony to a friendship that has lasted half a century, despite my having left the Island many, many years ago.

However, your confident assurance about the situation of the Tamils surprises me because what I hear from Tamils themselves is quite different, ranging from the mild, “It’s not easy to be a Tamil in pure, pious, Lanka” to claims that Tamils are at the mercy of the army and the police; the North and East are devastated regions; houses and land forcibly occupied by the army; the people made third-class citizens in the land of their birth. Borrowing words from Avishai Margalit, is it “just a peace” [the absence of war] or “a just peace”?

I would venture to suggest gently that it is not for you to judge Tamil experience and reality; not for you to comment on the Tamil state of mind and feeling – at least not with your present knowledge and awareness.

The Chinese may tell the world that Tibetans enjoy new-found freedom, liberated from theocracy. But it will carry far more weight if the Tibetans themselves were also to say it.

Russians may say that the people of Chechnya are content, but it won’t be convincing. One must consult ordinary Chechens - not Chechen quislings and sycophants.

It’s not for white Americans to say that African-Americans no longer suffer from prejudice based on skin-colour. If we can’t meet with some of them personally, we must then, at the least, read and listen to what African Americans themselves are writing and saying. (“Race” may be gone from science but it survives in the wider US culture as racism: New York Review of Books, April 2010, page 71.)

Would you ask tea-estate management in Sri Lanka whether the workers were being treated with justice and, as fellow human beings, with regard? Or would you visit the “lines”, see and engage in conversation with the workers and their families?

Would you ask Arab employers in the Middle East whether their Sri Lankan housemaids were well treated and happy? Or would you try to meet the housemaids outside their place of work, and get them to talk frankly and freely? (I once taught in the Middle East, and gained an insight into the lives.)

I could go on citing examples but, dear friend, you would have got the point by now.

I think of those Tamil refugees I see on television. Many of them seem to me to be peasants (for me, “peasant” is not derogative). They appear to be simple folk who, at best, made a basic living; folk who, if left alone, would have been content to exist within that circumscribed “space” in which they, like their forefathers, were born. I incline to think that those among them who could read and write, are literate only in Tamil. Yet such people are undertaking a perilous voyage towards the totally alien: a foreign country, language, environment, culture. An uncertain future is preferred to present reality. What is the despair that has forced this permanent uprooting? These folk are not the ambitious seeking “greener pastures” abroad. Till now, they were content on their little, but familiar, patch of “pasture” which was home. (It is class arrogance to think that peasants do not respond to, and love, their natural environment. Indeed, their ties are closer, stronger.) You may counter that some Sinhalese villagers are also fleeing the Paradise Isle, but surely it is a matter of the percentage of the respective population?

I think of those many Sinhalese individuals who are deeply disquieted by the treatment, almost from 1948 and independence, of the Tamils. These Sinhalese have paid the price for their concern and protest, a cost which does not exclude abuse and assault, even death. At the very least, there’s the puzzlement and disapproval of some of their Sinhalese relations and friends. (Adrian Wijemanne dedicated his book, War and Peace in Post-Colonial Ceylon, affectionately, and with a sense of humour, to his wife who relentlessly opposed the entire project.) These Sinhalese do not claim that the Tamils have now achieved peace and justice; equality and dignity.

I think of those Sinhalese who, together with Tamils and Muslims, work to bring about a different Sri Lanka, one of social justice, care and decency; of equality and inclusion. They believe that an improvement of the whole must, logically, have a positive impact on all the constituent groups, be these groups viewed on lines of ethnicity or class. They refuse to become inured to the decline in political and public morality; to poverty, corruption, violence and nepotism. They don’t see these features as “natural” and, therefore, to be accepted and put up with, as one does the noonday sun and heat.

Sinhalese who assert, both within the Island and to those outside, that Tamils are now at peace, contented and look forward with a degree of optimism, are differently motivated. You, my friend, are innocent, “not knowing”, and want to persuade me to visit. I am touched by your wish, and the enduring affection it shows. The motives of the others are various. Some are callously indifferent to the plight of the Tamils; some seek only to reassure the international community which, for its part, pretends to believe these assurances so that it’s “business as usual”.

With some, a lack of awareness and knowledge is the result of a failure to find out, and thereafter, to care. It is so much easier, casually and lightly, to believe that the absence of war, ipso facto, means the realization of true peace and justice, and get on with one’s life. To think everything is now alright with one’s fellow citizens takes away the burden of giving thought and taking action; it stills a mind and calms a conscience that would, otherwise, be troubled: if I choose to convince myself that the poor are contented in their poverty, then I need not give them thought, or trouble myself in any way.

I urge you, my friend, to go to the North and see for yourself. What did children, ordinary women and men do to deserve what has been visited upon them? What is being done to alleviate and heal, and with what sincerity and urgency? I ask you to visit; to talk with Tamils there, and in Colombo, where you live. To talk with Tamils in Colombo won’t be easy because they may be embarrassed and uncomfortable with the topic, vis-a-vis you. They may fear being misunderstood; fear that personal and social cordiality will be strained; relationships damaged, if not terminated. One is cautioned to avoid politics and religion in social contexts, but what value, I ask, is a so-called “friendship” if politics and religion (that is, the immediate and the important) are to be avoided? That you and I can exchange thoughts freely is a tribute to you, and to our friendship.

As for talking with Tamils in the North, investigative journalists will confirm that one can’t suddenly appear on a scene, and expect people to open their hearts and minds - particularly if there are eavesdroppers around. The first step must be to win some measure of trust in you as a person, your attitude and your motive in asking. Listen – listen to what they themselves have to say about their life and experience. What was their recent experience, and what is their present situation? Do they view the future of their children with a degree of confidence and hope - or with deep and sorrowful misgivings?

Once you have carried out your own, independent inquiry; have a degree of first-hand, in-depth knowledge, what you say – even if it is exactly what you are now saying – will carry credence. It will not be mistaken for easy casualness, a lack of seriousness, indifference or, at the worst (as with some) nothing but blatant denial and cynical lies.

I end with sincere and warm good wishes, and the words of Margalit who advocates “negative politics”, by which he means the effort to deal with existing evil and wrongs, rather than aim at some ideal state or condition: all morality is finally predicated on our shared humanity, and a society, if it is truly decent, will not dominate or inflict humiliation on any of its members or groups. In the words of Sir Thomas More (1516), what we can’t put right, we must try to make as little wrong as possible.

The Tamil population of this country must truly feel that they are part of this country

by Naveen Dissanayake

I have been asked by the editor of this esteemed newspaper to pen some thoughts on the current political developments and trends in our country. My life has been associated with politics for such a long period of time and I have seen political events at such close quarters that I think I am well up to the task.

As a professional the abstract concepts about politics and the reality of Sri-Lankan politics I have seen and witnessed with my own eyes is a stark contrast to the high ideals of politics that emanated from great philosophical thinkers such as Aristotle, Descartes, Russell, Chanakya and Machiavelli. The noble concept of politics such as service without any personal benefit is no longer a truism in many societies and countries. Politics today is the obtaining and retaining power hopefully through legal and constitutional means.

The people through an evolved democratic process that has some minimum benchmarks obtain power through political parties and people's representatives. In Sri-Lanka these ideals are heavily influenced by the politicians intention of hanging on to power at any cost.

Our political culture has been greatly influenced by what I call the perpetual crisis of democracy. We have had three insurrections two in the south and one in the North. These insurrections have been suppressed at a great cost to the nation and society. The first insurrection in 1971 was brutally put down by the armed forces at a cost of nearly 50,000 lives. As I was only 2 years old when this happened I do not have any memory of this event but the fact of the matter is for the first time in our polity the blood of Sri-Lankan youth was spilt to preserve the so-called status quo.The politics of the gun started in Sri Lanka.

The second insurrection in 1988-89 was equally put down by brute force. This insurrection was more venomous and nasty than the first one. Here innocent civilians were ruthlessly executed in cold blood for believing and following a political ideology. The carnage had no limits. Death squads on both sides operated with impunity and I am sure most of the good citizens of this country still remember the thousand burnt bodies on the roadside.

By the time the second insurrection started the third armed insurrection in the North was well under way. This insurrection created the most violent and ruthless terrorist organization in the world. The rest is history we all know what happened. It changed the course of our country from reaching its full potential as a model liberal democratic nation with an equitable open economy to a nation at siege grappling to come to terms with an economy failing to deliver the aspirations of the people.

In politics as in any other vocation one is constantly given advice on how to conduct oneself; "Be patient your time will come", "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are", "A smooth sea never makes a skilled mariner", "The steeper the mountain the harder the climb the better the view from the finishing line", "The softest things in the world overcomes the hardest things in the world" and "We cannot direct the wind but we can adopt the sails" are some that immediately come to mind. To me, as a young politician who is deeply concerned about the future of this country, I am influenced by these sayings but the rough and tumble of Sri Lankan politics, especially the jealousy, bitterness, violence and venom that is generated, is enormous. It is very difficult to keep your head above the water.

When in 1973, the late J.R. Jayewardene became the leader of the UNP he made it a point to bring up young and talented individuals within the party. My late father was only 31 years old at that time. By 35 he was a cabinet minister. With young and talented individuals he transformed the UNP into well-organized truly united unit with a distinct brand of nationalism, positions based on merit and economic liberalism.

Although one could criticise President Jayewardene on many issues he kept the party together.

However, after his tenure, President Premadasa was unable to keep the unity of the party. He should not have victimised Mr. Athulathmudali and my father. Here we learn an important political lesson: internal party unity is very important and to preserve it the leadership should give talented individuals their place in the party.

The election process is deeply flawed and needs immediate change. The preferential system in the country needs too much money, builds up resentment and acrimony among your own colleagues and does not bring about a result so that an individual MP is responsible for his own constituency. Immediate electoral changes are necessary and hopefully this will happen within the lifespan of this parliament.

The fact of the matter is that the electoral process brings up more negativity than positive elements. Having contested three elections now the candidates are more concerned about the 'manapes' than more important issues such as policies for the constituents and making your political party win. The violence, the money that is thrown to buy votes and the tensions and animosity between candidates mean that this electoral system has to be overhauled. How much money individuals utilized in this election can never be fathomed but the more important question is how this cash is generated, where it comes from and what is the 'payback' after the election.

I have always believed that it was crucial for both main political parties to work together to end the brutal terrorism that had gripped our country for thirty years. It was with this intention and this intention only that I joined the government. President Mahinda Rajapaksa's bold decisions have paved the way for the total annihilation of the LTTE.

Many were the skeptics, here and abroad, who never thought that the LTTE could militarily be defeated. To them appeasement was the only way. He braved all the odds and went for the jugular and did what had to be done. The government is now reaping the benefits of that victory politically. Our nation stands at the threshold of great economic development that will propel our people to the fruits of economic prosperity that has long eluded them.

We must think of the long term and build this country for generations to come. Wounds must heal and there must be a spirit of give and take. TheTamil population of this country must truly feel as part of this country. There has to be a sense of inclusiveness. There has to be a genuine-and-implementable devolution proposal so that militancy or any other forms of 'blood' politics would not take shape in our country.

There has to be proper fiscal management of our economy. The debt burden has to be reduced and we have to go for an era of 'disinflationary growth'. There has to be a greater deregulation of the economy so that credible finance can be raised in the international markets for our development efforts.

Our education system needs immediate attention. Over the last two decades there has been marked detioration in teacher standards, curriculum and physical standards in schools. Arguably as military expenditure will significantly decrease we should be able to increase our capital expenditure on health and education accordingly.

I strongly believe that D.R. Edward de Bono's lateral thinking methods should be part of our national curriculum. But I suspect these innovative ideas would not be implemented because our administrators and bureaucrats are happy with the status quo and and have grown apathetic over the years.

A well-targeted poverty alleviation programme, ensuring that economic growth goes to the villages, urban regeneration through private and public partnerships, taking innovative and meaningful steps to create an IT revolution and self sufficiency in energy and food should surely be some of the goals that we should strive to attain. I believe that we have the human capital to achieve these objectives.

We must not miss this chance. It may be last chance as this nation has missed so many opportunities to reach the Promised Land. We must ensure equitable development so that a vast majority of rural Sri Lankans can feel the fruits of economic development.

We must have a meaningful political devolution process, reform our education system so that our benchmark is quality instead of quantity, ensure rapid infrastructure development and transform the military expenditure into a truly 'peace' dividend.

To do this we must lay aside petty political and other differences and get together as patriotic citizens to ensure that country will rise again. If we all play our part I am optimistic that this can be achieved. ~ courtesy: The Sunday Times ~

"Sports for Peace"Project Brings Differently-Abled Children FRom Vavuniya to Matara

by Natasha Fernandopulle

It is a warm Friday morning, April 30 when we reach the Rohana Special School in Matara just in time for their Avurudu festival. It is a busy scene that greets us.

Among the invitees is a special group - children from Vavuniya, from the Organisation for Rehabilitation of the Handicapped or ORHAN.

The two groups have been brought together by an initiative by the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Communities for Peace Project where in 2006 they initiated a ‘sports for peace’ project. This project funded by the Government of Australia took place in 11 districts.

“We wanted to use sports as a tool to link youth in different parts of the country,” says Project Manager, Communities for Peace, Ahila Thillainathan. It was through this project that the Twinning Schools programme was born in 2008 focusing on the North, East, North Central provinces as well as districts of Hambantota and Matara.

“Our emphasis was on communities with the focus being on livelihood development as well,” Ms. Thillainathan says, adding, “Priority was given to special needs in the three districts of Vavuniya, Matara and Ampara.”

In September 2009, ORHAN invited the students of Rohana Special School to Vavuniya for a sports festival. This event was the reciprocal visit, the children from ORHAN in Vavuniya, visiting Matara during the Avurudu season.

“Our main objective is to display their talents and skills in sports,” says President, ORHAN, V. Subramaniam. It is through such events that the public will be able to see what these children are capable of, he feels.

“Differently-abled children have certain restrictions and that is why we must assist them in their personal development,” says N. D. Abeygunawardana, Principal, Rohana Special School. He says for about 30 years, the war hindered development in this area, but with peace prevailing now, there is a chance for this to change.

“I have no disability but anything can happen to me, tomorrow and on that day if I get only sympathy but no help that would be of little point, because what is necessary is assistance,” Mr. Abeygunawardana says.

The children who come to Rohana Special School have been abandoned by their families and their societies because of their disability. Therefore the school works hard to help them.

S. Kumara (16) the Head Prefect of the school hopes to become an engineer someday. “I like maths and sports. I will be sitting for my O’ Levels this year and I want to do well in my studies,” he says enthusiastically. Kumar Jenson (18), a student at ORHAN, says he is happy at school as he gets the opportunity to draw and paint.

“Every year we conduct various programmes and this year we decided to help children who are mentally and physically handicapped so that they would be able to lead a normal life when they enter society,” says Mr. Abeygunawardana.

He said their hard work at the school seems to have paid off as they were awarded a National Productivity Award by the Ministry of Labour and Manpower’s National Productivity Secretariat. “It’s not me but my children who earned this award,” he says, adding, “As a team we can do anything.”

Gunaratna Magamamudali’s daughter eleven year-old Gihani is a slow-learner. “I can actually see an improvement in her since she came to this school at the age of seven,” says Gunaratna adding that he feels that being able to be with other children has played a big part in her development.

No doubt, the teachers too have a huge influence on their progress. Ms. H. G. S. Anojini a teacher at Rohan Special School is proud that children from the school have entered university.

“When they join the school some children don’t even know sign language but they learn fast and are able to do well in school,” Anojini says adding that there are children who compete in sports with children from national schools and win. The children follow the normal national school syllabus.

Krishnamoorthy Santhi who teaches yoga, Home Science and Tamil at ORHAN,” says she sees the children improving a great deal with the education and attention they receive.

“They are given basic training and then they are enrolled into various schools in Vavuniya,” she says, adding, “Once they get to school they are already integrated into society.” ~ courtesy: the sunday times. lk ~

Duvaliers of Haiti and Rajapakses of Sri Lanka: "Baby Doc" Namal may scceed "Papa Doc" Mahinda

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

The Rajapakse approach to constitution making is symbiotic of Rajapakse governance; piecemeal changes, one amendment at a time, until any and all factors impeding the Dynastic project are removed.

No constitutional upheaval, no controversial referendum; just a gradual process of transformation until quantity turns into quality and the Jayewardene Constitution becomes the Rajapakse Constitution. In the end, the constitution is revolutionised, without a constitutional revolution. Powers not in consonance with democracy will be granted to the President, democratically, by the Constitution, which will then be used to hollow out the democratic system still further.

One proposed constitutional amendment will empower the President to appoint members to the Independent Commissions created by the 17th Amendment. Independent Commissions will thus be independent in name only; in reality they will function as appendages of the President, implementing or rubber stamping his decisions. The 17th Amendment was crafted with the express purpose of reducing some of the excessive powers of the executive president; therefore it has the potential to seriously impede the project of Familial Rule.

The proposed amendment would turn the 17th Amendment into its antithesis – from a law which reduces the powers of the President into a law which enhances the powers of the President! This is a classic example of Rajapakse governance - the Independent Commissions will not be abolished; they will merely be rendered utterly meaningless; from new centres of power they will be transformed into juicy pastures for Presidential favourites and stage props to keep the illusion of democracy alive, in the midst of Familial Rule.

Another proposed amendment will enable the President to sit in parliament and take part in parliamentary proceedings. This amendment too will be touted as a ‘democratising’ measure which reduces the power of the president by making him accountable to the parliament. In reality, it will enable the President to attend the parliament at will, interfere in its work, and most importantly, to keep government parliamentarians on a very short leash.

The Rajapakses would know that an impeachment motion or a radical power shift in parliament, though not highly likely, is not impossible. Chamal Rajapakse was made the Speaker precisely to prevent such a mishap. With the new amendment, the President himself will be able to play the ‘Big Brother’ to UPFA parliamentarians. This amendment, which violates the principle of separation of powers, will further empower the President under the guise of restraining him.

The piecemeal transformation of the Constitution would also enable the regime to turn such thorny issues as devolution, democracy and basic rights into non-issues. The 13th Amendment will stay in place, while, eventually, a new amendment will be enacted, which will render it meaningless. Just as independent commissions will be turned into presidential commissions, provincial devolution will be vitiated to village level administrative decentralisation.

The Tamils are powerless. Delhi many protest, but its protest will be politely deflected, with another promise or another commission; whatever real capacity India had of influencing Lankan policy on the minorities died with Vellupillai Pirapaharan on the shores of Nandikadal lagoon.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse has long been dissatisfied about the pace and the conduct of Sri Lanka’s judicial system. He is on record expressing his disapprobation about the lack of missionary zeal on the part of the AG’s Department in prosecuting ‘terrorists’. In a recent interview he emphasised the ‘pivotal importance of the judiciary, particularly the Attorney General’s Department, in supporting the govern ment’s efforts to suppress terrorism’ and railed against moves ‘to release some LTTE operatives held in connection with the assassination of Gen. (retd) Janaka Perera’ (The Island – 17.4.2010) by the courts, for lack of evidence. He is also on record calling for ‘new laws to meet new security requirements.

All such abominations are likely to be at an end, with the President taking over both the Attorney General’s Department and the Legal Draughtsman’s Department, in violation of the spirit (if not the letter) of the Constitution. This latest acquisition would enable Mr. Rajapakse to interfere in the judicial process, legally.

Inadequate speed and zeal in prosecuting terrorist suspects by the AG’s Department is the specious justification given for this gross violation of the principle of separation of powers. Now the President (and the Ruling Family) will be able to prosecute on suspicion alone, without bothering about hard evidence.

The fact that this momentous step was taken with nary a public protest, either from the legal fraternity or from society, is symbolic not only of the level of impunity achieved by the Rajapakses but also of the degree to which Sri Lanka has become accustomed to such acts of impunity. The cancer of impunity has spread so far, so fast, that it no longer seems a malady but a very part of the body politic.

Behind the regime’s half-hearted attempts at generating an illusion of compliance and moderation (aimed at the international community, especially the EU), the transformation of Sri Lanka into a national security state run by the Rajapakses continues unabated. Despite the publicity blitz, senior journalist Tissanayagam is yet to be pardoned. Prageeth Eknaligoda is still missing. Sarah Malini Perera (the Sinhala Buddhist convert into Islam) is to be tried under the Emergency for ‘insulting Buddhism’. Namal Rajapakse’s new Television channel, YV, was launched by his brother Yoshita (Vice President of Namal’s NGO, Tharunyata Hetak). Thus, the Rajapakse – Sinhala supremacist triumphal chariot marches forward.

A third court martial is to be set up to try Gen. Fonseka. Meanwhile Defence Secretary Rajapakse has declared, portentously, that anyone seeking to undermine Sri Lanka’s sovereignty is a traitor who deserves capital punishment (death): “Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that former Army Commander General Fonseka, in the run-up to January 26 presidential election, alleged the Army had executed LTTE cadres, who gave themselves up on the Vanni front. Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said: ‘Although Fonseka had subsequently said that the Army did not massacre surrendering LTTE cadres, though being ordered by me, it paved the way for international intervention’.

Defence Secretary Rajapaksa alleged that those bent on destabilizing the country would now exploit Fonseka’s parliamentary privileges to fast track their sinister campaign. Now that terrorists no longer retained a conventional fighting capability, the LTTE rump would strive to isolate the country, he said. The fastest way to achieve their goal was to use MP Sarath Fonseka to justify their baseless allegations, he said. He emphasized that anyone throwing his or her weight behind an anti-Sri Lanka conspiracy would be considered a traitor and people should be naïve to believe such behavior could be tolerated” (The Island - 6.5.2010).

Titles are a Rajapakse forte. Once, not so long ago, there was the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP); now there is a ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC). The new commission’s terms of reference are vague; and its members include the man who delivered the 2009 DA Rajapakse Memorial Lecture (he began his peroration by declaring ‘It is no secret that the national and the international community stands in gratitude and salutes Your Excellency for you unwavering leadership, our defence leaders and personnel for their enormous sacrifices..; he ended it by asking ‘the international community and humanitarians’ to ‘help Sri Lanka nurture its heritage’ since ‘this is no time to point fingers and find blameworthiness for punishment; ‘May the true humanitarians stop forward and show their true colours’ was his rousing finale – Asian Tribune – 4.12.2009).

Another member was so affected by ‘the awe inspiring sight of the President worshipping the ground’, so filled with ‘pride and veneration for this remarkable leader who defeated terrorism for good’ that he was moved to draw ‘an invaluable portrait of President Mahinda Rajapakse paying homage to Mother Lanka’ (The Daily News – 21.6.2009). Clearly a most suitable commission, which will produce a most useful report; in the meantime, hopefully, Delhi can be fobbed off, Brussels persuaded to renew the GSP+ and the UN cajoled into postponing any ‘war crimes investigation’.

Almost 100,000 civilian Tamils are still living in camps in the North, forced to ensure the torrential rains in their inadequate shelters. Out of public sight, their tragedy will remain out of public mind. The Rajapakses surmised correctly, when they surmised that limitless abuse is possible so long as it goes unrecorded and unreported. In the absence of independent reporting, it is easy to turn lies into truth and render crimes invisible. The absence of independent reporting enabled the Rajapakses to create and sustain the twin myths of ‘humanitarian operation’ and ‘zero civilian casualties’.

But myths cannot last forever, and, already, seemingly credible evidence of civilian casualties has emerged. The staunchly anti-Tiger UTHR has issued a couple of reports packed with details; the latest report of the International Crisis Group (and the latest video of BBC’s Channel 4) indicates that the issue is unlikely to go away in the foreseeable future.

The Eelam War was a civil war. Therefore, in the interests of a Sri Lankan future, it would make sense to investigate allegations of war crimes, not just by the LTTE, but also by the Lankan Forces. How can we expect the Tamils to put the past behind them and look to the future, if they are to be deprived of justice or the right to mourn their dead, normalcy or political freedom?

Even if the regime thinks that Tamil sentiments can be ignored, it would realise the need to address Indian and Western concerns to some degree (especially since the fate of the GSP+ hangs in balance) and to prevent a UN investigation of any sort. What better way than to appoint a commission dignified by an esoteric title, packed with loyal servitors and predestined for failure via a nebulous framework?

The remarkably smooth transition of Sri Lanka from a vibrant, albeit a flawed, democracy into a Familial Oligarchy, in just five years, symbolises the potency of Rajapakse governance, its remarkable ability to achieve the inconceivable and turn the abnormal into the new norm. The only (really existing) impediment to the Rajapakse dynastic project, presidential term limits, is on its way out.

According to media reports, a constitutional amendment removing presidential term limits is to be enacted before November. Once that shackle is removed, Mahinda Rajapakse can become President for life (aided by the Augean Stable-type mess in the UNP), to be succeeded by either son or brother. (Only the wilfully obdurate will fail to realise that Namal Rajapakse is being groomed to step into his father’s shoes; if no crisis intervenes, Baby Doc will take over from Papa Doc, someday).

As an astrological prediction published in the unofficial government organ, Silumina on 7th June last year, put it boldly, “President Mahinda Rajapakse and the Rajapakses will rule this country for a long time…. The Rajapakses will become beloved leaders of this country…. The next chapter in Sri Lanka is reserved for the Rajapakses…”

May 22, 2010

Mahinda who pledged to abolish Executive Presidency in 2005 now wants to remove limits on presidential terms in office

By Namini Wijedasa

When the UPFA campaigned for a two-thirds majority in parliament to change the constitution, it was widely anticipated that any amendments the party proposed would serve to strengthen democracy.

But less than two months later, we are told that among the changes to be introduced is a removal of the two-term limit on the executive presidency. It is also being suggested that the president be empowered to appoint chairpersons and members to the Election Commission, Public Service Commission, National Police Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Permanent Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, the Finance Commission and the Delimitation Commission. This would turn the concept of independence on its head and render the Constitutional Council useless.

It is generally accepted that the 1978 constitution of J.R. Jayawardena is bad. Will the UPFA government take a bad constitution and make it worse? Worryingly, there is no discussion today involving a possible whittling down of the executive president’s powers. There is no talk whatsoever of abolishing the executive presidency. Instead, media leaks from the state point only to an increase in the reach and tenure of the executive president.

No information

As with many other issues of national import, there is little information or transparency about the constitutional amendments being concocted by the government. What should be a matter of national debate has been quietly assigned to a few, selected individuals. “This is how we think it goes,” said an authoritative government source that did not wish to be named. “The president knows what he wants, he tells G.L. Peiris and G.L. Peiris drafts the proposals.”

External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris is, indeed, in charge. There are some “rumours” that Faiz Mustapha, PC, is also involved. It is expected that once Peiris has some document ready, he will present it for cabinet approval. Little else is known. Repeated attempts to contact Minister Peiris failed. But for a few ministers that made passing reference to constitutional change at a press conference, the others are either not talking or are genuinely oblivious.

Jayampathy Wickramaratne, PC, was a member of two teams set up by the People’s Alliance government to review the provisions of the 1978 constitution and to put forward alternatives. Acquainted for long years with constitutional matters, he was involved in the drafting of the 1997 proposals for constitutional change and the 2000 constitution bill. As a member, too, of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party politburo, Wickramaratne is keenly aware of the dangers of the amendments now being proposed.

According to Wickramaratne, President Rajapaksa assured Tissa Vitarana and D.E.W. Gunasekera at a special meeting of the UPFA committee (to which they were invited) before the 2010 presidential election that an abolition of the executive presidency was “not a problem”. “When they raised a question about whether the executive presidency would be abolished, they were told this is not a problem... that it has already been agreed to.” Going by recent developments, this could only have been a variation of the truth.

The hated executive presidency

While so much has been written about the executive presidency in Sri Lanka, its pitfalls cannot be emphasised enough. It is an executive presidency without any checks or balances unlike those models in countries that successfully follow this method of governance.

Take the clause that grants the president immunity from prosecution. It is no doubt undesirable for a president to have to deal with civil or criminal proceedings and in most countries such action is not allowed. But it is important that the executive decisions of a president be subject to the jurisdiction of courts, particularly he or she violates fundamental rights.

The impeachment process prescribed in the constitution is impossible to implement. The president is the head of the cabinet, the head of the state, and the commander of the armed forces. Unlike in France, there is no division of power between the president and the prime minister. Unlike in the US, there is no vetting procedure for the appointment of ministers.

As the president is the head of the cabinet, he decides what laws are to be enacted. “And we don’t have post-enactment judicial review,” commented Wickramaratne. “We have only pre-enactment judicial review which has been a failure, given the political literacy in this country. Gazettes are not available even to MPs who are interested while others miss important bills so many of them go unchallenged.”

With an enormous concentration of power in the president, he can hire and fire ministers without any reference to parliament, take over subjects and functions including the attorney general’s department which was traditionally left to the ministry of justice. These and so many more evils lead to one conclusion: The executive presidency is a curse that must be broken.

Just imagine

What happens if you introduce constitutional provisions to remove the term limits on such a presidency? Awful things, warns Wickramaratne.

“Time limits provide an important check on the concentration of power,” he said. “They strengthen democracy and ensure long-term stability. The longer a chief executive holds power, the more the delineation between the state and the ruling party. In other words, the lines become blurred and the importance of the ruling party goes away as has happened now. What is the SLFP today? It is not important.”

“More terms than two erodes the balance of power and weakens the legislature and the independence of the judiciary, neutralises electoral authorities as well as competitive political parties,” he continued. “Not having a limit also operates against the healthy growth of political parties, against intra-party democracy. The president may govern for too long, he will groom his successors causing other potential leaders to grow impatient. They may break way, join other groups or start working in an underhand manner.”

Conversely, setting term limits increases intra party democracy while it throws up new people independent of existing leaders. There is a kind of rotation of political power. Term limits promote party-based democracy as opposed to personality-based democracy.

“If Chandrika Kumaratunga had a shy at a third term, do you think Mahinda Rajapaksa would have gotten nomination to contest and win?” Wickramaratne asked. “Mahinda Rajapaksa became president because Chandrika had to go after two terms.”

“We have had very bad experiences with JR,” he noted. “I think even a large number of UNPers curse him for what he did. I think one of the best arguments against a third term or unlimited terms is JR Jayawardena. Just imagine if he had a third term? Or just imagine if Premadasa lived and had three terms?”

Those that endorse a removal of term limits on the presidency argue that Sri Lanka needs leaders like Mahathir Mohammed or Lee Quan Yew to lead the country towards economic stability. “But remember that democracy is affected,” said Wickramaratne. “Malaysia and Singapore are not the best democratic models. We need a model that strikes a balance.”

Some supporters cite the examples of successful European leaders with third terms. “All these leaders are in parliamentary democracies, not in presidential forms,” Wickramaratne argued. “In some countries with presidential forms of government, there certainly is a possibility of second, third or fourth terms. But do you really want to follow Zimbabwe?” (In parliamentary forms of government, people don’t vote for a person. They vote for parties - members of parliament - who then choose their prime minister).

Golden opportunity

President Kumaratunga, having pledged to abolish the executive presidency, later came out with excuses. One of them initially was that she had only a one vote majority in parliament. It was later that other partners joined her coalition.

Today, however, President Rajapaksa is at the head of government that is just four short of a two-thirds majority. Meanwhile, all the other parties in the opposition - for whatever reason - are now in favour of a complete abolition of the executive presidency. The TNA and SLMC which at first thought the executive presidency was a safeguard for the minorities have also changed their minds. The UNP also supports its abolition. So why extend this curse?

“President Rajapaksa has already gone down in history once, having defeated the LTTE,” Wickramaratne said. “He has another opportunity to make history by getting rid of the executive presidency. And I would follow it up with a third one — solve the national question through a political dialogue and political solution.”

Wickramaratne said he can understand the SLFP’s interest in keeping Mahinda Rajapaksa as their leader in power. “Because he’s a good leader, a popular leader, a charismatic leader of the SLFP,” he agreed. “He has grassroots appeal and the SLFP cannot even think of getting another leader of that calibre in the next so many years. But then, is doing away with the limit on term the only answer? “Why not go back to Westminster model? He can then he can be president for life provided the people elect him.”

Promise conspicuously dropped

One of the pledges Mahinda Rajapaksa delivered while campaigning in 2005 was that he would abolish the executive presidency. Not only did that not happen, the promise was conspicuously dropped in his election manifesto of 2010. Now, dramatically different changes are being proposed and one of them reportedly is to remove the two-term restriction on the presidency.

Mahinda Chinthana 2005

Strengthening the people’s will

I propose to change the Parliamentary Election System to ensure that public opinion will be represented and stable Governments will be elected.

With the consensus of all, I expect to present a Constitution that will propose the abolition of the Executive Presidency and to provide solutions to other issues confronting the country. In the interim, I propose to present a Constitutional amendment through with the Executive President will be made answerable to Parliament by virtue of holding such office.

To endorse the responsibility that the President has to the Parliament, I will attend Parliament once a month

Mahinda Chinthana Idiri Dekma 2010

Parliament as a State Council

-The power of the President to dissolve Parliament, arbitrarily, after one year will be abolished except in a national exigency, as a mark of respect to the people’s mandate to Parliament.

-The President will participate in Parliamentary sessions to establish co-existence between Parliament and the President.

Presidency as a Trusteeship

I was particularly careful when exercising the powers of the Executive Presidency. In the past, the Executive Presidency was used to postpone elections, to topple elected governments, to disrupt the judiciary, to ban political parties, to suppress demonstrations and lead the country towards a violent culture, to sell state institutions at under-valued prices, to defend criminals and to grant concessions to unscrupulous businessmen. Agreements that betrayed the country were entered into using the powers of the Executive Presidency.

I used such powers to unite the country. An open discussion on the Executive Presidency will be held with all parties. The Executive Presidency will be converted into a Trusteeship which honours the mandate given to Parliament by being accountable to Parliament, establishes equality before the law, is accountable to the judiciary and enacts laws that are accountable to the judiciary, and is not in conflict with the judiciary. - courtesy Lakbimanews -

Tamil population of North and East is far more pragmatic than TNA leadership

by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Lanka stands indicted for waging that unavoidable and the necessary war of self defence; a war we did not start. Did any of our critics call for Sri Lanka to be given the satellite intelligence and equipment that would have allowed us to prevail more surgically?

Do these critics take into account that armed forces with far greater sophistication, such as the use of drones, have been unable to avoid civilian casualties? Do these critics expect legitimate states to be blackmailed into letting terrorists escape, because they are holding civilians as human shields, in a mega-Beslan tactic? Have those who scourge Sri Lanka called for an international inquiry into hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq?

The external pressure is not to be discounted. The new spate of anti-Sri Lanka agitation has two targets: one is the mind of the UN Sec-Gen and the other, more important, is the US government. Moral pressure is being brought to bear in the hope of leveraging a Congressional or institutional process which in turn will uncover all the electronic intelligence accumulated by a variety of US agencies, on the last stages of the war. The second prong is the call for US courts, and indeed courts around the world, to gun for Sri Lankan leaders and officials on the grounds of ‘universal jurisdiction’ and ‘command responsibility’ for alleged atrocities and war crimes.

The Provisional Transitional Government of Tamil Eelam (PTGTE) has extended a tentacle to Venezuela. In the meanwhile the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) will be sitting pretty with a friend as Britain’s Leader of the Opposition and a future Prime Minister.

Taken cumulatively, one may discern a serious danger of a growing external encirclement of Sri Lanka.

Now there is a smart way for Sri Lanka to handle things, and a dumb way to do so – and I am unsure that we’ll take the smart option. The dumb thing to do is to attribute this mess to a ‘Sarath Fonseka conspiracy’ against either the Secretary of Defence or the able officer who succeed him as Army Commander, thereby transforming the whole thing into a divisive domestic mud wrestling match and demoralising the masses. The ICG report makes very clear who the targets are: in ascending order up the chain of command, Gen Jagath Jayasuriya (as overall theatre commander during the last stage), Gen Sarath Fonseka, Secy/Def Gotabhaya Rajapakse and President and C-in-C Mahinda Rajapakse.

The domestic constituency and component of the ICG-AI-Channel 4 ‘surge’ against Sri Lanka is not Sarath Fonseka and the DNA, it is the Ranil Wickremesinghe leadership of the Opposition. The day the Opposition and UNP leadership changes hands and a patriot takes over, Sri Lanka can have a bi-partisan consensus on matters pertaining to the armed forces and external affairs.

What is the smart thing to do? How will the new domestic mechanism of investigation, accountability and reconciliation or whatever work? Colombo has still to understand the words ‘credibility’, ‘legitimacy’ and the link between them. To illustrate, had the panel been chaired by Justice Christie Weeramantry, it would have both.

Let’s get to brass tacks. Sri Lanka cannot and should not agree to any international investigation and must resist it with the support of our friends, not because it is guilty and afraid but because it would be an encouragement of pressure tactics and frame ups, and a violation of our national sovereignty.

There are however, three things we can do; things which our friends and allies as distinct from our unfair critics and foes urge on us. These three things will be intrinsically good for us and are the right thing to do. These are: improve IDP conditions swiftly and release them rapidly; set up a credible National Human Rights Commission; and effect political reform through devolution of power to the provinces.

True we have some dilemmas with devolution. The Northern Province is a border zone, it has a disaffected Tamil populace and there are hostile elements beyond it in Tamil Nadu. The TNA’s collective call to mourn shows that it is not as moderate as one would wish or, at best, that it vacillates between moderation and radicalism. Certainly the Tamils have a right and a reason to mourn victims of war and political violence, but why on that date, the date on which Prabhakaran died, instead of in the last week of July (to commemorate Black July 83)? This theatrical gesture was not responded to by a Tamil population in the North and East which is far more pragmatic than the TNA leadership. It has however set back the prospects of the ITAK/TNA being embraced as a partner in peace and nation building by the State and the public. However legitimate the trust deficit between the TNA and the Sri Lankan State, it must remember that the State is what it has to settle with. More important is the trust deficit between the Sinhala people and the TNA; a deficit which has just widened with the call to mourn on the V day.

Still, the TNA plus Douglas and his duo, are the democratically elected representatives of the Tamil people of the North and East, and therefore Colombo has to talk seriously to them. Even if the TNA is not the peace partner we are most comfortable with, I see no signs of a devolutionary settlement underway with those Tamil leaders closest to us either: Devananda, Karuna, and Pillaiyan.

Devolution of power to a province which is a ‘frontier’ or ‘ buffer’, is a sensitive affair, especially when the prospective administration may not be one’s allies ( which is why I urged its implementation sooner rather than later). However the security concerns can be taken care of by maintaining a sufficiently strong but ‘smart’ (not ‘heavy’) military presence in the province, on its perimeter and embedded in small deployments within the community (as recommended by David Petraeus’ COIN doctrine). While the degree of devolution cannot be excessive, a dilution and delay of devolution can have worse consequences of a hostile populace in a sensitively located province. Attempts to tamper with the demographics of the area will only cause disaffection to deepen—which is bad for stability and security.

Reading the ICG and AI reports it is clear that a crucial variable in the conclusion of the last war was the conduct of India, much to the dismay of the ‘international humanitarian intervention’ lobby and some in Western capitals. In the face of serious and targeted external pressure, the failure to fulfil our solemn and reiterated bilateral commitments with respect to devolution will only leave us bereft of our vital regional umbrella.

Referring to the continued US presence in Asia and the rise of China, Lee Kwan Yew spoke to the editor of Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, of Singapore ‘seeking to enjoy the shade’ in the spot beneath where the branches of those ‘two great trees’ intertwine. The same must be said by Sri Lanka, with regard to India and China. The latter is too far away to project power to our environs, while the former has demonstrated the clear ability to do so during the tsunami, even up to Indonesia. So, of course has the US, much more impressively and far further. Settling the Tamil issue in the spirit bilaterally agreed upon with our great neighbour, is a security and strategic imperative, which enables us to pre-empt or contain the threat of the ‘near enemy’ (hostile elements in Tamil Nadu) and balance against the ‘far enemy’(the Tamil Diaspora and elements in the West).

Last week I watched Singapore’s Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam outshine Larry Summers (an ‘Alpha brain’ who is Obama’s ‘economic Kissinger’) and IMF boss Dominic Strauss Kahn on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS programme (CNN). So where’s the connection? Sri Lanka falls so far behind the contemporary Asian standards of intelligence and intellect in politics and public policy, as demonstrated by the sheer surgical strategic skill of the Shanmugaratnam performance. A fortnight ago, the staid Financial Times (UK) ran an unusual, upbeat full page piece illustrated with photographs, highlighting the emergence of a new, ‘well educated generation of globalising politicians’ in India, symbolised by Rahul Gandhi and Chief Minister Abdullah of Kashmir; men and women all in their 40s or 30s, all with postgraduate degrees from First world universities.

Then there are the contenders for the leadership of Indonesia’s Golkar party, Senator ‘Noynoy’ Aquino, president-elect of the Philippines and President Naushad of the Maldives which was just elected in New York, to the UNHRC in Geneva, with 185 votes. Call them Asia’s Obama generation (or the Obama-Cameron-Clegg-Miliband generation). Sri Lankan institutions must return to such standards as to incubate and nurture them, and public spaces must be of such quality as to attract and retain them. This is an existential imperative in order to face the mounting external challenge, given that there are a large and growing number of educated youth of many nationalities on the anti-Sri Lanka side of the global barricades.

TVO ~ The Interview: Jayantha Dhanapala: The Future of Nuclear Weapons

Jayantha Dhanapala of the Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, and why he believes global nuclear disarmament is possible:

Steve Paikin: Is a world without nuclear weapons is genuinely achievable?

Jayantha Dhanapala: It is achievable; we've scaled many mountains in international relations. We thought slavery could not be abolished because it is an institution that fed a lot of economies in the world. But it was abolished. We have thought that the woman's right to vote is not achievable, but was achieved. We thought apartheid was immutable. But it was destroyed finally. I am sure that we can, with the right political will on the part of countries and the leadership - of people like President Obama, achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The Agenda with Steve Paikin

From May 21, 2010 ~ TVOntario Agenda


Jayantha Dhanapala is a former Ambassador of Sri Lanka. He was UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs from 1998-2003 and is currently President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs.


Allison Buchan-Terrell is an associate producer on The Agenda with Steve Paikin. She is currently finishing her masters of journalism at Ryerson University. Allison got her start as an intern on The Agenda.

2010 British Elections: The changing face of Shakespeare’s England

by Rajan Philips

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. - William Shakespeare, King Richard II

Shakespeare’s England is no longer uninfected, nor is it the envy of less happier lands. But it could still be the envy of less democratic lands. The five days it took for a new government to emerge from the hung parliament elected by a not so happy breed of voters, is not a sign of democratic shortcoming or political instability. On the contrary, it was a demonstration of how a parliamentary system could and should work even when a cranky electorate tells its political parties ‘a plague on all your houses’. Belgium took 196 days to form a government after the election in 1997, while the Dutch hold the record for the longest interval of 208 days in 1977. Sri Lanka has a government that is electorally over-endorsed but democratically underwhelming.

The British electorate gave the Conservative Party 97 more seats than what they had going into the election, the Party’s biggest gain in history, but its 306 seats total fell short of the required majority of 326 seats in the 650 seats House of Commons. The ruling Labour Party lost 91 seats and came a distant second at 258 seats. The Liberal Democrats, touted by everyone to do well after impressive performances by its leader Nick Clegg in the national TV debates, disappointingly came five seats fewer than last time at 57. Bringing up the Commons rump are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (8), Scottish Nationalist Party (6), and others (14) who include the first Green Party MP from Brighton in England and four non-participating republicans from Northern Ireland.

Disappearing Age

With no party securing a clear majority, convention allowed the incumbent Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown the first chance to form the new government after the election. He rightly chose to remain as caretaker Prime Minister and gave the opportunity to Conservative Leader David Cameron to form a new government with the support of the third party, Liberal Democrats. Brown and his Labour front liners did not hide the fact they were having parallel talks with Liberal Democrats to form a Labour-Lib-Dem coalition, one that the pro-Tory tabloids pounced on as the “coalition of the losers”. Gordon Brown gave his best shot for a Labour-Liberal coalition by stepping down as Labour leader and offering to bring in immediate legislation to replace the first-past-the-post electoral system with an Alternative Vote system to enable the distribution of seats in the House of Commons in proportion to the distribution of the popular vote between parties.

Under Britain’s longstanding first-past-the post system while the Tories won 47% of the seats with 36% of the votes, and Labour 39% of the seats with 29% of the votes, the Liberal Democrats won only 8.8% of the seats despite winning 22% of the votes. Unlike the Conservatives and the Labour, the Liberal Democrats do not have geographical concentrations of votes, so their nationwide support does not translate into seats under the first-past-the-post system. Transforming the electoral system is the biggest priority of the Liberal Democrats, and they were not prepared to enter into a coalition without commitment to changing the electoral system.

Gordon Brown’s promise of a new law forced David Cameron, after hesitating on commitment to implementing electoral reform, to commit to a national referendum on the Alternative vote system. That clinched the deal for the Liberal-Conservative coalition and ruled out the alternative Labour-Liberal coalition. Prime Minister Brown resigned with an impassioned parting speech which left commentators wondering why he could not have come across to the public with the same passion and empathy during his tenure as PM which was a public-relations disaster despite his strong performances during the global economic recession.

Gordon Brown is a far more substantial politician than Tony Blair, David Cameron or Nick Clegg, but that was not enough to be a successful Prime Minister in an age when appearance and media savvy carries lot more purchase than substance. Tony Blair was the consummate stage performer and David Cameron could easily be called the Tory Blair. He has fancied himself to be as much. Nick Clegg is the Liberal Democratic clone of both Blair and Cameron. Brown belonged to the disappearing age in which British politics was more a function of combative ideology, fierce party loyalty and competing programs but predicated on a broad consensus about the relationship between state and society.

Postwar British politics was characterized by the underlying agreement between Conservatives and Labour about the prominent role of government and social welfare priorities. Margaret Thatcher was perhaps the last successful politician of that era taking libertarian advantage of the national angst, if not anger, at big government and big labour. John Major was a decade too soon for the new age and Gordon Brown lasted a decade too long for the old age.

He was also undone by Tony Blair’s good looks and good luck. Blair was the fortuitous successor to the more substantial John Smith, a Scotsman like Gordon Brown, who died of a sudden heart attack. The ensuing agreement between Blair and Brown under which Blair was supposed to step down after two terms has been the subject of much speculation and controversy. What is not in dispute is that Blair and Brown created their own hostile followings within the Party, which now faces the danger of being torn apart by the continuation of the old infighting as the Party searches for a new leader.

New Age Coalition, post-devolution Britain

Personalities aside, the character of the new age is reflected in the welcome reception to the ideologically incompatible Liberal-Conservative coalition and the hostile cynicism that was being provoked by the possibility of the ideologically far more compatible Labour-Liberal coalition. Pundits are not characterizing the new coalition as unholy alliance, marriage of convenience, or strange bedfellows, expressions that were commonplace in the more combative politics of the past. On the other hand, even prominent Labour statesmen were revolted by the prospect a coalition between the second and third placed parties. To them it wouldn’t be ‘cricket’, that is the cricket of old and not the cricket of Lal Modi or Sanath Jayasuriya.

At the level of policy priorities, the new coalition arrangement focuses on the key areas of Economy, Education, Political Reform, Civil Liberties, Health and Welfare, Immigration, Environment and Foreign Policy, with give and take between the two parties. Overall, the Tories have prevailed in the areas of economic policy, immigration, foreign policy and health. The biggest gain for the Liberal Democrats is in the area of political reform, and the two parties share common ground in education, civil liberties, welfare and the environment.

The coalition’s collegial message is more transparent in the sharing of cabinet portfolios. Nick Clegg is Deputy Prime Minister, a position that appears to be more than window dressing. Four of his senior colleagues are also assigned to key portfolios dealing with Business/Banks, Energy/Climate, the Treasury, and Scotland. The appointment of Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander as the Scottish Secretary is indicative of Tory weakness in Scotland, and the government’s desire to have effective presence there to counter the Scottish dominance by the Labour Party and the SNP.

Britain’s new age politics is also characterized by its post-devolution changes, involving devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the regions of England. Shakespeare’s ‘blessed plot and realm’ of England are now a different plot and state of the United Kingdom. After a century of discussion over devolution, it was the Labour Party, traditionally the weaker of the two main Parties on constitutional matters, which enacted starting in 1998 separate Acts of Parliament to devolve power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. What is remarkable about Britain’s devolutionary project is that all political parties, the central government and the entire (numerically overwhelming) English population are supportive of the purpose and implementation of devolving powers to Britain’s three traditional territories.

Where devolution has run into problems, it has nothing to do with any majoritarian opposition by the English people, “equal protection of the law” ruling by courts, or deliberate undermining by the central government; but everything to do with the local quirks and politics of the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish. The one outstanding question is about devolution within England itself – involving the different regions of England. That too is the result of theoretical appetite for more regional autonomy rather than real concern of the English people. Furthermore, devolution has not ignited ‘nationalist’ voices or created constitutional chaos. The system is working well and in the April elections, the English people thoroughly rejected the English Nationalist Party, and in Scotland the leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, Nick Griffin, was trounced by Labour’s Margaret Hodge in the riding of Barking.

It is useful to remember that even before the recent legislative changes, Britain did have a well established system for dealing with non-English territories – in terms of separate administrative structures, territorial Secretaries (for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) in the Cabinet, and separate question periods in the House of Commons to debate matters pertaining to non-English territories. Britain’s celebrated ‘unitary constitution’ did not preclude these federalizing measures just as it did not prevent formalizing devolution through Acts of Parliament. The change arising from the April election is that for the first time since 1998, Labour is out of power at Westminster and the Conservatives registered their electoral success almost entirely in England. The change in political parties at the helm opens a new chapter in post-devolution Britain, one in which devolution is more likely to be strengthened and not undermined.

While the new coalition gets preoccupied with the tasks of governing, the Labour Party is embarking on an internal search for a new leader. The two leading candidates are also indicative of Britain’s maturity as well as its openness as a democracy. The Miliband brothers, David and Ed, sons of Ralph Miliband, Marxist Sociologist of Polish Jewish origin, represent not only the Blair and Brown factions respectively within the Labour Party but also the changing face of Shakespeare’s England. Whether their contest will generate positive debate or degenerate into a sibling feud fuelled by inner-party factionalism remains to be seen. It should be an interesting contest, may be not as TV-dramatic as the Obama-Hillary primary, but, hopefully, more politically substantial.

Half a million people affected by floods in Sri Lanka

By W.A. Sunil and Kapila Fernando

Floods caused by heavy rain in several areas of Sri Lanka have affected more than half a million people, and taken at least 20 lives. Torrential pre-monsoon rains were worsened by cyclone Laila, which formed in the Bay of Bengal.

The worst-hit districts are Colombo, Kalutara and Gampaha in the west. Many other areas in the south, northwest, east, north-central and inland are also inundated. According to the disaster management ministry, nearly 180,000 people in Gampaha, 140,000 in Colombo and 91,000 in Kalutara are affected.


Flooded street

On Thursday, government officials declared an emergency situation in the Nuwara Eliya district of the central hills. Tea plantations and poor workers there face the threat of landslides.

Although cyclone Laila is moving away from the island, strong windy conditions will continue, leading to showers in the Western, Central, Sabaragamuwa and Southern Provinces, according to the Meteorological Department. Bus and train transport remains severely curtailed because of flooding.

Many parts of Colombo have been flooded, disturbing normal activities. Those most affected are poor shanty dwellers living in low-lying areas, on canal banks and along the Kelani River. More than half the capital’s population live in shanties—many are street hawkers or do odd jobs. In the Kalutara district, south of Colombo, farmers and workers in small plantations have been badly hit. Flood waters have cut off some villages.

The government media reported that President Mahinda Rajapakse held an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the floods, but allocated just 80 million rupees ($US700,000) for the hundreds of thousands of victims.

Disaster Management Minister A.H.M. Fowzie was forced to acknowledge the inadequacy of the allocation. Saying that he was forwarding a cabinet proposal to increase the meal allowance of 30 rupees per person, he added: “I want to double the amount. It is shameful to give 30 rupees for a meal when I know the present price of food.”

Rajapakse has ordered the authorities to remove the people living along canal banks in Colombo and its suburbs, and to “take prompt action against the unauthorised constructions that led to this situation”.

While these orders were presented as a sympathetic effort to assist flood-affected families, there is suspicion that the government is using the emergency to clear shanties as part of a plan to develop Colombo as a commercial hub. On May 7, the government began to remove poor families from the city when soldiers and police demolished houses at Slave Island in central Colombo.

To divert attention from its own responsibility for the massive toll taken by the floods, the government has started blame-shifting. Minister Fowzie accused the Colombo municipal authority of failing to clear drains and culverts. He also declared that residents were responsible for dumping polythene and refuse in canals, blocking them.

The floods are a result of a natural disaster. However, the responsibility for the severe consequences, particularly for poor people, lies directly with the government. Successive governments have promised housing, sanitary facilities and infrastructure but nothing has happened. At the same time, billions of rupees have been spent on the security forces, first to pursue the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and now to enforce the government’s pro-business and austerity measures.

On Thursday, WSWS correspondents visited flood victims in Kotikawatta-Mulleriyawa, on the outskirts of Colombo. Nearly 300 people have taken refuge in a local school, while 630 families are still living in flooded houses.

They blamed the authorities for their plight. A mechanism to pump excess water from the area to the Kelani River had been abandoned after only one year. Residents had also demanded houses elsewhere but to no avail. The government had ignored several protests against the dumping of garbage by a private company, which had contributed to floods.


Displaced families at Gamini Vidyalaya school

At the school, men sleep on the floor while women and children sleep on school desks. Most are ill, suffering from fever and cold. Sanitation facilities are poor, threatening the spread of disease. Seventy families share two toilets. There is not enough clean drinking water, and the school roof is leaking.

None of the affected families had permanent jobs. Some were street hawkers; others did odd jobs. Their now-flooded housing also lacked basic facilities—most houses had no toilets. People generally blamed governments and politicians for not solving these basic problems, despite repeated requests. The most common comment was: “Politicians have done nothing. They only visit us in election periods and provide some roof sheets.”

Santhi, 35, described her experience. Her husband was a street hawker at Pettah in central Colombo for nine years, until the government removed street sellers from that area. They have three children, two of whom are going to school. “After losing his job [in Pettah] he tried to do street hawking in Grand Pass [another area in Colombo]. But the police arrested him and kept him for one day. So I started selling plastic goods and incense sticks, going house to house. Now, due to this flood situation, we have lost that income, and we have no way of sending the children to school. No government has cared for us. We have no confidence on any of them.”

Maneesha, 33, said: “My husband did daily odd jobs. We have two children going to school. He has no income due to the floods, and the children are ill because of the floods. We have demanded that every government make our lands higher to prevent floods or provide alternative land. We have been suffering for the past 20 years.”


Queuing for food

A further 125 people who lived on the banks of the Kelani River had been staying at another school in the area for five days. During that time, they had received only three meals from the government, forcing them to depend on the supplies from the Red Cross and neighbours. There is only one toilet, which they must share with the school’s students.

Selvaraj, a three-wheeler driver, said: “I can’t do my job due to this situation. I earn only 500-600 rupees per day. Six of us had to live on that. Although the government promised relief after the war, we have had none. Again they are going to increase fuel prices, so our current income will decline further.”

Rani said her family of six depended on her husband to do odd jobs. “Now we lost even that limited income. Although the government claims in the media to be giving us relief, we have received no such relief. In our homes, we had no facilities and not enough room. There was nowhere for children to play. We also suffer from diseases due to the dumping of garbage in the area. We have not been given deeds for our houses, despite our requests. We are considered unauthorised settlers.” ~ courtesy: WSWS.org ~

UN agencies assist Sri Lanka government in flood relief

Source: UN News Centre

21 May 2010 – United Nations agencies are supporting the efforts of the Sri Lankan Government to provide relief to an estimated half a million people affected by floods in the South Asian island country following a week of torrential rainfall that has claimed the lives of at least 20 people.

The UN World Food Programme will provide food for 400,000 of the affected people to supplement rations being distributed by the Sri Lankan Government, according to a situation report jointly prepared by the country’s Disaster Management Centre and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and issued yesterday.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has provided water tanks, more than 80,000 water purification tablets, soap and other sanitary items. The agency has also made available 3,000 packs of high-energy biscuits for distribution to those affected.

For the past one week, heavy pre-monsoon rainfall, accompanied by strong winds, has caused flash floods that have affected 14 of Sri Lanka’s 25 districts, including the capital, Colombo.

As of yesterday, more than 513,000 people or 118,888 families had been affected, including some 17,039 people who have been forced to move out of their homes. Initial reports indicate that 1,354 houses have been damaged or destroyed.

The Sri Lankan navy has responded by deploying teams in boats to assist with evacuations and delivery of relief, while the army has been assisting in transporting supplies to affected areas where access has been cut off.

Yesterday, a Government-led inter-agency flood assessment mission, which included officials from WFP and OCHA, visited Kalutara district in South-Western province, a day after visiting Gampaha district in North-Western Province. The two districts are among the worst affected and have recorded large numbers of displaced people and heavy damage to property.

One Year After the War: How Far Has Sri Lanka Moved Towards Lasting Peace?

by Desmond Tutu and Lakhdar Brahimi

It is now a year since the final stages of Sri Lanka's brutal war. Peace, however imperfect, is always better than slaughter. But experience tells us that genuine peace is more than the absence of fighting.

On the first anniversary of the government's military victory over the Tamil Tigers, how far has Sri Lanka moved towards lasting peace? We should not downplay the achievements. After a conflict lasting 26 years, we share the relief of the Sri Lankan people at the end of the war.

The desperate living conditions of the 300,000 Tamils driven from their homes last year have improved. Most have been released from military-run camps. Those that remain have more freedom of movement. This is welcome, although less than was promised.

Tourism, such an important source of revenue, is recovering strongly. Its benefits should eventually be shared with those areas the conflict made off-limits to visitors.

Economic activity in the north is picking up. Its communities are beginning to see the first signs of hundreds of millions of dollars donated by the international community for reconstruction. This money is desperately needed. Many returning to homes in the north have found them wrecked by shelling and looting. The infrastructure is shattered. Farming and fishing, the mainstays of the local economy, have yet to properly restart. Jobs are few and money is scarce.

These challenges are always the legacy of heavy fighting. We have seen how, with determination, goodwill and support, even the most devastated lives and communities can be rebuilt.

Repairing the physical environment can be easier than rebuilding trust, however. Without trust, peace will remain fragile and a return to violence, which no one wants, will always be a threat.

Here the Elders want to express deep concern about the lack of progress. It is a failure that risks increasing the sense of Tamil grievance and resentment, deepening the suspicions of the Muslim community and squandering the benefits of the military victory, even for the Sinhalese majority.

If Sri Lanka is to build a more inclusive and democratic state for all its ethnic communities, there is an urgent need for far-sighted political leadership, able to reach out to all communities and serve all its citizens. This has, so far, been lacking.

Respect for minorities, human rights and the rule of law must be centre stage in Sri Lanka's future. The worsening conflict saw limitations imposed on civil liberties and democratic institutions. The recent relaxation of emergency laws and the promised presidential pardon for Tamil journalist JS Tissainayagam are welcome, but they are only a start. Real change must begin with repealing the state of emergency and re-establishing the constitutional council.

All displaced civilians should be helped to return home. Those suspected of being fighters must be treated humanely with full regard to international law.

We need to see the limited devolution already in the constitution put into action. Local communities must be given a bigger say in planning the development and reconstruction of the north and east of the island.

All these are vital steps towards a better and more stable future. But rebuilding confidence and trust also requires a determined effort for accountability for past crimes by all parties to the conflict.

There is a growing body of evidence that there were repeated and intentional violations of international humanitarian law by both the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) in the last months of the war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's decision earlier this month to appoint a commission on lessons learnt and reconciliation is a step in the right direction but not nearly enough. There is no indication, as yet, that the commission intends to hold anyone to account for any violations of domestic or international law.

Without a clear mandate for legal accountability, the commission has little chance of producing either truth or reconciliation. Nor will victims and witnesses feel safe in giving evidence.

The Elders believe an independent, international inquiry, with the ability to gather evidence within the country, is the best option. We hope this will be the recommendation of the expert panel due to be set up to advise the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon.

If so, Sri Lanka's friends should then press the government to accept such an inquiry. In our experience in South Africa and other countries, these kinds of inquiries work best alongside a full and open reconciliation process. This would allow the suffering – and mistakes — of all communities during decades of war to be acknowledged.

The government can help reconciliation by considering financial compensation, perhaps with international help, for the families of the many civilians who lost their lives or whose property has been destroyed. An official register of all those killed or missing would also help grieving and rebuild trust.

This will also put obligations on the Tamil community within and outside Sri Lanka. They also have to find the courage to admit the crimes of the LTTE committed in their name and accept that the campaign for Tamil separatism is over. These moves, together with real progress on protecting human rights, would help provide the platform for honest negotiation between the government and credible, independent representatives of Tamils and Muslims.

All countries and people who wish Sri Lanka well should use their influence to help move this process forward. Continued tensions, let alone a return to violence, are in no one's interests. We will gain, too, if Sri Lanka again takes its place as a valued member of the international community.

One year on from the end of the war, it time to see increased efforts to secure truth, justice and a lasting peace in Sri Lanka.

(Desmond Tutu and Lakhdar Brahimi are members of the Elders, a group of eminent global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007.This article appeared in the Guardian,UK)

May 21, 2010

‘It is a false assumption that you can defend Sri Lanka's government by attacking the governments and citizens of other countries’

As many opinions are being put forward in the Sri Lankan blogosphere on “Western conspiracy and hypocrisy”, Robert Mackey of The New York Times is responding to similar remarks made on the Times blog, The Lede, on his recent posting re: Channel 4 report.

Questions and or comments such as, “Do you consider the people who died in Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo, Hiroshima & Nagasaki as being murdered by the Allies?” are being asked.

Here is link to Robert Mackey's blog post on The New York Times and the following are some of the responses by him about readers raising “Western conspiracy and hypocrisy" relating to Sri Lanka:

Asking humanity to act responsibly today

Yes, of course civilians killed in military action anywhere at any time were murdered. The important point is that your efforts to make this some sort of nationalist argument, in which the people of Sri Lanka are being accused by the people of other nations of war crimes is simply a distortion of what is actually being said by the international human rights organizations and some journalists, from Sri Lanka and other countries.

The fact that crimes against civilians were committed by all sides during the Second World War does not constrain citizens of any of the countries that may have committed war crimes then, or at any time in the past, from asking humanity to act responsibly today, in any country. Your arguments are based on the false assumption that you can defend Sri Lanka's government by attacking the governments and citizens of other countries, but that is just not relevant. None of the people calling for an investigation in Sri Lanka is saying that the nations they are citizens of are blameless.

The suffering and murder of Sri Lankan people of all ethnic backgrounds deserves to be investigated in a fair and impartial manner

People like Louise Arbour, the head of a human rights organization who was chief prosecutor for war crimes committed in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, and the journalists of Channel 4 News, a British television program with contacts to exiled Sri Lankan journalists do not, as you seem to assume, represent "the West," telling the entire country of Sri Lanka what to do. They are people who say clearly that there is evidence that both the Tamil Tigers and government forces may have committed crimes against the civilian population of Sri Lanka and combatants taken prisoner.

By distorting what those people have said to suggest that this is about Western governments telling an Eastern one what to do, you are skipping past the central allegation: that the suffering and murder of Sri Lankan people of all ethnic backgrounds deserves to be investigated in a fair and impartial manner, to arrive at the truth on behalf of the victims and their surviving family members on all sides.

Journalists in United States and Britain do not necessarily agree with or write on behalf of the governments of those countries

Here is the fundamental flaw in your argument: you take this as a battle between entire nations and governments, which it simply is not. You attack the record of the American government, which has nothing to do with the human rights organizations or Sri Lankan and British journalists calling for an independent inquiry, because you assume that this is a dispute between every American, or Briton, on one side, and every Sri Lankan, on the other. It would be neater, and perhaps easier for you to argue about if that was the case, but it is not.

The dispute here is between humans who believe in the rights of other humans regardless of their national or ethnic background, or what government controls the country they live in, and people who think that whatever their country's government does is justified if they can prove that the governments of other countries have done worse.

Having grown up partly in Ireland myself, visiting family members in Northern Ireland, I understand that people who see the world through the lens of ethnic nationalism have a hard time appreciating this, but not everyone else sees themselves as primarily a member of one ethnic nationalist group or another. And this may not be obvious from your own experience, but journalists in United States and Britain do not necessarily agree with or write on behalf of the governments of those countries.

May 20, 2010

Allegations in ICG report ‘unsubstantiated;’ world should butt out, Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to Canada says

by Anthony Reinhart

Sri Lanka’s top diplomat in Canada has dismissed claims her government committed war crimes as it crushed the Tamil Tigers’ separatist insurgency last year, and says the world has no business investigating such “unsubstantiated” allegations in a sovereign country.

“We say that there were no war crimes,” Chitranganee Wagiswara, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Ottawa, told The Globe and Mail. “We have been handling this conflict, so let us handle this.”

International attention turned this week to alleged atrocities by both sides during Sri Lanka’s push to end the Tigers’ 26-year militancy during the first five months of 2009. The claims were detailed in a report released Monday by the International Crisis Group, a respected conflict-prevention body led by Canadian jurist Louise Arbour, a former international war-crimes prosecutor.

The Brussels-based group said its eight-month investigation found “credible evidence” that Sri Lankan forces deliberately shelled civilians, hospitals and humanitarian operations, and that the Tigers forcibly kept Tamils inside the conflict zone and shot many who tried to flee to government-held areas.

Ms. Arbour urged Canada, among other countries, to press for a United Nations investigation and to probe and prosecute alleged war criminals domestically under the universal jurisdiction of its war crimes laws. Canada has a large Sri Lankan population and its estimated 200,000 Tamils are said to be the largest such group outside Asia.

“We totally reject these allegations in the [crisis group] report,” said Ms. Wagiswara, who attributed the claims to Tiger leaders and their supporters abroad in an attempt “to discredit the government” as it tries to move on from the war, and engage with the world on economic and social issues.

The diplomat said any concerns about the war will be examined in Sri Lanka by a commission newly appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The crisis group report, however, said an impartial domestic investigation is impossible “given the entrenched culture of impunity” in Sri Lanka, which expelled foreign journalists and aid workers during the war’s final months. That impunity, Ms. Arbour said in an interview, was bolstered by an international community eager to see the end of the ruthless Tiger movement and happy to look the other way “to give [the Sri Lankan government] a chance to finish it off for good” last May.

“Conveniently, these governments allowed themselves to believe the Sri Lankan narrative, which is that they did it successfully at very low cost,” Ms. Arbour said, adding that her report found “that it was done at a terrible cost.”

In addition to as many as 40,000 civilian lives, the cost includes the emboldening of other countries to employ what she called “the Sri Lankan option” of counterinsurgency: “Don’t be too fussy about the distinctions between combatants and civilians, keep the world at bay and go for it as rapidly and as brutally as you can,” she said.

An impartial outside probe of Tiger atrocities is just as crucial, Ms. Arbour said, because a Sri Lankan investigation would be too easy for Tamils to dismiss “as victor’s justice or government propaganda,” and as fuel to revive the militant movement.

If there were no war crimes, “why don’t they agree to an international investigation?” Ms. Arbour said. “Is everybody wrong except them?” ~ courtesy: The Globe and Mail ~

Requirements for reconciliation to face future challenges

Full text of media release by National Peace Council

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has appointed an eight member Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to report in six months on the lessons to be learnt from the events in the period, Feb 2002 to May 2009, their attendant concerns and to recommend measures to ensure that there will be no recurrence of such a situation.

In view of the short deadline given to the Commission, the National Peace Council believes that a focus on the period after January 2008, when the war increased in intensity, can be more helpful to the government in dealing with issues of human rights in the last phase of the war about which several international organizations and governments have been expressing their concerns.

The National Peace Council is aware of the fact that a great deal of literature is available on the period of the Ceasefire Agreement from February 2002 to January 2008. This information could possibly be collated by a group of professionals to come up with recommendations that which can form the basis of national reconciliation as given in the mandate for the Commission. There could also be a survey that covers the different war affected areas and all ethnic communities and ascertains the number of deaths, total and partial disability, number of houses destroyed, number of public establishments, places of worships, schools, public utilities such as water and electricity destroyed by war, the total cost of the war and the circumstances under which such incidents took place.

Interviews with the war affected people, ascertaining their views and listening to their stories can be a healing exercise in addition to finding out the true state of affairs. An effective response would be for the government to ensure a situation on the ground that convinces the affected victims of war that their grievous losses are acknowledged, needs are met and justice is done. There are many Non Governmental and civil society groups including the National Peace Council that are already endeavouring to promote reconciliation and could be invited to join in a credible process of fact finding, healing and reconciliation.

We believe it is unfortunate that at the very time the government has appointed the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation the situation in the North and East, particularly in Jaffna, should be deteriorating in terms of human security. There is once again a heightened presence of security forces on the streets and a revival of fears of people of kidnapping and killings by unknown groups. Much of what happened in the past, and is continuing to happen, is shrouded in mystery and secrecy. The government needs to put an immediate stop to this type of activity and demonstrate its seriousness about lessons learnt and reconciliation.

For reconciliation to become a reality, the war affected people must feel safe to articulate the true position based on their own experiences of suffering and losses. They should also feel that the government trusts them and considers them to an integral part of the polity. Government spokespersons have said that they will be emphasising indigenous values and experience in coming up with its findings and conclusions. If indigenous experience is taken into consideration, it needs to be based on trust in the ethnic minorities and in doing justice to them and enable them to live in safety and dignity in their own areas of habitation. Peace and confidence cannot be borrowed but is built on unbroken trust.

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.

TNGTE: The Inaugural sessions of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam

The first gathering of elected members of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) took place on May 17-19 at the historic National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where the Constitution of the United States of America was adopted in 1787.


Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran addressing TNGTE held on May 17-19, 2010

The delegates came from Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Switzerland UK and USA. These delegates were also joined via video conference with their counter parts located at venues in London and Geneva. These delegates came from France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and UK.

The sessions started with a moving tribute to those who were massacred by the armed forces of the Government of Sri Lanka last year. Francis Boyle, Professor of International Law and Advisory Committee member, and Ms. Janani Jannanyagam representing Tamils Against Genocide were the guest speakers in the first session. They highlighted the war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan Government and the genocide suffered by the Tamil people. In his address to the Assembly Prof. Boyle said that the Tamils, who are subjected to genocide, have the right to establish an independent state as a remedial measure.

The Secretary General of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the United States, Mr. Domach Rauch, observed the similarities between the liberation struggles of the two peoples. He noted that the TGTE, being a democratic exercise, was a step in the right direction towards independence.

Mr. Ramsey Clark, a former United States Attorney General, commented that the drafting of the US constitution by the founding fathers took place in Philadelphia and therefore that this was an appropriate place to hold the inaugural event of the TGTE. He further emphasized unity amongst the Tamils.

One elected delegate from each country represented in the Assembly and the Coordinator for the Formation Committee for the TGTE, Mr Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran, also delivered speeches in the inaugural sessions.

In the second day sessions, following speeches by the elected members of the TGTE, Ms. Karen Parker, a Human Rights activist and Humanitarian Law attorney as well as an Advisory Committee member, addressed the Assembly on the ways, means and functions of a Constituent Assembly.

The delegates then met to elect an interim chief executive of the TGTE. Mr. V. Rudrakumaran was elected as the first chief executive of the TGTE. Following the election of Mr. Rudrakumarn, the delegates selected seven additional members to the Interim Executive Committee. The members of the committee are Mahinthan Sivasubramanium; Sam Sangarasivam; Gerard Francis; Selva Selvanathan; Vithya Jeyashanker; Sasithar Maheswaran and Janarthanan Pulendran

The elected members of the legislative body then transformed themselves into a Constituent Assembly. The Assembly then formed a Constitutional Affairs Committee to draft the constitution of the TGTE. In addition to the Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Assembly also formed the following committees: the Committee for Education, Heritage, Health and Sports; the Committee for Trade and Commerce; the Committee for International Support (media, lobbying, advocacy); the Committee for Internally Displaced People and Human rights (Refugees); the Committee for the Welfare of the Families of Martyrs and Cadres; the Committee for the Protection of Resources; the Committee for the Release of Prisoners of War; the Committee for Economic Affairs; the Committee for the Investigation of War Crimes; and the Committee for Women and At Risk Groups (children and elderly). The Assembly also decided to appoint an expert panel to provide assistance to the above committees.

The Assembly had named Mr. Pon Balendran as the Speaker for the first Assembly of the TGTE.

Professor Peter Schalk, member of the Advisory Committee, and Mr. Elaventhan, an elected member of the TGTE from Canada, addressed the Assembly during the closing ceremony.

The Assembly also formally invited the remaining members of the Advisory Committee to continue to serve until the constitution was adopted. Before concluding the Assembly recognized and thanked Professor Sriskandarajah for his invaluable help in facilitating the first meeting of the Assembly.

The convening of the First Assembly was seen as culmination of a year-long effort of the Eelam Tamil Diaspora. Delegates also took a Declaration of Commitment in which they pledged, that until the Constitution drafting is completed, they will carry out the TGTE’s functions through the Interim Executive mechanism and that the process of constitution drafting for the TGTE will be in accordance with the Guiding Principles of Advisory Committee report in order to work for an independent and sovereign state of Tamil Eelam.

Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran
Interim Chief Executive

Full Text of Press Comminique issued by Mr. Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran

HRW releases new photo evidence in urging for wartime abuse investigation

Government Inquiry Inadequate; UN Should Establish International Investigation

by HRW

New evidence of wartime abuses by Sri Lankan government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the armed conflict that ended one year ago demonstrates the need for an independent international investigation into violations of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said today.

Recently Human Rights Watch research gathered photographic evidence and accounts by witnesses of atrocities by both sides during the final months of fighting.

On May 23, 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa promised United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the government would investigate allegations of laws-of-war violations. One year later, the government has still not undertaken any meaningful investigatory steps, Human Rights Watch said.

Last week, the government created a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission with a mandate to examine the failure of the 2002 ceasefire and the "sequence of events" thereafter. It is not empowered to investigate allegations of violations of the laws of war such as those documented by Human Rights Watch.

"Yet another feckless commission is a grossly inadequate response to the numerous credible allegations of war crimes," said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Damning new evidence of abuses shows why the UN should not let Sri Lanka sweep these abuses under the carpet."

Human Rights Watch called on Secretary-General Ban to promptly establish an international investigation to examine allegations of wartime abuse by both sides to the conflict.

New Evidence of Wartime Violations

Human Rights Watch has examined more than 200 photos taken on the front lines in early 2009 by a soldier from the Sri Lankan Air Mobile Brigade. Among these are a series of five photos showing a man who appears to have been captured by the Sri Lankan army. An independent source identified the man by name and told Human Rights Watch that he was a long-term member of the LTTE's political wing from Jaffna.

click on pics for larger image ~ Viewer discretion advised

The first two photos show the man alive, with blood on his face and torso, tied to a palm tree. He is surrounded by several men wearing military fatigues, one brandishing a knife close to his face. In the next three photos, the man is lying - apparently dead - against a rock. His head is being held up, he is partly covered in the flag of Tamil Eelam, and there is more blood on his face and upper body.

A forensic expert who reviewed the photos told Human Rights Watch that the latter three photos show material on the man's neck consistent in color with brain matter, "which would indicate an injury to the back of his head, as nothing is visible which would cause this on his face. This would indicate severe trauma to the back of the head consistent with something like a gunshot wound or massive blows to the back of the head with something such as a machete or ax."

While Human Rights Watch cannot conclusively determine that the man was summarily executed in custody, the available evidence indicates that a full investigation is warranted.

Several of the photos also show what appear to be dead women in LTTE uniforms with their shirts pulled up and their pants pulled down, raising concerns that they might have been sexually abused or their corpses mutilated. Again, such evidence is not conclusive but shows the need for an investigation.

The new accounts by witnesses described indiscriminate shelling of large gatherings of civilians during the last weeks of fighting, apparently by government forces. In addition to an incident on April 8, 2009, previously reported, witnesses told Human Rights Watch about three other incidents in late April and early May 2009 of government forces shelling civilians, mainly women and children, who were standing in food distribution lines. The witnesses also described LTTE recruitment of children and LTTE attacks on civilians attempting to escape the war zone.

Government's Failure to Investigate Abuses

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission created on May 17, 2010 is the latest in a long line of ad hoc bodies in Sri Lanka that seem designed to deflect international criticism rather than to uncover the facts. The mandated focus of the commission ­- on the failure of the 2002 ceasefire - is largely unrelated to the massive abuses by both government forces and the LTTE in the last months of hostilities. Nor does the commission appear to have been designed to uncover new information: the commission's terms of reference do not provide for adequate victim and witness protection.

The government-appointed chairman of the commission, Chitta Ranjan de Silva, is a former attorney general who came under serious criticism for his office's alleged interference in the work of the 2006 Presidential Commission of Inquiry. The attorney general's role was one of the main reasons why a group of 10 international experts, the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), withdrew from monitoring the commission's work. The IIGEP stated that it had "not been able to conclude...that the proceedings of the Commission have been transparent or have satisfied basic international norms and standards."

"De Silva was the architect and enforcer of the attorney general's conflict of interest role with respect to the 2006 commission," said Arthur Dewey, former US assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and member of the IIGEP. "Nothing good for human rights or reconciliation is likely to come from anything in which De Silva is involved."

The government has also yet to publish the findings from a committee established in November 2009 to examine allegations of laws-of-war violations set out in a report produced last year by the US State Department, despite an April 2010 deadline.

Sri Lanka has a long history of establishing ad hoc commissions to deflect international criticism over its poor human rights record and widespread impunity, Human Rights Watch said. Since independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has established at least nine such commissions, none of which have produced any significant results.

On March 5, Secretary-General Ban told President Rajapaksa that he had decided to appoint a UN panel of experts to advise him on next steps for accountability in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government responded by attacking Ban for interfering in domestic affairs, calling the panel "unwarranted" and "uncalled for." Two months later, Ban has yet to appoint any members to his panel.

"Ban's inaction is sending a signal to abusers that simply announcing meaningless commissions and making loud noises can block all efforts for real justice," Pearson said. "The only way to ensure accountability in Sri Lanka is to establish an independent international investigation."

People of Jaffna send flood relief aid to affected people of Gampaha

By Franklin R Satyapalan

Several lorry loads of food and other essential items for flood relief collected by the people of North Sri Lanka arrived in Gampaha yesterday. "To people of Gampaha with Love", the banners on the lorries, which arrived, displayed. The food that began arriving since Wednesday was received by the Gampaha Additional District Secrertary W. A. D. P. Lakshman.

Commenting on the receipt of food items from the North, Gampaha District parliamentarian and Minister of Investment Development Basil Rajapaksa expressed his heartfelt thanks to the people of the North for reciprocating the kind gesture by the people of the South who donated generously by providing relief to thousands of internally displaced people soon after the end of the war against the LTTE last year.

Governor of North Major General G. A. Chandrasiri said that the first few lorries had already reached Gampaha and more lorries are being loaded with food and other essential items to be dispatched to Gampaha, the worst affected district due to the recent rains and floods.

He said people especially those who were resettled recently had volunteered to handover food items to be sent to Gampaha.

The relief items from the North are being coordinated through the Grama Niladaris by District Secretaries of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and vavuniya and distributed to the people through the Gampaha District Secretariat.

Impractical proposals suggested in the International Crisis Group Report on Sri Lanka

By C. A. Chandraprema

An international NGO known as the ‘International Crisis Group’ (ICG) put out a report on war crimes in Sri Lanka last Monday as Sri Lanka geared to commemorate the first anniversary of the ending of the three decade long civil war. I am somewhat exhausted after examining in detail the various allegations in the reports put out last year by the European Union and the US State department.

However for the purpose of record one needs to make a few observations on the ICG report calling for a war crimes probe against Sri Lanka. The report says that the ICG provided the Sri Lankan government with an opportunity to respond to the allegations in this report but that there was no response. Indeed it would have been funny if there was.

The ICG is a self appointed body with no status to ask governments to respond to allegations. It would have been different if the US government, the European Union or the UN asked for a response. The ICG report was ignored by Sri Lanka and the chances are that most western countries will ignore it as well. What is suggested by even an NGO has to be practical and within the realm of possibility.

The ICG is not known for its practical suggestions. If I remember correctly, it was ICG that was advocating a doctrine called R2P (Right to Protect) whereby the international community was called upon to intervene in internal situations in countries in order to protect a section of the population believed to be in danger. The International community meant here was mostly the USA and Europe. This doctrine of R2P was being advocated while the USA, Britain and many European countries were bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Anybody could see that they were in no position to assume the burden of protecting everybody in the world, when they could hardly protect themselves. In fact the US and European governments were wracking their brains trying to think of a way to make a tail between the legs exit from Iraq and Afghanistan without making it look too undignified, but ICG continued to advocate R2P nevertheless. Thereafter, George Bush got booted out of office followed by Tony Blair and no western leader would be in any mood to hear of the R2P doctrine which could lead to military adventures overseas purely for altruistic reasons.

Organisations like ICG seem to be driven more by missionary zeal than considerations of practicality and that to a large extent vitiates the significance of the work that they do. This element can be seen in the recommendations they have put forward in this week’s report as well. They advocate the setting up of an international war crimes inquiry against Sri Lanka. Acknowledging that neither the UN Human Rights Council nor the UN Security Council was going to initiate any such inquiry, they say that the UN Secretary General has the power to initiate such an inquiry and should be strongly encouraged to do so. The problem is that most member states of the UN will not stand by idly while the UNSG appoints inquiries on his own initiative against the will of the main decision making bodies of the UN.

The other question is that there is serious doubt whether the UNSG does have the authority to appoint such inquiries against member states. Article 99 of the UN Charter does say that the Secretary-General ‘may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security’. Firstly, the question is whether this provision vests any power to conduct an inquiry on the Secretary General. There are other bodies like the human rights council of the UN which has been vested with the power to conduct inquiries. Would the UN system allow the duplication of functions? The other point is that even if the UNSG does initiate an inquiry, he will have to report back to the Security Council and as ICG itself says the security council will not be inclined to take any action.

Then what purpose will this inquiry serve? The UN secretary general has been talking about this inquiry against Sri Lanka for months but nothing has happened yet obviously because of the uncertain legal situation about the appointment of such a committee of inquiry. The UN Council for Human Rights, does have the right to send special representatives to inquire into certain situations. These people are variously styled as Special Rapporteurs or Special Representatives of the Secretary General but these representatives only prepare reports which can be described as ‘journalistic’ at best. There is no formal presentation of evidence and the examination thereof the way one would expect in a judicial process. Indeed even the reports of these Special Rapporteurs are only meant to draw attention to a certain situation and are not by any means a substitute for a proper judicial process.

If even the Special Rapporteurs formally appointed by the Human Rights Council do not produce anything that can have judicial value, then this inquiry that the secretary general is being asked to set up will have even less standing. If this inquiry that the UN Secretary General is being encouraged to set up actually tries to pronounce a ‘verdict’ on whether war crimes occurred in Sri Lanka or not, without going through any acceptable judicial process, that will be a case of setting up an international Kangaroo court. The community of nations is not going to stand by idly while a paid servant of the UN does any such thing.

Another suggestion by ICG is that Gotabhaya Rajapakse who is a US citizen and Sarath Fonseka who is a permanent resident of the US should face criminal prosecutions in the USA for war crimes committed in Sri Lanka. This is not a practical solution because if a precedent is set by prosecuting US citizens or permanent residents for alleged crimes committed overseas, then there will be a hue and cry from the entire Muslim world and especially from Muslim organisations within the US, Britain and Europe that those responsible for the adventures and events in Iraq and Afghanistan also be made to face criminal prosecution. And if those governments don’t accede, there’ll be anti-western riots worldwide.

Yet another suggestion made by the ICG is that action be taken in western countries by victims of the conflict to sue the Sri Lankan government and individuals over the happenings during the last stages of the war. This too is an impractical suggestion. If war victims are allowed to sue in western courts, there will be a flood of law suits against the American, British governments and officials and the governments of other European countries by the relatives of Iraqis and Afghans living in those countries. The president of the USA has absolute immunity for deeds done during his term of office. But the US government and other officials do not have that immunity.

Another crazy suggestion is that western governments be prepared to grant political asylum to potential witnesses of war crimes in order to ensure that witnesses are protected. If it ever becomes known that the west is offering political asylum for witnesses, the entire population of the north and east will become ‘witnesses’ clamouring for protection in the west, and the western governments that make such an announcement are going to fall in a domestic backlash against immigration. In fact all the suggestions made by ICG seem to be aimed more at exterminating existing western governments than at resolving war crimes issues. Indeed given the suggestions made in their report on Sri Lanka, they seem to be trying to live up to their name International Crisis Group, by creating crises!

Up to now, the most exaggerated claim of the number of civilian casualties that we have seen in the final months of the war from January to May 2009 was 20,000. I have commented on these figures last year and I need not repeat myself here. Just suffice it to say that these so called figures were compiled simply by hearsay and conjecture. Somebody says "The number of dead might have been around this much", and from that moment, the figure mentioned is considered to be an accurate statistic.

Even with that kind of reckoning, the highest figure ever mentioned was 20,000. Now the ICG hints that the actual number killed may be around 75,000! Clearly, if you go into this inquiry, nobody is ever going to come out, because they will be looking for missing persons who never existed. Even as it is, there is confusion in the north, with the number of registered voters exceeding the number of the total population by around 100,000. Many people in the north do not have birth certificates or any form of identification. It may take decades to find out who really existed, and who really died, by talking to each family, and examining photographs and the like.

Even the incidents mentioned in the ICG report will be impossible to examine with any kind of judicial rigour. Just take one example. On page 19 of the report, there is a description of the bombing of the Puttumathalan hospital which goes as follows:

"A second witness who had set up a shelter and bunker about 100 meters away from the hospital reported that it was shelled around 17 February, killing patients and further injuring others. He saw some patients who were still mobile running away from the hospital as the shelling was continuing. He did not see any LTTE in the area and there was no outgoing fire from the hospital."

In a proper judicial process, the identity of this witness will have to be established. Then he will have to remember the exact date. Saying ‘around’ the 17th in a court of law may not hold much water. He will have to remember how many patients were killed and their identities will have to be established. The patients he saw running away will have to be located and identified. These are virtually impossible tasks which will cost millions even to attempt especially when such minute examinations will have to be carried out on a mass scale. The cost will run into billions of Rupees and no SL government or any foreign government in its right mind would ever underwrite such an undertaking. An examination will not be held simply because of the cost and the lack of personnel.

Another thing that will have to be established that there was no LTTE in that area as stated by this witness and that they were not firing from the hospital, because if they were, the hospital becomes a legitimate target of attack even according to Article 11 of Additional protocol II of the Geneva Conventions. What is not helpful is that ‘around’ the 17th (On the 16th February to be exact) the 2009 US State Department report to Congress on the Incidents in the Recent Conflict in Sri Lanka, reports that an organisation reported to their Embassy in Colombo that their source witnessed limited LTTE fire coming from the Puthukudiyirippu hospital complex. The LTTE is well known for taking cover in hospitals and attacking the enemy from such facilities. This is something they did even in the 1980s against the Indian army and acknowledged by bodies such as the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna). In such circumstances, who would get the benefit of the doubt?

The ICG is in effect recommending that the international community get into a costly legal cesspit in Sri Lanka from which nobody will emerge for decades. Even according to the laws of the International Criminal Court established under the Rome Statute, it is not sufficient to prove that shells or bombs had fallen on civilians. If they fell on civilians by mistake there is no problem.

Readers will remember that when there were a large number of casualties from US bombing in Afghanistan, Hillary Clinton simply said "Oops, sorry, we thought they were Taliban!" and everything ended at that. It is not sufficient to prove that the perpetrator directed the attack and that the victims were civilians not taking any part in the hostilities. It has also to be proved that the perpetrator KNEW that the targets were civilians not taking part in hostilities.

To say that the Sri Lankan military deliberately targeted civilians without targeting the LTTE as the ICG has done is ridiculous and is not consistent with the surrounding circumstances of the issue. The military had held the Jaffna peninsula since 1996, and Jaffna was more peaceful than other parts of the country. The military knew how to get on with the civilian population as was also witnessed in the manner the refugees escaping from the LTTE were treated.

After the crushing of an insurgency, we always hear this story that the dead were all innocents. Some people said this even after the JVP insurrection was crushed in the late 1980s. Going by this Sri Lanka must be the only country in the world that has perfected the art of defeating terrorism simply by killing innocents or shelling civilians. When you read the reports that have been coming out on the (thankfully resolved) Sri Lankan conflict you get the impression that no terrorists were killed at all!

Decades from now when historians delve into the archives, they’ll be surprised to find that the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation had officially named the LTTE as the deadliest terrorist outfit in the world in 2008, and that this deadliest of all terrorist outfits had been annihilated completely before mid-2009 without killing any terrorists but by hitting civilian concentrations. They’ll be left scratching their heads trying to figure out that one. ~ courtesy: The Island ~

How Sri Lanka Won the Fourth Tamil Eelam War

by Ashok Mehta

Four watershed events spurred the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka – the Sinhala- Only act of 1956, the republican Constitution of 1972, the Parliamentary elections of 1977 and the 1983 ethnic riots.1 The killing of 13 sri Lankan army (sLa) soldiers by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil eelam (LTTe) on 23 July 1983 marked the initiation of armed hostilities and the beginning of eelam war I, which ended in 1987. India intervened to end the war in which the sLa had the upper hand.

The LTTE’s brush with the Indian Peacekeeping Forces (IPKF) from October 1987 to March 1990 ended inconsequentially. eelam war II began in July 1990 and closed in a ceasefire in January 1995. The next round of fighting (Eelam War III) began in April 1995, and culminated in the February 2002 ceasefire, the longest in the conflict. It was officially revoked by the Sri Lankan Government (SLG) only in January 2008, though for all practical purposes, it had been broken in 2006. The decisive eelam war IV started at Mavil Aru in July 2006 and flared up into an all-out offensive. The security forces scored a historic victory on 18 May 2009, when the Tigers capitulated near their stronghold of Mullaithivu.

The centrepiece of previous government strategies was to bring the LTTe to the negotiating table. Ceasefires were accompanied by five direct and two back-channel negotiations with the LTTE. The first of five attempts was the failed Indo-sri Lanka accord, which was followed by efforts towards power- sharing, made by Presidents r Premadasa and Chandrika kumaratunga, Prime Minister ranil wickeremesinghe and President Mahinda rajapaksa. The LTTe was offered the best chances for devolution by wickeremesinghe, when both sides agreed to explore a federal solution in December 2002, but the Tigers reneged on this proposal.

Rajapaksa explored outcomes from two rounds of proforma talks at Geneva and Oslo in 2005-06 but became convinced that the LTTe, under its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, would never be amenable to a negotiated settlement, as he was determined to win eelam through military means.2 Yet, Rajapaksa wanted to make one last attempt at the resolution of the conflict through dialogue. Eric Solheim, a special advisor to the norwegian Ministry of Foreign affairs in Sri Lanka, who was the key architect of the 2002 Cease Fire agreement (CFA) and negotiations, attempted to arrange a meeting of the SLG with Prabhakaran. however, it did not materialise.3

When the door to negotiation had been firmly shut by Prabhakaran and the average military losses had climbed up to 90 deaths per month in 2006, rajapaksa chose to retaliate with military action, stating, “(Mavil aru) gave me the green light.”4 In his hero’s Day speech on 27 november 2006, Prabhakaran challenged rajapaksa to take on the Tigers. he warned that unless there was a constitutional package for the Tamils within one year, rajapaksa would have to bear the consequences.5

To be fair to the LTTe, no SLG had ever offered any constitutional package. On the other hand, it was the LTTe which had presented its version of devolution, in the document titled “Interim self-Governing authority” (IsGa) to the Wickremesinghe government in 2003. But before the government could respond to the proposal, it was dismissed by President kumaratunga. Later, Kumaratunga herself tried to reinitiate work on the proposal but insisted that the LTTE disclose the outline of the final solution which would be acceptable to them. The LTTe never did, and the IsGa chapter was closed.6

as enunciated in his election manifesto - Mahinda Chinthana - rajapaksa was determined to eliminate terrorism. “Prepare for war, even as you negotiate peace” was his maxim. In november 2005, soon after he became President, he cranked up the war machinery. The counter-insurgency campaign which lasted 33 months rendered the most unexpected result, when the sLG demonstrated that not only could a guerilla force be vanquished, it could also be comprehensively routed.

Despite incurring enormous social, human and diplomatic costs, the root of the problem has not been addressed. For Rajapaksa, winning the war was
easier than winning the peace.

The Fourth Round of War

In his inaugural speech as President of sri Lanka, Rajapaksa invited Prabhakaran
for talks. The latter’s response came at the annual hero’s Day (Maaveerar naal) speech, when he stated that his organisation would “wait and observe” the new President’s approach to the peace process.7 The LTTe had decided to raise the stakes by targeting the military at random. The ambush of 13 unarmed soldiers on 5 December 2005 was a serious breach of the CFA. In the next six to eight months, the LTTe would taunt and test the SLA and the resolve of the government repeatedly.

In April 2006, a daring suicide attack outside the fortified Army headquarters seriously wounded the army Commander Lt Gen sarath Fonseka, who remained hors de combat for more than six months. The blockade of a water source in Mavil aru in the east in July 2006 was the bait for a direct confrontation. Pitched battles were fought to lift the siege of the water channel. The fight was facilitated for the SLA by the landmark split in the LTTE in april 2004, when Col karuna, the commander in the east, broke away from the movement, along with 6,000 fighters. Mavil Aru turned out to be one more strategic blunder by Prabhakaran, giving the rajapaksa regime the legitimacy to revoke the ceasefire and start the war. The Scandinavian sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, instituted to support the norway-brokered peace process, concluded that the LTTe was to bl¬¬¬¬¬¬¬ame for the fracture of the CFA.8

eelam war IV was launched in three stages: Mavil aru to liberation of the east; capture of kilinochchi; and cornering and crushing the LTTe around Mullaithivu. The war was triggered by the LTTE and spread like wildfire from Mavil Aru towards the east and then the south, across the Verugal river into Batticaloa District. This became known as the eastern offensive, which ended in the capture of Thoppigala, the LTTe’s biggest operational base in the east, on 19 July 2007.

Under the Indo-sri Lanka accord (IsLa), the north and east were merged as the northeast Province, to form the geographical bases of a Tamil homeland. In 2006, the supreme Court held the merger invalid, separated the two provinces and struck a major blow to the concept of a historic habitation for the Tamils. In sync with this judgment, military operations were stepped up to cleanse the east of the LTTe to make the de-merger a
reality on the ground.

Liberation of the East

The eastern offensive began on 26 July 2006, with the lifting of the siege
of Mavil Aru, where one battalion of 22 Infantry Division was employed. Operations were fought in three phases:
• Phase I: Mavil Aru-Kaddaparinchan-Muttur.
• Phase 2: sampur-Verugal-Vakkarai.
• Phase 3: Batticaloa-Unnuchchi-Thoppigala.

The troops employed were from 22 and 23 Infantry Divisions, Commando and special Forces Brigades and the special Task Force (sTF). At the time of the offensive, 53 Infantry Division, the only offensive division, was employed to contain the LTTE in the north. Close air support was provided by Kfir fighters and Mi24 helicopters, and reconnaissance and surveillance by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Beechcraft aircraft. Operations were led by Maj Gen nissanka wijesinghe under the overall command of Maj Gen nanda Malawarachchi. The overall Commander, from Phase 2 onwards, was Maj Gen Parakrama Pannipittiya, who was unceremoniously removed from command after the operations, on charges of corruption.

The LTTe had always coveted the high-value Trincomalee harbour defended by a brigade of the sLA and eastern naval Command. During periods of ceasefire, the LTTE invariably improved its defences around sampur on the southern edge to the entrance of the harbour. while the LTTE had insisted that Sampur was a pre-ceasefire territorial gain of 1997, the sLA claimed it was an encroachment and a breach of the CFA.

By setting the trap at Mavil Aru, the Tigers’ aim was to draw the sLA from Muttur, on the edge of the southern harbour line, in order to expand the sampur defences further east and dominate the movement of shipping in the harbour (by observation and fire). The battle for Mavil Aru-Muttur – “Operation Watershed” – was a close one, with the LTTE nearly pulling off a victory. In the confused battle that ensued, the sLA not only held on to Muttur but also took the fight to Sampur to evict the Tigers from the strategic perch overlooking the harbour.

The battle of Muttur was fought bravely by the naval detachment defending Muttur jetty and keeping it open for boat movements. The sailors established a beachhead, enabling 200 police personnel from Muttur to counter-attack the LTTe lodgments in Muttur. The 300-strong navy harbour Defence unit ferried reinforcements and replenishments in fibreglass boats under LTTE fire. Ten Fast Attack Craft (FAC) were deployed along the beachfront of Muttur, Foul Point and east of it, denying the LTTe any sea movement. naval special Forces prepared and secured the beachhead east of Muttur prior to sLA landings, with naval guns in support.9

sampur was a big Tiger base, supported by mortars and guns, which had to be withdrawn after the base was overwhelmed. sampur was a major victory for the sLA and the beginning of the rout of the Tigers in the east. By turning the flank, the SLA was able to advance southwards towards Toppur, with the relative safety of a protected eastern flank resting on the seaboard. Naval gunfire support, in addition to air and artillery, was employed to neutralise LTTe launch pads south of Foul Point. Five fast gunboats and four FAC engaged sea Tigers’ boats ferrying LTTe reinforcements from Batticaloa to Vakkarai. After Toppur, the next pitched battle was Ichchilampattai. The LTTe had not only prepared defences but were also allegedly using civilians from Muttur-sampur as human shields.

The Verugal river divides Trincomalee and Batticaloa Districts and the only bridge on the disused A-I5 road connecting the two townships was blown up by the Tigers, while withdrawing to Kathiraveli-Vakkarai. Besides cleaning up sampur and the south, sLA opened up the A-I5 road, especially north of elephant Point, which had been the LTTe stronghold. The A-II road from Polonnaruwa to Batticaloa, adjacent to the railway line, meets the A-I5 near elephant Point and was held and patrolled by the sLA — unlike the A-I5, which was not dominated.

In the Batticaloa District, the LTTe had three major bases in the interior and several smaller launch pads closer to the coast. Astride Verugal, deep in the forest and inaccessible, was Tirikonamadu; across Batticaloa, sticking out of the plains, was Baron’s Cap or Thoppigala and near the south (near Amparai), covered in a thick canopy of trees, was Kangikadichi Aru. The LTTe used these bases as training facilities and transit points for movements between the north and east. The terrain in the east is comparatively easier and more populated than in the north.

Thoppigala is a large tract of rocky jungle terrain and was one of the biggest bases of the LTTe in the eastern province. The LTTe did not give a major fight but chose to withdraw, leaving behind valuable fixed and movable military the assets. sLA took weeks to clear the base, though victory in the east was proclaimed on I9 July 2007, nearly one year after Mavil Aru.

The eastern offensive was deliberate and well-planned, designed to test the LTTe and create a favourable climate for the northern offensive. The loss of the east meant a loss of manpower for LTTe, which it had begun to feel soon after Karuna’s defection. Military success in the east was made easy due to Karuna’s sterling assistance. He was the LTTE’s finest field commander in charge of the east and an asset for the SLA, though it denied any military collaboration with him. But he had valuable information of LTTe locations, resources and hideouts. The Karuna group is believed to have fought alongside the SLA in Vakkarai, but officially, this collaboration is denied.

The cost of victory in the east was upwards of 5,000 lives lost, charges of severe human rights abuse, nearly 400,000 persons internally displaced and hundreds missing. After Muttur and sampur were declared high security Zones (hsZs), the (majority) Tamil residents were resettled elsewhere. A similar displacement of population had taken place in Jaffna, when the Palaly airbase and surrounding areas were declared hsZs in the mid-I990s.

Grand victory celebrations followed in Colombo’s Independence square where President rajapaksa was presented with a scroll of honour and a 2I- gun salute by the victorious service Chiefs. Descriptions of the event were profuse – from “The Rising of the East” to a “New Dawn in the East”, a reference to the seizing of the LTTe’s bastion after I4 years.

The Thoppigala celebrations were meant to give the President political traction. His celebration speech aimed at the Tamils glorified the actions of the armed forces in liberating the east from terrorism. Yet, dark clouds of scepticism remained even within the government. rauf hakeem, one of rajapaksa’s ministers at that time, described the event as a political exercise built on military gains that made the Tamils feel like a conquered people.I0

Through its alliance with the Karuna group, the government was not only able to subdue the eastern province, but also ride to power through local and provincial elections in 2008. Karuna joined the Cabinet as Minister for national Integration.

Following the eastern victory, there were three scenarios on the table:

political and military consolidation of the east with preparations for operations in the north;

launching the northern offensive after LTTe’s rejection of a political package; and restoration of ceasefire, revival of the Sri Lanka Monitoring

Mission (sLMM) and return to negotiations. Predictably, the option to take the war to the north was chosen. The idea of political devolution was far-fetched as it was never seriously on the government’s table.

The Northern Offensive

A security Forces headquarters (Wanni) was established under Maj Gen Jagath Jayasooriya (later Lt Gen and Army Commander) which played a vital role in coordinating the operations of offensive formations and securing rear areas. It was the SLA’s biggest and strategically most important regional command, covering an area of 25,000 sq km, stretching from Pooneryn in the west to weli Oya in the east, elephant Pass in the north and Anuradhapura in the south.

Under its charge were 5I battalions in the holding role, Area headquarters Mannar, 2I, 56 and 6I Infantry Divisions, Area headquarters weli Oya and Task Forces 5 and 6. Three thousand sri Lankan naval troops, several hundred Air Force personnel, I0,000 policemen and 5,000 home Guards were also in this sector. seven offensive formations consisting of 5I battalions were also under Gen Jayasooriya’s command. These were: 57, 58 and 59 Infantry Divisions and Task Forces I, 2, 3, 4 and 8. 55 and 57 Infantry Divisions were later attached from the Jaffna sector.II

The northern campaign began in July 2007, with operations by at least five Infantry Divisions — three from the south and two from Jaffna in the north — several deep-penetration units and a couple of task forces targeting Mannar on the west coast and Mullaithivu on the east coast – all on multiple fronts. The aim was to open the A-32 road from Mannar via Pooneryn to Jaffna, bypassing the main Kandy-Jaffna A-9 highway, elephant Pass and Kilinochchi. The sLA had tried opening this road to the north twice in the past but had failed. Plans and objectives changed as operations progressed with amazing success.

Opening an axis of maintenance to the Jaffna garrison was imperative. The security forces took I8 months to turn the LTTe defences at Pooneryn, capture Kilinochchi and Elephant Pass and confine the LTTE to a sliver of coastal territory in Mullaithivu District.

A multi-pronged strategy, with troops advancing on a wide front, ensured that the LTTe was unable to switch forces. while the main thrust was along the A-32, the Tigers were kept guessing by being kept pinned down astride the A-9 as well, by columns moving in from the north from Killaly-Muhumalai- nagarkovil and from the south along Pulamoddai-Omanthai.I2 In addition, task forces and deep penetration units pierced the gaps between the two-road axes. Coastal access for the LTTe on the east and the west was blocked by coordinated naval and land operations. The newly raised 57 Infantry Division fought a great battle at silavatturai and Arippu to secure the Mannar-Vavuniya road.I3 Later, together with 58 Infantry Division, the LTTe was trapped in the Mannar rice bowl and 600 Tigers were killed. The advance along A-32 was initially painstakingly slow, with the troops advancing 8 km in 8 months.

The 59 Infantry Division advanced from weli Oya towards Mullaithivu and Puthukudaiyiruppu, ensuring that the pincers were multi-directional. not only did these operations cut off access for the LTTe to Tamil nadu from Mannar and Mullaithivu, they also curtailed the sea Tigers’ local boat replenishments. engaging the LTTe on a broad front in the rear and on the flanks turned the table doctrinally on the LTTE: the conventional SLA was fighting using guerilla tactics while the Tigers were being forced to fight conventional set-piece battles. They had made a similar blunder fighting the IPKF for Jaffna in I987.

except for limited counter-attacks in Jaffna, the LTTe was never able to mount a counter-offensive or a counter-strike against the sLA, barring local reprisals after the fall of Kilinochchi. The defence of Kilinochchi was gallant, ingenious and based on high bunds interlocking water tanks, laid out in three tiers but oriented mainly towards the south and west. when the LTTe lost Pooneryn and then Kilinochchi, Prabhakaran is believed to have told his Intelligence Chief Pottu Amman that 75 percent of the LTTe’s strength had gone downstream and they would have to hold on till the international community could stop the war.

On 02 January 2009, rajapaksa announced the fall of Kilinochchi as “an unparalleled victory”I4 and asked the LTTe to lay down arms. This resulted in the reopening of the road from Colombo to Jaffna. This road had been closed for 23 years, during which time, the 40,000-strong military garrison in Jaffna was maintained by sea and air at huge cost.I5 In the afterglow of Kilinochchi,the capture of the strategic elephant Pass in the north (which the security forces had lost to the LTTe in 2000, in a disaster reminiscent of Dien Bien Phu) went unheralded.

suffering a string of military defeats, the LTTe, which had earlier boasted the Kilinochchi would never fall, vowed to fight on even without it. B Nadesan, the leader of LTTE’s political wing, described the defeat as an “insignificant” setback to the liberation struggle.I6 eight columns consisting of I20,000 soldiers of 53, 55 and 58 Infantry Divisions and Task Force 8 closed in on Mullaithivu from the west, along A-35 and A-34 roads, as well as from the north and south along the coast. The failed counter-attack following the loss of Putukkudiyirruppu and Ananthapuram cost the LTTE 623 fighters, including Col Theepan, the northern force commander. some commanders had asked to withdraw but Prabhakaran rejected any relocation. The Tigers were ultimately boxed into an area of 1,000 sq km, with 3,000 hardcore fighters, backed by 300,000 civilians, who, according to the government, were being used as human shields. The Tigers’ last ditch stand was close to their coastal stronghold Mullaithivu, which they had seized from the sLA in I996.

The Last Battle

On 27 April 2009, the sLG announced the end of the use of heavy weapons, including aircraft and aerial weapons. By then, the LTTE was confined to a 8 km sliver of the coast, along with some civilians, in what was designated as a no Fire Zone (nFZ). A humanitarian rescue mission was planned as part of “Operation Final Countdown”. By 02 May, 60,000 troops from 53, 58 and 59 Infantry Divisions and Task Force 8 had established a double ring around the NFZ, which had its two flanks resting on the sea and Nanthikadal lagoon. On the coastal front, the navy had set up a four-layered blockade, consisting of FACs, offshore patrol vessels, gun boats, and units of special Boat and rapid Action Boat squadrons, backed by UAVs.

The SLA was mulling three options: surgical strikes, amphibious assaults and ground operations. By 11 May, the conflict zone had changed names. The nFZ was redesignated as the new safety Zone (nsZ) and shrunk to I.5 sq km with 700 Tigers and 50,000 civilians. The sLA referred to it as an internal hostage crisis. The last batch of civilians vacated the nsZ by I5 May.I7

Contrary to sLA calculations, the LTTe was neither going to jump into the sea nor resort to mass suicide. They had other ideas. Prabhakaran asked Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP) to negotiate a surrender to a third party. But this notion was rejected by the sLG. Phone calls between the LTTe and the UN were facilitated by officials of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo. However, Eric Solheim’s failure to broker a ceasefire and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) electoral defeat in India closed the LTTe’s hopes of external intervention and left it with one desperate option: breaking out of the NSZ.

The impossible escape plan had three phases: in the first phase, a group led by Prabhakaran would cross the nanthikadal lagoon, and disperse in three groups in the east; in the second phase, a group led by B nadesan was to negotiate a surrender for the sick and wounded; and in the third, a rearguard action was to be led by Prabhakaran’s son Charles Antony. The breakout commenced on I7 May, and by the next day, it was all over; not one Tiger was traced alive. even the nadesan group, apparently waving white flags, was gunned down. This would become a controversial issue during the Presidential elections of January 20I0, when Gen sarath Fonseka made reference to in an interview, and subsequently, denied doing so.I8 Although Prabhakaran was declared dead on I9 May, the curtains came down on eelam war IV in the early hours of I8 May, after the 22-hour battle culminated in the death of I8 top LTTe leaders and at least 250 hardcore fighters.I9

Before this battle began, given the immense international pressure for a ceasefire and safe passage, there was trepidation of a US-led, UK and France- supported rescue mission. The sLA was under great pressure to rapidly terminate operations and had waited till the national elections in Tamil nadu were over on I3 May and the results of the Indian general election made public by I6 May. The last battle was carefully calibrated by the sLA with these election dates in mind.

Just as the late Defence Minister ranjan wijeratne had announced on 20 March I990 that sri Lanka was free of the last IPKF soldier, Mahinda rajapaksa declared on I8 May 2009 that sri Lanka was free from terrorism. The cost of victory ignored the international approbation, charges of genocide and war crimes and a humanitarian catastrophe. There were reports of of 20,000 dead in the nsZ between 22 April and I9 May.20

Opposing Strategies

SLG officials claim that, unlike in the past, when a military campaign was meant to achieve a draw, this one was fought for a decisive victory. In other words, the objective was not negotiations with the LTTe but its destruction. This may not have been entirely the case during the fight but is considered to have been the objective, after the fact. Just as India’s objectives in east Pakistan in I97I were initially limited to territorial gains and not the capture of Dacca, the sLG started the northern offensive solely to open an alternate access to Jaffna along the A-32. This was not the first time that such an attempt was made. The initial objective was to weaken the LTTe enough to bring it to the negotiating table.

Engaging the LTTe on a wide front (causing heavy attrition) impaired the Tigers’ war-fighting capacity. On the battlefront, Gen Fonseka’s motto was: “Go for the kill, maximum casualties and destruction of the infrastructure of the enemy with minimum possible damage to the troops,”2I so much so that a Cabinet Minister remarked, “we were surprised India let us continue operations after the fall of Kilinochchi”. Attrition, and not territory, was the initial goal. It was only when the LTTe resistance began crumbling that the liberation of territory became a political necessity and the endgame of destroying the LTTe appeared achievable.

To maintain the Jaffna garrison, Kanakesanthurai Harbour and Palaly Airfield were vital logistic bases as there were no land lines of resupply. The A-9 was under LTTe control. Pooneryn and elephant Pass along with the Paranthan road junction were strategic pivots, all in LTTe possession. Pooneryn had to be cleared to deny the LTTE a base to bomb Palaly Airfield, as also to patch the causeway across the Jaffna Lagoon to open the alternate land route outflanking Elephant Pass. The Paranthan junction offered multiple options for operations towards Mullaithivu along A-35, south towards Kilinochchi and north to elephant Pass, the narrow strip of land which connected the mainland with Jaffna Peninsula.

LTTe had always coveted elephant Pass and had tried desperately to seize it through an amphibious assault in I99I. They succeeded in their second attempt in April 2000, uncovering Jaffna and leading to the rout of the sLA. The fall of Pooneryn – seized by the LTTE in the mid-1990s when the SLA evacuated the garrison in an unfortunate move during the northern offensive – was the turning point of the war. It uncovered Jaffna as well as Kilinochchi and struck a catastrophic blow to the LTTe.

Traditionally, the dividing line between the LTTe and sri Lankan security forces ran horizontally from Mannar-Vavuniya to the east coast, with the LTTe in control in the north. sLG was content in holding Jaffna-Palaly in the north and Trincomalee harbour, which it was prepared to defend at all costs. The government was most worried about Jaffna, which it had nearly lost after the debacle at elephant Pass in 2000. no previous government had tried to break the status quo and the division of territory till the arrival of President rajapaksa. As the 2002 CFA froze large scale operations, the Tigers tried taking Trincomalee by stealth and triggered the war. The seeds of eelam war IV were sown at Mavil Aru when the LTTe tried to expand its encroachments around Trincomalee. The loss of Kilinochchi transformed the horizontal boundary into a vertical one running along the A-9 from Kilinochchi to Vavuniya. The Tigers were squeezed into the shrinking perimeter north of Mullaithivu, reduced from a territory of I5,000 sq km to land the size of a football field. Mullaithivu town was recaptured on 25 January 2009 after 13 years, but not without losing I,200 sLA personnel.

The LTTe, too thin on the ground, was forced to hold every inch of ground in a wide arc. This was a tough call, even for the LTTe. Instead of changing tactics, it fought a superior Army, highly outnumbered and out- gunned, on its own terms. It had no Plan B and concentrated all its fighters and leaders in a diminishing box, off the Mullaithivu coast, in the hope that either the international community or India [if the national Democratic Alliance (nDA) was returned to power] would intervene on their behalf.

Creating Capabilities: Sri Lankan Military and the LTTE

Transforming the Sri Lankan Army (SLA)

The failed suicide attacks against Gen Fonseka in April 2006 and Defence secretary Gothabaya rajapaksa in December 2006 provided the stimulus for the transformation of the Army. After the epic defeat at elephant Pass in 2000, a former sLA chief privately admitted that the sLA was a “funk army”. To its discredit were a string of major setbacks: being routed at Mullaithivu, evacuating Pooneryn and other sLA bases, suffering enormous casualties and the loss of extensive military equipment in the early and mid-I990s. By the late I990s, the weapons seized from sLA comprised nearly two-thirds of the LTTe’s heavy equipment and half its small arms.

The desertion rate, uniformly high at I0 to I5 percent, was brought down by half during Fonseka’s term. At any point in time, 65,000 Army deserters were at large, with another 2,000 in prison. Much was made of the military as national heroes to boost its morale to defeat the Tigers. Yet, as late as 23 January 2009, the editorial of the Colombo-based Island newspaper commented, “You cannot win this war.” Around the same time, two former Army Chiefs and an Air Chief said: “Our soldiers do not know how to fight.” These assertions misinterpreted the mood of the Army and the fundamental changes in ethos, culture and procedures brought about by Fonseka in the sLA.

Fonseka overhauled the SLA’s battle-fighting techniques, tactics and strategy, enabled by a free hand in resources and command. Later a folk hero, Fonseka was paid enviable tributes, such as being compared to Lord nelson and described by several leaders as the “best Army Commander in the world”. he was promoted to Chief of Defence staff and the Opposition parties wanted him to stand as their candidate for the Presidential elections in 20I0. Contesting and losing the elections made Fonseka a “traitor” for his opponents, especially after the interview he gave to The Sunday Leader over alleged human rights violations during the last phase of the battle.
eighty thousand Army recruits were taken in, doubling the sLA’s strength to 200,000. In 2008 alone, 40,000 troops were added to raise 47 Infantry Battalions, I3 Brigades, four Task Forces and two Divisions. The sLA grew from nine to I3 Divisions, three Task Forces and one Armoured Brigade, with other ancillaries. The military’s strength touched 350,000, increasing defence expenditure to an average of $ I.74 billion — I7 percent of the total expenditure. Military equipment was acquired on fast track, frequently involving presidential intervention and travel by Gothabaya rajapaksa to the countries providing it.

Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF)

The Air Force did not lag behind in tactical innovation. Pilots dissected past flying operations for lessons. Deep penetration units of the Army and Intelligence squads which had infiltrated Tiger defences were able to vector attacks, taking out several top Tiger leaders with air-delivered precision guided munitions provided by Pakistan. Chief of the Air staff Air Marshal roshan Gunatilleke steadfastly refuted the allegation that Pakistan Air Force (PAF) pilots flew their aircraft. However, the PAF has had a long history of joint training and cooperation with the sLAF and invariably a senior PAF officer has been Pakistan’s High Commissioner in Colombo.

The sLAF launched 3,000 missions with an estimated I5,000 sorties, of which 1,900 targets were in the east with three fighter squadrons – Kfirs, MiG-27 and F-7 and one squadron of Mi-24 helicopters. Before eelam war IV, foreign pilots did fly operational missions – in one instance, a Russian pilot was killed when his Mi-24 was brought down by an LTTe missile. The cardinal war-winning factor was air supremacy created by the sLAF, with no effective ground fire, and the LTTE totally dry in Surface-to-Air Missile (sAMs) stocks.

Sri Lankan Navy (SLN)

If there was one single military action that tilted the balance in favour of government forces, it was identifying and destroying the LTTe’s supply chain together with its floating warehouses. An elaborate undercover operation was launched for the purpose of locating LTTe gunrunners on the high seas. Painstaking intelligence analysis, picture building through captured/destroyed documents from gunrunning fishing trawlers, maritime reconnaissance and the capture of an LTTe boat by Maldivian Coast Guards in May 2007 helped in targeting the LTTe supply network. Between 2006 and 2008, 32 encounters took place at sea, in which II LTTe warehouse ships containing over I0,000 tonnes of war-related material – 80,000 artillery rounds, 100,000 mortar shells, several bulletproof jeeps, three dismantled aircraft, torpedoes, sAMs, radar, high-power outboard motors (OBMs) – were captured/destroyed.22

Palitha Kohona, sri Lanka’s Permanent representative at the Un, stated
in October 2009 that following its defeat, the LTTe’s networks were being utilised for arms smuggling and drug-trafficking in the international arena.23 eight LTTe naval vessels, including three large warehouse ships, were sunk, the latter outside the Indian Ocean. By mid-2007, when the replenishment chain had been severely disrupted, it was appreciated that the security forces had an I8-month window to launch operations against the LTTe. By late 2008,

the LTTe were known to have four remaining merchant vessels registered
under two companies in Panama and Bahamas, with their operatives in the UK and the Philippines.24 By early 2009, the LTTe had lost 20 sea Tigers’ bases.25
The SLN continued littoral fighting by isolating the LTTE’s seaborne connectivity between the North and East, confining LTTE activities to land, leaving a 20-km-wide sea face off Mullaithivu under their control. naval operations along the Mannar Coast secured the western flank of the ground offensive along A-32. Yet, as late as 20 January 2009, sea Tigers’ suicide boats had sunk an FAC. A four-tier blockade of the nsZ in place by May 2009 spelt the demise of the Tigers, its navy having been systematically crippled.


Ironically, the chief liability of the LTTe had become its leader, Prabhakaran, who, by creating the world’s deadliest guerilla force, became obsessed with a military solution despite being offered several political alternatives. his monolithic and egocentric leadership style did not encourage the free exchange of ideas and was the lament of the decision-making process.26

Prabhakaran built up the LTTe from barely 40 cadres and 25 weapons in 1983 to a triad of guerilla and conventional fighter on land, sea and in the air.27 There is no LTTe minus Prabhakaran. The two are synonymous.28 According to John Oskar Solnes, Prabhakaran was a very difficult interlocutor, a deeply reclusive, autocratic and anarchist leader. he lacked the will to solve problems through compromise. he demonstrated a callous lack of concern for civilian casualties, as did his opponents.

rejection of the India-sri Lanka Agreement (IsLA) of I987, rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in I99I, the offer of federalism in 2002, and not reconciling to a political solution even after Karuna’s defection, comprised Prabhakaran’s inventory of strategic blunders. he eliminated all rival armed Tamil groups to become the “sole representative” of the Tamil cause: in his vision, an independent Tamil state alias eelam. he wanted to become king of Tamil eelam with support from elements in south India.29

Jeffrey Lumstead, former Us Ambassador to sri Lanka, has said that the Tamil Tigers rebel outfit is a Sri Lankan phenomenon and “that it has no links to any other terrorist group in the world.”30 This is not entirely true, as it did have connections with the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba in Pakistan and some insurgent groups in India, in particular, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). After the terror attack against the sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in March 2009, these links were being investigated. More recently, reports have appeared about Indian Maoists/naxals receiving training assistance from the LTTE.

security expert Zachary Abuza offers this appreciation of the Tamil Tigers: “An organisation that has been, bar none, the most cutting edge, adaptive and creative terrorist organization in the world and there is not a terrorist organisation in the world that has not adopted LTTe tactics or at least aspired to do so.”3I

LTTE’s track record is phenomenal. It is the original inventor of the human bomber, pioneered through the assassination of rajiv Gandhi in India. Its suicide vest design has been copied by many organisations. It was the first to launch suicide naval attacks in January I999 (more than 60 till 2008), seven years before the Uss Cole attack. It has also employed suicide frogmen and other special operations behind enemy lines. The LTTE became the first sub- state actor to acquire an Air Force and launch nine attacks from seven air- fields between March 2007 and 21 February 2009, the last being a Kamikaze attack mounted from a shrinking box of territory around Mullaithivu. It has used female bombers in more than 3:2 ratio.32 The LTTe has launched upwards of 3I5 suicide attacks, more than any one organisation and more than hamas and hezbollah combined. President rajapaksa, Defence secretary Gotabaya rajapaksa and Gen Fonseka have escaped from LTTe suicide attacks. Two attempts to target the President were foiled in 2008- 09. Its cadres lived by the cult of the cyanide capsule strung around the neck. Its battlefield innovations were as striking as the improvisations in equipment, notably the Improvised explosive Device (IeD) and the Johnny mine, both of which were perfected for sophistication in Iraq and Afghanistan.Equally remarkable was the Tigers’ international network in finance, logistics and arms procurement. These ventures by the snow Tigers were under Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP), till he was captured in Malaysia in a brilliant sri Lankan undercover operation and brought to Colombo in August 2009.33 The definitive book on terrorist financing was authored by the LTTe. Counter-terrorist specialist Sankara Jayasekera told Lakbima News in Colombo on I7 september 2009 that the LTTe has a presence in 44 countries with established structures in I2 of them. The one million-strong Tamil diaspora and the local Tamils together provided it close to $ 300 million a year, though more conservative estimates put the revenue stream between $ 50 to 80 million a year.

The LTTe is known to have started eelam war IV with 30,000 trained cadres.34 The actual figure may have been about half of that, given that 6,000 cadres left with Karuna and the east was the main recruitment base. hence, the heavy reliance on child soldiers, with 60 percent being under the age of I8.

The LTTe’s decline since 2006 was surprisingly swift; clearly, 30 years of war wreaked havoc on the society and proved to be a demographic catastrophe.35 At the time of the 2002 norway-brokered CFA, the LTTe was politically and militarily strong, having weathered four wars — three against government forces and one against the IPKF. It was at the pinnacle of its power and could dictate the terms of the CFA, securing parity with the state and recognition as the sole representatives of the Tamils, a status denied to it in the past.36 The five-year lull of ceasefire engendered a sense of hope of ending hostilities amongst the lower rungs of the LTTe, while Prabhakaran used the interregnum to rebuild his war-waging capacity. reducing ranil wickeremesinghe to redundancy after he lost the elections to rajapaksa (largely due to the LTTe’s boycott of the elections) was a fatal error. The LTTe also failed to defend its reputation with human rights organisations and other international watchdogs during the conduct of the war.

The assassination of the then-sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, who was a Tamil, was another mistake which antagonised the international community and led to the LTTe being banned in 32 countries, seriously undermining its financing network. Prabhakaran failed to redeem the LTTe’s relations with India and tap support from Tamil nadu. similarly, he made no effort to patch up with Karuna to bolster his fighting machine.37

On the battlefield, Prabhakaran repeatedly made the error of fighting a conventional battle instead of employing superior guerrilla tactics, the same error he made in 1987 when fighting the IPKF for Jaffna. The LTTE waged fixed defensive battles without any recourse to offensive action. It initiated the ‘lose no territory’ ditch-cum-bund strategy of the Indian Army to their peril as the sLA turned the tables by adopting unconventional tactics. Further, herding all the civilians from captured areas to areas under its control after the fall of Kilinochchi turned out to be a double-edged strategy and gave away the game plan.

Prabhakaran overestimated the clout of the diaspora and the pro- Tigers lobby in Tamil Nadu as well as the influence of the West and India to stop the war. The government in Tamil nadu was able to secure two limited ceasefires (1-3 February and 3-4 April 2009) but in the run up to the crucial last battle, it could only get a false end to combat operations. Prabhakaran also misread rajapaksa, assuming that like other sri Lankan leaders, he would try to weaken, not vanquish, the Tigers, to bring them to the negotiating table. he underestimated the new sLA, mistaking it for the spent force of the past. Unable to revive the supply chain, procure anti- aircraft weapons and recruit Tigers, the LTTe’s descent into defeat was still surprising. In desperation, they had even sought nuclear weapons.38 It is not that the LTTe performed below par — rather, that the government forces punched far above their weight.

For the invincible Tigers and their supreme commander Prabhakaran, it was the ultimate irony to be besieged and have to sue for ceasefire and safe passage. But the final breakout from the NSZ was no less gallant than the Charge of the Light Brigade.


There is a great deal of confusion about the exact number of casualties. According to Gen Fonseka, I5,000 LTTe cadres were killed in the last two and a half years of the war, with 4,073 being killed in 2007-08. In the same period, 2,000 SLA personnel were killed. Ministry of Defence figures mention 22,000 rebels killed and I0,000 wounded since July 2006, with 9,000 to 11,000 having surrendered. Its own casualties are given as 190 officers and 5,200 soldiers killed and 27,000 wounded.39

Winning Formula

Conventional wisdom suggests that in insurgency situations, militaries should create conditions conducive to the application of a political solution, a military solution being neither achievable nor worth the enormous attendant collateral costs. The recent success of the SLG has demonstrated that given the right conditions, a decisive battlefield victory is possible.40 “For all those who argue that there is no military solution for terrorism, we have two words: sri Lanka.”4I Actually, it should have read: Mahinda rajapaksa. edward Luttwak’s theory of allowing war to run to its logical conclusion rather than interrupted by foreign intervention, in “Give war a Chance”, a I996 Foreign Affairs article, must have been studied by President rajapaksa or his advisors. He stonewalled Western and UN attempts to force a ceasefire. Sinhalese nationalists called it “defiance” and “showing the West its place”. Yet, it must be said that though military coercion works in extremely limited and localised conditions, all-out use of force has heavy costs attached to it. whether military success will translate into an enduring political solution is never guaranteed. India’s military success in I97I eluded any political gains.

what is most striking about the outcome of the war is not just the complete elimination of the LTTe as an organised military force, but also the decapitation of its entire leadership and capacity to wage guerilla war. Gen Fonseka had said that the LTTe had become a spent force, it had lost its capability as a conventional Army and that 95 percent of the war was over.42

Until six weeks before the end of hostilities, both Fonseka and Gotabaya Rajapaksa and several counter-insurgency experts were visualising a residual insurgency, which did not follow as Prabhakaran had failed to disperse leaders and assets to continue the eelam struggle. There was no Plan B. similarly, chances of the resurgence of the insurgency at a later date are remote as there will be little or no support from the west, India and the disapora.43 nipping any leftover threat in the bud is part of the sLG’s counter- terrorism strategy, which includes adding another I00,000 soldiers to ensure that the LTTe does not raise its head again.44 how seriously this threat was taken at one time can be gauged by Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s statement that counterinsurgency operations to search and destroy the LTTe’s residual military capacity, in sync with the strategy of keeping the Tigers separated from the Tamils, will render them like fish out of water.45 The Global Tamil Forum, which met in London in March 20I0, urged for solidarity among the Tamils. The international wing of the LTTe has set up a Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil eelam. The new Army Commander, Lt Gen Jagath Jayasooriya, has said that the concept of Tamil eelam is not dead among the diaspora.

President rajapaksa has stated that there are sleeping cadres and trained suicide bombers who are still around, and interested parties, especially outside sri Lanka, who want to revive the LTTe. “It has been just nine months since the war ended. Just because the leaders were eliminated, it is not over. The movement will take some more time. They were a factory of suicide bombers.”46

What the IPKF could not do – defeat the LTTE – the SLA has done, demonstrating that an insurgency can be subdued with the right mix of strategy, resources and political will.47 when years of negotiation did not bear fruit, a determined military campaign ended the violence, in order for a political solution to take root. The winning formula could not have been cobbled without Delhi’s passive and active assistance. Just as India took a strategic decision in 2005 to support the Maoists and the political formations in nepal to oust King Gyanendra, it decided to support Mahinda rajapaksa in destroying the LTTe, which was fast becoming a regional threat. In Sri Lanka: From War to Peace, Nitin Gokhale provides the depth and range of covert Indian political, military and diplomatic assistance, most crucially military intelligence, to sri Lanka.48 The importance of India’s assistance to Colombo in winning the war has not been fully explored. sri Lanka’s health Minister sripala Desilva told Parliament soon after the war ended that it could not have been won without help from India. India helped behind the scenes, providing crucial strategic intelligence, especially on the high seas, in sinking LTTe ships. A small signals Intelligence detachment was established in the Indian high Commission in Colombo, which was interacting with the sri Lankan military on a day-to-day basis. According to razik Zarook, special Advisor to President rajapaksa, India stands as sri Lanka’s best friend. India had to help not just to suppress LTTe terrorism but also to minimise China and Pakistan’s influence. “India was constrained from selling offensive weapons and objected to our acquisitions from China and Pakistan for public consumption but knew we had to have the stores.”49 Military assistance came from Israel, Ukraine — in fact, any government which was ready to provide arms was contacted and weapons obtained. In an interview, Zarook said:

It will not be in India’s interest not to have close relations with sri Lanka and keep us from having good relations with China, with whom we already have good relations. If India tries to stop sri Lanka, Colombo will get even closer to China. That is why India helped to get $ 2.5 b loan from IMF to meet its debt. Otherwise, we would have had to go to China. India is driven by strategic interests. we understand, we will maintain friendly balance.50

India has invested heavily in sri Lanka over the last three decades so that sri Lanka Tamils can live as equal citizens, enjoying a degree of political power and autonomy. Unfortunately, new Delhi’s policy has been erratic and deficient in its resolve in having its political agenda in Sri Lanka implemented. President rajapaksa has run circles around India’s top leaders and bureaucrats and not conceded an iota of political power. with the elimination of the LTTe, India’s strategic marginalisation is an impending reality. Puncturing the myth of LTTe invincibility was an idea Mahinda rajapaksa did not believe possible at the commencement of the campaign. synchronising political military and diplomatic tools was the war-winning trio of Mahinda rajapaksa, Gotabaya rajapaksa and sarath Fonseka. To this set, one could add the name of Velupillai Prabhakaran.

The canvas of the 30-year war was transformed by politically tweaking euphemisms for armed struggle: ethnic conflict was termed “war on terrorism”; a distinction was made between the Tamils and the LTTe; the armed campaign was called a “humanitarian offensive to liberate Tamils from the clutches of the LTTe”; and the last battle referred to as the world’s biggest hostage-rescue humanitarian mission. Characterising it as domestic terrorism ensured minimal external interference in combating it. India, China and Pakistan were kept on board, especially the latter two, which became key suppliers of military hardware, and Pakistan, critically, for training the SLAF.

nimble-footed diplomacy ensured that the LTTe was banned in 32 countries, seriously undermining its funding and arms resupply networks. Friendly countries helped parry calls for ceasefire and ward off charges of war crimes and genocide at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. But first,a favourable environment had to be created for the military offensive. The all-out military campaign was executed with unprecedented military resolve: a clear aim, unrestricted resources and outstanding leadership, which was given a free hand. The ‘fight to finish’ strategy evolved over time was spurred by rapid gains on the ground. Air supremacy, precision-guided attacks taking out top Tiger leaders and an acute shortage of manpower reduced the LTTe to fighting a series of withdrawals, ultimately confining it to a box.

The soldiers were hailed as national heroes and the country’s outlook on defence and freedom of the motherland from terrorism changed dramatically. The military was insulated from media criticism by weaning away the propaganda initiative from the LTTe. A virtual media gag was imposed in the combat zone and the foreign media was kept out. The Media Centre for national security (MCns) was a single window concept designed for countering LTTe propaganda.5I A strengthened Defence Ministry media initiative ensured that the LTTe lost the media war they had always won in the past. The domination of information space ensured operations were conducted in a blanket of secrecy, except for government handouts. All international non-Governmental Organisations (nGOs) except the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – which was also asked to leave before the last battle – were expelled from the north.

A brilliantly conceived and fought campaign ended in unqualified military success but at horrendous human cost, attracting wide criticism from the international community. Given the unprecedented backing from the majority Sinhalese community for the war, Rajapaksa was able to deflect all domestic and foreign opposition to its conduct. sinhalese chauvinism was epitomised in Gotabaya rajapaksa’s remarks: “I have only two groups — the people who fight terrorism and the terrorists.”52

The LTTE is known to have established a Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil eelam overseas, which the sLG is determined to dissolve. Colombo will establish a new mission in eritrea, the hotbed of terrorism and revitalise its activities in Myanmar to cripple the foreign connection.53 The recent arrest of the richest sri Lankan Tamil in the Us, rajarathinam, is good news for sri Lanka. The consolidation of military success is being pursued at home to ensure that the LTTe never raises its ugly head again, either at home or abroad, by targeting the Tigers networks along with the diaspora.

Lankans hold that victory is now complete, with only a shadow of the LTTE left. Further, they believe that the war was fought for a unitary state, not an ethnicity-based federal solution. But the cause that led to the insurgency has been brushed aside. In one more move to buy time over a power-sharing agreement with the Tamils (the Tamil national Alliance having dropped its demand for a separate state and pushing for regional autonomy), President rajapaksa has appointed a committee to study the root causes of the ethnic conflict.54


sri Lanka has set a new paradigm on the use of force, but incurred huge humanitarian and diplomatic costs for its all-out use of force. Denying observer access to the battlefield drew charges from the West of “having something to hide”. The european Union has been threatening to withdraw the ‘GsP plus’ trade concession, which allows for the duty-free import of textile goods from sri Lanka to the european Union, unless sri Lanka improves its human rights record.55 UN secretary General Ban Ki Moon has decided to appoint, in the face of sri Lankan opposition, an expert panel to advise him on alleged human rights abuses and possible war crimes during the last phase of the military campaign.56

There are lessons to be learnt from sri Lanka’s military success. But
whether countries are able and willing to apply military force in the face of external criticism and threats of sanctions will depend on the political and diplomatic preparations before such a campaign. India could almost never emulate this model as it believes in bringing insurgents to the negotiating table to join the political process.57 It follows a policy of minimum force applied in good faith, with the use of heavy weapons and air power almost always avoided. Other countries that are faced with insurgency problems, and are not ideologically constrained on use of force, have many lessons to learn from the sri Lankan success story, in areas like clarity of mission, unity of effort, politico-military resolve, national will and non-interference by politicians in military operations. The core military lessons will come from the counter-insurgency doctrine and tactics, and tailoring and training a conventional Army to fight unconventionally. The SLA has shown the world how to engage in rural and urban counter-insurgency against a wily enemy.

The armies of Israel, Pakistan and Thailand have already evinced interest in imbibing military lessons, especially in the concept of deep penetration units and overcoming ditch-cum-bunds obstacles.

This sharing of operational experience – using lessons transferable to the internal insurgency environment of another country – like the conception of an operational doctrine and inviting foreign students to training schools are practical takeaways from sri Lanka’s counter-insurgency experience.58

When both sides are pursuing a military solution, one would have expected a stalemate. By shaping the internal and external environment, Mahinda rajapaksa’s winning team was able to convert past defeats into victory, in which India played a decisive role in keeping the LTTe’s head down. In a dig at India, some sri Lankans say that the LTTe, which was to be disarmed by the IPKF in 72 hours, took 25 years. A former Army Commander told the author at the time of the departure of the IPKF from sri Lanka: “were India to leave us alone, we would be able to sort out the LTTe.” More recently, a SLN officer proudly noted, “The war started by you (IPKF) has been finished by us.”


I. r hariharan, “Defeat of the LTTe and the Future of Tamil Militancy,” World Focus, Vol.
XXX, no. 7, July 2009.
2. n ram, “we Knew They would never lay Down Arms and start negotiating,” The Hindu,
07 July 2009. In the interview, Mr rajapaksa reveals that he had sent his secretary, Lalith weeratunga and one of his Tamil Ministers to talk to the LTTe.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. B Muralidhar reddy, “LTTe Celebrates ‘hero’s Day’ Today,” The Hindu, 27 november
6. Ashok Mehta, “India’s hands-off Policy has not served its national Interest,” Indian Foreign
Affairs Journal, Vol. 4, no. I, January-March 2009, p. I9.
7. V s sambandan, “LTTe seeks ‘reasonable Political Framework’ by next Year,” The Hindu,
28 november 2005.
8. Jon Oskar solnes, A Powderkeg in Paradise (new Delhi: Konark Publishers, 20I0) as reviewed in “A Valuable Insight into sri Lanka’s Peace Process,” Irish Sun, 23 February 20I0.
9. This information was obtained by a serving Sri Lankan naval officer who took part in the
eastern offensive.
I0. Ashok K Mehta, “sri Lanka’s next Battle,” The Wall Street Journal, 07 January 2009.
II. The orbat of troops may be found in sergei Desilva-ranasinghe’s interview with Lt Gen Jagath Jayasooriya, in sergei Desilva-ranasinghe, “LTTe’s Global network a Long-Term Concern,” SP’s Land Forces, I/20I0.
I2. r hariharan, “why LTTe Failed,” Frontline, Vol. 26, no. I0, 09-22 May 2009, p. I5. Also see SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda, “Sri Lanka: The Last Phase in Eelam War IV – From Chundikulam to Pudumattalan,” Manekshaw Paper, no. I3, Centre for Land warfare studies, 2009.
I3. ranjil wijepede, “road to Freedom,” Sunday Observer, I8 October 2009
I4. Maseeh rahman, “sri Lankan President hails Victory as Army seizes Tamil Tiger Capital,” 25
The Guardian, 02 January 2009.
I5. Mehta, n. 6, p. 23.
I6. Lasantha wickrematunge, “Daring The embers,” Outlook, I9 January 2009.
I7. B Muralidhar reddy, “Final hours,” Frontline, Vol. 26, no. I2, 06-I9 June 2009, p. I2.
I8. B Muralidhar reddy, “sunday Leader’s editor Defends Controversial Fonseka Interview,”
The Hindu, 03 January 20I0.
I9. Reddy, n. I7, p. I3. According to reddy, while military operations began at 5 am on I7
May, it is not clear who initiated the fighting: the SLA or LTTE. As we have only the SLA
account, it is essential to investigate the accuracy of the account of the last battle.
20. Sutirtho Patronobis, ”Prabhakaran surrender Could have saved 500 LTTe Cadres,” The Hindustan Times, 26 June 2009; nitin Gokhale, Sri Lanka: From War to Peace (new Delhi: har-Anand Publications, 2009); M r narayanswamy, “sri Lanka: end of an era - There is no LTTe Minus Prabhakaran,” India Abroad, 29 May 2009.
2I. B Muralidhar reddy, “The war is Over,” Frontline, Vol. 26, no. I2, 06-I9 June 2009, p. 8.
22. sergei Desilva-ranasinghe, “Tiger Trail: strategic Defeat of LTTe and its Implications,” Force, April 2009, p. 52. It is estimated that recoveries of military equipment made till December 2009 are upwards of $ 20 million. Also see Aziz haniffa, “Fonseka becoming Lankan President will be Disastrous for India,” Rediff.com, 08 January 20I0, http://news. rediff.com/slide-show/20I0/jan/08/slide-show-I-interview-with-razik-zarook.htm, accessed on 09 January 2010, where Zarook mentions that the destruction of 10 floating warehouses was the turning point of the war.
23. B Muralidhar reddy: ‘rajapaksa Government’s Focus has now shifted to Village
Development,” The Hindu, I0 October, 2009.
24. Ibid.
25. shankara Jayasekara, “survival of Prabhakaran and Ability to revive its Fundraising network,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, II March 2009.
26. hariharan, n. I2.
27. narayanswamy, n. 20. Also see Maj Gen raj Mehta, Lost Victory: The Rise and Fall of LTTE Supremo V Prabhakaran (new Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2009).
28. Ibid.
29. TV sriram, ”Prabhakaran’s Dream,” The Pioneer, I0 August 2009
30. Daya Gamage, “Is LTTe only a sri Lankan Phenomenon and its Demise highly exaggerated?”
Asian Tribune, 24 April 2009.
3I. Ibid.
32. Ibid.
33. DBs Jeyaraj, “‘Operation KP’: The Dramatic Capture and After,” The Hindu, 09 August
34. TV Sriram, ”I Interrogated LTTE Chief – Gotabaya Rajapaksa,” The Indian Express, I2
August 2009
35. Gamage, n. 30.
36. hariharan, n. I2, pp. I2-I3.
37. Ibid.
38. TV sriram, “we Tried to Buy nuclear weapons: LTTe Chief,” The Hindustan Times, 23
August 2009.
39. reddy, n. 2I. Gothbaya rajapaksa says 23,000 sLA were killed since I98I. The Economist quotes figures of 6261 security forces and 29, 551 wounded, of whom 2556 were disabled.
40. Ong weichong, “Military Defeat of the Tamil Tigers: From Velvet Glove to Iron Fist,”
RSIS Commentary, no. 50, 27 May 2009, http://www.rsis.edu.sg/publications/Perspective/rsIs0502009.pdf, accessed on 28 May 2009.
26 4I. “Defeating Terrorists,” The Wall Street Journal, I6 January 2009.
42. IAns, “Prabhakaran still in sri Lanka: LTTe,” The Indian Express, 27 January 2009.
43. B raman, “sri Lanka: Likely scenarios,” IntelliBriefs, http://intellibriefs.blogspot.com/2009/05/ sri-lanka-likely-scenarios.html, 20 May 2009, accessed on 2I May 2009. Also see by the same author, “LTTe: what I wrote in May 2008,” South Asia Analysis Group, Paper no.
3204, 20 May 2009, http://www.southasiaanalysis.org//papers33/paper3204.html, accessed on 2I May 2009.
44. reddy, n. 2I.
45. Ashok K Mehta, “Lanka’s war Against LTTe,” The Tribune, 29 January 2009.
46. B Muralidhar reddy, “what About Gandhis, asks rajapaksa,” The Hindu, I9 March 20I0.
47. Ashok K Mehta, “Lanka’s war Against LTTe,” The Tribune, 29 January 2009. Also see by the same author, “Pincer Island,” Outlook, 4 May 2009.
48. Gokhale, n. 20.
49. haniffa, n. 22.
50. Ibid.
5I. reddy, n. 2I.
52. Chris Morris, “sri Lanka Journalists ‘risk Death’,” BBC News, 03 February 2009.
53. shankara Jayasekara quoted in Lakbima News, I4 september 2009
54. B Muralidhar Reddy, “Panel to Study Cause of Conflict in Sri Lanka,” The Hindu, I4 March
55. Jeremy Page, “eU sanctions on sri Lanka to hit ‘Cheap’ Clothing Over human rights
Abuses,” The Times, I5 september 2009.
56. “sri Lanka Calls Un rights Panel ‘Unwarranted’,” Reuters, 06 March 20I0.
57. PK Gautam, “Learning the right Lessons on the Just Concluded Counter Insurgency Operations in sri Lanka,” IDSA Comment, 22 May 2009, http://idsa.in/idsastrategiccomments/ lessonsonthecounterinsurgencyoperationsinsrilank_pkgautam_220509, accessed on 23
May 2009.
58. Desilva-ranasinghe, n. II.


Canaganayagam Sankarakumaran: A Birthday Tribute

by Tissa Jayatilaka

I have known Mr. Sankarakumaran (Sanka) for several years now. Through him I came to know his sage eldest brother C. Shanmuganayagam (Shan) and his cousin, the late Sivasubramaniam Kathiravelupillai, the Federal Party/TULF Member of Parliament for Kopay(1965 – 1981).

It is a pleasure to fete Sanka on the 84th anniversary of his birth which fell on 15 May, 2010. According to Shan’s orthodox Hindu reading, however, Sanka is actually celebrating his 85th birthday today! Thirty four or five( depending on which brother you choose to agree with) years ago on his 50th birthday, Shan and his wife Valli gave Sanka a memorable gift in the form of a fully paid for pilgrimage to the ashram of their guru Bagwan Sri Ramana Maharishi at Ramanasramam, Tiruvannamali . Of all of the birthday gifts that he has received over the years, the one he cherishes most, Sanka has told me, is this particular one. For it was that pilgrimage that set Sanka on the correct path of seeking salvation.

A few years ago on his 80th birthday, Shri Gopalkrishna Gandhi, formerly India’s distinguished High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, now living in retirement in Chennai, wrote an appreciation of Sanka which said it all. In Gopal’s inimitable style, he testified to the exemplary life and career of Sanka which straddled both the private and the public sectors. Sanka’s contribution as a private sector Banker, and later, following retirement , as a public sector adviser serving on several national Boards and Commissions, has been notable. No less noteworthy has been Sanka’s service to the community as a social worker.

On the present occasion, I wish to highlight a unique achievement of Sanka and his family. In the field of Banking in Ceylon in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was the prestigious Guarantee Shroff System that the British introduced. To the uninitiated, the primary function of a Guarantee Shroff was to act as a liaison officer between the British management and the Ceylonese clientele of any British-owned Bank of the time. Sanka’s grand-father , Adigar A. Naganather, C.B. E., J.P.U.M., was the very first Guarantee Shroff in Ceylon.

In this position, he was attached to the Oriental Banking Corporation at Nuwara Eliya in the 1880s. Subsequently he served as Guarantee Shroff of the British owned National Bank of India Ltd., Nuwara Eliya, 1892. His son Gate Mudaliyar N.Canaganayagam, C.B.E., J.P., succeeded him as Guarantee Shroff in Nuwara Eliya in 1912 and thereafter was transferred in the same capacity to the Kandy Branch in 1925. Mr.Canaganayagam was elected Mayor of Kandy in 1942. His son Sanka succeeded him as Guarantee Shroff in 1947. Sanka retired in 1970, as the last ever Guarantee Shroff of Sri Lanka. The post was abolished that year.

Thus the Guarantee Shroff System began and ended with Sanka and his family. They were the pioneers and standard bearers of this system in a three-generational sequence, spanning almost a century. This must surely be a record in the annals of Banking in Ceylon/Sri Lanka. Having served later on as a Consultant to the Hatton National Bank Ltd., Kandy, the successor to the National Bank of India Ltd., Sanka now lives in retirement having completed a memorable career of 40-years of service to the citizens of Kandy. He was, and continues to be, a highly respected and much loved personality in the whole of the Central Province. Although he lives and works overseas, one of Sanka’s sons is a banker attached to the CitiBank Of New York! It seems as if Sanka and his family have forged an eternal link with the Banking industry.

An amiable and easy-going person, Sanka though never overly- judgemental , is an excellent judge of character. He could not, of course, have been the successful Banker that he has been if not for his sagacity. I have been a beneficiary of Sanka’s worldly wisdom and insight over the years, but particularly so during the early days of my own career. Freshly out of the magical world of Peradeniya, young and untried as I was, I knew very little of the ways of mice and men.

His guidance and advice enabled me to avoid many a pitfall I would otherwise have stumbled over in the period I worked at The American Centre in Kandy beginning in the late 1970s. This anniversary of his birth is as good an occasion as any to acknowledge publicly the immense debt I owe Sanka for the invaluable contribution made towards attempting to make me a mature and sensitive public servant. I need hardly add that the blemishes that linger despite his valiant efforts should not be held against him in any way. Thanks very much, Sanka.

I wish also to place on record the significant role played by the gracious Maheswary Sankarakumaran in the life of Sanka. She has been a superb fellow-travller, wonderful wife, and caring mother to their three children—Satha( Dr. Sathanandan), Satchi( C. Satchithanandan) and Nirmala( Dr. Nirmala Kumaradeva). On this auspicious day, I wish Sanka and Maheswary the blessings of all the devas. May good health, peace of mind and contentment be yours in the years ahead.

HRW: Q & A on Accountability for Violations of International Humanitarian Law in Sri Lanka

by Human Rights Watch

Even prior to the end of Sri Lanka's armed conflict in May 2009, Human Rights Watch has called upon the United Nations to establish an independent international investigation into violations of international humanitarian law by both Sri Lankan government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. This Q & A addresses various issues relating to accountability for crimes in violation of international law.


For more than 25 years the government of Sri Lanka was involved in an armed conflict with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This conflict was marked by numerous human rights abuses by both sides, which Human Rights Watch has long reported on. A ceasefire that began in February 2002 effectively ended with the resumption of major military operations in mid-2006. The LTTE forces slowly retreated to an enclave in the northeast coast of the island, forcing large numbers of ethnic Tamil civilians along with them. Starting in January 2009, fighting in the enclave intensified, with the LTTE using the civilian population as human shields and government forces firing heavy artillery indiscriminately into populated areas. The government forces continued their advance, finally cornering the LTTE, including its top leadership, into a tiny strip of land on the coast. On May 18, the fighting ended with the LTTE's defeat and most of the LTTE leadership killed.

The government's prohibition on the media, human rights groups, and most humanitarian agencies from the conflict area sharply reduced information on the situation at the time. However, Human Rights Watch and others have since gathered first-hand accounts and photographs from Sri Lankans trapped in the war zone, which paint a grim picture of death from combat, malnutrition, and inadequate medical care. Civilians paid an especially heavy price in this conflict, particularly during the last five months from January to May 2009. It is unclear how many people died during these months, but the UN has conservatively estimated that at least 7,000 civilians died and 13,000 were injured. Human Rights Watch has investigated a range of alleged serious violations of international humanitarian law (the laws of war) committed by Sri Lanka and the LTTE since the beginning of 2009. Abuses by government forces included: the indiscriminate use of weapons such as heavy artillery in densely populated areas, including declared No Fire Zones; repeated shelling of civilians, hospitals, and humanitarian facilities; enforced disappearances of suspected LTTE fighters; and extrajudicial executions. Abuses by LTTE forces included: using civilians as human shields or otherwise placing them at unnecessary risk; deliberately firing on civilians seeking to flee the conflict zone; and the use of child soldiers.

All parties to an armed conflict-both states and non-state armed groups-are responsible for complying with the requirements of international humanitarian law. That is, each party must respect and ensure respect for the laws of war by its armed forces and other persons or groups acting on its orders or under its direction or control. This obligation does not depend on reciprocity-parties to a conflict must respect the requirements whether or not the opposing side abides by it. It also does not depend on the reason for which the respective parties go to war, whether by a state ("fighting terrorism") or an armed group ("ethnic homeland"). And all parties to an armed conflict must be held to the same standards, regardless of any disparity in the harm caused by alleged violations.

A party to an armed conflict is responsible for serious violations of the laws of war committed by its armed forces and persons or entities acting under its authority, direction, or control. That responsibility, whether by a state or non-state actor, entails a requirement to make full reparations for the loss or injury caused; reparations can take the form of restitution (reestablishment of the prior situation), compensation (financial payment), or satisfaction (such as a formal apology or other action) to another state, entity, or individuals. As discussed below, states also have an obligation to hold accountable individuals under their control who are responsible for serious violations of the laws of war.

What international law applies to the armed conflict in Sri Lanka?

The armed conflict between Sri Lanka and the LTTE is governed by international treaties and the rules of customary international humanitarian law. Customary humanitarian law, based on established state practice, binds all parties to an armed conflict, whether states such as Sri Lanka or non-state armed groups such as the LTTE, and concerns the conduct of hostilities. Relevant treaty law includes Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which sets forth minimum standards for the treatment of persons within a party's control.

Why is accountability important?

Holding individuals accountable for serious violations of the laws of war is important because it may deter future violations, promote respect for the law, and provide avenues of redress for the victims. Armed forces that hold offending individuals accountable under these laws promote discipline and professionalism within their forces, maintain responsible command, and improve relations with the civilian population. States and non-state armed groups that fail to establish such accountability undermine their standing in conflict areas and globally, and increase the likelihood of international action being taken against them. Such accountability is also necessary for the victims of laws of war violations and their families who seek justice for their plight.

What are the obligations of states generally to ensure respect for the laws of war?

All states, whether or not a party to the conflict, have a responsibility under the Geneva Conventions of 1949 to exert their influence, to the degree possible, to stop violations of international humanitarian law. Such action can be taken unilaterally or as part of multilateral measures, such as collectively imposed sanctions against a state, an armed group, or certain individuals.

Who is primarily responsible for ensuring accountability of individuals who have committed laws-of-war violations?

Ensuring justice for serious violations is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the states whose nationals are implicated in the violations. States have an obligation to investigate serious violations that implicate members of their forces or other persons under their jurisdiction. The state must ensure that military or domestic courts or other institutions impartially investigate whether serious violations occurred, identifying, and prosecuting the individuals responsible for those violations in accordance with international fair-trial standards, and imposing punishments on individuals found guilty that are commensurate with their deeds.

While non-state armed groups do not have the same legal obligation to prosecute violators of the laws of war within their ranks, they are nonetheless responsible for ensuring compliance with the laws of war and have a responsibility when they do conduct trials to do so in accordance with international fair trial standards.

When are violations of international humanitarian law considered war crimes?

Individuals who commit serious violations of international humanitarian law with criminal intent-that is, intentionally or recklessly-are responsible for war crimes. War crimes include a wide array of offenses, among them deliberate, indiscriminate, and disproportionate attacks harming civilians, using human shields, and committing torture, enforced disappearances and summary executions. Individuals also may be held criminally liable for attempting to commit a war crime, as well as assisting in, facilitating, or aiding and abetting a war crime.

Responsibility also may fall on persons who plan or instigate the commission of a war crime. Commanders and civilian leaders may be prosecuted for war crimes as a matter of command responsibility when they knew or should have known about the commission of war crimes and took insufficient measures to prevent them or punish those responsible.

Is the Sri Lankan government meeting its obligation to investigate allegations of laws-of-war violations?

All too often, states whose citizens are implicated in serious violations in the laws of war lack the will or capacity to investigate and prosecute these crimes. Human Rights Watch has reported on this failure in a number of contexts, for instance with respect to Ethiopian forces in Somalia, US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israeli forces in Gaza, and Russian forces in Chechnya.

In the year since the conflict ended the Sri Lankan government has failed to undertake any meaningful investigation of laws-of-war violations. It has established two ad hoc inquiries, but both lack the mandate to conduct proper investigations.

In response to an October US State Department report detailing hundreds of allegations of laws-of-war violations, the Sri Lankan government established a committee of experts to examine the allegations contained in the report. The committee has missed two deadlines, and in April 2010, the chairman of the committee conceded that they have no investigatory powers, which has hampered the inquiry.

Faced with increasing criticism over the lack of investigation, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a second ad hoc inquiry since the end of the conflict, an eight-member commission of inquiry called the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), on May 17, 2010. Tasked with examining the failure of the 2002 ceasefire and the "sequence of events" thereafter, the commission does not have the mandate to investigate alleged violations of the laws of war.

The mandate of the LLRC also suffers from shortcomings that have plagued the work of previous Sri Lankan commissions (see below) and make it unlikely that the commission will be able to accomplish its limited mandate. For example, there is no proper victims and witness protection program in place, which will make people critical of the government reluctant to give testimony.

The appointment of Chitta Ranjan de Silva as chairman also raises questions whether the commission will be able to objectively accomplish its mandate. De Silva previously served as attorney general and he has been criticized for his interference with the 2006 Presidential Commission of Inquiry (see below).

Is it possible for victims, civil society, and media in Sri Lanka to demand that Sri Lanka meets its obligation to investigate these allegations?

Throughout the decades-long conflict, successive Sri Lankan governments and the LTTE have both attacked civil society actors and media critical of their actions. With the renewal of major military operations in 2006, media and civil society came under increased pressure. Several journalists critical of the government and the LTTE were killed, subjected to enforced disappearances, threatened or assaulted.

Attacks on and intimidation of government critics have continued since the conflict ended. In August 2009, the government prosecuted a journalist critical of the government; after a trial in which questionable evidence was introduced, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his journalistic activities. Although he has been paroled and the government has recently said that he will be pardoned, the conviction sent a strong signal to other journalists and civil society activists. As a result, dozens of journalists and civil society activists have the left Sri Lanka in the last couple years, undermining Sri Lanka's once vibrant civil society.

Sri Lankan authorities insist that government forces conducted a "civilian rescue operation" during the last months of the conflict. High-ranking government officials, including President Rajapaksa, have on several occasions stated that government forces did not commit any violations and that no civilians died at the hands of government forces. This narrative of the conflict's final months became an important part of President Rajapaksa's successful re-election bid in January 2009.

As a result, it is particularly risky in Sri Lanka to allege that government forces committed laws-of-war violations or that high-ranking officials were implicated in war crimes. On May 6, Sri Lanka's defense secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, said in an interview that anybody who cooperates with the international community to undermine the sovereignty of Sri Lanka is a traitor and deserves capital punishment. It was apparent that the comment was directed towards retired General Sarath Fonseka, who during his campaign for president against Rajapaksa said that he would be willing to testify about war crimes committed during the conflict. The Sri Lankan authorities have filed criminal charges against Fonseka accusing him of inciting unrest when he accused Gotabhaya Rajapaksa of committing war crimes. In another example of the government's intolerance of any challenges to the official narrative of the war, Sri Lankan security forces prevented residents of the northern city of Jaffna from gathering to commemorate the victims of the war on the first anniversary of its end, May 18, 2010.

Have Sri Lanka and the LTTE met their past obligations to hold accountable individuals responsible for serious violations of the laws of war?

Sri Lanka's long civil war has been characterized by a climate of impunity for perpetrators of serious human rights violations. Very few members of the security forces have been prosecuted, let alone successfully convicted, for horrendous crimes. In response to domestic and international criticism, the Sri Lankan government has over the years established various special commissions to investigate allegations of abuses. These include, among others, eight separate presidential commissions of inquiry established between 1991 and 1998 specifically devoted to investigating enforced disappearances; a commission of inquiry into the alleged establishment and maintenance of an unlawful detention and torture facility in 1995; a commission of inquiry into the killing of 27 Tamil inmates of the Bindunuwewa Rehabilitation Centre on in October 2000; and in 2001, the Presidential Truth Commission on Ethnic Violence covering events of 1981-1984. The Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission also appointed a special committee to investigate reported enforced disappearances in Jaffna between 1990 and 1998. These Commissions investigated tens of thousands of complaints. The "disappearance" commissions alone received nearly 30,000 complaints (including some duplicates) and recorded evidence in over 20,000 of these cases; another 16,305 cases remain uninvestigated. They identified thousands of alleged perpetrators and recommended legal action, along with reparations to victims and legal reforms to prevent future violations.

Reports of most of these commissions were published, and although some families received monetary compensation, most recommendations made by these commissions were never implemented. There were few prosecutions of those named in the reports, and even fewer convictions. Hundreds of security personnel indicted as result of commission findings were returned to active duty by the Inspector General of Police in 2001.

During President Rajapaksa's first term there was a surge in abuses by both government security forces and the LTTE, including laws of war violations such as the murder of 17 aid workers in August 2006, which created pressure to set up new investigatory bodies. In November 2006, Rajapaksa established with much fanfare the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, which was tasked with examining 16 high-profile cases that implicated both sides. As with previous commissions, however, the commission was a failure. A group of international experts, appointed to ensure the investigation was being conducted according to international norms and standards, resigned in 2008 because it had "not been able to conclude...that the proceedings of the Commission have been transparent or have satisfied basic international norms and standards." The international experts cited the inappropriate role of the attorney general in the work of the commission, the lack of a victim and witness protection program and lack of political will to investigate the cases among the reasons for their resignation.

In June 2009, Rajapaksa dissolved the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, even though it had conducted investigations in just 7 of its 16 mandated cases. The president has not published its report.

What other mechanisms are available when states fail to investigate these violations?

Historically, states that failed to conduct investigations into serious violations of the laws of war compounded the problem of impunity by invoking the principle of sovereignty when any other authority sought to examine the matter. However, significant and important advances over the past two decades in international criminal law have made the prospect of accountability more of a reality, even in the absence of willingness on the part of states to ensure such accountability.

The treaty creating the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was adopted in 1998 and went into effect in 2002, empowers the court to investigate and prosecute individuals alleged to be responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide when states are unwilling or are unable to do so. The ICC can undertake a criminal investigation and prosecution if the suspected perpetrators are citizens of a state that is party to the ICC treaty, if the alleged violations are committed in the territory of a state that is party to the ICC treaty, or if a state that is not a party to the treaty asks the ICC to become involved in violations committed on its territory. Sri Lanka is not a party to the ICC. However, the ICC can assume jurisdiction if the UN Security Council refers a situation to the court, as it did in 2005 when it referred the situation of Darfur to the court even though Sudan had not ratified the ICC treaty. Security Council action, as in all cases, depends on a positive vote by nine of the 15 council members and no negative vote, or veto, by any of the five permanent members.

As discussed below, the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council and the UN secretary-general could also set up international investigation into alleged laws-of-war violations and recommend whether criminal investigation and prosecution of certain persons would be appropriate.

Certain categories of grave crimes in violation of international law, such as war crimes and torture, are also subject to universal jurisdiction, meaning that any state may authorize a tribunal to try offenders. Certain treaties, such as the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, require states parties to undertake a criminal investigation and, if warranted, prosecution of suspected offenders who are under that state's jurisdiction, even if temporarily-that is, even if the crime has been committed by a foreign national against another foreign national, in a foreign country. The concept of universal jurisdiction enables states to fulfill this responsibility. It also enables states to try those responsible for other crimes, such as genocide or crimes against humanity.

Can the UN investigate alleged laws of war violations committed during the conflict in Sri Lanka?

Given the poor record of Sri Lanka with regard to conducting impartial and timely investigations into serious violations of the laws of war by its security forces, Human Rights Watch has long called upon the UN to establish an independent international investigation into alleged violations by all sides in connection with the fighting in the Vanni.

Such an investigation could be authorized by the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council, or by the UN secretary-general. The Security Council has authorized similar investigations with respect to other conflicts, such as in Darfur or the former Yugoslavia. The Darfur commission led to the above-mentioned referral to the ICC; the Yugoslav one led to the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Reports prepared by these commissions, made up of international experts, included fact-finding on abuses and recommendations to ensure accountability.

Under the UN Charter, the Security Council has the greatest stature and authority to establish an investigative mechanism. Given that the Security Council has not previously addressed matters related to accountability in Sri Lanka, it may be necessary to explore other avenues to justice.

The UN Human Rights Council has previously authorized similar investigations, such as the independent international fact-finding mission to Gaza. To date, the Human Rights Council has shown little interest in promoting accountability for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Sri Lanka, despite the widespread abuses.

Just days after the conflict ended, in May 2009, President Rajapaksa promised UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that this government would address allegations of laws-of-war violations. One year later the government has failed to honor that promise.

On March 5, 2010, Secretary-General Ban told President Rajapaksa that he intended to establish a Panel of Experts to advise him on next steps for accountability in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government responded with a concerted campaign to discourage Ban from carrying out his plans. More than two months later, Ban had yet to appoint the advisory panel.

The UN secretary-general has created international investigations on previous occasions, such as the commission of inquiry that investigated the September 2009 massacre in Guinea.

Could another international tribunal investigate and prosecute individuals implicated in serious crimes committed in Sri Lanka?

Other existing international or mixed international/national criminal tribunals - including those established to prosecute crimes committed in Cambodia, Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone-have no jurisdiction over crimes committed in Sri Lanka. Their mandates are limited to certain crimes in particular geographic areas by UN Security Council resolution or by agreement between the United Nations and the country where the crimes were committed. Were the Security Council to undertake prosecutions by a tribunal outside of the ICC, it would have to establish a new ad hoc court.

Could the International Court of Justice play a role?

The International Court of Justice has the authority only to adjudicate disputes between states, and only with the consent of the governments involved. It may also give advisory opinions on legal questions requested by the UN General Assembly or the Security Council, and on activity-related legal questions from authorized UN organs and agencies, such as the World Health Organization. The International Court of Justice has no jurisdiction to investigate or prosecute individuals.

Can persons suspected of serious violations of the laws of war be prosecuted in other countries?

National courts can and should play a role in combating impunity for grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. In the case of certain high-level Sri Lankan officials such as Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, US courts have jurisdiction over certain offenses because they have dual citizenship with the United States. US courts might also have jurisdiction over Sarath Fonseka, the former army chief who is a US permanent resident, for certain offenses.

National courts can play a role even where there is no direct link to the alleged crime. The "grave breaches" provisions of the Geneva Conventions as well as the Convention against Torture mandate the exercise of universal jurisdiction. "Universal jurisdiction" refers to the competence of a national court to try a person suspected of a serious international crime such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, or genocide.

Many countries have laws that would permit them to exercise universal jurisdiction and prosecute such serious crimes. The practice has lagged behind the laws, out of concern about the potential politicization of the authority as well as issues of resources required to conduct such investigations and prosecutions. There has been a steady rise in the number of cases prosecuted under universal jurisdiction laws in the past decade, particularly in Western Europe. The successful prosecution in national courts-including in France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, and Norway-of international crimes committed in countries as varied as Mauritania, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Bosnia and Herzegovina shows that universal jurisdiction is becoming a reality. Universal jurisdiction also is gradually becoming assimilated into the functioning of criminal law systems in some countries.

Isn't there a double standard when it comes to international justice, with prosecutions only of individuals from states with less political clout?Many people have criticized the UN Security Council for focusing its international justice efforts on African and Arab parties. Perpetrators of serious crimes in violation of international law should be held to account irrespective of nationality. Nevertheless, the objective landscape of international justice has been uneven. States, often acting through the UN Security Council, have decided when to establish international criminal tribunals and what mandates to provide. Political considerations have been a factor, and the scope of the institutions they have created has not matched the extent of grave crimes committed. Despite this selectivity, these institutions have contributed to establishing accountability at least in respect to the conflicts that fall within their mandate. That is the right thing to do because a victim of a serious violation of the laws of war should not be told she will be denied her day in court simply because another victim's plight was ignored. That said, Human Rights Watch strives to extend accountability efforts for the worst crimes wherever they occur.

In Pictures: Cave Art of 21st Century-An exhibition of Cartoons

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“Cave Art of 21st Century”-An exhibition of Cartoons by Prageeth Ehnalygoda is currently being held at the Lionel Went Gallery in Colombo. It is an exhibition dedicated to freedom, equality and brotherhood. The illustrations on display are by the disappeared journalist Prageeth Eknalygoda.



[click here to see & read more~ humanityAshore.com]

May 19, 2010

The minorities need a system where they feel they are in charge of their future

An Interview with Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole

By Udara Soyasa

President Mahinda Rajapakse appointed Dr. Ratnajeevan Hoole as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna in March 2006. However, due to pressures exerted by the pro-LTTE paramilitary group, ‘People’s Uprising Force,’ Dr. Hoole was forced to take special leave and leave the country. Currently, he is a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he teaches engineering and computer science at graduate level. He is widely respected among moderates as a critic of both Sinhalese and Tamil extremism.

In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Leader, Dr. Hoole recounted how “the government squandered an opportunity when General Ratwatte rode a horse to humiliate Tamils after retaking Jaffna in 1995,” He added, “signs of the same now, are worrisome. Much has been said of the symbols of the Sinhalese sprouting up in the North-East like mushrooms. There is nothing wrong with that so long as it is by a natural spontaneous process. But if it is being driven by the government? Any Tamil would feel insecure.”

Q: How do you see the plight of Jaffna University?

A: Jaffna University’s plight is similar to that of the other universities in Sri Lanka – the flight of talented individuals leaving the university bereft of leadership. In the sense of Tamil areas having suffered from the war, Jaffna’s problems are indeed more acute. As the last of the Tamils trained in the South reach retirement age at Jaffna, working and negotiating with the UGC and the ministry will be increasingly difficult and the latter will begin unilaterally deciding what is good for Jaffna.

A concomitant problem is also the problem of English. Whatever ideological position we may take, English fluency – mastery – is key to success in the academic world. Nearly all academics who have done well are those who can, beyond coming up with good theories and ideas, also communicate and sell them to their peers and to archival journals. As administrators, they must be able to legally justify their positions through correct, well-argued memos and minutes. I have seen rather poorly drafted selection committee minutes that will make the university lose when challenged, even if their decision is correct.

The following extract from a charge sheet issued by the VC of a leading Southern university shows how important English is in administration too and that the problem is not in Jaffna alone: “The council has directed me to call for explanations from you having committed the following acts of misconduct.” Neither the VC nor his support staff knew they were accusing themselves of misconduct.

Do we give up and function in the mother-tongue, thereby losing touch with the wider world and writing papers that no one else will read and engage us in a discussion? Or do we pretend to be functioning in English with wrong minutes and marking exams where we are not quite sure what the student meant? The late K. Pooranampillai, as Hartley College’s Principal, by personally teaching English in the lower forms and giving it his full attention, has produced a generation of persons from non-English speaking families who have gone on to be great scientists. Later as my principal at St. John’s after his retirement from Hartley, he came to my A/L class thrice when a teacher was absent and did things I still find useful. One person like Pooranampillai can accomplish much.

Q: How do you see the plight of higher/university level education among Tamil youth in both the North and the East?

A: Challenging. What distinguishes the North-East is the devastation of the war and the uncertainties as to what awaits the Tamil people. After so many civilians killed, Tamils question their relationship to the Sri Lankan state. At the same time, there are opportunities too. The return of multi-party politics, the absence of fighting and the free transport to and from the North-East hold the hope of returnees who can contribute. After all, East or West, home is best.

Q: How do you view the culture in the North-East after the end of the war?

A: As for political culture, on the positive side, parties that did well, the TNA, the EPDP and the TMVP, have all been working for devolution through the democratic process. Purists point to the TNA’s and some TNA and other MPs’ dark pasts and demand an open apology. But I feel we must give them the space to complete the process of transformation they have begun without losing face. After all, they have been chosen by the Tamil people.
As for social culture, we lost it long ago when we supported political murder. The National Peace Council’s recent press release on conditions in Jaffna gives me pause.

Q: What are some critical observations you see here?

A: Some hardliners who cannot stomach the emergence of moderates in the recent general elections, say the turnout in the North-East was poor and the results are not reflective of the will of the people. To them I respond in two ways. First, the turnout was good if you consider that tens of thousands of absentees like me are still on the electoral register. And two, the turnout of the 31,000 that is boasted about by the same entities for the elections to the so-called Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam in Canada, is paltry in comparison. These same entities, for example the Ilankai Tamil Sangam of New York in a recent editorial on behalf of the Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA, argue that the election of the TNA is an endorsement of separatist politics. Certainly not. Remember that all the extremists imposed on the TNA were denied nominations on the FP ticket.

What the Tamils have endorsed is federalism. All, Messieurs Sampanthar, Douglas and Pillaiyan, have publicly stated so and work within the system. The extremists who were denied nomination by the TNA and contested separately, were roundly rejected by the Tamil people.

Q: What are some recommendations to improve the lives of North Eastern Tamils?

A: The Tamil people are resilient. You can see how well they have done in the West even when they came with nothing – and I mean nothing, often no money and no qualifications. They are innovative, cohesive and intrepid. To do equally well in Sri Lanka they must be in control of their lives and responsible for decisions that affect their lives as they are in the West. This means devolving power to the North-East. As the Indian Supreme Court said in a different context, to treat unequal people equally is to treat them unequally. Minorities and the majority are simply not equal. The minorities need a system that makes them comfortable, feeling that they are in charge of their own future. The majority needs no such hand-holding. Minorities need their culture to be protected. They need not to feel threatened if they are to endorse the state.

Q: What are some positive and negative developments in the current context?

A: On the positive side, I see the engagement of the TNA with the government in discussions, however preliminary, as very positive. The journalist Tissanayagam has been pardoned. That too is positive (although the man has written some horrid, hate-filled, untruthful things about me – The Sunday Leader, 12 March 2000). On the negative side, the press and the AG’s seem to be losing their independence. Commissions appear not to be for finding out or recommending anything. Minorities, to feel part of the state, must have confidence in the rule of law.

The Tamil Diaspora too is yet to reform. In the Tamil Sangam editorial referred to, it is argued that Tamils need not write about our own atrocities because “the abuses of the LTTE are well documented and are available from the Sri Lankan Government.” To see how facetious this is, ask whether the Sri Lankan Government and the UN need not look into the killing of civilians and the charges of genocide because the Ilankai Tamil Sangam has documented them.

The overseas Tamils were behind the suffering of the people in the Vanni for decades. They will talk human rights and self-determination and occupy the moral high ground unless the government truly addresses the alienation of the Tamils. ~ courtesy: The Sunday Leader ~

US has jurisdiction to probe US citizen Gotabhaya and Green Card holder Fonseka over war crime charges

by Jyoti Thottam and Amantha Perera

The International Crisis Group, an international human rights group based in Brussels, released an alarming report on Tuesday, timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka's civil war.

The report, "War Crimes in Sri Lanka," calls for an international inquiry into violations by Sri Lankan security forces, describing several incidents in which civilian targets, including hospitals and humanitarian aid shelters, were shelled.

The group also claims to have evidence suggesting that civilian casualties in the last months of the war were much higher than earlier estimates: "The period of January to May 2009 saw tens of thousands of Tamil civilian men, women, children and the elderly killed, countless more wounded," the report said. The Sri Lankan Army defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, an ethnic Tamil separatist group, after 26 years of conflict. May 18, 2009, marked the official end of the war, when the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was killed.

The ICG report is the latest of numerous efforts by human rights groups, governments and international agencies to hold the Sri Lankan government accountable for the way it conducted the last phase of the war. The report stops short of actually revealing any of the evidence, which the ICG says will be given only to "authorities that are able to ensure a credible legal process that includes the protection of witnesses." But it does provide a chilling, comprehensive account of the many already published allegations against the Sri Lankan government. They include a video apparently showing soldiers executing blindfolded Tamil men; the alleged battlefield execution of two LTTE leaders who had surrendered with their families and staff; and the shelling by security forces of a U.N. aid distribution center within a no-fire zone, resulting in 11 civilian deaths.

The government of Sri Lanka, however, remains as defiant as ever. It has so far faced no legal action or international sanction, and this report is unlikely to change its refusal to allow any international investigation into alleged human rights abuses or war crimes. How has a small, trade-dependent island nation withstood this pressure? Sri Lanka's president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has made refusal to bow to international criticism a crucial part of his image as a tough leader. A recent article in the Indian Defence Review listed this as one of the central principles of Rajapaksa's military strategy: "telling the international community to 'go to hell.'"

Rajapaksa has done so, in perhaps less colorful language, on several occasions. When the United Nations Human Rights Council considered calling for a similar investigation last May, shortly after the war ended, Sri Lanka's allies — including China, Pakistan and India — rallied against the measure. Instead, the HRC passed a resolution praising Sri Lanka's success in ending the war. Billboards in Colombo trumpeted that bureaucratic finesse in Geneva as another victory for the nation. A similar effort within the U.N. Security Council failed.

The ICG report acknowledges that neither of those two bodies are likely to take any action, and instead calls on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to use his authority to start his own inquiry. But Rajapaksa has already sidelined Ban. When the Secretary General announced plans in March 2010 to set up an advisory committee on Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa said such action was "unwarranted and uncalled for", as no such action had been taken against other U.N. members facing similar criticism.

Rajapaksa's overwhelming election victories this year have strengthened his hand, and he is unlikely to feel any internal pressure to allow an international inquiry. He won the January presidential election by a 1.8 million-vote majority and his coalition secured 144 of 225 seats in the April parliamentary elections, just shy of a two-thirds majority. "The responsibility of a sovereign government is to the people who elected it," says Keheliya Rambukwella, a minister in Rajapaksa's government. "The vast majority of people have shown that they trust the President and his administration."

He has made some token steps toward reconciliation. Since the new government took office in April, it has relaxed certain emergency regulations. Rajapaksa also pardoned the Tamil journalist and editor Jayaprakash Tissainayagam, who had been sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for receiving funding from the Tigers. Tissainayagam's conviction had been widely criticized as an attempt to silence criticism of the government. This week, Rajapaksa appointed his own eight-member expert commission to look into the conduct of the war.

The United States still has some leverage. It is Sri Lanka's largest trading partner, and it may have jurisdiction to investigate two prominent names in the ICG report: Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the president's brother, who is a U.S. citizen, and former Army Chief Sarath Fonseka, who is a green-card holder. Both were questioned by U.S. officials last year, resulting in no action other than a minor diplomatic controversy. The story isn't quite over yet, however. The U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues will submit his report on Sri Lanka on June 16. ~ courtesy: The Time ~

After Terrorism: Demilitarize Development for Sustainable Peace in Sri Lanka

by Dr. Darini Rajasingham Senanayake

“Counter-terrorism is terrorism’s best ally.” --Joseba Zulaika in “Terrorism: The Self-Fulfilling Prophesy” (2009)

The Sri Lanka Model

Few imagined that the thirty-year war that bloodied the erstwhile paradise isle of Sri Lanka would come to such an abrupt and tumultuous end on May 19, 2009, amidst Tamil disapora protests in major world capitals.

Various international terrorism, conflict and peace building experts had predicted that the thirty-year war in the island, one of South Asia’s longest, would drag on for many years. The comprehensive defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), listed as one of the world’s deadliest terrorist organizations, by the Sri Lanka Government’s armed forces in the small multicultural and multi-religious teardrop island, strategically located at the cross roads of major trade routes in the Indian Ocean was viewed by some international peace and conflict experts as a test case. The Rajapakse government had after all argued that it was fighting a ”war on terror”, and capitalized on the diminished tolerance in the international community for political violence in the aftermath of 9/11, despite recognition that ”one man’s terrorist may be another’s liberation fighter” --depending on the context. Some terrorism experts even suggested that Lanka may constitute a model to fight “terrorism” in South and South East Asia, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. Others have been more circumspect about lessons to be learned from the Sri Lanka case, particularly, due to concerns about human rights and the need for a political solution to the minority issue.

Perspectives on the relevance of the Sri Lanka example for ending insurgent or terrorist conflicts differ depending on the commentator’s commitment to the spirit (rather than form), of democracy, as well as, recognition of the fact that rarely have such long drawn, low-intensity, globally net-worked and locally embedded conflicts come to so conclusive an end. Every conflict is different, and in other parts of South Asia “terrorism” and insurgency seems unlikely to wind down so efficiently unless the ”root causes” of violence such as poverty, underdevelopment and political and cultural discrimination are addressed.

The conflict in Sri Lanka had been termed a ‘terrorist’ conflict, an ‘ethnic conflict’ and a liberation struggle. It was arguably all three, having begun as an ethnic conflict that subsequently morphed into a liberation struggle for the Tamil minority in the north east, only to become highly militarized and a self-sustaining dirty war with its own war economy. In the final stages the LTTE which claimed to be fighting for the rights and liberation of the Tamil minority in northeast Sri Lanka had become a terrorist organization that was as brutal to its own constituency as towards the Sri Lanka State from which it sought independence. At the same time, ending the thirty-year war in Sri Lanka was difficult and happened with considerable damage to the country’s democratic culture and institutions. Democratic culture and traditions tend to check the State’s propensity for internal war against segments of the citizenry who may be fighting for ethno-religious self determination or economic and social justice, or both, as was arguably the case with the Tamil and Muslim minorities in the northeast of Sri Lanka.

Demilitarizing development, ensuring Human Security

Though the war in Lanka is over the identity conflict that preceded it may persist in different forms until issues of power sharing with the peripheral regions due to over-centralization of State institutions, and erosion of democratic governance are addressed. The current regime’s preferred model of reconstruction and peace building appears to be fast tracking economic development and reconstruction as a solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka along the lines of authoritarian democracy visible in countries like Singapore and Malaysia, where the state’s emphasis on economic development has trumped and muted ethno-religious identity conflicts. This strategy may work in the medium term, until a comprehensive plan for devolution of power to the north-east regions is worked out. In the longer term, there would be need for the implementation for devolution of power particularly to the regions where Tamil speaking minority communities predominate -- in the north and east.

Often conflicts that have their roots in poverty and economic marginalization by political elites and majorities that control the modern nation-state tend to be articulated in terms of ethno-religious identity conflicts. In other words “ethnic” identity conflicts tend to have a resource base, and there is a need to de-ethnicize conflict analysis in order to address the root causes of the conflict in Lanka. The majority of ordinary people in the conflict zones are tired of promises of “liberation” by various politicians and ethnic entrepreneurs peddling ethnic identity politics and ethnic “liberation” particularly in the wake of the LTTE’s failure to secure any respect for the grievances of the Tamil minority. Many citizens in the north and east simply assert that they wish to rebuild their lives and livelihoods and look forward to a decent education and future for their children. By and large, ethnic out bidding for short term political gain has become a feature of Sri Lanka’s post/colonial political culture in the absence of visionary leadership conscious of the need for inclusive development policies.

Devolution for Equitable Development

Sri Lanka which has traditionally had a far more vibrant democratic culture, civil society and a social welfarist approach to development than Malaysia or Singapore will need to finds its own post/conflict economic development model, between neo-liberal laissez faire policies and over centralised government led development. Neither of these approaches really worked in the past and it would be necessary to strike the appropriate balance between open economic policies and excessive government control of reconstruction and post/conflict economic development.

Simultaneously, economic development cannot be a substitute for the devolution of power or for human security. Indeed, for equitable and locally owned development, devolution of power is essential so that local communities benefit and are better able to benefit from the end of the war, and harvest the local agricultural and fisheries wealth in the north east, and benefit from the large-scale infrastructure projects. The military mindset that led to the concentration of power in the centre in Colombo under the Presidential Task force for Reconstruction in the North and East headed by Basil Rajapaksa, the President’s brother, is counter-productive to locally owned and equitable economic development, public-private partnerships, and entrepreneurship by the local business community in peace time.

The Military Foot Print and Civil-Military Relations

The first step in getting post-conflict economic development right would be unraveling of the vestiges of the war economy of terror, taxation and rent-seeking by those who carry guns, and ensuring that development is planned, owned and implemented by local people and communities in the north and east. Clearly, the trend to promote military businesses in the post/conflict zone that economist Dr. Muttukrishna Sarvanandan has identified in the field of transport and small shops and businesses along the A-9 , coupled with the need for security clearance for traders and business persons going to the north is counter-productive to locally entrepreneurship and conflict sensitive post conflict economic regeneration.

There appears to be a new form of militarized development ongoing in various parts of the country. In the heart of Colombo, poor and vulnerable people, mainly from the minority communities who were displaced and impoverished by the war are being displaced and many of the city’s old and beautiful trees cut down at this time in the name of city beautification, security and “development”. The Urban Development Authority of the city headed by the Defense Secretary has authorized destruction of “unauthorized structures” even as in other parts of the country land is being appropriated in the name of development.

What Sri Lanka needs at this time is people-centered development that promotes human security and reconciliation among diverse ethno-religious communities. Yet, the military footprint is heavy along the A-9 and armed personnel carry out various businesses which constitute mission and mandate creep, inappropriate for the military in a democracy such as Sri Lanka where there has never been such a precedent. At this time there needs to be rethinking and down-sizing of the military and other armed forces rather than the expansion of military businesses similar to the Pakistan or Indonesian military model. Such a precedent would impact negatively on the structure and culture of the Sri Lanka armed forces and tarnish their reputation in the long run. The excessive security for political figures and Ministers and the check point culture in Colombo is also costly and detrimental to the image of the armed forces, many of whom are increasingly uncomfortable with their new role of policing civilians in the absence of a clear terrorism threat. The militant model of post/conflict development may elicit a back-lash and make “terrorism” a self-fulfilling prophesy.

For proper economic development the remnants of the war economy that functioned on terror and taxation with those who carried guns extorting and taxing the population that was apparent in the north and east during the conflict years must be fully undone. Local private sector and entrepreneurs need to have the space to start their businesses and provide employment. Currently, though the A-9 is open public transport to and from Jaffna is not done by civilian or business community. Rather, the Air Force operates flights to Jaffna and the buses are controlled by a government allied Tamil politician who still has a paramilitary outfit. The High Security zones which in Jaffna occupy prime real estate in the centre of town as well as, prime agricultural land around Pallay need to be released for agricultural and urban renewal. Land appropriation for tourism development in the post/conflict zones in increasingly a feature of the current development push that would cause new conflicts and the return of old. The road constructed by the Navy through Willpattu national part for a proposed tourist resort on the northern border of the park at the behest of the all powerful Minister for Economic Development and Tourism, is a case in point. The practice of claiming prime lands for “high security zones” that morph into super-luxury tourism development projects, with little regard for the local populations who were displaced is apparent in other parts of the county, particularly the post/conflict zones where rent seeking behavior by some national and local politicians and associated crony capitalists is counter-productive to the government’s stated agenda of sustainable peace building through equitable development.

Learning from the Past: Ensuring Local Ownership of Development

Unless development is demilitarized in northeast “terrorism” may ironically become a self-fulfilling prophesy in post-conflict Sri Lanka, as Basque Anthropologist, Joseba Zulaika has noted in his perceptive book on how the international “terrorism discourse” post 9/11 has become a self-fulfilling prophesy. The current development trust, with emphasis on infra-structure and road is top down, rather than people-centric. Citizens have yet to see the peace dividend materialize, and funds spent on the war machinery may be diverted towards education and health sectors which suffered considerably in the conflict years. Post/conflict development must be done to defuse the old land and resource conflicts and forms of state-sponsored discrimination against minorities that were at the root of the 30 year old war in the north east. The right to development that was stymied when the Accelerated Mahaveli development scheme did not benefit the minority dominated Vanni regions is an example of the need to avoid skewed development and the reality and perception of discrimination in various forms.

The fruits of post-conflict development in Sri Lanka must accrue to local communities in the post-conflict zones and resource conflicts need to be addressed in a transparent manner to ensure that local communities benefit from development that enables reconciliation. This is particularly important for people who have been caught between, displaced and traumatized by the 30 years of war. In the context, post conflict reconstruction assistance provided by foreign donors must have good governance conditionalities and be conflict-sensitive. There must be provision to ensure transparent tracking, monitoring and evaluation of aid projects to ensure that funds reach their intended beneficiaries rather than politicians, paramilitaries, rent-seekers and crony capitalists that thrive in war economies and post/conflict scenarios.

In the medium term then, the following conflict transformation challenges are apparent:

1. Demilitarizing democracy and governance and actual implementation of the 13th amendment to the constitution, particularly in the north and east. This requires restoration of development and reconstruction decision making, planning and policy to civilian administrative structures in the north and east, while enabling capacity building of local government institutions and decision making in the provincial and district levels in post conflict regions.

2. Divesture of the High Security Zones to enable internally displaced people (IDPs) to return and settle in their villages and urban centres, as well as, disarming of the Tamil paramilitary groups linked to the state now that the LTTE threat no longer exists on the ground.

3. Dealing with the Tamil Diaspora since Diasporas often tend to be far more intransigent and unwilling to compromise than those who remained at home. Sinhala and Tamil ultra-nationalism is most visible at this time from the respective Diasporas, and there is an emerging disconnect between the Diaspora leaders and those in-country who wish to compromise and co-exist with “other” communities.

4. Doing development right by ensuring good governance, and balancing a political solution for the minorities with economic development for all. Demonstrating that win-win solution is possible and that the progress and development of the minorities need not be a loss for the majority community.

5. Restoring the Institutions that ensure accountability to the people such as the Bribery Commission and the Human Rights Commission which have become defunct on account of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, and setting up of a special mechanism for resolution of resources conflicts in the North and Eat.

6. International aid donors will need to co-ordinate and target their assistance to maximize assistance to the people. In the context the EU may wish to revisit its decision to revoke GSP Plus concessions that would hurt the business community and poor women in the garment sector, while IMF would need to be clear about its aid conditionality to ensure greater accountability from the State.

Sri Lanka as tourist destination is a rough diamond that could dazzle through skillful cutting

by S. Sivathasan

A billion leisure travellers girdling the globe and flushing national economies with a trillion dollars is what world tourism is about. This translates to 2.7 million tourist arrivals and an expenditure level of $3 billion each day in the host countries.

The first 10 of the wealthiest countries share 67% of world GDP.

Six among them are the topmost tourism spenders. They also enjoy the highest position in tourism receipts.

Six of the 10, account for the highest tourist arrivals as well.

Clearly, leisure is for the affluent and tourism is managed for the wealthy.

"This world is not for those who don’t have wealth", said a Tamil poet cryptically 2,000 years ago. States alive to modern developments vie for a share of the pie. Polities fearing a ravishing of their native culture opt to preserve its virgin serenity.

Material emasculation draws them in at a later date. Governments that were prudent and pragmatic have moved into enviable positions. Malaysia is a classic case in point.

Vision 2020

UNWTO has worked out its Vision 2020, providing realizable growth levels that are likely to be reached.

It is forecast that arrivals worldwide would be 1,560 million by that time. Thailand is estimated to get over 30 million and the South Asian region 19 million. In this region, India will have 8.9 million while Sri Lanka will get 1.4 million. These figures are neither a target nor a ceiling nor a quota. Taking the cue from the lacklustre performance of South Asia, the WTO is unable to pitch the figures higher. Any country of some mettle can blast through and record infinitely higher performance.

The massive expansion of world tourism that is forecast should inspire enthusiastic endeavour in any country that is earnest about development and promotion to garner a good share of tourism wealth.

If tourism cannot see expansion in Sri Lanka, in no part of the world can it be developed.

Such realization should be apparent when all the natural endowments are duly recognized.

As immense as the possibilities are also the responsibilities to be shouldered, the initiatives to be taken and the programmes to be executed.

The first essential is to change the image from a country in truce, to a nation at peace.

The whole country should be brought within the ambit of tourism development with all tourists having seamless access. The state should be the industry’s patron.

Programmes of development have to be undertaken by the industry with a comprehensive range of initiatives under state aegis.

A ‘rough diamond’ is the best description of Sri Lanka as a tourist destination. Skillful cutting should bring forth the dazzle.

At the touch of investment the surfeit of natural endowments can be turned into preferred tourist attractions.

The tourism product needs extensive diversification and a wide geographical spread to project the uniqueness of each of the attractions. Beautiful beaches and ever smiling faces, are worn out clichés. So is the fossilized idea of food festivals. A multiplicity of new creations appropriate for an ever changing touring public is needed.

To name a few, undersea world, night safari, wild life sanctuaries, elephant orphanages, botanical gardens, coastal cruising, boating in lagoons, boat houses, golf courses and a host of other attractions need to be developed anew. Literally the land should be littered with them.

Priority attractions are better known to the industry and investment priorities are best known to foreign investors.

Foreign direct investment

Having presented a coveted image of the country, the state and the industry have to jointly engage in developing an altogether new tourism product with novel features, unconventional attractions and enticing facilities.

Providing them all comprehensively at an accelerated pace, to make amends for the 27 year inter regnum from 1983 – 2010, is an insuperable task for indigenous investment. If the country thinks large, the product along with appurtenant facilities will require an investment of Rs.50 billion or more before 2020.

The hotel sector is by far the costliest investment area. Graded establishments of 3 to 5 star category are the preferred choice of discerning tourists. Availability in 2009 was 242 establishments with 14,461 rooms. They work out to 60 rooms per hotel.

A comparison may be drawn with Malaysia having 2,373 hotels with a room strength of 165,739. There is an average of 70 rooms per hotel. In 2009, Sri Lanka had around 40% occupancy with 10 nights stay duration. For such a pattern of stay, an additional room strength of 40,000 will be needed. An investment of Rs.300 billion at Rs.7.5 million per room may be needed. This would work out to an average of Rs.30 billion per year, for delivering hotel rooms, if tourist arrivals are targeted at 4 million by 2020. Thus the annual outlay on the product and accommodation would be in excess of Rs.35 billion.

One’s experience and judgment would show that an infusion of massive foreign capital is needed to launch Sri Lanka’s tourism into the trajectory of growth. Enclaves in Special Economic Zones (SEZ), holding out enticing long term fiscal incentives can make this proposition work. A Build Operate Transfer (BOT) mode can be attractive.

One hundred percent foreign direct investment needs to be permitted while encouraging foreign and indigenous partnership. Since infrastructure is necessarily the state’s contribution, the commitment of the state as undertaking this responsibility should be widely publicized.

This would transmit signals of the government’s faith in the viability and efficacy of Public Private Partnership (PPP). Investments in hotels and in the travel trade are complementary. The participants who are stakeholders should be major investors. It’s best for the industry for both foreigners and locals to join together.


Tourism statistics drive home certain truths. Some of the wealthiest countries are among the largest generating markets. It’s easily understandable. Bertrand Russel said, "to be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization".

Travel is seen by them as an intelligent way of filling their leisure. The wealthiest are leisured and they make intelligent choices. Their preference is for the best of environment and the best in aesthetic appeal whether of stone or of art. There was no seeming propensity for rusticity nor visitation of tribals or veddhas.

Germans were the highest spenders at $91 billion and fourth wealthiest in 2008. France had the largest tourist arrivals at 79 million. The US, first in GDP, earned the highest in tourism receipts with $ 110 billion. High end tourists reached for up market facilities and money’s worth. The moral is - to get a fair share of global prosperity, very rapid transformation from third world to first is imperative

Malaysia and Sri Lanka

In the early sixties of the last century, Malaysia and Sri Lanka had tourist arrivals of comparable magnitude, hovering around 20,000.

Sri Lanka increased her arrivals to 407,000 in 1982 which after many a vicissitude reached 448,000 in 2009. In that year, Malaysia had 23.6 million tourists. Independence in 1957 was followed by political consolidation in Malaysia. Half a century of peace and prosperity was the consequence and enviable tourism earnings a fallout.

Malaysia was alive to the need in prospecting for fresh avenues of wealth generation. Exponential development of international tourism was more than visible to many a country.

Malaysia had the discernment to realize the potential that tourism held out and the resolve to develop it. Proactive attitudes manifested in extensive state support for growth and expansion. The eighties saw a great fillip to tourism. Malaysia had the benefit of the vision and dynamism of Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, the Prime Minister for a quarter century.

He expressed his expansive horizon with unconventionally high targets, setting the pace for the managers of tourism. Ample budgetary resources buttressed the ambitious sights. Infernal spoilers – environmentalists – were kept in their place. He was perhaps the rarest head of government who commanded the confidence to have done so. On tourism issues, he exercised his authority like an Executive President. In 1993, even as the budget for the following year was being discussed, he announced a doubling of the promotion allocation.

Sri Lanka’s predicament was a study in contrast. Though war was a factor, it was urged as an extenuating argument quite inordinately. It was invoked to mask all the circumstances of default. Wider horizons, the verve to be decisive, imperviousness to the rustling of detractors, dissipation of negative and defensive attitudes of both private and public sectors and a proactive stance of liberal allocations by the government would have conduced to an altogether different picture.

From 1983, Sri Lanka placed her tourism sights low in the name of achievable ‘realistic’ targets. Once a foreigner told a Singaporean, you people want to be first in everything. Why don’t you settle down to second place and be relaxed? Came the reply from the Singaporean, why not settle down to third place and be more relaxed? Sri Lanka can teach any tourist how to relax.


For Sri Lanka to shine brightly upon the tourist map of the world, all circumstances exist. War apart, detractions were many. Expansive minds will think of sharing a bigger slice from a larger cake.

Sri Lankan tourism can achieve 4 million arrivals by 2020. Not even 1.4 million will be realized if hackneyed paths are not abandoned. Development is of the mind. "Our minds build cathedrals before the workmen have moved a stone"- said Prof. Whitehead.

Can there be unity without reconciliation or reconciliation without accountability in Sri Lanka ?

By Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

A year to the day, after the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lanka faces profound ongoing challenges in terms of establishing lasting peace, reconciliation and unity.

Demonstrable progress in these fields is essential in order for the country to move from the current post-war situation, where fractions and resentments remain, to one where there is a marked progress in these areas.

There must be a cultural shift, to one in which the country is able to celebrate pluralism and diversity and tolerate dissent.

This process should start with an honest and transparent attempt to address the issue of whether there can be unity without reconciliation and indeed reconciliation without accountability. It is clearly vital that the basic institutions and processes of democratic governance function. From the Rule of Law, to independent oversight institutions, and the uninhibited freedom of a vibrant independent media.

Human rights continue to be at the core of the challenges faced by the government –be they individual or collective rights. Peace, reconciliation and unity require; a political settlement of the ethnic conflict, the full restoration of IDP rights, and a reversal of the culture of impunity in respect of all human rights violations.

On the political front, a spate of elections were capped by the Presidential election in January and the General Election in April. Both national contests gave the incumbent President and his ruling coalition resounding mandates, however it should be noted that the former is being challenged in the courts, with the main challenger under arrest, and the latter was based on a historically low turn-out. Nevertheless, officially the Rajapaksha regime has a substantial mandate and with it the big responsibility of reconciling the peoples of Sri Lanka to ensure the peace is a lasting one.

Yet there are signs that the regime is intent on prioritising economic, rather than political, development as a panacea for unity and that it will look upon any emphasis on political rights, as being irrelevant at best and subversive at worst.

This focus on economic development, neglects the many problems facing Sri Lanka culturally, where there is still a long way to go. As a country which is still under emergency rule, its media is effectively suppressed by a number of repressive measures as well as self-censorship and the voluntary exile of journalists which is rife as a result of the persecution of journalists who openly criticise the government. In addition, there are no independent oversight commissions as provided for by the constitution operating freely in the country at present and the ideology of the regime continues to be populist and majoritarian, underpinned by a preoccupation with international conspiracies to effect regime change in Sri Lanka and arraign its leadership for war crimes.

The latter is especially sensitive and controversial. The extent of the regime’s concern can be measured by its swift and hostile reaction to the announcement by the UN Secretary General, that he was considering the appointment of a panel of experts to advise him on allegations of war crimes against both the LTTE and the security forces. This is an issue it clearly cannot dismiss or wish away as the international community and Tamil diaspora, including international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, are very vocal in highlighting the necessity for holding parties to account, before the country can move on.

In the current political climate in Sri Lanka, it is abundantly clear that without these efforts, there is the danger that the sources of conflict could be sustained or reproduced.

Sri Lanka is at a critical juncture in its history. It cannot miss this opportunity to reform both policy direction and political culture. The past cannot be forgotten, nor can there be policy founded upon selective memories of it. The prospect of additional violations occurring cannot be discounted in the absence of an unequivocal, demonstrable commitment, followed by effective action to reverse the culture of impunity. - courtesy: The Daily Telegraph -

Empowered by Arbour report, Tamils demonstrate at Ontario legislature

by Anthony Reinhart

Tamils returned by the hundreds to the heart of Canada’s largest city in a stark echo of demonstrations a year earlier, when Sri Lanka’s war with the separatist Tamil Tigers ground to a brutal conclusion.

They converged on the Ontario legislature on Tuesday evening to remember family and friends killed in the conflict, but this time, Toronto’s Tamils – the largest such group in the world outside Asia – came with more than flags and placards.

They came armed with a new report, by a group led by Canadian jurist Louise Arbour, that reiterated a point they made loudly to no effect during last year’s protests: that the Sri Lankan government deliberately killed thousands of civilians in the war’s final months.

Of course, the report from Ms. Arbour’s International Crisis Group also accused the Tigers – whose emblem Tamil-Canadians flew again on flags at Tuesday’s demonstration – of war crimes every bit as heinous.

Ms. Arbour has urged a United Nations-backed war-crimes investigation to get to the bottom of what happened as the 26-year conflict wound down, and said Canada should press the Sri Lankan government to comply at the threat of sanctions. The former chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals in the Balkans and Rwanda told The Globe and Mail that Sri Lanka’s future peace demands a full accounting of alleged atrocities on both sides.

Laudable as that sounds, another Canadian expert warned that a war-crimes investigation now is premature and could deepen the rift between Sri Lankans and the Tamil minority, thus prolonging Canada’s role as a platform for Tamil grievance.

“In an ideal world it would be a fine thing to do,” Wesley Wark, a University of Toronto professor who studies contemporary security issues, said of a war-crimes probe. “But in the real world, I’m not sure it would have the consequences that anybody would hope for.”

The Sri Lankan government, which celebrated its victory over the Tigers on its anniversary Monday, has yet to respond to the report, but has in the past flatly denied killing civilians. The regime’s unflinching defence of its counterinsurgency and its disdain for international scrutiny makes an outside probe all the more appropriate, the report argues.

Righteous as that sounds, Prof. Wark warned the effort could devolve, as it did when the UN looked into alleged Israeli crimes in Gaza, “into a political fight and an exchange of mutual, propagandistic views, with the truth getting more obscured at the end of the day.”

Canada, he said, should use quiet diplomacy with Sri Lanka over the next few years, during which stories of atrocities will no doubt surface to a point where they can no longer be ignored.

“The Sri Lankan government is not going to be able to put a lid on this; ultimately these stories are going to come out,” Prof. Wark said. “But the work is going to have to be done from within, and it’s only going to be successful if it’s done in a changing kind of political environment in Sri Lanka itself.” - courtesy: The Globe and Mail -

The challenge of reconciling Sinhala-Tamil interests and not positions

BY Charles Sarvan

“People tend to see what they want to see. Out of a mass of detailed information, they tend to pick out and focus on those facts that confirm their prior perceptions and to disregard or misinterpret those that call their perceptions into question.

Each side in a negotiation may see only the merits of its case, and only the faults of the other side’s. The ability to see the situation as the other side sees it [...] is one of the most important skills a negotiator can possess. It is not enough to know that they see things differently [...] you also need to understand empathetically the power of their point of view and to feel the emotional force with which they believe in it” - (Roger Fisher et al, ‘Getting to Yes’, Arrow Books, London, 1992, p. 23)

Fisher describes three different types of negotiation. In ‘soft negotiation’ the participant changes her or his position, and makes offers with the belief that the goal is agreement. However, such an attitude can leave one feeling exploited, taken advantage of, and bitter. In ‘hard negotiation’, participants are distrustful adversaries. The goal is victory, and negotiation becomes a contest of wills where one takes an extreme and inflexible position, “digs in” and makes threats. The third, ‘principled negotiation’ (developed at the Harvard Negotiation Project), seeks “to obtain what you are entitled to and still be decent” (p. xiv).

Among the aspects the book emphasises are the separation of individuals from the problem and, secondly, the focussing, not on the “position” overtly adopted but on (often unexpressed) “interests”. Human beings are creatures of strong emotion, emotions which become entangled with the objective merits of the problem. If others have deeply held values and convictions, remember: so do you (p. 19). The purpose of negotiation should not become one of scoring points, confirming negative impressions, and apportioning blame (ibid). Blaming others for the problem is counterproductive: attacked, the other side becomes defensive; being defensive, they counter-attack by counter-blaming. Rather than only defending your case, invite criticism, and be ready to seriously examine your own case (p. 116).

The challenge is to reconcile not “positions” but “interests”. In “interests”, Fisher includes not only underlying concerns and causes but also wishes – and fears. Positions cloud and distract from interests, from “each side’s needs, desires, concerns and fears” (p. 42). After the Six Day War of 1967, Israel occupied the whole of the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt’s “position” was that, after centuries of domination by Greece, Rome, Turkey, France and Britain, the Sinai was again Egyptian, and every inch should be returned. Though Israel’s “position” was that a part should remain under its control, the real “interest” (in this case, concern), was that Egyptian armour should not be right on its border, able to launch another sudden attack. By looking behind “position” to “interest”, a solution was found: Egypt would resume sovereignty but observe, in practice, a de-militarised zone.

Nadesan Satyendra, in his now discontinued site, lists Sinhalese “interests”, among them that Tamil Eelam will be a first step towards a pan-Tamil state including Tamil Naadu, and that Tamil Eelam will threaten the existence of the Sinhalese Buddhist nation. These concerns were seen as irrational or as mere excuses for rejection and continued ethnic domination: they were not taken seriously by Tamil leaders, discussed and fears allayed. As for the Tamil position, it changed with time and political-historical developments but the fundamental concern and wish, the “interest”, remained the same: justice and recognition, equality and dignity. What immediately follows is taken from my essay, Reign of Anomy (the title adapted from Soyinka’s Season of Anomy:

It is well to remind ourselves that when, in 1925-6, Mr S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, as leader of the Progressive National Party, set out the case for a federal political structure for Sri Lanka and made this the main plank of the political platform of his party, he received no support for it from the Tamils: see, K. M. P. De Silva, A History of Sri Lanka, p. 513. In the 1930s, the Jaffna Youth Congress rejected federalism and, what is more, persuaded almost all the leading schools in Jaffna to teach Sinhala as a compulsory subject. As A E Jayasuriya observed, “At a time when the Sinhalese were prepared to do without Sinhala, the battle for Sinhala and Tamil was fought by Tamil leaders” : see, D Nesiah, Tamil Nationalism, Marga Institute, Colombo, 2001, p. 12. In 1952, the Kankesuntharai parliamentary seat was contested by Chelvanayagam as a member of the Federal Party: he was comfortably defeated by a U.N.P. candidate. Even after the trauma of Standardisation (“racial” quota) in relation to University admission beginning in 1971, and the Draft Constitution of 1972, the All Ceylon Tamil Conference declared, “Our children and our children’s children should be able to say, with one voice, Lanka is our great motherland, and we are one people from shore to shore. We speak two noble languages, but with one voice” (Nesiah, p. 14).

Subsequent “positions” adopted (including the extreme one, somewhat similar to Moses in the Old Testament, vis-a-vis Pharaoh and bondage: “Let me people go”) obscured Tamil “interests”, that is, Tamil concerns, wishes and aspiration: a misunderstanding that has caused horrendous damage and terrible tragedy.

Criteria employed in negotiation must be objective, internationally accepted and independent of both sides. Groups should not insist on the principle of self-determination “as a fundamental right but deny its applicability to those on the other side” (p. 89) Here, a third-party, acceptable to both sides, could play a positive role. Attempts to dominate “threaten a relationship; principled negotiation protects it” (p. 86). The more standards of fairness are brought in, the better and more durable the “final package” will be (ibid). Those who are going to be affected must be involved in discussion, policy and process. Otherwise, they will not approve of the result (p. 27). “We” of the more powerful group, are going to figure out how to solve your problem (p. 28) - a problem created by us in the first place.

Fisher observes that, ultimately, conflict does not lie in some objective reality but in people’s minds (p. 23). Difference exists because it exists in the mind. In other words, the mind does not see an already existing difference – the mind creates the difference. Perhaps, this can be modified to read: What makes the difference is not difference per se (be it language, “race”, skin-colour and / or religion) but the value, importance, significance that we, human beings, attach to that difference. There’s many a “No” and “But” on the way to a mutually agreed, harmonious and happy, “Yes”, but result and reward make the effort worthwhile; indeed, imperative.

Why did it take so long to finish off Prabhakaran?

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

‘It’s fine. It is not "terrible" at all. It is anything but "terrible." ’- Mao Ze Dong (1927)

The hot war on Lankan soil is over; the Cold War against Sri Lanka continues. The International Crisis Group (ICG) report calling for an international investigation into so-called ‘atrocities’ committed in the main by Sri Lankan armed forces in the last phase of the conflict by allegedly killing tens of thousands of civilians through shelling and bombing, is an onslaught in that Cold war. It is also an escalation of the worldwide ‘battle of interpretations’ on the war we won a year ago.

Inasmuch as it is an occasion for propaganda and demonstrations externally against Sri Lanka, our armed forces and the sentiments of the vast majority of Sri Lankan citizens, a demonstrative signal must be given by a resounding national endorsement of the victory. It is a pity that such a unified, bi-partisan national signal is weakened both by an entrenched, unpatriotic Opposition leadership and the authorities’ grotesque, counterproductive ‘overkill’ in the handling of contradictions with the former Army commander.

Mao’s early, career-launching essay investigating the peasant movement in the Hunan, has a segment with the intriguing subheading "It’s Fine or It’s Terrible". He meant that opinion was divided between those who thought the violent peasant uprising in the Hunan was ‘a fine thing’ and those who thought it was ‘terrible’ or ‘went too far’. (Mao emphasised that all progressives should be of the view that it was fine). On V Day, Sri Lankan and world opinion is divided between those who think that the Final War and its outcome - especially the climactic last battle at Nandikadal — was "fine" and those who think it was "terrible". I think it was "fine".

The event we seek to celebrate restored the basic sense of safety, security, and it must be said, self –respect, of the vast majority of Sri Lankan citizens of all ethnicities and religions.

Does the possibility or even likelihood that horrors took place in the prosecution of a just war, alter the fundamentally just character of that war? Not unless the firebombing of Dresden and the atomic devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki make the Allied campaign for the elimination of the fascist Axis powers, an unjust war. Of course, the just character of the war does not make these attacks less morally abhorrent.

The end of the conflict was bloody, but what did one expect? With their obduracy and exaggerated sense of influence in the outside world, the Tigers did not surrender or let their people go. With the widely advertised prospect of their external support and chances for external re-grouping, they had to be uprooted. With their accumulated crimes and atrocities, the sword of justice and retribution had to complete its downward swing and heavy fall. Those who sought to obstruct it were guilty of seeking unwittingly to prolong the conflict.

External pressure to terminate the conflict short of victory, leaving the enemy leadership intact, in fact drove a determined state and nation to end the conflict decisively by terminating the enemy. The state had to balance between outrunning interference and intervention on the part of those who sought to use Sri Lanka as a test case for elastic versions of the ‘protection doctrine’ and the need to reduce intensity of operations due to electoral compulsions next door. The specific timing and intensity of the final surge was of course due to external determinants, given that a window could have begun to close if an election in the neighbourhood had gone differently. It was a risk that could not be taken.

Could the war have ended differently? Yes, but the difference could have been for better or worse. An external intervention to prevent final victory would have led to carnage as the Indian intervention of 1987 brought in its wake, not only the laudable Indo Lanka accord with its enlightened Preamble, but also boosted a simmering Southern insurgency into a civil war which left tens of thousands dead.

Does the rather dismal aftermath of the war validate the antiwar camp or those who wanted a ‘diplomatic endgame’? Not unless the onset of the Cold War, in the aftermath of WWII, renders the strategy of broad alliance against Nazi fascism and total war against it, wrong.

Are these analogies false because what we had here was a civil war and should eschew all celebration, adopting instead an air of collective mourning because all who died were our citizens? Not if one is aware that in December 1865, the Union armies staged a massive parade with the Capitol as a backdrop, in commemoration of the first anniversary of victory in the US Civil War against the Secessionist confederacy; a celebration billed as an effort to ‘raise the morale of a war-weary nation’. It would not have warmed the hearts of the populace in the Southern states through which the Union armies marched to the sea, adopting scorched earth tactics on the way.
Thus the war was inevitable, defensive, waged by a legitimate authority (a recognised state, with an elected government) against an illegal and illegitimate enemy which had repeatedly returned to war despite the availability of space for negotiations and reforms, of alternatives to war. In short, it was a just war in its essential character (Augustine), though perhaps not entirely in its methods (Aquinas) of occasional ‘Battle of Algiers’ urban counterterrorism.

A Sunday columnist, a Trotskyite professor who claims that "actually [Gen Vo Nguyen] Giap did not win a single major battle against a vastly superior enemy" – thus exhibiting his awesome ignorance of the historic triumph over French colonialism at Dien Bien Phu in ’54, which set the stage for Bandung — raises the question as to "where Vellupillai Prabaharan stands as a military-political leader on the world stage" if one used the criteria of Sun Tzu!

Prabhakaran’s standing "on the world stage", as distinct from the South Asian region, is not as a politico-military leader but as a terrorist: the man who ordered the assassination of Nehru’s grandson; was responsible for the murder of leaders of two countries; pioneered the suicide vest; fielded more suicide bombers than all Islamist groups put together and was named in the special Millennium magazine supplement of The Times (UK) devoted to the theme of Death, as the man personally responsible for the most number of violent deaths on the planet. As for "military–political leadership on the world stage", he could neither retain Jaffna in 1995 nor re-take it in 2000, let alone liberate the North and East of a small island after over quarter century in combat, while in slightly less time Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance had forced the Israelis out twice. Of course Giap had beaten the Japanese, French, and Americans in thirty years, Mao had liberated the world’s most populous nation in twenty, and Fidel had liberated his long large island in roughly two.

Why then did it take so long to finish Prabhakaran off? I would submit it was because of the politico-strategic failures of successive Sri Lankan leaderships in wartime, up until Mahinda Rajapaksa got the fundamentals right. All previous political leaders fought hard enough to successfully deny victory to Prabhakaran, but they never retained the strategic initiative — and thus let him dominate and determine the course of events.

Had JR Jayewardene used his unprecedented 5/6ths majority in parliament and his executive powers as president to fulfil his election pledge, summon an all party roundtable conference and resolve the Tamil grievances he had identified in his winning manifesto of 1977, and had his party barons not turned the 1981 DDC elections in Jaffna into a violent farce, the urban guerrilla war would not have gathered ground and momentum. Had Cabinet Minister Cyril Mathew been prohibited from widely disseminating racist literature through official channels and make inflammatory speeches thereby contributing to the outbreak of anti-Tamil riots of July 1983, had these riots not taken place or had JR cracked down on it sooner and harder (which he was arguably unable to do, owing to the mono-ethnic nature of the army), the Tigers would not have emerged dominant among the Tamils, a great many of whom were looking for a military instrument of revenge for the humiliation they had unjustly suffered.

Had JR Jayewardene not wrecked his country’s nonaligned foreign policy and friendship with India, the Sri Lankan army would not have been prevented by India from prosecuting the offensive on Jaffna (Operation Liberation) in 1987, and the war would have been won.

Had JRJ not shut off the safety valves by holding a referendum instead of the scheduled parliamentary elections, and had he not unjustly banned the JVP on trumped up charges of participating in the July 1983 anti-Tamil attacks, he would not have had a second southern insurrection at the time of the indo-Lanka accord, thwarting or retarding the implementation of devolution. In that event, with devolution implemented to the agreed extent and on schedule, the IPKF could have gone flat out, and won the war.

Had Premadasa followed up his twin achievements in overcoming JRJ’s legacy — defeating the JVP insurrection (which was already taking targets in the city while shutting it down repeatedly) and restoring sovereignty by sending off 70,000 Indian troops from Sri Lankan soil — with a third achievement, bringing his forceful personality and management skills to bear as Commander-in-Chief in full support of his appointees Generals Kobbekaduwe and Wimalaratne in a determined quest to win, instead of attempting to be ‘non interfering’, ‘above the fray’ and ‘letting the professionals handle it’ while hoping for the Tigers to negotiate or implode, he and we would be living today in a more developed, modern, egalitarian, pluralist Sri Lanka as full partner of the Asian economic miracle.

Had DB Wijetunga agreed to the military’s plan articulated by ‘Lucky’ Algama, of a Jaffna offensive, instead of inquiring whether it will cause casualties, the war could have been shortened.

Had Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga viewed her electoral victory accurately as not solely a massive mandate for peace but also the result of the LTTE’s serial decapitation of the UNP; had she prudently picked the 13th amendment (which as India Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao just recently reiterated, is the ‘fulcrum’ of provincial autonomy) or the Mangala Moonesinghe proposals (which Madam Bandaranaike had signed off on) as the start-line, and not overshot the mark and wasted time and political capital on a federalising ‘union of regions’ package; had she presented the more moderate August 2000 draft in 1995; had she settled upon Devananda and Siddharthan as her Tamil political partners instead of pursuing the mirage of a negotiated peace with the Tigers right through to 2005; had she as commander-in-chief, ordered the Tigers to be encircled and destroyed in the liberation of Jaffna (Operation Riviresa) instead of letting them escape with the civilians into the Wanni; had she used her courageous cousin Anuruddha Ratwatte in the role President Rajapaksa deployed his brother Gotabhaya; had she not patronised and encouraged the Sudu Nelum antiwar movement which conducted pacifist propaganda in the Sinhala areas while the war was raging – thereby hampering morale and military recruitment; had she given full command and free rein to the best professionals such as Sandhurst-trained General Gerry de Silva instead of the mediocre General Daluwatte; had she not squandered the opportunity of rousing global sympathy for Sri Lanka’s war and against the Tigers immediately after their suicide attack which blinded her in one eye and instead switched on the Norwegian peace track; had she not picked Norway, with its obvious Tamil Diaspora instead of Japan (which neither a Tamil lobby nor granted the state any military aid); had she not wasted the opportunity for a full on counter-offensive with the rapid induction of airpower, presented by her own sterling defence of Jaffna in 2000 after the fall of Elephant Pass; had she not delayed in authorising the LRRP deep penetration raids on the Tiger command structure until after the Katunayake attack; had she not turned her back on the possibilities opened up by the US ‘global war on terror’ by making key speeches in London and Delhi proclaiming that ‘terrorism cannot be defeated by military means’ (which Mahinda Rajapakse has given the lie to); had she not sabotaged the Karuna rebellion by permitting the LTTE to pass through the Sri Lankan naval cordon and land in the rear of the Karuna rebel forces; had she not marginalised Lakshman Kadirgamar and negotiated a post tsunami joint mechanism with the LRRP/DPU and tsunami-weakened LTTE which gave them equal representation with the legitimate state in its top tier and a 5:3 advantage in its vital middle tier, with a headquarters located in the Tiger controlled Wanni – then she could have won the war, implemented a reasonable autonomy arrangement and constructed a progressive pluralist society.

Had Ranil Wickremesinghe not abjectly signed an asymmetrical CFA which did not reflect the actual balance of power between the Sri Lankan state and an LTTE which had begun to be weakened by the first LRRP hits on its command structure (‘Lt Col’ Shanker being killed in Sept 2001); had he not agreed to disarm the anti-Tiger Tamil groups without mentioning the issue of decommissioning under international auspices of Tiger weapons; had he not been a model of supine appeasement and responded resolutely to Tiger abductions and killings of Police and army personnel even in the city and suburbs of Colombo; had he not undermined the morale of his military by the Athurugiriya DMI ‘safe house’ raid and the ensuing interrogations, the dispute with the Jaffna army chief over the HSZs, the intervention in which a Tiger ship was allowed to go unscathed from a Sri Lankan navy ambush; had he not allowed free passage for sophisticated electronic communications equipment for the Tigers, not to mention the broadcast of Prabhakaran’s warmongering ‘Mahaveera’ speeches through the Rupavahini; had he used his ‘American connection’ to present Sri Lanka as a frontline in the global war on terror instead of providing an excuse for the Tigers in Washington to the effect that military means should be used against ‘international terrorists’ and not the Tigers (who were manifestly no longer ‘national’ when they blew up Rajiv Gandhi); had he used his supposed international connections to strengthen the Sri Lankan military or secured a public Western commitment so that either could have served as a deterrent to the Tigers – then perhaps the inflation of Tiger territory, power and ego would not have taken place to the extent that they planned and for and publicly proclaimed the imminence of ‘The Final War’ (HRW Dec 2005).

Sinhala nationalism with its fundamentalist fringe, was the default option of the majority of citizens in the face of the combination of (a) the existential threat posed by Tiger dominance and aggression and (b) the vacuum created by the irresponsibility, failure or incomplete and inadequate success of more pluralist, moderate leaderships in the core tasks of liberating the citizenry from terrorism and unifying the island under the standard of a single, sovereign State.

Does the absence or delay of a just peace retrospectively delegitimize a just war, and does a just war preclude the prospective struggle for a just peace? I think not.

Did you concur Mr Defence Secretary with the decision to bulldoze LTTE cemeteries?

An open letter to the Defence Secretary from an ordinary citizen

by Anne Abayasekara

It is with dismay that I read the news report on the front page of The Island of Thursday, May 6th, titled’ ‘TRAITORS SHOULD BE GIVEN CAPITAL PUNISHMENT’, with an inset that ‘Defence Secretary Rajapaksa says the LTTE rump is exploring every avenue to avenge Prabhakaran’s killing on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon last May’.

According to that report, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya says anyone seeking to undermine Sri Lanka’s sovereignty should be regarded as a traitor. It will be a grave blunder on the government’s part for the so-called international community to interfere in Sri Lanka, he says.

The Defence Secretary says that any Sri Lankan promoting an agenda that is detrimental to the country is nothing but a traitor who should be ready to face the consequences…….. traitors deserved capital punishment and no one should shed crocodile tears over them."

If he will pardon my saying so, too often, the Defence Secretary seems to speak impulsively not calmly issuing reasoned and well-balanced pronouncements. Some of us ordinary citizens are often left to wonder and feel perturbed at the attitudes that are promoted.

All of us are mindful of the debt we owe the President and his brother the Defence Secretary, and even more to the former Army Commander, Gen. Sarath Fonseka and his men, for bringing the long drawn-out and ruinous war to an end.

We can understand – even if we don’t go along with it – the triumphalism that prevailed when victory was finally wrested from the LTTE. But is it necessary to demonise the enemy?

A Palestinian peace-maker named Ali Abu Awward observed, in the course of a meeting of 135 Israeli and Palestinian artistes to express the benefits of reconciliation, "Everybody wants to see the other side as a devil, to excuse their own behaviour against him, because if we saw him as a human there is a payment, there is a price, and nobody wants to pay the price".

Thankfully, the war is over.

Now is the time for genuine moves towards peace and reconciliation and efforts to bridge the polarization that has taken place between Tamil-speaking and Sinhala-speaking Sri Lankans. Constant fulminations against possible attempts on the part of unnamed, nebulous sources abroad, and against any group or individual who is at all critical of the government may seem like red herrings to distract the people from the realities of our situation here, notably the rising COL, now that the elections are over.

It is the talk of ‘Patriots’ and ‘Traitors’, of "those who are for us or against us," that troubles me.

The definition and wide interpretation of the term ‘traitor’ seems to emanate from a few strident voices and since the popular feeling is that these voices have the backing of the government, a fear psychosis which began quite some time ago, has almost paralysed thinking people to the extent that they fear to raise a moderate tone and a reasoned criticism of any sort, publicly.

The handful of courageous journalists and writers who still dare to speak out openly and honestly, have sometimes deplored "the silence of the good people". That silence indicates that most people feel cowed and they will not risk any public utterance that might be interpreted by the powers-that-be and their supporters as treasonable.

Increasingly, the impression created is that the government will not allow any dissent and that we must all be ‘yes’ men and women and forever hold our tongues – whatever the provocation – if we wish to survive in the present climate.

There are many things that raise concern and at risk of being called a traitor. I’d like to ask the Defence Secretary a question regarding one such issue that disturbs me. It’s about those cemeteries in the North where the LTTE honoured their dead.

Did you concur, Mr. Defence Secretary, with the decision to bulldoze those LTTE cemeteries?

I visited Gettysburg in 2008 and I was more than ever moved to admiration of that great US President and rare human being, Abraham Lincoln, when I saw how the graves and monuments of the Confederate dead had been allowed to remain side by side in the hallowed ground which also bears testimony to those of the Union Army who perished in battle.

"Hatred cannot be overcome by hatred," said the Buddha. We can do no better at this point in time than to enshrine in our hearts the concluding sentences of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural speech: "With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

May 18, 2010

President appoints Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission

Source: Government of Sri Lanka

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has appointed the eight member 'Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation' Commission to report on the lessons to be learnt from the events in the period, Feb 2002 to May 2009, their attendant concerns and to recommend measures to ensure that there will be no recurrence of such a situation.

The Commission has been charged with reporting whether any person, group or institution directly or indirectly bears responsibility in this regard.

It is also charged with reporting on measures to be taken to prevent the recurrence of such concerns in the future and promote further national unity and reconciliation among all communities.

The appointment of this Commission follows cabinet approval to a memorandum by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It states that it has been apparent for quite some time to the Government, that the conflict situation due to the very brutality and long duration of the violence perpetrated against Sri Lanka, would have caused great hurt and anguish in the minds of the people, that requires endeavours for rehabilitation and the restoration of democratic governance complimented by measures for reconciliation.

The cabinet noted that the President had sanctioned Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative in the UN to mention in his remarks at the UN Security Council Interactive Briefing on 5th June 2009 that the Government was in the process of initiating a domestic mechanism for fact finding and reconciliation. This statement stemmed from the Government's commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, as consistently articulated and affirmed by Sri Lanka at Sessions of the Human Rights Council. The President informed the cabinet that in order to accomplish this task it has become necessary to set in motion a mechanism which will provide a historic bridge between the past of a society characterized by inflicted strife and a future society founded on the continued recognition of democracy and peaceful co-existence and the affording of equal opportunities for all Sri Lankans as guaranteed by the Constitution.

The President informed the cabinet that the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation has been influenced in part by the South African experience and the Iraq Inquiry of the UK.

The Commissioners appointed under provisions of Section 2 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act (Chapter 393) are,

Chitta Ranjan de Silva Esquire, PC - Chairman

Dr. Amrith Rohan Perera Esquire, PC

Prof. Mohamed Thahir Mohamed Jiffry Esquire

Prof. Karunaratna Hangawatta Eq

Chandirapal Chanmugam Esq

Hewa Mathara Gamage Siripala Palihakkara Esq

Mrs. Manohari Ramanathan

Maxwell Parakrama Paranagama Esq

They have been asked to report back to the President within six months from the date of appointment – 15th May, 2010.

Following is the text of the Warrant issued by President Mahinda Rajapaksa:

WHEREAS I am of the opinion that an opportune moment has arrived to reflect on the conflict phase and the sufferings the country has gone through as a whole and having regard to the common aspirations of all we have collectively resolved that our people are assured an era of peace, harmony and prosperity;

WHEREAS It has become necessary that while we as an independent and proud nation of multi-ethnic polity undertake a journey of common goals in a spirit of co-operation, partnership and friendship we also learn from this recent history lessons that would ensure that there will be no recurrence of any internecine conflict in the future;

WHEREAS I am of the opinion that it is in the interest of public welfare, to appoint a Commission of Inquiry for the purposes hereinafter mentioned;

NOW THEREFORE I, Mahinda Rajapaksa, President, reposing great trust and confidence in your prudence, ability, independence and fidelity, do, in pursuance of the provisions of Section 2 of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Chapter 393), by these presents, appoint you, the said;

1. Chitta Ranjan de Silva Esquire, PC

2. Dr. Amrith Rohan Perera Esquire, PC

3. Prof. Mohamed Thahir Mohamed Jiffry Esquire

4. Prof. Karunaratna Hangawatta Eq

5. Chandirapal Chanmugam Esq

6. Hewa Mathara Gamage Siripala Palihakkara Esq

7. Mrs. Manohari Ramanathan

8. Maxwell Parakrama Paranagama Esq

To be my Commissioners, to inquire and report on the following matters that may have taken place during the period between 21st February 2002 and 19th May 2009, namely;

i. the facts and circumstances which led to the failure of the ceasefire agreement operationalized on 21st February 2002 and the sequence of events that followed thereafter up to the 19th of May 2009;

ii. whether any person, group, or institution directly or indirectly bear responsibility in this regard;

iii. the lessons we would learn from those events and their attendant concerns, in order to ensure that there will be no recurrence;

iv. the methodology whereby restitution to any person affected by those events or their dependents or to heirs, can be effected;

v. the institutional administrative and legislative measures which need to be taken in order to prevent any recurrence of such concerns in the future, and to promote further national unity and reconciliation among all communities, and to make any such other recommendations with reference to any of the matters that have been inquired into under the terms of this Warrant

AND I do hereby appoint you the said Chittaranjan de Silva Esq, President's Counsel and retired Attorney General to be the Chairman of the said Commission;

AND I do hereby authorize and empower you the said Commissioners, to hold all such inquiries and to make all such investigations into the aforesaid matters as may appear to you to be necessary, and require you to transmit to me within six months of the date hereof, a report thereon under your hand, setting of the finding of requires and your recommendations relating thereto;

And I do hereby direct that such part of any inquiry relating to the aforesaid matters as you may in your discretion determine, shall not be held in public,

And I do hereby require and direct all Public Officers and other persons to whom you may apply for such assistance or information for the purpose of your inquiries or investigations, to render all such assistance and furnish all such information as may be properly rendered and furnished in that behalf;

And I do hereby declare that the provisions of Section 14 of the Commissions Inquiry Act (Chapter 393) shall apply to the Commission;

GIVEN at Colombo, under the seal of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, this 15th day of May two thousand and ten

Following is a brief background of the Commissioners:

Mr. C. R. de Silva PC, Chairman, is a former Attorney General and Solicitor General of Sri Lanka. He was a Member of the Council of Legal Education, and of the Law Commission of Sri Lanka. He was called to the Bar in 1974, worked in the chambers of several prominent lawyers of the private Bar before joining the Attorney Genera's Department in 1975. He took "silk" as a President's Counsel in 1997.

He has been a member of the Sri Lanka delegation to many international bodies including the Afro-Asian Legal Consultative Committee, UN Human Rights Council, UN Human Rights Committee, UN Convention against Torture Committee and the UN Committee for the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Dr. Rohan Perera PC, was Legal Advisor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was elected as the Sri Lanka candidate to the International Law Commission, by the UN General Assembly in New York securing one of the seven seats allocated to the Asian region.

The International Law Commission was established in 1949 by the General Assembly and entrusted with codification and progressive development of international law.

Dr. Perera has served for over thirty years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, initially as assistant Legal Advisor and thereafter, as a legal advisor and is also was chairman of the UN ad-hoc Committee on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism which concluded the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. This Committee has been negotiating a comprehensive Convention on Terrorism.

He also served as a member of the group of legal advisors and constitutional experts appointed by the President to advice the All Party Representatives Committee on a constitutional reform to resolve the issues relating to ensuring ethnic unity in Sri Lanka.

Prof. Karunaratne Hangawatte, currently professor of criminal justice in the State of Nevada's premier university in Las Vegas, has undertaken extensive research on global terrorism that has qualified him to teach a course on terrorism in the criminal justice department.

Dr. Karu Hangawatte received his LL.B. from the University of Ceylon, Colombo, in 1970 and his Ph.D. (with distinction) in criminal justice in 1984 from the State University of New York at Albany. He is an attorney-at-law of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. His areas of interest include law and society, criminal law and procedure, constitutional law, legal method and process, terrorism and political violence, and the administration of criminal justice. He has been an assistant secretary of justice in Sri Lanka.

He was one of the experts who worked on the United Nations declaration on the victims of crime and abuse of power and violation of human rights, which covered the cold war era. The UN adopted this declaration in 1985.During the time he was in Sri Lanka Hangawatte occupied a position in the legal research section in the Ministry of Justice and later as assistant secretary of the same ministry. He has also received several teaching awards at UNLV.

Mr. HMGS Palihakkara, was former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations. He has served on the Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters. He retired as the Foreign Secretary of Sri Lanka in December 2006 after 38 years of civil and diplomatic service.

Since the 1990s, he has served on a number of assignments to the United Nations in Geneva and New York, covering work related to the General Assembly's First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), and later the Conference on Disarmament, as well as on human rights, humanitarian and economic and social affairs. He either led or participated as a member of Sri Lanka's delegation in several peace and security/disarmament-related conferences and meetings, including the 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

He served as Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the United Nations and head of delegation to the Conference on Disarmament from 1997 to 2000. After his work in Geneva, he was appointed Ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic and Viet Nam, and from 2000 to 2004 served as his country's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

Mr. Palihakkara served as Acting Director-General and Deputy Director-General of Sri Lanka's Peace Secretariat (SCOPP), which serviced the Norwegian-facilitated peace talks (2002) and subsequent ceasefire (2003). Among other positions, during the mid-1990s, he was Director-General of Multilateral Affairs at Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry, covering work related to preventive diplomacy, peace-building, arms control and non-proliferation.

Holding a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, Mr. Palihakkara entered his country's foreign service in 1979. His foreign affairs training took place in Australia in 1980, and he followed up his studies in international human rights and humanitarian law at the Raul Wallenberg Institute, University of Lund, Sweden.

Professor M T M Jiffry, is Vice Chairman of the University Grants Commission, Senior Professor of Physiology -University of Sri Jayewardenepura, an Examiner of the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine, and former President, Health Informatics Society of Sri Lanka. He has been active in the building of inter-ethnic understanding and has been engaged in the advance of education in Sri Lanka to serve the needs of all communities.

Mr. C. Chanmugam is former Secretary to the Treasury and former member of the Monetary Board of Sri Lanka. He was also Chairman of the Board of Directors of Fitch Ratings Sri Lanka. An Associate of the Royal Institute of Chemistry, Mr. Chanmugam has held many positions of distinction in Sri Lanka and abroad.

He was the Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies, Sri Lanka. A former Advisor to the Ministry of Finance and Planning, was also e Secretary to the Ministry of Finance and Planning; the Alternate Governor to the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank (1987-88). In Sri Lanka, he was also Chairman, Foreign Investment and Advisory Committee and the Controller of Tea, Rubber and Coconut industries.

Mrs. Mano Ramanathan, had a long and distinguished career in the legal profession where she rose to be the Deputy Legal Draughtsman. She has been active in the reform of law to strengthen the rights of women and children, as has been associated with work involving women's empowerment. She is the wife of the late Justice P. Ramanathan.

Mr. Maxwell Paranagama, a former High Court Judge had a distinguished career in the legal profession before elevation to the bench of the High Court.

‘Government’s security forces were engaged in a humanitarian operation’-Sri Lankan HC-UK tells Channel 4 News

“All internationally accepted standards and norms of [such] operations were followed in the prosecution of the humanitarian operation by the security forces which were under strict orders to follow a zero civilian casualty policy,” said the Sri Lankan High Commission in London in a statement.

The High Commission of Sri Lanka was responding to a new London’s Channel 4 News bulletin of ‘dramatic new evidence’ on alleged ‘war crimes’ by Sri Lankan Armed Forces.

Full report from Channel 4 as follows:

Channel 4 News: Sri Lanka Tamil killings 'ordered from the top'

By Jonathan Miller

Exclusive: a senior Sri Lankan army commander and frontline soldier tell Channel 4 News that point-blank executions of Tamils at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war were carried out under orders.

In August 2009 Channel 4 News obtained video evidence, later authenticated by the United Nations, purporting to show point-blank executions of Tamils by uniformed Sri Lankan soldiers.

Now a senior army commander and a frontline soldier have told Channel 4 News that such killings were indeed ordered from the top.

One frontline soldier said: "Yes, our commander ordered us to kill everyone. We killed everyone."

And senior Sri Lankan army commander said: "Definitely, the order would have been to kill everybody and finish them off.

"I don't think we wanted to keep any hardcore elements, so they were done away with. It is clear that such orders were, in fact, received from the top."

Despite allegations of war crimes, Sri Lanka's government has managed to avoid an independent inquiry. But the evidence continues to mount.

'Body blows to humanitarian law'

So decisive was Sri Lanka's victory over the Tamil Tigers last year that other nations facing violent insurgencies are now citing the "Sri Lanka option" as a model for crushing rebellion, writes Channel 4 News foreign reporter Jonathan Miller.

International lawyers, human rights and conflict prevention groups are alarmed, accusing the Colombo government of riding roughshod over international law.

Last night Louise Arbour, a former chief prosecutor in international war crimes trials, told an audience at Chatham House – the foreign policy think tank – that "the [Sri Lankan] government's refusal to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants" and the "sheer magnitude of civilian death and suffering" dealt what she called "the most serious of body blows to international humanitarian law".

Now, the International Crisis Group, of which Ms Arbour is the president, has joined forces with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to demand an independent international investigation into what they brand "massive human rights violations" and
"repeated violations of international law" – by both sides.

The Sri Lankan government has repeatedly rejected the charges of civilian deaths as grossly exaggerated and has denied that any of its security forces have committed war crimes or violated international humanitarian law.
Tonight Ms Arbour will appear live on Channel 4 News to outline options available to the international community to prevent the "Sri Lanka option" gaining currency. A new ICG report entitled War Crimes in Sri Lanka defines this option as "unrestrained military action, refusal to negotiate, disregard for humanitarian issues, keeping out international observers including press and humanitarian workers".

Ms Arbour will also be responding to dramatic new evidence contained in a film we will be broadcasting tonight. The fresh evidence, detailing extremely serious allegations of possible war crimes, has been gathered in an extended undercover investigation in Sri Lanka. Testimony from soldiers interviewed by Channel 4 News corroborates persistent allegations aired by this programme since the end of the war a year ago.

Chief among these: the accusation that Sri Lankan soldiers were responsible for extrajudicial executions - as graphically illustrated by the disturbing video we aired last August. The video – long dismissed as a fake by the government in Colombo – was authenticated by the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions in January this year.

The clamour from international rights groups for an impartial investigation into alleged atrocities contrasts sharply with the failure of the UN to demand accountability from the Sri Lankan government. Last year, the Sri Lankan president promised the UN Secretary General that he would look into the question of accountability.

On Monday President Mahinda Rajapaksa named an eight-member panel to glean lessons learned from the war. But members of the group say they have no legal power to investigate alleged abuses. "If this is 'it'," Louise Arbour said last night, "there's no reason to expect from the government's past record that it's got any intention to investigate or put in place an appropriate accountability mechanism."

The UN Human Rights Council seems to provide little hope of investigating war crimes, having congratulated the Sri Lankan government on its victory, within days of the war ending.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council holds out no hope at all. The Sri Lankan issue has failed to force its way onto the UNSC agenda – and were it to do so, China and Russia would likely stand in the way of any unlikely referral to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The secretary general has also so far failed to appoint international experts to investigate – as he's previously promised he might. Amnesty and the ICG have taken the UN to task for its failure to act decisively to push for accountability. Crisis Group went so far as to recommend that the UN should open an inquiry into its own conduct in Sri Lanka. Last night Louise Arbour – herself a former UN human rights commissioner – talked of the UN's "silence – verging on complicity" with the Rajapaksa regime.

In January 2009, as the final chapter opened in the 30-year-long Sri Lankan civil war, I was in Gaza, picking over the humanitarian disaster left after Israel's three-week war there. Between 1,200 and 1,400 civilians were killed during the aerial bombardments and subsequent ground offensive. In the final weeks of the Sri Lankan government offensive on the "no-fire zone", Ms Arbour believes a figure of 30,000 civilian deaths "is not implausible".

Within months of the Gaza conflict, the UN Human Rights Council had dispatched Judge Richard Goldstone to investigate possible war crimes. He produced a damning report.

There has been no investigation in Sri Lanka. Local journalists who've raised their heads above the parapet have been jailed or disappeared or killed. The UN has done nothing concrete in moving towards an impartial inquiry. There has been no Goldstone in Colombo. Even the UN rapporteur for extrajudicial executions has been denied a visa for the past four years.

You can kind of see why the "Sri Lankan Option" might just catch on.

A statement from the Sri Lankan high commission

The High Commission of Sri Lanka in the United Kingdom totally deny the allegations made against the Government of Sri Lanka and its armed forces. As it has been repeatedly stressed and supported by evidence, Government’s security forces were engaged in a humanitarian operation with the objective of rescuing the civilians held as human shields by a terrorist outfit: the LTTE, which was banned in many countries including the UK. All internationally accepted standards and norms of such operations were followed in the prosecution of the humanitarian operation by the security forces which were under strict orders to follow a zero civilian casualty policy.

The government of Sri Lanka is now in the process of rebuilding and reconciliation. The President of Sri Lanka has established the "Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission" of eight eminent persons reflecting all ethnic groups in Sri Lanka to inquire and report institutional administrative and legislative measures which need to be taken in order to prevent any recurrence of such concerns in the future, and to promote further national unity and reconciliation among all communities.

This High Commission is not in a position to make comments on specific allegations said to have been made in the video without viewing it. Therefore, we appreciate it if you could forward the said video to the High Commission for viewing and for verifying its authenticity prior to the telecast.

High Commission of Sri Lanka
The United Kingdom
18 May 2010

Interview with Ambassador Palitha Kohana

Interview with Ms. Louise Arbor

Courtesy: Channel 4 News, UK

Heavy monsoon rains cause widespread flooding, death, displacement and event cancellation

By IRIN News

Heavy flooding across parts of western and southern Sri Lanka has affected almost 200,000 people, the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) told IRIN.

At least three people are now confirmed dead, with three more missing.

"It is a very tough situation for us,” Pradeep Kodippily, the DMC’s assistant director, said in Colombo. “We are doing assessments. The water levels vary between affected districts.”

For four days, heavy monsoon rains have resulted in flash floods, high winds, landslides, lightning and thunder storms in Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Ratnapura, Kegalle and Galle.

The floods forced the government to cancel celebrations to mark the first anniversary of the army's victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil (LTTE), which had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland for more than two decades.

As of 18 May, 192,075 persons (44,775 families) had been affected by the heavy rains, Kodippily said, resulting in some minor displacement, as well as evacuations.

In Gampaha District, more than 1,200 families sought temporary shelter in schools and temples.

Several parts of the capital, Colombo, were inundated with knee-deep water, including areas between the suburbs of Moratuwa and Egodauayana, as well as Kirulapone, Kesbewa, Piliyandala and Nugegoda, he said.

”The water levels are high,” Kodippily said, citing a lack of proper drainage, coupled with the illegal construction of homes along river banks. “This obstructed the smooth flow of rain water in the draining ditches,” he said.

According to Defence Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, the government had initiated several relief initiatives to assist those affected.

“We are doing assessments to find long-term remedies for the flood situation,” he said, noting that the government was using all its resources, including the navy, to coordinate its response.

“The navy is doing rescue missions with great effectiveness,” he said.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has allocated close to US$9,000 for each divisional secretariat, the basic administrative unit within a district, in the affected area.

“This is just the initial amount. We are open to provide more funding as requirements occur,” he said.

On 17 May, the Housing Development Authority announced it would help reconstruct homes destroyed by the rains. At least 18 houses are known to have been destroyed and 47 damaged.

Meanwhile, Surien Peries, head of operations for the Sri Lanka Red Cross, said it was continuing to assist people in Gampaha, Colombo and Kalutara. "We are giving them food rations - and catering to their basic and immediate needs," he said.

"We have also deployed several boats in Gampaha where it is worst affected and conducted rescue operations."

Sri Lanka’s Meteorological Department has forecast severe rains over the next 48 hours which may result in more people being affected. The usual monsoon season should begin on 20 May.

May 17, 2010

If SL govt is not punished through international action other countries may follow Lankan "force works" model

by Simon Tisdall

A year after Sri Lanka's Sinhalese nationalist leadership finished off the Tamil Tigers in a bloody showdown that killed unknown thousands of civilians, calls have been renewed for an independent, UN-led international inquiry into allegations that war crimes were committed during the conflict.

But rather than be penalised for its actions, the Sri Lankan government appears to be getting off lightly so far – and to have created a model other repressive regimes may follow.

In a report coinciding with the end of the fighting, the International Crisis Group, a non-partisan NGO, said it had uncovered new credible evidence suggesting that between January and May last year "tens of thousands of Tamil civilian men, women, children and the elderly [were] killed, countless more wounded, and hundreds of thousands deprived of adequate food and medical care, resulting in more deaths".

The report goes on: "The evidence also provides reasonable grounds to believe Sri Lankan security forces committed war crimes with top government and military leaders potentially responsible. There is evidence of war crimes committed by the LTTE [the Tigers] and its leaders as well, but most of them were killed and will never face justice.

"An international inquiry into alleged crimes is essential given the absence of political will or capacity for genuine domestic investigations, the need for an accounting to address the grievances that drive conflict in Sri Lanka, and the potential of other governments adopting the Sri Lankan model of counterinsurgency in their own internal conflicts."

Citing eyewitness testimony, photographs, video, satellite images, electronic communications and documents "from multiple credible sources", the ICG report highlights the alleged shelling by government forces of civilians concentrated in so-called no-fire zones, the "intentional shelling" of hospitals and humanitarian relief operations, similar smaller-scale actions against civilians by the Tigers, and "the execution by security forces of those who had laid down their arms and were trying to surrender".

The Sri Lankan government has strongly denied all allegations of wrongdoing during the denouement of the war, and maintains no civilians were killed. Responding in part to international protests, including a critical US state department report and the threat of punitive EU measures, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed an advisory panel of "local experts" to look into war crimes allegations. But the move was widely seen as window dressing, a view reinforced when the panel's secretary, SM Samarakoon, complained it lacked legal powers to investigate fully.

In an apparent bid to pre-empt the ICG and another congressionally mandated US report next month, Sri Lanka announced today it would allow another inquiry by a newly formed "lessons learnt and reconciliation commission".

Speaking in London, Louise Arbour, ICG president and a former chief prosecutor of the international tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, held out little hope that the new inquiry would be adequate or impartial. "This is not a substitute for the incapacity of that government to put its own conduct under independent scrutiny," she said. Arbour dismissed out of hand the government's assertion that no civilians had been killed, and said only an independent outside investigation would suffice.

Given the almost total absence of effective international action to curb or punish the Sri Lankan government, either during the conflict or since it ended, Arbour warned that countries facing violent internal opponents such as Israel, Burma, Thailand, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Colombia and the Philippines may be increasingly interested in copying the Sri Lankan "force works" model.

Arbour said the model's "ingredients" were deliberate refusal to differentiate between combatants and noncombatants, in defiance of the Geneva conventions; a policy of "keeping the world out" by excluding the media, humanitarian organisations, and foreign officials from the combat zone, so no one could bear witness to what happened; going on the attack as rapidly as possible, employing "absolute scorched earth" tactics; then subsequently denying forcibly and consistently that anything untoward has occurred. By failing to allow an accounting from which reconciliation might flow, Sri Lanka risked renewed conflict in the future, she added.

The ICG report gives one other reason why Sri Lanka's government seems to have got away with it so far: "Sri Lanka co-opted the language of the 'war on terror' from the Bush administration and took it to its limits by insisting there should be no restraints in its fight against the Tigers. A complex political issue was reduced to a problem of terrorism." ~ courtesy: The Guardian.co.uk ~

From shooting war against rebels to war of attrition against Tamil Society at large

by Soma Ilangovan

Last May, Sri Lankan soldiers captured the final piece of land held by the separatist Tamil Tigers, killing hundreds of rebel fighters, including the group's leader, and definitively ending a 26-year civil war that claimed as many as 100,000 lives.

On May 19, the first anniversary of the war's end, however, there is little to celebrate. As many as 93,000 Tamils remain in detention camps and transit centers, while 11,700 more (of which 550 are children) are being held as ex-combatants without charges, denied access to an attorney or their families. Conditions in the camps and prisons are appalling, with human rights groups documenting cases of torture and rape, in addition to poor housing, health, sanitation, and education facilities.

This is not what peace is supposed to look like. And the centers and camps are only the most visible symptom of the Sri Lankan government's apparent disinterest in genuine reconciliation. Far from ending the root conflict, the end of fighting has left the island as ethnically divided as ever, undermining the prospects for a durable peace and regional stability. In many ways, Sri Lanka has simply traded the horror of war for conflict of another, more tedious, continuous sort: a two-tiered society in which Tamils are kept at the bottom.

The evidence is everywhere. Outside the detention and transit centers, there has been little significant reconstruction or development in the Tamil regions of the country. Citizens believe that vital aid to rebuild war-torn communities is being siphoned by the government for its own budget priorities, including investment in tourist projects in the former warzone. More than 1.5 million landmines contaminate the north of the country. Few job programs have been launched, and infrastructure has been neglected, leaving many Tamils unable to return to communities where homes, schools, hospitals, businesses, and churches were destroyed. Land seized during the conflict has not been returned, and fishing rights have not been restored.

More ominously, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government has made no headway in advancing the essential freedoms and political reforms necessary for true reconciliation, like political power-sharing and decentralization. Such changes could help eradicate the Tamil disenfranchisement that inspired the insurgency in the first place, for example by giving the Tamil-dominated north a stronger voice in the country's government.

But instead of launching those sorts of conciliatory programs, as Rajapaksa promised he would do in his successful reelection campaign in January, the government has done exactly the opposite. After the election, Rajapaksa's administration arrested his opponent and accused him of plotting a coup. The government continues to intimidate the press and restrict freedom of movement and speech. It is discouraging Tamils from returning to their homelands and instead pushing the resettlement of majority Sinhalese in the north and east. In short, the policy smacks of an official campaign to engineer the island's demographics and diminish the Tamil culture. Instead of ending discrimination, the government's actions too often institutionalize it.

What Rajapaksa doesn't seem to realize is that the quest for Tamil equality and dignity did not end with the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, as the rebel group was formally known. The government and the Tamils will only fully and finally resolve their differences when equality is promoted for all citizens, and when hope and prosperity are open to everyone. That opportunity is open to Rajapaksa today, but he shows few signs of taking it, or of amending the decades-long policies of marginalizing Tamils.

Take the Rajapaksa government's intention to establish a Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation, for example. This will only be worthwhile if it is independent, impartial, fully funded, and empowered to investigate war crimes. And the chances of that, in such a climate, are slim. It must have a mandate to uncover the truth and hold people accountable, or it risks being a whitewash commission.

In the meantime, it is urgent that the international community not write off Sri Lanka as a closed book. Its message instead to Rajapaksa must be clear: The time to act is now; he must rise above the ethnic divide and move to transform Sri Lanka, with power-sharing a key component. The United States and other democracies, along with international agencies and NGOs, can promote this by tying assistance to political progress and investing in much-needed infrastructure projects in predominantly Tamil areas.

The local population must also be involved in these efforts. That will help develop a skilled labor force and encourage Tamils to see the government as their ally in reconstruction and good government. The Tamil diaspora can contribute its energy, expertise, and resources to this effort, if just conditions are created on the island.

But as long as tens of thousands of Tamils are detained and hundreds of thousands more are neglected, there will only be rancor, not reconciliation. Many will believe that the government has gone from a shooting war against the rebels to a war of attrition against Tamil society at large. The world community needs to step up and seize the moment, showing people everywhere that wars are won by the peace they create, not by the battles that end them.

Soma Ilangovan is a member of the Tamil American Peace Initiative, a group of Tamil Americans formed to advocate for lasting peace, justice, democracy and good governance in Sri Lanka.

This article first appeared in The Foreign Policy magazine

Constitution does not permit Attorney-General dept. to operate outside a Ministry

by Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama

The President’s decision to appoint a Minister of Justice, and not assign the Department of the Attorney General to the Ministry of Justice is an extremely curious one.

It means that the President has assigned to himself, as he lawfully might, the twin subjects and functions of criminal prosecutions and civil proceedings on behalf of the Republic, and legal advice to departments of Government. What he does not appear to have done is to create a Ministry for that purpose, as required by Article 44(2) of the Constitution.

Whenever the President determines that he shall remain in charge of any subjects or functions not assigned to any Minister, he is required to create one or more Ministries for that purpose and to remain in charge of such Ministries. Article 52(7) is quite explicit: unlike the Office of the Secretary-General of Parliament, the Ombudsman and certain others, the Department of the Attorney General is not excluded from being assigned to a Ministry. However, that does not appear to have been done.

One important reason why the Constitution requires the creation of a Ministry to which certain subjects and functions of government are assigned is that there is for each Ministry a Secretary. In addition to being its chief accounting officer and administrative head, the Secretary’s principal responsibility is to exercise supervision over the departments of government assigned to the Ministry. In a 1953 circular, Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake reminded public servants that the Secretary is the senior administrator in the Ministry. “He gives to the departments such instructions as may be needed to give effect to the government’s policy, and he is responsible for seeing that the work of the departments is correctly and efficiently performed. On the other hand, he must be the friend and supporter of the heads of department as well as the right hand of the Minister. He needs to exercise great tact and judgment, for he must be able to decide what can be left to the heads of departments and when he should intervene”. Under the Constitution, the Department of the Attorney General is not permitted to operate outside a Ministry.

The 1946 Constitution expressly provided that of the Ministers, one shall be styled the “Minister of Justice” and another shall be styled the “Minister of Finance”. The Constitution also required that not less than two Ministers, one of whom shall be the Minister of Justice, shall be Members of the Senate. Therefore, from the inception of democratic government in this country, there has been a Ministry of Justice, and the principal department assigned to that Ministry has always been that of the Attorney General. The requirement that the Minister should be drawn from among the Senators was obviously to ensure that he would not be an active politician, especially because he had responsibility for the administration of justice. Successive Prime Ministers looked to the judiciary, the bar and academia when appointing Ministers of Justice. However, in January 1972, with the abolition of the Senate, an elected member of parliament, Felix Dias Bandaranaike, was appointed to that office.

In the executive branch of government, the Attorney General occupies an anomalous position. He is the head of a department of government and, in that capacity, is subject to the direction and control of the Minister and to supervision by the Secretary. At the same time, the fact that he is responsible for criminal prosecutions means that he must act independently, according to his own judgment, in a quasi-judicial manner. I experienced this rite of passage very early in my life when, after serving one week in the office of Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, I was appointed to the office of Attorney General that had been rendered vacant by the sudden death of its previous incumbent. One of the first files that required a decision was that relating to Ven. Devamottawe Amarawansa Thero and six others, all active supporters of the UNP, who had been arrested and remanded shortly after the 1970 general election on charges of possession of hand-bombs. The arrests had received a great deal of publicity and the new United Front Government naturally used the event to its advantage in its post-election propaganda, especially in the electorate in which he was arrested where the poll had been postponed due to the death of a candidate. On the material placed before me, no charges could be preferred against any of the suspects. There was no evidence to establish conscious possession of the explosives by any of them. I had no alternative but to immediately instruct Crown Counsel to appear in court and move for their release from custody. My decision, no doubt, caused some considerable degree of embarrassment to the new government.

The Department of the Attorney General is, in a sense, unique. It is basically a law firm that services the government. However, the fact that it is constitutionally required to be embedded within a Ministry means that both the Minister and the Secretary will necessarily interact with the Attorney General and his staff. It has been suggested, from time to time, that in the 1970-1977 period, both the Minister and the Permanent Secretary “interfered” with the technical functions of the Attorney General. That was not so. Two of the Ministers of that period – Senator Jayamanne (1970-71) and Ratnasiri Wickramanayake (1977) were relatively inactive in respect of legal matters. It was different with Felix Dias Bandaranaike (1972-76). However, since both he and I had been in active practice before entering the Ministry, we were well aware that the office of Attorney General was quasi-judicial in nature, and that in the matter of criminal prosecutions the final decision was for the Attorney General alone.

It was the practice for Felix Dias Bandaranaike (especially since he held other ministries that required his presence elsewhere) to meet with the senior officers of the legal departments (including the Attorney General, the Solicitor General and the Director of Public Prosecutions) every Monday - and if possible, every Friday as well - to be briefed on current developments. Sometimes the chief legal officers sought our intervention to resolve problems that had arisen among them. In respect of civil litigation, if any policy issues arose, the Attorney-General would be bound by policy directions. In respect of criminal matters, both the Minister and I sometimes expressed our views, and even argued at length, occasionally with passion (as in a much publicised acid throwing case). More often than not, we were all on the same side, especially when contending with the extremely suspicious, single-minded but intrepid investigator, Tyrrel Gunetilleke. But we always recognized and accepted that the final decision was for the Attorney-General, and for the Attorney-General alone. That was territory into which we never trespassed. The three Attorneys-General of that period - Mr Victor Tennekoon QC, Mr Rajah Wanasundera and Mr Shiva Pasupathi - were not only learned in the law, but were also men of integrity, independence and courage.

It is not suggested that there were no conflicts whatsoever between the Attorney-General's Department and the Ministry of Justice. There was one occasion I recall when the Minister of Housing disagreed with the advice he had received from the Attorney General and referred the matter to me. I examined the files and was inclined to agree with the Housing Minister. When the matter eventually went to court, I suggested to the Minister to retain private counsel to represent him. There was another occasion when I disagreed with advice tendered by the Attorney-General to the Prime Minister on a constitutional issue, and I forwarded my separate opinion together with his. A third occasion I recall was in early 1977 when the Attorney General rejected a suggestion, that was really in the nature of a policy direction, that the accused in the Duraippah Murder Case should be tried under the normal law by a jury in the Jaffna High Court instead of under emergency regulations at a Trial-at-Bar before three judges in Colombo. Such conflicts were inevitable among lawyers, but were never intended to be, nor were they perceived as, "interference".

The office of Attorney General is of singular importance in the governance of the country. In 1947, for historical reasons, the Attorney General was placed above the Judges of the Supreme Court in the Table of Precedence. I do know of an occasion, as far back as 1956, when the newly appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Justice telephoned the Attorney General’s office and left a message asking the Attorney General to come up and meet him, and was then informed that the Attorney would be happy to meet him in his chambers at a mutually convenient time if the parliamentary secretary would kindly seek an appointment for that purpose. That was probably correct protocol because a lawyer does not visit the client. However, in my experience, the relations between the Minister, Permanent Secretary and Attorney-General never reached that degree of formality, and we constantly interacted with each other. That, I believe, is essential to ensure both transparency and accountability.

(The writer was secretary,Justice Ministry during 1970-77)

War Crimes in Sri Lanka-Executive Summary and recommendations by ICG

by International Crisis Group

The Sri Lankan security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) repeatedly violated international humanitarian law during the last five months of their 30-year civil war.

Although both sides committed atrocities throughout the many years of conflict, the scale and nature of violations particularly worsened from January 2009 to the government’s declaration of victory in May. Evidence gathered by the International Crisis Group suggests that these months saw tens of thousands of Tamil civilian men, women, children and the elderly killed, countless more wounded, and hundreds of thousands deprived of adequate food and medical care, resulting in more deaths.

This evidence also provides reasonable grounds to believe the Sri Lankan security forces committed war crimes with top government and military leaders potentially responsible. There is evidence of war crimes committed by the LTTE and its leaders as well, but most of them were killed and will never face justice. An international inquiry into alleged crimes is essential given the absence of political will or capacity for genuine domestic investigations, the need for an accounting to address the grievances that drive conflict in Sri Lanka, and the potential of other governments adopting the Sri Lankan model of counter-insurgency in their own internal conflicts.

Crisis Group possesses credible evidence that is sufficient to warrant an independent international investigation of the following allegations:

* The intentional shelling of civilians. Starting in late January, the government and security forces encouraged hundreds of thousands of civilians to move into ever smaller government-declared No Fire Zones (NFZs) and then subjected them to repeated and increasingly intense artillery and mortar barrages and other fire. This continued through May despite the government and security forces knowing the size and location of the civilian population and scale of civilian casualties.

* The intentional shelling of hospitals. The security forces shelled hospitals and makeshift medical centres – many overflowing with the wounded and sick – on multiple occasions even though they knew of their precise locations and functions. During these incidents, medical staff, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and others continually informed the government and security forces of the shelling, yet they continued to strike medical facilities through May forcing civilians to abandon them.

* The intentional shelling of humanitarian operations. Despite knowing the exact location of humanitarian operations and food distribution points, the security forces repeatedly shelled these areas, which were crowded with humanitarian workers, vehicles and supplies, and civilians. Many were killed or wounded trying to deliver or receive basic humanitarian assistance, including women, children and infants.

The consequences of the security forces’ shelling were made substantially worse by the government’s obstruction of food and medical treatment for the civilian population, including by knowingly claiming the civilian population was less than one third its actual size and denying adequate supplies.

The government declined to respond to Crisis Group’s request for comment on these allegations.

There is also strong evidence that the LTTE engaged in:

* The intentional shooting of civilians. The LTTE fired on and killed or wounded many civilians in the conflict zone who were attempting to flee the shelling and cross into government-controlled areas.

* The intentional infliction of suffering on civilians. The LTTE refused to allow civilians to leave the conflict zone, despite grave danger from shelling and lack of humanitarian supplies, even when the civilians were injured and dying. The LTTE also forcibly recruited many civilians to fight or serve as labourers and beat some family members who protested the recruitment.

The substantial body of evidence collected by Crisis Group since August 2009 offers a compelling case for investigation of the conduct of hostilities and the role of the military and political leadership on both sides. It consists of numerous eyewitness statements that Crisis Group has taken and considers to be reliable as well as hundreds of photographs, video, satellite images, electronic communications and documents from multiple credible sources.

But it covers only a small number of the violations allegedly committed and is but a first step in what should be a major effort to examine the last year of the war. Among the other allegations that should be investigated are the recruitment of children by the LTTE and the execution by the security forces of those who had laid down their arms and were trying to surrender.

Much of the international community turned a blind eye to the violations when they were happening. Some issued statements calling for restraint but took no action as the government continually denied any wrongdoing. Many countries had declared the LTTE terrorists and welcomed their defeat. They encouraged the government’s tough response while failing to press for political reforms to address Tamil grievances or for any improvement in human rights. The eventual destruction of the LTTE militarily came at the cost of immense civilian suffering and an acute challenge to the laws of war. It also undermined the credibility of the United Nations and further entrenched a bitterness among Tamils in Sri Lanka and elsewhere which may make a durable peace elusive. Now a number of other countries are considering “the Sri Lankan option” – unrestrained military action, refusal to negotiate, disregard for humanitarian issues – as a way to deal with insurgencies and other violent groups.

To recover from this damage, there must be a concerted effort to investigate alleged war crimes by both sides and prosecute those responsible. Sri Lanka is not a member state of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and the UN Security Council is not likely to refer these crimes to the ICC in the short term. While some of the LTTE may go on trial in Sri Lanka, it is virtually impossible that any domestic investigation into the government or security forces would be impartial given the entrenched culture of impunity. A UN-mandated international inquiry should be the priority, and those countries that have jurisdiction over alleged crimes – including countries such as the U.S. where dual nationals or residents may be suspected – should vigorously pursue investigations.


To the Government of Sri Lanka:

1. Cooperate fully with international efforts to investigate alleged war crimes, including a UN-mandated international inquiry, guaranteeing free access to the conflict area and effective protection of witnesses.

2. Try LTTE cadres suspected of war crimes in open court, allowing them and witnesses against them full protections required by international law and permitting international oversight, or release them if there is insufficient evidence.

3. Invite the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, torture, violence against women, the right to food, the right to health, the protection of human rights while countering terrorism and the situation of human rights defenders, and the special representatives on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and on children and armed conflict, to visit Sri Lanka to investigate the conduct of the last year of hostilities.

4. Compile, with the assistance of the ICRC and/or the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, a full and public register of those killed, wounded and missing from the final months of the war, including the circumstances of their death, injury or disappearance; and issue death certificates and provide financial compensation for civilians killed or wounded and for property destroyed or damaged.

5. Provide ICRC with full access to all places of detention, including where LTTE suspects or surrendees are being held, and allow detained individuals full protections under international law.

To the United Nations and Member States:

6. Authorise an independent international inquiry into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka during the last year of the conflict, tasking it to investigate the conduct of both sides, to complete its work within a reasonably short period and to recommend steps to be taken by national and international authorities to ensure accountability for any crimes.

7. Begin inquiries into attacks on UN assets and personnel and into the conduct of the UN during the last year of the conflict, examining the UN’s September 2008 withdrawal from Kilinochchi through to its ineffectual attempts to push for a ceasefire and its involvement in Sri Lankan government internment camps.

8. Empower the special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, torture, violence against women, the right to food, the right to health, the protection of human rights while countering terrorism and the situation of human rights defenders, and the special representative on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), to carry out full investigations of the conduct of the last year of hostilities, particularly into alleged extrajudicial executions and torture, and the special representative on children and armed conflict to more completely investigate the recruitment of child soldiers and killing and maiming of children.

9. Make available to any credible efforts to investigate alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka all relevant information within the possession or control of the UN.

10. Ensure that Sri Lankan contributions to UN peacekeeping missions are consistent with universal human rights principles, including by ensuring the systematic pre-deployment screening of Sri Lankan personnel to identify any individuals allegedly involved in war crimes or human rights violations.

To India, the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Other EU Member States, Switzerland and Others:

11. Do not extradite LTTE suspects to Sri Lanka unless guarantees of humane treatment and fair trials are in place. Instead prosecute in domestic courts where possible and appropriate.

12. Begin investigations into alleged war crimes or human rights abuses in cases where jurisdiction may exist, including where nationals or residents are allegedly involved. Ensure such investigations have sufficient resources and share evidence in the possession or control of governments, including satellite imagery.

13. Support non-frivolous civil suits by or on behalf of alleged victims of the security forces or the LTTE, including by limiting claims of immunity.

14. Grant asylum or other protected status to witnesses and act to preserve evidence of war crimes, particularly by allowing officials to cooperate with credible investigations.

15. Impose targeted sanctions, including travel restrictions, on Sri Lankan officials and members of their families, unless and until the government cooperates with international efforts to investigate alleged war crimes.

Brussels, 17 May 2010

Full Report by ICG [PDF File]

ICG Multi media presentation:

Crisis Group has also created an interactive online presentation to accompany the report, with maps, photos and video detailing the final five months of the conflict. Click here to view the presentation

May 16, 2010

War victory celebration ecstasy and war crime investigation agony

by Namini Wijedasa

Intense pressure from lobby groups is stymieing the government’s best efforts to stave off an international war crimes probe by proposing a local commission. Two of these influential groups will convene in London on Monday to “demand justice for survivors” one year after the end of the conflict.

Even as Sri Lanka prepares to pull out all the stops for an elaborate ceremony to mark Victory Day on Thursday, the International Crisis Group (ICG), Amnesty International and M.C.M. Iqbal, a Sri Lankan human rights activist, will hold a panel discussion to highlight the need for an independent investigation “to collect information from all relevant sources as a first essential step to establish accountability.”

It is learnt that the ICG will also release a controversial report on impunity and alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka. The ICG, which is strongly disliked by the government, is now headed by Louise Arbour, the former UN high commissioner for human rights who kept up relentless pressure on Sri Lanka during the final stages of the war against Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

A notice advertising Monday’s discussion at the Human Rights Action Centre in London states that survivors and family members of those killed have no hope of justice, truth and reparations at the national level. A separate statement issued by Amnesty International on Friday insisted that “the United Nations must set up an independent investigation into massive human rights violations committed by both government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam forces during the country’s civil war”.

Madhu Malhotra, AI’s deputy director for the Asia-Pacific, had harsh words for the UN which, she said, “never revealed what it knew about the final days of the conflict, acknowledged the scale of the abuse that took place, or pushed for accountability.”

Panel of experts

Meanwhile, back in New York, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is also under continuous pressure from human rights groups to follow up on his commitment — made as far back as March — to immediately set up a ‘panel of experts’ to advise him about allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka.

A source based at the UN headquarters in New York said, “The SG is under such pressure from human rights groups, he has to do something. He has caught a tiger’s tail (koti waligey) by announcing the proposed panel that I’m not sure how he can let it go.” He added, however, that if and when such a panel is appointed, the government can put a spin on it. “After all,” he said, “it is only a panel to advise the SG, not a panel to probe human rights violations or war crimes”.

Indeed, everything does seem to depend on how well you ‘spin it’. Government politicians from the highest levels downwards spewed vehement, xenophobic rhetoric during recent election campaigns, even threatening the UN and its secretary-general against appointing any sort of investigative panel on Sri Lanka.

With the elections over, the tone is decidedly more cautious. Informed sources said that the government is now engaged in diligent diplomacy to hold off any kind of probe, inquiry or investigation. Instead of ranting on the streets, the new approach is being described as “subtle but goal-oriented”. “We need to get out of our corner and also help the secretary-general to leave his without impairment of credibility,” said a diplomatic source.

This could work — if the international human rights lobbies buy it and/or lay off. And there is no sign of that happening. They and some journalists in New York, particularly Matthew Russell Lee from Inner City Press, are not tiring of the issue.

The government has, for the moment, managed to hold off a proposed visit to Sri Lanka by Lynn Pascoe, the UN under-secretary-general for political affairs. A question was raised in this regard during the noon press briefing at the UN headquarters in New York on Monday. Martin Nesirky, the UNSG’s spokesperson, said that the “wheels are still in motion” on the visit by Pascoe.

A journalist then asked whether the Sri Lanka Government has “the brakes on your wheels”. Nesirky replied: “Well, that’s for you to ask the Government of Sri Lanka. What I can tell you is that the UN wheels are definitely turning, and they’re well-oiled. And what they’re turning towards is, one, a visit by Mr. Pascoe, and, two, for the panel of experts that we’ve discussed many times here.”

It was a clear indication that the proposed panel of experts is still on the cards — or that the secretary-general’s office would like to make it seem so. Some reports have indicated that Pascoe’s proposed visit is a necessary precursor to the appointment of such a panel but Nesirky claimed that these are two separate matters. At the moment, though, neither is happening.

And this could be a sign that the government’s diplomacy is working although it is not certain for how long. It is also not certain whether the government’s allies in the UN — such as China, Russia, Japan, India and other members of the Non-Aligned Movement — will help to prevent the appointment of a panel indefinitely.

Yet another commission

The government is trying other things. After bitter experiences in the past, international rights organisations are inclined to dismiss ‘independent commissions’ or ‘presidential commissions’ as elaborate gimmicks. This hasn’t stopped the government from floating yet another one.

The presidential secretariat announced on May 6, that President Mahinda Rajapaksa proposes to appoint a ‘Commission to Report on the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation’. This commission will reportedly deal with the “difficulties and troubled times that Sri Lanka had to undergo due to the terrorist inspired, manoeuvred and created conflict situation in recent years.”

A statement promised that there would be a “search for any violations of internationally accepted norms of conduct in such conflict situations, and the circumstances that may have led to such actions, and identify any persons or groups responsible for such acts”.

It said recommendations would be sought on the nature of compensation to be granted to the victims or their dependants who suffered in the conflict. The commission’s terms of reference have not yet been named. Members have not been nominated either. And going by the dissolution of the earlier commission of inquiry into serious violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law, nothing constructive will come out of it.

But the ploy is already working. Inner City Press says that, “Ironically, a senior Ban administration official on May 11 told Inner City Press...that Ban would now wait to see how the Sri Lankan mechanism developed before acting on his stated intention to name his own panel ‘without delay’.”

In another report, Inner City Press cites Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York Palitha Kohona as predicting that Ban will “never actually name a panel”.

If it is a mere time-buying exercise the government looking for, this could be the perfect solution. Masters at local politics, the Rajapaksa regime also seems to be perfecting the art of outsmarting the international rights lobby. The problem is, the international rights lobby is smart too. - courtesy: Lakbima News -

"I was convinced that the military option was the only way to eliminate the LTTE"

by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa

In a sense, I could say that it all began on November 18, 2005 around seven o'clock in the morning. Those were tense moments and we were monitoring the results of Sri Lanka's closest presidential election at Temple Trees.

My brother, then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa walked out of the self-styled 'Operations Room' where the results were coming in thick and fast. The Ampara district result had just come in. It clinched the contest, for he had just obtained an unbeatable lead over his rival, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Beaming as he came out of the 'Ops Room', I was the first person he met. As I greeted him, he had just a few words for me: "You must take over as Secretary of Defence," he said. I smiled in reply, realising that I had very little choice in the matter.

Even so, it was a difficult decision. I had retired from the Army in 1991 after twenty years of service and, after obtaining a Post-graduate Diploma in Computer Technology from the University of Colombo, I had reconciled myself to a life domiciled in the United States, where I had lived since 1994.

I had been working as a Unix Systems Administrator at the Loyola Law School in Marymount University in Los Angeles, California for over nine years. Like most others of my age, I had to support my son's education and a mortgage to pay on my house.

However, towards the end of July 2005 when I was informed that my elder brother was given the party nomination for the presidency, I felt it was nothing but right that I should return to the country for a while to help him in his campaign.

My employers were keen to support me -- it was not every day that someone came with a request for leave saying his brother was running for President! I obtained three months leave and came to Sri Lanka leaving my wife and son and kept in touch with my employers via e-mail: I wanted to return to my job as soon as the dust settled on the elections, where I was busily campaigning in the Kurunegala district.

The outcome of the elections and my brother's request had now changed all that. When my wife Ioma and my son Manoj flew to Sri Lanka for the President's inauguration, we discussed what should be done about her job in the United States, my son's future and the mortgage on the house, knowing all along that we didn't really have a choice.

That is because I have always had my own ideas -- and plans -- about the war and I sensed that this was an ideal opportunity to implement them. If I didn't, I would always regret it. While in the United States, I always read avidly about the war effort, kept in touch with officers of my vintage and, as a result, I had come to my own conclusions.

For instance, I was convinced that a military option was the only way to eliminate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). I believed that it could be done. I also strongly believed that talking to Velupillai Prabhakaran was a waste of time -- and ultimately, a waste of lives. Now, I had the chance to be a part of a team that believed in these same ideas.

I was indeed appointed Secretary of Defence but the President came in for some criticism because of this. He was appointing family members to key posts, his critics said. It is true that I am his brother but my appointment had other advantages.

As a former army officer, I understood the war better than a civil servant and officers in the higher ranks were mostly my contemporaries. And, as the President's brother I always had unrestricted access to him and he had utmost confidence in me. Therefore, I could serve as the crucial link between the political and military establishments ensuring better co-ordination between the two. Few appreciated this at that time.

As Secretary of Defence, I had to brief the President on the state of the war. This I did, gathering information from intelligence services as well as the ground commanders. What I heard from them convinced me even more that the war could be won -- and that it had to be won, for there was no other way. And this is what I told the President.

One of the President's first tasks after assuming office was to visit India. There, he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for a one-on-one discussion. Thereafter, I was called in to brief Premier Singh. I handed over a report containing my observations which detailed how the LTTE had abused the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) to recruit cadres, purchase arms and even train civilians for their 'Makkal Padai' ('Peoples' Force'). These, I said, were all signs that they were preparing for war. We even requested military assistance from India to counter this threat.

Of course, as the political head of the country, the President had to purse the democratic option first -- that of talking to the LTTE. But the President was very clear in his instructions to us: he would handle the negotiations in Geneva but the armed forces must be ready for war. They were to be two separate efforts.

I also proposed key changes to the armed forces. A crucial strategy was in appointing field commanders who could get the job done. In fact, I was instrumental in appointing General Sarath Fonseka as the Army Commander.

I recommended General Fonseka for the job as I believed he should have a chance to command the Army. My recommendation posed a problem for the President because General Fonseka's predecessor, General Shantha Kottegoda had two more years to serve and there was no reason to remove him from office. Nevertheless, the President accepted my recommendation and General Fonseka was appointed Commander of the Army in December 2005.

As he was appointed just a week before his fifty-fifth birthday, General Fonseka's tenure had to be extended every year by the President. This too led to difficulties when General Fonseka came up for his first extension in 2006. By then, the Geneva peace talks with the Tigers had broken down and slowly but steadily, the war had begun. But there was pressure on the President from various quarters not to extend General Fonseka's term of office as Commander.

I do recall former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva calling me to his chambers and having a lengthy discussion on the matter. The then CJ suggested that I should not recommend an extension for General Fonseka as he claimed the General's actions had led to many injustices in the Army causing a lot of dissent and stated that General Fonseka had dictatorial tendencies which could be a threat to democracy.

"It is not necessary for you to have him, you can manage with another person," Silva advised. Many others, including government and opposition politicians and retired and senior serving military officers had the same sentiments.

Yet, I thought that changing the Commander of the Army in the midst of a military campaign was counter-productive. I personally carried General Fonseka's file to the President for his signature, on the very last day the extension could possibly have been given and the President signed it while having lunch.

Many also often ask me the question as to whether the suicide attack on me on December 1, 2006 strengthened my resolve to fight the war to a finish. The truth is that it was not an unforeseen event. At the Security Council, intelligence services had warned us of possible attacks on the President, me and the three service commanders.

The President responded by giving us bullet proof vehicles from his pool of vehicles. It is fortunate that I used a bullet proof vehicle that day -- or else, I would not be writing this today. It is also unfortunate that General Sarath Fonseka did not use his bullet proof vehicle on April 25, 2006 possibly because he was travelling within the Army Headquarters complex which he believed to be secure, in his soft skin vehicle.
Nevertheless, the attack on me was just another incident. It did not demoralise me; nor did it add courage or vengeance to my efforts.

As far as I was concerned, I was committed to end the war, anyway. There were many ingredients to our success. I feel that the single most decisive factor was our decision to increase the strength of the military -- mostly the Army -- three-fold. When such a request is made, it obviously entails a significant burden on the economy; it is not simply a matter of paying the salaries of the additional troops; they need to be equipped with weapons and ammunition, their logistical needs increase and other administrative and organisational changes are needed in the long term.

There are also other political implications and many politicians would think twice about why the military was seeking to enhance its strength in this manner. But again, the President understood the need for our suggestion and he believed it was a fair request. Therefore the President's decision was made easier, and he readily allocated the necessary funds for this purpose.

I was in close contact with our ground commanders at all stages of the battle. This enabled me to process their requests quickly, sort out their logistical problems and at times, directly intervene to facilitate co-ordination between the different forces.

Meanwhile, in the military operations we engaged, our troops were pushing the LTTE back, destroying their strongholds and capturing vital terrain in the process. The Tigers resorted to delaying tactics, putting up a 'ditch cum bund' heavily fortified with mines in the areas they held. Eventually, a major clash erupted at Puthukuduirippu, which had them encircled.

By then, the Tigers had decided to adopt the strategy of taking civilians with them as they retreated and when they had been cornered to Puthumathalan, they had some 300,000 civilians who were being used as their 'human shield'. The international community, the United Nations and India were very concerned and we understood their concerns. The question uppermost on everyone's mind was how these civilians should be rescued.

For the government, it was a time to take crucial decisions. The military had to maintain its momentum to end the long lasting campaign as soon as possible. The end of thirty years of suffering was near because we knew that the top leaders including Prabhakaran were surrounded.

However, at the same time the government had to consider the safety of the trapped civilians. Elsewhere, India, especially Tamil Nadu, was sensitive to events here and their concerns had to be taken into consideration. Meanwhile, Pro-LTTE organisations were lobbying and putting pressure on the international community.

The President was firm in his decision that the offensive should continue. After conferring with him, we arrived at several decisions. We declared 'no fire zones'. We also adopted a self-imposed ban on air bombing, artillery and mortar fire whenever we were confronted with battle zones which were home to civilians. Our field commanders were very mindful of this and restrained themselves often.

Also, at every stage of the battle we made certain that food and medical supplies reached the trapped civilians through the World Food Programme, the Red Cross and the United Nations. In the last stages of the war, this could be done only through sea but we still did so, even if it involved a high risk to the military and even though we knew that some of the food and medicines we supplied invariably went to the LTTE.

We felt that the LTTE strategy was to try and prolong the conflict with the help of civilians under their control with the expectation that some in the international community would intervene on their behalf to ensure that their leadership survives, so that they could live to fight another day.

To try and foil this, we adopted a novel method. We opened up corridors in the battle zone so that civilians could flee to government controlled areas. Nearly all of them did and the whole world saw footage recorded from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) which showed how the LTTE fired at and killed civilians trying to leave the battle zone. It was a major victory for us because thousands of civilians were evacuated in this manner-and also because the hypocrisy of the LTTE was exposed.

I do admit that it was a very difficult and complex operation. Often, wounded LTTE cadres would change into civilian clothes to cross over. There would be times when we had to hold fire to prevent civilian casualties.

I must remind all those who accuse us of shooting cadres crossing over with white flags that we at all times adopted a 'zero civilian casualty' principle, despite fighting an unconventional war with a terrorist group which adopted each and every method of warfare. By mid-May last year, I was fairly certain that the end was near for the LTTE. I was engaged in visiting every district to meet the families of servicemen in each region. On May 18, by a strange co-incidence, I was at Hambantota, my hometown.

Usually these meeting are conducted in an army camp but since this meeting was in my hometown, it was arranged at Medamulana, at our ancestral home. I then received a telephone call from the President and briefed him to say that the war would in all probability end that day. Close to noon, the President called back to say that the Army Commander, General Fonseka had said it probably could not be done within the day.

I however informed him that this was possible as the field commanders had assured me that the end was at hand. Later, the President was contacted by General Fonseka who had confirmed my prediction. It was on May 18 that the military recovered many bodies of top LTTE leaders after the final battle at Nanthikadal and they began the task of identifying the dead that day itself. It was also the day that there was some speculation that Velupillai Prabhakaran had been killed while trying to flee in an ambulance.
On the following day, May 19, I was attending a meeting of families of servicemen in the Galle district when General Fonseka called me. He carried good news: the body of Velupillai Prabhakaran had been found. It was on the same day that the President addressed Parliament, officially declaring the end of military operations and the capture of all territories previously controlled by the LTTE.

For some, questions remain such as the fate of Pottu Amman, the Tigers' intelligence chief and there are suggestions that he was not killed in the final battle. We do have credible information from extremely reliable sources that Pottu Amman was in the battle zone at Nanthikadal. We also know that he could not have escaped from the tight naval and military blockade that encompassed the area.

It is true that his body was never identified. But it is also true that this area of scrub jungle yielded dozens of bodies which could not be identified positively because they were in an advanced state of destruction. Therefore, Pottu Amman is certainly dead and it would be extremely naïve to believe otherwise.

Since the end of the war we have had some significant breakthroughs, the most notable among them being the capture of 'KP' or Kumaran Pathmanathan, the LTTE's point man in international relations and close confidant of Prabhakaran.

We know that KP was responsible for organising the arms procurement network of the LTTE and that in the two years that he was side-lined by Prabhakaran, the Tiger's supplies dwindled drastically.

However, they reconciled and in the last stages of the war, Prabhakaran re-appointed him to procure weapons. KP arranged for a final shipment but when the battle ended on May 18, the vessel carrying these arms dumped their cargo in the sea on May 20 and made a hasty exit.

We also know that Prabhakaran spoke to KP from Puthumathalan through an intermediary. Prabhakaran's son, Charles Anthony, spoke directly to KP just before his demise. After their deaths, KP anointed himself as the new leader of the LTTE and asked the Tiger diaspora to rally round him and pledged to re-structure the organisation. Therefore, I would rate capturing KP as being as important as killing Prabhakaran -- and that is not an exaggeration.

Now that the war is over, there are demands to relax the military controls in the North and East. In my opinion, that would be foolish. With an organisation as destructive as the LTTE, there are always bound to be some elements who would want to re-group and we must be wary of such possibilities.

I believe protecting our coastline should be a priority now. If our beaches were secured previously, the Tigers could not have smuggled in weapons in such large quantities and they wouldn't have grown in to the monstrous organisation that they were. Similarly the vast jungle terrain in the Wanni must be dominated -- it is this land that the LTTE exploited to the maximum during the early stages of its campaign to wage guerrilla warfare.

The Police must also complement this by adopting a different role. Police officers should speak the language of the region. They should cease to be the paramilitary force that they have been for the past 25 years and revert to their more familiar role of maintaining law and order. These changes require time, effort and most importantly, a change of attitude.

I hear a clamour for political reforms in the North and East and I understand and appreciate that. But I do also sincerely believe that priority should be given not to political reforms but to infrastructure development and attending to the other basic social needs of the people.

The people of the war-ravaged areas now need roads, electricity, drinking water, schools, hospitals and jobs much more than they need amendments to the Constitution. With the former, they can rebuild their lives which had been stalled for nearly three decades. Then, surely, the latter will follow.

In two days, we will be celebrating the first anniversary of our war victory. The victory parade will represent the formations of the final humanitarian operation. We hope to continue this as an annual event, in remembrance of the country's greatest victory in recent times. It is especially a victory for those people who lived in fear of the LTTE in the North and East and in the threatened villages bordering them. But what we must also remember is that this is not a celebration of the President, the Armed Forces, the government, a political party or of one particular community; this a celebration for every Sri Lankan.

As for my future plans, many ask me whether I would follow the footsteps of my brothers and take to politics. If I wanted to do that, I had the perfect opportunity at the April general elections but I declined.
Unfortunately, all my adult life I have been either a professional soldier or an expert in information technology and politics does not have any attraction despite growing up in a political family and being under the constant influence of my brothers. Politics, therefore, is most certainly not an option.

I do believe that I can do more as a public official -- just as I have done over the past five years. There are new challenges that beckon. Remodelling the military into a modern, thoroughly professional peacetime force is one of them.

The Urban Development Authority has now been attached to the Defence Ministry and that is an added challenging responsibility. And who knows, that could be as testing as fighting the most ruthless terrorist organisation in the world!

What is certain though is that saying 'yes' to the President's offer on that November morning five years ago has not been in vain. - courtesy: The Sunday Times -

To all Tamils who died in this raging violence - Know this! We will never forget you !!

by Dr. Ellyn Shander


I want to thank the organizers of this event who invited me to speak. And say thank you to each of you who traveled long distances to pay your respects, to remember the innocent people who were killed in this terrible chapter of Tamil history.

Dr. Ellyn Shander~click on pic for larger image

Why do we ask for a minute of silence when we remember the dead?

Because there are no words strong enough to describe our feelings about this terrible tragedy of the Tamil genocide one year ago.

We need silence for our minds, hearts and souls, that are filled with sadness and rage.

We need silence in which to remember. Silence to process the horror of the ways people died. Silence for the wasted lives cut short by violence.

And silence to commit ourselves to change the present ongoing tragedy of the Tamils of Sri lanka. So let us now stand together in silence and unity. (for a moment of silence).

Today we stand united as one community remembering the Tamils of Sri lanka who were massacred by evil.
What kind of evil murders over 40,000 civilians in one weekend? Over 100,000 Tamils in the last 20 years.

Nazis, Pol pot, Sudan and the govt of Sri Lanka. All carriers of evil!

Before their deaths, many of the murdered people begged, "Help us, save us, tell our story!!”

They sent their messages out in eyewitness videos, thru the brave doctors during the siege, and thru the occasional Tamil who escaped from the fighting. They wanted the world to know about their suffering, their horror and their sacrifice.. They held the hope until the very end that the civilized world would somehow come to their rescue. The truth of the premeditated genocide was inconceivable. They believed that the United States or India would stop the carnage.. But sadly no one came.. No one helped. No one responded to their pleas.. And no one stopped the Sri Lankan government from burning their bodies and hiding the evidence.

We extend our thanks to the brave Tamils who have spoken out, the witnesses to these war crimes, who have documented the outrage of evil wrought upon an innocent people just because they were Tamil. Today we tell the world that this atrocity will never stay buried. This is the first anniversary of the largest massacre of the genocide of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka... but it is not the last rally.. We will never forget what happened and we will continue to tell the world until they hear us!!!

It is, 65 years since the Nazi Holocaust, which killed 6 million Jews during ww2. The world seems to have learned nothing from that horrible event. The phrase “Never again” is hollow when we see no outrage against repeated genocides... The world denied hearing the pleas of the Tamils before the ultimate killings, and now refuses to acknowledge that it ever happened. But if we have learned anything from the lessons of the Holocaust, it is that we must not remain silent and be defeated in the face of evil.

As Elie Wiesel has said; “ I swore never to be silent whenever …..human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” - Elie Wiesel

So although we stand in silence when we remember the dead, we will never be silent in fighting the oppression that killed them.!!

I call on the international community and the US government to rise up forcefully and call for an investigation of war crimes by the Sri Lankan government to condemn this Nazi regime. Put the Rajapaksas on trial.. Arrest them when they leave Sri Lanka. And let the evidence show in any trial the true murderous intent of these people.

The worst thing we can do right now is to let the world change the channel. Economic expansion in the North and east by the Gosl BEFORE a political solution for the Tamil people, is UNACCEPTABLE. But as we gather today, the tourist trade is increasing, and the apparel industry is making profits, and business as usual is coming back to the
Singhalese in Sri Lanka.

We must stop the world indifference to the continued persecution of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. We must make empathy and human rights, drive international interactions with Sri Lanka. .Because if we do not succeed here…
It will be Tamils of Sri Lanka facing extinction today, and then any one of us, tomorrow. As Mother Theresa said so eloquently...

“If we have no peace, it is because we forget we belong to each other”

The world must be reminded that when people are no longer seen as human beings: they can be exterminated! The Tamils were not killed because of inhumanity to man. NO they were killed because of the Sri Lankan government’s inhumanity to Tamils. They were not seen as human beings at all. They were killed because they were Tamils... and that is why this genocide is personal, it is an attempt to make a race extinct. And because of that we must not let them die in vain.

How ironic that President Obama said that “we must commit ourselves to resisting injustice and intolerance and indifference in whatever forms they may take—whether confronting those who tell lies about history, or doing everything we can to prevent and end atrocities like those that took place in Rwanda, those taking place in Darfur. That is my commitment as President. “

Empty words as Tamils awaited their death at the end of the war in may 2009. I ask you..why aren’t the Tamil people on President Obama’s radar??

Where were you Pres Obama? Where were you Sonia Gandhi? Where were you Ban ki Moon? Where were you England, Japan, Norway, the world bank? The civilized world where were you?

They were CHOOSING TO LOOK AWAY. Choosing to pretend that is was an internal affair of a duly elected democratic country fighting terrorism. And to their pretend game... I say No. With outrage I say No. With despair I say No. With impotent rage I say no. With unbelievable despair I say no.. It wasn’t like that... the horror of it all was that every one of them knew. and yet they let it happen. Yes they let it happen!

They did nothing... Shame on them! .. Shame on them then! , And shame on them now!
In the words of Dr Martin Luthor King who stood here and spoke..

He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

The international community is cooperating with evil .They go forward as if nothing has happened. They let the IMF give loans to the murderers . They push for economic development on land that holds thousands in mass graves.

They rush to compete with china’s development. And it is business as usual for them. BUT not for us
As Eli Wiesel has said.

“When the messenger has delivered the message and nothing has changed. We must then become the messenger... so as not to let them die in vain.”

What can we do? We can do plenty!
Be a messenger and join the boycott of goods from Sri Lanka!
Shout out our boycott message...

“Check the labels... if it is made in Sri Lanka.. Put it down!!”

We are on the streets once a month, boycotting Victoria secret and the Gap in over 10 cities across the country, in solidarity with the international boycotts in England, Canada, Malaysia, India and Australia. We are getting noticed. The companies are nervous. We can and will change the economic climate towards, anything Made in Sri Lanka.

Would you buy a garment made in SL if you understood that it was soaked in blood.. Tamil blood and that every dollar spent is another dollar to kill Tamils??

We need only one big company to pull out from public pressure and it will cause a stampede out of Sri Lanka.
So we need you.. All of you extraordinary people

We need you to make a fuss
We need you to join our protests.
Hand out our postcards.

We need you to tell everyone you know about the dangers of buying clothes made in Sri Lankan.

We need you to go to the boycottsrilanka.com website and pledge yourself to this call for action.

This is the way to Tamil Eelam. Make this boycott our cause, and we can overthrow this govt.
Be a messenger. Join the boycott!

What else can you do?
Tamils and friends. We must unite.

Be a messenger and join USTAPC, support the Global Tamil Forum, and the Trans national government of Tamil Eelam.

It is time to unite. Expose the murderers until justice has been served, war crimes charges have been charged, and we are on the road to a liberated Tamil Eelam.,

This is our message.. Don’t let the Tamils of Sri lanka have died in vain.

Every single Tamil should now vow to take this as their personal challenge and act in unison around the world as Diaspora liberating the Tamil nation. If you are not part of the solution.. Then you are part of the problem!

The world powers will let them get away with genocide. It is our determination and hard work from every one of you that will make a difference. Join together every Tamil in the Diaspora. YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
Be a messenger. Join with fellow Tamils.

Tell the world and Rajapaksa and his fools.

Now hear this, the mighty nation of Tamil Eelam is not dead. !

The Tamil Nation is not defeated! The Tamil nation is world wide gathering its forces to rise up in unity and become a solid force again. It is an uphill fight.

Americans! Tamil Americans! Tamil Canadians. , the battle is now in the political arena. Don’t be afraid to use your democratic right to raise your voices. This is a free country , use your freedom of expression.
Be a messenger! Join the advocacy movement. Join us at USTPAC. and contact your congressmen.

Be part of the moral and legal fight, save the Tamils of Sri Lankan from extinction be in the struggle, and don’t sit this one out!!

When each of us are truly the messengers of truth and the warriors against injustice, we will see the names of the martyrs on the streets of Tamil Eelam. We will see the schools open and the Tamil language taught. We will see people plowing their land and fishing again in a liberated new state of Tamil Eelam.

Then and only then we will say yes, they did not die in vain.

And with the birth of Tamil Eelam, We will say with humility and gratitude to the people who died.

Your sprits walk with us in freedom, your sprits accompany us in the Vanni ,your spirits deepen the history of the Tamil people as they take their rightful place as a free nation of Tamil Eelam !!!

The Tigers fought for freedom from Oppression...
We must make sure that flame is never blown out.
The dead cannot cry out for justice; it is our duty as the living to cry out for them.

So each of us must come to this call for action and redouble our efforts to keep the Tamil spirit alive, bring the economy of the Gosl down to their knees. And then build first in our hearts and then on the ground a free Tamil Eelam.

In closing, I wanted to share my prayers for the people who died and light a candle in their memory.
To all Tamils who died in this raging violence, (say with me) Know this we will never forget you!
To the Tamil mothers that just wanted to wake up everyday and feed their children, take them to school and walk in dignity Know this We will never forget you!

To every Tamil fisherman, who lived to go out to sea and bring back his catch. And to the women who waited on the beach ready to clean the fish and get it ready to sell.

Know this we will never forget you!
To the Tamil doctors and nurses killed in the bombing of the hospitals

Know this we will never forget you!
To the Tamils who can never celebrate weddings, birthdays, and celebrations

Know this we will never forget you!
To the Tamil children who used to run in schoolyards, dead now or without legs.

Know this we will never forget you!
To the Tamil elders, who have seen the years of Sinhala oppression, we say from our hearts that we wish you never lived to see this final aggression, but Know this we will never forget you!

To the Tamil babies, who never had a chance to walk, talk or live without fear.
Know this we will never forget you!

To the brave fallen heroes, the Tigers that have fallen in battle, bravely fighting the evil that oppressed the Tamil people , we owe you a debt.

Know this we will never forget you!
As we gather today in the shadow of the great President Abraham Lincoln. His words continue to ring true as they did in 1858.

“Our love of liberty… is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes ( freedom) as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere.”

For all who have died: In your honor we will continue the fight for liberty, for a Free Tamil Eelam.
And finally in the words of Charles de Gaulle head of the French resistance, during the darkest days of WW2, when the Nazi evil almost swallowed up this earth, he said about their time.

“It is not tolerable, it is not possible, that from so much death, so much sacrifice and ruin, so much heroism, a greater and better humanity shall not emerge.”

Today, here in Washington DC. , let us say a heartfelt prayer together, that in this lifetime, from so much Tamil death, sacrifice and heroism, what will emerge, will be, a better humanity called Tamil Eelam.


(Full text of speech as delivered by Dr. Ellyn Shander, Vice President of USTPAC - at the Vigil held to honor was dead by USTPAC, May 15, 2010)

The Vanni was not surrendered but defended till it was no longer possible to defend

by Jan Jananayagam


We are here to pay our respects to the people of the Vanni and to seek justice for them.


We stand here in Washington DC in the very heart of a nation built on a promise, on the promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

We have come here to honour a people who pursued this God-given promise with their very life.

The Vanni region has always been a part of Tamil Eelam. But it has historically been a safe haven. When the Catholic Church fled persecution by the Protestant Dutch in 1670, it was to the Vanni that the Virgin of Madhu fled.

When the Sri Lankan army invaded the North in 1995, it was to the Vanni that the Tamil people as a whole fled; a whole people emptied from their ancestral lands to a new frontier - the largest exodus of a people fleeing persecution in this century.

In 1995, when the Sri Lanka state restored its oppressive grip on the Northern Tamil homeland, the people who chose the Vanni were a people who chose to carve out a new life from nature rather than to return to their ancestral home under repressive occupation.


Like so many people enduring persecution, they chose freedom. They chose freedom above material comfort, liberty over oppression.

But in truth the people of the Vanni chose freedom knowing that it was fleeting, knowing full well that they would be called to defend it with their very life.

And in this freedom they materialized the dream of Tamil Eelam, as it has never before been materialized in this century. This was their gift to us.

When I visited the Vanni in 2004, I saw a land that was beautiful: a land of criss-crossing rice fields, banana and coconut groves. A people who created a surplus of food for export to feed the rest of the island.

In recompense, the unimaginable horror of hunger was to be forced upon this people.

When I visited the Vanni I saw children, as young as seven years old, cycling alone along country lanes. The people of the Vanni did not fear for their children to play outside.

But in 2009, the unimaginable terror of modern war was visited upon the children of this people.


Two decades after the Jaffna library – with its circa 97 000 books, many of them irreplaceable centuries-old original manuscripts of one of the worlds oldest classical languages – had been brunt down by the Sri Lankan state, the people of the Vanni began to build a new library in its memory.

And they did not stop building. They built all of the material institutions of a nation anew. Everything that I saw in the Vanni was built brick by brick with hope and courage.

Yet it was, as they knew and we all knew, a fleeting freedom opposed by unrelenting menace.

And for this reason, every moment in the Vanni was beautiful. The people of the Vanni had acquired a happiness that is only possible when you know that life is precious and fragile.

They were a people united who lived for each other.

Thus when war came to the Tamil people again in 2008, the Vanni represented hope and freedom.

In the final years as the Sri Lankan army came North there fled before it tens of thousands of Tamil people, converging from every direction into this symbolic centre of Tamil Eelam.

They too chose the hope of freedom over the certainty of repression.

But the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has been cruelly betrayed.

Because the people of Tamil Eelam, courageous as they were, were forbidden to defend themselves. They were forbidden to acquire arms – and we were forbidden to provide them with the means of defense.

R2P – the responsibility to protect – fell perversely on an Orwellian state that was determined to destroy them. It fell to international institutions that had already been bankrupted by their repeated failures in history – the United Nations that failed in Srebrenica as it did in Rwanda.

R2P, like the UN convention on the prevention and punishment of genocide, turned out to be a cynical and false promise issued by bankrupt institutions.

For the Tamil people, the so-called safe zone on the beach was a cynical and cruel manipulation.

It was a place to which the people could be herded and then destroyed in large numbers so that the surrounding areas could be ethnically cleansed.

For the Tamil people, democracy in Sri Lanka is a cynical and cruel promise: a promise collateralised by the morally bankrupt institutions of racism.

For the people of Tamil Eelam were allowed to be murdered and the survivors incarcerated en masse, it was said, so that a new constitutional people can be created from their ashes.

The violent cleansing of the Vanni region and the destruction of everything that the Tamil people had created there was allowed, it was said, so that a new democracy could be built over the very bones of the creators.

In Sri Lanka , where the constitution privileges one language over another, one religion over another, one race over another, one nation over another, the very idea of a single constitutional people is a cynical perversion.

The Vanni was defended till it was no longer humanly possible to defend.

The Vanni was never surrendered.

Those who sacrificed their lives in the Vanni epitomized the fundamental values of the millennial old Tamil nation – the values of courage, duty and truth. This is their gift to us: a gift that will live in eternity.


The Thirukkural says:

“Anpillaar ellaam thamkkuriyar
Anupudaiyaar enpum uriyar pirarrku”

In English, the Thirukkural says: “The unloving belong only to themselves, but the loving belong to others to their very bones”. Those who made their last stand for freedom in the Vanni did so in the hope that a new nation may be born in freedom. Their gift to us is to remind us of the core of our own being.

So yes we must seek justice. But what kind of justice will it be? We can and must continue to seek criminal justice for the perpetrators – under the laws of war and the law of genocide.

But criminal justice alone can never be adequate reparation. We must demand political justice. The soul of the Vanni can only take shape again in freedom.

Yes, great states, great democracies have been built on the deaths of entire peoples. Witness this democracy where we stand today.

The United States of America is founded on the ideal of a single constitutional people. It is built on a constitution that proclaims that all are equal, all are free and that all have the right to the pursuit of happiness.

The people of this great democracy have fought and died to implement this promise – in Gettysburg and Normandy as elsewhere.

But democracy on the island of Sri Lanka cannot be built on a cynical myth. Democracy cannot be built where, a single constitutional people has neither existed nor can realistically be constructed without mass murder; where the proposition that all men are created equal is falsified through every fibre of the state apparatus.

And never again, in the history of mankind must democracy be built on the destruction of a people.

This great American democracy is founded on a promise to those huddled masses yearning to breathe free. In a global era, it is time for that promise to be delivered to the Tamil people.

This must be our pledge to those who built their monument to freedom in the Vanni.

Thamilarin Thakam Tamil Eelam.


(Full text of speech as delivered by Jan Jananayagam, activist from UK - at the Vigil held to honor was dead by USTPAC, May 15, 2010)

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In Pictures: Tamil Americans and friends honor war dead in candlelight vigil

Tamil Americans and friends gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington DC - on May 15th, 2010 to commemorate the 40,000 civilians killed last spring as the war ended in Sri Lanka.

The event was organized by the United States Tamil Political Action Committee (US-TPAC)

click on pictures for larger images

Attendees at the vigil marched to the Lincoln Memorial - Washington Monument vigil location from the Lafayette Park, near the White House

There are still more than 90,000 people – most of them Tamils, including many women and children remain in detention and transit centers, according to Tamil American Peace Initiative

The Washington Monument is the site of numerous campaigns, including that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a Dream" speech.

Some of the placards held at the event

Leading the recital of "We shall over come"

"We Shall Overcome" the protest song that became a key anthem of the US civil rights movement is being recited by attendees

Dr. Ellyn Shander, Vice President of USTPAC said, "the phrase “Never again” is hollow when we see no outrage against repeated genocides"

It was a splendid and sunny spring day in US Capitol; hundreds of thousands of visitors witnessed the event, according to the organizers.

Dr. Soma Ilangovan, a disciple of Periyar and The Dravidian Movement addresses the gathering said it is a quest for Justice and lasting peace

According to US National Park Service, "The Washington Monument is the most prominent structure in Washington, D.C. and one of the city's early attractions. It was built in honor of George Washington, who led the country to independence and then became its first President. The Monument is shaped like an Egyptian obelisk, stands 555’ 5 1/8” tall, and offers views in excess of thirty miles. It was finished on December 6, 1884."

Ms. Suba Francis read a poem

Dr. Elias Jeyarajah, President of USTPAC recalled the sacrifices of the people of Tamil Eelam and Tamil Nadu during the height of the onslaught last year. "Let us remember the 40,000 Tamil civilians and 10,000 combatants killed in the final months; Let us mark and remind the world of the 300,000 survivors of brutal war, disabled, weak and destitute, who were put on concentration camps," he said.

Dr. Elias Jeyarajah also said that "we remember the nearly 200,000 people killed in the conflict over the years, most of them Tamil civilians, and we also remember the thousands of Sinhalese soldiers".

Former EU-Parliament candidate and spokesperson for Tamils Against Genocide (TAG), Ms Janani Jananayagam is being introduced by Darren Maynard of TAG, USA

Ms Janani Jananayagam makes a tribute and remembrance

Events marking this week of May are being held around the world by Tamil diaspora

Mmebers of several Tamil Associations of North America participated in the vigil, according to USTPAC

The paintings displayed at the vigil are by artist Shan Sundaram of Pennsylvania, recently elected as a representative to the Trans National Government of Tamil Eelam (TNGTE), an event organizer said.

Worldwide 40,000 candles are being lit this week according to the organizers, and Tamil Americans' shared 4,000 lights at the site of Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial

Some of the lines as the candles were lit:

"We Remember.....
- the blood bath on the beach"

"We Remember.....
- 400,000 Tamils cornered in a small strip land in Vanni"

Banners and illuminated signs of the number of civilians killed according to to some independent estimates were displayed prominently.

- "40,000 Tamils killed on the beaches"

- "40,000 Tamils, our kith, our kin"

- "40,000 Tamils, our blood, our treasure, our sacrifice"

"We Remember...

- cries of the dying and the maimed
- cries of the children and the babies"

"We Remember...

- tens of thousands maimed by the Genocide
- the silence of the International Community"

Attendees holding candles on the stairs to the reflecting pool

"We Remember...

- targeted artillery attacks on Vanni hospitals"

"We Remember...

- SL Govt's shelling and bombing of safe zones"

"We Remember...

- the brave doctors and hospital workers who stay put and served
- the brave defenders in their thousands
- Muthukumar and 17 others who gave up their lives protesting the genocide
- the agony of a Nation of People
- 300,000 Tamils put in concentration camps
- the barbed wire and disappearances
- the starvation and denial of medicines"

"We Remember, We Remember, We Remember
We seek Justice, We seek Justice...."

Participants at the vigil came from several North-Eastern states, Canada and the UK

“We continue to hope that common sense will prevail, and that Rajapaksa’s government will embrace democracy and the rule of law, move aggressively to stop discrimination against Tamils and other groups, and start allowing greater regional autonomy and power-sharing with the central government,” Dr. Karunyan Arulanantham said in a press statement, as spokesman for The Tamil American Peace Initiative (TAPI), one of the several activist groups that attended the May 15th vigil.