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August 31, 2010

I hope Dr. Dhanapala would accept my apologies for any inconvenience caused

by Kalana Senaratne

"Thanks Transcurrents, for publishing Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala’s letter (dated 30 August, 2010). As I pointed out in my article (see final paragraph), I hoped he was misquoted and ‘misquoted badly’.

Point 10 of Dr. Dhanapala’s ‘Submission’ (on the topic of IHL) does not seem to suggest that he had seriously advocated the non-application of IHL or IL in general as regards internal armed conflicts. If so, this seems to be a classic case of irresponsible journalism on the part of the relevant newspapers and media institutions - which needs to be widely condemned.

However, one still awaits the release of the ‘authoritative transcript’ of Dr. Dhanapala’s presentation AND the Q & A session. One hopes Dr. Dhanapala makes it available to the general public - so that one could be able to clearly assess, a) the seriousness of the ‘alleged’ statement made by him, or b) the seriousness of the irresponsibility of journalism in Sri Lanka.The release of this 'authoritative transcript' is quintessential, since The Island (Shamindra Ferdinando) has now stated that it stands by its report of 26 August, 2010.

In case it is (b) above, I hope Dr. Dhanapala would accept my apologies for any inconvenience caused. Yet, I maintain the fundamental thesis of my argument – that IHL and IL in general should apply in the case of internal armed conflicts.

In conclusion, I hope that Dr. Dhanapala or others would make sure that they take immediate measures to publish transcripts of statements made around journalists and media personnel, in the future (note: this was done by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha at http://rajivawijesinha.wordpress.com). Dr. Dhanapala could have very easily posted a draft of his submission on his personal web page soon after he appeared before the LLRC. This, he did not do. - which is also very surprising, and saddening.

Thank you."

Is anyone listening to what I've been saying since the war was won?

by Dayan Jayatilleka

Testimony by former senior officials at the Lessons Learnt panel has provided useful insights into what went wrong with policy perceptions, process and prescriptions during the CFA

Meanwhile the grapevine has it that the Royal Norwegian Government has called for tenders for academics and think tanks which can participate in its own ‘lessons learnt’ inquiry into what went wrong with its own efforts at a ‘peace process’ in Sri Lanka.

All this is necessary and useful. However, after thirty years of war, the crucial question remains, could any of the lessons now being learnt, actually have been predicted? Could any of this have been foreseen and avoided? Were there more accurate perceptions, assessments and analyses? Were other courses of action recommended?

Every Sri Lankan and Lankan-watching intellectual, policy commentator/analyst, ex-DPL ‘elder’, academic and Colombo-based diplomat should subject themselves to this test: what did they say at the time? How far wrong were they and why? Where and why did they get it wrong and how could that have happened?

The flip side of the coin also needs examination. Is it true that only a virulent strand of Sinhala nationalism got it right, or got it right first and got it mostly right? Is it correct that all contending strands of modernist-universalist provenance be they liberal, Marxist, or left-liberal, clung to the view that a military victory was impossible? Was this due to an intrinsic superiority of the ‘nativist’ or more politely, ‘indigenist’ perspective as distinct from a rational-modernist-universalist (‘Western/Westernised’) world view?

I shall reproduce extracts from two texts, the longer one from 1990, almost exactly twenty years ago, and the much shorter from 1993, and leave the reading public to exercise judgement and answer these questions.

The brief text is almost 18 years old, dates from the beginning of 1993, and is a gruelling five-page interview, almost an ideological interrogation, conducted by one of the best Tamil ultranationalist minds, DP Sivaram (alias ‘Taraki’). It appeared in The Northeastern Herald’s issue of January-February 1993, Volume 1, No 6, pp8-12. Readers will recall that the N.E. Herald is the publication that journalist and ex-detainee Tissainayagam was editing at the time of his arrest, having succeeded Sivaram in that post.

Particular attention is drawn to the question and answer about the possibility of a military victory over the LTTE. (The bold type is mine).

“Q. Which means it is possible for the Army in its current form to defeat the LTTE and restore the primacy of the democratic forces in Sri Lanka?

A. I think so. Of course, it will require enormous improvement in command and control, in strategy and tactics, in weapons systems and so on. But it can be done. It should and must be done.”

The interview was run by Sivaram with the caption ‘President Premadasa Should Be Little More of a Warmonger’ and is an abbreviation of the concluding remark by the interviewee: “Personally I would prefer President Premadasa to be a little more of a war-monger towards the LTTE than he has been so far!”

The 1990 text, i.e. dating from twenty years ago, deals with the question of understanding the Tigers and fashioning a strategy for negotiations. As is evident, the actual and potential disasters of the CFA and PTOMS respectively were clearly foreseeable and could have been designed in such a manner as to avoid disaster. The question is why did this not happen?

The 1990 text from which I share extracts was presented, with minor modifications, to two audiences, foreign and local. The first was at the Third Annual sessions of the Organization of Professionals Associations (OPA) dedicated to the theme ‘New Visions and New Initiatives for the Nineties’ held on October 4-6, 1990 at the BMICH in Colombo. The paper I quote from was classified under ‘Reducing Social Tensions’. The second, slightly longer version was presented days later at a seminar on Obstacles to Peace in Sri Lanka, organised by the Minority Rights Group, Swedish section, Sunnersta Herrgard, Uppsala, Sweden, October 7-10, 1990.

“I feel that the LTTE's current actions are quite consistent with their conduct over the years. Here. I am not referring to terrorism but rather to the fact that whenever there seemed to be a chance for a negotiated solution, the Tigers launched an attack so as to abort that possibility. You would recall that the attack on the 13 soldiers in July 1983 took place in a context in which President Jayewardene had finally invited the TULF to a roundtable discussion on Tamil grievances and terrorism. Prabakaran pre-empted it by the ambush...The Habarana massacre of 1987 and the Pettah bomb blast took place in early April just at the time that Mr. Athulathmudali, at the insistence of Dixit had announced a one week unilateral cessation of hostilities, restored tele­phone links and promised the lifting of the fuel embargo on Jaffna within weeks, if the cease­fire met with a positive response on the part of the Tigers. The LTTE reacted with the Habarana and Pettah attacks. These in turn provoked the aerial bombing of Jaffna, which the Tigers used to get international sympathy and Indian support. The Sri Lankan army followed the bombing with the Vadamaarachchi Operation. The rest is history.

My point then is that there is a certain pattern and consistency in the Tigers behaviour which we must discern and comprehend. Their conduct is not random, arbitrary, illogical. The pattern can be understood if we study their history just as Lord Buddha used to refer to the conduct of certain persons in their previous incarnations, so as to point out the consistent pattern.

What is the pattern?

(1) They fear a negotiated settlement through reforms because that will undercut their armed struggle and will be a substitute for their maximum goal. This is also the reason why the JVP opposed genuine negotiations.

(2) Therefore, they do everything possible to de-rail negotiations and force the 'closing off' of reformist options. They seek to polarize the situation so that armed struggle is the only option.

(3) They seek to discredit, undermine and anni­hilate all Tamil moderate political entities which would abandon the armed struggle and settle for less than Eelam.

(4) They try to provoke the Sinhala Armed Forces into massacring Tamil and Muslim civilians, the Sinhala people into starting ethnic riots and the Sinhala Government into calling off the search for a reform package. In this way, they polarize the situation and gain legitimacy or their form of struggle (violence) and for their goal (Eelam and nothing less).

...I believe that Prabakaran does not want any real reforms which will undercut his Eelam struggle. He did not and does not want the Tamil people and his cadres to get accustomed to a prolonged peace. Therefore he created incidents, situations of tension and finally preci­pitated the conflicts. The period before June 11th 1990 reminds me of two other phases ­that after the signing of the Accord in July '87 and the beginning of hostilities with the IPKF in October 1987 and earlier, the period before July '83.

..This does not mean that we must write off the negotiated settlement option. However we must bear in mind that the L TTE, like the JVP, is not a rational revolutionary guerrilla movement. Such liberation movements (e.g. Salva­doran FMLN, Zimbabwe's Zanu, the PLO) are usually amenable to negotiated solutions. The LTTE (like the JVP) is a fanatical movement which will not stop short of its maximum goaIs. The cyanide capsule is the best example of this, No other guerrilla/liberation movement has such a practice - except for certain indi­vidual agents on special missions. The Tigers are like the Japanese fascists in World War II ­the Kamikaze pilots. Therefore a negotiated settlement is that much more difficult. Even if one is arrived at, it is doubtful that they will adhere to it. Still, it is best to try...

...One of the few - very few - advantages the SLA have in this war, is experience. The SLA has fought a war with the Tigers before and some of us have also keenly observed the IPKF - LTTE war. If we derive the correct lessons from these, we can avoid certain errors, minimize our losses, shorten the war and also reduce the adverse political consequences that may flow from this conflict.”

Space constraints prevented the paragraphs below, which were in the Uppsala seminar paper (all papers were reprinted in LANKA, Uppsala University) being in the OPA’s printed digest.

“...I do not mean that the Government should negotiate insincerely as it did with Tamil groups including the TULF during the JRJ - Harry Jayewardene-Athulathmudali years. What I mean is that:

(i) The Government must not permit the LTTE to gain unilateral advantage through and during the talks and

(ii) That battlefield gains of the Government should not be bartered away at the negotiating table. This is what happened when the Accord was signed - though perhaps that was unavoidable then. This must not be repeated. A negotiated settlement must accurately reflect the battlefield situation, the prevailing correlation of forces. The Sri Lankan side must not be tricked or pressured into giving up at the negotiating table what it has won on the battleground.”

No prizes for guessing the interviewee of the ’93 Sivaram interview or the presenter at the ’90 symposia in Uppsala and Colombo. It was yours truly, this writer, (at the time in my early and mid 30s respectively). In 1990, I still entertained the possibility as an ‘outlier’ scenario, of a negotiated endgame with regional and international support, provided it was informed by the tough-minded Realist perspective I had set out. The early ’93 text shows that I was decidedly no longer of that view. What had changed? The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi proved that Prabhakaran was uninterested in and incapable of a negotiated final settlement, while the fall of the USSR and the shift to uni-polarity meant that Sri Lanka could no longer count on a balance in international institutions.

Is anyone listening to what I’ve been saying since the war was won?

Addressing needs of stressed children

MULLAITIVU, 31 August 2010 (IRIN) - Few studies of children in Sri Lanka have examined the daily stress they continue to face since the tsunami and civil war, focusing instead on the direct impact of both, according to two studies in the latest Child Development journal.

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In the spring of 2009, a young boy sits in a makeshift bunker where tens of thousands of Sri Lankan civilians squeezed into the last small strip of land controlled by Tamil Tiger. Thousands were trapped in the so called 'no-fire zone' in the final days of the confict © Contributor/IRIN

Family trauma and economic problems, including domestic violence, the death of relatives or losing access to healthcare, housing and schooling can be more closely related to a child’s mental health than the 2004 tsunami or the civil conflict that ended in May 2009 after two decades of fighting and three failed peace attempts. The government is trying to boost services in the conflict and disaster-affected north and east to help children in distress.

“Significant variance in children’s distress and development is explained by daily stressors caused and exacerbated by, or even unrelated to conflict or natural disaster,” the authors wrote in one study of 400 Sri Lankan youths aged 11 to 20. Little research uses this “ecological perspective” to measure the ongoing and cumulative impact of multiple disasters on children, according to Child Development.

The escape

Kannan*, 9, from the Tamil ethnic group fled with his family during the height of Tamil rebel fighting in 2009 from Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka – the rebels’ military base – to the neighbouring province of Mullaitivu.

“I was scared. Blood was everywhere,” he told IRIN. How such children recover from war depends on the extra attention they get, said Mahesian Ganeshan, a child psychiatrist in eastern Sri Lanka. “These children need extremely caring environments within families and outside the family environment to overcome the horrific and traumatic experience.”

Most children in northern and eastern Sri Lanka have lived through either war or the tsunami, or both, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which, with the government, has identified at least 4,000 children, a number of them former child soldiers, needing urgent support. Further assessments should be made to establish how many more children may need extra help, said Mervyn Fletcher, UNICEF’s head of communications in Sri Lanka.

Response

A senior consultant to the government’s child protection authority, Hiranthi Wijemanne, told IRIN: “With the prolonged conflict and the resulting psycho-social distress and trauma compounded by the tsunami, we definitely need more [children’s mental health services]. With the numbers [of affected children] involved, a more community-orientated and public health approach is preferable to the ‘western, individual’ model, which we cannot afford as the needs are great.”

He said the government was hiring more mental health specialists and the University of Colombo psychiatry department and the government planned to implement a community-based programme to train public health officials in working with children.

Jaffna College, a private school for primary and secondary students in northern Sri Lanka, has started admitting students from displaced families on special admission programmes that include extra guidance and counseling. “These [are] children who had seen the death and suffering continuously for months,” the college’s principal, Noel Vimalendran, told IRIN.

UNICEF is helping to train 269 government employees – whose agencies span probation, social services, police forces, women’s development and counselling – in 14 of the north’s 33 administrative regions to improve services to protect children. In addition, the children’s agency will train more than 1,000 community workers in at least 150 agencies in how to reduce children’s risk of accidents from unexploded ordinance (UXOs).

Handicap International, Caritas and Motivation UK are rehabilitating disabled children, while Save the Children UK is helping former child soldiers adapt to life after civil war.

“The most important aspect of all this is the end of a violent environment for children,” said Wijemanne.

IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) is part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, but its services are editorially independent.

We knew my father would be found guilty until proven innocent

by Apsara Fonseka

Almost two weeks ago, after six whole months of illegal detention and many court cases, my father’s first court martial case convicted him of doing politics while in uniform.

I must say, this did not come as any surprise to us since we knew that the verdict was written by this regime a long time ago. We knew our father would be found guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around. But the fact that we were not even given a chance to argue the case in court was not something we expected. Many probably don’t know that the case was heard and closed without even having our lawyers present – we did not even have a chance to bring forth our evidence.

I heard the Defence Secretary has started to ‘clean up’ the army.

This is the reason he had given for dishonourably discharging my father. His comment made me wonder if it was the panel or his verdict that was handed out in court. His comment sounded as if he knew what the verdict would be at the end. Anyhow, I sincerely hope that he will not stop with the army with this ‘clean up’. I hope the other forces too will see this ‘cleaning’. Especially because if this verdict is true, he surely cannot forget the fact that the President Rajapaksa’s second son and his nephew too did politics while in uniform.

No one can forget the fact that Yoshitha went around with the ‘Blue Brigade’, campaigning for his father. I’m not saying that was wrong, but that was definitely doing politics while in uniform because as far as I know, he still is a navy officer and I don’t see a court martial in the horizon for him. Then again, there were some difference between Yoshitha and my father. Firstly, my father is not a Rajapaksa and secondly, my father retired from his position before he went on into politics. So given these confusing definitions and convictions, I’m guessing that the true meaning of doing politics in uniform lies in who is the final arbiter of the decision.

I’m very interested to see what the Defence Secretary’s thoughts would be on this.

Many, including personnel in the military are disgusted with this conviction. One respectable officer went on to say that it was sickening to hear such verdicts against the General. They seem to think that if this was done to the highest ranking officer in the army, what kind of a guarantee would they have? While some believe no good deed goes unpunished, some others seem to believe the best way to survive or to get promoted inside the military is to certainly do politics ‘while’ in uniform. It seems fair to consider so, because wasn’t that what happened during the presidential election? Didn’t several high-ranking officers come on national television to campaign for the President? Were they not promoted? Were they not given high positions in organisations?

I personally don’t understand why the government wants to accuse others when they themselves wanted to bring my father into politics. I remember in one incident, the President himself asked my father to participate in a political meeting held down South. I also remember my father very clearly saying that he will not get on any stage while he was still serving the forces.

On many other occasions, I know many more government officials came to our home, while my father was still the CDS and asked him if he would like to join the government and do politics. Even government officials working abroad flew in just to do so. However, my father’s answer remained the same. So, why blame my father for coming in to politics when they clearly wanted him to join in the first place? I guess the answer is simple – He didn’t join ‘them’.

My father’s reaction to this verdict was priceless. He showed no worry regarding it. When I asked if he was saddened by the verdict and if he felt as if all his efforts and sacrifices were in vain, he merely smiled and said that these little obstacles would not affect him. He said that although the government had the power to take away his ranks, they will never be able to take away the pride and happiness he felt every time he achieved them. He said that no matter who takes what away, they could never take the memories he built as an army officer and that there will never be any regrets for serving his country.

I personally have no worries about my father losing his ranks. Neither does any member of my family. In fact, I really don’t think any Sri Lankan really cares about this verdict. It was simply another drama created for the whole world to see. My father wrote history and that can never be stolen or erased. He marked his name. He has scars to prove his work. He neither begged nor did favours to get where he did. He believes that actions always speak louder than words and that is what brought him all the respect and honour.

He didn’t run away to another country when things became dangerous or when governments changed. He faced all obstacles that came his way and he held his head up high through it all. So, just because some person gave a verdict to make another person happy and for someone to feel superior and strong, people will always remember. He will always be remembered as the army commander who was able to architect a plan to finish a war. That fact will not change. As the people say, he will always be the General of the public. Nothing or no one can change that fact.

My family and I, with many other Sri Lankans, will always honour and respect my father for all he has done for the country. So, it doesn’t matter. History has already been written and my father’s efforts will always be remembered. There is no power that can take that away.

Many already know the final outcome. The government will try to convict him before the next parliament period if not earlier. They will then sentence him to jail with an extended time period and will make sure he loses his seat in parliament. This is to be expected.

What is not known is how the people will react.

I hope we will always fight for democracy for the sake of our future.

We have nothing left if we have no say, except, to remember Mahatma Gandhi’s words: “You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result.”

August 30, 2010

Outline of submission made to commission on lessons learnt and reconciliation-by Jayantha Dhanapala

Jayantha Dhanapala
25/6 Pepiliyana Road,
Nugegoda.
30th August 2010.

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Dear Sir/ Madam,

In response to an invitation from the Chairman of the Presidential Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC), I appeared before the Commission at 2 p.m. on Wednesday the 25th of August in Colombo having sent a written submission ahead. I considered this a performance of a civic duty on my part.

In my oral presentation, based on scribbled Talking Points and not on a fully developed text, I outlined my thoughts on the subject expanding on my written submission at some points and adding to them at others. I also responded to the questions asked of me by allthe members of the Commission ex tempore.

I have been surprised and disappointed by the many distortions of my presentation appearing in the Sri Lanka media and the commentaries based on these erroneous and selective reporting.

Until I am able to obtain an authoritative transcript of my presentation and the question and answer session from the LLRC I have decided to release the attached text of my written submission so that the media and the general public may have a more accurate record of the views I have expressed to the LLRC.

I shall be most grateful if you will please give this the fullest publicity. The full text of the LLRC transcript will be sent to you as soon as it is received.

Yours sincerely,

Jayantha Dhanapala

OUTLINE OF SUBMISSION MADE BY JAYANTHA DHANAPALA TO COMMISSION ON LESSONS LEARNT AND RECONCILIATION

1. My experience as a career diplomat in the Sri Lanka Foreign Service from 1965-97, and in particular my period as Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office in Geneva from 1984-87 and Ambassador to the USA from 1995-97, are relevant to the challenges of representing a country in conflict and defending it against allegations of human rights violations. In addition my service as an international civil servant with the United Nations for ten years provided me with a multilateral perspective which will enable me to help the Commission understand the workings of an international organization in its relations with a member state. Finally my tenure as Secretary-General of the Secretariat for the Co-ordination of the Peace Process (SCOPP) from 2004-2005 and as Senior Adviser to the President of Sri Lanka from 2004-2007 exposed me to an experience relevant to your mandate.

2. The details of my curriculum vitae and my writings and statements are available on my website www.jayanthadhanapala.com

3. At the outset may I state that I welcome the appointment of your Commission despite its belatedness. It is an opportunity to learn from the tragedy of the recent past and to establish a basis for national reconciliation and unity. The leadership of H.E. President Rajapakse and the bravery of our armed forces resulted in an outstanding military victory over a ruthless terrorist group which ravaged our nation for decades. The time has now come for a multi-dimensional political solution to consolidate that military victory addressing the roots of the conflict.

I must warn, however, against a strategy of postponing Constitutional change and a political solution to the problems that culminated in three decades of conflict until the Commission concludes its work and makes its recommendations. That would only exacerbate existing grievances and widen the gulf between the Government and the public at large especially those belonging to the minority communities. It will also affect the credibility of your Commission adversely. A series of APRC meetings have taken place and a draft report awaits action by the President and its presentation to the general public for discussion and a decision after a wide consultative process.

4. Your mandate artificially sets a time frame from 21 February 2002 to 19 May 2009 . That and its restricted mandate is also a limitation in your good faith efforts to discharge your task. The lessons we have to learn go back to the past – certainly from the time that we had responsibility for our own governance on 4 February 1948 . Each and every Government which held office from 1948 till the present bear culpability for the failure to achieve good governance, national unity and a framework of peace, stability and economic development in which all ethnic, religious and other groups could live in security and equality. The political expediency of apportioning blame will not serve the purpose of national reconciliation. A collective apology to the people of Sri Lanka is owed by all political parties.

5. The supreme law of the land is its Constitution and we have still not been able to frame a Constitution that elicits the confidence and trust of all our citizens. It is not possible within this brief note to outline the form of devolution that I think is vital to prevent future conflict in our land. Suffice to say that constitutional reform is vital and I trust that the excellent talent we have among our constitutional lawyers will be harnessed in this vital task.

6. Education is a primary tool in creating a tolerant society. The experts we have in this field will advise more competently than I can about the techniques of teaching the three languages in use in our country from the earliest age. This must be more than a token gesture and the need for competencies in all three languages up to the GCE ‘O’ level will be necessary to weld our nation into the harmonious multilingual society we need to be.

The cost of recruiting teachers and producing the books for this is a small investment for a huge gain. The example of other countries can be studied most especially in Canada . As far as possible classes in comparative religion could be introduced at senior levels in secondary schools so that a basic understanding of the 4 religions practised in our country is imparted as a pre-requisite for tolerance and religious harmony.

7. Addressing my own experience more directly I recommend that the career diplomats in the Sri Lanka Foreign Service be trained in the representation of a multi-cultural country. All diplomatic and consular missions of Sri Lanka abroad should have officials conversant in Sinhala and Tamil to communicate with the growing expatriate Sri Lankan communities. The symbols and photographs displayed in these missions should focus on the rich diversity of our culture with representatives of all religions participating in the official ceremonies conducted by them. A special outreach effort to engage all groups within the expatriate Sri Lankan community must be organized by the Ministry of External Affairs and implemented by our missions abroad.

8. Sri Lanka is a signatory of all the major international human rights conventions and reports periodically on its adherence to these norms. It would be useful if national reports are not only co-ordinated with relevant Government agencies but also with leading NGOs as well. NGO representatives could be included in the Sri Lanka delegations to Human Rights meetings. More prominence must be given in the media to these reports and the proceedings in the international forums considering them. This transparency about the country’s performance in relation to international norms is necessary both for our own citizens and for the information of the international community

9. The armed forces of Sri Lanka are already being trained in international humanitarian law and human rights. This must be intensified and the Police and the provincial administrators brought into this training process. All police stations and government offices must have facilities to deal with citizens who speak only in Sinhala or Tamil recording statements in the language of the citizen’s choice.

10. International Humanitarian Law is work in progress. Currently there are four treaties and three additional protocols which, over approximately one and a half centuries, have set the norms. The modern experience of counter-terrorism needs to be reflected in the codification of this law and Sri Lanka is uniquely equipped to take an initiative in this respect. Armed combat with terrorist groups using suicide bombers, child soldiers and human shields make the protection of civilians and war victims very difficult for the armed forces.

While in no way reducing the humanitarian aspects of the existing law some discussion could take place in the international community on how the rules of engagement between the armed forces of the state and the terrorist groups could be amended on the basis of the experience gained in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. For example, the May 2009 heroic breaching of the earth bund, behind which an estimated 300.000 civilians lay trapped by the LTTE as human shields, led to the saving of many lives and the conclusion of the conflict but the alternative scenarios and its humanitarian law consequences for Sri Lanka must also be considered.

With regard to anti-personnel landmines, while the Mine Ban Convention applies to nation states the Geneva Call is a neutral and impartial humanitarian organization dedicated to engaging armed non-State actors (NSAs) towards compliance with the norms of international humanitarian law (IHL) and human rights law (IHRL). The organization focuses on NSAs that operate outside effective State control. The LTTE rejected overtures by the international community to join this Call. The point I make is that existing norms have to be adapted to new situations that arise.

Sri Lanka will need to consult through diplomatic channels and especially with the ICRC to convene a diplomatic conference to formulate a new Additional Protocol on new situations arising on the battlefield when encountering terrorist groups. This would be innovative diplomacy and far more constructive than the vitriolic outburst and melodramatic demonstrations we have engaged in against countries and organizations critical of our human rights record.

11. The post-conflict situation is an excellent opportunity to de-weaponise our society. In the years of terrorism both in the South and the North we developed a gun culture. The country was flooded with small arms and weapons. Nobody felt secure without a gun. But even after the LTTE were defeated we have seen no replacement of the culture of violence with a culture of peace. There is violence at the level of the village and there is violence in cities. Guns contribute to this. We have a national campaign against the consumption of liquor led by the President called “Mathata Thitha”.

Should we not also have a programme which we can call “Aviyata Thitha”? I appeal to you to place this at the top of your priorities. The free availability of Small arms and light weapons feeds conflict and crime. They are cheap and can be carried even by children. About 60% of human rights violations in the world have involved the use of these weapons. In Sri Lanka we need stricter laws for gun control.

The existing Firearms Ordinance goes back to 1916 during the British colonial era and although penalties for offences under it have been increased the entire law relating to gun control needs revision and modernization. We do not even have reliable estimates of how many guns we have licensed and unlicensed. Some NGO surveys say there are 1.9 million in circulation. According to news reports guns owned by the LTTE are frequently being discovered. Are we sure they go into the custody of the Government?

There are guns which deserters from our armed forces have carried away from the battlefield which may have gone into the underworld. There are trap guns illegally used by farmers which are misused for criminal activities. Guns should as far as possible be owned by the security forces only and private ownership must be licensed and for justifiable reasons. In a post conflict period while ensuring that we are vigilant to prevent terrorism we must also roll back the process of militarization that has taken place in our society.

When I was in charge of the Disarmament programme in the United Nations in addition to urging strong action against nuclear weapons I led a campaign against small arms which was directly affecting the peace and development of developing countries. There are an estimated 875 million small arms in the world 75% in the hands of civil society. They cause the deaths of about 500,000 persons every year.

The UN held a conference in 2001 and adopted a Programme of Action to prevent the illicit trade in small arms. That programme is being implemented and every two years international conferences are held to review its implementation. A Preparatory Committee met in July this year to draw up an Arms Trade Treaty which will regulate the trade in conventional weapons in the world. We can use the many experiences in other countries to mop up surplus guns in Sri Lanka . Some of them have had bonfires of surplus guns.

I would like to see the destruction of surplus guns in our country. That will symbolize more effectively the end of a gun culture and the defeat of terrorism. There are international resources available for curbing the proliferation of guns which we can use.

12. Racial and religious prejudices exist close to the surface in our society and can erupt in moments of tension. We need a law banning hate speech and hate incitement so that whether by the majority or the minorities all forms of hatred based on ethnicity, religion and caste are declared illegal. A Race and Religious Relations Act patterned on what other multicultural democracies have could be introduced under the Ministry of Nation Building.

A return to basic ethical principles and values is urgently needed in our country today when advocates of exclusivism, prejudice, hate and violence stand in the way of rebuilding a peaceful and prosperous nation.

Let us remember the words of Buddha, as recorded in the Dhammapada:

“The others know not that in this quarrel we perish. Those of them who realize it, have their quarrels calmed thereby.”

It is time we calmed the quarrels among ourselves.

Pix: courtesy of www.iiss.org

August 29, 2010

Mannar - Tamil misery continues

By a special correspondent
Exclusive to BBC Sinhala service

The alert and watchful eyes of weary soldiers scanned every vehicle passing through the checkpoints.

Broken, torn buildings tower over the tiny UNHCR tents on the gardens and court yards. Hanging clothes, pots and pans and carry bags scattered around the land show signs of civilian life.

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The alert and watchful eyes of weary soldiers scanned every vehicle passing through the checkpoints

Thirty years of war has taken a lot from the lives of the Mannar farmers and they still await a sense of security.

“Be careful and watch your mouth. The government security forces are vigilant and they do not like us talking to outsiders," my hosts warned.

The alert and watchful eyes of weary soldiers scanned every vehicle passing through the checkpoints.

They are tired but seem to be friendly. Especially after the moment they identify someone as a Sinhalese visitor from the south.

They are eager to share their war stories, explain the fighting and hardship they have undergone in the area. They see themselves still as victors.

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There is nothing left on the ground for the people who return from the camps where they were interned until recently

'Tragic' civilian life

Civilian life is still a tragedy to many. There is nothing left on the ground for the people who return from the camps where they were interned until recently.

There is nothing left on the ground for the people who return from the camps where they were interned until recently

“We left with a tractor full of stuff in 2006 and came home with two shopping bags”, Mr A told me.

When the Tigers retreated, Mr A had to leave his village near Madu Church with his three children and wife and follow the orders of the LTTE.

He managed to escape to the army controlled area in 2009 just before the war ended.

“The Army sent us to Manik farm and we were there for year and two months. We got our land back but the house was razed to the ground” A said.

We left with a tractor full of stuff in 2006 and came home with two shopping bags

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Broken, torn buildings tower over the tiny UNHCR tents on the gardens and court yards. Hanging clothes, pots and pans and carry bags scattered around the land show signs of civilian life

Resettled IDP

He lived in Murunkan and was brought up by a Sinhalese woman. Fluent in Sinhala Mr A worked in the south. Now he is labouring for 600 rupees a day.

“We get oil, rice, lentils, flour and sugar. We do not have money to buy vegetables. We feed our kids with a pulp made out of murunga (drums sticks) leaves and flour. Sometimes we go on hunting. We do not have guns and the jungles are full of mines. So we have to live on iguanas and other small animals”.

The story is same for many returnees. Many houses were razed to ground. Some live on tiny tents right next to their ruined houses.

They all have to begin their lives from scratch and according to them the support they need is not readily available.

'Extend the suffering'

“The Government promised us they will build our house, but still they did not do anything” Mr A told me.

According to the reports from the area the government redevelopment plan costs about 650,000 rupees per house but only 325,000 rupees is available.

Broken, torn buildings tower over the tiny UNHCR tents on the gardens and court yards. Hanging clothes, pots and pans and carry bags scattered around the land show signs of civilian life

“The aim is to build non permanent houses and extend the suffering of the Tamils” a prominent Tamil leader told me.

“There is no planning, no consultation from local communities or leaders about resettlements, this is worse than the Tsunami but no one is doing anything to ease the suffering of the people” he added.

“If the government is not able to deliver services then it should allow non governmental agencies to intervene, but the Government is not doing that because they are confiscating land and conducting a so-called resettlement plan with a view to implement colonising projects”.

Near Arippu, Muslims have been resettled and local Tamils show their displeasure saying “Kachal” meaning it is disturbing the peace in the area.

Locals say that displaced Muslims were resettled before the Tamils in the area.

Be careful and watch your mouth. The government security forces are vigilant and they do not like us talking to outsiders

In Tirukeshwaram Sinhalese constructors are busy mending roads and reconstructing the damaged temple structures.

The brilliant glossy colours of the nearby Mahathitha Vihara are an example for resurgence of Buddhist temples in the former strong hold of the LTTE, a symbol that does not sit well with local Tamils.

Constructed and maintained by the military Mahathitha Vihara has two resident monks. According to security service personnel, the former leader of the Hela Urumaya, archaeologist Ellawala Medhananda Thero, has confirmed the historical existence of Mahathitha Vihara.

“Now the Tirukeshwaram Temple is challenging the claim as they say we have built the temple in their land” says a member of the military who is stationed in the temple.

Sinhala road names

The propagation of Buddhist shrines is evident throughout roads I followed to Jaffna. Not only that streets and roads were named after heroic Sri Lankan servicemen.

I saw a road named after Gamini Kularathne – Hasalaka Viraya in Vedithalative. Despite the local civilian population being Tamil, the signs of the road were in Sinhala only.

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“The army and navy confiscated lands on the grounds of security and they are trying to wipe out our culture and heritage from the area” a person who wants to remain anonymous told me.

The defeat of the LTTE is bringing more miseries to the already wounded Tamils. Local residents who almost lost everything do not have any energy, political organisation or civil movements to oppose such moves.

“People lack basic goods to sustain their day to day life so they cannot bother about the politics” a leading clergyman in the area told me.

It is apparent that Tamils are forced to accept what the Colombo administration wants but the strong resentment to such impositions inevitably delay the prospects of peace in Sri Lanka.

The government is reconstructing the roads and improving the infrastructure. It is widening the roads and building the bridges to link the South.

Yet bunkers located every 500 meters and the continuous presence of the military give an air of a military state without any bridges to link the communities.

I felt that the watchful eyes of the security personnel and the weary manner of the civilians both ask the same question of how long the guns will remain silent. - Courtesy: BBC - Sandeshaya -

Garment factories exploiting Northern girls, union charges

By Chris Kamalendran

A garment sector trade union leader charged yesterday that some garment manufacturers were seeking cheap female labour from the one time battle areas of the north.“Factory workers were leaving due to poor wages, work and living conditions.

Most in the north are ignorant of the labour laws and are falling prey,” Anton Marcus, President of the Progressive Free Trade Zone and Apparel Union told the Sunday Times.

“After many years of war, the people in these areas are ignorant of workers rights, wages and so on and are easy prey for the apparel operators. Most of the big names currently touring the north and east are known to be serious violators of labour laws,” Mr. Fernando charged.

He said there was a huge dearth of factory hands at the moment because many were leaving owing to poor wages and working and living conditions.

“Therefore the apparel bosses have switched to the north and east where there is widespread unemployment. These people are willing to work for any wage and they care less about the working or living conditions. At the end of the day, these workers will be exploited,” he said.

Meanwhile politicians in the north and east have also begun to frown on the ad-hoc system of recruiting workers from the area. In one case a local MP stopped a group of Kilinochchi girls from being loaded into a bus before they were taken to a factory in Kandy.

TNA politician S. Sritharan said they had no objection to the recruitment but it should be done in a proper manner. “These girls are just loaded on to buses. No one knows where they are heading for. There should be some transparency in the whole issue.

I have taken the matter up with the authorities,” he said.He said that even some security forces personnel were openly assisting in the apparel operators’ campaign to recruit unsuspecting girls.

Lasantha De Silva with Timex Garments admitted they were involved in a recruitment drive in the north and east but said there was no illegality in it. - courtesy: The Sunday Times -

20,000 Workers from India will Arrive Soon to build houses in northern Province

By Chris Kamalendran

A 20,000-strong Indian workforce will arrive in Sri Lanka to carry out mega housing projects in northern districts.

The first phase of the scheme, the construction of a pilot project to build 1,000 houses in Jaffna, will get underway in October this year. Similar pilot projects will be launched thereafter in the districts of Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Mannar and Vavuniya.

The Indian-gifted mega housing project to build 50,000 houses for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) will be managed solely by a Mumbai-based company. It will be under the supervision of the Government of India. The Sri Lanka government is expected to only allocate the land and identify the beneficiaries.

An Indian High Commission official said yesterday that three officials from the construction company met Jaffna ’s District Secretary Emelda Sugumar on Friday to discuss the modalities of the project.

The project was based on agreements reached during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s official visit to India in June.

Under the project 12,500 houses will be built in the Kilinochchi District, a similar number in the Mullaitivu district, 10,000 houses in Vavuniya and 15,000 in Jaffna and Mannar.

To facilitate the Indian construction project an Indian Bank will be opened next week in Jaffna. Already Indian workers have been deployed for railway expansion projects in the north and the south while for the proposed coal power project in Sampur, Trincomalee also India will be sending its own labour force. - courtesy: The Sunday Times -

So called court martial of Sarath Fonseka is contrary to natural justice principles and Article 25 of ICCPR

By Ranil Wickremesinghe

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees to every citizen the right and the opportunity to be elected at periodic elections to ensure the free expression of the will of the electors (Article 25). Sri Lanka, as a party to this Convention has an obligation under Article 2 of the ICCPR to ensure that all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction are granted the rights recognized in the Convention

The Sri Lanka Constitution also affirms these rights under Article 3 (the right to franchise) and Article 14 (freedom of speech, assembly, association, movement etc). It is the Constitution of any country that grants authority to the legislature to enact a statute. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, much quoted during the recent Court Martial of Sarath Fonseka, a Constitution is a “Charter of government deriving its whole authority from the governed. The organic and fundamental law of a nation or state … prescribing the extent and manner of the exercise of sovereign powers… A Statute (eg. an Act of Parliament) is the written will of the legislature, solemnly expressed according to the form necessary to constitute it the law of the State.”

Then it is the Constitution which has granted authority to Parliament to enact a statute. Therefore, any Act of Parliament cannot legally deny any person the fundamental freedoms granted by the Constitution including the freedoms referred to in Article 25 of the ICCPR.

Sarath Fonseka was brought before the Court Martial on the charge that he had taken part in politics while serving in the Army. During the relevant stage of his career he was the Chief of Defence Staff appointed under the Chief of Defence Staff Act No. 35 of 2009. This law is peculiar to the holder of the office.

When Parliament passed this law last year, we did not impose any restrictions on the operation and the exercise of the fundamental rights contained in Chapter 3. Thus the fundamental law of our country ensures that the fundamental rights referred to above are applicable in the case of the Chief of Defence Staff.

In such a situation there cannot be a penalty imposed on him for determining his career after his retirement. Many public officers have contemplated entering politics after retirement; in fact, some of them have retired from service prematurely to contest at elections. Nor is a military officer or a public officer precluded from talking of his / her future employment intentions before retirement.

What is the difference between contemplating on starting a business and contemplating on entering politics after retirement? Can we deny him the freedom of thought enshrined in Article 10 of the Constitution? Both the Prosecuting Counsel and the Judge Advocate General at the Court Martial of Sarath Fonseka failed to mention that the CDS Act should be read together with the Constitutional Rights enshrined in the Constitution.

General Sarath Fonseka applied to retire from the Army on November 12 2009. His request was granted by President Rajapaksa with effect from November 14 2009. On November 19, 2009, after his retirement, I informed the Working Committee of the UNP that since the Government had not made an announcement regarding a Presidential or a Parliamentary Election, the Party should not rush to make a decision about a presidential candidate.

After the announcement of the Presidential Election, the UNP Working Committee met on November 26 and endorsed General Sarath Fonseka as the Common Candidate of the Opposition. By this time similar decisions had been taken by some of the other political parties as well. Since he had retired from the Army, the Military Regulation 13/79 made under the Army Act no longer applied to him. But the Prosecuting Counsel and the Judge Advocate kept this information from the Court Martial and instead stated that the decision to nominate Sarath Fonseka was discussed for three week by the UNP when he was in uniform. I refuted this in Parliament stating that the Prosecuting Counsel had stated a falsehood and that he deliberately misled the Court Martial.

During the Court Martial the Prosecuting Counsel alleged that Sarath Fonseka had told one of the witnesses that he had planned to give information to the US government about President Rajapaksa and the conduct of the war. The alleged words were “ Your Honour, When the Accused General said he would be releasing this information, that is relating to the war between the LTTE and the Government, to the international community, specifically the US Government, with the intention of cornering that is the word that was used in Sinhala or cornering or putting into difficulty the President of the country and the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence.”

General Sarath Fonseka was charged under Section 124 of the Army Act for using “traitorous or disloyal words regarding the President.” The Judge Advocate General referring to “traitorous” or “disloyal” words used in Section 12 did not give the meaning of “treason”. A person cannot be convicted in a Court Martial without defining the offence and the actions which constitute the offence. The Black’s Law Dictionary defines “treason” both under the US and English law. In Cramer vs. the USA the Supreme Court stated that treason consists of two elements: “Adherence to the enemy, and rendering him aid and comfort”. In English law treason is defined as “… adhering to the king’s enemies in his realm, giving to them aid and comfort in the realm or elsewhere…”

Since it was alleged that the information was to have been given to the US government, is the US Government then deemed to be an enemy of this country? If so, the Sri Lankan Government must state so. The US Government has on a number of occasions helped us against the LTTE.

The words alleged to have been used by Sarath Fonseka cannot be deemed treacherous. The Report “Sri Lanka: Recharting U S Strategy after the War” by the Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate referring to a discussion with Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Secretary ministry of Defence, states “he did not deny there have been cases of government abuse but that defeating the LTTE had been the top priority and trumped other considerations”. Civil and Military officials in USA, UK and other countries have from time to time divulged that some members of their armed forces have abused human rights in times of war. This does not constitute treason.

On the other hand, none of the reports issued by the US State Departments and Congress refer to any statements made by Sarath Fonseka against the Sri Lankan Government. Moreover, during his stay in Washington DC, General Fonseka was accompanied by Embassy officials. There is no evidence of General Sarath Fonseka having made a statement regarding the war to the US Government. Neither did the Prosecuting Counsel show that the US Government was planning to prosecute the President and the Secretary Ministry of Defence or put them in any other difficulty. But, the Sri Lanka Ambassador to the US was not called as a witness by the Court Martial.

There is no evidence to prove that the words spoken, even if they were true, caused any harm or injury to the President – nor do they come within the definition of traitorous or disloyal. This is because Sri Lanka is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. I declined to sign it when I was the Prime Minister. As a result no person can be charged with war crimes.

Another instance of misleading the Court Martial is the introduction by the Prosecuting Counsel of the Emergency Regulation No. 1100/1 made on 21 July 2001 as evidence (Judicial notice) regarding the composition of the National Security Council. It is correct that these regulations made legal provisions for the National Security Council. However, these Emergency Regulations are no longer valid as all Emergency Regulations lapsed in October 2001 when President Chandrika Kumaratunga did not renew the Emergency. The next time President Kumaratunga proclaimed Emergency was in 2005. The new set of Emergency Regulations which are still in force do not make any reference to the composition of the National Security Council.

Thus the 2001 regulations referred to by the Prosecuting Counsel are no longer law. It seems the Judge Advocate referred to invalid regulations in summing up the case.

Furthermore, the witnesses giving evidence against Sarath Fonseka had never actually met him. According to the evidence he is alleged to have spoken to witnesses by mobile phone. Some of the witnesses stated that a CDMA phone in the possession of a journalist by the name of Ruwan Weerakoon was utilised to speak to General Fonseka. However, Ruwan Weerakoon was not called as a witness.

Neither did the Government utilize all the investigative and technical resources at its disposal to lead expert evidence to establish that these telephone calls were made on telephones that could be traced to General Fonseka. The Court Martial found Sarath Fonseka guilty on evidence that would not have sufficed to convict a person in any Court of Law or an institution administering justice.

The principal object of a Court Martial is not so much the administration of justice but the maintenance of discipline in the Army. It is based on the royal prerogative to regulate and discipline the Army exercised by Edward I in 1279.

The British Army Website has this to say regarding Military Law: “The principal object of military law is to maintain order and discipline amongst members of the Army and, in certain circumstances, those who accompany them. It achieves this by enforcing a special disciplinary code and procedure that supplants the ordinary criminal law of England.”

The CRS Report for the US Congress titled “Military Courts-Martial : An Overview” by Estela I V Pollack (Order Code RS 21850) states “Military Courts are not considered Article III (US Constitution) courts but instead are established to Article I of the Constitution”. Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the US Constitution will know that Article I deals with the Legislative Branch of the Government in the US, while it is Article III that deals with the Judicial Branch of Government. By stating that Military Courts are not Article III Courts (or Courts of the judicial branch) is to exclude them from the category of Courts of Justice.

A Court Martial is thus a special Military Tribunal created for a very limited purpose. In the US this provision was first made under the Articles of War and not the Articles of the Constitution. In other words, a Court Martial is not a “Judicial” Court but a “Legislative” Tribunal. So much so that in the US persons convicted by Courts Martial did not have a direct appeal to the nation’s highest court, the Supreme Court, and it was only in 1984 the Congress gave service members limited access to the Supreme Court.

This is not different to the Constitutional arrangement found in Sri Lanka. At the time of Independence Sri Lanka did not have an Army. We had the Ceylon Defence Force established under the Defence Force Ordinance. The Parliament acting under its powers to raise and maintain Armed forces enacted the Army Act to establish the Sri Lanka Army in 1949. The Army Act makes provision to make regulations relating to all matters concerned with the establishment and sittings of a Court Martial and to court martial army personnel in order to maintain military discipline. Courts of law and other institutions administering justice are established by Acts of Parliament and not by regulations subordinate to the Acts of Parliament.

Article 170 of the Constitution empowers the Judicial Services Commission to determine the question whether a person is a judicial officer. Members of the Court Martial who are Military officers do not fulfil the requirements of the categories of Judicial Officers referred to in the Constitution. By Section 64 of the Army Act a conviction by a Court Martial has to be confirmed by the President (or such other authority as referred to in the Section). It is a very bizarre procedure, to say the least, when the Executive has to confirm the recommendation of a Court Martial – defeating the separation of powers of the Executive and the Judiciary.

The manner in which the judgment of a court is contested is by way of an appeal to a Superior Court. This however is not so in the case of a “judgment” of a Court Martial. There are no Superior Courts to which an appeal can be made. The manner in which the decision of a Court Martial is challenged is by way of a Writ from the Court of Appeal which is the manner in which administrative decisions are challenged. Therefore, a Court Martial is not a regular Court but belongs to the genre of Administrative Tribunals, the principal and perhaps sole purpose of which is the smooth functioning of an organization and the maintenance of discipline rather than the administration of justice.

My position is that the entire exercise of the so called court martial of Sarath Fonseka was contrary to the principles of natural justice and contrary to Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Sri Lanka had ratified as far back as June 11, 1980. It is also a complete violation of the provisions of our own Constitution. The Court Martial recommended that General Sarath Fonseka be stripped of his rank of General and his pension be denied. The pension is the right of compensation of any person who has served the Government. It is a complete travesty of justice for a person to be deprived of his pension for lifelong service to the nation. It will leave that person destitute. It is also against Army practice to remove the rank awarded to an officer for winning a war. This recommendation made by the Court Martial constitutes degrading treatment and punishment which is prohibited by Article 11 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

The case against General Fonseka can be described as exceedingly feeble. No Court of Law would have ever held against him on the evidence presented and the submissions made to the Court Martial. Furthermore, to make findings against a Member of Parliament without substantial evidence and to deprive him of his pension rights and his rank without a basis amount to a breach of privileges of Parliament. This is why I raised a question of privilege in Parliament and called for the proceedings of the Court Martial to be tabled in Parliament.

Sarath Fonseka was promoted as a General in recognition of his services as Army Commander in defeating the LTTE. The awarding of a higher rank in such an instance is not only a recognition of the Commander, but also of all the men and women who served under him. Therefore, once an officer has been granted a higher rank in recognition of his services it is never removed. The decision to remove the rank of General Sarath Fonseka is an insult to all those brave soldiers. - courtesy: The Sunday Times -

TNA willing to work with government on resolving key issues: An Interview with TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran

By Arthur Wamanan

Q. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has not been vocal in recent times. Has the party changed its stance on the solution for the ethnic issue after the end of the war?

Well, the TNA has a manifesto on which we contested the election. In that, we have specifically stated that we are looking for meaningful devolution of powers in terms of constitutional reforms. There must be sharing of power. And as far as the TNA is concerned, that sharing of power must be meaningfully implemented in the North and East. We have very specifically said that these reforms must be within a united country and must take the form of a federal structure.

Q. Can you explain as to what the TNA is looking for with regard to the settlement? Are you looking for the full implementation of the 13th amendment or an improved one?

Well, the 13th amendment is a reform made in 1987, which the TNA’s predecessor, the TULF had rejected. After negotiations with India, it was considered insufficient. The President at that time, J R Jayewardene, gave a letter to India, undertaking to improve on the provisions of the 13th amendment. Thereafter, several attempts have been made to improve on that. Notably, the Mangala Moonasinghe select committee proposals and thereafter Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge’s constitutional reforms from 1995 to 2000. There were three of those. And when President Rajapaksa took office, he appointed an All Party Representative Committee (APRC). At the inaugural session, he made a speech. He specifically asked them to study power-sharing arrangements in other countries in the world and particularly that of our neighbour India. There was an expert committee that the President himself appointed and the majority of those experts gave a report giving various options as to how meaningful power sharing can be achieved. And we believe that even the final report APRC Chairman Prof Tissa Vitharana submitted to the President is in that direction although it has not been made public by either the President or Prof. Vitharana. The report is in the public realm now as it was recently released by Mr R Yogarajan and Mr Nizam Kariyappar, who were members of the APRC.

Now the recent joint communiqué that the President issued following his visit to New Delhi, along with Indian Prime Minister, also refers to meaningful sharing of power. So that’s the direction in which everyone has been looking at to resolve the issue and that’s the direction in which we are also specifically looking at.

Q. Some of the members of the TNA visited India a few months ago and met Indian Premier Manmohan Singh. What was the outcome of the discussions and what role do you think India should play in going towards a political solution?

The 13th amendment was as a result of the Indo-Lanka accord. It was with the intervention of India that it was brought about. And as I said earlier, there was to be meaningful improvements made to that. And now again, India has extended its good offices and invited President Rajapaksa after the Presidential election and the general election. He went to India on June 8. He had several rounds of discussions with the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, Foreign Minister, Finance Minister and senior government officials. Soon after his visit, the Indian government invited us. And a six-member delegation of the TNA went there. We also held talks with everyone of those Ministers that the President met.

Now, India at this stage is trying to bring the two parties together. Our claim is that President Rajapaksa has received a mandate to govern the country and we respect and recognise that mandate. But similarly, we have been given a mandate in the North and East. The government and everyone else must recognise and respect the mandate of our people given to us. If this issue is to resolve, these two parties must sit together and come to a consensus. So India is helping us to come together. And we are also looking to India for a meaningful participation, meaningful facilitation, so that what commenced in 1987 with India’s direct participation in the form of the 13th amendment to the constitution can come to a meaningful end. The 13th amendment obviously is not the answer. If it was, we wouldn’t have had a conflict that would have raged on until now. So, India has a moral duty to bring what it started, to a successful completion. With that end in mind, we are also participating in discussions with India and also with the government.

Q. The TNA had met the President as well. Can you explain the outcome of the meeting? Does the TNA have any intentions of working with the government in the future?

We have had only one meeting at the invitation of the President. That was on the eve of his departure to India. That was also soon after a fact-finding mission that we undertook to the resettled areas in the Wanni. We presented a report to the President on the situation in the Wanni. Thereafter, we tabled it in Parliament.

Our discussion with the President was twofold. One was with regard to the immediate concerns of our people. Namely, the resettlement issues, the displacement of people due to high security zones in Valikamam in the North and several parts of the East. The other is related to the settlement of the political issue. We reached an agreement with the President on both matters. That is the TNA and the government will work together, have some kind of mechanism to address both the issues.

With regard to the resettlement issue, we have been asked to nominate some names for the President to constitute some kind of institutional mechanism. And hopefully, he will appoint a committee with the participation of the TNA. We have communicated that to the President today (27). That’s as a result of a meeting we had with Minister Basil Rajapaksa on Monday (23). He met us just prior to his departure to India. We were told to forward our names to the President and we have done that.

We will participate with the government to address those concerns.

Similarly, at our meeting with the President, it was agreed that he will appoint a committee and we will appoint ours to meet in order to find a solution to the political issue. That has not taken off as yet. I think the President has already made an appointment as Prof. G L Peiris as the head of the delegation. Prof Peiris has been in touch with us and we have agreed to start negotiations very soon, perhaps early next month.

Q. What is your stance on the merger of the North and East, especially, since the provincial council has started to function in the east?

The merger is part of the 13th amendment. If the President says that he will implement the 13th amendment in full, then the merger is a part of that. If the President says he will go beyond the 13th amendment or as sometimes stated, 13++, then certainly merger must be a part of that and should be more than that. Therefore, we take it that any solution that goes beyond the 13th amendment naturally must include the merger of the North and East. The 13th amendment envisaged the merger of the North and East. Provided a mechanism to merge the two provinces and that was done. Unfortunately, after 19 years, the Supreme Court ruled that the modality by which the merger was brought about was flawed. That is not to say that there should not be a merger of the North and East. All it said was the way it was done was wrong. When the judgment was given, the UNP, the opposition, publicly stated that they would support the government to bring proper legislation to merge the two provinces. In fact, even the position of the government in court was that the merger must not be disturbed and that the court should not intervene as it was a political issue. There was consensus on the part of the government, on the part of the main opposition that the merger must be properly effected. We are looking forward to a time that will be done.

Q. Don’t you think that there would be practical issues in merging the two provinces, since there is a provincial council that has already been set up in the East?

Provincial administration ran as a merged province for 19 years, although there was no provincial council. It ran without a problem for 19 years. Therefore, I don’t see any issue if the North and East are to become a merged province again.

Q. But wouldn’t the parties in the East oppose to such a move?

They have to state their position with regard to the merger of the North and the East. I have not come across even one political party that is opposed to the merger. In fact, the declared stance of every Tamil political party is that the North and East should be merged. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) also did not support the de-merger. Their position is that they would stand by the merger, provided that certain measure of autonomy should be considered for them as well. We have very clearly stated in our manifesto that the merger of the North and East must be achieved with the consent of the Muslim population in the Eastern Province. And we are not seeking a merger that the Muslims oppose.

Q. The TNA has also been invited to be a part of the Tamil Political Parties Forum (TPPF) set up by several Tamil parties. What is your view of this process and what is your stand?

We have got an invitation from the Tamil Political Parties Forum only last week. A letter that was addressed to the TNA parliamentary group leader, Mr Sampanthan, was received in Jaffna. It was sent to us here in Colombo. I have sent a copy of the letter to Mr Sampanthan, who is in India at the moment. We will look into it and consider our response. Until now, it was said that we were not responding positively to this forum’s invitation. But the invitation has come only now. We have not rejected it. But that does not mean that we will readily participate in it. We have had some reservations about joining a forum that has been set up, whose objectives we were unaware of. We are always for a broader unity among Tamil parties and as a primary Tamil party that has representation in parliament, we will work towards that. We will take initiatives of our own to achieve that kind of broader unity. But we are also conscious, that one cannot compromise on fundamental principles in the name of unity. We have been elected by the people with a mandate, and people have voted for us at an election which was conducted under extremely difficult circumstances. They have reposed some kind of confidence in us. They have rejected most of those parties that are part of this forum. We must not dilute or betray the confidence the people have placed in us by readily joining hands with forces who have been rejected by the people. But that is not to say that we should not talk to them or work with them for a common good. But, we will do that at the right time and in the right manner.

Q. What role should the diaspora play in assisting the people who have been affected by the war?

The diaspora has a great opportunity now to participate in the rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the North and East. But as to how they will participate in that is a big question. Because the institutional mechanism for that is not in place. Many of them are apprehensive about sending their funds or investing as they are not very sure of the stability of such endeavours. But that is something for the future. We are also looking at mechanisms that can be brought about through which the diaspora can meaningfully participate.

Q. You had said earlier that the people who were being resettled had not been provided with basic needs. What is the situation now? Did you visit any of these areas recently?

Yes. We visited 28 villages during the end of May and the beginning of June. We went to several places in July where resettlement had not taken place. We are aware that the situation has not significantly changed. They have been allowed to go to their villages with certain roofing materials, tin sheets, certain poles, tarpaulin sheets and some cement bags. And they are expected to live with those. Livelihood programmes have not started, farming has not commenced, fishing industry has not taken off. The people have just been dumped in those places. Several others have not been allowed to go. They are still in the camps. Resettlement has really not happened at all. That remains an issue to date. But, we are not seeking to criticise the government on that score. Our position is that we are willing to work with the government to ensure that our people return to their original places. - courtesy: The Nation -

Fonseka's Perils of Playing Politics and its Implications

By Col R Hariharan

For General Sarath Fonseka who revamped a demoralised Sri Lanka army and led it to final victory in the nearly three-decade long campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009, its aftermath had not been peaceful. His woes appear to be mounting after an army court martial found him guilty of dabbling in politics while in uniform and recommended his cashiering.

And President Mahinda Rajapaksa promptly confirmed the harsh sentence, stripping his rank and hard earned military honours and medals. The hapless General is facing a few more court martial that would haunt him in the coming years.

It will be difficult for non-military minds to understand the ignominy of cashiering. It is much more than stripping of rank and medals of General Fonseka (I do not have the heart to drop his rank and call him Mister Fonseka, although this is what has been reduced to now). It is the negation of the contribution of a person who served the army for 38 years to become the first-ever chief of defence staff. And in the history of Sri Lanka his victory against the Tamil insurgents will always be hyphenated with his cashiering. Only four years back he was lucky enough to escape (with serious injuries) a LTTE suicide bomber assassination attempt him in 2006. It seems the perils of politics have proved more deadly to the General than the Tamil Tiger assassin.

As I am not privy to Fonseka’s court martial proceedings or judgement I am unable to comment on its legality. Even if his political contacts were substantive as decided by the court, Fonseka was neither the first Sri Lankan army officer to do so nor will he be the last. The history of Sri Lanka’s three decades of war against the LTTE is strewn with examples of army officers either favoured or discarded by political masters, not necessarily for reasons of military competency. So it will be reasonable to conclude the Fonseka episode has its seeds in politics of power; after all the government has not shown the same alacrity shown in prosecuting the General to put on the dock even a single hardened LTTE leader held in custody for over a year.

This is evident if we see the sequence of events after the war ended and General Fonseka was hailed as a national hero, sharing the victory banners alongside the President. Politicians were a little unnerved at the soaring popularity of the General after the war and a subdued campaign sideline his contribution in the Eelam War was launched.

The campaign within the government against the General gained more decibels when he spoke of his plans to expand the army, making the politicians even more nervous. Though his plan was not accepted, the government’s mind on his future became clear when it decided not to extend his tenure as Chief of Staff after December 2009 when it ended. The process of cutting down the war hero to size was truly in place when the government offered him the job of secretary in the ministry of sports after his retirement!

The point of no return was probably reached when he developed political ambitions and decided to throw his gauntlet against President Mahinda Rajapaksa seeking his second term as president. The situation was further aggravated when the deeply divided opposition rallied together to put him up as their common candidate against Rajapaksa. In the run up to the presidential poll, Fonseka’s campaign threw a scare, though ultimately he polled fewer votes than Ranil Wickremesinghe did in the presidential election 2005.

The presidential election campaign saw the transformation of the General, generally considered a Sinhala hawk, into a champion of Tamil problem. And it was anachronistic to see that elements of Tamil Diaspora that had supported the LTTE, which tried to kill him, were his election bedfellows! Even as the pre-election campaign gathered momentum, political screws against the General were tightened. Conspiracy theories of military coup and take over abounded, Gajaba regiment troops deployed for his security were withdrawn for suspected personal loyalty to the General and serving officers considered loyal to Fonseka were given the walking papers. Even the retired servicemen who supported him were not spared. And in a clear break from the past even some elements of army joined the tar brush brigade to paint Fonseka as a villain during the election campaign. The smear campaign had three parts; prosecution of the General on the legal cases relating to three aspects.

The army and civil intelligence sleuths have "discovered" a whole range of offences committed by the General during his tenure as army commander. Presumably there was a prima facie case at least in some of them. But their inaction in showing the same diligence they later displayed when he became political loose cannon is rather intriguing.

Thus in an oblique way it was the General’s rapid rise in national popularity charts that did him in. It led him to the bogs of party politics and he quickly got entangled in its culture of intrigues and character assassination. Otherwise he would have probably ended up enjoying his well earned retirement, expanding on his concept of counter terrorism warfare in haloed portals of military learning everywhere.

But his prosecution has shown the weakness of Sri Lankan system in action where checks and balances of government action appear to have been sacrificed to serve political interest. While this is inevitable in party-politics it is detrimental to the long term interest of healthy growth of democracy. At present Sri Lanka is involved in a serious exercise of revising its constitution. A key dilemma is the changeover of the present presidential system to a Westminster type parliamentary democracy, limiting the powers of executive president. A compromise is likely to be struck - to have the cake and eat it in typical South Asian style - by retaining the presidential system while clipping his powers. But constitution largely remains a document in parchment unless political parties and the people are able to exercise full powers guaranteed to them in the constitution. Will they be allowed to do this or become victims of maelstrom of power? This question has to be confronted not only by politicians and the civil society but the intelligentsia as well. Otherwise mere changes in constitutional structure will be a cosmetic surgery that does not cure the underlying maladies.

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

Can India build a meaningful military relationship with China?

By Col R Hariharan

The recent India-China stand-off over the issue of a Chinese visa for Lt General BS Jaswal, a serving commander of Northern Command, has highlighted the tenuous nature of existing ties between the two countries.

This incident has shown the limitations in building a military relationship with China, in the absence of greater and closer strategic relationship between the two countries. At present the military relationship in a nascent stage limited to goodwill visit of senior officers and naval ships. There had been a few low level exercises with the participation of sub units of armies of both the countries.

It also raises the fundamental question whether India can build a meaningful military relationship at all with China? Both the countries have no choice to build a strategic relationship in which military relationship would be an important segment. So far India-China relationship building had been a halting process, despite appreciable growth in mutual trade largely to the advantage of China. So building a military relationship is going to be a long haul filled with minefields of petty misunderstandings and minor confrontations.

Building a military relationship is inextricably intertwined with a number of strategic issues in which the two countries have conflicting interests – China’s territorial claims in India’s border areas, presence of sizeable Tibetan refugees who refuse to accept Chinese rule in Tibet, China’s growing relations with India’s close neighbours, growth of integrated strategic defence ties between China and Pakistan, and China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean region. These issues have gained new dimensions after the US economic downturn and Washington’s efforts to scale down its strategic moves to contain China. China’s rapid progress in military modernisation – particularly naval and missile capability – have strengthened and made its ambitions to become a global super power a little more realistic.

India had been bending over backwards to accommodate China’s periodic aberrations in its fragile relations. It had always played down even reports of Chinese border intrusions and protests over Indian prime minister’s visits to Arunachal Pradesh. However, New Delhi has reacted strongly in the case of Lt General Jamwal’s visa to China. Apart from issuing a demarche to Beijing, India has reciprocated by refusing visas to Chinese PLA officers including one to attend a course at the National Defence College in India. It has also suspended other military interactions with China, at least for the time being.

If we go by India’s defence minister AK Antony’s reaction the following day, New Delhi appears to have had second thoughts on the issue and tried to play down the whole thing, even as the media went gewgaw over the incident. Answering a media question on the incident, he said "We have close ties with China. There may be some short term problems (emphasis added) but they will not come in the country’s overall approach towards our neighbour." Does this mean the defence minister, who gives form to India’s national defence, has failed to read the strategic signal Beijing has sent with this incident? After all India has gulped down similar rebuffs from Canada to its serving and retired army officers in denying visa for private visits on even more specious grounds. Then why raise the ante in the first place, when China poses a problem over visas?

As B Raman has pointed out in his recent article " Dealing with China’s machinations in J and K" (available at SAAG) there appears to be a distinct shift in Chinese policy regarding the status of J and K. This is probably in keeping with China’s revised strategic security perceptions. The first relates to Xinjiang – the region troubled by Uighur revolt - on its south-western flank. The potential for Uighur revolt increases when the strategic environment of the Taliban dominated areas along Pakistan-Afghan border changes for the worse as and when American military power is scaled down over the next year. A second aspect, related to earlier issue, is the likelihood of Pakistan increasing its clout in this region when the muscle power of Taliban increases after American exit. So it would be in China’s interest to further consolidate its strategic relations with Pakistan over the long term. It would also serve China’s global interests: improve China’s access to the Arabian Sea and its energy security. Of course, an added incentive is a militarily more reliable and stronger Pakistan would keep India busy on its western flank. China would then be able to leverage it to its advantage both in negotiations and confrontations with India.

India has always had a problem in rationalising its policy making to meet the needs of national interests in a changing strategic environment. Even on other issues that require real time action, there is a lot of foot dragging and uncertainty to the detriment of national interest both in internal and external policy making. As a direct consequence even manageable issues like Kashmir unrest, Naga insurgency, and Maoist upsurge have become hardy perennials. While these issues have a large internal content, it has also affected foreign policy making with a lack of clarity and definition. India will have to be proactive in building relations with other nations, with clear and visible demarcation of its own interests where it would not make compromises. This is essential in dealing with countries like China who see their own interest in clearly defined terms in every move they make and action they take. The Chinese have made good use of India’s weakness in this respect to needle India as and when it suits them.

Any improvement in this regard requires a change in national mindset. It is doubtful whether the present Indian national leadership, including the political community as a whole, is ready to take charge, instead of deferring decisions and debating the frivolous. Unless this is done, it is going to be increasingly difficult to deal with China. India has to foster a win-win relationship with China. It is essential for handling contentious issues that are often in conflict with national security interests of both the countries. Otherwise as national security interests gather more form and content, India would be the loser. And we cannot afford to do that

(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence officer is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group, and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E-mail:colhari@yahoo.com Website: www.colhariharan.org)

August 28, 2010

In Pictures: Visual Reponses During the War: Selected Works of Artists

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace. The art of war is of vital importance to state. It is matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence under no circumstances can it be neglected”~ Sun Tzu , Chinese Military commander, (722–481 BC or 476–221 BC)


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Visual Responses During the War:

Selected Works of Artists Painting,Drawing,Sculpture,Installation and Photography is currently being held at Lionel Wendt Gallery&Harold Pieris Gallery in Colombo. The exhibition will remain open from 28th of August 2010 till 31st of August 2010.The gallery hours are from 10am to 7pm. [click here to see & read in full]

Mahinda Rajapakse means to be President for life

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Tomorrow, perhaps the future” - WH Auden (Spain 1937)

The charade is finally over. President Rajapakse has informed Sri Lanka’s Micawberian Opposition that he intends to remove presidential term-limits and run for a third (and, the Grim Reaper permitting, a fourth and a fifth…) term. Clearly Rajapakse père means to be President for life, and be succeeded by Rajapakse fils. The UNP has been deluded, yet again, and (wittingly or unwittingly) made to serve the dynastic ambitions of the Ruling Family.

Now that the truth is out, the UNP cannot continue to cling to the mirage of consensual politics. Here is an issue which must be fought and can be won. If the Rajapakse plan to remove presidential term-limits is successful, Sri Lanka will succumb to Dynastic Rule. But, if the proposed amendment is defeated, there is a fighting chance for a non-Rajapakse to succeed Mahinda Rajapakse, six years from now. This is a battle which cannot be evaded by any who abhors the thought of Sri Lanka in the grip of a tyrannous and rapacious Family Oligarchy.

Removing presidential term limits while preserving the powers of executive presidency is incompatible with democracy. Consequently this is not a partisan issue but a straightforward battle for democracy in which all opposition parties (from the UNP to the JVP and the DNA, from the SLMC to the TNA and the TULF) can join, without reservations about political principles or electoral spoils. Since, in the final analysis, the only real beneficiaries of the proposed amendment are some members of the Rajapakse Family and their hangers-on, this issue can be used to drive a wedge not only between the Ruling Family and the Ruling Party but also within the Ruling Family, causing the isolation of Rajapakse père and fils, (Would Basil Rajapakse, for instance, be elated at the thought of a President Namal?) The Rajapakses, in their unctuous greed, have presented the opposition with the ideal single-issue campaign which can ‘unite the many to defeat the few’. Will the opposition grab this opportunity or miss it to the detriment of our common future?

Will to Power, Leni Riefenstahl’s artistically magnificent and ideologically diabolical movie heralded the Nazi future. Pongu Thamil venerated Vellupillai Pirapaharan as a living god. Jaya Jayawe, a musical show sponsored by the state TV, presaged the Rajapakse future. Panegyric after panegyric hailed President Rajapakse as the ‘Lion in the Lion Flag’, ‘Our Time, Our Legacy, Our Future, Our Solution, Our Father, Our Comfort, Our Happiness, Our Light…..’, the ‘Father of the Nation’ and the ‘Wonder of the World and the Universe’, ‘High King’ and ‘Divine Gift’, a ‘Golden Sword which defends the nation’ and a ‘Golden Thread which unites sundered hearts’, the Sun and the Moon (Hiru and Sandu to the South; Thinakaran and Chandiran to the North).

The final song of the evening was dedicated the President’s mother; ‘Mother, are you watching from heaven, as the Son, whom the gods and the Brahmas sent to your womb from golden palaces, is protecting the Nation?’ queried the songstress, while the said heaven-donated son listened with manifest complaisance, finding nothing out of the ordinary in this and other idolatrous outpourings. His demeanour indicated that he considered such slavish obeisance to be his due. It was the attitude of a man who sincerely believes that absolute power and lifelong rule as his right. Removing presidential term-limits is a sine-qua-non for the realisation of that manifest destiny.

The Rajapakses, when inveigling opposition members to defect, use cupidity as their main psychological propellant. The opposition can use similar tactics to cause dismay and consternation in government ranks. If Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga removed Presidential term limits, Mahinda Rajapakse would not have had a chance of becoming the President. Similarly, if the Rajapakse plan works, all senior and up-and-coming SLFP leaders will be condemned to stagnation and to end their political lives as the servitors of this or that Rajapakse.

The constitutional amendment removing Presidential term limits contains the potential to create dissension within the ruling coalition. If the amendment goes through, non-Rajapakse SLFPers will have to be content with nothing more than toothless ministerial posts, since real power will be concentrated in the hands of the Rajapakses. A word picture of this unending Rajapakse future, consisting of unquestioning obedience to every caprice of the Ruling Family and humiliating servitude to a President Namal, for a paltry reward, should be drawn for the edification of SLFP seniors and potential Young Turks. The prospect of such a life sentence of servility cannot but dismay any vertebrate SLFP leader. Given their dread of Rajapakse vengeance (of which Gen. Sarath Fonseka is living proof), leading SLFPers are unlikely to join any oppositional campaign openly. But if the opposition can launch a broad and a spirited campaign against term-limit removal, some SLFPers may be emboldened into urging the President to shelve his signature constitutional reform.

There was a time when the UNP was a source of inspiration to its supporters and unease to its opponents. Today, thanks to the long, debilitating leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UNP is a source of inspiration to its opponents and unease to its supporters. Reversing this reversal totally is impossible until Mr. Wickremesinghe is ousted from UNP leadership. Fortunately the necessary battle against the removal of presidential term-limits need not wait for that felicitous change. In fact, the conduct of leading UNPers on the issue of presidential term-limit removal can become a litmus test to gauge their capacity (or lack of it) to battle the Rajapakses.

Will Mr. Wickremesinghe be able to unite the opposition and launch a strong and spirited protest campaign against presidential term-limit removal? Which of the UNP’s Young Turks will play a leading role in this national campaign? Incidentally the Rajapakses are likely to make insidious attempts to exacerbate the leadership squabble and other divisive issues to prevent the UNP from focusing on the battle against Presidential term-limit removal. The UNP needs to avoid such ruses and concentrate on the task at hand. Let Ranil Wickremesinghe, Ravi Karunanayake, Sajith Premadasa and others with leadership aspirations show their mettle in this necessary battle for democracy against a common enemy.

An effective and united protest campaign may also discourage potential opposition defectors. The regime does not have a two-thirds majority as yet. Unless the Rajapakses can engineer a substantial defection from the opposition, they will need to retain the support of every UPFA parliamentarian. If some of the minority or left parliamentarians can be persuaded to dissent on just this issue, while remaining in the government, the Rajapakse plan to remove presidential term-limits may be stillborn.

The opposition lost many battles because it never waged them. Today indifference and inaction are non-options. The term-limit removal issue is the last real hurdle in the path to dynastic rule; it is also the highest because this is an issue which cannot be justified, ipso facto, using patriotism, Sinhala supremacism or any other ism. On this issue, the Rajapakses are at their weakest and most naked. They can and must be defeated, for a democratic Sri Lankan future to become even a remote possibility.

Sri Lankans must thank for JVP and ex-Chief Jutice for saving us from PTOMS

by Dayan Jayatilleka

The Lessons Learnt process is turning into quite an exercise in public pedagogy and performance, though it could be better. I rather liked Prof Rajiva Wijesinha’s ‘all round the wicket’ batting -- interspersed with episodes of whistle blowing (if one may mix one’s sporting metaphors) -- but then again I would, wouldn’t I? The mini-debate between LLRC chairman and former Attorney General CR de Silva and Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala was rather a superfluity

Mr de Silva held that the Tamil people wanted equal status and equality of opportunity, not constitutional reform, while Mr Dhanapala seemed to demur, defending the need for an enlightened framework of basic law. They were both correct. Equality of citizenship and opportunity, while a guiding goal, needs Constitutional guarantee and expression, while any Constitution should be informed by the spirit of such equality while enshrining it as an explicit principle and aim.

The LLRC dropped the ball with Ambassador Dhanapala, failing to inquire into the post tsunami mechanism he negotiated with the LTTE. That exercise in ‘civilised diplomatic negotiation’ by an senior professional of great experience resulted in a mechanism that was so heavily laden in favour of the Tigers that it was hit by a ‘double whammy’: its main operational tier was frozen by the Sri Lankan Supreme Court and the United States refused to contribute a dollar in post tsunami assistance to it because US laws prevented funds being transferred to a terrorist-dominated structure such as the PTOMS was.

The PTOMS had a three tier structure. The apex body had three members; one from the legitimate government of Sri Lanka, one from the terrorist separatist LTTE and one from the Muslim community. In other words, the Sri Lankan state and the Tigers were placed on an equal footing: GG Ponnabalam’s ‘fifty-fifty’ with bells and whistles on, or rather, RPGs and Claymores. The story got worse. The key operational tier was the second tier, and there the LTTE had been conceded a larger number of representatives than the Government and the Muslims (5:3:2). The least objectionable third tier had representatives of the Govt, the LTTE and NGOs. The PTOMS was to be headquartered in Kilinochchi, the Tiger ‘capital’; the ‘heart of darkness’. This Tiger dominated structure was accorded the right to do ‘post tsunami rehabilitation work’ in the coastal areas hit by the tsunami, which mean it would have been utilised by the LTTE to rebuild its Sea Tiger network ( hit by the tsunami) and seed coastal areas under Sri Lankan military control, with clandestine Tiger cells.

Sri Lanka must thank the JVP and ex-Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva for saving us from the PTOMS and its consequences, though the final thanks go to the Lankan voters who opted for Mahinda Rajapakse over the Ranil-CBK combine.

Now for some good news: it was great relief to read an extensive statement by a senior Cabinet Minister of the Sri Lankan government which contained a lucid revaluation of the war and a clear, correct policy framework for the post war future. Unsurprisingly this came from Prof GL Pieris, and suitably enough, it was at a respected think tank (dating from the days of Mao and Zhou en Lai) in Beijing, strategically Sri Lanka’s most reliable friend over the long duration. Having listened to Prof Pieris address audiences from Colombo in 1990 through to Geneva during my stint, I am fairly sure he spoke ex tempore, being one of the few Sri Lankan speakers capable of doing so with easy success at any forum. The current Secretary General of SAARC, Dr Sheel Sharma, PhD in Advanced Physics, buoyed my morale when he admiringly observed this about our new Foreign Minister over lunch in Singapore after a talk/discussion at the Institute where I am based.

Prof Pieris accurately recreates the international and policy backdrop:

“...It is, therefore, worth pausing to reflect for a moment on how this became possible, because the gloomy prophesy that we heard all too often from the international community, was that it was simply not possible to prevail against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the battle field.

We were told, no doubt with good intentions, by countries which had a whole reservoir of military expertise, that terrorism could not be defeated militarily. The experience of Sri Lanka demonstrates the contrary, so the question is, how was it possible for a small country with very limited resources, with a small Army, Navy and Air Force to succeed, where other larger countries with far more substantial resources at their command, failed? What is the explanation of this remarkable phenomenon?”

He then makes a fundamental point which holds true for all imperial or expeditionary ventures at counter-terrorism. Neither counter-insurgency nor counter-terrorism can be successfully or sustainably exported.

“One of the most important lessons is that, if you are to succeed in an endeavour of this kind, the effort has to be made by the country itself. There is no way that you can call in the armies of another country.

However well meaning and well disposed that other country may be, it simply does not work on the ground because, directly you have the armies of another country fighting with a terrorist group within your own shores, what inevitably happens is that the population of your country tends to rally round, in support of the terrorist group against a foreign army that is seen as an invading force. Consequently, the first lesson is that, it is your own military that has to be entrusted with the responsibility of overcoming terrorism, of course with assistance from your friends.”

Having correctly cautioned that “the explanation of what occurred in Sri Lanka is multi-faceted. There is no single cause that you can attribute to what was accomplished in Sri Lanka” he rightly observes that “There were many components, many factors which contributed to this overall result. One was determined and resolute political leadership...”

Perhaps most relevant of all is his exposition of state policy for post war Sri Lanka, the first enunciation of its kind, doubly important because it was in Beijing, which gives the lie to the comforting insular myth that a political resolution is solely a concern of the West, Tamil Nadu and societies with a Tamil Diaspora (South Africa, Malaysia, Mauritius), and that the East, especially China, is immune from such interests and considerations. In the programmatic hub of his presentation, Prof Pieris says:

“...there is a lacuna which has been created by the physical elimination of the elected Tamil leadership.

The problem is, as you address substantive issues connected with the devolution of power or power sharing, whom do you engage with? Who are the legitimate interlocutors on the other side, especially at the grass-roots level?

President Rajapaksa does not believe for a one moment that a military victory, by itself, will provide us with a durable and lasting solution. I would say a military victory is a necessary condition, but it is by no means a sufficient condition.

There must be other requirements to be satisfied. In other words, a military solution has to be supplemented by political initiatives. That means that you must put in place arrangements for redistribution of power, empowerment of minority communities, all of which would require vigorous consultation with minority groups.

...we held free and fair elections which have enabled the Tamil community to elect representatives of their choice, to negotiate with the government in power.

... It is not possible mechanically to transplant into your own environment solutions which had worked well elsewhere, because no two situations are identical. You have to adapt successful solutions elsewhere, to suit the combination of circumstances in your own country. There is no size that fits everybody.

There is no universal prescription for problems of this kind...A particular solution that is suitable for your own country is determined by many factors such as one's own history and culture, the social and economic institutions in one's own country, the cultural mindset of people, their practices, customs, beliefs and value systems. The nuances of the local situation are of critical importance in determining the nature of the solution that is suited for one's own country.”

In the concluding part of his presentation, Prof Pieris demonstrates a sure grasp of ‘the key link’ (to dip into the lexicon of the Communist Party of China).

“In the post conflict stage, it is vital to move the country rapidly towards reunification and emphasis on a national identity. If you take South Asia, one of the basic policy dilemmas of South Asia is to answer a fundamental question. How do you reconcile ethnic and cultural pluralism with the concept of mature nationhood? This is a problem that not only Sri Lanka but every nation in South Asia has had to consider in earnest. To put it simply, what are the economic and social structures that you need to create in order to enable people speaking different languages, professing different religions, coming from different cultural backgrounds to feel at home, in one country, without any sense of exclusion? That is very important.”

This then, is at last, language the world can understand and relate to. It is precisely what the entire international community, including our staunch friend China, wants to hear. It is what our friends need to be reassured of, so that they can continue to support and defend us in all forums. It is what the world is waiting for us not just to say, but to do. The day we accomplish this task, the international siege will be no longer sustainable. This is the path that leads to sustainable peace.

If the UNP is to preserve itself and survive it has to change

by Dayan Jayatilleka

Was Opposition firebrand, lawyer, karateka and pop vocalist Dayasiri Jayasekara right when he warned several weeks back that the UNP stood in danger of electoral extinction, like the Old Left in general and the LSSP in particular? The answer probably resides in yet another question: what would be the Wickremesinghe led UNP’s strength in parliament today, if Sri Lanka had the first-past-the-post system?

How many seats would it have obtained at the 2010 general election? How many seats would it get under the current leadership at the next election, were the system to be changed to a Westminster model? These queries are particularly pertinent because the reversion to such an electoral system is perfectly possible as part of the macro changes that are in the offing as the Government closes in on a two thirds majority in the House.

The comparison with the LSSP is not fanciful when one recalls that at the general election of 1947, the Left did so well, that had it re-combined (it was divided into three – LSSP, BLPI and CP) and linked up with independent-minded progressive MPs such as SWRD Bandaranaike, independent Ceylon’s first government could well have been Left led, and not, as it happened the conservative administration of DS Senanayake’s UNP. A mere thirty years later, at the General election of 1947, the once mighty LSSP and CPSL were wiped out, and were utterly unrepresented in the parliament of 1977.

I do not wish to re-ignite the discussion over what the Left got wrong and when, for it to wind up in so pathetic a state, since I have written extensively on the subject over the years, starting with a piece in the Economic and Political Weekly (India ) in 1978 while a Peradeniya undergrad. Instead I wish to indulge in a little counterfactual history as to how the Left, crushed in 1977, could have revived fairly rapidly by adopting a simple remedy or even avoided the wipe-out of that year.

Had the leadership of the LSSP been handed over to Vasudeva Nanayakkara and that of the Communist party to Sarath Muttetuwegama before the General election of 1977, after the manifest failure of the old guard leaders, the left may have averted electoral extirpation. Had the leadership handover taken place in the aftermath of the 1977 election, the Left would have revived. Instead, ritual self criticism was conducted in both parties, without the basic change in leadership that would have signalled the public that the disastrous line of the recent past had been definitely abandoned and that the old leadership had paid the price of their political perfidy. Instead the old faces remained at the top, while the relatively younger figures were used as window dressing—and the voter based was washed away.

The lesson is simple and clear: that of timely generational change. A failed elitist Establishment must give way to a dissident younger leader with populist appeal, if the political organisation is to survive and recover. No tokenistic re-shuffle, cosmetic self-criticism, ‘inner party constitutional reform’ or recombination of parties can suffice or act as a substitute.

As another missed chance in the history of the Old left demonstrates, formal organisational unity of the party is a secondary matter in determining outcomes in politics and history. Following the 1971 Insurrection, its bloody suppression, the continuation of the Emergency, the introduction of the retroactive Criminal Justice Commission legislation, the district and media-wise standardisation of university entrance, the Constitution of 1972 and the incarceration of Tamil youth for hanging black flags in protest in Jaffna, the Communist Party of Sri Lanka suffered a serious internal schism in 1972. Founder member of the Socialist movement in Sri Lanka and first ever parliamentarian from the left, Dr SA Wickramasingha, young radical MP Sarath Muttetuwegama and the editorial staff of the popular newspaper Aththa were the most prominent elements of the leftward dissent. It was stifled in the name of ‘party unity’ by the canny Party Secretary, KP Silva (towards whom I have had warm personal regard since my teens). Comrade KP returned with the ‘line’ from Moscow, and tapped into the respect that young party militants had for him, to abort the rebellion and ‘re-establish party unity’.

What was the upshot? When the electoral backlash came, it swept the entire CP into the dustbin. The first to recover and be re-elected at a by-election, functioning almost as a lone opposition, was Sarath Muttetuwegama. Had the 1972 split not been suffocated, the respected and popular dissident faction would have provided a ‘left alternative’ to the UF government and turned into something like the CPI-M of neighbouring India. Most importantly, the JVP would not have been able to monopolise the ‘left space’, with the dreadful spiral of terrorism and counter-terrorism that we experienced in the 1980s. Even the Tamil struggle would have had a different outcome with the leftwing elements having a strong Left partner among the Sinhalese (which the JVP, a Sinhala chauvinist party, was unwilling to provide).

Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya has recently made an impassioned appeal for opposition unity in the face of what he identifies as highly deleterious political trends. His appeal begs the question. There was a far greater threat to democracy emanating from a government and state, when JR Jayewardene took away the civic rights of the SLFP leader, sacked 60,000 striking employees, deployed physical (including lethal) violence against trade unions and student youth, allowed his goons to go unpunished after burning the Jaffna Public Library and making a mockery of the DDC elections in the North, had a referendum instead of a scheduled parliamentary election, failed to crackdown on the July ’83 anti-Tamil rioting, and unfairly proscribed the JVP. By contrast, today’s lurches and skids towards political centralisation and monopoly come from an absence of such ‘brakes’ as are usually constituted by a viable Opposition, or if one is to change metaphor, from a political terrain that contains hardly any obstacles to political temptation. Thus if Mr Jayasuriya wishes to combat the wrongs he so passionately identifies in his latest text, he should begin by putting his own house in order, i.e. fighting to make the UNP viable by changing its leadership.

If the UNP is to preserve itself, if it is to survive, it has to change. This seeming paradox would come as no surprise to reader of Giuseppe de Lampedusa’s famous novel The Leopard (‘Il Gatopardo’) with its now legendary dialectical dictum that ‘for things to remain the same, they have to change’ or, put the other way around, ‘things must change, for them to remain the same’. Sri Lanka’s two major democratic parties instinctively knew this, hence the changes from Senanayake to Jayewardene and then to Premadasa, and from Sirimavo to Chandrika and then from the Bandaranaikes to Mahinda Rajapakse.

Today’s UNP has forgotten that and perhaps lost the capacity to make that change.

The crisis of democracy in Sri Lanka today, is primarily a crisis of the opposition, which is itself reducible to the crisis of the UNP. The crisis of the UNP is one of blocked or failed transition to a new generation of leaders untainted by the charge of un-patriotism and appeasement.

Not a crime to seek asylum - Mennonite Central Committee, Canada

by Gladys Terichow

WINNIPEG, Man. – It is extremely regrettable that the Tamil refugee claimants who arrived in Canada in early August by boat arrived under such a cloud of suspicion, says a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) spokesperson.

“It is not a crime to seek asylum and no one is ineligible until their refugee claim has been assessed and denied,” said Ed Wiebe, MCC Canada’s refugee assistance coordinator.

Canadian and international refugee laws recognize that people fleeing persecution will arrive in other countries by plane, foot or boat.

The 490 Tamil refugee claimants that arrived in Canada in early August by boat are in compliance of these laws, said Wiebe.

Canada’s refugee laws, he said, are designed to examine each claim on an individual basis and address issues of criminality and security.

In keeping with Canada’s humanitarian tradition and international obligations, Canada provides protection to over 15,000 asylum seekers a year.

“A boat load of 500 refugee claimants does not overwhelm the system,” said Wiebe. “Our Canadian system is adequate to deal fairly with these claims.”

Just a month before the Tamil refugee claimants arrived on Canadian shores, the Canadian government made significant amendments to the legislation that governs the refugee claim process in Canada.

MCC Canada presented a brief to the parliamentary hearings where the amendments to the legislation were discussed.

“Canada had a good system but we (Canada) made a good system even better,” said Wiebe.

Gladys Terichow is a writer for MCC Canada

Internal armed conflicts, humanitarian laws and the curious transformation of a former diplomat

By Kalana Senaratne

Numerous reports suggest that Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala had some interesting things to say when he appeared before the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recently; about aspects relating to the interference of certain States in the internal affairs of other States; about the R2P concept; about the Sri Lankan Armed Forces carrying out a daunting humanitarian operation, saving 300,000 innocent civilians kept as a human shield by the LTTE and thereby preventing a certain ‘holocaust’ (The Daily News, 26 August 2010; The Ministry of Defence (defence.lk), 25 August 2010)

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Jayantha Dhanapala and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ~ pic: http://www.pugwash.org

Thereafter, he had said the following too: that there was a need for an international protocol to deal with Armed Forces engaged in fighting terrorism with non-State actors and that ‘many of the Rules of War and International Humanitarian Laws were based on the assumption that the warring parties were conventional armies of states but in Sri Lanka’s case the LTTE had totally disregarded those laws and principles.'

Finally, he seems to have said something that even President Mahinda Rajapaksa or Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa would have been reluctant to claim so openly: that International Humanitarian Laws (IHL) should not apply to Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE and that a conventional army cannot be bound by international laws in fighting a terrorist organization (The Island, 26 August 2010).

The initial questions that arise here are these: where was Dr. Dhanapala all this time? Is this the same Dr. Dhanapala who, talking about the CFA some years ago, saw light at the end of the tunnel? Is he the one who was accused of trying to appease the LTTE through the P-TOMS? Why did Dr. Dhanapala decide to remain somewhat silent during the last stages of the war? Was there any reason to wait until the war was over for him to argue that IHL did not apply to the conflict in Sri Lanka? Is he coming out so boldly against the LTTE because the LTTE was defeated and destroyed in May 2009? What then of ‘integrity’ of these learned and respected gentlemen who say (or do not say) one thing during times of war, and a completely different thing after the war?

More importantly, what happened to Dr. Dhanapala who delivered the keynote address at a seminar organized by the ICES and the UNDP in November 2007, titled “Sri Lanka as a Member of the UN”? That was a very interesting and informative speech, in which Dr. Dhanapala seemed to have reminded the audience of Article 2(7) of the UN Charter and then stated that “we must also recognize that we have willingly conceded sovereignty by joining several treaties and in these treaties we have got certain obligations that we fulfill.” And then, Dr. Dhanapala said something else too. He said that: “The fact that there is a conflict requires us to maintain the Geneva Conventions and the ICRC is there to help us.”

If so, would Dr. Dhanapala tell us why we were required to maintain the Geneva Conventions in 2007, and why he is arguing now (in 2010, one year after the war) that IHL should not have been applicable?

IHL and the deprived soldier: reforming existing laws

Firstly, the Conventions and Protocols which form the general body of IHL are old. The basic documents, in this regard, are the four 1949 Geneva Conventions (the Geneva Conventions that Dr. Dhanapala referred to in his 2007 keynote address) and the two 1977 Additional Protocols. The nature of armed conflict, especially internal armed conflict, has changed over the years. The conventional soldier is today facing unconventional and sophisticated non-state actors and very dangerous terrorist groups.

It can also be seen that some of the provisions contained in the above mentioned Conventions and Protocols do not adequately cover problems that the conventional soldier might face today. Due to the arduous task that the soldier is faced with, he might even consider these conventions to be of little meaning.

Take Common Article 3 (i.e. common to all of the Geneva Conventions), which states that persons taking no active part in hostilities shall be treated humanely. But practically, the conventional soldier faces a problem here because he cannot easily distinguish between a person who takes part in hostilities and one who does not, if, for example, the person concerned is a potential suicide bomber dressed up as a civilian. Consider for instance the video footage of a female suicide bomber blowing herself up inside Minister Douglas Devananda’s office. Certainly, until the blast took place, no one was able to identify clearly that that woman was there on a suicide mission. Consider then the enormous difficulty that the soldier or policeman would face, especially in conflict areas. Article 3 informs the soldier that if a person is not taking part in hostilities he/she should be treated humanely; but then, how do you know that the man or woman or child approaching him is not a person taking part in hostilities, in the first place?

Take the issue of indiscriminate attacks for instance (‘indiscriminate’ is defined in Article 51(4) of Additional Protocol I concerning protection of victims of international armed conflict). The soldier has to ensure that he does not resort to indiscriminate attacks, and he always needs to distinguish between military and non-military objectives. But practically, if the soldier is facing a group such as the LTTE, there are enormous difficulties here since terrorist groups use homes, hospitals and schools to train terrorists and perpetrate further acts of terrorism. Consider the difficulty that the soldier who has firm intelligence reports to conclude that that home or hospital or school under scrutiny is a military target and one which is used by terrorists.

These examples would suggest that States need to think seriously of reforming certain laws, in a way current difficulties faced by the soldier are taken into account. Importantly, States should also be mindful of the importance of concluding a comprehensive legal framework which covers all aspects of counter-terrorism, especially in an era as this when States face many problems due to terrorism. And in this regard, one part of the argument raised by Dr. Dhanapala contains much truth.

Internal armed conflicts and the application of IHL

However, whatever these problems may be, there should not be any doubt concerning the application of IHL, the Geneva Conventions in particular, in internal armed conflict situations. As the Appeals Chamber of the ICTY held in the Tadic case (1995), IHL should apply to all conflicts, international and internal; some important reasons for such an application being the cruel and protracted nature of such conflicts, the frequency of such conflicts and the importance of human rights protection during conflict situations.

To argue, like Dr. Dhanapala has argued, that the current body of international laws should not apply just because it is inadequate to cover present realities of armed conflict is a very dangerous argument; an argument that no democratic state could ever make. As Antonio Cassese once pointed out, certain rules of conduct of hostilities in international armed conflict have been extended, on a gradual basis, to internal conflicts as well. It is necessary to understand the logic behind this extension; as the ICTY in the Tadic (Interlocutory Appeal) stated, “What is inhumane, and consequently proscribed, in international wars, cannot but be inhumane and inadmissible in civil strife.” It follows then that the humanitarian laws that would be applicable in international armed conflicts should also apply in cases of internal armed conflicts.

It is here that one should also understand that while the present body of IHL has its weaknesses, it still plays a most important humanitarian purpose. The Geneva Conventions, in this regard, play a vital role in ensuring that there is at least some minimum protection of civilians who are trapped in conflict situations. Article 3 (quoted above) of the Geneva Conventions, it has been noted, constitute the ‘minimum yardstick’ applicable to armed conflicts of any nature; as was held by the ICJ (Nicaragua (merits), 1986).

And in this regard, it is vitally important that one approaches this issue not only from the perspective of the soldier, but also from the perspective of the innocent civilian. How preposterous would it be if a State is to argue that such international humanitarian norms do not apply in internal conflicts? What minimum relief would the innocent civilians have? Would the civilian see any difference between the terrorists who deny their basic freedoms and the State which argues that even that ‘minimum yardstick’ is not applicable? This is one of the fundamental reasons why Dr. Dhanapala’s argument is extremely dangerous. It is an argument that is made in order to evade responsibility for the mistakes that soldiers could make. This is also an argument which can be made to perpetrate indiscriminate killings; a course of action that terror groups resort to, not armed forces of a democratic state. This is also the kind of argument that the disgruntled and obnoxious officials of the US State Department can and do make, and certainly not one a distinguished former diplomat of Sri Lanka and the UN could ever make, in all seriousness.

‘Sri Lanka as a Member of the UN’

Ironically, one needs to revisit the title of the 2007 keynote address of Dr. Dhanapala and consider what Sri Lanka’s role as a Member of the UN would be if Sri Lanka is to make the argument that IHL did not apply to the conflict that concluded in May 2009 and that its armed forces were not bound by any international laws; the argument that Dr. Dhanapala has made recently.

President Rajapaksa, it should not be forgotten, has held a different view on this matter, for he has stated in his speeches that the task of his brave soldiers was difficult because they were carrying the gun as well as the Declaration of Human Rights when going into the battlefield. While this may be political rhetoric, undoubtedly, one needs to appreciate the deeper message here; i.e. that the soldiers were mindful of the international norms and standards that had to be followed, of the importance of treating civilians humanely, of the importance of protecting human rights, of the importance of all the international humanitarian obligations that soldiers of a State had to fulfill. That is the correct approach; and to retract now and argue that IHL did not apply to the Sri Lankan conflict would be a disgrace to a country and the brave armed forces which defeated the LTTE.

Sri Lanka, as a Member of the UN, should always maintain that all important moral high ground, however difficult that task would be. Sri Lanka, as a Member of the UN, should still be mindful of former UNSG Kofi Annan’s Report ‘Uniting Against Terrorism’ (A/60/825) in which it is stated that in the fight against terrorism we “must never sacrifice our values and lower our standards to those of the terrorists. International cooperation to fight terrorism must be conducted in full conformity with international law, including the Charter of the United Nations and relevant international conventions and protocols. It is an obligation of States to ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism comply with their obligations under international law, in particular human rights law, refugee law and international humanitarian law.” (para 112, emphasis added). States Members of the UN resolved to recognize the importance of this message when the General Assembly adopted a resolution titled ‘The UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy’ (A/Res/60/288), on 20 September 2006.

It should also be remembered that even the numerous conventions on the suppression of terrorist acts highlight the importance of the rights, obligations and responsibilities of States and individuals under international law, in particular international humanitarian law (for example, Article 19(1) of the 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings).

One only hopes that the press has misquoted Dr. Dhanapala, and misquoted badly. If not, it is rather alarming to note how Dr. Dhanapala, a former Under-Secretary General of the UN, seems to have forgotten the importance of IHL, and argues that a state should not be bound by international laws when fighting a terrorist organization.

(Kalana Senaratne, LL.B, LL.M (University College London), is currently a postgraduate research student at the Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong)

August 27, 2010

Gordon Weiss: "Who wants to portray the boat people as a security threat?"

Tamils of a different stripe

by Gordon Weiss

The Tigers are history and Sri Lanka’s ethnic minority remains under the government’s thumb. Think about it – who wants to portray the boat people as a security threat?

As the debate about Tamil boat people plays out, Canadians might ask themselves, “In whose interest?” Who has muddied the debate with suggestions that the boats are filled with criminals and terrorists, and why? Again, why all the fuss over an insignificant number of people, when Canada does not have a boat-people problem of the magnitude of Australia’s? Government of Sri Lanka warnings that Tamil boat people are a threat to Canada’s interests are calculated to provoke the kind of public response seen in recent weeks.

Canadians are right to be concerned about the security of their borders. Globalized terrorism is a threat to Canadians, as it is to Australians. And national identities are a precious commodity. In an unsteady world, and with a rising backlash in Europe directed at Muslim immigration, both Canadian and Australian governments are obliged to soothe these concerns, with measured immigration and refugee intakes. Both countries need strong border protection policies that deter human smuggling and provide a sense of security to their citizens. Somehow a balance must be struck with our international obligations. That is all the more reason why Canadians must resist letting the debate become confused by wild claims.

Sri Lankan government officials and self-proclaimed experts played the understandable worries of Australians like a fiddle as boats neared their shores. Australians were told that these were economic migrants, taking advantage of their country’s generosity and slack intake laws – in fact, among the toughest in the world. Sri Lankan diplomatic representatives asserted that those on board had terrorist links. Finally, the plainly unfounded claim was made that fully half were terrorists and criminals. Actually, nobody knew who was on board, why they were there or who was behind these voyages.

Let’s be clear: The Tamil Tigers were a menace, and there is reason for sensible precaution. In the 1990s, they set the pace for globalizing terrorist networks. In countries such as Canada, they provided seed money for legitimate businesses, and then skimmed the profits. They packaged arms deals, and maximized their purchases by selling onward to other insurgent and terrorist groups in places like the Horn of Africa. They cleverly exploited that least governed of places, the ocean, purchasing a fleet of a dozen merchant ships with which they collected and delivered those arms. The profits were used to buy more weapons, communications equipment and industrial machinery for their own nascent village-based arms industry. They manufactured rudimentary submarines and attack boats, and converted Czech-made leisure planes into an air force of sorts.

During three decades of insurgency, Tiger operatives using suicidal tactics killed thousands of Sri Lankan civilians, and wreaked havoc on the country’s vital tourism industry. In 2001 they blew up Air Lanka’s entire fleet as it sat on the tarmac in Colombo. The Tigers blew up banks, buses and barracks. They assassinated dozens of key leaders and military officers, killed one president and maimed another, and attacked any Tamil leader who tried to offer alternative moderate paths for Tamil grievances. Millions of ordinary Sri Lankans lived in fear that they might be caught up in the violence. But what of the experts’ suggestion that the Tamil Tigers were linked to al-Qaeda?

As Michael Ignatieff says of the troublesome “terrorist” word, the equally fuzzy “link” word ought to be banned from the fraught boat-people debate. It is a word better suited to tabloids and gossip columns. True, in the late 1970s, a handful of Tamils trained with Palestinian factions in Lebanon. But “links” to al-Qaeda look rather shaky if one considers that every other terrorist group was there at the same time. The IRA was there, and Gerry Adams is not “linked” to al-Qaeda.

Apart from all that, should Canadians consider the Tamil Tigers a threat to their own security today? The answer is no. Aside from the 1991 assassination of Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, their violence was shrewdly confined to Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers were a textbook insurgent group that resorted to terrorist tactics. Like the Kurds, Palestinians, Irish Catholics, the Karen of Burma or the Uighurs of China, the Tamils harboured a grievance born of both perceived and actual injustices. The Tigers mobilized those grievances into a broad-based revolution against the Sri Lankan state.

The basis of their gripes is a no-brainer. In 1956, the Sinhalese-dominated government made Sinhala the official language. Tamil passports, degrees, legal judgments and land titles were issued in a language they could not understand. In 1972, the government further marginalized Hindu Tamils by making Buddhism the state religion. That same year, the government introduced legislation that discriminated against Tamil entry to university. In 1983, an orchestrated pogrom killed between 2,000 and 3,000 Tamils, and burned tens of thousands of others out of their homes and businesses. Over the following year, the Tigers grew from a rag-tag team of 50 men into an army of thousands.

For years, few people across the world took much notice of the remote war that followed the pogrom in Sri Lanka. In October, 2001, the United States, concerned about the murky and poorly understood cross-pollination among terrorist organizations, finally began to crack down on Tamil Tiger fundraising activities on U.S. soil. They had not bothered much before, and did not consider them a threat to American interests. But with the global war on terror afoot, it seemed a bit rich to ignore the terrorist problem of one country, while asking them to take the U.S. war seriously.

In May, 2009, through a confluence of good management, foreign assistance and a series of Tiger strategic errors, the insurgents were crushed by the dogged brawn of the army of Sri Lanka. Their leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was killed, and the population they had controlled for almost two decades rounded up. Tiger territory was subsumed once more into the Sri Lankan state. A few months later, a dazed Kumaran Pathmanathan, the kingpin of the Tigers’ global finance operation, was caught. The government and its military leaders boasted that the highly centralized organization was finished. Nobody seriously believes that the Tamil Tigers are a threat any more.

By late 2009, 50 boats had been intercepted by Australian customs. In that bumper year, around 3,500 refugees made the perilous journey, and arrived safely. Even at that rate, the Australian prime minister conceded that it would take 20 years to fill Australia’s largest sports stadium with boat people. Of the Tamils who made it, spurious claims of terrorism, criminality and association with al-Qaeda were levelled, similar to allegations made in Canada.

Guided by its international legal obligations, Australia does not grant refugee status if it believes that a person has committed serious crimes. The vast majority were recognized by Australia as refugees, based on UN Refugee Agency guidelines and the UN Refugee Convention. A handful of arrivals were rejected by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, the equivalent of Canada’s CSIS. To date, nobody knows why. It later emerged that ASIO hadn’t bothered to interview those who were rejected, so it seems likely (and odd, under the circumstances) that they largely relied on information provided by the Sri Lankan government. Of course, the defining feature of a refugee is that they have a well-founded reason to fear persecution back home.

Persecuted by whom? By the same people who are trying to dupe Canadians into turning the boats back. Sri Lanka is now one of the most highly militarized societies in Asia – quite a claim to fame if one considers China, Burma and Pakistan. It also features on lists of societies that kill their journalists and humanitarian workers. It manages public dissent and supplements law enforcement with death squads. The UN is currently reviewing 5,749 cases of Sri Lanka’s “disappeared.” The UN has also called for a meaningful inquiry into allegations that thousands of civilians perished in the final months of the war. The government says that it did not spill a drop of civilian blood.

Will things improve? We don’t know yet. Fifteen months after the war’s end, and with an electoral victory under his belt, there is no serious effort from President Mahinda Rajapaksa to remedy Tamil grievances with a political solution. Although the nastiest of the bloodletting has slowed, Sri Lanka remains a land of low-level repression where men in white vans snatch people curbside. Louise Arbour, now president of the International Crisis Group, says that a fig-leaf government inquiry into accusations that it did spill quite a lot of civilian blood is “bound to fail” because of the government’s long history “of denial and impunity.”

Recently vanquished, and with hundreds of thousands accused of “links” with the Tamil Tiger cause, many Tamils have a well-founded fear of persecution. It is precisely these types of people who reached Australia by boat, whose claims were ultimately vindicated and who are now settling in, grateful for sanctuary. As for whether the families who arrived in Canada this month were products of a smuggling racket or have jumped a queue, the Canadian interest is to keep an open mind, and to resist a vital debate being hijacked by foreign agendas.

Gordon Weiss is a former senior UN official in Sri Lanka and author of the forthcoming The Cage: The Fight for Sri Lanka and the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers. ~ Courtesy: The Globe and Mail ~

The ‘Boatophobia’ debate: Dehumanising asylum seekers and refugees

by Swati Parashar

Counter terror experts and security analysts are back in action and what do they fear this time? Not bombs, IEDs, nor suicide bombers but the ‘boatpeople’! I have gained sufficient insight into the issue, having camped in Australia for the last two months, to comment on what I call a new form of racism called ‘boatophobia’.

At stake are the lives of faceless, nameless (not the men in the Australian Labour Party who ordered the political assassination of former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd!), men, women and children from war hit countries of Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. The two major Australian political parties, in their election campaign, made sure that the ‘boat peoples’ issue was projected as a national security issue.

The Australian Labour Party leader and current PM, Julia Gillard, promised a detention centre in East Timor and a ‘small and sustainable Australia’; the Liberal National Party promised the reopening of the detention centre in Nauru and their leader, Tony Abbot, went around repeating as a mantra; “we will stop the boats.” The election has resulted in no clear mandate for either party, and a hung parliament, but the ‘boatophobia’ is here to stay as Australians continue to debate the threats from the faceless, nameless ‘boat people’.

The identity-less’ boat people’ are also back in news, ever since the Thai cargo ship, MV Sun Sea landed at the Canadian coast of British Columbia last week, with 495 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers. I haven’t seen any of these ‘boat people’ myself, but security experts, who are yet to visit the detention centres in Canada, have wasted no opportunity in declaring the Tamil ‘boat people’ as LTTE terrorists and potential threats to the ‘host countries’.

The ‘boatophobes’ appear particularly concerned about the security of the host country, Canada, in this case and have accused the Canadian authorities of being slipshod on terrorism laws and granting asylum to terrorists and of endangering people’s lives. ‘boatophobes’ aka xenophobes from Canada would still have some legitimate concerns, because it is their country that is ‘under threat’ from foreigners descending on their soil to avail of their hospitality. Of grave concern is that ‘boatophobic’ experts in South and South East Asia are defining the ‘security’ requirements of the Western nations. Their arguments are not only patronising and racist but also dehumanise and demonise the Sri Lankan Tamil community, who have more than one reason to escape the brutalities of life in a country that they cannot even call ‘home’.

In the genre of writings on Sri Lankan ‘boat people’, N Sathiyamoorthy, published an article recently in the Daily Mirror from Colombo. In the article called Refugees, Who?, the author cautions against the dangers of granting asylum to potential LTTE terrorists, which would jeopardise the chances of genuine refugees seeking shelter abroad. He argues that “the whole world was monitoring the movement of the so-called ‘refugee ship’ and did nothing about it.”

Chiding the Canadian authorities for a lax attitude, the author, writes that “they did not learn their lessons from a host of terrorist incidents elsewhere. Nor did insurgencies in other countries move their law-makers and lawyers”. In the light of such observations and allegations it is important to note that modern ‘terrorists’ have not travelled by boat to Western nations. There is no evidence that any 'boatpeople' turned into potential terrorists of the 9/11 types. ‘Terrorists’ in the West are often the products of societies that they have willingly and legally adopted as ‘homes’ and may not even be first generation immigrants.

The Canadian authorities have a tough task ahead as they scrutinise each individual asylum claim. The asylum seekers remain in detention from where their individual claims will be processed. To suggest that all of these people could be LTTE terrorists amounts to fear mongering in Western societies already brimming with anti-immigration sentiments.

Without any evidence to suggest that any of the ‘boat people’ were carrying arms or plotting attacks anywhere, experts are speculating on their terrorist linkages. This speaks of prejudice and racism in itself. Security experts had expressed a similar outcry and fear mongering at the arrival of the ship Ocean Lady at the Canadian coast in October 2009, which was carrying 76 Tamil refugees. The refugees were all men and were held in detention on terrorism charges. All the detainees were subsequently acquitted of any wrong doing, and are waiting for the processing of their refugee claims in Toronto. So much for the ‘terrorism’ hysteria!

On the issue of possible persecution from which the Tamil refugees may be escaping, Mr. Sathiyamoorthy argues that, “if individuals were still being persecuted for their political beliefs in Sri Lanka, how is it that even anti-Government Tamil or Sinhala groups have been contesting elections and winning parliamentary and Provincial Council seats, and also addressing those august forums?.” Contesting elections is not the marker of any country's Human Rights performance.

Zimbabwe and Burma are examples in this regard. India is a beacon of democracy where all kinds of political views are tolerated and elections contested, but there are communities which are still marginalised and claim persecution. In a deeply divided country that Sri Lanka is, where the war between the two ethnic communities has been the reality of lived experiences, ‘persecution’ has overt and subtle manifestations. The vehement opposition to the three member UN panel by Sinhalese leaders speaks volumes about the government’s intent to address the grievances of the Tamils and their blatant violation of international norms. The demonstrations against the United Nations expert panel were led by a government minister, Wimal Weerawansa and clearly demonstrated the government’s open hostility to investigations of alleged war crimes in the war against the LTTE that concluded last year.

Human Rights violations are unabated as detention, death and disappearances of Tamil youth are repeatedly reported by international agencies. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, apart from other independent international media have regularly published reports on the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. It is impossible to even imagine substantively, that a government that does not hesitate to intimidate the international community cannot threaten the lives of its own citizens, especially the vanquished in war!

In April last year, 46 illegal immigrants died and 60 were found unconscious in an airless shipping container near Quetta in Pakistan. All of the victims were Afghan nationals including Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras who were trying to enter Iran through unfrequented routes of Balochistan having no valid travel documents. Were they ‘terrorists’, potential security threats? Could we, along the same lines, question their ‘persecution’ claims or human rights violations on the grounds that they have an elected government in Afghanistan to represent them and international forces monitor their country and enforce accountability?

The author further suggests that, “in the case of Sri Lankan Tamils, for instance – all those who are already there in far-off lands like Australia, Canada and all across Europe – India should have been their first and natural port-of-call, particularly if they did not have any terrorist links or even if their claims to refugee status in far-off lands were genuine”. It is unfathomable that, given the role India has played, and given the credibility it enjoys in Sri Lanka, India should even be considered a safe haven by the Sri Lankan Tamil community. It is very patronising to suggest that while migrant communities (including Indians) everywhere can travel to lands where there is prosperity and better economic and social opportunities, Sri Lankan Tamils, if ‘innocent’ should consider India their favoured destination from where they can return ‘home’, whatever ‘home’ implies. As for how India treats its refugees, we might ask the Kashmiri Pandits that, or other internally displaced people.

It is not a hidden fact that India provided material and moral support to the Sri Lankan government to decimate the Tigers and that India also absolved the Sri Lankan government for the large number of civilian deaths in the name of collateral damage. The IPKF experience was also a failed experiment by the Indian government, inflicting atrocities on the Tamil people. India has never played the role of a responsible regional leader in its relations with the neighbouring countries. In the post war environment too, India’s engagement with Sri Lanka intensified as a counter to growing Chinese influence and investments in reconstruction efforts. India’s role in Sri Lanka has been as disastrous as its handling of the ongoing Kashmir protests, which many of us, Indians, watch with horror and trepidation. In such a situation, to even suggest that Sri Lankan refugees should consider India their home, is not only a violation of their free will but also patronising towards the very people, whose lives have been affected by the policies of the Indian government, albeit indirectly.

The author concedes that the reasons for the long voyage undertaken by the MV Sun Sea asylum seekers might be “more economical than political. If there is politics involved, it may relate to the determination of a de-capacitated group to embarrass their own government in the international arena and media, alike.” I ask, aren’t economic migrants entitled to refugee status? What economic opportunities lie in a war torn country, that too, for the vanquished? They are not 'refugees' in such kinds of analyses but their intentions are suspect and they are labelled potential terrorists.

Could we apply the same scrutiny and labelling to the Indians who travelled to Malaysia and then disappeared, willingly, for better life and economic opportunities? Are all Hispanics in America living illegally, terrorists? There is also a suggestion that these people may have travelled all the way to Canada to embarrass their government. Surely embarrassing governments is not a crime? It is difficult to imagine that ‘embarassing the government’ was the concern of these Tamil asylum seekers, (women and children included) who risked their lives in this long voyage without any guarantees of the success of their mission.

Several other analysts have argued that such asylum seekers abuse refugee claims and status and thereby, deny such rights to ‘genuine’ refugees. This false concern for the Western governments and how their rights and privileges may be exploited is a façade to delegitimise the demands of Tamil asylum seekers. Before the Sri Lankan Tamil ‘boat people’ issue, South Asian analysts were completely oblivious to the issue of illegal immigration and refugees in the West.

Australia or Canada or the United Kingdom, do not need us to do their bidding. They have policies in place to address this issue and are governed by their own values and political convictions. Australia and Canada in particular are immigrant societies. John Moore of Canadian News talk 1010 reminds, “As the countries of origin of our newcomers became more diverse, each new wave was regarded as lazy, grasping, unwashed and unwanted. Trace your family’s roots and not only are you guaranteed to find an immigrant but also likely an ethnic or cultural community that was denigrated in its time. And how soon we forget it.”

None of these fear mongering analyses on the ‘boat people’ actually take an international stance against illegal immigration. Their concern is only the Tamil ‘boat people’. There are more illegal immigrants (large numbers of Indians included) who travel by other means than in an easily interceptible boat or ship which will be thoroughly investigated upon landing at any national coast.

It is common logic to imagine why the Tamils would be running from Sri Lanka at a time when they have lost everything in war, an environment of fear persists and there is no leadership that can address their grassroots problems. Dehumanising the asylum seekers through fear mongering and through the ‘securitisation’ discourse speaks of prejudices that still persist on this issue. Every Sri Lankan Tamil is being seen as an LTTE sympathiser or supporter, thereby making a mockery of their plight and suffering.

Prejudices are bound to exist amidst diversity and where resources and access to opportunities of all hues are scarce and highly competitive. Scholars, analysts and policy experts do not operate in situational vacuum and are affected by biases too. It is worth considering that seeking asylum by boat is not "illegal". In fact, it is a right guaranteed under national and international law. It is neither requisite nor fair to punish people who are simply trying to escape harsher conditions of a post war society.

Moreover, each asylum seeker’s case is dealt with individually and thoroughly. ‘Terrorists’ do not have predictable characteristics, neither do they come from a particular class or ethnicity alone. The so called experts and ‘boatophobes’ have hastily, in their zeal to brand the entire Sri Lankan Tamil community as ‘terrorists’, pronounced their verdict on the ‘boat people’ - Guilty, unless proven innocent.

(The author is a Lecturer of International Relations and Development at University of Limerick, Ireland. She can be contacted at swatiparashar@hotmail.com)

Sri Lankan who crewed Tamil Tiger boat free to seek refugee status

By Lincoln Tan

A Sri Lankan citizen who was a crewman on a gun-running boat for the Tamil Tigers has been given the right by the Supreme Court to apply for refugee status in New Zealand.

In a unanimous decision, the court has dismissed an appeal by the Attorney-General against a Court of Appeal judgment that the applicant, who cannot be named, was eligible to claim refugee status.

The court has referred the matter back to the Refugee Status Appeals Authority for reconsideration on whether the applicant meets the requirements of the Refugee Convention and New Zealand law to be recognised as a refugee.

The convention excludes people who have committed crimes against humanity or serious non-political crime as refugees.

"We conclude that the respondent was not shown to be excluded from refugee status - reconsideration should be in accordance with the Court of Appeal's order," the Supreme Court judgment yesterday said.

The applicant was chief engineer during a voyage in 1993 on MV Yahata, a cargo vessel owned by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam used for transporting munitions and weapons to Sri Lanka for the organisation's use.

He came to New Zealand with his wife and children on visitors' permits in 2001, and applied for refugee status.

The appeals authority had earlier said it did not believe the applicant's claim that he did not know he was on a Tamil Tigers ship before the voyage began, or that it was used to smuggling arms, ammunition and explosives in Sri Lanka.

"The Tamil Tigers would not have put a person whose loyalty was uncertain into such a responsible position on the vessel as that held by the respondent," the authority concluded.

The Crown argued that his involvement in the voyage made him "complicit in the atrocities committed by the Tamil Tigers" and that made him an accomplice to crimes against humanity.

The vessel was intercepted by the Indian Navy, but before reaching the port in Chennai, it was sunk by some of the crew, some choosing to remain on board the ship as it sank.

The applicant, and other surviving crew members, were convicted in an Indian court on charges arising from this event.

The Crown said his involvement in the sinking of the ship was a serious non-political crime, which disqualified him from being recognised as a refugee by law.

But the Supreme Court decided that these did not show that the applicant's supportive activities were directly linked to any atrocities committed by the Tamil Tigers.

"The armaments which he helped transport did not reach the Tamil Tigers as they went down with the ship," it said.

"Accordingly, it was not established that any crime against humanity had been committed to which the respondent was an accomplice." - courtesy: The New Zealand Herald -

The Defence Secretary and Myself: KP speaks out - 4

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

(CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK)

QUESTION: Thank you for relating these details about these important events of the recent past. Your input provides fresh insight into these matters. But now I want to ask you about the present.

GR828TC.jpg

Let me start with your relationship with this government particularly the Defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse. You have already told me about your arrest and your first meeting with the defence secretary. It’s obvious that both of you have established good rapport. But there are lots of allegations about this. Several opposition leaders and sections of the media have alleged that there is some kind of shady deal in between . What do you have to say? [click to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

August 26, 2010

UN official calls on donors to ‘stay the course’ to help displaced

by UN News Centre

The top United Nations humanitarian official in Sri Lanka is appealing to the international community to “stay the course” in helping displaced persons return to their former communities in the wake of last year’s end to the country’s protracted civil war.

Neil Buhne, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka, warned in a briefing to international donors that “the job is not yet done,” his office reported yesterday.

“It is still a critical period and we ask for your continued support to meet the remaining crucial needs,” he said, adding that “the welfare of the returned people is an important element in reconciliation and, ultimately, sustainable peace and development.”

About 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned to their villages in the north of the island since late last year. But about 70,000 others are estimated to still be displaced or in transit sites near their home areas, and another 35,000 are in emergency sites.

Government forces declared victory over the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May last year after a conflict that had raged on and off for a quarter of a century. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were left displaced by the fighting.

This year UN humanitarian agencies have helped to provide more than 30,000 tons of food to nearly 750,000 Sri Lankans in need and distributed poultry, seeds, water pumps and crop sprayers to thousands of households.

At least 300,000 people have also received access to clean drinking water and decent sanitation facilities.

But Mr. Buhne said that while much progress had been made, there were still shortfalls in many areas, including basic infrastructure, agriculture and health.

“Difficult, hard and urgent work was done. Lives were saved and people helped to get back their strength to rebuild lives… However, as all of us know – there is much more to be done – recently returned people are still vulnerable.”

Keep dignity of Tamil refugees in mind during immigration debate - Archbishop J. Michael Miller, Vancouver

Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver
Statement by Archbishop J. Michael Miller

The arrival of 492 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka has generated much discussion about Canada’s immigration policy and the appropriate means of dealing with the men, women and children who recently came by ship.

Some of the reaction has focused on the desperate individuals who have arrived on our shores, smuggled here to flee persecution in their homeland. There has been outcry, much of it hostile, about queue jumping, abuse of the system, and the need to keep Canada from being overrun with would-be refugees.

It is critical at this time to keep in mind the fundamental dignity of each human person, particularly these new arrivals. In his own life and ministry, Jesus identified himself with refugees and other marginalized groups: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35).

Catholic Social Teaching is uncompromising on the rights of refugees, and these men, women and children must not become scapegoats in otherwise relevant debates over immigration policy, enforcement and reform.

While it is incumbent on responsible governments to establish the identities of newcomers so as not to open a door to potential security risks, the Catholic Church maintains that people who are victims of armed conflicts, misguided economic policies or natural disasters, as well as "internally displaced persons," must be recognized as refugees and offered international protection.

Canada has a well founded reputation as a nation of immigrants and refugees, and a long history of welcoming those seeking a haven from injustice.

It has been well documented in recent years that one of the global consequences of overly restrictive immigration and refugee policies by industrialized countries has been an increase in human trafficking, particularly of women and children.

The United Nations has called people-smuggling the fastest-growing form of transnational organized crime.

Pope John Paul II warned against the tendency of affluent countries to “tighten their borders under pressure from a public opinion disturbed by the inconveniences that accompany the phenomena of immigration. Society finds itself having to deal with the 'clandestine' men and women in illegal situations, without any rights in a country that refuses to welcome them, victims of organized crime or of unscrupulous entrepreneurs." (Pope John Paul II, Message for World Migration Day 2000, n 4.)

While the state must ensure immigration policy is subject to the requirements of the common good, such control must not inspired by selfish attitudes or "restrictive policies."

It is only just that as we discuss federal immigration policy, we keep in the forefront the men, women and children currently in detention – all of whom have risked their lives to escape persecution back home.

Before coming to Vancouver, Archbishop Miller served on the Vatican Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants, established by Pope John Paul II in 1988 to minister to the spiritual welfare of those who no longer are or who never have been members of a parish.

August 25, 2010

Allow Sri Lankans to seek the protection of Canada while overseas - B’nai Brith Canada

Measures to address Tamil refugee issues recommended

Toronto – As public debate regarding the plight of the 492 Tamil refugee claimants intensifies, B’nai Brith Canada has warned against allowing racism to creep into public discourse on the issue and recommended three proactive solutions.

Frank Dimant, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, said, “Let us learn from our past. As discussed in our coming National Holocaust Task Force Student Resource on the history of Canadian immigration policy, there have been tragic incidents in Canada’s not-so-distant history, where boatloads of refugees were turned away from our shores due to attitudes laced with racism.

“We should remember the Komagata Maru and the MS St. Louis. In today’s world, there are certainly legitimate concerns that must be addressed such as security threats and the horrors of human smuggling, but right now the refugee determination system can address questions relating to refugees who have already reached Canada.”

David Matas, senior legal counsel for B’nai Brith Canada, added, “There are several additional measures that Canada should consider immediately to address the underlying issues: adding Sri Lanka to the source country class so that Sri Lankans could seek the protection of Canada while overseas, pressing the government of Sri Lanka to end human rights violations against its minority population and urging the government of Thailand – from where some of the boat people come – to sign and ratify the UN Refugee Convention.”

“Safeguards come not from shutting the door on human suffering, but from addressing the real issues head-on,” concluded Dimant.

courtesy: http://www.jewishtribune.ca

My trip to Jaffna: "That somewhere life was taking root again…"

The cost of war

by nkabom

Sri Lanka’s Andi Schubert finds hope amid ruins.

When I got the email telling me I had been selected for Nkabom, I had just left home on the first leg of my trip to the Jaffna peninsula in the North of the country. Driving through areas that had very literally been at the center of the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict was for me more than just a tourist tour to the north.

I was traveling to the North with my uncle, to visit his home – a home he was rebuilding for the second time. A home that symbolized to me in some senses a return to a part of my roots that I was not familiar with, in all honesty, that I was almost alien to.

I observed and learned a lot in the week that I was there. I noted the selective memorialization – how some memories were glorified and memorialized in massive monuments and plaques while others were torn down and defaced. I observed the elephant in the room: the LTTE - now militarily no more, its leaders decimated over a year ago. But their presence hung around in the most unusual places – next to an ice cream parlor, in a children’s park now guarded by armed soldiers, in the bullet marks on a fort constructed by my ancestors and in the murmurings of the people I met. I saw the incurable optimism of people like my uncle who were rebuilding their lives for the n-th time. Not just rebuilding, trying to convince others that once again this time there would be something tangible, permanent and long lasting. It’s incurable – this optimism – and it is everywhere.

But I think for me the most powerful image I’ll take away with me from this trip is the visit to this ruined Hindu temple. The construction of Hindu temples in Sri Lanka is generally undertaken by a rich benefactor in contrast to the construction of Buddhist temples which generally receive considerable State support and patronage. We came across this temple while attempting to reach Pooneryn by road (we were turned back by the Army halfway down the road). The temple belfry had the year it was constructed – 1944 – displayed just below the bell. We removed our slippers and walked into the temple premises, the thorns of the weeds growing wild on the ground pricking our feet while the heat from the searing mid day sun burned the soles of our feet.

The first thing that struck us was the tin shed – in the middle of the temple. It housed the temple gods. All resplendent and regal wrapped in the choicest silks but housed in a tin shed – since the temple didn’t have a roof. We also found a Vel chariot just outside the temple proper. The sheer size of the temple and the presence of the chariot suggested that at some point of time this temple had been a significant centre for worship in this town. But this seemed a bit strange as we saw almost no houses on the drive to this temple. Where had all the people who worshiped in this temple come from?

Returning from the temple, this question was bothering me – until I started noticing what I hadn’t noticed before. I saw the foundations of houses, just the foundations, every 15- 20 feet – sure signs of a flourishing village or simple township at least. None of it remained. Just the foundations and the occasional pillar to remind those who knew no better (travelers like me) that, more than 30 years ago, life thronged through this place, that people lived here: neighbors, friends, family. Now, all that remained was a ruined temple and their gods in a tin shack. And then, in that realization, those generally hidden costs of war hit me: the loss of relationships, the violation of those personal spaces, the disappearance of entire townships, the shifting of gods from temples to tin shacks – what does this do to a people? What does victory mean?

In the spirit of that incurable optimism that I found, however, I chose to cling to that image of the temple gods in that tin shack. Why? Because it tells me that in spite of loss someone, somewhere still thought it important enough to do that. That somewhere life was taking root again…

***

I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test:

Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melting away. – Mahatma Gandhi

August 24, 2010

Tamil politics and Tiger strategy in perspective

by Dayan Jayatilleka

KP’s story continues to provide insights into the history of the LTTE, Tamil politics and the contemporary history of Sri Lanka. One disclosure stands out.

"The then TULF leader A. Amirthalingham introduced me to Prabhakaran in mid 70s, most probably in 1976 and since then we worked together". (‘KP Speaks Out: An Interview with T.Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias KP’,)Shamindra Ferdinando

An exegetical attempt is subsequently made to downgrade its significance and render it ‘innocuous’. "KP was introduced to Prabhakaran – both 20 + years, by Amirthalingam when he was out of parliament (1970-77) and in with the grassroots as well as the violent upstarts." (‘Tamil politics post-LTTE: serious business or serial stories?’ Rajan Philips, Sunday Island, Aug 15, 2010).

Let us unpack the meaning of KP’s disclosure. The leader of the moderate secessionist Tamil party the TULF, Mr Amirthalingam, introduced KP to a young man known to be heading a terrorist organisation. For what purpose could he have done this? If he wanted to recruit KP he could have done so to the TULF or its youth/students wing. Instead he pretty much acted as a recruiter for a terrorist nucleus. There again, if Mr Amirthalingam wished to introduce KP to a militant leader, even one of an armed organisation, and especially the Tigers, he could have introduced him to Uma Maheswaran, chairman of the LTTE in 1976, and known to be an educated, politically minded man. Instead he chose to introduce KP precisely to the ‘pure terrorist’ or ‘pure militarist’, the shadowy youth, Prabhakaran who had already assassinated Alfred Duraiyappah. What is as remarkable is that he did this prior to July ’83, when it might have been understandable, if not exactly excusable. He also did this when General elections were scheduled for 1977, i.e. when chances of peaceful, democratic negotiated change or a peaceful platform for Tamil Eelam were still possible.

Mr Amirthalingam, who was a university friend of my father, a contributor to the Lanka Guardian, a compelling speaker in the English language (though not in the Sivasithamparam league) with whom I had only the most cordial encounters, was killed by gunmen sent by the very man he chose to introduce KP to: Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Moderates are known to consort with extremists, and radicals known to ally with the state, but not without a dramatic marker event which throws them together, as the Accord of 1987 brought together the SLFP and JVP, just as it did the UNP governed State and the SLMP (as well as groups such as the one I belonged to). By 1976 there were plenty of reasons ( such as the IATR tragedy of 1974) to provoke restive youth to take up the gun, but insufficient cause for a n avowedly moderate, responsible , parliamentary nationalist to have passed on contacts to a terrorist group. Sadly Mr Amirthalingam is depicted here as having done so prior to such a seismic shock (1979, 1981, Black July ’83) and with a General election a distinct probability. No moderate behaves that way, and one who does so can be classified as a moderate.

This brings us to Prof Urmila Phadnis’ observation that a distinct feature of Sri Lankan Tamil (sub) nationalism, in contrast to sub-nationalisms in India, is the "autonomist-secessionist continuum". The question arises as to whether mainline Tamil nationalism, even of the parliamentary variety, could be defined as moderate in it aims and affiliations, by any international standard.

Does this mean that there are no Tamil moderates, and/or that there are no moderate Tamil negotiating partners as the Sinhala extremists claim? I disagree. The Tamil moderates do exist, and they are those who have passed the existential test with flying colours, dissenting from and resisting the LTTE, albeit at various times. These are the EPDP, PLOT, EPRLF (Nabha wing), TMVP and personalities like Anandasanagree and SC Chandrahasan, currently grouped within the Tamil Political Parties Forum (though that forum does have former fellow travellers of the Tigers bringing up the rear). This is not to say that the TNA should not be seriously negotiated with. It must be, as it contains the bulk of the elected representatives of the Tamil people of the North and East. However, insofar as it hasn’t recanted on its support of the Tigers nor undertaken a criticism of the LTTE, the TNA cannot yet be strictly classified as a wholly moderate party by comparative international standards.

The third part of DBS Jeyaraj’s exciting interview with KP deals with Prabhakaran’s last days. KP makes much of the valour of the last ditch stand of Prabhakaran and his fellow Tigers but that begs two questions: why didn’t he bite on his famous cyanide capsule, and more basically, what does the fact that he was (out) manoeuvred into and trapped in that ‘killing box’ say about Prabhakaran as a commander and strategist?

The point is all the more valid when set against a recent publication; a large volume of 896 pages by Fidel Castro entitled The Strategic Victory. Being the first volume of his autobiography he deals with the decisive turning point of the Cuban revolutionary war, when a ten thousand strong force of US trained (for possible deployment in the Korean War) and equipped army of dictator Fulgencio Batista, supported by air force planes firing US supplied rockets, surrounded a mere three hundred strong force of equipped" guerrilla fighters led by Fidel and his fellow commanders Che Guevara, Raul Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos. Fidel’s guerrillas had already suffered a huge setback when the General strike of1957, led by their urban network the July 26th Movement, failed. The state decided to capitalise on this failure and press home the advantage, launching a decisive operation to surround and crush the Cuban revolutionaries. That was in 1958. By New Year’s Eve that very year, the Cuban army was in disarray and dictator Batista fled the country. Such was the magnitude of the turnaround in strategic fortunes that Fidel and his 300 guerrillas were able to effect.

True, a far great number of Sri Lankan soldiers besieged Prabhakaran, but the ability to raise that number was also a success of the political and military leadership on the Sri Lankan side. Far more significantly, Prabhakaran had a force under his command that was superior to Fidel’s 300 by a multiple of a hundred — not to mention a sea and air arm! Again, true, the Cuban revolutionaries had the advantage of a mountainous terrain, the Sierra Maestra, but Prabhakaran was supposed to be undefeatable in the Mullaitivu jungles with its impenetrable natural canopy. This was attested to in print by many an IPKF officer, including commanding General Kalkat who, even towards the end of the war was rather doubtful of the Sri Lankan army’s capacity to beat Prabhakaran in that terrain. The Tigers had another advantage that Fidel did not: he was fighting on his home turf.

It was reported that just before the last war, Prabhakaran made his fighters watch a movie called ‘300’, which was of course the movie version of an illustrated novella of one of the most famous battles ever, recorded by Herodotus in his Histories. That was the battle of Thermopylae in which 300 Spartans led by King Leonidas held off a Persian invading force of several hundred thousand before being betrayed and succumbing, but not before buying enough time for the Greek federation to rally and defeat the Persians decisively. Prabhakaran, with a starting force that was far greater, proved that he was no Leonidas, while Fidel in 1958, with a force of 300, proved that he was greater than Leonidas because he not only held off the vastly superior army that invaded his redoubt, but smashed the offensive, achieving a ‘strategic victory’ as he entitles his reminiscences of it, and going onto to win the war within a year.

The contrast between the Prabhakaran outcome and Fidel outcome proves not only the superiority of the Sri Lankan military’s strategy, tactics and performance, but also the qualitative superiority, almost to the point of incomparability, between the strategic leadership of Fidel Castro (and the Fidel-Raul-Che-Camilo combine) on the one hand, Velupillai Prabhakaran a.k.a the Sun God, on the other.

If I may anticipate readers who would think, not without reason, that this an unfair comparison (and at one level, comparing Prabhakaran with Fidel is like comparing a Hobbit with an Olympean) let me say that Prabhakaran and the Tigers compare badly in the realm of asymmetric warfare, with contemporaries such as the Eritrean EPLF (which prevailed in its aim), the Nepali Maoists (who combined guerrilla war, negotiations and electoral politics to emerge the top contenders for state power) and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which caused the Israeli army to pull out of Southern Lebanon and then in 2006, fought it to a standstill.

Prabhakaran led a movement which was the world’s top terrorist organisation but not the world’s best guerrilla formation. He was terrorist maestro but not a master strategist of guerrilla and insurrectionary warfare, still less a virtuoso of warfare in general, unlike Fidel, Ho Chi Minh, Giap, and (Sandinista chief and now Nicaraguan President) Daniel Ortega.

If Prabhakaran had been a first class strategist he would have done as Mao did when after a decade, he abandoned the ‘Red base’ in Yenan in 1945, and made the timely shift (back) to mobile and guerrilla warfare. By 1949 Mao was in power. Prabhakaran failed to realise that the civilian populace he held onto as a human shield, with which he sought to deter Sri Lankan attacks and secure a ceasefire plus international intervention, had in fact become a liability which was slowing him down. He should have let the civilians go and dismantled his force early enough, into mobile guerrilla columns, and dispersed. The Tigers and their supporters (including the much vaunted and possibly imaginary ‘brains trust’ in the Diaspora) just weren’t brainy enough for that and were outsmarted by the Sri Lankan state, its armed forces and its friends.

As for those readers who may query as to why it then took the Sri Lankan military thirty years to defeat the LTTE, the answer is that it was about to or well might have, a decade into the war, in 1987, when it was brusquely interrupted by an ‘external shock’.

Why refugees turn to smugglers: Story of Sabalingam Kumarasamy

from The Toronto Star

After being trapped for years in third countries, many feel they have no other realistic option

by Amarnath Amarasingam

In 2007, the Tamil Tigers approached Sabalingam Kumarasamy and asked him to work for them.

When he refused, the Tigers arrested him — he was released six days later only after agreeing to collaborate with them. To escape this enforced recruitment and fearing further trouble, he approached a smuggler who offered to take him to Canada.

After receiving thousands of dollars from Kumarasamy, his smuggler abandoned him in Ghana, where he remains to this day. In Ghana, he applied at the Canadian embassy for a permanent resident visa under the “convention refugee abroad class,” and as a member of the “humanitarian-protected persons class.”

His claim was first rejected by the Canadian embassy in Ghana, but a federal court in Canada later overturned the decision. Kumarasamy now awaits a reconsideration by another official in Ghana. His parents and four siblings are Canadian citizens, while his wife remains in hiding in Sri Lanka. He still awaits a decision, which could take another year or two.

According to his lawyer, Kumar Sriskanda, if a ship leaves from Ghana to Canada tomorrow, Kumarasamy would be the first on board.

“These guys are left waiting four or five years in Ghana, finding a lawyer in Canada, and fighting in federal court. It's hell,” says Sriskanda, “They get fed up, and are easy targets for human smugglers who promise to take them to Canada in three or four months. The decision is an easy one.”

Kumarasamy's story is not an isolated case and it illustrates why Canadians should not jump to conclusions about the ethics of refugees who employ human smugglers.

Not all Tamil migrants leave Sri Lanka with the help of a human smuggler, but since a visa to countries like Thailand is readily obtainable, thousands travel there and wait to be sponsored by their families in the West. This is when things get tricky.

If a migrant cannot reach the Canadian border, like Kumarasamy, they can go to a Canadian embassy in a third country and make a claim there.

An immigration officer at the embassy, who is the sole decision-maker, decides whether or not the individual is at risk of persecution if returned to Sri Lanka. If the official approves the application, the migrant will be permitted to enter Canada.

If rejected, the refugee can appeal to the Federal Court in Canada. If the Federal Court decides in favour of the migrant, the application is sent back to the embassy for review by another immigration officer at the same office.

At any time during this long process, the third country may decide to deport the refugee back to Sri Lanka. Canada does not participate in this decision.

With overseas refugees, Canada accepts about half that of those accepted through inland claims.

“With Sri Lankan Tamil cases, over 91 per cent of inland claims are accepted,” says Hadayt Nazami, an immigration lawyer in Toronto, “but, from my experience, only around 50 per cent of overseas applications are accepted.”

For claims in Canada, the refugee receives a lawyer and is given a hearing.

For overseas cases, says Nazami, “you might show up in some office, the officer may not have had a good day, you don't have a lawyer, you might not have an interpreter there, you don't know if they hold any prejudices, they may not even know about refugee law, and, as government employees, they lack independence.”

Tamil refugees in these countries wait up to five years to have their claim processed. During this time, they are in hiding, working illegally or waiting in boarding houses run by human smugglers.

Some critics ask why refugees do not simply remain in countries like Thailand and Malaysia, and build a life?

“Those countries do not accept permanent refugees,” says Nazami, “they are not signatories to the UN Refugee Convention. You can only stay for a short period of time.

“Even the UN will tell refugees in Thailand, look, we'll give you identification documents, but it will only allow you to stay here for two years. So, find another country that will take you.”

According to many refugee lawyers in Canada, it is the extreme slowness and, often sloppiness, with which refugees are treated by Canadian officials in countries abroad that leads them to find others ways to arrive here.

If the Canadian government wants to use the MV Sun Sea — which docked in British Columbia this month with almost 500 Tamils aboard — to spark a national discussion about Canadian immigration and refugee policy, it should take a serious look at how it can revamp the system to better serve those who make legitimate claims in third countries.

If these overseas cases are reprioritized and expedited, the Canadian government will help to ensure that human smugglers cannot take advantage of refugees in a desperate situation.

Amarnath Amarasingam is a doctoral candidate at Wilfrid Laurier University, and is currently completing his dissertation entitled, Pain, Pride, and Politics: Tamil Nationalism in Canada.

He can be reached at: amar2556@wlu.ca

Courtesy: Toronto Star

August 23, 2010

Video: Reaction to the Tamil boat: Curious comparisons

By Seth Klein

If the 492 Tamil asylum-seekers who recently arrived by boat on B.C.'s shores are "queue-jumpers," then I guess my parents were too. See, they came as Vietnam War draft dodgers from the U.S. in 1967.

See, they came as Vietnam War draft dodgers from the U.S. in 1967. Like a couple of the Tamil women just arrived, my mom was pregnant with me. My parents did not seek advance permission from the Canadian government to immigrate. They did not fill out any paperwork before arriving. And they could no more seek permission to leave from their home government than these Tamils could, for what they were doing was, as far as the U.S. was concerned, illegal and would result in my father's arrest.

Of course that's the thing about being an asylum-seeker -- you don't get into a queue. When you've got to go, you've got to go. Hell, my folks didn't even know Montreal (where they landed) was a predominantly French-speaking city.

So they just showed up. The difference, however, was that in those days, they got landed immigrant status in 20 minutes at the airport. Imagine that! Over the course of the Vietnam War, about 100,000 American war resisters came to Canada (many with less formal education than my folks and thus unlikely to score particularly well under today's immigration point-system, and I suspect many had less education than many of these recent Tamil arrivals). Yet here we are setting our hair on fire about 492 people.

But those aren't the only numeric comparisons I find curious.

Among the common reactions to the arrival of the MV Sun Sea is the proposition that Canada's alleged lax immigration laws make us a global sucker -- a target for many of the world's migrants. This is an absurd notion.

World conflicts, environmental disasters, and a global economic system that keeps billions impoverished has resulted in millions upon millions of refugees and displaced people. In Pakistan alone, the current flooding is producing, we are told, 14 million internally displaced people. Globally, there are, according to the UN, about 45 million "forcibly displaced people", of which about 15 million are refugees. (You can find good UN statistics on displaced people here.)

But the vast majority of these globally displaced people are being absorbed, not by wealthy countries, but either internally or by neighbouring poor countries -- the places least able to afford the costs and with the bleakest economic prospects.

Canada accepted fewer than 20,000 refugees last year -- a drop in the global bucket (about 0.1 per cent of world refugees) -- and our acceptance rate has been declining in recent years (and in contrast, Canada deported about 13 thousand people). As Stephen Hume notes in an excellent piece in the Vancouver Sun, Canada does not rank as on of the top recipient countries for refugees: "Other developed countries are the destinations for most refugees and many more are granted asylum in those countries... Measured as a ratio of refugee claims to population, Canada doesn't even make the top 10 nations for asylum seekers."

Surely, when a few hundred people arrive on our shores, we can afford to treat these people with respect and grant them due process.

And here's another curious comparison: The real and much more significant Canadian immigration story of recent years (at least measured numerically) isn't about refugees or people arriving by boats. It's about the explosion in temporary foreign workers. Over the past few years, the number of temporary foreign workers coming into Canada each year exceeds 200,000, and now surpasses the number of immigrants.

But the Harper government hasn't been sounding the alarm about this. On the contrary, the federal government has been promoting and facilitating the massive growth in this category of migrants. Why? Because unlike regular immigrants and refugees, these workers are being specifically requested by employers, their indentured status makes them unable to exercise key employment rights and leaves them highly vulnerable to exploitation and unsafe conditions, and they are unable to make the same claims to the social and economic rights that Canadians take for granted.

Immigration is central to the story of Canada -- waves of people who came, mostly to meet a domestic need for labour, and sometimes fleeing harm and conflict. But historically, once people arrived, either as immigrants or refugees, they were upon landing met with a social contract: they could avail themselves of the social and economic rights Canadians enjoyed (such as health care and education for their families, and workplace rights and protections), and in a few years could be granted the full rights of citizenship.

With the explosion of temporary workers (set against a tightening of regular immigration and refugees admissions, and reactions such as those we see directed towards the Tamils), the government is effectively saying, "that deal is off -- we're happy to have temporary indentured labour, but don't think you can be a Canadian."

When my parents arrived in the '60s, a small minority in Canada were keen to label the Vietnam war resisters will all manner of unwelcome labels (much as the Canadian government is currently doing with respect to the Tamil asylum-seekers today, quickly labelling them as terrorists, criminals and queue-jumpers). But for the most part, the Vietnam war resisters were welcomed, and went on to make a valuable contribution to Canadian society. Much the same can be said of the Vietnamese boat people who arrived in the late 1970s. Why can't these better receptions be the norm, rather than the xenophobia that characterizes more recent arrivals?

And here's what troubles me most. In a world still coming to terms with the reality of climate change, the truth is that the number of global climate migrants and displaced people will soon dwarf the UN numbers sited above -- a lot more people are coming, and our recent record does not bode well. Will this recent ugliness mark each new unexpected arrival, or can we chill out and have a rational conversation about what our moral obligations and humanitarian response should be to the global realities ahead? - courtesy: Rabble.ca -

Terrorists, traffickers, and Tamil Tigers? Oh my...

What can be done about Vic Toews' irrational fear of boats?

[Aug 19] Toews insists the MV Sun Sea, which arrived on the BC coast last Thursday carrying just under 500 Tamil refugee claimants, is full of terrorists and human smugglers. But neither recent history nor reliable intelligence seem to back up his claims.

Myths and Realities about 490 Tamil Refugees on MV Sun Sea

by No One Is Illegal.org

Myth 1: They are illegals who are jumping the queue.

There is no ‘queue’ for refugee claimants. Refugees are forced from their homes in emergency situations due to human rights abuses committed during wars, military occupations, or persecution against a minority group. We cannot expect refugees to wait for Canada to select them from overseas. We must understand that they undertake long and dangerous journeys to protect their lives and the lives of their families. According to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, to which Canada is a party, there are no penalties on refugees who arrive without pre-authorization and irregularly.

Justice for Immigrants, Freedom for Refugees

More pictures: No One Is Illegal Vancouver's photostream

Myth 2: They are terrorists.

There is no evidence to substantiate this. Rohan Gunaratna, the government’s primary source, has already been discredited by lawyers as well as an Immigration and Refugee Board adjudicator for being uncredible. Last October, when the 76 Tamil asylum-seekers came on Ocean Lady they were similarly labeled as terrorists and security threats. However by Jan 2010, they were all released from detention when Canadian Border Services Agency admitted they had no evidence of a terrorist connection.

Furthermore, officials are just relying on stereotypes of Tamils as all being associated with the Tamil Tigers to create unnecessary racist hysteria and mistrust of asylum-seekers. National security laws in the post-911 climate have directly targeted and marginalized immigrants, refugees, and racialized people. These laws and policies are less about protecting society than creating a culture of fear. Many of these policies – such as Security Certificates – have been struck down in the Courts after years of human rights and anti racist campaigning. The rhetoric of the War on Terror serves as a convenient distraction from the reality that people’s daily lives are increasingly unsafe and insecure due to global neoliberal economics and war-mongering that leads to mass displacement, poverty, and human rights atrocities.

Myth 3: The situation is getting better in Sri Lanka.

According to a 2010 Amnesty International report, in the past 12 months the Sri Lankan government has continued to jail critics and clamped down on dissent. Some 80,000 Tamils remain in refugee camps, while 400,000 displaced Tamils survive in communities where homes and infrastructure were destroyed. The government continues to extend a state of emergency, restricting many basic human rights, and thousands of arbitrary detentions are justified under the guise of detainees being suspected Tamil Tigers. This past month, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed a panel to investigate war crimes and genocidal acts committed by the Sri Lankan government against Tamils.

Myth 4: They are a burden on tax payers.

The biggest resource expenditure has been the government’s choice to spend thousands of dollars in an unnecessary security operation, including resources spent on incarcerating women and children. Only a tiny fraction has been spent on the health and well-being of the migrants, whose lives are worth more than dollars. Furthermore, scapegoating migrants for being a financial burden lets the government off the hook. All residents continue to receive inadequate access to necessary social services because of misplaced government priorities – choosing to bail out banks and sink billions into the police and military – not because of the lack of resources to provide a social safety net for all in need.

Myth 5: Canada has a generous refugee system; we cannot keep accepting people.

Despite border panics, only a small minority of asylum seekers make claims in the Western world. There are about 20 million refugees worldwide and most migrate into neighboring countries of Africa, Middle East, and South Asia. Canada accepts fewer than 20,000 refugees per year, which is less than 0.1% of the world’s displaced population.

Furthermore, Canada’s system is not generous. Deportations from Canada have skyrocketed 50% over the last decade, with 13,000 deportations in the past year. With the Conservatives, the number of approved asylum claims has dropped by 56%. Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney’s recent refugee reforms create two tiers of refugees, establishing a hierarchy based on nationality. There are countless structural flaws in the system, designed to make it near impossible to claim asylum. Immigration and Refugee Board members are political appointees; certain avenues such as the Pre Removal Risk Assessment have acceptance rates of 3-5% while others such as the Humanitarian and Compassionate claim do not have to be processed prior to deportation. In addition, the refugee system has been termed a “lottery system” because acceptance rates can vary from 0-80% depending on the judge. The Safe Third Country Agreement between the US and Canada creates a “Fortress Canada” by disallowing up to 40% of asylum seekers.

Myth 6: It is not our problem.

The Canadian government has recently been forced to apologize for racist and exclusionary historical measures including the Chinese Exclusion Act and Komagatamaru incident. These apologies and the rhetoric of multiculturalism is hollow when current policies and practices perpetuate racism and exclusion. The recent backlash that repeats the tired-old refrain about ‘illegals’ and ‘criminals’ has meant that right-wing neo-nazis such as Paul Fromm and the Aryan Guard have resurfaced publicly and are being given a platform to spew their hate about sending the boat back. Is this really the side that we are on?

Immigration and refugee issues are not simply about Canadian benevolence or charity. We need to rethink what function and whose interests the state border actually serves. The current trends of global migration reveal the ways in which patters of Western domination and corporate globalization have enriched some countries by creating economic and political insecurity that forces people indigenous to their lands to migrate. The Canadian government continues to maintain economic and diplomatic ties with the government of Sri Lanka, instead of supporting those who have survived the brutality of that government, which makes us complicit in their displacement. Also, we must always remember that Canada is a settler country, built on the theft of Indigenous lands and the forced assimilation of Indigenous communities. On what basis is a colonial government denying colonized people their right to livelihood? Finally, we must challenge the idea that some are more worthy than others to a life of dignity; instead we should reaffirm the universal value that people have the freedom to move in order to seek safety and to flourish.

LET THE TAMIL REFUGEES STAY!
NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL, THE SYSTEM IS ILLEGAL!
~ courtesy: No One is illegal ~

~ Visit us at www.nooneisllegal.org or email noii-van@resist.ca ~

Hambantota and the Delhi-Beijing-Colombo triangle

by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

It is not that Sri Lanka’s foreign relations are not in need of repair, especially after five dismal years between Lakshman Kadirgamar and GL Pieris, but it is ironic in the extreme when the criticism comes from the UNP or its sympathisers.

The UNP and its fellow travellers seem to think that Sri Lanka’s foreign relations are in need of repair because a group of provincials, rustics even, have taken over the reins of the state and are congenitally unable to understand the world or communicate with it. The corollary of this view is that the UNP, especially its current leadership, has the social sophistication to manage our foreign relations. This is no less than hilarious because the worst periods in Sri Lanka’s foreign relations were under UNP administrations and not those of the SLFP under any of its leaders.

If safeguarding the national interest is the basic objective of foreign policy, and national interest is definable as the defence of the fundamental attributes of the state such as national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, then these never stood more in jeopardy than during UNP administrations.

The worst disaster in Sri Lanka’s external relations was indubitably the Jayewardene years with the Indian airdrop followed by 70,000 foreign troops on Sri Lankan soil, while the rest of the world chose to look the other way. That was how isolated Sri Lanka had become, while affairs were handled by the Colombo based Westernised and pro-Western elite. By contrast, when the April 1971 insurrection broke out, the active support for Sri Lanka extended from the US and UK to China, Russia, Yugoslavia and Egypt, while Indian and Pakistani military personnel – their rivalries apart—helped Sri Lanka.

The three most outstanding failures of Sri Lanka’s external relations were Bandung 1954 (earning the Esmond Wickremesinghe–advised Sir John Kotelawela the delightfully apt local nickname of Bandung Booruwa), Indo-Lanka 1987 and the CFA period under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2002-4 (during which sovereignty and territorial integrity were made a mockery of).

The construction of the Hambantota Port is truly historic and progressive. History shows that in all countries, ports were the connecting point with the outside world and acted as an engine of economic and social progress. The Deep South of Sri Lanka which had been badly neglected for decades if not centuries will never be marginalised again, thanks to the Hambantota Port. For this the country must thank both President Mahinda Rajapakse and Sri Lanka’s most reliable and important international friend, China.

As for how it will affect Sri Lanka’s relations with the West and India, I do not see why it should affect those relations negatively. As is well known, Sri Lanka first offered our giant neighbour India the opportunity of helping to build the Port, and we turned to China only after India had declined or hesitated. The new Port is open to ships from all over the world, including India and the USA, and therefore it cannot be said to be aimed against the interest of anyone. It is not closed to anyone, so everyone can use it and benefit from it.

There are no foreign military bases or military presence attached to the Hambantota port. In any case China has no military bases or troops outside its territory. There are those who say that Hambantota Port is potentially ‘dual purpose’, by which is meant it can be used to service military ships and planes. The answer is that any country can do so, with Sri Lanka’s permission. We have visits from the US and Indian navies, and cooperation with their militaries, and there is no reason that this cannot extend to Hambantota Port as well.

Certain analysts say that China is adopting a ‘string of pearls’ strategy of building ports and other facilities in various parts of the world which it can use in case of need. It is said that a rapidly developing power like China needs raw materials and fuel and therefore must expand its Navy. Others talk of a Silk Route strategy on the part of China. So what? Every rising power did the same thing, and China has never engaged in aggressive, violent imperialist or colonialist aggression. Sri Lanka cannot be used to ‘contain’ China, nor can we be blamed for not participating in attempts to contain China. Sri Lanka must proceed on the basis of our own national interest, and that national interest is very well served by the Hambantota port and China’s generous loan and assistance in building it.

The bonds between Sri Lanka and China go all the way back to 1952 and the Rubber-Rice Pact. This was under a UNP administration. We established formal ties years later after 1956. When Prime Minister Chou En Lai visited Ceylon in the 1950s, he won the hearts of the Sri Lankan people. Ties have been strengthened during both UNP and SLFP governments. Under President Premadasa, the Free School Uniforms Programme was possible because China gifted all the fabric necessary for those uniforms—and a top delegate of the Communist Party of China was the chief guest at the UNP Convention during the Premadasa presidency. During the war against the Tigers, China supported us diplomatically and militarily. Without that support it would have been very difficult and perhaps impossible for Sri Lanka to have won, or resisted foreign intervention.

China, together with Russia, is our reliable shield in the UN Security Council. We have no other reliable friends in that all-important Council. China has never once interfered in our internal affairs. It also has no Tamil lobbies. Our old and reliable friend China has now emerged as a global economic power and in the coming decades will be a truly global power. This will balance off the hegemony of the West and eventually liberate us peacefully from that hegemony. For all these reasons China is an indispensable friend and it would be stupid for Sri Lanka not to strengthen its ties with China.

As for not harming relations with India and improving relations with the West, there are other ways that Sri Lanka can and must do this, which are mutually beneficial and do not restrict our chances for economic development and progress. For instance we should seriously re-consider our delay in signing CEPA. CEPA would strengthen our ties with India which is a rising economic power, and like China, an engine of Asia’s economic miracle.

We must carefully balance our relations with China and India, not taking sides with either in their possible competition, but remaining firm friends with both. As Prime Minister, Madam Sirimavo Bandaranike succeeded in doing this even in 1962 when India and China fought a war.

August 22, 2010

'Sri Lanka has become my home' - Gill Westaway, Director, British Council

by Steve A. Morrell

Country Director, The British Council, Gill Westaway is an unavoidable adjunct to the British Council. Alternatively The British Council and Gill Westaway seemingly are synonymous entities and its image was, since she assumed her functions, projected a strong profile that most young people have come to depend on its institutional character for self development. Self development in many fields of endeavour.

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Gill Westaway ~ pic: Britishcouncil.org

Gill Westaway will be leaving the British Council on premature retirement end August.

'The Island' met her last week. We interviewed her at her office.

Excerpts:

What would you have liked to have accomplished but could not over the past few years you’ve been here. What more could you have done?

( Long Pause)

That’s not an easy question to answer. Right take these premises. The building we are in. Its beauty and character are quite outstanding. What you see on the other side was originally the Director’s residence. Now houses the library and sundry stuff. It has to come down. Those are our plans. Quite tatty, leaks, infested with vermin.

This building as well?

Not this one. This is a heritage site. This will stay. Refurbishing; yes; but the building will not be torn down.

We have over 5000 students here studying English. Additionally 65,000 enlisted for our Exams, and we have over 26,000 members in Sri Lanka. This is the largest library, British council Library in the world.

Why are you so strong here than any other country?

In Sri Lanka there is thirst for knowledge. I assumed duties here 2006. What I first did was visit the Colombo Book Fare. Literally million or more people buying books. Youngsters. Not fancy videos, or films, and so forth, but Books. This is a society with real respect and thirst for education. That should answer your question.

We certainly do not claim to up the standard of English, but our job is to make the language available to as many as possible. Many want to improve their standard of English. Not merely students, but the business sector as well because importance of English could assist such organizations deal with the outside world more confidently. With English more opportunities open for young people to select future careers confidently.

What we also do is we promote teacher involvement in our work. We put them in contact with institutions in The UK, as much as we also have them contact Schools here. There has been healthy interaction between both countries. In some instances students from the UK visit Schools here as much as much as Sri Lanka students visit their contacts students in the UK. That sort of thing has happened.. E’Mail and the web is used quite a lot. These applications have widened possibilities quite a lot.

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The earlier British Council building in Colombo

The British Council is strong in Colombo and Kandy what of the other Provinces. Why have you not spread yourself out in that direction.

We were in Jaffna recently. 83 % already are conversant with the language. They are extremely keen the British Council establishes one in Jaffna. Our plans for future expansion will include Jaffna and Matara.

Why not in more Provincial Capitals?

Just one reason. Funds. We are short of funds. We have to generate our own funds for expansion.

You’re not serious, right?

Very. Government assistance is limited, and we work to an annual budget.

Maybe, but if you plan for such extension work well in time you might get funding you need?

Its not that simple. We do get some allocations but inadequate to meet expenses such as you describe. Nevertheless such possibilities are under serious consideration.

How many books in your library?

I dont know. Just the other day we had a lorry being loaded with books. We were getting rid of what we don’t want. The British council certainly does not have books for every subject under the sun. For instance, Medicine; some yes, but don’t come looking for involved reading. You wont find it here.

You will find resistance to learning English. Particularly Universities. How would you cope with such negative approaches?

What you mean is the ‘Kaduwa’? the sword? Yes we have encountered such resistance but rather than lecture people on benefits of learning English, we have demonstrated its advantages. The GTZ, provided funds for purposes quite like this. North and East, for instance; for instruction to public servants in the use of English and its advantages.

Our government Grant for Sri Lanka is small. That means we have to work closely with the private sector. HSBC is one. They work with us on some of our projects. Similarly some others.

We are involved with many subjects, climate change, fashion designing, value chain, the UK still has a lot to offer. We interact as equals. We learn so much from Sri Lanka, as much as we dispense what we know that could benefit Sri Lanka. We work closely with Vice Chancellors of Universities. As well.

You must have some future plans. What are your plans?

I’ve been with the British Council 28 years. Working in the UK, Kenya, Indonesia, The Phillippines, and Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka will not be rid of me yet. Retire effective end August, visit my Mother in Australia, and come back here to take up my new job.

I like Sri Lanka. I’ve made genuine friends here. Mainly Sri Lankan. Good people. People who I could be comfortable visiting unannounced, just to chat.

I like the food. Yes the kottu as well; Sri Lanka has become my home. At least the immediate future.

Anything left for your successor to do? A man?

He’ll have lots to do. That’s what change is all about. Somebody new comes along and contributes what he could have in mind. - couretsy: The island -

Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims remember Fr Jim Brown, who disappeared during the war

by Melani Manel Perera

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims together to remember Fr Nihal Jim Brown, an ethnic Tamil Catholic priest, who disappeared on Aug. 20, 2006. The group of people, and relatives of the priest, met yesterday at the Centre for Society and Religion in Colombo, "because the memory of Fr Jim Brown and his assistant can not be erased from our hearts".

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Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslims together to remember his disappearance. Fr. Brown was last seen August 20, 2006.

The church of the diocese of Jaffna entrusted to Fr Brown was immersed in the war zone between army troops and Tamil rebels. On 20 August 2006, the fighting came very close to the parish. To give the faithful shelter from the bombs, Fr. Brown opened the church. The clashes left 20 dead and 100 wounded, and the priest asked the military permission to take survivors to hospital.

The last witness, who saw him at a Navy checkpoint of the, claimed that he was with Wenceslaus Vimalathas, his assistant and 40-year old father of five children. An officer of the Sri Lanka Navy was threatening them. Once Fr Brown and Vimalathas left Allaipiddy, they disappeared without trace.

Fr. Nandana Saparamadu opened the meeting with a prayer in Sinhalese and said: "Fr. Brown asks us to grow in faith in God and develop our courage to build a more just society". Sandhya Eknaligoda, the wife of Prageeth, a journalist who also disappeared, lit a candle next to a picture of Fr Brown, saying "the candle flame gives us strength and courage to move forward in defence of our loved ones." Fr. Selvarathnam called everyone to unity in the name of Fr Brown: "God always takes the side of the oppressed and asks us to take care of our brothers. And where is our brother Jim? We must take care of each other: take care of the Tamil and Sinhalese of Sri Lanka's Muslims. "

Fr. Jim Brown is one among the thousands of civilians, journalists, human rights activists and academics, mostly ethnic Tamils, to have disappeared since 2006. - Courtesy: Asia News.it -

August 21, 2010

It is very hard to imagine a Tamil diaspora minus Toronto: "Thank you Canada, Thank you Brian Mulroney"

This article was first publihed on Aug 21, 2006, marking 20 years since the arrival of 155 Tamils on August 11, 1986 by boat to New Foundland

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, beaconed to Tamils in torment

BRTC822.jpg

by K.T. Kumaran

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand - William Butler Yeats, Irish Poet (1865 – 1939)

Tamils fleeing their homeland amidst continuing ethnic pogroms of the Sinhala State remember with certainty, the gracious manner in which Canada’s 18th Prime Minister Hon. Martin Brian Mulroney touched their lives, twenty years ago in August, 1986.

We remember him affectionately for summoning the “True-North” for the purpose of accepting the Tamils who drifted ashore in Newfoundland.

“Cold, hungry and crowded into two lifeboats, men, women and children were spotted through the fog off Newfoundland yesterday and picked up by three Canadian fishing boats. They said they had been adrift for five days, the Canadian Coast Guard reported,” Canadian newspapers said on August 12, 1986. They were rescued by North Atlantic cod fisherman Gus Dalton and his three-man crew. Dalton told the Canadian media then that the rescued thanked him profusely, saying they had been adrift for five days. The Newfoundland fishermen made a fairy tale ending possible to the ordeal of those Tamils, by giving them a hand in the deep blue waters. Dr. Robert J. Belton of University of British Columbia has recorded “Tamil refugees found drifting off the coast of Newfoundland on August 11, 1986,” as an Important moment in Canadian History in his compilation dating from 1968.

The matter quickly became entangled from concern of their point of departure, whether it was Sri Lanka/India or a port in Europe to concerns about lack of background check and to violating Canadian Immigration laws. There were many letters from readers to The Toronto Star on the issue for several weeks, if not months. There were views in support and against allowing the Tamils to stay.

Charles A Blum of Willowdale wrote, “I am absolutely furious over the Tamil situation. I am not upset at how these people came to Canada but that they find it necessary to deceive. As Canadians, we must be upset at ourselves and our government, which refuses to make entry to Canada easier, forcing people who wish to come here to resort to such nonsense.”

Mendel Green of Toronto said in his letter, “Your review of Canadian newspapers’ responses to the Tamil boat people demonstrates a serious lack of understanding of the terrible situation that these people face and the hardship they suffer in Sri Lanka. Even if they were in Germany first, they remain genuine refugees. Canada’s borders must remain open to real refugees and these Tamils should be given a warm and supportive welcome by all Canadians.”

D. Mason of Unionville echoed the sentiment of the naysayer. “The Tamil spokesman who accuses Canadians of being racist if they disapprove of the entry into Canada of 155 Sri Lankans is both arrogant and provocative. If having concern for the future of Canada and a respect for its laws makes me a racist, then I am happy and proud to be one”, Mason wrote in the Toronto Star on Aug 23, 1986.

Since the refugees arrival, a public backlash grew. Even government backbenchers criticized the decision to let the Tamils in. But Prime Minister Mulroney was ready to receive the Tamils on humanitarian grounds. He said, “We don’t want people jumping to the head of the line . . . (but) if we err, we will always err on the side of justice and on the side of compassion”.

One may think that in a totally different global political climate such compassionate policy was easy to enact. The winds may have been blowing for Tamils’ to sail in a less problematic way in 1986, but that’s not to say the sea of political trans currents were all in favour. The 1980’s was a decade when North America was still coming to terms with accepting similar “boat people”. Vietnam was fading out in the discussion, but the “Mariel boat lift” was still lingering. Thousands of Cubans swam the seas and sailed on crowded boats and rafts between April 1980 and October 1980 to reach Miami during the administration of President James Earl Carter .Jr, the 39th President of the United States of America. The handling of this was the beginning of a domino effect that crumbled the Presidency of Carter at the end of his first term. The matter continued as a treacherous political issue in certain quarters throughout the decade in the 80’.

Making a decision to give a hand to the “boat people” was certainly a walk on the edges of the leader’s political career.

And Toronto Tamils are in the midst of organizing events to commemorate the historic moment to thank the Canadian public, everyone who make it possible for Tamils to call Canada their “Home”, all the political and community – social leaders and particularly to the kindness of Gus Dalton of Newfoundland, his three-man crew and Prime Minster Brian Mulroney.

Prime Minster Mulroney elegantly invokes prose from his Irish heritage when delivering oratories that inspire and galvanize the audience spirited. He embodies the Canadian history and tradition in embracing multiculturalism. At the First Ministers’ Conference on the Rights of Aboriginal Peoples in April 1985 he said, “I see the aboriginal peoples making their special contribution to Canadian society as Indians, Inuit and Métis. There is no need to sever one’s roots.”

When paying tribute to President Ronald Reagan, he brought lines from Thomas d’Arcy McGee, an Irish immigrant, Canadian Journalist and a Father of the Canadian Confederation. Prime Minister Mulroney said,

“In one of his poems, McGee, thinking of his birth place, wrote poignantly:

Am I remembered in Erin?
I charge you, speak me true!
Has my name a sound – a meaning,
In the scenes my boyhood knew?”

Prime Minister Mulroney’s glowing salute to his fellow statesman and friend, 40th President of the United States Ronald Reagan was that he would be remembered well in Ireland, just like Thomas McGee.

Prime Minister Mulroney’s glowing salute to his fellow statesman and friend, 40th President of the United States Ronald Reagan was that he would be remembered well in Ireland, just like Thomas McGee.For many Tamils living in Canada today, the scenes their childhood knew are in shambles. But in their hearts they remember Prime Minister Brian Mulroney as the Canadian Leader who has beaconed new horizons for their children.

Looking back twenty years now, many Canadians will agree that Prime Minister Mulroney didn’t ‘err’ with regards to accepting Tamils. It is very remarkable today to note that the Canadian Tamil community in many ways is entrenched in the land of the Maple Leaf and is enhancing the prosperity of the Greater Toronto Area with their diverse contributions towards the society.

“I want to thank the Tamil Community for their hard work and contribution made to the prosperity of Ontario in so many different ways, such as economically, socially and culturally. I think the province is stronger and prouder and is better off in many ways, for the contributions made by the Tamil community, particularly by the entrepreneurs of this community,” Conservative Leader of the Province of Ontario John Tory stated at a community event in the spring. He spoke at the Canadian Tamil Chamber of Commerce’s 9th annual gala award ceremony at the Hilton suites in Toronto on April 1st.

The kind deed of cod fisherman Gus Dalton, his three-man crew and Prime Minister Mulroney’s landmark compassion have followed by two decades of numerous generosities and graciousness to Tamils by several political leaders, civic – social community members and the general public. It is very hard to imagine a Tamil diaspora minus Toronto, the “ largest of city Tamils’ ”, and Tamils say a big “Thank you, Canada”

Photo: Portrait of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, 1984.
Ginn/Courtesy Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney

Two tales of Sri Lankans: 'Loss of humanitarian aspect and Canada's own historic benevolence towards the world's less-fortunate'

from the Opinion columns of The Ottawa Citizen

by Mohan Samarasinghe

A ship arrived in B.C. and tempers flared around dinner tables in suburban Ottawa.

Spurred by radio talk show hosts, many Canadians shed their benevolent skins and began bellowing that the 492 Tamil men, women and children who arrived on the smuggler-operated ship MV Sun Sea should be sent packing, back to sea.

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Mohan Samarasinghe worries the Sri Lankan Canadian community is divided on status of refugees from the MV Sun Sea. Photograph by Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen, courtesy of: The Ottawa Citizen

Naturally, at the end of a global recession, Canadians worry that boatloads of refugees will take away from them valuable jobs, healthcare and even some of their pension money. Forgotten is that Canada is a country that has always accepted genuine refugees from around the world and is usually held in high regard for its handling of migrants.

A lesser visible dynamic of the Sun Sea saga is the role played by the immigrant communities, namely, Sri Lankan Canadians. Looking at the rhetoric that has evolved thus far,

it is almost as if there are no Sri Lankan Canadians; rather the community has been split in two. Now there are Tamil Canadians and Sinhalese Canadians, the latter being from the majority community in Sri Lanka, whose government crushed the rebellion that was spearheaded by the Tamil Tigers, recognized around the world as a terrorist organization, but revered by most Tamils as saviors.

Blood is thicker than water. The agony of old world conflicts are vividly alive for those who left the conflict behind and settled in the peaceful and comfortable Occident. When a ship carrying Tamil refugee claimants arrives in Canada, the people of this divided community scream two different tunes.

For the Tamil Canadians, these are their brethren, following the path of fellow Tamils who fled an oppressive majority in Sri Lanka and seeking to join their more fortunate relatives for a future of peace and prosperity. They feel Canada should exercise utmost compassion towards them irrespective of the method of their unceremonious arrival.

For the Sinhalese Canadians, this is the work of Tamil Tigers, or whatever is left of the rebel movement. They feel that the boat is tainted with the blood of terrorists, who wreaked havoc in their homeland for nearly 30 years. They feel the safety of Canadians and Canada's own security would be compromised if the claimants are allowed to roam free in Canada. They applaud the wider Canadian view that accepting these refugees will essentially erode the integrity of Canada's immigration system and that boatloads of other refugees would have already left ports in Somalia, Pakistan and elsewhere and are headed straight for the Great White North.

But sadly, the humanitarian aspect of this drama and Canada's own historic benevolence towards the world's less-fortunate folk seem to be lost on the latter group. Old wounds seem to have reappeared, as they unwittingly kick the ladder that helped many of them to get up here themselves. One would think that as these are Sri Lankans on the ship, there would be concern by Sri Lankan Canadians for their safety and what lay ahead for them. But there are few Sri Lankan Canadians when it comes to such issues; there are only Tamil Canadians and Sinhalese Canadians.

I don't mean to preach, but such incidents show us at our best and at our worst. As a Sri Lankan Canadian of Sinhalese origin, I say this hasn't been one of our best moments. I am disturbed when we urge Canadian authorities to shut the doors on a group of people, with whom we may have a beef from the past.

Refugees who knock on our door deserve a glass of water and a hearing. Canada has always done a darn good job of that. I have no doubt she will do so again. If only we let her.

Mohan Samarasinghe immigrated from Sri Lanka in 2005 and works as the legislative assistant to Calgary East MP Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs. [courtesy: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/tales+Lankans/3425528/story.html#ixzz0xHGtV7m3]

August 20, 2010

How Prabhakaran met his death: KP speaks out - 3

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

(CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK)

VPCA820TC.jpg

Question: What happened finally to your plan of rescuing Prabhakaran and his family by helicopter? Why did the plan not take off?

Answer:

It’s a very sad story………

After Prabhakaran’s son Charles Anthony asked me to rescue his family members by air I devised a plan and made preliminary arrangements. I arranged for a ship to be kept waiting at a far –off port beyond the reach of the Sri Lanka navy. I also made arrangements to buy a second-hand helicopter from an Ukrainian contact. [click here to read in full]

August 19, 2010

First wave of Tamil refugees ordered held in detention at hearings

by Clare Ogilvie

The first wave of Tamil refugees to have completed their first immigration hearings will remain in detention for now, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada ruled Tuesday.

KNTC820.jpg

Katpana Nagendra (right) talks to the media outside the refugee hearings in Vancouver on Tuesday. Darshika Selvasivan is on the left.
Photograph courtesy of: Wayne Leidenfrost, PNG

The first wave of Tamil refugees to have completed their first immigration hearings will remain in detention for now, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada ruled Tuesday.

In all, 75 of the 492 refugee claimants who arrived on the MV Sun Sea on Aug 13 had hearings Tuesday.

The first to appear was a young woman who braved the three-month voyage to reach family in Toronto. She travelled to Canada with her mother, father and brother.

“I ... order that [she] continue to be held on the grounds that her identity has not been established,” IRB member Leeann King said Tuesday.

King heard that the claimant has turned over her original birth certificate and national identity papers to Canadian officials. She has also had one short interview.

But due to the large number of claimants, it will likely take some time for the government to analyze the documents, the IRB heard.

Extra immigration staff have been called in to help deal with the claimants and the immigration process, the IRB was told.

Detainees are being photographed and fingerprinted. Their personal belongings are being held by officials and are being catalogued and analyzed as well.

All the claimants Tuesday at the IRB office in Vancouver were woman, some the mothers of children they brought with them. All wore over-sized hunter-green sweatshirts and grey track pants, their long dark hair held up with a large, tan-coloured rubber bands.

The diminutive women were led into the hearing room in handcuffs.

The names of the claimants cannot be published due to a ruling handed down by King Tuesday morning. It bans the media from printing any information about the claimants that might identify them.

However, the media will be allowed to report on the proceedings.

Normally, hearings are private and closed to the media and public.

Tamil community groups, which had applied to the IRB to be allowed to attend the hearings, will not be allowed to sit in under the same ruling.

That was not welcome news to community representatives.

“We as a community fully respect [the decision],” said Katpana Nagendra of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam.

“But our information to date [is that] none of the migrants that are held in the detentions centres have been given phone access to communicate with outside members.

“That is our concern ... and we will be looking into that further to see what we can do to increase that.

“A lot of people have come and said, ‘My family disappeared at the end of May and maybe they are on that boat, can you help me locate them’.”

The hearings for the men were to be held at the Fraser Regional Corrections Centre, where they are being detained.

All are entitled to hearings within seven days of arriving in Canada.

The next set of hearings for these 75 claimants will be held Aug 24.

The Canadian government has said that it suspects members of the Tamil Tigers — a rebel separatist group branded a terrorist organization by Ottawa — were on the ship.

In two letters, the migrants claim to be escaping persecution in the wake of government–led military operations in northern Sri Lanka, which ended in May 2009.

The United Nations has estimated that the fighting killed at least 80,000 civilians during the 25-year conflict and displaced 280,000.

It has been reported that the claimants may have paid as much as $50,000 each to come to Canada.

The hearings continue.

Courtesy: http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/First+wave+Tamil+refugees+ordered+held+detention+hearings/3408977/story.html#ixzz0x7JB0oId

Four years later, Sri Lankan families have still not received justice in the ACF case

by Amnesty International

AI Index: ASA 37/012/2010
19 August 2010

On World Humanitarian Day (19August) Amnesty International recalls the many humanitarian workers who have fallen victim to human rights violations in Sri Lanka and the families of victims who have been frustrated in their pursuit of justice.

Amnesty International calls on the UN to independently investigate violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Sri Lanka as an essential first step to accountability.

In August 2006, 17 Sri Lankan aid workers with the international humanitarian agency Action Contre La Faim (“Action against Hunger”, or ACF) were gunned down execution style in the town of Mutur in Sri Lanka’s Trincomalee district after a period of intense fighting between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan security forces. 15 men and women were discovered lying face-down in the ACF compound with bullet wounds to the head and neck; the victims had been shot at close range. Two more murdered ACF staff members were found in a vehicle nearby; possibly killed trying to escape.

It was the worst single attack on aid workers since the 2003 bombing of a UN headquarters in Iraq. Four years later, victims’ families are still waiting for justice.

No one has been arrested for the ACF murders, let alone convicted. Sri Lankan police bungled the criminal investigation into the murders, failing even to secure the crime scene. Witnesses were threatened and harassed; family members have been forced into hiding or even into exile abroad.

A Commission of Inquiry appointed in November 2006 by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to investigate this and other “serious violations of human rights” wound up nearly three years later without completing its mandate; it failed to identify the perpetrators in the ACF killings even when presented with substantial, compelling evidence of their identity. According to its Chair, the Commission “ran out of funds” and was hampered by the lack of witness protection. More than anything, the Sri Lankan government, which actively suppresses criticism and opposition, would not allow the Commission to carry out its mandates independently.

The Commission’s report to President Rajapaksa was never made public, but leaks to the press after its mandate expired in 2009 exonerated state forces and blamed the LTTE.

The killing of the ACF workers – as befits a crime of such magnitude - received substantial public attention, although in the end it was not enough to convince the Sri Lankan authorities to conduct an effective investigation. Other killings and enforced disappearances of humanitarian workers in Sri Lanka have gone virtually unacknowledged.

During an August 2007 visit, UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief John Holmes described Sri Lanka as "one of the most dangerous places for aid workers in the world."

A study released by the Sri Lankan Law and SocietyTrust in March 2008 concluded that as many as 67 aid workers, most of the Tamils from the north and east, had been killed or forcibly disappeared between January 2006 and December 2007 alone, which amounted to almost one a month during the period. Victims include program, field and administrative staff of humanitarian organizations engaged in demining, development and relief projects; drivers, construction workers and masons; and Catholic and Buddhist clergy engaged in humanitarian service.1

In June 2007, two volunteers with the Sri Lanka Red Crossattended a workshop in a Colombo suburb were abducted off a crowded railway platform by men claiming to be policemen as they and colleagues awaited a train to take them back to Batticaloa, where they worked. Their bodies, bearing gunshot wounds, were found the next day dumped near Ratnapura, nearly 100 km away. The government arrested a former air force officer, several police and military officers and accused them of political abduction, kidnapping for ransom, and murder.The suspects were released on bail in early 2008; prosecutions did not proceed.

While the government has publicly condemned acts of violence against humanitarianstaff, there has been little action taken to ensure impartial and effective investigations, which would lead to the prosecution of those responsible.

Today there are no credible domestic mechanisms to deal with serious human rights violations. The SriLankan Human Rights Commission lacks independence and has itself acknowledged its lack of capacity to deal with investigations into disappearances.

At the international level, Sri Lanka has 5,749 outstanding cases being reviewed by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, several hundred of which have been reported since the beginning of 2006.

Given Sri Lanka’s consistent failure to prosecute perpetrators of human rights violations,Amnesty International believes the chances of justice being served domestically in the ACF and other cases are very slim. That is why we are reiterating our call to the UN to independently investigate human rights violations in Sri Lanka including attacks on humanitarian workers.

Take action now: http://www.amnesty.org/en/appeals-for-action/call-un-investigate-sri-lanka-rights-violations

Background

Sri Lanka has a long history of serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law and has established a number of ad hoccommissions of inquiry when pressed to account for violations by its forces. In 2009, Amnesty International issued a report entitled Twenty-years of Make-believe: Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry (AI Index: ASA 37/005/2009)which documented the systematic failures of these mechanisms to bring about justice, truth and reparations for victims. None of them have been adequately empowered, resourced or supported politically to ensure real accountability.

Their main effect has been to blunt international criticism. Given this track record, the Government’s newest Commission on “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation” was suspect from inception. It was almost certainly intended to head off renewed calls for an international investigation of war crimes around the anniversary of war’s end, and to derail discussion of its human rights record at the UN. There is no reason to believe it will be any more effective in securing justice for victims than its predecessors.

ENDS/

Public Document

****************************************

For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on
+44 20 7413 5566 or email: press@amnesty.org

nternational Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK
www.amnesty.org

1 “Under Fire: Persons in Humanitarian Service;” A Preliminary Report on Killings and Disappearances of Persons in Humanitarian Service in Sri Lanka, January 2006 – December 2007, Law & Society Trust, 7 March 2008.

Religion and Ethnicity among Sri Lankan Tamil Youth in Ontario

By: Amarnath Amarasingam

Author Note: The research for this article was done in early 2008, and obviously does not include interview data collected from 2009-2010. It was submitted for publication in June 2008, and finally published it in August 2010.

Introduction

The Sri Lankan Tamil population in Canada has been increasing in size since the first refugees arrived in the early 1980s.

However, studies of the Sri Lankan Tamil community in Canada have thus far been limited to exploring the community’s relationship to the ethno-political conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government (Bell 2005; Wayland 2004), its mental health needs in Toronto (Kendall 1989; Beiser et al. 2003), parent-teen relations (Tyyska 2005), very general surveys of the community in Toronto (Kandasamy 1995), and ethnographic treatments of single immigrant families (Ramachandran 1995).

Although there are academic treatments of Tamil diasporic communities around the world (Engebrigtsen 2007; Wise and Velayutham 2008), they tend to be restricted to the study of transnational networks. This paper will explore the experience and expression of religion, the importance of religion, as well as the importance of the Tamil language for the religious and ethnic identity of Sri Lankan Tamil youth in Ontario.

This study adds to the scholarly literature on South Asian youth in Canada (Rajiva 2005, 2006; Tirone and Pedlar 2005; Aujla 2000; Pearson 1999) by examining the religion and ethnicity among immigrant youth (Eid 2003; Bankston and Zhou 1995). Studies of ethnicity in Canada often neglect to incorporate religious identity (Beyer 2005, 179).

More specifically, when academic treatments of the South Asian or Tamil community in Canada do mention religion, they often do not go beyond simply noting that many of them are Hindu and pointing out which religious texts they read and holidays they observe (and how these are observed differently in Canada).

Statistics Canada (2005) projects that by 2017 South Asians may number 1.8 million people, equaling or surpassing the Chinese population in Canada. Even with such a significant presence, not much is known about them and their religious beliefs. This paper, then, serves as a more in-depth foray into this under-studied area, focusing on Sri Lankan Tamil youth in Canada, specifically on their beliefs in relation to religion and ethnicity and the manner in which they practice and experience both.

Continue Reading here:

[Religion and Ethnicity among Sri Lankan Tamil Youth in Ontario [~ Available on Scribd ~ read without dowloading ~ PDF]

Amarnath Amarasingam is a doctoral candidate at Wilfrid Laurier University, and is currently writing his dissertation entitled: Pain, Pride, and Politics: Tamil Nationalism in Canada. He can be reached at: amar2556@wlu.ca

Sri Lanka is developing again. But not all can celebrate

from The Economist

Rebuilding, but at a cost

Aug 19th 2010 | Trincomalee

WEARING a crisp blue shirt, Kumaraswamy Nageswaran gestures dejectedly to a towering fence that keeps him from his village and his three acres of farmland on the Trincomalee coast.

Five years ago, as Tamil Tiger rebels fought desperately with the Sri Lankan army, thousands of families fled Sampur and adjoining villages. They returned in the six months to January this year, only to find themselves victims of post-war development plans.

Sampur fell within an area demarcated during the war as a “high-security zone”, in an effort to keep fighters from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam at bay. The rebels were defeated in May 2009, but nearly 6,000 people still cannot get to their homes and lands, as the security zone remains in place.

Today, inside the fence, Sampur is being cleared for a 500MW coal-powered plant in a joint venture between India and Sri Lanka. Also planned are a jetty and a special economic zone. The government has started a construction spree. The short journey from Kinniya to Mutur still requires arduous travel over potholed tracks and three short trips by rudimentary ferries with spluttering outboard motors. But roads are being tarred and bridges will soon replace the tedious boat rides.

Along the way, towns and villages are limping back to life. Mutur, a predominantly Muslim township near to Sampur, was the site of a particularly bloody battle in 2006. Gradually it is lifting its head: new buildings, including a school, are rising; paint has been daubed on walls. With a bit more aid money, the recovery would move faster yet. Elsewhere in the district, officials have marked out vast stretches of pristine beach-front for tourist development and plush hotels.

The authorities say that land will be dished out through open tenders. But local leaders fear plots will instead be handed to henchmen of the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, most of whom come from the Sinhala-dominated south. Demands for preferential treatment for the inhabitants of Trincomalee, whether Tamil, Sinhala or Muslim, may fall on deaf ears.

Mr Nageswaran tries to organise locals, as the president of a welfare group for displaced people. The government has allocated them alternative land, he says, but it is poor, lacking decent soil or water for cultivation, and without the sea to fish in. Nobody asked them before making plans and they have no access to the “family that governs Sri Lanka” to explain their plight.

Ministers know what is happening. A soldier on the road to Mutur says government officials visit regularly, adding disgustedly that he is forced to salute the likes of Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, a former LTTE leader who is now deputy minister of resettlement, whereas “war heroes” like the former army commander, Sarath Fonseka, languish in jail.

Mr Fonseka, the country’s only four-star general, led the war against the rebels. He was cashiered on August 13th after a court-martial convicted him on three counts of using “traitorous” words and of a failure “to obey garrison or other orders”. The stripping of his rank, medals and decorations was endorsed by the president, whom he had dared to challenge at an election in January.

A wider crackdown against the opposition seems to be under way. Also on August 13th two MPs from Mr Fonseka’s Democratic National Alliance were arrested during what they called a “pro-democracy” protest. Police wielding batons and firing tear gas charged the demonstrators. The country may be developing after the war, but democracy still looks frail. ~ courtesy: The Economist ~

New comers to Toronto: 'I think what we owe those people is fairness' - Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty

Comments made by the Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty today, when asked by about Immigration in Toronto:

QUESTION: Premier, some comments have been made in the race for mayor that the City of Toronto should close its doors to immigrants because it has enough trouble taking care of the 2.5 million people who live here. Do you think that’s a very Canadian comment?

PREMIER MCGUINTY: Well, let me just say this. There are a group of people who’ve arrived in a boat on the west coast. I think we should ask ourselves what it is that we owe these people. They’re coming here because they despair for their future and the future of their children, in their home country.

And they come here with a sense of hope, because they believe that they might find an opportunity here. I think what we owe them is to receive them with open hearts and open minds. It’s been said that there may be some people there who are dangerous to us, and that may be so. But I don’t think we should approach this with any bias, presumptions, assumptions or prejudices. I think what we owe those people is fairness.

And if there are mischief-makers or dangerous people there, we will find them out and we will deal with them appropriately. But again, I think our mindset when it comes to these kinds of things is to approach those folks in a Canadian way. Just something else that I would ask you to ask yourself and all of us to ask ourselves, is: how far back do we have to go, when we consider our parents, some of us here, our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents, who were received in that Canadian way, that is, with open hearts and open minds. Something to add. We are blessed with 120,000 new Canadians every year in this province.

We are the leading receiver of new Canadians, and I am very proud to say that. And, with time and with opportunity, if you take a look at what happens to those families, with time and with opportunity, they are some of our very best students, some of our very best politicians, some of our very best professionals, some of our very best folks in the arts and sports and all the sectors. So let’s understand who we are, and we approach these things with open hearts and open minds.

Tamil Boat Refugees and Canada: How soon we forget

By John Moore, Special to the National Post

You're shivering in the sharp cold of a winter's night outside of the hottest club in town. You try your hardest to attract the attention of the doorman. You smile and say clever things to your friends in a raised voice to look more deserving than everyone else in line. Eventually -- if you're lucky -- he unclips the velvet rope, the door swings open and you're swept into the party. He refastens the rope. Now everyone behind you is a sucker.

Every immigrant to Canada thinks he's the last good newcomer. It's been like that since the arrival of the first settlers. The natives thought little of the French. After the conquest, the English were reviled as inferior, maladroit rubes. As the countries of origin of our newcomers became more diverse, each new wave was regarded as lazy, grasping, unwashed and unwanted. Trace your family's roots and not only are you guaranteed to find an immigrant but also likely an ethnic or cultural community that was denigrated in its time.

And how soon we forget it. Every year we throw glorious parades to celebrate the Irish. In the 1850s the Irish were so hated, the city of Toronto struck a committee to figure out how to stop them from destroying the fabric of its culture. George Brown described the travail of being waylaid by Irish beggars in the pages of The Globe and Mail: "They are as ignorant and vicious as they are poor. They are lazy, improvident and unthankful."

With the arrival of a boat load of Tamil refugees, those of us already inside the velvet rope have a new minority to fear and demonize. The charges are always the same. "They're terrorists!" one listener to my radio show wrote to me. "And they will import their civil war to Canada." The listener can be forgiven for forgetting that the Irish spent years fighting out their sectarian conflict in the new world and shaking down ex patriots for money to fund the war at home. One of only two political assassinations in our country's history -- that of Thomas D'Arcy McGee -- was carried out by Irish terrorists.

True these might be valid arguments against letting in anyone from a country torn by civil strife, but I wonder how many of those descended from the Irish think it was a terrible mistake to let their forefathers in?

When I described to my listeners how the Italians were tarred following the Second World War and yet today we celebrate the enclaves where they continue to live in large concentrations, a man named Mario texted me: "Yeah but Italians look after their neighbourhoods. These filth have no respect for where they live." He might want to ask his parents or grandparents how many times they were referred to as "filth" back in the day.

A caller named Marion upbraided me for being out of touch with the spirit of the people. "You pay for these immigrants if you want them. Everybody here is losing everything; their health care [and] the roads are in poor condition."

One of my colleagues has griped indignantly that by raising our history of intolerance toward newcomers I am necessarily calling anyone with concerns about the arrival of the MV Sun Sea a racist. Not at all. But if Public Security Minister Vic Toews and others who like to stir up panic over this latest arrival of refugees find themselves sharing political terrain with unabashed racists, that's their burden to shoulder.

This doesn't mean we don't need to have an adult conversation about whom we welcome and how we integrate them into our national culture. But as long as people don't even know what the difference between an immigrant and a refugee is, one has to question just how adult a conversation it's going to be.

But it is good to be inside the velvet rope isn't it?

(John Moore is the host of Moore in the Morning on Toronto's News-Talk1010 AM. His people came from England, Ireland and the United States)

Courtesy: http://www.nationalpost.com/soon+forget/3411881/story.html#ixzz0x1tPVI00

Collective trauma in the Vanni

A qualitative inquiry into the mental health of the internally displaced due to the civil war in Sri Lanka

by Dr Daya Somasundaram
Department of Psychiatry, University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka

Background

From January to May, 2009, a population of 300,000 in the Vanni, northern Sri Lanka underwent multiple displacements, deaths, injuries, deprivation of water, food, medical care and other basic needs caught between the shelling and bombings of the state forces and the LTTE which forcefully recruited men, women and children to fight on the frontlines and held the rest hostage. This study explores the long term psychosocial and mental health consequences of exposure to massive, existential trauma.

Methods

This paper is a qualitative inquiry into the psychosocial situation of the Vanni displaced and their ethnography using narratives and observations obtained through participant observation; in depth interviews; key informant, family and extended family interviews; and focus groups using a prescribed, semi structured open ended questionnaire.

Results

The narratives, drawings, letters and poems as well as data from observations, key informant interviews, extended family and focus group discussions show considerable impact at the family and community. The family and community relationships, networks, processes and structures are destroyed. There develops collective symptoms of despair, passivity, silence, loss of values and ethical mores, amotivation, dependency on external assistance, but also resilience and post-traumatic growth.

Conclusions

Considering the severity of family and community level adverse effects and implication for resettlement, rehabilitation, and development programmes; interventions for healing of memories, psychosocial regeneration of the family and community structures and processes are essential.

Background

Tham Thimithimithom Thaiyathom
Tham Thimithimithom
Living we were- on Vanni soil
Living we were
Educating ourselves we were - Joyfully
Educating ourselves we were
Running around we were - with friends
Running around we were

Came the airplanes- on us
Throwing bombs
Died relations- our
Relations fell
Race destroyed- Tamil
Race disappeared

Life destroyed- our
Life scattered
Suffering saw- we
Sadness imposed
Caged by war- we were
Trapped in suffering
Enough the sorrow- we
Escape to survive - Song/Poem by Vanni IDP school student

What happened in the Vanni and to its people from August 2006 onwards, particularly from January 2009 to May 2009, has been described in apocalyptic (in the local Tamil as pralayam) terms[1-4]. The total destruction of civilian infrastructure that ensued in the bitter fight to the end between the Sri Lankan military forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) with an estimated civilian population of around 300, 000 trapped in between is an ineffable human calamity. A common refrain from people who were there has been 'varthayal varnicca mudiyathavai (it is beyond description by words)'[5]. When one meets or sees survivors even in January, 2010 in the various internment camps, public places like bus stands or in private homes, they are obviously in a thihaiththupona (daze) state, not having comprehended or come to terms with what happened.

They stand out from the rest of humanity. Much of what happened is still shrouded in mystery and secrecy. There are several contested versions, discourses battling to establish their perspective. The Sri Lankan state and military have actively striven to suppress the truth of the ensuing carnage for fear of investigations for war crimes [4,6-8]. There also appears to be a more long term effort to frame and reconstruct the collective memories and historical record in line with the political agendas of different actors. The Lankan state and Sinhala nationalist would like to paint it as a war against terrorism, deny an ethnic or minority problem and portray the Tamils as of relatively recent origin, migrants or invaders from South India in the last millennium [9-11]. Indeed, internationally the LTTE had become branded as a terrorist organization by several countries including India, U.S., U.K., Canada, European Union, Australia, Malaysia and others. In contrast, Tamil nationalists depict the conflict as a liberation struggle of a suppressed minority, claiming the Tamils have inhabited the North and East from the beginning of history [12-14]. However, the psychosocial and mental health impact on the civilian population and the interventions for their recovery remains a major concern addressed by this qualitative study.

Since the work of Sigmund Freud, it has become a basic principal aim of psychotherapy to bring out the repressed memories and associated emotions as a process of healing. This cathartic effect is believed to help people come to terms with what has happened and carry on with their lives. Following massive ethnic conflicts in South Africa, Rwanda and Bosnia there were attempts at reconciliation through 'healing of memories' using techniques like truth commissions. If people can be given an opportunity to express their stories through words, poems, songs, drama, drawings or other creative arts, it is believed that would help in their recovery. It would provide some meaning for the enormous suffering they have undergone, hope for the future and trust in the world. It would also help others understand what has happened as well as create an enabling atmosphere for resolving contrasting views.

Memories can change over time depending on internal and external conditions. This is always a challenge in psychoanalysis and narrative ethnography. Child abuse, trauma, depression, grief, fear, wishes, desires and other strong emotions can repress or distort memories. Similarly, the external political environment or socio-cultural milieu can determine what can and what cannot be said. Silence in a situation of 'repressive ecology'[15] is a survival strategy that can become ingrained and permanent. Thus peoples' memories can become a field of intense contest, memories can be erased, and others created or changed. This paper will attempt to give a voice, narrate the stories, access the memories and describe the lived experience of those caught up in the fateful Vanni episodes from different perspectives as a psychosocial method of catharsis, a healing of memories.

Complex situations that follow war and natural disasters have a psychosocial impact on not only the individual but also on the family, community and society. Just as the mental health effects on the individual psyche can result in non pathological distress as well as a variety of psychiatric disorders like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); massive and widespread trauma and loss can impact on family and social processes causing changes at the family, community and societal levels. A better understanding of the supra-individual reality can be sought through the ecological model of Bronfenbrenner [16] with the micro, meso, exo and macro systems or the individual nested in the family nested in the community [17,18]. Previous workers had already drawn attention to the community level problems caused by disasters. Kai Erikson [19] gives a graphic account of Collective Trauma as 'loss of communality' following the Buffalo Creek disaster in the US. He and colleagues described the 'broken cultures' in North American Indians and 'destruction of the entire fabric of their culture' due to the forced displacements and dispossession from traditional lands into reservations, separations, massacres, loss of their way of life, relationships and spiritual beliefs [20]. Similar tearing of the 'social fabric' has been described in Australian aboriginal populations [21]. There was a description of 'cultural bereavement' due to the loss of cultural traditions and rituals in Indochinese refugees in the US [22] and collective trauma due to the chronic effects of war[23]. More recently, a number of discerning workers in the field have been drawing attention to the importance of looking at the family[24-27] and cultural dimension[28-31] following disasters. Finally, Abramowitz [32] has given a moving picture of 'collective trauma' in six Guinean communities exposed to war.

Context

The area called the Vanni compromises mainly the Districts of Killinochi and Mullaithivu and adjoining parts of Vavuniya and Mannar Districts in Northern Sri Lanka (see map- fig. 1). With the more recent migrations, an estimate of the total population would have been between 300,000 to 400,000 consisting exclusively of Tamils. Due to conflicting political compulsions the exact number remains controversial [2].

Folk lore, myth and history

The hoary beginnings of the people of the Vanni (Vanniar) ruled over by chieftains called Vannians [33,34] has not been clearly established but settlements have been dated back 2000 years[35]. There is mention in the Konesar culvet and old vya song of sixty Vanniar coming from Madurai in South India accompanying the royal bride for the king at Anuradhapura in the first century BC [36]. They were settled in Adangapattu (Unsuppressed place)[37] while one became a Dishava in Kandy. Interestingly for long periods from the 1990's the whole of the Vanni together with other areas in northeast under LTTE control were called 'uncleared' (meaning not under state control) areas by the state. Adangapattu district is again mentioned as the residence of Paranda Vanniyan in Colonial British accounts. Vanni came into the historical limelight around the beginning of the eleventh century [33,34,38,39] when the Cholas from South India exerted their influence over Jaffna and encouraged settlements in the Vanni. And later, more prominently in the thirteenth century, the political space for the Vanni opened up to assert itself when according to partisan versions, 'invasions by (South) Indian mercenaries', Magha from 'Kalinga' the most notorious of them, were blamed for the fragmentation of the Anuradhapura and Pollanaruwa Kingdoms of the Rajarata civilization [40]. These ethnocentric, somewhat mythic, accounts of the past feed into present day ethnic emotions, consciousness, polarized perceptions, relations and conflict[41,42]. However, other, more scholarly accounts, ascribe the breakdown to internal dynastic power struggles [43,44] and the neglect of the hydraulic infrastructure of the ancient civilization and consequent breeding of pernicious malarial Anopheles mosquitoes [45]. The malaria ridden forests of the Vanni functioned as a buffer zone between the North and the South and could have been one of the primary causes for the separate evolution of the two ethnic identities. The Vanni chieftains appear to have paid some tributary to the more powerful rulers in the north or south as the power balance happened to be at that time, but had an independent spirit with a distinct naddar culture [46,47] and dialect (language) of their own.

Dissident and defiant groups found safe haven in the impenetrable forests of the Vanni from where they mounted reprisal attacks. However, this original group of peoples, way of life and language have now been assimilated into the mainstream cultures. Historically, the Vanni encompassed Mannar, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Pollannaruwa, Batticaloa, Ampara and Puttalam hinterlands [33]. The name Vanni is said to be derived from the Sanskrit and Tamil word for forest (vannam) or fire (vahni) , but there is also some historical evidence in Culverts and old songs that the Vanniar could have originally come from the large Vanniar clan/caste from North Arcot in South India [33]. One of the traditional old temples is at Vattapallai dedicated to Kannahi or Pattini deyo in Sinhala. It is from here that an annual pilgrimage (paddayattarai) goes along the coast and then through forests to Kattirgamam (Kattragamma in Sinhala) in the South East. In the western, Mannar side of the Vanni, Thirkatheeswaram temple and the Catholic Christian Madhu church, built on an old Amman temple, are popular places of pilgrimage of 'Hindu' Tamils, 'Buddhist' Sinhalese, 'Christians' and others.

The Vanniar are also reputed to belong to the warrior caste with heroic and marital skills. According to folklore, seven Vanni chieftains who fought unsuccessfully against the Dutch committed suicide to avoid capture. They are still revered as heroic devas (gods) at Natchimar temples in the Vanni and Jaffna where lamps will be lit and drums beaten in their names every Tuesday and Friday [Ahalankan, unpublished manuscript]. The most famous of the Vanni chieftains was Pandara Vanniyan or Wanni Bandara in Sinhalese, the last king of the Vanni who fought against the Dutch and British colonial powers [48,49]. In alliance with the Kandy kingdom he drove Lt. von Drieberg and his garrison from the Mullaithivu fort capturing their canons and 'overran the whole of the northern districts (Vanni) and the boldness to penetrate as far as Elephant pass into the Jaffna Peninsula'[50]. From conventional warfare, he resorted to guerilla attacks and was finally defeated by Lt. von Drieberg when the British organized a three pronged attack from Jaffna, Mannar and Trincomalee around 1803. This was followed by 'burning of all his houses and his people were dispersed into the jungle, and eventually out of the Vanni. The power of the Vanni Chiefs was thus finally and effectually extinguished' [50].

Interestingly, folklore has it that Lt. von Drieberg was originally with the Dutch forces where he felt humiliated by Pandara Vanniyan for having defeated him several times, including in personal combat, and had been permitted to withdraw. He had stayed on after the Dutch were ousted by the British to fight on to defeat Pandara Vanniyan. The similarity to Gen. Sarath Fonseka who developed a passionate zeal to defeat the LTTE and Prabhakaran after being trapped in the early 1990's at Pompamadu near Chettikulum in the Vanni by the LTTE when a Lt. Colonel and later, surviving a near fatal suicide attack is striking. He led the war in the Vanni and was responsible for systematically and relentlessly pursuing the LTTE till they were completely destroyed. He became a Sinhala national hero of epic proportions but ironically, with the twist of power politics, he is to be court martialed for treason for revealing evidence of war crimes [51]. Pandara Vanniyan was declared a national hero by the prime minister and a statue of him was opened in 1982 with much fanfare in Vavuniya at the main junction where the A-9 Highway between Jaffna and Kandy (and Colombo) meets the road to Mannar (and further down the road to Trincomalee) [49]. More recently, the LTTE leader, Prabhakaran, has been compared to him by present day Tamil nationalists, Karunanidhi the current Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, India in his book, Payum Puli Pandara Vanniyan, and Nedumaran. The historical parallels to what happened in the Vanni recently are remarkable except ordinary civilians were not used as hostages.

The old village, agricultural settlements of the Vanniar were mainly centered around water resources such as tanks and ponds outside the present Vavuniya town called Villangkulam earlier. The villages were reputed for their cooperative activities and absence of much caste or class distinctions or conflict. The settlements were mainly Tamil except in the north east and south eastern parts of Vavuniya there were a mixture of Sinhala and Tamil families while on the western side there were Muslim and Tamils, all of whom lived peacefully together. Vavuniya town developed with the opening of road and railway connection by the British between Jaffna in the North and Kandy and Colombo in the South. Those who came on official duties or traders settled in the town. The town grew to its present size after it became a border town with the LTTE controlled areas to the north, a centre of trade and goods moving north and later haven for refugees from other areas.

Killinochchi and Mullaithivu districts were sparsely populated, jungle areas with agricultural settlements around tanks like Iranaimadu and some permanent but largely migrant (from the western coast during their southwest monsoon) fishing villages on the Eastern coast. During the 1970's there were concerted efforts to settle unemployed, educated youth in the Vanni and involve them in agriculture and animal husbandry. Following the state acquisition of British owned estates in 1974 resulting in starvation on the estates [52] and the 1977, 1983 anti-Tamil pogroms, Tamils from the south and hill country settled in increasing numbers in the Vanni. With the Lankan operation Riviresa to retake the Jaffna peninsula, the LTTE engineered the 1995 exodus from Jaffna which saw around 200,000 people with the LTTE moving to the Vanni [53]. If the people had been cornered with the LTTE in Jaffna there may have been a high number of civilian casualties then [54] as happened later in the Vanni in 2009. With the 2002-6 peace accord, some of these people moved back to their original homes, several of whom were targeted by state-affiliated killer squads after the resumption of war in 2006.

The LTTE leadership and cadres faced annihilation when they took on the Indian army in the form of Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in 1987 in Jaffna [55]. Eventually they had to withdraw into the Vanni and into the Mullaithivu jungles. Several efforts by the IPKF to round up the LTTE leadership culminated in an operation called 'Check mate' using the famed Gurkha regiment to go into the Mullaithivu jungles [56] where they cornered the LTTE, but were not permitted to proceed by Indian politics. The Indian generals complained they had to fight with one hand tied behind their back. Prabhakaran had appealed to Karunanidhi, with a personal letter addressing him as the only hope, the star of the Tamils. In the 2009 final battle too, the LTTE had pinned considerable hope on Tamil Nadu politics. Karunanidhi the chief minister in Tamil Nadu had gone on a publicity fast but called it off when the Lankan state promised not to use heavy weapons and offered a ceasefire. Some of the narrative accounts mentioned people listening intently on the radio amidst the raging battle for news of the election results from India that came in just before the last onslaught, dashing all hopes.

However, at that time the LTTE was still using guerilla tactics using civilians as shields and contrived civilian casualties [55]. With the withdrawal of the IPKF in 1990, the LTTE gradually consolidated their hold in the Vanni and gradually changed from a guerilla force into a conventional army holding onto territory. They had some spectacular military successes in expelling the Lankan state forces from several garrison military complexes in the Vanni, particularly Mankulam, Killinochchi, Mullaithivu, Pooneryn, and Elephant Pass inflicting enormous casualties and capturing heavy weapons. Over the years, they managed to stave off several attempts by the Lankan state forces to retake or even create in roads into the Vanni. Killinochchi changed hands several times and a concerted operation ('Jayasikuru'- victory assured) to bisect the Vanni along the A9 highway was beaten back by counter attacks called 'unceasing waves' by the LTTE. Nevertheless, the Lankan state held onto the Southeastern Vanni renamed Weli-oya from the Tamil name, Manal aru in 1984 by expelling the Tamil population and creating garrison settlements [57]. This successful policy may foreshadow what may now be attempted for the rest of the Vanni.

With the consolidation of their military control over the Vanni, the LTTE gradually built up an alternate administrative structure in the Vanni amounting to an autonomous, separate de facto state [12]. There were separate police, judicial, financial (tax, bank), administrative, medical, social and other services. When the major A9 was opened up after the 2002 peace accord, there were tight custom, immigration and emigration control at the border crossing points. There was always some form of blockade of goods going into the Vanni by the state, as a result outside goods were always in short supply and cost much higher. Local produce sold at a lower price.

There was a certain atmosphere of Tamil nationalism, a feeling of autonomous independence, a Camelot of sorts- a Tamil de facto state with the illusion of liberation. Tamil language and culture was in unhindered if not exclusive use. The head of the UNICEF programme in the Vanni, an Australian with long experience in Sri Lanka, described the children there as being different from those that she had seen elsewhere in the North East. It was only in the Vanni that children could be seen to play freely, frolicking and jumping into and swimming in the water tanks and irrigation channels. Outside visitors were amazed at the order, organization, sanitation and activity. The Sarvodya leader from the south remarked that in the whole of Sri Lanka it was only in the LTTE controlled areas that women felt safe to walk by themselves late in the night. Unlike in the rest of Sri Lanka, military weapons, check points, barbed wire and round ups were not visible. The 2002-2006 peace period had particularly been specially propitious in this respect. However, the LTTE maintained a fascist, totalitarian control over the civilian population with a network of prisons for dissidents and enemies (throhies) [58] who were killed or tortured and a strict pass system that did not allow people under their control to leave the Vanni. They effectively dispelled the whole Muslim population from the North in 1990 and the Sinhala population much earlier. However, the Sinhala state managed to maintain a garrison Sinhala population at Manalaru (changed to Welioya in Sinhala) in the South East of the Vanni [57]. With the resumption of hostilities in 2006, the A9 highway was closed in August. However, the Lankan forces concentrated first on Eastern Lanka and brought it under their control before moving to retake the Vanni. For the Sri Lankan state there was the historic opportunity to destroy the LTTE once and for all, a designated terrorist organization that had been plaguing the country for a quarter of a century in a long drawn out debilitating civil war situation. They had marshaled all their resources, prepared, planned well from past lessons and apparently garnered international sanction in the post 9/11 'war against terror' climate. They attempted to separate the civilians from the LTTE, to coax and pressurize them to leave the fighting areas. However, they would not allow humanitarian concern for civilian casualties get in the way of the chance to finish off the LTTE. From the Lankan state perspective, the Vanni civilians were not exactly innocent: by staying on in the Vanni under LTTE control they had compromised themselves. "High-level statements have indicated that the ethnic Tamil population trapped in the war zone can be presumed to be siding with the LTTE and treated as combatants, effectively sanctioning unlawful attacks" [1]. In September, 2008 the state ordered the UN and other international humanitarian agencies to leave the Vanni[59]. They did not allow journalists or independent human rights monitors into the area. Journalists, media and opposition politicians who reported adversely about the state or forces were intimidated, killed or silenced. According to reliable health workers in the field and civilian testimony, the maximum damage, both civilian deaths and injuries, was from the massive, relentless shelling of the civilian population, declared safety zones and hospitals. The Vanni population had already experienced the full brunt of state terror and had all the reasons to be afraid of the advancing army [60,61]. In the recent collective memory would have been the killing of 61 school children and youth in an air raid in Mullaithivu in August, 2006 reported by UNICEF and the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) [62]. Seventeen aid workers (working for the French International Non Governmental Organisation Action Contre La Faim (ACF) had been executed by the advancing state forces at Muttur in the East [63]. Over 120 civilians seeking refuge at St. Peter's Church in Navaly had been killed by bombing in 1995 [64]. There had been many such massacres of civilians by state forces [65] in the living memory of the Vanni people, some of which they themselves had barely survived.

Many had lost a relation or faced the wrath of the forces. An epidemiological survey by a team from the University of Konstanz, Germany using the UCLA PTSD Child Reaction Index with expert validation (Kappa .80) carried out in the Vanni in early 2000's had found that 92% of primary school children had been exposed to potentially terrorizing experiences including combat, shelling, and witnessing the death of loved ones. Twenty five met the criteria for PTSD[66]. There was ever ongoing abductions, torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings of Tamils by the state forces and the paramilitaries allied with them[67]. For the LTTE as the structures of their de facto state and territory crumbled all around them in face of the State forces' juggernaut, they desperately clung onto the civilians as human shields towards the later stages. They apparently hoped that the unfolding human tragedy would precipitate an international intervention [5]. The LTTE also forcefully recruited men, women and children, gave them increasingly minimum training and pressed them into battle. As a consequence many died and the returning bodies caused increasing friction with the once loyal and passive Vanni civilians. Thus the twin forces of onslaught of the state forces and the LTTE's trapped the civilians. The Vanni population and the Tamils had learned to live between the terror and the counter terror, the parallel authorities and violence of the LTTE and the state [68], but nothing had prepared them for what was to come.

The forces launched well planned, concerted attacks from multiple fronts but the main advance was from the west. As the Lankan forces advanced using heavy artillery shelling and bombing from the air, people fled eastward and then northeastward, through Killinochchi to Mullaithivu to end up in a sliver of land on the East coast. Food became scarce and expensive, there were reported deaths due to starvation, clean water difficult to find, medical help and supplies became non-existent as people fled from one place to another seeking some respite from the continuous shelling and firing. People lay dead on the streets and in their hastily dug bunkers. Some 20,000 to 40,000 are estimated to have died in the apocalyptic carnage [2,8,69,70]. The injured cried for help, while bleeding to death where no one stopped to give a lending hand in their own desperation to escape. The elderly and disabled were left behind. Orphaned children were wandering aimlessly amidst the chaos of blocked roads and desperate humanity. Those who managed to escape this unfolding human tragedy were fired upon by both sides, were injured or killed, had to wade through deep waters, becoming separated and losing all their belongings. Once on the army side, they were checked, some separated and never seen again. They were then herded into buses and taken to temporary shelters and finally interned for months in barbed wire camps for months without access to the outside world [71]. The total thus interned in various Internally Displaced Camps (IDP) camps in Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna was just under 300,000 [72] (see Figure 1). The narratives, drawings, poems and interviews presented here are from those interned in these camps and those outside in hospitals and living with friends and relations.

Methodology

This paper is mainly a qualitative inquiry [73-76] into the psychosocial situation of the Vanni IDP's and their ethnography using narratives and observations obtained through participant observation; in depth interviews; key informant, family and extended family interviews; and focus groups using a prescribed, semi structured open ended questionnaire. Ethical clearance for the study was sought from the Ethical Review Committee of the University of Jaffna. Informed consent was obtained before administration of the questionnaire. Interviews were carried out by the author and by trained psychosocial workers who are involved in assisting the Vanni IDP's. The sampling frame were all those who had lived in the Vanni of northern Sri Lanka and been affected by the outbreak of the war between the state forces and LTTE in the period 2008-9 and eventually displaced as so called IDP's to Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna. Generally the sampling has been purposive and convenient such as clinic, hospital patients; displaced and refugee populations; and those accessible living with friends or relations. The transcripts and translations were verified with those involved wherever possible.

The author did the translations from Tamil into English for this paper. There were severe limitations to access to IDP camps and to obtaining 'information'. The narratives, drawings, letters and poems as well as data from observations, key informant interviews, extended family, focus group discussions and media reports were analysed for impact at the family and community levels. The key informants included government (Assistant Government Agent (AGA), Gamma Sevakas (GS), Social services, Women affairs, Child Rights and other officers from AGA office, International Non Governmental Organization (INGO), NGO workers, doctors, health staff, Teachers, priests, Camp officers, community leaders (e.g. chairman, president and other members of committees, organizations)- all working with Vanni IDP population. Groups included, camp groups, women groups, extended family groups, community groups (adolescents, religious, mothers, teachers, doctors, health staff). Qualitative analysis of data used standard qualitative techniques like Narrative analysis (content, idioms and structure analysis to locate common epiphanies, contexts, themes, processes, unique features, and semiotics); Phenomenology (personal and family experiences in essence, meaning, experiential description); Grounded theory (selective coding and interrelate categories to develop propositions, conditional matrix, alternate interpretations, themes, hypothesis, and theory); ethnography (cultural, religious and social contexts, events, actors, themes and patterned regularities to interpret how the culture worked in this situation); Case studies (using categorical aggregation to establish themes and patterns, direct interpretation and natural generalizations to extract in-depth picture of cases); and Discourse analysis (read and interrogate the data for patterns, perspectives; historical, mythical and sociopolitical contexts; actions, implications and social reality). The attempt was to 'extract the meaning and implications, to reveal patterns or [and] to stitch together descriptions of events into a coherent narrative' (quoted from Corbin & Strauss 2008)[72]

The resettlement of the Vanni IDP's is being planned and implemented. The paper pleads for their trauma and psychosocial needs be taken into consideration for their necessary healing and success of rehabilitation and development process. The Tamil community needs these narratives to come out to show the extent of their suffering, for their own review of what has happened and where they are going and for the outside world to understand. For the nation, the eventual process of reconciliation needed for her survival and future progress, the stories of ordinary people has to be told. Social justice, at least steps towards acknowledgement of what has happened would help towards long term psychosocial well being.

The psychosocial phenomena of collective trauma is explored and interventions suggested. the term collective trauma is being introduced to represent the negative impact at the collective level, that is on the social processes, networks, relationships, institutions, functions, dynamics, practices, capital and resources; to the wounding and injury to the social fabric. The long lasting impact at the collective level or some have called it tearing in the social fabric [21] would then result in social transformation [77], of a sociopathic nature that can be called collective trauma. Collective events and consequences may have more significance in collectivistic communities than in individualistic societies [78]. The individual becomes embedded within the family and community so much so that traumatic events are experienced through the larger unit and the impact will also manifest at that level.

Results

Narratives

Many ended up in the Vanni after many previous displacements to escape the chronic terror of continuing warfare. The following youthful narrative starts when the person was a young child but is quite typical and shows the complexities:

As a child we were living in Jaffna when the first major blow in life happened in the 10th month of 1995 with the announcement to leave Valikammam. My friends said that we would be just going today and returning tomorrow. With the clothes I was wearing and two old hand baggage (on foot) we reached the Navatkulli bridge which was rumoured to be broken by nightfall. In our haste, we crossed through mud that reached my neck, lost one of my bags and somehow made it to Chavakachcheri in two days. Here there was the appeal that "Vanni soil will make you live" and some compulsion (by the LTTE, though not named) that made us join thousands of people to journey by sea to the Vanni. We experienced two strong emotions during this journey, one was the terror for the navy- when they would cut us up (people crossing the Killali lagoon were set upon by navy patrols) and other was the longing when we would return to Jaffna. The nostalgia for Jaffna lasted for days turning into a day dream that continued for years. After this we were displaced again from Killinochchi in 1996. I lost both my parents in 1998. Then my brother was killed in a bomb blast. I came down with malaria several times. (Health officials reported a high (epidemic) number of deaths due to malaria during that period.

But public health measures brought it under control). I went to school and sat for the national exams from Killinochchi. After that the Killinochchi resettlement process. We gradually became part of the Vanni soil (Vanni man vasihal). The thoughts of Jaffna faded slowly from our minds. Our longing was for freedom. Not necessarily by arms but that we should govern in our land. We wanted rule by the people because our past ethnic leaders had made many historical blunders (varallattu thavaruhal). Whether we liked it or not, we were forced to accept the struggle (porrattam). Although many of our expectations may not come to pass, at least one day, freedom and after that dawn (vidivu). This was the longing of many. Many lost much for this goal. But now we regret that the last 30 years have all been in vain. This anguish is greater than all the suffering we have been through.

The 4th phase of the Eelam war resulted in enormous suffering for the people that cannot be described. In 2006 August, the pathway to Jaffna and prize of the peace process, the A-9 highway was closed (puddu villa). Then began the forced conscription with the call, "one person for each house to guard the nation, come forward swiftly (virainthu vareer)". We'll hear loud wailing for the dead (marana olam). When we went to inquire, we would be informed that it was due to forced conscription. It was the oppari (wailing) by the conscripts and their relations. I learnt the reason for the wailing later. Many who were taken never returned. This was coerced. Some parents willingly gave their children. Willing or unwilling, some joined because of others. They hoped that somehow a change will come. Subsequently the displacements took hold like a cancer. A common saying became, "we gave our child and eventually we have to leave our home".

Our displacement from Killinochchi started in October, 2008.The reason was that shells from Mallavi and aerial attacks. The planes would drop their bombs somewhere but the pieces would spread to cause damage elsewhere. Among the planes the MIG 29 was a demon. Its sound still rings in my ears. First displacement was to Visvamadu. Everything except the walls of the house were removed. Some even took the bricks that were not cemented. This was due to the bad experiences from the last displacement (on returning they found everything possible to remove had been looted). Our household loaded two 'kandar' (heavy vehicle). Everything from a broomstick were carefully loaded and secured before moving. Somehow we will take everything possible. Then we will return with everything safely was the misplaced belief. Some even uprooted their croton plants to take with them. There was relief, a pleasure in the feeling that we had loaded all our belongings in a heavy vehicle (see Figure 2: Displacements[79]. What happened was different. We were displaced 8 times. For folks from Mannar district it was 16 times.

The heavy vehicle finally became by foot (changing from tractor, land master, motor cycle, to bicycle).The items taken became finally one or two handbags, in this the story of those who crossed a waterway to reach (army) control is distressing: some finally even lost their identity card. The first displacement did not appear that major to us. In the belief that they would soon return people said, "the army will come up to Paranthan, after they have all come, they will be chased back by those responsible (the word LTTE was not used). After that we can return, no." Even after our 8th displacement, these were the words of faith used by people. After that they added safe to Visvamadu and declared it the safety zone. Relief was twofold. But it didn't last even 28 days. Attacks towards Visvamadu started. This was the most terrible harvest of the 30 years of war. With it rain floods became frightening. Nature also played with our people. Chickens that people had brought with them were swept away in their cages. Tharappal (tarpaulin- plastic sheet) cottages were swept away. Water will seep through the ground of the huts that we built. We became used to these hardships. With these burdens, sweet news reached us of worldwide ahimsa protests by the Diaspora and the neighbouring country's political drama all gave us fresh hope. It was like the person longing for rice receiving buriyani that was sweet only to our ears.

There was a strong expectation that India would do something among the Vanni people. At least they would put a stop to the shelling. The reason was the political drama that unfolded in Tamil Nadu in 2008. This appeared to us to be a big change there. After that was the dream of the Indian relief boat. Even in the midst of the horrible war the story spread of the Indian ship coming with food and clothes. We waited two months and spent two days (standing in queues) to finally get the parcel. Before enjoying it, the next displacement came. We had to leave many of the items behind. One thing became clear that people had a strong belief to the last that India would come to their rescue. One could see the sticker from the parcel, "From the Indian people" stuck on the tharapan shacks of the people for a long while afterwards. The next displacement was to Mullaithivu's Vallipunam. We could not stay here safely even for one week. Many shells landed suddenly close by. In the morning people had cooked the chickens they had been carrying as they were becoming tired of carting them around. But before they could eat their meal they had to flee leaving the food behind. With the loud explosions the ground shook. We fell to the ground on top of each other crying, "O God".

Many died in that multibarrel attack (24 to 56 shells are fired almost simultaneously as a single salvo). There was a young woman very close by with a child bleeding from its mouth. I do not know how to describe the scene. She was leaning onto a tree. When I approached I found there was life. With the neighbours help I had her sent to the hospital on my motorcycle. Afterwards as we were rushing to Thevipuram, which had been declared a safety zone by the state, a child cried, 'brother look somebody's leg is lying there'. I didn't even turn to look as I pushed on in a hurry with an elder on my cycle. People were rushing in all directions not knowing where to go. The next day when I rose my heart was beating fast. As the shelling had subsided, I returned to the earlier place and inquired from those there about the child. They said that on reaching the hospital, the child had survived for just one hour before dying. This had happened in front of my eyes. I had begged God that child should not die. The news of its death caused terror in me. I had comforted many, but could not comfort myself.

Severe terror started in Thevipuram. Both sides played firing shells in turn. If you fire ten, I will fire hundred, raining shells. Some of these did not fail to fall on ordinary people. At this stage, many people from Irudumadu and Suthanthirapuram crossed over to army controlled areas. Not easily but amidst great difficulty: "come" they call but continue to shell. "Do not go, stay" and they (LTTE) continued shelling. We also do not want to go. "Our own place, our livelihood, we know the journey (struggle) we have already undergone, but who sir, is going to save us? Are we made of steel?" Shells were raining down on us. Parents with the children they have borne. Many obstacles: water comes up to the legs, a child can be carried on the hips; water comes up to the neck, the child can be put on the head; but when the water goes above the head, the mother puts aside the child she has carried so far with great difficulty to try and save herself. People will run... if someone is injured, they would leave the person and continue running. There were parents who left their injured child behind. I saw this with my own eyes at the Mother Mullai church. Again the safety zone became a place of danger. At this point I had to go the Mathanan hospital to send an elderly person by the ICRC ship. For this I had to stay one week at the hospital (now the area from Mathanan to Vaduvahal has been declared the safety zone).

While staying at the hospital I came to realize in reality what I had imagined hell to be like. Without a hand, without a leg, bowels protruding out, burnt bodies without any portion left to burn, without eyes and so on of human suffering that one cannot think of. The injured would be brought in continuously from time to time. Of these, those who died on the way to hospital and those dying with or without treatment would be registered at the hospital. Who would take those who had already died due to injuries? Some died as a family. Some bodies would by lying by the side of the road. But I would like to record one thing, the selfless service of the TRO workers who interred the dead bodies to preserve human dignity cannot be forgotten. (Tamil Rehabilitation Organization a local NGO under the LTTE that did yeoman service for the public [80] but was categorized as part of the 'terrorist' organization by the state).

I first learnt of kotu kundu (cluster bombs) in Mathalan. One would hear the click of the shell being loaded but would begin to think there is no explosion, perhaps it is a dud before there would be multiple 'parapara' sounds. Then that area would be mayhem. Not one or two but many would come and fall. In one day, it was not intervals between shelling but their absence would last only for a small time. Most had dug bunkers. Many lived in open bunkers. Some trusted the open skies as their roof. In the last four months, most of our life was spent in bunkers. What has to be noted here is the continuous displacement, people had to move on. With other important things, the logs for the bunkers had also to be carried along. The last place that was declared as the safety zone was bare land used for drying fish. If one dug bunkers there, within one feet there would be water.

So many built shelter bunkers above the ground. The seacoast became public toilets. Close by people had to put up their tharrapan shacks and live densely as there was no space. If one attended to their toilet needs in the early morning, they had to be patient till nightfall. Females suffered particularly. Some controlled their urination the whole day before passing it once it became dark. One could observe this directly. Many said they restricted their eating and drinking because of this. Then came the move to Mullivaikal...

Youths and children with dreams and hopes of life were killed. Conscription of a person for each house changed to whole households being taken for the war effort. Church doors were broken open and my close friend together with other youths (males and females) were conscripted whilst they were praying inside. He was a very spiritual person. I was also on my way to the church in search of succor. The state of the church made me cry, "Is this your fate, the place where people come searching for comfort?" The words of Jesus, "If this is the fate of a green tree, what would become of the dry?" came to mind as I went in search for my friend. I saw the mother's crying face. She could not speak. The family had already sacrificed one member for the war, and now those left had also been conscripted leaving the mother as the lone tree.

I learnt later that my friend escaped in two weeks to return to his mother. Words cannot describe the hardships they went through to avoid conscription again. Female and male youth, even children tried many ways to save themselves from conscription. Some hid in holes dug in concealed places. Some hid in jungles. Some died due to shells falling where they hid. But due the continuous displacement they were caught while moving. Some married secretly to save themselves(there appeared to be a belief that married persons would be spared. Although this was true in earlier times, towards the later stages everyone was taken). Some were involved in this forced conscription. Some made themselves leaders. They made their own laws and were the cause of the split from the people. The selfishness of some, those who put their families and their own selves above others became the cause of problem. They stopped us saying the devil (army) was out there, but then sent on their own families. People finally asked, "To whom are you showing the devil?"

Mullivaikal became very scary. Our environs were hit by multibarrel (40) shells. We did not know what was happening. The surrounding palmyrah were burning. I fell without realization. After a few moments, I look around. Everywhere there was oppari (wailing). The elder in the next shack was killed while eating. I had just talked to him. He had said that he had not eaten in the morning (due to shortage of food), only at midday. I had seen the 14 year old female child next door cooking a rotti. It was around 12 noon. The shells hit at around 1 PM. The white rice the elder was eating had turned red. One of the rotti's that the child had been cooking was thrown on top of our torn tharappan roof. The child's abdomen had been torn asunder and was eventually sent by ship to Pulmoddai. Deaths became common. Some died inside the bunkers. They would then all be simply buried therein.

The World Food Programme (WFP) would distribute relief items. We had to stand in queues for it. It would start shelling and we would have to run. Even when dry rations were obtained amidst all these difficulties, there was always shortage. There was floor, sugar, dhal and oil. We became habituated to just Rice and dhal. There was not even an ulli to add. We developed diarrhea and had to go to the toilet often. Shells would come at any time. The price of food items skyrocketed. One coconut was Rs. 1000. Spinach Rs. 150. Once some spoilt carrot and pumpkin came by boat. Unripe mango was Rs. 100 to 150. Some mothers cried for rice...

Gunshots also started to target people in Mullivakal. When we looked outside from the bunkers we would see the trees riddled with bullets. Some described as 'dumdum' a type of bullet. An achchi (elderly lady) was sitting by our side when a 'dum' sound was heard. Later she realized her leg was broken. We later realized that a channam (round or bullet) had struck her leg and then exploded again within. Another type of missile was called 'cannon'. These were later fired continuous and many died as a result. One does not hear the 'canon' being fired or know it is coming, only after it has exploded. After this even the thorn bush at Mullivaikal couldn't stand up. Continuous missiles, rockets, gunfire, and with that bombardment from the sea. The bunkers were built facing the sea, to avoid the multipronged attacks from the land. But now shells started coming from the seaside also. For comfort we ran towards Vellammullivaikal. This was only 500 m away. In the middle the night, a hidden arms dump had exploded with burning flames. We are afraid to come out (of bunkers) in the fire light. Vandu (unmanned aircraft) are taking pictures from the sky. If people leave the bunkers to come out, at least five shells will come there.

Somehow we manage to run towards Vellamullivaikal. On the way we duck for cover, but that turns out to be more frightening than where we had been. There was a school in Vellammullivaikal where the injured were being brought. This was the Vanni hospital. If I am to describe all this it would take a book. However, in short: in the front yard there were many injured. Some were corpses; by the side were the badly injured without anyone to care for them. If it was head injury nobody would even turn to look. There were two or three government doctors. However, trained local doctors (TEHS) saved many people. (Thamil Eelam Health Service was part of the elaborate de facto state infrastructures and institutions evolved by the LTTE. The parallel[68] health service consisted of medical services to the militant cadres that included doctors trained in their medical school, nurses and other medics running frontline first aid centres, field hospitals and base hospitals that carried out complicated surgeries, blood transfusions and rehabilitation[81]. Theelapan Memorial Health Services provided primary health care to civilians throughout areas under their control. Other institutional structures included White Pigeon Artificial limb organization, Centre For Health Care(CHC), Ponnambalam Memorial Hospitals and expatriate visiting specialists).

This hospital also sustained attacks. The sad part was that the place where people came searching for medicine became their grave. Shells fell on those who were already dead. There was saying that even after death devastation continues became a reality here. Before coming to Vellamullivaikal we celebrated our last mass in the Vanni. Under a tharrapan, the priest and people had done the pusai (mass) sitting on the floor (this was my first such experience) as there was no space and gunshots were crossing overhead. The day and time when ICRC ships used to come gave people some respite as shells became less. Yet, some who trusted this and got out died.

13/5/2009. World War I remembrance day. I am reading the bible in my bunker while heavy attacks are going on around. I feel my face being covered by mud. Immediately I come out of the bunker and start running. An artillery shells falls nearby covering a bunker with mud. Five children are in the bunker. Thank god they are alive. We dig them out. I turn to look, a woman is squatting on the ground with her head bent. "Iyoo, it's a known girl". I turn her head. She is still alive but there is blood pouring from her nose and ear. Immediately we run from there. 100 m from there we get into another bunker with other known people. A girl who had been talking to us leaves the bunker to come back bent over, holding her abdomen with tears rolling down her eyes. She is immediately taken to the same hospital. There were no vehicles. So two sticks are put through a sarong that functions as the stretcher. She is soon operated on and sent back. She lives with us for three days in the crowded bunker. She would cry for water but we could not give even water because of the abdominal injury. On the third night, while looking at her two children she passed away. The funeral was held inside the bunker.

Within three hours we buried her in our hut by the bunker. We also cooked and were eating when an arms dump (store) nearby starts burning. This happens in many places. People grab what they can carry by hand and run where they can. Everywhere it was the same situation. This was the last stage for the Vanni. Those who believed in something became disoriented. Many of these were highly vulnerable innocents. Our faith till the last had been with god. We were very keen to listen to news till the end. Every expected the UN to intervene. NATO will send in troops. Many believed the US statement to the last (Obama administration had at one stage suggested plans to send US Air Force and Navy units attached to its Pacific Command (PACOM) to evacuate the civilians). Those concerned (LTTE) would surrender their arms to a third party.

Civilians will be rescued from the government announced safety zone (up to Vadduvahal) by the intervention of outsiders and taken to a safe place. But the truth was that instead of saving the people the world nations and UN committees respected the sovereignty of a weaker developing country more. But will they avoid intervening needlessly in a sovereign country when their interest is at stake? Laws are for man, man is not restrained by laws. Laws are important but we who were facing death did not have anybody to comfort us at the end. Those who believed till the end kept looking towards the sea for a saviour. The last hope dissolved with the Indian election results. Many did not know what was happening to the end. They just stayed in the bunkers. What has happened to them?

On the last day we cross the Vaddukaval bridge. Even at the end they (LTTE) block us. But the flood of people had to cross the final blockade. After 30 years of war, more than the changes in the map or the changes in the economics and structure of Illangai (Sri Lanka), who will fill the wounds and trauma in the minds of the people who have suffered these horrors? We, who have learnt to be patient, will wait for peaceful coexistence.

In this case the displacements had started in 1977:

Despair

We were originally from Alaveddy in Jaffna. My father was transferred as the post master to Anuradhapura in 1948. We settled in at the post office quarters in new town Anuradhapura. My four younger sisters, one younger brother and myself were born in Anuradhpura. My mother was a good entrepreneur. Through her efforts we saved on our expenses, invested in land, cattle and paddy fields. We built a big house behind St. Joseph's Church and I studied at the Convent in Sinhalese. Talking and talking Sinhala we forgot our Tamil. Our neighbours were Sinhalese, Muslims and Burghers. They were good people. We had no problems. We shared our good and bad times. They helped us a lot. As my mother had many cows and sold milk she was fondly called 'kiriamma' (milk lady) by the Sinhala folks.

The '56 disturbances did not affect us much. The '77 disturbance cannot be forgotten. People who had eaten and drunk from us came with knives, poles and axes to cut us. A few who were grateful to us saved us. We hid for 2 days in the Thisava irrigation canals and jungles without thanni venni (anything). We were sent to Jaffna with police security. With just the clothes we wore we landed at Duraippah stadium in a lorry. Like us there were many others. We stayed at the mission house of the catholic Fathers at Parathithurai. My mother did not like Jaffna. We bought land in Killinochchi and moved there in '77 itself. The refuge life that started in '77 has not ended yet. Unable to live with the Sinhalese we came to Tamil land, but here also it is so. All our property, goats, cattle, chickens, household goods, everything was taken by those around us. My mother will become upset if Sinhalese is spoken, "They have betrayed (irandaham) the house where they ate". Rather than believe in them, we can live in our land, it will be only for a short time..." the lady repeated and passed away crying.

"If we could not live there in peace, we came to Tamil land but after '85 this has become hell" she said with perumuchu (deep, sighing breathing- A common Tamil cultural idiom of distress [82,83].... "When are we going to be able to live in peace?"...

My sister returned to Anuradhapura but I stayed on in Killinochchi with my children. The children would go to my sisters' at Anuradhapura during school holidays. My second daughter was 8 years old. She had gone to my sisters' for the March holidays in '85. The palapona (decadent) iyyakam movement (LTTE) one day shot many Sinhala folks. If they are shot would they just wait? They hunted down Tamils. Ours somehow reached the army camp and sought refuge there. A soldier who went berserk (irathaveri) started shooting killing and injuring many Tamils. In that my innocent daughter was also killed. I did not even get to see her body. She was buried there. From that day I have not stopped crying thinking of her.

In '90 my 3rd son joined the movement. From that day my nimmathi (contentment) also went. Day and night, I begged God that nothing would happen to him. Palapona God also had no compassion, he took him in 2000. In 2001 my brothers son had gone to Vavuniya. He died in a claymore that had been set for someone else. We were displaced repeatedly living in sheds. When peace comes we would come back to our own place. Like this we have experienced untold difficulties and tortures to live with the land. In 2002 with the peace agreement , we repaired our home, hoping to life with contentment when the palapona war started again in 2008. Artillery did not let us live in peace. The beatings of the heart from the sound of Kifir drives us into bunkers.

The army had come out of Mannar to reach Akarayan. We were not able to stand the shelling and Kifir attacks, the children removed our roof, doors, windows and everything and moved to Visuvamadu. We did not live there with contentment for even 2 months. Leaving most of our goods, we moved to Vallipunam but the Sinhalese did not let us be there for even 2 weeks. With whatever they could get, the children made shelters. They took us to Iranaipallai. Like that we changed places again and again to finally reach Mullivaikal. It was there that I was injured in my arm by a multibarrel shell. My children sent me by ICRC ship (to Trincomalee). My children experienced all types of difficulties to walk from Mullivaikal to Vadduvan to reach the army. They were in Menik farm for 4 months and underwent all the difficulties there. Now we are all in Mannar. God has spared our lives. But so many people have died. All the hard earned assets have gone with the wind.

Last month we went to Killinochchi. Everything was flattened. There was nothing to identify our place. Everything was overgrown like a jungle and paladainthu (in ruins). It would be verrupu (despair) to stay there. Everywhere there is only the army. They have razed the Maveerar maythanam (Heroes (LTTE) cemetery) to the ground and ploughed it. The place of my son's tombstone cannot be recognized. Before one day of each month I would go and cry at his tombstone. This time we were not even aware that Maveerar day had come and gone. When we lived at Killinochchi, the boys with my son would come often addressing me as ammah (mother). Now who is there for me?

We went to over 15 places (for assistance) to repair our houses. To whom shall we ask? When looking at what has happened to the Tamils from '77, it creates a great despair. Like the story of a illavu patha killi ( parrot that waited for its portion) our story has ended... (with a perumuchchu). How many people were sacrificed; hands and feet lost; houses and property destroyed; ran around as people without a country; bearing so many hardships for liberty to come again to a life of subjugation. God has also become blind. Like before I do not repeat the rosaries, do not have the heart to go to church. Only anger and sorrow comes. Before we would celebrate Christmas and New Year in a big way. This time they just came and went. Cake was not made, nor palaharam (sweet eats). Whom to give? In Killinochchi all our neighbours and community would come. I only go to church on Sundays because my children insist. What have we done to anybody? We have sacrificed so many people asking for freedom but only ended up without even a kachai thundu (loin cloth). We could have gone in contentment to have been killed by a shell rather than see this end. Prabhakaran has gone creating the situation where to see our house we have to get permission from the army. When thinking of everything anger wells up. I feel like burning up. There is no sleep. All the difficulties we faced keep running like a movie. Tossing and turning, there is no sleep.

There were many stories of multiple displacements. Eventually everyone was displaced several times with decreasing periods in one place and increasing pressures from all sides, devastation and hardships. The following account by a teacher from the Mannar district maps the long convoluted journey, keeping just ahead of the direct fighting [84] up to Feb., 2009:

2.3.08- We were displaced from our village to Maddu. During this period the LTTE started to forcefully conscript our youth. Many parents, male and female youth were affected psychologically by this. Some attempted suicide by taking poison. All male and female youth were cosseted in the Madhu church while parents guarded them. Finally people were forcefully sent to other places.

3.4.08- From Madhu we were displaced to Thachinamaruthamadu. People suffered without basic facilities. Here also forced conscription continued. Some hid their children. They moved them between bunkers and jungles. Many were affected psychologically. There were many civilian casualties due to heavy shelling and aerial bombardment. Some were killed by the army's deep penetration unit claymore mines. The bus taking school children from Thachinamaruthamadu to Madhu was hit by claymore mines. Many died or were injured by this attack. Due to these attacks the free movement of people became restricted.

15.5.08 We were displaced to Periamadhu. Here some basic facilities were arranged for the people. Even here, people were subject to problems like claymore attacks, shelling and forced conscription. Many students became mentally deranged, dropping out of school and staying at home.

18.6.08 People were displaced to Ganeshapuram. NGO's and service organizations helped the people. Here also people faced continuous problems. Continuing deaths affected many mentally. There was severe shortage of water. Shelling and aerial bombardment took place.

23.7.08 We reached Anaivilunthan. As people had to leave many of their belongings on the way, they were affected psychologically. Shelling caused injuries and deaths. The successive displacements disturbed people. The education of students suffered.

11.8.08 We were displaced to a place called Puthu murripu. Here also the same problems were encountered. People were pushed to grave difficulties. Some ran out of money. Deaths increased, house to house there were funerals.

25.8.08 Displacment to Vaddakachchi. Here also all the same problems. People endured severe hardships. Forced conscription was done by beating the people and taking male and female youths. Conscripts escaped from the LTTE and returned home to be hidden there.

7.10.08 We moved towards Tharmapuram. People had to struggle through heavy rains and flooding. Huts went underwater. Other problems cropped up. People betrayed each other to the authorities (LTTE). Youngsters were caught and taken away at night, at midnight. In the name of conscription, some were beaten up, some were taken away tied to poles. Male and female youth were kept in hiding. Some became frustrated and joined. There was no one to give comfort to the people, they became desolate. They were broken by shelling and gunshots. Some were taken away for border duty and other work. Some dead youth were returned to the families in coffins with their faces concealed. Everywhere there were funerals. Everyone talked about death. Youth spent their time in hiding away from their studies.

13.1.09 People moved to Visavamadu area. Streets were crowded with moving people. Funerals were ubiquitous with smell of corpses. Bodies were buried day and night. Witnessing all this, many became mentally deranged. People were stricken by the loss of their belongings struggled without basic facilities grieved for the deaths of kith and kin. Many died unnecessarily by the shelling. Dead children to elders, lay around orphaned. Air bombings increased. Some succumbed to army firing.

30.1.09 Many people moving to Irudumadu were killed by shelling. Some left everything in a bid to survive. People were psychologically affected.

3.2.09 People moved towards Suthanthipuram. There was no drinking water, people dug holes and drank the water there. Shelling was particularly heavy. People were bewildered. On one side there was forced conscription, on the other there was continuous shelling. People lost everything, did not know where to go, what to take, what to do. Shelling was heavy even in what had been declared as the Safety Zone. Children who had lost their parents, parents who had lost their children. It was a scene that one could not look at. Bodies were buried in bunkers as it was not possible to bury them properly. Some bodies were wrapped with clothes and buried two to three feet deep. Some could not bury the dead, they simply left them and ran. Some had lost their hands, other bodies were shattered, people suffered greatly. In the hospital, there was a shortage of medicines and medical workers. People starved without adequate food. Rice and Dhal were the only food. Some broke into the stores of cooperative societies, service organizations and shops to meet their needs. There was no clean drinking water. At the same time, the LTTE shot those trying to escape into army controlled areas. Hospitals were crowded. They suffered without medical facilities. Some days were spent only in bunkers. Only for short intervals was it possible to come out. It was in this place that they faced many difficultiesPeople gave up leaving it to God's will. Nobody knew who will look after whom, who will provide comfort. We experienced suffering here that cannot be described. Many were widowed. Most people, beyond age differences, were physically and mentally affected.

The following account describes the final days at Mullivaikal in apocalyptic terms (see Figure 3[85]). There is deep emotion and resentment mixed with an earnestness to give voice to those who died there:

Mullivaikal was where the Vanni Thamilan (Tamil persons) had their hair shorn and mouth gagged while nails were driven through their hands and legs like the scene at Calvary while 80 million (world) Tamils looked on. Out of their national interest, the ruling regime washed their hands off Tamils to kill and destroy under attractive terms such as' war for peace' and 'humanitarian action'. 300,000 Tamils were rained with shells causing rivers of blood to soak that land. Daily, I want to forget those days but the memory of the thousands who died makes me want to show the outside world happened there. That would be giving the dead souls athma shanthi (paying respect, letting them rest in peace).

Everyone ask us who survived that death land why we went behind them (LTTE)? Aren't you just ordinary civilians? From Killinochchi we were displaced to Vallipunam (Puthukudirrupu). We made a house there and stayed for a month. Shells that were falling kilometers away started falling in our yard. Seeing the dead and injured in neighboring houses our minds became disturbed and we joined those running to go where our legs took us. We changed places four to five times within a village. Wherever we went we dug bunkers like soldiers and brought together our kith and ken. We struggled to obtain food and water. It became quite clear that this war was against everything living in the Vanni. According to my reckoning there was one death for every 10 persons. Ordinary people were asked to go to Suthanthirapuram as it was made the safety zone. We found out what hell would be like there. When we saw people die in hoards with their bodies strewn, we decided to move to Iranapalai. Iranapalai was also declared a safety zone. We thought this was also a killing field. Tank shells, Kifir (aircraft) bombs, multi barrel missiles, kothu (cluster) bombs and 50 caliber gunshots targeted the people. My mind became benumbed seeing young infants to the elderly being injured and dying.

Tears did not come when relations were killed. The current corpses were surrounded by future corpses cowering in bunkers. We kept hearing that people were surrendering to the army. Death was certain if we stayed. We were driven to choose. There was no food, no medicine but my family and relations were like cats that had seen fire. Because on an earlier occasion, when we had sought refuge in an army camp in Anuradhapura (birthplace of many of my relations), they had opened fire killing and injuring many. We had escaped to Killinochchi and then Jaffna where we were bombed with explosives and faeces (barrels filled with faeces) that smeared out bodies. From that time we had lost hope that as civilians we would be spared. It was imprinted in our minds that if we run in the opposite direction to the army we may somehow survive. That belief was confirmed on many occasions. But at Mullivaikal the opposite direction was the sea! When we were at Vellaimullivakal, the Tamil Nadu (in India) Chief Minister's fasting drama created some hope of a ceasefire, a restriction on the use of heavy weaponry. There was brightening in the faces of people. There was no food to eat, no water to drink, no medicine for wounds but we believed the person who represented 60 million Tamils.

Only that night the peak of heavy weaponry power was displayed. Artillery shells with phosphorus fell near our bunker and caught fire. Everywhere there was marana olam (death wailing). Even at night, with the fond hope of saving the lives of our children we ran where our legs took us. We rested on the sea shore sands. We did not believe we would be alive the next day. My aunt had been burning after being struck by a shell when we ran. When we came the next day, only her head and chest remained for us to bury in the nearby bunker. In every bunker two to three people had died. We joined those camped on the seashore. Fear of death had created a sense of comradeship with others. We were ready to share anything we had.

Death was ubiquitous ( see Figure 4). People who come out of the bunker to have a tea, fell back dead. Shells did not spare those in bunkers. My elder sister in law was injured in her head by a 'canon' attack and died due to lack of medical attention. Elders and children standing in queues for bread were slaughtered. Those who stood for gruel, to buy milk powder all went in the carnage.

While running to Vadvahal we had to duck for cover in a palmyrah cluster by an open bunker. There were altogether ten children from my family and relations when a shell fell by the side killing our neighbor. The children were covered by sand. I was dazed thinking they had all died, when on pulling out one child, it was unharmed. When the other children were also unharmed, a belief that there was a God became strong. Finally we reached Vaddivahal. My brother was injured on the way while another was missing. The injured brother was taken away by the army and lost all his money but he survived. When we approached Vaddivahal a soldier called us females and showed it by signs. Why were men called this way? Later, why were we locked up like prisoners? There were many questions but no one to answer us.

Many of the militants (LTTE cadres) who surrendered in front of our eyes were not in the ICRC register. Many said they had been shot. When will we be allowed to resettle in our own places? With the armed groups destroyed, will ordinary civilians like us be given freedom of opinion, freedom to protect our lives? Only the world can give an answer.

This is a much more individualistic presentation elicited by a doctor from a medico-psychiatric perspective that was diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

Horrendous memories

Eighteen year old Thevan was a student. His native land is Paranthan. His childhood had been happy. He had aadipaadi (played, literally sing and dance) joyfully with his companions. He was studying at high school with a goal of becoming an engineer. All his dreams were shattered by the war. Horrible shelling, artillery fire and bombings had thihil adaya (create turmoil) among appavi (innocent) folks. Thevan sought safety in many places carrying only a few belongings. Everywhere there were bunkers. On one side there was channa nerikaddi (pressure from crowds of people) while on the other side were marana olangal (wailings from death), and paddiniyal vaduhintra (starving) people. Because of the terrible war, Thevan's family entered the army controlled area on 20.4.09. They were enjoying the relief of having escaped with their lives when on the irregular, rough pathway(see Figure 5[86]), they were unexpectedly caught up in a land mine explosion.

His mother (41 years) and brother (21 years) lost their legs right there. That horrible scene happened right in front of his eyes. Thevan was also injured badly. While coming on the way, there were many dead bodies lying around. On one side there were other injured, bleeding people while on the other side there were those crying loudly for the relations who had died or been separated. Dead children's bodies were floating in the lagoon (Fleeing people had to cross a deep lagoon (Nandikadal) to reach the army controlled area. Many, particularly children and elderly drowned in the crossing). Thevan was terrified by these scenes. After great difficulty he was admitted to Vavuniya Hospital. His mental state was disturbed by memories and images of dead bodies lying around, skeletons without flesh, the scene of his mother's shattered leg due to the landmine, smell of explosives when he breathes, images of running blood and smell of blood appeared to happen repeatedly. In his sleep he hears voices, " why have you not gone to the movement? Don't you know how to fight?" He is now separated from his family. He has forebodings about his future.

The principal of the school had referred this IDP student with educational difficulties. She was found to respond poorly to questions or activities, be withdrawn, not mixing with other students, showing fear and startling easily to small sounds. A similar situation was reported about many of the Vanni IDP students. The teacher found that the student continued to be frightened of danger to her life. Her eyes conveyed extreme fear, ever vigilant. She would startle easily, even when her name was called softly. She tended to isolate herself, not mixing with others, cried often and breathed heavily with sighs (perumuchu). She was apprehensive that people in uniform will abduct her. She felt that life was over, what was there for the future? Death was certain. She felt that there was a risk in speaking, that she would be put in jail. This was her story:

From the beginning of the final war, we had been displaced 14 times. There are no words to describe what we underwent. The war continued relentlessly in the Vanni. People were constantly being displaced. Wherever we went, shells would fall and explode, injured people would struggle in pools of blood and die. Unbearable sorrow.... Father, mother and two younger sisters- we were living happily when this war took away our freedom. Not only the shells, bombings from planes, and gunfire but to escape the recruitment by the Tigers (LTTE), we had to be shut in bunkers and kerosene barrels. Tigers would come in vans and drag us into the van.

Once inside, they would cut our hair as identification of being conscripted. After that it would be danger from both sides. My (school) mates who had been taken on one day would be dumped back in their homes as corpses the next day. My parents did not want this to happen to me and my sisters. As soon as people became aware that pillai piddikarar (child catchers-LTTE) had come signals were passed on. Immediately we would have to descend into kerosene oil barrels that were buried underground in the backyard. They would close the lid and sprinkle soil on top. There will be a small tube fitted for breathing. Waiting for about an hour or so till they leave is thihil (nerve-racking). We can't hear what is happening outside. Besides sweating, trembling and thinnaral (quake) inside, it would appear not to matter if we are caught if only we could come out of there.

As the shelling and airplane attacks were ahorum (horrible), we moved at 1 AM at night to Pokkanai. We had by then lost all our belongings. We thought that if we could just save our lives that would be enough. There were many other like us there who had put up huts. In the dry environment, the sand was hot, there was no water, no food. We had to live amidst abductions, robberies and killings without food and clothes to wear.

One day, my father had gone in search of food, my mother and sisters in search of water. I was all alone. Shells continued to fall. Feeling frightened to be alone, I had come out. As I was crossing several huts, I saw that the place was surrounded by over 20 pillai piddi karar. To escape from them I started fleeing. They came chasing after me. With trepidation and desperation to escape, I hid behind huts and ran towards Puthumattalan. I got some relief only after they left. I stayed with an aunt at Puthumattalan. My parents and sisters came there by nightfall and with 150 others we decided to go into the army controlled area. The tigers came running on all four sides (to prevent this) firing guns, shouting "dei, dei", hitting people with coconut stems and sticks. My heart started to pound. We didn't know what to do. We kept crying out, "help us, help us". Tigers fired wildly. Parents fought against the tigers. Some were dragged away by the tigers. The struggle went on till the next morning. The army then saved us and sent us to the Vavuniya camp. From there we were sent to Jaffna and I am still alive to be able to talk to you today.

When asked to draw what disturbed her most, she drew the picture (see Figure 6) showing herself (in yellow) escaping from the pillaipiddikarar (in black) amidst the continuing shelling through the huts towards (Puthu) mathalan (beach front).

The following case histories were taken from civilians recovering from serious war injuries who had been transported out with one bystander (a carer relation) to various hospitals, mainly Vavuniya. A Medicine Sans Frontiers (MSF) Nurse [87] described them: "Wounded, shocked and distressed. After fleeing heavy fighting in the Vanni, people arriving in Vavuniya hospital need both medical care and counselling. People arrive here in a state of extreme anxiety and fear. They have been separated from their families and often have no news about their fate. Young children and elderly travelling with their caretakers claim they were separated at a checkpoint. The caretakers or family members who were healthy were forced to go to camps, whilst those wounded and sick had to go to the hospital. Children at the hospital are unaccompanied. They scream and call out for their mothers. Elderly people are on their own. Some people have bad wounds, some have been amputated or badly hurt by shrapnel."

Look at the state I am in

"I am 54 years old. I lived happily and comfortably with my wife and 8 children. I am very well educated, I know all three languages. We worshipped our farm work. We owned many properties and land. My children studied well, two of them even received university admissions but they (LTTE) didn't allow it. (LTTE had a strict pass system, particularly for those in the recruitable age group. Some were allowed out of their area of control if someone else stood surety for them). Why do you think I sent two of my daughters overseas to be married? Not only that, I have 11 siblings. Because of the current war situation we had been displaced 8 times, living in bunkers. One day a shell fell close by injuring my hand and leg. I was taken to a hospital and then to Trincomalee. Despite having so many relations I am now all alone. My family, estate, health and relatives - I have lost them all, if only the shell that fell had hit me, we could have died together", he said with agony.

Suffering from separation

I was 44 years old living with my husband and 4 children happily in our village. Our 4 children used to attend school while we were farmers. Due to the war situation we were displaced 11 times. To save our lives we dug bunkers wherever we went. On 8.4.09 a shell fell on top of the bunker and my daughter, son and husband were injured. While being taken to Mathalan hospital, they (LTTE) caught my 17 year old daughter and 15 year old son. I am here with my injured daughter. We had protected them all the way but on the way this has happened. We should have all died there. I have lost everything to become alone. "What would be the state of my husband and children?" she asked with grief.

Anguish of a 10 year old

I had a father, mother and two siblings. My native place is Killinochchi. I am a fifth year student. Due to the current war, we were continuously displaced from 7 to 8 places. When my father and I went to the shop to buy food, a Kifir rained bombs. My father died immediately. I was lying on the street with injuries in my stomach and leg, bleeding profusely. I cried to be taken to hospital. People going on the street just looked at me. No one picked me up. Afterwards someone took me to hospital by bicycle. I came by (ICRC) ship to Padaviya and then to Vavuniya hospital with my mother. What happened comes continuously as a nightmare. I am scared. I am sad when I think of my father.

What a life

I am a 47 year old male from Killinochchi. I was married with two female and one male child. A beautiful family. We were living with good facilities. Started the war. Continuous displacements. We had to live in Tharappan shacks and bunkers. Life became terrible. We had just reached Suthanthipuram, it was not even an hour had gone by when continuous shelling... , one fell on our shack. In that place two of my daughters died. Son lost both his hands and a leg. I could not even properly bury my daughters. I have brought my son here. They did not allow my wife. No news. I have searched in all the camps. Is this a life? Life has deteriorated, children are also gone, wife is also not to be found, what is the purpose of living?

I was not able

I am a 47 year old married woman with two female children. Native place is Mannar District. We were doing well. Started the war. 13 times displaced. We were four siblings. I was the last. My mother was 87 years old. She was living with me. Because of this cursed war I left her with my brother. We all left together. My brother had come before. We had to cross a river on the way. My mother had left early. There were many people. I left my mother in my brother's care. My brother left my mother on the other side of the river. How much my mother would have suffered? I was not able to bring her to this side. I left her with my brother's family. I wanted to save my children and came across. I could not save her. She must have suffered so. Nobody is there to help her. Didn't she also leave because she wanted to survive? I do not know what to do....

Trembling

I was a 48 year old male living happily with my wife and four male children. I was a fisherman. We had no shortcomings. I educated my four lions (sons). At this time the war started. I lost my occupation, I lost my beautiful house and property. We were displaced to three places. As we were going with what was left, there was heavy shelling. People scattered. We became separated from my four children. Suddenly to see, I was in a vehicle with my wife, one leg and hand was not there. I suffered in that state. On the way in a bus, they separated my wife and sent me alone to the Vavuniya hospital. There is no news of my children. Are they alive or not? Where is my wife? I am trembling all alone.

How to go on living?

Although I was 27 year old woman, I looked after my disabled brother, another school going brother and elderly mother who was ill, while doing handwork at home to earn a living. My father had died 7 years previously and my mother had become sickly as a result. I cared for all three, did the housework and in the time remaining made mixture (short eats) to sell. I was hoping that my brother would study and start working but it did not happen. Shelling and aerial bombardment did not allow us to stay in one place with any peace. We were displaced to seven placed and faced a lot of economic difficulties. At this stage in the eighth place while in a bunker with another family, I took my mother to the toilet and my brother went to fetch water when I heard a loud noise. When I looked he was lying on the ground, when I got closer his legs were missing. I ran carrying him while screaming save, "save him, save him". I kept him in the hospital there for three days. I have no news of my mother nor of my disabled brother. Now I am at the Vavuniya hospital unable to leave my 13 year old brother without legs. I do not know how to go on living.

Orphan to an orphan

I am 24 years and my wife is 24 years. It was a love marriage. We have a six month female child. Our relations have cut us off but I had a government job. We were living happily when the war started. Because this we decided to escape to Vavuniya. We left all our property and were displaced to many places. Finally in one place there was a big crowd and we were under a tree when there was a noise of a kifir bomber. All ran helter skelter. The child was in my hand. Before I realized what was happening they put us in a bus and deposited us elsewhere. I searched for my wife but could not find her. The baby was crying. Finally they brought us to a camp in Vavuniya. I do not know how to care for the baby. I am an orphan and have another orphan. I ask everyone to find my wife.

Coming and going

I was 27 years old living happily with my husband and two small children in our native village. Husband was famer with a lot of land. We were able to find enough food. The war situation made us move 3 to 4 times. We were heading for a safe place when there was heavy shelling. I do not know what happened next. When I opened my eyes I was in hospital. My mother and daughter were by my side. I was without a leg and fingers. Daughter is also injured. I learned that my husband and 2 year old daughter had passed away. I am 7 months pregnant. I do not know how I am going to give birth to this child and then bring it up. I am troubled. There are no relations here. How is our future going to be? It is forebidding.

Where is peace?

I am a 20 year old female from Urithrapuram, Killinochchi with three brothers. I have studied A/L level (year 12). I was living very happily with my mother, father and brothers who treated me as a chella pillai (favourite, spoilt child). My mother used to practice Ayurveda (traditional) medicine. Then the war started up again. It was mainly a bunker life. We lost our sleep and peace. We struggled to find food even for once a day. When we were displaced and in a bunker, there was sounds of many shells. We crouched in fear. Suddenly there was a loud noise close by. I lost consciousness. (When I regained consciousness) I found that I had lost my leg and hand. My mother was besides me to help. Then we were transferred to this hospital. I am in this handicapped state. Only my mother is here. What has happened to my father and brothers? When will we be together again? Is this my state? To think it is sorrowful (with tears).

What a life?

A 60 year old woman was mumbling: I have three married children with 10 grand children. We were displaced 14 times from our home. Food was difficult. Rice was 250, chilli powder 22, coconut 250. Rice and dhal was food. We could not take it anymore. So we tried to leave. When we were in a tarappan shack, a shell fell killing my husband, son in law, grandchildren, all together 8 people died then and there. Daughter and a grandchild were injured. So I was sent as a helper. I do not know what has happened to the rest. We have to beg even for the clothes we wear. We did not even bury the dead. Do we need a life like this? I could have died with them. Why did I come here? Have I to go on living? Those who should live have gone. What is there for me anymore....

Where is solace?

I was a 43 year old driver from Killinochchi owning a private bus. We were well off. With 4 children we were displaced 6 times. At that time I had 5 lacks worth of goods in my vehicle. My wife and I were injured when we inside the last bunker. They (LTTE) had taken away my eldest daughter. I had three sons aged, 13, 11 , 9. I was injured in the head. My was injured in her chest. They brought us by ship (ICRC) to Padaviya. They sent my wife and children by ambulance. My wife left us (died) on the way to Vavuniya Hospital. I am not worried about the loss of my property or my well being. The loss of my daughter and wife is my big sorrow. I did not see my wife at her end. My children have also become alone.

Why should we live?

We have somehow survived. My 13 year old son is by my bedside with a face overwhelmed by sorrow. I suffer continuously from my leg that has been amputated above the knee due to shell injury. I cry all the time. I had tied my leg up with cloth tightly while living in bunkers for six months. We were displaced from Killinochchi three times before staying in Suthanthirapuram. We had not eaten properly for three days due to continuous shelling. Suddenly there was a lull in the shelling and my children wanted to eat some chicken. To fulfill their desire, I skinned a chicken and cooked it. After eating it we wanted to sleep. While lying down, a shell fell on our dwelling killing my wife and two children then and there. Only the two of us survived. We could also have died. What shall I do? Somebody known to us had picked me up and sent us to the Vavuniya Hospital.

Separation anguish

I am 30 years old. I was married with 4 children living happily. I never expected that our family would come to this state. At first, in January (2009), four people were killed and 30 injured by shelling in our village. After seeing that we no longer wanted to stay there, we wanted to go to a place without shelling. We left only with the clothes we were wearing. But wherever we went, shelling and Kifir bombing followed us. I did not know what to do. There was rain, sun, jungles, roads, schools (as refugee camps), all without food, water, bathing, we suffered terribly. We dug a bunker for safety and were living in a camp one day when the sun heat was unbearable under the tharrappal. We and many others were under a tree. On my lap was my last child, others were playing when suddenly there was the sound of shell exploding. I tried to carry my child to run but couldn't. The shell fell where the children were playing. I looked thinking they all had died. A daughter was unconscious. I did not know what to do. I left the child in my arms to pick up my daughter who was unconscious and ran. She was injured in her abdomen. She needed to be treated urgently.....

Remorse

Rada is a 41 years old labourer from Killinochchi. He was married with four children. In 1990, to escape from the terrible war they had sought refuge in India. When there was relative improvement in the situation in 1996, they had returned. He was a heart patient taking treatment but was able to educate his children. They were living happily when the war broke out again. Shells started falling and exploding in their area. To safeguard his children they moved to several places with some their belongings. Their life was spent mainly in bunkers. The noise of artillery shells, firearms and bombs terrorized ordinary civilians. People ran helter-skelter seeking safety. On that 4.2.2009 when his wife (30 years) and son (7 years) had just come out of the bunker, when they were badly injured by a shell attack and lay in a pool of blood. Son died there. In the hope of at least saving the life of his wife, they took her to hospital.

As the treatment was not successful, she left this world the next morning. When Rada learned of this he did not know what to do, he became benumbed. In the midst of heavy shelling they could not carry out the burial of his wife and son properly. Returning to their shelter with his remaining three children, Rada could not control his mind. He found all his belongings had been destroyed. In this terrible state, on an impulse he tried to consume poison and also give to his children. The children cried loudly. His 16 year old son thwarted the suicidal attempt. Then Rada decided to save the lives of at least his remaining children, joined a crowd of escaping refugees on 7.2.2009 and reached Vavuniya. They are now at the Gamini school camp. Having lost two lives to the horrible war, those thoughts came recurring daily to Rada. He was found to have lack of appetite, sleep, crying without realizing it, unable to socialize with others, suicidal ideation, not knowing what to do next, headache, numbing of the head, worry about the future of his three children and a deep depression. He felt remorse about not doing the funeral rites of his wife and son. He is without the support or help of his relations.

Guilt

Fifty one year old Siva was born in Killinochchi and worked as farmer. He was married with four children. The eldest was married with a child and his daughter was a school teacher. They had escaped from shell attacks to live in bunkers at Sudanthirapuram. A shell fell there killing the eldest son and daughter. A son was injured in his chest and leg while his wife escaped with minor injuries. His daughter in law and child are in a refugee camp in Vavuniya His injured son is at Mannar hospital while his wife is in another camp. He is with his daughter at the Pampaimadu 7th mile camp unable to contact his siblings or relations and without contact with his injured son, daughter in law and child and wife. He is severely depressed with continuous crying, loss of appetite, lack of sleep, repeated memories of what happened in the Vanni, poor self-care and headache. On counseling, he cried, revealing that images of his two children dying in front of him and their leaving their bodies in the bunker without even carrying out their funeral rites keeps recurring in his mind preventing his sleep. As it was now one month since the event, He felt especially guilty that he was not even able to arrange the customary 45 day remembrance ceremony for them

Widowed and pregnant

24 year old Mrs. Kavitha was 8 months pregnant and mother of 4 year old son. Her husband was an ordinary labourer. They had been married 5 years and was going in a happy direction when they had to flee for their safety when the dreadful war broke out. Everywhere there were the sights and sounds of shells attacks and reverberating sounds of gunfire. In many places there were the kifir bombings. People experienced allola kallola (pandemonium).They ran seeking shelter.

Their daily lives were spent in bunkers. Everywhere there was marana olangal (death wailing) with deaths from very young children to the elderly falling victims to the awful war. It was in these circumstances that Kavitha floundered having lost all her belongings, separated from relations. Facing great difficulty her family tried to reach the army controlled area when her husband was shot by the armed group (LTTE). In that place there were many people with fatal injuries lying in pools of blood. When Kavitha looked at her husband he was in dead posture. To save her child, she left her husband's body and joined other people to attain the army controlled region. She is currently living in a IDP welfare camp with her four year old child. She is without contact of her relations. She was in deep thought about her upcoming delivery period and future life. She helplessly asked, "Who will look after my four year old when I give birth?" Kavitha was found in a disturbed mental state with loss of appetite, lack of sleep, recurring thoughts relating to her husband being supported by her four year old in the welfare camp.

Hopelessness

Somu was a 30 year old male married with a 18 months old son. On that day, he had left his wife and child in a safe place to go and bring his mother and sisters. Youngest sister was a final year university student while the other sisters were married. When they had started to leave with their belongings, the army had seen them and started firing. His mother, sister and one baby died then and there. His youngest sister had fled. He had run after her fearing that she would be caught by the army and raped. Bullets pierced his neck and chest. The next day he regained consciousness hearing the voice of soldiers who had come there. They kicked him asking, "where are the others?". He begged them, "you have killed the others, kill me also." He was in a state of extreme distress and frustration at Vavuniya Hospital without knowing what had happened to his sister and without information about his wife and child. It was found that his legs and body would not function. He was unable to lift his neck due to the injury in the neck. He had repeated thoughts about his sister and what had happened that day. He had lost all hope about his state.

Shattered dreams

My name is Ravi, a 15 year old born and bred in Killinochchi with two sisters, mother and father who was a car mechanic. Being a keen student, I had succeeded in the fifth year scholarship and was continuing my education at the Killinochchi Mahavidiyalayam (high school). When the war broke out again in 2006, the Tigers made many attempts to conscript me under their ' veedukoruvar (one person for each house)' policy. While I was returning from school they tried to forcefully abduct me in their vehicle. Somehow I escaped through by-lanes leaving my bicycle behind to reach home. This happened in January, 2008. After that I stopped going to school. My parents also stopped my sisters from attending school. I could not study. I could not come out of my home. My life was frustrating. In the evenings, I used to play football for an hour at the Thirunagar grounds. That was blocked. People found me full of anger and despair. I would often get into fights with my father. I would say we should have gone to Vavuniya during the peace period. How long not to go to school, tuition and the grounds? If these are not to be, I will go and join them (LTTE). My parents were very concerned about me. They were unable to do anything.

Under our Margosa tree, I had dug a bunker. As soon as I heard the sound of Kifir (planes) I would be the first into the bunker. Then would come my sisters, then mother and finally, father. Every day we would be going inside at least five times. As soon as I heard the sound of Kifir, without realizing it I would develop palpitations and find it difficult to breathe. I would feel agitated. When it dived (high pitched sound of diving) to bomb, I would Veerudu (piercingly) scream. Its (Kifir) sound was that terrorizing.

We had some relief at night. At the beginning we had electricity for two hours. I studied with that help. I would watch TV for a short while. There was only the Nidharshanam (LTTE TV programme) service. They only showed only dramas and pictures (movies) related to war. Daily they would show the ghastly pictures of peoples killed by shells and aerial bombing. My body would tremble when I looked at them. Feelings of antagonism, frustration and hatred towards the government forces would arise in me without my realization.

As the fighting got closer and closer, we first moved from Thirunagar to Tharmapuram. We put up a tent in a small plot and stayed there. We had no toilets or clean water. In the monsoon rains our tent was blown away. We had to live in two feet deep water for two days. With all that, I somehow appeared for the "O" level (year 10 GCE national exam) held last December (2008) at the Tharmapuram school. I still hoped for good results to study "A" level science and become a doctor.

When the fighting passed Paranthan and came towards Tharmapuram, we moved to Visuvamadu. We put up a tent on land belonging to my father's friend and lived there. February 10th (2009) there was heavy shelling. The army was advancing towards Visuvamadu. As our bunker had filled with water we could not stay there. At about 1 PM when we had come out the bunker this horrible incident occurred. A shell that came from nowhere landed on our tent and exploded. Everywhere there was the sound of crying. I lay in a pool of blood, moaning. I could not get up and walk. On my side was my sister without any sound. Only my father was uninjured. When he picked me up crying loudly with oppari (weiling), my two arms were not in my control.

I could not move them. I was able to move only my right thumb. Amidst all these difficulties, I was admitted to Puthukudirrupu hospital and underwent surgery. When I opened my eyes the next day my world was darkened. My two sisters who I had uyiruku uyirai nesitha (loved as my own life) had died in the shelling. My father had buried them in that bunker itself. He had brought me and my mother to hospital. My two arms were amputated and my other injures were dressed. On my side lay my mother who had had her right leg amputated below the knee. In this misery, we were taken by the Red Cross (ICRC) ship to Trincomalee Hospital. After one week there, we were sent to Mannar Hospital.

Now my whole life has become full of gloom. I still have the dream of becoming a doctor. "Can I study with prosthetic arms, doctor? Please help me."

Helplessness

50 year old Vani was a shopkeeper from Tharmpuram with three children. The eldest daughter was married with two daughters. The second son had been forcefully taken away by the Iyakam (movement- LTTE) a year ago. When the fighting became severe in January, they loaded their belongings in a landmaster and with other village folk were displaced from place to place. The 13th displacement was to what had been declared a safety zone, Iranaipalam where they stayed for 10 days. People had made tents to live in. As shells had started falling on that day, they loaded their goods onto the landmaster and decided to move on. But her 8 year old granddaughter insisted on having fried fish, they delayed to cook a meal. Varatharany and her daughter busied themselves in cooking while her husband, son and grandchildren were sleeping in the tent. Her Son-in-law had gone to the market.

That day, 21/2/2009, morning at 11:45 AM a shell fired by the army completely buried their families happiness in a deep hole and made them nirkathy (helpless). The shell not only landed on the landmaster burning it, but also pali eduthiduthu (killed) her husband, son and two grandchildren. Varatharany and her daughter were injured. On hearing her daughter wailing "my children are dead", she had gone slowly when she saw her husband lying dead, her grandchildren with their bodies thundikapadu (severed) and her son injured in his head, arms and legs struggling to live. She collapsed there. On hearing her distraught daughter who despite bleeding profusely had run over and was trying to pick up her kuttuyir (barely alive, process of dying) children while lamenting loudly, bystanders had come and taken them to hospital. The son-in-law had come later and buried the dead with the help of others there.

Both of them were treated for two days at Trincomalee hospital, then sent to Vavuniya hospital and currently at the Saiva Prihasa School refugee camp. For the last one month, Varatharani and her daughter have been continuously crying with constant memories of their children and re-experiencing what happened. They are disturbed by suicidal thoughts, fatigue, insomnia, and guilt feelings. Although they say that her son-in-law is their comfort, when he is alone he laments loudly saying, "We have lost our relations and our belongings. There is no point in having come here. I am useless" (he had survival guilt, of not having been there to help his family when the deaths happened).

Interviews

Key-informant, family and extended family interviews and focus group discussions regarding family and community level changes indicated mostly negative but also positive developments (see Table 1). Generally there was consensus that family and community life had suffered due to deaths, separations and deprivations. Relationships, trust, cohesion, beliefs and ethical values had declined, some said deteriorated, destroyed. Instead there was an increase in misunderstandings, conflict, selfishness, suspicions, anger, bitterness, virakthy (loss of interest), veruppu ( state of detestation), soham (sorrow), alcoholism and sexual laxity. The problems associated with the increase in alcoholism and sexual laxity has been raised consistently by health workers in the camps. Expression of survival guilt was common, particularly after the experiences in the internment camps. After losing so many of their relations or not knowing their whereabouts, many said they could rather have died in the shelling. Outward blame for what happened was common, some blamed the government; others India (vaddakathiyar- northerners) and some the LTTE. There was anger and feelings of betrayal by the LTTE. In the immediate aftermath, many were distraught, dazed and disoriented; there were strong feelings of disillusionment, bewilderment, disbelief, bitterness and utter devastation (see Figure 7[88]). Some said it was the fate of the Tamils (thalaivithiy), 'of having been born Tamil in this country'.

Most felt that there had been a decline in religious beliefs and practices, loss of faith and fervour. One widow described how she and her children had left her husband who had been shattered by a shell but still alive and struggling on the road to escape themselves. She is haunted by this memory and blamed God for creating the terrible situation (pallapona kadavul). But others mentioned that it was only religion and faith in god that had sustained them when everything else failed. Their only trust was that God would find a way out for them. Some mentioned an increase in new relationships; mutual help and co-operation; a sense of unity, comaradeship and togetherness by being thrown together against adversity which was marked during the last days of the 'final war' and thereafter for a short period but had progressively decreased. A common observation was that people had become dependent on handouts, used to welfare and decline in efforts to work and earn. People had betrayed (kaddikodduthu) others for benefits and privilege from the army and authorities. But, now with the resettlement process, motivation to rebuild their lives and livelihood was strong.

There was a sense with some exceptions (those who had suffered and lost most) that their situation was improving and there was hope for the future compared to how it was one year ago. There were some positive stories of resilience and post-traumatic growth. A senior government officer and writer said that they had gone through great hardship (peravalam), but that they now only needed to get back their infrastructure, resources, occupational opportunities and jobs to rebuild and restart their lives. He denied any ill effects like poor sleep, bad dreams or loss of motivation. He appeared in good health and committed to contribute to the resettlement and rehabilitation process. A recent (2010) observation of what is happening in the Vanni echoes this positive hope, "the spirit of the Tamils in the north has not been extinguished by the long years of war and its brutal end. All indications point that the Tamils will rise again to play a meaningful role in Sri Lanka and prosper. The spirit that is manifesting itself in numerous ways all over the north, despite the all too obvious adversities and disadvantages, is definitely a harbinger of a bright future for the Tamils and Sri Lanka. If they are helped and guided, they will advance faster. If not, they will yet become a great people, though at a slower pace.

The Tamils will emerge from their prolonged tragedy and the associated misery, despite their politicians, bureaucrats and malcontents- both within and the Diaspora, to become what they deserve to be in the land of their birth and life. I may not live to see this happen, but will die convinced, it will happen. Tamils are not a species, destined for extinction in Sri Lanka, as many, including me had feared six months back. They are proving that they have what it takes to rebound from adversity and hurdles, to survive and prosper" [89]. A young doctor who had served through the last days of the fighting said that he had seen terrible injuries and deaths, struggled through the heavy shelling and firing at the different hospitals, working without rest. At one stage he had lost all fear and was able to continue working amidst all the chaos. He was ready to do anything. He was now seen to be extraordinarily dedicated, motivated, a tireless worker and administrator appreciated by all. An expatriate medic also described the last days of fighting as harrowing but "After looking at the people dying and dead bodies everywhere, it is like nothing threatens me anymore, it is like I have had the hard time in my life and I think I am prepared to take up whatever happens in life now. I'm not that old Vany that sits down and cries for little things. I'm stronger now after going through and seeing all that problem. My mind is clear now"[90].

Discussion

There are several themes emerging from accounts of what happened. A striking theme to emerge from the narratives is the collective nature of the trauma. All the stories describe what happened to them as a family or in some cases, to the community. Western research and conceptualizations have been primarily individualistic in orientation [91]. The fields of social theory, modern medicine, research and academic activities in general are dominated and monopolized by the western individual oriented paradigm. However, in collectivistic, co-operative societies [78,92], there is a need to go beyond the individual to the family, group, village, community and social levels to more fully understand what is going on in the individual, whether it be his/her development, behaviour, perceptions, consciousness, experiences or responses to stress and trauma as well as design effective interventions to help in the recovery and rehabilitation of not only the affected individuals but also their families and community[93-96]. For when the family and/or community regained their equilibrium and healthy functioning, there was often improvement in the individual member's wellbeing as well. Family and social support, networks, relationships and the sense of community appears to be a vital protective factor for the individual and their families and important in their recovery.

This broader, holistic perspective becomes paramount in non-western, 'collectivist' or co-operative cultures which have traditionally been family and community oriented, the individual tending to become submerged in the wider concerns[29,78,92,97]. The family and community are part of the self, their identity and consciousness. The demarcation or boundary between the individual self and the outside becomes blurred. The well being of the individual member is experienced as the wellbeing of the family and community. For example, Tamil families, due to close and strong bonds and cohesiveness in nuclear and extended families, tend to function and respond to external threat or trauma as a unit rather than as individual members. They share the experience and perceive the event in a particular way. During times of traumatic experiences, the family will come together with solidarity to face the threat as a unit and provide mutual support and protection. In time the family will act to define and interpret the traumatic event, give it structure and assign a common meaning, as well as evolve strategies to cope with the stress. Thus it may be more appropriate to talk in terms of family dynamics rather than of individual personalities.

There may be some individual variation in manifestation, depending on their responsibilities and roles within the family and personal characteristics, while some may become the scapegoat in the family dynamics that ensues (see family case histories[42]). Similarly, in the Tamil communities, the village and its people, way of life and environment provided organic roots, a sustaining support system, nourishing environment and network of relationships. The village traditions, structures and institutions were the foundations and framework for their daily life. In the Tamil culture, a person's identity was defined to a large extent by their village or uur of origin [98]. Their uur more or less placed the person in a particular socio-cultural matrix. However, within communities, there may be exclusion, ostracization, powerlessness, marginalization, silencing and stigmatization of some members, families, castes or groups while others seek prower and privilege. The social institution of a traditional uur has also undergone tremendous breakdown with the chronic war and displacements as well as modernity.

It is becoming clear that social and cultural values, beliefs and perceptions will shape how traumatic events impact on the individual, family and community and the way they respond [99,100]. The meaning attributed to the event(s), the historical and social context, as well as community coping strategies determines the impact and consequences of trauma (Table 1). The narratives clearly show the impact of the war on the family and community. The exclusively individual perspective characteristic of western narratives is completely lacking here. There are hardly any spontaneous complains of individual symptoms or suffering. Even where a person talks of his or her personal agony, it is framed in general terms, reflecting what happened to the family or community. Undoubtedly, individual symptoms, how the trauma had affected each member can be elicited with direct questioning [42] as in the PTSD example above. But in this study, the narrative was allowed to flow naturally. The story usually began with the family described metaphorically as living happily in their village. It is significant that the happiness or wellbeing is perceived and experienced in terms of the family and community. There is a dynamic equilibrium, harmony within the family and community, a network of mutually supportive relationships and responsibilities, ritualistic practices and living patterns that they have managed to establish despite the harsh socio-economic and political conditions. Their feeling of strength and value is more in those bonds and relationships not so much in the material and external circumstances. The war is seen as an imposition coming from outside, disturbing this atmosphere of contentment where the family and community was progressing, getting on with life. The war is invariably described in very negative terms, por arrakan ( war devil), kodum (horrible), per avalam (great calamity).

As the narrative unfolds, it is the family that is the focus. The shelling and fighting approaching their homes, their village, impels them to start the displacement process. They describe how they leave as a family, as a community- whole villages, taking whatever they can load onto vehicles, hoping to return in a day to two. The dispersion begins. Initially they are separated from the supportive context of their community, extended family and village. How the new conditions start affecting the family, how each member suffers, the deaths and injuries, how the separations form those who are injured, having to bury the dead without the customary rites, the guilt of leaving relations behind, and the strong yearning to know what happened to other members. The impact of the disaster is felt acutely within this living fabric of the family and community: the utter hopelessness, helplessness and devastation when the fabric is torn.

In these circumstances the best approach to restore the psychosocial and mental health of the Vanni IDP's according to mental health professionals working in the internment camps as well as clearly recommended in the Interagency Standing Committee (IASC) guidelines for mental health and psychosocial support in emergency settings[101] would have been to re-unify the family, give information on their fate and whereabouts. The second best strategy would have been to release them to find their own way and reunite with their families and community. However, the state strictly resisted these well meant efforts. If one is to extrapolate from the decisions and restrictions being placed by the authorities, discern the pattern behind the policies from past analysis [61] and experience to understand the mindset [51], the operating paradigm, it would appear that the state still fears a regrouping of the destroyed LTTE, but more harbours a deep paranoia based on ethnocentric perceptions of the 'other' [41] to prevent any future minority mobilization. There was only limited psychosocial support, while counselling or cultural healing practices either in the camps or resettlements was severely restricted [2,102,103]. In the post-conflict, military and politically sensitive situation, dealing with the mental health and psychosocial needs of the Vanni IDP's was a difficult and challenging task. A small team of mental health professionals and few NGO's with limited resources attempted to address the immediate and urgent needs.

The priority was given to severe mental illness, particularly psychosis, which needed medication and intensive care. Some chronic patients had relapsed or developed exacerbation in their symptoms when they had run out of drugs or simply stopped taking them. A large number had been displaced from long care institutions in the Vanni, Vetti mannai and Santhosam, which were caring for over 100 chronic patients from all over the island. Some had developed psychotic illness anew. Clinics were held in the camps and Vavuniya hospital while in ward treatment was available at the General Hospital. Similar secondary and tertiary care was available in Jaffna and Mannar. However when it came to addressing the psychosocial needs, access was limited. Ingenious strategies had to be adapted to gain access and provide support despite the military presence. A group of community level workers, Community Support Officers (CSO's), who had been trained after the tsunami under a Ministry of Health/WHO programme [104,105] to work with the affected population in the Vanni were among the IDP's in the camps at Vavuniya. They were again mobilized by a Ministry of Health/WHO programme to work among the IDP's.

Some other psychosocial NGO's did yeomen service under trying circumstances. Nevertheless, consistent and systemic long term programmes were not allowed. The Mental Health Consultative Forum for the Northern Province consisting of mental health professionals and health administrators from the health department was formed in November, 2009 to deal with the Mental Health needs in the resettlement process of the IDP's. The Forum has formulated a plan to mobilize those already trained and skilled in community level mental health to form a network of psychosocial support at the periphery (Divisional (AGA) or District Levels (GA)). Other community level and governmental workers can be trained. Training of grass root community level workers in basic mental health knowledge and skills is the easiest way of reaching a large population. They in turn would increase general awareness and disseminate the knowledge as well as do preventive and promotional work. The majority of minor mental health problems could be managed by community level workers and others referred to the appropriate level.

The main effort of community level workers would be directed towards strengthening and uniting families; rebuilding and regenerating community structures and institutions; encouraging leaders; facilitating self-support groups; village and traditional resources; using creative arts; cultural, ritualistic practices; as well as linking up with other service sectors like education, social service, local and regional government. However, the state does not recognize the concept of psychosocial needs or support. For example, knowledge that apart from other physical and socio-economic needs, it will take considerable time and psychosocial support for the people to get over their trauma is not accepted. The Vanni IDP's will have to be given an opportunity to mourn for the dead, grieve for the losses and practice the cultural rituals for collective consolation. What happened cannot simply be erased from collective memory. If proper healing and psychosocial restitution is not done properly or they are pushed into activities too quickly, they may not benefit fully from the resettlement, rehabilitation and development efforts. They will lack the motivation and well being to participate fully in their recovery and rebuild their homes, lives and the region. Nevertheless, in the long term, one would expect the Tamil community to eventually recover despite the malfeasance [89]. Although it is a much more complex and chronic sociopolitical situation in Lanka, the community's resilience that lies in its strong identity, culture, social and spiritual practices will help heal the wounds as happened naturally, despite all the shortcomings and neglect, after hurricane Katrina in New Orleans [106].

A broader and long term psychosocial intervention for collective catharsis and a healing of memories for traumatized families and community would be an acknowledgement of what happened. Apparently the state did not want the stories to get out for fear of prosecution for war crimes that was being put forward by some members of the local and International community [2]. It continued to insist that 'not a single drop of civilian blood had been shed' and the 'biggest humanitarian rescue mission in history' had been executed [107]. The politics of memory and history writing are linked to power. Those with the power to impose their version can change memory traces and perceptions of what happened. The LTTE managed to enforce their account of the 1995 exodus in the memory and imagination of Tamils as resulting from state action when they in fact engineered a movement of over 400,000 people from Jaffna [53]. The Jaffna exodus, many of whom ended up in the Vanni, and its context had many similarities to what happened later in the Vanni except that there wasn't such large scale civilian deaths and injuries. The LTTE then chose to withdraw into the Vanni jungles rather than make a last stand in Jaffna with civilians, avoiding a similar humanitarian disaster[54].

Around thirty thousand civilians appear to have been killed and scores more injured in a short period with large scale, repeated displacements, shortages and neglect of basic needs such as food, shelter and medical care. Allegations of war crimes, and crimes against humanity have been raised at the highest levels calling for investigations and persecution by world bodies [1-3,6-8,69,70,108]. There have also been heavy casualties among the army. According to reliable reports around 5000 soldiers died while many times more were injured in the final push [109,110]. Perhaps 7,000 LTTE militants died or were executed in 2009 alone. Many were raw conscripts pressed gang into battle to became cannon fodder. From past experience with such battles and casualty figures, a conservative estimate for the whole Vanni battle may be well over 10,000 killed for each side. The story of ordinary soldiers and militants also needs to be told; their sacrifices, suffering and agony recognized; accepted for healing of their memories; and ultimately, for national reconciliation. It becomes abundantly clear that both the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE are responsible for serious human rights violations on a large scale. Though indictments or establishing moral responsibility may not be realistic in the current international, regional and local political context; at least, reinstituting a belief in social justice would be an important psychosocial intervention for communal harmony and wellbeing as well as the future of the country.

However, another interesting theme that emerges from the narratives is the contest for the loyalty or obedience, the so called 'hearts and minds' exercise, that operated to a large extent at the unconscious level. Evidently the Vanni civilians had some allegiance to the LTTE up to the beginning of the last phase of fighting in 2006. Many believed in the LTTE version of the 'freedom struggle' and had chosen to go to the Vanni, for example during the 1995 exodus from Jaffna [53], and stayed on despite the hardships and shortages. There had been considerable compulsion in making this 'choice' applied by the LTTE which also had a strict pass system preventing people leaving their area of control. Nevertheless, the LTTE and their sympathizers perceived the Vanni people as their loyal subjects with subtle gradation of animosity to Tamils living outside. A view shared by the Sinhala State as shown by their treatment of the Vanni IDP's after the conflict. Their forced internment in barbed wire camps was obviously a collective punishment for their 'crime' of staying in the Vanni with the LTTE (see Figure 8[111]). Those coming later in the battle were considered 'more loyal', particularly those who 'stayed' till the last. They were treated more harshly and punitively with far more restrictions in different zonal camps[112]. After the 1995 exodus, those who had stayed behind in Jaffna were issued 'Army' Identity Cards with differences entitling privileged status.

The LTTE and people of the Vanni also considered them as somehow having betrayed the cause and enjoying special luxuries. As the fighting evolved with the Vanni civilians facing increasing harsher conditions of ubiquitous death, injuries, conscription, multiple displacements and shortages of food and other basic necessaries; this loyalty could be seen to gradually change. Under the totalitarian fascist control of the LTTE, any kind of dissent or counter views had been eliminated. People had adapted to this state of affairs despite embargos, restrictions and attacks by the state showing considerable resilience. They were content in many ways as expressed in the narratives metaphorically as being 'happy'.

The narratives speak of the beginning of the last phase of the war in particularly apocalyptical terms. But the criticism and antagonism to the actions of the LTTE starts creeping into the narratives much later. Many show a strong reluctance to name the LTTE directly, always using indirect terms. Some completely leave the actions and atrocities being done by the LTTE out of their accounts [80,90]. Apart from their more overt repression and terror, the LTTE had succeeded in establishing this kind of collective internal censor that prevented people seeing their negative side but more insidious, thinking or speaking about it.

Partly this was due to terror and a survival strategy, but it was also a result of the discriminatory policies of the state and the harsh actions of its security forces. But as the price for this loyalty mounted with increasing death, injuries and conscription, the tide turned and people became more conscious of the real nature of the LTTE. It would appear that this was a deliberate 'psyops' military strategy of the state to drive a wedge between the civilians and the LTTE, as they increased the harsh conditions: shelling causing death and injuries even in hospitals and state declared safety zones, restrictions on food, medicine and other basic items[113]. The counter insurgency (CI) strategy appeared to have worked with people becoming more overt in their resistance to the LTTE, more open in criticism and defiance, at times breaking out into direct clashes [2,5]; finally escaping over to army control. Some narratives expressed gratitude to the state forces for having saved them from the LTTE.

The state has continued to use this CI strategy to completely wean the Vanni people from the LTTE after the conflict by interning them in IDP camps with callous restrictions. They have sought to impose their version of the discourse in contrast to the ideas of liberation, Tamil homeland and separation. However, instead of using the historic opportunity for national reconciliation, the repressive ethnocentric approach without dealing with the underlying grievances in the long term will only alienate the minorities once again. Apart from the political implications, the contest of the different discourses at stake and the need of the Vanni IDP trauma for healing; if not social justice, the whole national reconciliation process at least needs some acknowledgement of what happened. If there is no healing of memories, merely a repression, the untreated collective trauma could well turn into resentment and rekindle cycles of violence once again.

Courtesy: International Journal of Mental Health Systems: http://www.ijmhs.com/content/4/1/22

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August 18, 2010

Majority of Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees in India reluctant to return home

by R.K. Radhakrishnan

A majority of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, who have been in India for a decade or more, are reluctant to go back to their nation, according to M. Mutia Kalaivanan, Director of Rehabilitation.

Talking to TheHindu here on Wednesday on the sidelines of a national seminar on ‘Refugee situation in India today,' he said that many of the refugees had become part of the local community and some even married locals. They had taken up jobs as masons or carpenters.

The government was providing them all facilities available to voters in the State, including subsidised rice and other material. Even free television sets were given to them (20,039 sets have already been distributed). As many as 52,373 individual identity cards had been issued to refugees aged above 12 years to ensure their welfare and security.

Enrolment of refugees in schools and colleges had gone up compared to the previous year. In 2008-09, the total number of students enrolled in schools and colleges was 21,023. In 2009-10, this rose to 21,742. But the nursery level enrolment dropped from 3452 (2008-09) to 3076 in 2009-10.

A Rs.55-crore housing scheme would be implemented for their benefit. The Rural Development Department would be in charge of the scheme. Land identification process was on. Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi had written to the Centre asking it to consider conferring citizenship on refugees who had lived here for long.

In all, the Rehabilitation department had spent Rs.74.56 crore in 2009-10 on the welfare of Tamil refugees (excluding the Rs.100 crore announced by the Chief Minister for infrastructure development in camps) as against Rs.0.21 crore spent in 1983-84 (before the influx of Sri Lankan Tamils). However, some of the refugees wanted to go back because of the limited job prospects here, he said.

The seminar was organised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Centre for Asia Studies.

There are 70,325 persons (20,251 families) staying in camps, besides 32,365 persons (11,933 families) staying as non-camp refugees in the State. There are 112 camps across 25 districts and two special camps. While a special camp at Ramanathapuram (Mandapam) houses 2,837 persons, the one at Tiruchi (Kottapattu) has 1,559 persons.

Of the total Sri Lankan refugees who arrived in India since early eighties, (3.03 lakh from July 24, 1983 to July 21, 2010), about one lakh refugees were sent back in two phases (1987-89 and 1992-95). Another one lakh had left India for Sri Lanka or third countries on their own with valid travel documents.

The refugees who were willing to go back to Sri Lanka or to any other country of their choice at their own cost were issued “exit permits” by Collectors. Up to 2010 May, a total of 7041 persons, who were interviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and signed the returnee forms had been sent back voluntarily to Sri Lanka with the assistance of the UNHCR. Of this, 687 persons, belonging to 215 families left India this year. ~ Courtesy: The Hindu ~

Sri Lanka working towards being free from threat of land mines

By Vidya Abhayagunawardena

A Technical Working Group (TWG) on Mine Risk Education (MRE), Victim Assistance and Advocacy, was held on 10th and 11th of August in Ampara with the participation of the Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Services, Sri Lanka Army Humanitarian De-Mining Unit (HDU), Social Departments of North and East Provincial Councils, partner NGOs and with the facilitation from the UNICEF.

At this two days workshop participants came up with ways and means of new strategies to educate people in mine safe behavior, how best to ensure support for victims of land mines and other indiscriminate explosive devices, and how to strengthen advocacy for mine action.

The ongoing mine action program in Sri Lanka is very much impressive compared to other countries in the world today. Since 2002 the Government of Sri Lanka and the international community have under taken a large scale mine action program in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Efforts focused on demining a difficult and a costly task as well as on MRE to prevent injury and death. Survey and clearance to release land as well as MRE are pre-requisite for safe re-settlement and development in the North and East. Three decades of war in Sri Lanka have left hundreds of square kilometers affected by explosive remnants of war and land mines.

Government of Sri Lanka in a recent Cabinet decision has approved the set up of a Sri Lanka - National Mine Action Centre (SLNMAC) under the Ministry of Economic Development (MED) as a new stepping stone towards a mine free Sri Lanka. This will enhance and encourage concerned parties to link with the de mining program in an efficient and effective way. MED act as the coordinating body under the direction of Presidential Task Force (PTF).

SLNMAC plans to prepare a National Victim Assistance Strategy in the coming months with the support of UNICEF. Victim assistance calls for ensuring that existing health care and social service systems, rehabilitation programs and legislative and policy frameworks are adequate to meet the needs of all citizens – including land mine survivors and family members of decease victims.

As Mr. Montey Ranathunge, National Director of SLNMAC revealed at the TWG, SLNMAC’s vision is a “Sri Lanka free from the threat of land mines and Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) where individuals and communities live in a safe environment and the needs of land mine and ERW victims are met”. To achieve this SLNMAC’s mission is “To develop and implement a sustainable national mine action program able to plan, coordinate, implement and monitor all aspect of mine action of Sri Lanka and mobilize the required resources to make Sri Lanka free from the threat of landmines/ ERW through education, threat prevention and elimination in accordance with SLNMAC”.

Currently there are nine organizations working in de-mining in the North and East of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Army HDU, The HALO Trust, Danish De-mining Group, Swiss Foundation for Mine Action, Mines Advisory Group, Sarvastra, Horizon, MMIPE and DASH. Sri Lanka Army HDU recently entered into MRE as well. According to the SLNMAC, area cleared up to June 2010 is 1,541, 880,972 square meters and the remaining areas to be surveyed cleared is 2,468, 119,028 square meters.

Taking the annual clearance average since 2002 of 171squre km the required time to clear the remaining area is nearly fifteen years. However by the 2020 it is SNMAC’s aim to have cleared all areas most effected and in need for livelihood and development. The scheduled period with current capacity is ten years and this can be shortened if human resources, physical and financial support can be obtained.

Ministry of Education (MOE) has taken a broader approach in MRE with the support from the UNICEF. All the North and East schools principals, and selected teachers have been trained in MRE. Numerous schools in the most affected areas have wall paintings with MRE pictures and messages and are carrying out various activities such as dramas, art competitions, distributing MRE messages printed in stationary and school carry bags and water bottles.

MOE decided to include MRE in the school curriculum from next year a way to achieve sustainability of MRE in Sri Lanka. Community based MRE undertaken by national NGOs in 2009 reach more than 250,000 people in 61 DS divisions and IDP camps. As of 30th June 2010 the MRE program has already reached 215,000 people in 68 DS divisions. Adults and children showed mine –safe behavior by reporting 264 suspected dangerous objects and hazardous areas in the first half of 2010.

Sri Lanka will need to have long term and sustainable MRE campaign to reach a goal of zero casualties from land mines and ERW. In this regard sustainable social marketing campaign in MRE is very much needed. Apart from the government and MRE partner organizations we may look into other institutions and get their support in this invaluable task. Hindu Kovils, Buddhist Temples, Churches, Mosques, Community Based Organizations (CBOs) can deliver the life saving messages to their community. Religious places and CBOs can become a voluntary “MRE Centers” in their respective villages.

And also the private sector can play a pivotal role using their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs to support Sri Lanka’s Mine Action Program. Sri Lanka Police Department will be trained by the end of August in delivering MRE. Public participation and their support is very much needed at all levels and government and partner organizations alone will not be able to carry out this task. We all want to be able to walk anywhere in Sri Lankan soil in a few years time without any fear from land mines and unexploded or abandoned ordnance.

August 17, 2010

Human smuggling or Tamil Tigers - A Story from the 'Ocean Lady'

By Amarnath Amarasingam

After the MV Sun Sea was boarded and escorted into Canadian waters two days ago, speculation has been rampant about whether there are members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, or Tamil Tigers) on board, and whether this is an instance of human smuggling.

OLTC817.jpg

RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency officers take the day to investigate and search the freighter Ocean Lady, still at dock at Ogden Point in Victoria, B.C. October 18, 2009. The Ocean Lady, also known as the Princess Easwary, is a rebel freighter belonging to the outlawed Tamil Tiger guerrilla group, a security expert believes.
Photograph by: Adrian Lam, Victoria Times Colonist

Columnists and news anchors have been wondering how these refugees who were ‘languishing in camps’ managed to escape and find a boat to take them across the Pacific. This is the wrong question. The refugees who arrived on the MV Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady, which landed in Canada last October, probably escaped the Sri Lankan Civil War months beforehand.

One migrant from the Ocean Lady, who I will call Suresh, told me that he was in Thailand in June 2009. “An agent took me from Colombo to Thailand, where we waited a month. He gave us shelter and food. He then boarded us on a bus. About two weeks later, we boarded a small boat and then onto a bigger boat.” He says that traveling so far on a boat was a new experience for him, and he spent the first few weeks vomiting.

The vomiting, and the dehydration, made him so weak that he slept on and off for about five days. It was only after a week had passed that he mustered up enough strength to wash his face and find something to eat. Preparing food was increasingly difficult as the boat made it further and further into open water. “The waves were very harsh,” he says, “if some food was being prepared for us, the waves would knock all the pots and pans to the floor, and they would have to start over.”

Suresh is very nervous during our interview, convinced that I was going to write something that would jeopardize his refugee application. When asked about the agent he paid to transport him to Canada, he begins with why he needed an agent in the first place. In 2000, his father was kidnapped from his home in Vavuniya by a white van, and to this day, he does not know his whereabouts. A few years later, he himself was taken and kept for three days. It was after this that his mother made it clear to him that he would have to leave for another country. She sold their land, and is now renting a home in Vavuniya. “She’s still there,” says Suresh.

Suresh used this money to pay an agent in Sri Lanka ten thousand dollars to get him to Thailand. Once in Thailand, he paid the agent another thirty thousand dollars. After the agent boarded them on the bus in Thailand, the migrants never saw him again. At this time, the bus contained around fifty people. My repeated questions about who the agent was were met only with shy smiles. Many refugees, even though they are paying large sums of money to these smugglers, feel indebted to them and will rarely reveal their true identities. As one refugee lawyer based in Toronto noted, “it is very rare for them to turn against the smugglers. For refugees, they are gods. They gave them a life in a new world.”

These smugglers maintain several safe houses in countries like Thailand where refugees are held. There, they sit and wait until an opportunity arises. This opportunity came after the end of the war in Sri Lanka. Ships like the MV Sun Sea can be purchased in places like Thailand or Singapore for a minimal price. Once obtained, the ship often goes through a process of modification. The interior of the ship, which may contain much that is not needed for human smuggling, is renovated. It is then equipped with partitions, sleeping quarters, and the like, before smugglers start shopping for passengers.

In the case of the MV Sun Sea, sources say that initially the smugglers were able to collect about 225 people, charging them anywhere between $22,000 and $45,000 (CDN). Later, this number ballooned to 490, with the remaining refugees probably paying much less.

There has also been speculation about whether the smugglers are Tamil Tigers or members of the Sri Lankan army. The true story is probably less elegant. The smugglers are more likely petty criminals. As one Tamil community organizer told me, “They are not Tigers. These guys just hang around Thailand and other countries waiting for an opportunity like this.”

Once Tamils in Sri Lanka feel that their lives can return to normal, the smugglers will have to wait that much longer for their next pay day.

Amarnath Amarasingam is a doctoral candidate at Wilfrid Laurier University, and is currently writing his dissertation entitled: Pain, Pride, and Politics: Tamil Nationalism in Canada.

Generosity on the part of Sinhalese and pragmatism on the part of Tamils is now required

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

History tells us that ports are not only a driver of rapid development but a multiplier of modernization, and the Deep South, which after centuries of neglect has generated and benefited from a provincial power shift, will never be marginalised again.

The quiet pride, hope and gratitude that most Sri Lankan citizens feel with regard to the Hambantota port and our long standing friend China, must be set alongside another lesson about our friends that we could learn from another recent development which has not drawn anything like the attention it merits.

If anyone should be called upon to testify before the Lessons Learnt panel, it is surely Mr Pathmanathan, better known as KP, who in an interview given to DBS Jeyaraj makes disclosures —or allegations— which are truly shocking. He says that several Western states stood ready to evacuate the top leadership of the LTTE, including Velupillai Prabhakaran, to safety in a third country. This is what he has said, on the record:

"I was in touch with international political leaders, top bureaucrats, diplomats, opinion-makers of different countries and also high –ranking UN officials. I contacted some of them directly. Influential people contacted some others on my behalf. In March 2009 I thought I had made a breakthrough but sadly Prabhakaran rejected the proposal.

I had a tentative plan with international endorsement. The LTTE was to lay down arms by hoarding them in specific locations. The words used were "lock –off". That is arms particularly heavy weapons were to be locked off in specific places. They were to be handed over to representatives of the UN. Afterwards there was to be a cessation of hostilities in which the people were to be kept in specific "no firing zones". Negotiations were to be conducted between the Govt. and LTTE with Norwegian facilitation.

Tentatively about 25 to 50 top leaders with their families were to be transported to a foreign country if necessary. The middle level leaders and cadres were to be detained, charged in courts and given relatively minor sentences. The low-level junior cadres were to be given a general amnesty. The scheme was endorsed by the West including Norway, EU and the USA. The Americans were ready to send their naval fleet in to do evacuation if necessary.

I don’t think there was any official intimation to Colombo but maybe they were sounded out informally. But the plan was never concretized because the main man concerned, Prabhakaran rejected it. I had written an outline of the plan and sent it to him for approval. If he said "Proceed" I would have concretized it and started work on implementing it. But when I faxed the details in a 16-page memorandum he rejected the 16 pages in just three words ‘Ithai Etrukkolla Mudiyathu’- ‘This is unacceptable’." (KP Speaks Out -2, DBS Jeyaraj Column, Daily Mirror Saturday, August 14, 2010)

If his disclosures/allegations were true (and if they weren’t I would have expected a contradiction) not only was KP, at the time a representative of a proscribed and notorious terrorist organisation, in touch with highly placed sources in the UN system and the West, but Prabhakaran, the man who stood accused of responsibility for the murder of a former Prime Minister of India, a Sri Lankan President, Foreign Minister, and Opposition Leader, was a candidate for evacuation by US forces. From their safe exile the top leadership of the LTTE would have re-kindled the dreadful war that ate at the entrails of Sri Lankan society. All Sri Lankans must surely digest the implications.

A cautionary note, though. Nothing that others can do to us can be quite as damaging as the gross strategic mistakes we ourselves make and the correct turning that we ourselves fail to make. The doctrine that ‘by oneself is one defiled’ and the injunction to ‘turn the searchlight inwards’ holds true for countries, nations and societies too.

Just last week, ISAS, the institute at which I am currently based, was a third leg of a tripod that hosted an especially interesting event on South Asia’s future at the National Library of Singapore. The catalyst was the Boston University’s Pardee Centre for Long Range Studies which tied up with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) and the Institute for South Asian Studies (ISAS) to discuss ‘South Asia in 2060’. The seminar was chaired by Prof Simon Tay, head of the SIIA, which describes itself as ‘think tank for a thinking society’, and author of Asia Alone: the Dangerous Post Crisis Divide From America.(I was glad to gather that Nihal Rodrigo and Dr Rohan Samarajiwa were contributors to the Pardee Center’s study).

Of the four factors that were identified as the key determinants of the future of each South Asian society and South Asia as a whole, the first and the last were: identity. As the Director of the Center of Long Range Studies from Boston, himself an Asian, said, the repetition of the term identity was neither mistake nor witticism. The first reference to identity was the current problems of identity of each society and the final reference to identity was how these would evolve and consequently how, as sum total, the identity of South Asia would evolve over the next fifty years.

The panellists were senior scholars or scholar-diplomats heading various institutions of advanced studies. Each South Asian state was treated in turn and their references to Sri Lanka were lucid and significant. The consensus was that "having overcome the challenge of terrorism, Sri Lanka had the potential to effect the fastest turn around in South Asia and catch up with the economic renaissance of the rest of Asia on condition that the Tamil minority was successfully integrated and a broadly inclusive identity was finally forged, as it had not been since Independence".

Thus, these top-notch analysts, none of them biased Westerners, clearly identified "the successful integration of the Tamil minority" as the most decisive single task facing post-war Sri Lanka, and the one which would ultimately determine whether or not there would be sustainable economic prosperity and social development, as distinct from temporary episodes of economic growth.

To my mind, this requires generosity on the part of the Sinhalese and pragmatism on the part of the Tamils, or if one may reduce it to single requirement, enlightened self-interest on the part of both communities and their leaderships.

No area of policy requires more careful thinking through than that of the state in the former high conflict areas of the North and East. These policies have their effect along two axes.

The first is that of the integration of the Tamil minority and the overall project of nation-building. Nowhere is this more fraught than in a region where the populace is predominantly of a different, aggrieved ethnicity and/or religion than those of the makers and implementers of policy. Alienation can lead to resentment and resentment to resistance. Even if resistance does not lead to revolt and rebellion by a future generation, a sullen alienation will hang like a dark cloud over the picture of post-war Sri Lanka that the world sees.

Since our giant neighbour contains 70 million Tamils who consider themselves as having a relationship with the Tamils of Northern Sri Lanka (the proceedings, patronage and optics of the International Association of Tamil Research conference in Chennai this year should have put paid to any doubts on that score), our relationship with our Tamil citizens cannot but impact on our relationship with our giant neighbour.

Given the entrenched presence of the Tamil Diaspora in Western societies and the animus it has towards Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese, the proposition that Sri Lanka’s primary strategic relationship must be with the West looks untenable. Colombo must brace itself for continuing pressure from that quarter while striving to communicate better with those states and societies. The worst case scenario is not pressure from the West and the institutions it dominates, but pressure from the West and an absence of integration with the East.

Sri Lanka has to find its place as a liked and respected member of the Asian family and derive protection from that place. Increasingly critical scrutiny from the Global North is a problem but not the most serious one; intrusive scrutiny from the North combined with discomfiture, detachment and distancing on the part of the Global South, is a far worse prospect.

An ex-Sri Lankan on migrants' flight

by Vasuhi (Balachandran) Collins

I was surprised to read that, according to the 2006 census, there are no Sri Lankan families living in the Victoria area and none who list Tamil as their mother tongue (Aug. 14).

Admittedly, the Sri Lankan population in Victoria is not large, but we are at least one Sri Lankan family living in Victoria and have been here since 1980.

My parents came to Canada from Sri Lanka almost 40 years ago, before the height of the civil war. My sisters and I were raised with an appreciation for our Tamil culture and a keen awareness of what has been happening in Sri Lanka. It has been sad to see the beautiful country where my parents grew up devastated by the civil war of the past 30 years.

It has been interesting to read the articles and comments about the ship arriving in Victoria; however, I am saddened by the comments of "send them back" made by people who seemingly have no knowledge as to why the Tamils are seeking refugee status. Sri Lanka has not been a safe place for them to live.

My extended family was in Sri Lanka until the late 1980s, at which time they arrived in Toronto. They left the only home and culture they ever knew, but did so knowing that they had a chance to provide their families a better life here, a life free from conflict and war.

I am very thankful to have been born in Canada; if my parents had not come to Canada when they did, life would have been very different for me and my sisters. Who knows? You might have found us on this very boat. - Vasuhi (Balachandran) Collins

Letter to the Editor, published in Victoria Times Colonist

Courtesy: Victoria Times Colonist ~ Read more: http://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/Lankan+migrants+flight/3407389/story.html#ixzz0wsnS1QNA

UNHCR encouraged by Canada's handling of Tamil boat people case

17 August 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 17 August 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR continues to follow the developing situation of 490 Sri Lankan nationals of Tamil origin, former passengers of the cargo ship MV Sun Sea which docked at Vancouver Island in British Columbia last Friday. According to our staff in British Columbia, all 490 passengers have claimed asylum.

Based on what we have seen thus far, we commend the exemplary work of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) in coordinating the arrival and reception of the MV Sun Sea passengers. The reception site was well designed, and needs in terms of information gathering, food and water have been well anticipated. In addition, the priorities for safe disembarkation of the ship were clearly defined with medical needs topping the list for those on board, who include men, women and children.

UNHCR supports the important work of law enforcement agencies in combating human smuggling, an issue that has received much attention in relation to the MV Sun Sea case. It is nonetheless important to recognize that while refugees and migrants might use the same means of transportation, sometimes illegal, refugees are a distinct group with critical protection needs. It is not a crime to seek asylum.

UNHCR recognizes the considerable challenges that disembarkation and the processing of people from MV Sun Sea will entail. We will be following these activities on an ad-hoc basis to help compliance with the relevant provisions for treatment of persons seeking asylum and refugee status.

In the case of Sri Lanka, UNHCR has recently issued revised guidelines to assist decision-makers in reviewing claims to asylum. Those guidelines include our recommendation that in light of the improved security situation since the end of Sri Lanka's conflict in May 2009, claims by asylum seekers from that country should be considered on their individual merits rather than on a group basis.

According to UNHCR's most recent statistics, there are a total of 146,098 Sri Lanka refugees in 64 countries. India (73,269), France (20,464), Canada (19,143), Germany (12,248), United Kingdom (8,615), Switzerland (2,836), Malaysia (2,132), Australia (2,070), United States (1,561) and Italy (964) are the top 10 countries hosting Sri Lankan refugees. There are also 7,562 Sri Lankan asylum seekers known to UNHCR in 57 countries. The top ten countries hosting Sri Lankan asylum-seekers are: Switzerland, Malaysia, Canada, Germany, Norway, Thailand, US, Netherlands, Japan and Australia. Last year, 34,000 new asylum seekers submitted their claims in Canada.

Poem: A Refugee At Mind

by enna da

I'm a stain, or so they claim
because they are so White clean- exceptionally supreme
And I'm not allowed here because I'm dirty

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A Thai ship believed to carry 490 Sri Lankan Tamils arrived in Esquimalt Harbour in Victoria, B.C. August 13, 2010.
Photograph by: Darren Stone, Victoria Times Colonist

Dirty for being in dire need - for requesting fresh air to breathe
But air is not free, they proceed
upon my arrival “the clean” recede
protest my needs, they may just succeed
They may just refuse, my reasoning and story
for the blood I bleed may stain their sleeve
so clean they are, but their blurred vision cant see

I came from within the trashing waves
Crammed inside population that flooded the space
Such small space I could barley move out of place

Dark cold nights, dark memories of our plight…
Survival, my only hope, my only thread of light
put my hand above my chest and shut my eyes tight
“if god exists” let me pray tonight
put me on the shores of Life
Bring me day, end my nights
put me on the shores of sound, of taste, of sight
where others like myself will hear my cries
violent waves I wish you well
carry me safely, carry us all out of this hell
I left everything behind, swallowed my time
and here I’m with nothing but a plea for help
that they claim crime

My homeland lived, within it my home was dust
in the name of rehabilitation time began to rust
her screams beat my ear drums, pierced my gut
another rape - his murderous lust
she cried- strained eyes- clutching her dead child
why was I alive, or was I?
I was desensitized to blood and death and screams that tore the sky
I was tranquilized a little by the lies to reconcile
and It hit me then, I realized how dead I was inside.
So I washed away the blood stains of guilt with passing tides
I know I shouldn’t have left, I should have stuck by their side
But I got nothing to lose now -
no family no home no life.

I’m a witness- mentally beaten- physically numb
I’m a criminal for having been a bystander, but not a terrorist on the run
I have nothing to kill for, nothing of mine still lives
Nothing Sri Lanka’s military hasn't killed already left for me to give
so here I’m empty hands
I can sign my name, and take your laws
just provide for me a place to stand
I apologize for my brown skinned “flaws”
For those of you compassionate enough, please take my sincere thanks
after all I’ll end up working for this country
Adding to its most valuable multicultural diversity

I’ve been racially profiled, targeted, and discriminated against
I already know how it is.
But the only difference here is that I cant be killed for it.
So spit your labels to satisfy your hate
but do it once I pass your gates.

I survived the bombings, the slaughter, the abduction, the mass murders
the fires, the gun shots, the raping of mothers and daughters
I survived the loss of every mother father brother and sister
the blood shed, the tears bled, the broken limbs and torn flesh
I survived the smoke, the hunger, the thirst, the bunkers
then boarded this ship surviving waves, lightening, and thunder
and you think I'm gonna shrivel at the word “terrorist” ?
naming calling is outdated, check the scars on my skin
creep my mind to see where I’ve been
for the sake of being humane try and understand...
and if you still want to send me back…
may the higher power someday forgive your sin.

None of the Passengers on MV"Sun Sea" are ex-LTTE combatants

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Contrary to reports, none of the Sri Lankan Tamils who paid $ 40,000 to $ 50,000 each for passage to Canada are ex-LTTE combatants involved in Eelam war IV.

Authoritative military officials say the LTTEers had no way of escaping the advancing army on the Vanni (east) front early last year by taking a boat due to heavy naval presence backed by 24-hour monitoring by the SLAF and navy technical sources.

The navy had over a hundred craft ranging from small boats and Fast Attack Craft to Offshore Patrol Craft deployed off Mullaithivu to thwart attempts by the LTTE to flee, a senior official said.

Responding to a query by The Island, the official who had been involved in naval operations on the Mullaithivu seas, said had there been the slightest chance, the LTTE leadership would have escaped. "We captured Sea Tiger leader Soosai’s wife as she was trying to reach the Indian waters less than four days before the final battle on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon," he said, urging the Canadian government not to be deceived by human smugglers.

Since the conclusion of the war in May last year several ship/boatloads of Sri Lankan Tamils have reached Australia, Indonesia and Canada.

Sri Lankan sources said that even if LTTE cadres had managed to leave Sri Lanka through the Bandaranaike International Airport using forged travel documents, they could not have raised $ 40,000 to $ 50,000 each for their passage. Sources emphasised that almost all the passengers of MV ‘Sun Sea’, now seeking political asylum in Canada had left Sri Lanka years ago and most probably were not involved in LTTE terrorism.

Intelligence sources told The Island that the 59-metre cargo ship MV ‘Sun Sea’, which had been especially modified to accommodate about 500 persons left Thailand three months ago. "The vessel came from the Gulf of Thailand, between the Philippines and Japan and then straight across the ocean and following a similar, but not exactly the same, route as the ‘Ocean Lady’," a senior official said.

The MV ‘Ocean Lady’ was a migrant smuggling vessel that reached Canada’s West Coast in October, 2009 with 76 aboard, all Sri Lankans.

The official said that the ‘Ocean Lady’ (formerly ‘Princess Easwary’) after a stop in Mumbai on Aug. 31, 2009 had sailed from northwestern Indian port of Mundra on September 8, 2009. All of them were released in batches. The Sri Lankan navy said that MV ‘Ocean Lady’ had been one of the LTTE vessels used to carry arms, ammunition and equipment during the war.

He said that the LTTE rump was behind the ongoing human smuggling operations driven by profit motives.

"In fact, the ‘Sun Sea’ itself was modified in order to make this trip and maximize the number of persons to be transported and maximise the attendant the profits."

Although a section of the international press says MV ‘Sun Sea’ had planned to reach Australian waters before the Australian government warned them not to come, sources said that human smugglers always targeted Canada due to its slack immigration laws.

Sources said that there were over 50 children among the new arrivals. Had the Canadians bothered to talk to children, they would have known the truth, sources said.

One of the nearly 500 Tamil migrants had died just weeks before the ship arrived off the British Columbia coast, the Canadian press reported on Sunday.

Sri Lankan officials expressed confidence that Canada would follow the Australian example by tightening immigration laws. Australia recently declared that asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan were not welcome and went to the extent of freezing the processing of their applications.

A senior official said that the Canadians could accommodate any number of illegal immigrants and subsequently give them voting rights. That is their prerogative but not at Sri Lanka’s expense, he said, emphasising that the war had ended 14 months ago.

Sources said that human smugglers had the support of some Tamil organisations based in Canada, who exploited lax Canadian laws. They also had the support of a section of the politicians and officials to bring in more economic refugees.

COURTESY:THE ISLAND

August 16, 2010

'I’m less inclined to take Sri Lanka govt conclusions about who’s on the boat and why they’re there' - Bob Rae

Send Them Back an Old, and Awful, Refrain

by Bob Rae

Canadians have been caught up in the drama of the arrival of a small boat with 500 people aboard. They have travelled for several months on the Pacific Ocean, turned away in Thailand, Australia, and given the cold shoulder everywhere else until they reached the western shore of Vancouver Island, escorted by the Canadian navy.

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Bob Rae MP (Toronto Cenre)

Many have suggested that the ship should have been boarded and just turned away. Unfortunately these views have a terrible pedigree, and call to mind the fate of two other boats, the Komagata Maru and the SS St Louis.

The Komagata Maru set sail from Calcutta in 1914, picking up passengers in Yokohama and Shanghai before making the long voyage to Vancouver. Its arrival in the harbour was met by powerful hostility. In the previous decade Canada had opened itself to the arrival of 400,000 Europeans, but had strict laws and regulations preventing Asians and others from coming. The passengers on board the Komagata Maru, who were mainly Sikh, tried desperately to land but both the federal and provincial governments did all in their power to prevent the 354 passengers from landing. This brutal discrimination succeeded, and the ship was forced to sail back to Calcutta. The Imperial authorities concluded that the leaders on the boat were dangerous agitators for Indian freedom, and 19 of them were killed on arrival in Calcutta. Many others were arrested and imprisoned. The incident remains a dark stain on Canada’s reputation, for which Stephen Harper has yet to apologise in the House of Commons. The House itself has endorsed a motion in the name of Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla expressing just such an apology.

The SS St Louis made its famous voyage, known as the “voyage of the damned”, in 1939. Its 936 Jewish passengers made their way from Hamburg to Cuba, where they were denied landing, although they all had visas. After a stay of many days, the ship set sail for the U.S., where it was also rejected, and then to Halifax, where the Liberal government of the day also refused entry. It had to make its way back across the north Atlantic to Antwerp, where passengers were dispersed to a number of countries, many of which were soon to be occupied by the Nazis. Historians tell us that as many as 254 of the St Louis passengers were killed in Nazi death camps, while the rest probably survived the war.

Just two years ago Canadian Church leaders held a ceremony of apology to recognise the terrible wrong done. Bishop Marcel Gervais of Ottawa said “remembering what happened to the passengers will help Christians make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

This past week Canadians have been subjected to wild rumours of disease rampant aboard the ship, and allegations that “terrorists” and “criminals” are about to run amok in the country. Many urged the Canadian navy to board the ship in international waters and send them on their way.

Bishop Gervais’s admonition notwithstanding, it would seem some have learned very little from our past. Of course people paid to get on the Tamil boat, just as they did to get on the Komagata Maru, the SS St Louis, and Kastner’s train for that matter.

Sri Lanka’s civil war did not come to a pretty ending. As the army made its way through the country, planes strafing villages and bombing civilians, Tamils who had returned home after the ceasefire of 2001 were corralled by the opposing sides to the north-eastern shore of the country. The complete exclusion of journalists and international observers and agencies makes it impossible to know how many died in the last weeks of the war: estimates range from a few hundred to 40,000. The entire leadership of the LTTE and their families were wiped out. Hundreds of thousands became refugees in their own country.

General Fonseca, who ran as a presidential candidate, was arrested the day after the election. Dozens of journalists are killed every year, and many foreign observers, from Swedish Foreign Minister to Bob Rae, Canadian MP (and writer of this blog), have been refused entry to the country.

Canada has an obligation under our law to take refugee claims seriously, to weigh them in a judicious manner, and to insist that allegations of “terrorism” and “human trafficking” be proven. We also need to work with our international friends and the UN to understand better why these boats are travelling, how they are being organised, and why people feel they should take them.

It is a pity Vic Toews didn’t mention the Komagata Maru and the SS St Louis, and why we’re not going to repeat those atrocities. To turn away a boat that’s been on the high seas for over 90 days would be unconscionable. It would also be illegal.

What, then, of the “moral hazard”, the argument that if we let one boat it will be followed by countless more ? These are not exactly cruise ships. Not everyone on them will be found to be a refugee. But if the Sri Lankan government says I’m a threat to their national security I’m less inclined to take seriously their blanket conclusions about who’s on the boat and why they’re there. I have confidence in our immigration and justice system. Vic Toews is right about one thing: the world is watching. I’m proudest as a Canadian when we’re setting the right standard for the world. We didn’t do it in 1914 for the Komagata Maru or in 1939 for the St Louis. Let’s get it right this time. ~ courtesy: Liberal.ca ~

August 15, 2010

Sri Lanka launches new port built with Chinese loan

By Shihar Aneez

HAMBANTOTA Sri Lanka (Reuters) - Sri Lanka flooded a new port on Sunday, built with Chinese assistance as part of a $6 billion drive to rebuild the island nation's infrastructure after a quarter century of war.

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~ click on pic for larger image ~ Sri Lankan dancers perform at the site of A new port under construction at the southern town of Hambantota on August 15, 2010, Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse presided over a ceremony marking the commencement of the building of sea walls of the 1.5 billion dollar Chinese-founded construction~pic:Getty images~Daylife

The Hambantota port, built at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion on the southern coast, will begin handling ships from November, officials said.

"This is part of making this country an emerging wonder of Asia," President Mahinda Rajapaksa said after launching the port.

Hambantota is one of four ports being built or upgraded under Rajapaksa's plan to renew the country's $42 billion economy by returning it to its old and lucrative role as a trading hub.

Built to handle 2,500 ships annually in the first stage, the new port is located along the East-West shipping lane and is ultimately meant to challenge Singapore's status as a regional shipping hub.

Sri Lanka now handles around 6,000 ships annually in its only port in Colombo on the western coast, which requires ships plying the East-West shipping lane to divert course.

Rajapaksa vowed to transform the island's economy with a series of infrastructure projects, soon after crushing a 25-year insurgency by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam last year.

"It is not sea water that will fill this port but the future prosperity of our nation. From this port will emerge our true economic independence, " he said in a speech.

China's involvement in the building of the port had raised concerns in India, but analysts said Rajapaksa had successfully handled Indian pressure. Security analysts in India worry that the port was part of Beijing's String of Pearls strategy to build a network of ports across the Indian Ocean.

Beijing has loaned over $425 million for the first phase of Hambantota project including the bunkering facility. Colombo is negotiating for a further $800 million loan for the second phase.

In addition to cargo handling, Hambantota will have a fully fledged bunkering facility and a tank farm project.

The port will operate 14 tanks with a total capacity of 80,000 MT. Eight tanks will be utilised for bunkering while six will be used for aviation fuel and LPG.

Except bunkering, all other activities including bulk cargo handling, storage facility, warehouses, transshipment have been opened for offshore investors.

(Editing by Ranga Sirilal and Sanjeev Miglani) ~ courtesy: Reuters ~

More Pictures on Daylife: Hambantota, Sri Lanka

The Battle to Define Again the Soul of Canada

by C. L. Cook

The small boat, traveled from across the world recently, its passengers a desperate collection of men, women, and children fleeing brutal repression in the wake of a failed popular uprising, has provided Canada an opportunity to define for itself just of what it is constituted and for what it will stand.

Fitting that aspiring migrants would prove the opportunity, for what else are all of us here on Turtle Island but peoples come from across time and space who by fate, chance, and weird fortune find ourselves shored up here, elbow to elbow, cheek to jowl, forced to decide just what this tossed ship of state is to be called and how this world is to be captained?

It's a rare moment, and one worthy of more than the proto-racist, hand-wringing calamity promotion purveyors of the new nigger population boom set to explode narrative the government of Stephen Harper and his media managers would like to restrict the debate to.

The press has been abuzz this past week as the MV Sun Sea and its "boat load" of what the fourth estate describes by turns as: "terrorists," and "criminals," and worst yet, "human smugglers" descending on the nation's shores, a "probing effort," bellwether signal they say the scheming "people smuggling, criminal terrorist hoard" in Sri Lanka are watching and waiting for.

They warn, Canada's willingness to shelter the remnant scatterings of the genocidal culling of the Tamil minority barely a year ago will be a sign of "our" weakness, prompting others forced to flee for their lives from the modern plethora of dime store demagogues, and good old fashioned Death Squad states the green light to "invade" the nation.

What the moral midgets calling for the swift return, boot in ass, do not pass go card stapled, no tattooed, to hand have mainly forgotten, or merely failed to remind in their haste to mount soap boxes in Victoria, speed-dial local call-in radio stations, and projectile blogviate across the "internet" is the recent horror the Tamil people of Sri Lanka experienced at the hands of the barely chastized Sinhalese supremacists still in power there. Fewer yet of these have speculated as to the fate awaiting those they would return to the concentration camps and killing fields so recently escaped.

I know the news cycle never stops, and especially now as climate disaster denier defying disasters are blaring from all media quarters it's hard to keep track of stories from all the way back in 2009; but, if we're to have a context, however gruel thin such a one is to be had, it is, I believe, important to take a little ride back in time a short spell. In May of 2009, the LTTE, or more familiarly called, Tamil Tigers surrendered to the their Sinhalese overlords after suffering three years of an intensified "surge." Uncounted thousands were killed and brutalized, and an equally unknown number of innocents civilians, guilty of no more in the main than belonging to an ethnic minority, and living in homes turned battlefield by the government armies.

Those armies were aided and abetted the great blood-letting that culminated last May by the governments of the "International Community" who declared the Tamil resistance and its insistence on a separate homeland within Sri Lanka illegal, and illegal too all those who assist the "terrorists."

Even as the Sinhalese army shelled the concentration camps Tamil civilians were herded into in the waning days of the Tigers' destruction. It is as though the Canadian government and its friends in the Anglo-American Axis, after witnessing a brutal aerial and artillery attack against a trapped population, declared the Palestinian resistance and its insistence it be free to self-govern within the lands of its history without fear of repression or summary destruction "terrorist" and illegal, and then deported refugees from that repression and destruction back to the turkey shoot.

It would never happen of course, but should it, it would be the same thing.

In a country without an ethical core, as Canada is today, a collective raison d'etre is required. For Stephen Harper and the Republican lights providing his media aura, the Tamil "crisis" is an opportunity to move the nation further towards the "illegals at the gate-crazed" constituency he would make of us. It is also a chance for Canadians recognizing this country has strayed too far from the enlightened, humanist tenets we so nearly realized here in the last century.

It is also a chance to look at our world and realize; while we can't provide shelter from the storm to the entirety of those so desperately needing it, we can afford to provide it for those few that make it here.

And, more importantly, it is a reminder to those that would call themselves our leaders; the failure to properly condemn tyranny abroad and to denounce in the most strenuous fashion its excesses can expect to see the victims of ignored atrocities shoring up more often here, just as we see today in Victoria. ~ courtesy: Pacific Free Press ~

Why we Canadians should welcome boatful of Tamil refugees

by Harsha Walia

From the Komagata Maru carrying 376 Punjabi passengers and the SS St. Louis travelling with 900 Jewish asylum seekers, to the boats with 600 people from China's Fujian province and the Ocean Lady that docked in B.C. last year with Tamil refugees - there is something about boatloads of migrants that triggers a national hysteria. Perhaps it is the realization that the expanse of ocean is not enough to enforce the divide between the West and the so-called Third World.

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Harsha Walia ~ Harsha Walia has a law degree and is a local activist with, among other social justice groups, No One Is Illegal.

This past week has been no different with the arrival of the MV Sun Sea and approximately 500 Tamil migrants. With little substantiation, officials and media are regurgitating the refrain of "terrorists," "illegals" and "queue jumpers." Yet refugee advocates have repeatedly reminded us that there is no queue for refugees. It is inherent to the refugee experience that one does not wait in a line, fearing serious harm or death, to make the difficult decision to flee. Nor are they so-called illegals; they are asylum seekers. Canadian and international refugee law recognizes that many asylum seekers will be forced to travel irregularly, including by boat, to seek safety.

Relying on sound-bites about organized crime and terrorism is the best way to close public debate about government actions. Instead of relying on sensationalism, let us ask: On what basis are the Tamil migrants being declared terrorists? Is it even logical that well-financed and often state-backed terrorists or traffickers would suffer in a three-month long, arduous journey risking death? Even if we believe that women and children were forced onto this boat, how do we justify jailing them as a humane response?

What we do know is that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Kimoon has appointed a panel to investigate war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government against Tamils. Human rights organizations have documented government and military atrocities including indiscriminate killings, arbitrary detentions and imprisonment, and mass displacement of Tamils. Canada has itself accepted more than 90 per cent of refugee claimants from Sri Lanka in the past two years.

Last year we succumbed to unfounded panic when the Ocean Lady landed with 76 Tamils aboard. All the men were eventually released when the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) was forced to admit they had no evidence of terrorist connections. Ottawa even tried to use Section 86 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a draconian section that allows for secret evidence in closed hearings, to make their case. Still, based on a lack of evidence, in January the CBSA announced that it would not contest the release of the last group of detainees.

Rohan Gunaratna, the anti-terrorism expert who is the government's primary source, was discredited by immigration lawyers as well as adjudicator Otto Nuppanen during the Ocean Lady proceedings. As detailed in news articles, his unverified sources were questioned, as well as his credibility, given his close relationship with the Sri Lankan government. Following a recent investigation by the newspaper the Sunday Age in Australia, Gunaratna has retracted some of his alleged credentials.

So Canadian officials are either continuing to make uninformed statements despite the lack of evidence, or they are deliberately relying on the racist stereotyping of all Tamils as likely being associated with terrorism in order to fuel public fears. Their irresponsibility is facilitating a climate where anti-immigration advocates are gaining more traction in their demands for the boat to be sent back and for Canada to stop welcoming refugees.

Harsha Walia at G20 Summit Press Conference ~ June, 2010

Frankly, I think there is more reason to be mistrustful of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews than of the migrants. Their regime has advanced an agenda of corporate bailouts and economic austerity; ballooning military, police and prison budgets; unmitigated resource extraction and environmental destruction; and an immigration policy that is moving toward the repressive Australia and Arizona models of accepting fewer refugees and jailing more asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. These politicians sell us strange paradoxes - military occupation as liberation, refugees as terrorists.

Instead, author McKenzie Wark reminds us, "Those who seek refuge, who are rarely accorded a voice, are nevertheless the bodies that confront the injustice of the world.

They give up their particular claim to sovereignty and cast themselves on the waters.

Only when the world is its own refuge will their limitless demand be met."

courtesy: Vancouver Sun

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/should+welcome+boatful+Tamil+refugees+into+Canada/3398770/story.html#ixzz0wfzNsbsq

Let the Tamil Migrants Stay

by: About No One Is Illegal Vancouver

August 14, 2010

As the ship arrived, feeling proud of Canada

by Bob Russell

Working at my desk early yesterday I watched the arrival of the ship of Sri Lankan refugees just as dawn broke.

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Passengers of MV Sun Sea crowd the deck after spotting HMCS Winnipeg in open seas. (Photograph altered at source.) MCpl Angela Abbey/DND-MDN Canada

I was quite taken by how small the boat is. Hard to imagine that many people travelling that far on something so small, and across an entire ocean. Who knows how many days they didn't see land?

There was not a sound and the water was like glass reflecting the ship's lights and that of its escorts. From their vantage point, it would have been our lights reflecting across the water toward them when, with the sun starting to rise, the sky was trying to decide what colour to be.

Many on board would have no appreciation of the politics of this whole thing. They'd just be cold, hungry, scared and after a perilous journey, this would be their first glimpse of what they hope to be their new home.

I was quite moved. And very proud to be a Canadian -- something I think we'd all like to feel more often. These people chose us.

Their arrival has prompted yet another debate about our refugee policy and certainly I'm not so naïve as to think that possible Tamil Tiger involvement isn't problematic. But I trust our security forces to do their job.

There have also been reports about how much it will cost us to house these people until their status is settled. But you can't quantify the price these people paid to get here.

I've even heard some people suggesting that the boat should have been turned away, that these people are "queue jumpers." I wonder what these people did to become Canadians.

Their arrival prompted me to want to go down to the shore and say, "Welcome."

Bob Russell

Victoria

Read more: ~ courtesy: Times Colonist ~

Rajapaksa onslaught on basic rights is a common threat to all our citizens

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

The tyrant desires that his subject shall be incapable of action, for no one attempts what is impossible, and they will not attempt to overthrow a tyranny, if they are powerless.” – Aristotle (Politics)

The Samurdhi officials have shown that there is still a way. By refusing to tolerate the barbaric injustice done to a colleague and by using their collective strength to resist the über-power of the power-wielders, they compelled the Rajapaksa regime to digress, however temporarily, from its habit of impunity.

Whether this unprecedented victory becomes a trailblazer to a more liveable future or a mere footnote in the history of a Rajapaksa Sri Lanka will depend, to a considerable extent, on our capacity and willingness to resist attempts to transform us from citizens to subjects.

According to the Rajapakse ethos, the hottest place in hell is reserved for the traitors to the Ruling Family; the maliciously vengeful decision to strip the Army Commander who defeated the LTTE of his rank and hounours and dishonourably discharge him presage the future.

For almost a week after Deputy Minister Mervyn Silva tied a Samurdhi official to a tree in the presence of the media and the police, the regime did nothing. The President remained silent, the police was evasive and the UPFA tried to reduce l’affaire Mervyn from a national outrage into a mere personal fracas. The game-changer was the peaceful protest by Samurdhi officials, backed by a segment of the media and society. A somewhat belated attempt at damage control by Basil Rajapaksa failed when Samurdhi officials refused to accept his assurances on the future conduct of the delinquent deputy minister. Instead, they moved to widen their protest.

Milton Meyer opines that there is a “point at which atrocity would awaken the community to the consciousness of its moral habit…the point which the tyrant must always approach but never pass’ (They Thought They Were Free). The visuals of a public official being tied to a tree by a politician penetrated the customary Southern apathy. Moreover, Samurdhi officials form an important component of the support cum vote base of the regime and their democratic resistance was neither dismissible as an opposition plot nor condemnable as a pro-Tiger act.

Faced with an opinion-impasse, the Rajapaksas did the sensible thing and deserve praise for reining in Mervyn Silva, however belatedly. Hopefully, this chastisement is real and not a Rajapaksa sleight of hand. Silva’s fate can become a warning to others only if he does not return, via the next cabinet reshuffle, ‘vindicated’ by the SLFP disciplinary committee.

That is why Silva must be charged in a court of law for taking the law into his own hands.

L’affaire Mervyn demonstrates a vital truth. Democratic resistance still has the capacity to prevent some of the worst excesses of the rulers and slow-down Sri Lanka’s march towards a tyranny, characterised by absolute impunity for the Ruling Family and its underlings. And, yet, this propitious outcome was due in part to many special features of this particular case. Mervyn Silva is the ideal villain. The incident was recorded on tape.

Most of all, Samurdhi officials are numerous, organised and form an important support bloc of the regime. Therefore they have a clout not available to most. It is to their great credit that they used this clout courageously, without being swayed by spurious arguments about patriotism and ‘Ape Aanduwa’, into inaction. They refused to be subjects and asserted their rights as citizens, thereby bringing down a repeated offender who seemed impervious to both law and public opinion.

In the South, resistance is possible and, given certain conducive conditions, can become successful. In the North, democratic and peaceful resistance is near impossible, because the regime and its agents can implement any injustice, however abominable, under the cover of security. Once the mantle of security embroidered with patriotic rhetoric,, is used to cover an injustice, not only do victims lose the capacity to protest; the South opts for silent complicity.

According to media reports, 5,000 Tamil families (from Indrapuram and Shanthipuran in Killinochchi, Thiru-Murugandi in Mullaitivu and Munnikulam in Mannar) have been expelled from their villages to make way for cantonments for army families. And 15,000 school children have to study under trees, because their schools have been transformed into IDP camps, and the state, instead of building new schools and new houses, is constructing new military camps and cantonments (new temples too, while demolishing existing temples in the East, to build tourist hotels).

These are injustices, outrageous and dangerous. And they concern not just the victims, but all Lankan citizens. Sadly, the North is under de facto military rule, and the South loses its reason and acquiesces in anti-democratic acts, the moment ‘national security’ and ‘welfare of the armed forces’ are mentioned.

Had Mervyn Silva been disciplined just once, the latest outrage would not have happened.

Similarly, our silence about the displacement not just of Northern Tamils but also Eastern Sinhalese and Colombo’s urban poor will encourage the regime to perpetrate more injustices, pausing only to place them under suitable headings. By tolerating injustice done to the North and the East in the name of national security, the South is making itself vulnerable to similar injustices inflicted in the name of economic development. The time has come to discard the “narcissism of small differences” (Freud) which prevents us from seeing the Rajapaksa onslaught on basic rights for what it is — a common threat to all Lankan citizens.

In a democracy, no individual or entity should be above scrutiny and criticism; carte blanche can be conceded only at the risk of basic freedoms. Mahinda Rajapaksa is often hailed as ‘King’, in his presence, by supporters eager to show their fealty. This practice is more than a silly conceit; it entails a mind set which normalises servility to the powerful and degrading of the powerless. Mervyn Silva is a parliamentarian of long standing; yet his public delinquencies began only after the Rajapaksas established their familial rule.

Ranil Wickremesinghe gave himself the title ‘The Leader’. With hindsight, it is easy to see the link between this self-aggrandizement and his subsequent conduct, from annihilating inner-party democracy to clinging to leadership despite serial electoral debacles. His anti-democratic and intolerant mind set seems to be infectious, as evidenced by the defeat of Sajith Premadasa’s proposal to enable members of provincial and local councils to vote in a leadership contest and by the attack on Ravi Karunanayake’s supporters in Beliatte, allegedly by Sajith-loyalists.

A democracy can be destroyed from within only with the complicity of its citizenry. A citizenry cannot be transformed by their own government into subjects without their consent and cooperation. The transformation of Weimar Republic into Nazi Germany required the acquiescence of a majority of Germans, at every major turn. Velupillai Pirapaharan did not go from Thambi to Surya Thevan overnight, bulldozing all in one go. Such internal transformations take time and need a congenial atmosphere created by citizens willing to forego their rights in the name of an abstraction or a mirage, or out of disillusionment about the many failings of democracy.

The Rajapaksas dream of absolute power and dynastic rule (Namal Rajapaksa is already acting like the de facto crown prince). Ranil Wickremesinghe is the most ineffective opposition leader in post-independence Sri Lanka. The confluence of these two negatives is creating a conjuncture in which citizens have to be their own defenders, whenever possible.

If leadership change remains deadlocked the UNP will decay at its centre and disintegrate at its base

by Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka

He who says A, must say B”. Those who, with good reason, lament the prospect of a new constitution reflective of the dominant ideology and power relations, must also admit and criticise the factor that makes this possible.

No government is able to change the basic law, if it does not enjoy a two thirds majority in the house. Such a majority is possible to obtain, only in highly specific circumstances, which is why such constitutions are termed ‘rigid’. These circumstances are the cooperation of the opposition, or its utter and absolute debility.

A rigid constitution assumes that no party or governing coalition is able to muster the necessary two thirds majority without the support of the opposition, thereby making the process of constitutional change, a broad based and inclusive affair, reflective of a national consensus. In the event that a government succeeds in mustering a two thirds majority in the legislature, the conclusion is derived that such a government is sufficiently reflective of national opinion. The exceptional situation, in which a government is able to muster a two thirds majority without a bipartisan consensus, is possible only if the opposition is dreadfully weak.

This too is seen to be unlikely under the system of proportional representation. To put it differently, a politician as astute as J.R. Jayewardene never expected either of Sri Lanka’s two major parties to be able, under a system of proportional representation, to be either dominant enough or weak enough for a two thirds majority to be achievable other than by dialogue, compromise and bi-partisan consensus. He also assumed that his party, the UNP, had an irreducible voter base that would never permit the other side to obtain a two-thirds majority so long as the electoral system of PR was in place.

The rich irony is that the scenario he thought impossible actually came into being thanks to his nephew, who has taken his party to a point below what was always thought to be its floor. The current UNP leadership crashed the party through the floorboards and it now lives in a basement.

Sumanasiri Liyanage of Peradeniya University’s Department of Economics has proffered the opinion that the UNP’s failure is attributable to its conversion into a large NGO. In this he is correct, but he has erred in failing to understand that the change in the UNP leadership, though not a sufficient condition for reconversion into a mass party, is a necessary condition for it.

A recent defence of the UNP status quo mounted in a Sinhala newspaper of some quality with the hypothesis that the UNP’s failure is not due to its leadership but to the intrinsic power of incumbency of Sri Lanka’s Executive Presidency.

This is pathetic sophistry. This explanation fails to account for (i) the decline in the UNP’s votes (unless it is claimed that the intrinsic power of the executive presidency increases by the day like an inflatable balloon) and (ii) the fact that the UNP fared worse at the parliamentary election than it did at the presidential one.

The factor of Sinhala nationalism cannot be wheeled out as an excuse without damaging the Wickremesinghe case. The Sinhalese thanked the President for securing victory in war by voting handsomely for him at the January 2010 presidential election. That should have been the zenith of Rajapaksa hegemony and the nadir of the UNP’s loss.

However, in a striking anomaly, that wasn’t the case. The understandable and justifiable popularity of President Rajapaksa did not fetch him a vote at his own re-election which would enable him to enjoy two thirds support. However, it was at the parliamentary election that followed, that the UPFA – which had been in office was many years longer than President Rajapaksa, was able to arrive at striking distance of the two thirds majority.

The conclusion is inevitable that while the plenitude of presidential power remained a constant, the variable was the leadership of the opposition. When the opposition contested under leadership that was not that of Ranil, it fared significantly better. When Ranil reassumed his leading role, the vote dropped sharply at the parliamentary election.

It is that performance that has given the incumbent the numbers necessary to attempt a two thirds majority. Dismal as it was, and historic in its own way, the UNP’s 29.34% vote under Ranil, is no anomaly but in keeping with the long range trend of decline in the UNP vote.

Today there is a drawn game in UNP affairs. The leadership remains unchanged but the party is to have a new constitution which will enshrine the reform package, which includes a de-facto ‘electoral college’ and elective principle which kicks in, when a consensus cannot be reached for the key posts.

The inadequacy of the compromise will soon be evident. Without a change in the leadership and a de-Ranilisation of the party, it will obtain less than it did at the parliamentary election, scoring probably in the low-mid 20s.

The replacement of the leadership following such an outcome could conceivably revive the UNP but this is unlikely since electoral and constitutional change will be then upon us, and the hegemony of the UPFA and the ‘subalternity’ or marginality of the UNP will be codified, rendered structural.

Today’s UNP has proved itself incapable of a sufficiency of positive change and therefore incapable of effecting constructive change in the country. It is revealing itself to be far more the party of a sclerotic Colombo Establishment which is itself incapable of countervailing a vigorous, energetic young ‘regime’, with a historic military victory under its belt.

The entrenched Old Guard of the UNP, like the proverbial dog in the manger, is neither capable of positive change nor of making way for the younger leaders who can. Once again, the UNP is far more a party of the Colombo elite than of the people, urban and rural.

If the process of leadership change remains deadlocked, the UNP will decay at its centre and disintegrate at its base. If it continues to show itself as a party in irreversible decay and decline, the centre of gravity of dissent, opposition and alternatives will shift to someone who has demonstrated the guts to survive. Freud warned of the return of the repressed.

Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If the UNP is incapable of internal ‘regime change’, that which has been repressed will return, with considerable consequences for the country including a much rougher political endgame. As Ho Chi Minh said in a poem penned while a political prisoner: “when the prison doors open/the real dragon will fly out.”

Douglas Devananda wants Madras High Court to set aside "wanted" proclamation against him

CHENNAI: Sri Lankan Minister Anandan alias Douglas Devananda has moved the Madras High Court seeking to set aside an order of 1994 declaring him as a ‘proclaimed offender' in a Chennai murder case.

In his petition, Mr.Devananda (55) said the alleged offence took place on November 1, 1986 at Choolaimedu here.

The allegation was that he and the other accused, who were also Sri Lankan Tamils, had a quarrel with the local people on Deepavali day and one individual, Thirunavukkarasu was killed when he was fired at. Charges were framed on January 30, 1987 by XVII Metropolitan Magistrate.

Subsequently, the case was committed to IV Additional Sessions Court. The accused were arrested and enlarged on bail.

They were absent before the trial court. Hence, they were treated as absconding accused and declared proclaimed offenders and an order to this effect was passed on June 30, 1994.

He said the trial court failed to see that there was an agreement between Sri Lanka and India dated July 29, 1987. Prior to that, Sri Lankan Tamils, especially those belonging to various Tamil organisations residing in India, were expatriated to Sri Lanka to arrive at a peace agreement between the two countries.

The petitioner was one such person. After he was enlarged on bail, he was expatriated to Sri Lanka for which he had no records. Therefore, he genuinely believed that the case against him had been dropped. He had no knowledge of the case after the 1987 agreement and after his expatriation to the island nation.

The trial court failed to see that the Aminjikarai police Inspector's report that the petitioner along with the other accused were absconding and concealing themselves was baseless. There was no place of residence in India for the petitioner after his expatriation. Therefore, on the basis of the report, no proclamation order could be passed.

‘No publication made'

The order of the trial court asked the accused to appear before the court or before the Aminjikarai Inspector on or before August 28, 1994 and that the proclamation should be published in one Tamil daily newspaper and an English newspaper as per the Cr.P.C. However, no such publication was made.

Mr.Devananda said he was now a Cabinet Minister in Sri Lanka and was willing to abide by any condition, including that he appear before the trial court and face trial. Therefore, the proclamation order should be set aside.

Justice C.T.Selvam before whom the matter came up on Friday, adjourned the matter to August 16.

COURTESY:THE HINDU

Sinhala nationalist mind set seems incapable of comprehending what Tamils are articulating

Revisiting Jaffna

BY Dushy Ranetunge

Jaffna remains one of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful cities with the lagoons, the long roads across the sea connecting its many islands, stunning beaches, the calm lagoon like sea, many beautiful Hindu temples, the many excellent centres of education, the Portuguese fort and its gentle peoples who are to a great extent bilingual and perhaps the most hardworking and productive in Sri Lanka.

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Cavady under Bo tree ~ click on pic for larger image

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Desecration of Kantharodai stupa's cleaned

The bazaar remains open into the late evening and large numbers of bicycles clog the streets as its peoples go about their business. At the commencement of hostilities Jaffna was Sri Lanka’s second largest city.

Distances between towns in kilometres marked on street signs are displayed to two decimal places, highlighting the exacting mindset of the Jaffna citizen.

In addition Jaffna has some of the best food in the region. Their Jaffna crab curry puts Australia’s mud crab of Port Douglas and Melbourne to shame.

After clearing the checkpoint north of Omanthai, we witnessed the reconstruction of the old railroad destroyed during the war. The A9 highway from Omanthai until Elephant Pass is dominated by predominantly Sinhalese soldiers, who even operate the small restaurants by the roadside. This military presence seems overwhelming and stifling.

The check point north of Omanthai, the long distance from Omanthai to Elephant pass, the different culture, language, religion and cuisine at the other end in the Jaffna peninsula gave the perception of visiting a different country. This was felt by everyone in the three SUV’s who made up a party of 12 who were all Sinhalese.

They also without exception viewed the many roadside bunkers in the Jaffna Peninsula and soldiers guarding most junctions as creating a perception of an army of occupation.

The politeness, general attitude and professionalism of the predominantly Sinhalese soldiers manning bunkers and checkpoints were impressive. But however efficient, friendly and helpful they are, a predominantly Sinhalese force manning bunkers and standing at every street corner in Jaffna will be viewed with hostility by the Tamil population similar to how a Sinhalese population would perceive a Tamil army setting up bunkers and standing in every street corner in Hambanthota, Galle or Matara.

The soldiers themselves told us on several occasions that some in the local population look at them with a “vapara” eye.

To the Sinhalese visitor or soldier, the average Jaffna Tamil would say that everything is fine and that they are happy and want nothing more than peace, as repeated by President Mahinda Rajapakse when pressed on a political resolution.

But scratch the surface and once they feel that they can trust you, a different perception could be unearthed, often repeated by India and the Western democracies. An elderly Jaffna Tamil man who owns a petrol station on KKS road told this reporter last Monday, that Tamils want equality as articulated by Chelvanayagam. When I inquired if they will be happy with provincial councils, he said that they don’t work.

Our visit to Jaffna exposed and confirmed that all the conditions and discontent that led to the Tamil rebellion are still present today. The only ingredient that is lacking is the combustion of anti-Tamil riots such as in 1956, 1958, 1977, 1981, and 1983.

The Sinhala nationalist mind set seems incapable of comprehending what the Tamils are articulating.

The Tamils object to the “Sinhalisation” of Tamil areas. The Sinhalese nationalists say that if Tamils can live in Wellawatta, Sinhalese should be settled in the North and East.

The Sinhalese nationalist mind fails to comprehend the subtle difference between a Tamil deciding to live in Wellawatta and the state settling Sinhalese and building Buddhist temples in Tamil areas. One is a demonstration of citizen’s right to live anywhere in the republic and the other can be interpreted as the dominant tribe having seized control of the republic, abusing the republics resources for the benefit and perpetuation of the hegemony of the dominant tribe.

For example, in order to quell the southern JVP rebellion of 1971 and 1989, would the state have settled Tamils and Muslims in Galle and Matara and help build mosques and Hindu kovils in Galle and Matara to subdue the rebellious Sinhalese, to the same extent that they are doing in the North and East?

We visited Nagadipa in Nainathivu, Casuarina Beach in Karainagar (Karaithivu), Nalour Kovil, the Nilavarai deep black bottomless well in Nawathkiri, the ancient Buddhist ruins of Kantharodai, Point Pedro, KKS, Velvettithurai, Keerimalai beach and Kovil, Elephant Pass, Killinochchi, Mullaithivu, Iranamadu Tank, LTTE airfield, Kokillai, and Welioya.

The Nalour Kandasamy Kovil, one of the largest and venerated Hindu Kovil’s in the North was constructed by Chempaha Perumal known to the Sinhalese as Sapumal Kumaraya. His name is repeated daily in the Kattiyam as “Sri Sangabo Buvanekabahu”. The artwork in this temple reflects southern influence.

We visited the war memorials in Kilinochchi and Elephant Pass, and noticed the mention of Gothabaya Rajapakse and Mahinda Rajapakse in the memorial plaque. Soldiers were unhappy that there is no mention of General Sarath Fonseka on these two memorials. Some soldiers told us that Sinhalese visitors from the South had also commented on this point.

Irrespective of Fonseka’s Political shortcomings, the acknowledgement of his contribution to the war effort is common decency and the attempt to erase his name reflects negatively on the Rajapakse’s integrity.

There are large numbers of Sinhalese visiting the North at present and this is having its impact on the local population. Young Sinhalese male visitors are harassing females with various unwarranted and disrespectful comments. We heard these in Jaffna town as well as at Casuarina beach, which is littered with plastic bottles and bags. We saw one group standing around in the shallow sea with a bottle of liquor in the centre and eating processed crisps like food from a plastic wrapper which was allowed to float away after they had finished consuming it.

The Kantarodai ancient Buddhist remains, which was not desecrated by the LTTE, and which I had visited on several occasions previously during and before the conflict, has been desecrated by recent Sinhalese visitors who had written their phone numbers and names on the ancient stupas. This has now been cleaned, but the marks are still visible. During my previous visits, I walked freely around the many stupas at Kantharodai, but now its been cordoned off and the soldiers guarding it stated that the new restrictions are in place because the site had been desecrated by recent visitors from the south.

We visited the home of a poor Jaffna Tamil shopkeeper who treated us with vadai, bananas and tea. Their generosity and friendliness was no different to what we had experienced in the South.

One of the first things we saw on Sunday as we drove into Jaffna was Cavady dancing where men had pierced the middle of their back with hooks. Everyone in the vehicles were excited with the spectacle, but failed to notice something significant in the setting in which the religious ritual was taking place.

It was under an ancient Bo-tree. Jaffna has many Bo Trees and many of them have a little shrine built at the base of the tree, normally a shrine for Ganesha.

Generations of Sri Lankans have grown up being conditioned that the Sinhalese were the sons of the soil and that the Tamils were South Indian invaders who had invaded much later dislodging the Sinhalese in the North and occupying their lands. Similar to the Serbian view of Kosovo, the Sinhalese regard the North as Sinhala Buddhist land over-run by South Indian Invaders.

This view has more recently been dismissed by historians, as there is no evidence of large scale population displacement from the North.

In areas where the Sinhalese were displaced such as in the North Central Province, place names have been replaced by new Tamil names, but in Jaffna there are to the present day over a thousand “Sinhalese” place names, which survive in a Tamil garb, such as Aliyawala(i), kodigama(m), Weligama(m) etc.

This indicates that rather than wholesale displacement of the population, there has been a gradual Tamilisation. Recent DNA testing has also indicated that Sri Lankan Tamils are genetically closer to the Sinhalese than they are to South Indian Tamils.

All this and other evidence has led historians to reject the old theories and advocate that what has taken place in Jaffna is language and cultural replacement.

The same way that Sri Lankans in Colombo and the Western provinces have undergone language and cultural replacement by acquiring the English language, dress, cultural behaviour and Christianity in some instance, because of their contact with Western colonialism from 1505 onwards, Sri Lankans in the North have undergone language and cultural replacement by acquiring the Tamil language, dress, Hinduism and cultural behaviour because of their contact with South Indian colonialism from 992AD onwards.

The place names, the numerous Bo-Trees and ancient Buddhist remains indicate that the people of Jaffna were Buddhists from about 400BC till approximately 992AD, but despite them acquiring the Tamil language, culture and Hinduism, even today, they continue to perform some of their religious rituals under Bo-trees as they did so many generations ago.

August 13, 2010

Apart from punishing Sarath Fonseka, Rajapakses want to humilate him to the maximum

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill….” - George Orwell (Nineteen Eighty-four)

Some months ago, Defence Secretary and Presidential sibling Gotabhaya Rajapakse threatened to send the former Army Commander, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, to the gallows.

When BBC’s Stephen Sackur asked about the possibility of Gen. Fonseka testifying about possible war crimes, Mr. Rajapakse went into what can only be termed a fit of apoplexy: “He can’t do that. He was the commander. That’s a treason. We will hang him if he do that….. How can he betray the country? He is a liar, liar, liar” (Hard Talk - BBC). The verdict of the first military tribunal indicates that this is no idle ranting. The totally disproportionate, vindictively excessive sentence of the tribunal is a symbol of Rajapakse hatred and an omen of things to come.

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the innermost circles of hell are reserved for those who commit the most heinous crime and this is where the Rajapakses would send General Fonseka to, because according to their worldview, going against the Ruling Family is the ultimate crime. How else can the maliciously vengeful decision to strip Gen. Sarath Fonseka of his rank and honours and dishonourably discharge him be explained?

A guilty verdict was never in doubt. What shocks is the sheer vindictiveness of the sentence given. After all, the first military tribunal convicted Gen. Fonseka of meddling in politics while in uniform, hardly an unusual occurrence in Sri Lanka (for instance, during the last Presidential election, several top ranking army officers appeared on state TV, in uniform, defending the government and Candidate Mahinda Rajapakse, while other top officers instructed soldiers to vote for the ruling party candidate). Army officers meddling in politics is not a healthy sign; but if all army officers who meddle in politics are dishonourably discharged, the top and the middle rungs of the Lankan Army would become somewhat.

Moreover, there is not even a shadow of proportionality between the charge – meddling in politics - and the sentence – dishonourable discharge and the stripping of rank and honours. Obviously the Rajapakses not only want to punish their erstwhile ally but also to humiliate him to the maximum.

Perpetrators of human rights violations often efface their crimes by turning their victims into un-persons, ‘Untermenschens’ who do not really count as ‘human’ like the ‘rest of us’. Once this process of de-humanisation is complete it is easy to render invisible even the most heinous of crimes against the target group or individual. In the Orwellian dystopia, those guilty of ‘Thoughtcrime’ were vaporized: “Your name was removed from the registers, every record of every thing you had ever done was wiped out, your one-time existence was denied and then forgotten. You were abolished, annihilated…” (Nineteen Eighty-four). When non-persons disappear into jails or are snuffed out on gallows, who would notice?

Is the government implementing a similar tactic vis-à-vis Gen. Fonseka? Is his sentence (dishonourable discharge and the stripping of rank and honours) aimed at transforming him from a military ‘hero’ into a civilian non-hero in the public mind, so that even hanging him can be rendered less unpalatable to the Sinhala South? Is this one of those Rajapakse sleights of hand, so that when the former Army Commander meets his final fate (already decided on by his enemies), he will do so not as General Sarath Fonseka but as Mr. Sarath Fonseka?

Is this transformation of Gen. Fonseka into Mr. Fonseka an attempt to break the link between the man and the army he once commanded? Is this vengeful sentence aimed at habituating the army to regard its former commander as an outsider, than as ‘one of us’? Is the regime using this tactic to inculcate within the army a sense of indifference towards Gen. Fonseka’s ultimate fate? Is the stage being set, so that even if Gen. Fonseka is sent to the gallows as a traitor by some other military tribunals, he will die not as the former Army Commander cum ‘war hero’ but as a disgraced civilian?

Sarath Fonseka was a member of the Triumvirate which won the war against the LTTE. That is an indisputable, unchangeable truth. Or is it? Will the government be able to wipe out this truth by turning Gen. Fonseka’s past on its head? In the Orwellian dystopia, the aim is not just to control the deeds and the thoughts of the populace but also their memory: “The Party said that Oceania has never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness…. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’…. It was quite simple.

All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ‘Reality control’, they called it” (ibid). Is the Family engaged in a similar exercise of changing history via effacing public memories? After all, if Sarath Fonseka is no longer a former army officer, if he is just a civilian, could he have played any role in defeating the LTTE? Consequently is there any reason mention him in any history of the Eelam War? Vellupillai Pirapaharan used ‘Reality control’ when he arrested, tortured and murdered his one time deputy, Mahattaya. Are the Rajapakses emulating the Tiger leader in this matter as they have done in so many others?

‘Reality control’ works only in a society that is willing to adjust its collective memory according to the needs of the rulers. The North, nursing its physical and psychological in silence, is unlike to forget the key role Gen. Fonseka played in the Fourth Eelam War. Will the South remember or forget? Will the Southern society accept whatever ‘anti-truths’ the regime dishes out, in a collective exercise of ‘consciously inducing unconscious’?

Will the Sinhala supremacists, who once hailed Sarath Fonseka as a hero, remember the past, now that according to the Rajapakse worldview he is not a hero and could not have been, since he is rank-less and honour-less? Will the absolute majority of Sinhalese who danced on the streets and ate kiribath to celebrate the victory over the Tigers, spare a thought for their former idol or will he become as much of a non-person as the dead, injured and displaced Tamil civilians? Will the Maha Sangha who once venerated Sarath Fonseka condone this disproportionate and thus unjust sentence with their silence, as they condone injustice done to the minorities?

It is one thing not to vote for Sarath Fonseka. I did not. But it is quite another thing to be silent when a man is being persecuted for political reasons. I do not support Gen. Fonseka but I do not need to like his ideas and actions in order to oppose the injustice being done to him. Had Gen. Fonseka remained loyal to the Rajapakse brothers, none of the charges which are being levelled against him now would have seen the light of day. He could have meddled in politics to his heart’s content; he could have abused his powers as army commander in favour of or in detriment to anyone; he could have broken any law of the land with total impunity.

All that was required of him was to remain subservient to the Rajapakses, and obedient to all their decisions. Had he gone along with the Rajapakse project of establishing dynastic rule, post-war, on the strength of defeating the Tiger, he would still be a free man and a honoured ‘war hero’. His real crime was not the many charges which are being levelled against him in courts of law and before military tribunals. He fell because he ceased to obey the Rajapakses. And according to the Rajapakse ethos, that is the greatest crime of all, the one most impossible to forgive or forget.

The sentencing of Sarath Fonseka by the first military tribunal concerns all of us not only because it is a travesty of justice but also because it presages the future. Sarath Fonseka is no ordinary man; he was the Army Commander who helped defeat the Tigers. If that man can be denied his own past, if he can be transformed from patriot to anti-patriot, if he can be arrested, tried and convicted in a manner which violates all norms of justice and fair-play, simply because he opposed the Rajapakses, what cannot happen to other less exalted citizens when they fail the test of unquestioning obedience to the Ruling Family?

With the persecution of Sarath Fonseka, a dangerous precedent has been created which can – and will - be used against real or imaginary opponents of the Rajapakses. If the regime is allowed to get away with this crime, it will exponentially increase the threat to the life and liberty of all Rajapakse opponents, past, present or future.

A few years ago Gotabhaya Rajapakse was an average Asian American, working as a manager of a 7-11 Store in Los Angelis and subsequently as a systems analyst at the Loyola Law School. Today he is the second most powerful man in Sri Lanka, after President Mahinda Rajapakse, his brother. This great leap, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, happened thanks to the Rajapakse presidency and is being sustained by that solely.

Many other family members made similar great leaps, from obscurity to fame and fortune. For the Rajapakse tribe, the Rajapakse Presidency has meant a collective transformation from nobodies into somebodies, very important somebodies. For almost all of them, this Cinderella type changeover would not have been possible without the Rajapakse Presidency and their continued occupation of the heights depends completely on the perpetuation of Rajapakse Rule.

The Rajapakses, having gained a world have a world to lose. That is why they react with such ‘fear and vindictiveness’ to anyone they consider to be a threat to their Familial Rule and Dynastic Project. The Rajapakses, like all political parvenus, are uncertain about their grip on power and thus very jealous of it. This sense of being hemmed in by real or potential enemies and detractors, of being threatened by any outsider is abnormally high in their case because of the narrow base endemic to Familial Rule.

The Rajapakses have no natural ideology to justify and no inherent support base to buttress their rule. That is why they embraced Sinhala supremacism and presented themselves as the creators and protectors of a Sinhala-First Sri Lanka. Gen. Fonseka is not just a military man and a ‘war hero’; he is also a strident Sinhala supremacist, and as such a contender for the same ideology and the same base. This is one more reason why the Rajapakses are reacting with such venomous anger towards his political ambitions.

The Rajapakses began by targeting those who opposed its excesses, especially in the conduct of the Fourth Eelam War. Like the Tigers, they too deemed criticism of certain individuals and entities unacceptable, equating such criticism with anti-patriotism. Until just over a year ago, Sarath Fonseka was an enthusiastic votary of Rajapakse governance. He was an architect of the myth of humanitarian operation with zero-civilian casualties. He was blasé about human rights violations and injudicious towards minorities and Southern dissidents. And within the army, his conduct was almost as virulently intolerant as the Rajapakses are within the country.

Today he is at the receiving end of those Rajapakse practices which he approved of and implemented not so long ago. Gen. Fonseka’s story is a morality tale: a citizen cannot tolerate injustice, condone impunity and practice abuse, without sowing the seeds of his own downfall. Irrespective of whether we agree with Sarath Fonseka or not, we cannot remain silent in his moment of peril, without imperilling ourselves.

KP speaks out ~ 2 – An interview with the former LTTE chief

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

(continued from last week)

Question: So how did the return occur? How and why did you re-join the movement?What was your role during the last days of the war?

Answer: That’s another long story.

I was now out of the movement and leading a quiet life in Thailand with my family.I had no idea of returning to the movement though my wife felt that I would always go back if asked by Prabhakaran himself. [click here to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

August 12, 2010

Fate of ship steered by two forces – Ottawa and Tamil diaspora

by Anthony Reinhart

Almost as soon as the Sun Sea set sail, two Canadas scrambled to respond – and how they get along could decide the fate of hundreds of asylum seekers, present and future.

There was Official Canada – immigration agents, the Navy, politicians – who weighed what to do about the ship that left Thailand in May with up to 500 Sri Lankan Tamils aboard.

And there was Tamil Canada, an obscure but robust public-within-a-public with its own elected officials, social agencies, media and financial outlets – a parallel society built over decades into the largest Tamil diaspora in the Western world.

As Canadian officials kept watch on the British Columbia coast amid fears the defeated Tamil Tigers have chosen this country to revive their separatist cause, Tamil Canada dispatched refugee lawyers and leaders from Toronto, its de facto capital, to handle refugee claims and steer the media to the humanitarian angle.

Tamil Canadians have even enlisted the new Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam, elected in April to push from outside for a sovereign Tamil state in Sri Lanka. The TGTE’s two B.C. members have been organizing medical and legal help, children’s aid, counselling, clergy and charitable support, and have consulted Sikh and Chinese immigrant groups for expertise.

As these parallel publics jockey to direct an undeniable human drama, observers worry Official Canada will exploit fears of terrorism to justify a draconian rewrite of refugee policy. Even worse, they fear it will miss the boat on why Tamil Canada came to be in the first place: Sri Lanka’s failure to reconcile with its largest minority.

“The numbers of Tamils leaving Sri Lanka over the last 25 years have ebbed and flowed directly in relation to the human-rights circumstances in the country,” said Sharryn Aiken, associate dean of law at Queen’s University in Kingston and an expert in refugee issues. “When there was a hope for peace, people didn’t leave in the numbers we see right now.”

It’s been more than a year since the Sri Lankan government defeated the Tigers and brought a decisive end to 26 bloody years of civil war. But amid what passes for peace, reports of Tamil mistreatment continue, and the government, despite claims to social democratic principles, has repeatedly rebuffed calls for an independent probe of war crimes alleged on both sides during the conflict.

Instead, Sri Lanka has framed its victory over the Tigers in the post-9/11 vernacular – as a key win in the global war on terror, which brought peace and liberated Tamils, in Sri Lanka and abroad, from the Tigers’ terrorist clutches. By that reckoning, Tamils who still see the need to board a boat and flee, or who lob criticisms from abroad, are equated with terrorists or sympathizers.

As the Sun Sea drifted closer to shore, where the Tigers were banned as a terrorist group by the Conservative government four years ago, there were signs this message was getting some traction in Official Canada.

On Thursday, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said, “While our government believes in offering protection to genuine refugees, it is imperative that we prevent supporters and members of a criminal or terrorist organization from abusing Canada’s refugee system.”

That system, Ms. Aiken said, is already equipped to examine claims and reject them if a person is unsuitable, and “if that boat was used by the Tigers, Canada will figure that out.” Better to focus, she said, on what would push someone to pay a smuggler $45,000 (U.S.) to spend three months at sea for an uncertain shot at a refugee claim.

“If Sri Lanka was making genuine attempts to address the human-rights problems within its borders, I would agree with the cynics,” she said. “But to the extent that it hasn’t, and there’s ongoing, very serious problems in the country, I think we should hold our cynicism in abeyance for the moment.”

Those problems have been documented by respected independent observers, including the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based conflict-prevention body led by retired Canadian jurist Louise Arbour; the United Nations; Human Rights Watch; and most recently by The Elders, a 12-member group of ex-leaders including Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter.

“There has been a deafening global silence in response to Sri Lanka’s actions, especially from its most influential friends,” Mr. Annan said in the group’s Aug. 3 statement. “The international community cannot be selective in its approach to upholding the rule of law and respect for human rights.”

A chronic problem for Tamil Canada is the frequent conflation of its members, most of whom support some form of Tamil independence in Sri Lanka, with the blunt and bloody methods of the Tigers. The now-defeated paramilitary juggernaut took up the separatist cause by force, coerced support from Tamils and even killed moderates who advocated peaceful means.

Fixating on suspicions of Tiger connections to the ship’s passengers, and to the Canadian Tamils waiting to greet them, misses the point that “the Tigers were defeated,” Ms. Aiken said. “They exist, but they’re marginalized, splintered and there have been a whole bunch of new groups emerging,” none of whom have called for a return to armed struggle – yet.

Whether they do, or whether the Tigers die a natural death, depends less on Canada turning back the boats and more on its ability, along with other countries, to press Sri Lanka to address its problems, Ms. Aiken said.

If that happens, “there’s every reason to hope that the Tigers will indeed have bitten the dust,” she said. If not, she predicts rough seas ahead.

“A future generation of militants will be spawned,” Ms. Aiken said, “radicalized by the experience of seeing the international community sit back and do nothing.” - courtesy: The Globe and Mail -

Peace and stability enable more vigorous contribution by China to Sri Lanka's economy - Vice-Premier of China

Source: Ministry of External Affairs, Sri Lanka

China welcomes the current situation in Sri Lanka, characterized by durable peace and stability, and looks forward to intensifying its initiatives to offer Sri Lanka every assistance in developing its economy and strengthening its infrastructure, Mr. Li Keqiang, Vice-Premier of China, told Prof. G.L. Peiris, Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs, in Beijing on Wednesday.

Vice-Premier Li Keqiang recalled the warm and mutual understanding pervading the relationship between the two countries during the last 53 years, and appreciated in particular Sri Lanka’s consistent advocacy of the “One-China Policy” and its strong endorsement of China’s stand on Taiwan and Tibet.

China’s Vice-Premier referred to the dynamic leadership which Sri Lanka was giving the SAARC nations and expressed China’s resolve to develop further her warm relations with the countries of South Asia.

Vice-Premier Li Keqiang extended a cordial invitation to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to attend the Closing Ceremony of Expo 2010 in Shanghai in October, and told Minister Peiris that the Government of China looks forward to the visit of President Rajapaksa.

Prof. Peiris thanked Vice-Premier Li cordially for this invitation and for the unwavering support which China extended to Sri Lanka during the most challenging period of her recent history, both domestically and in all international fora. He noted with appreciation China’s massive contribution to the development and expansion of infrastructure in Sri Lanka, amounting to a portfolio of approximately 3 billion U.S. dollars in total, and cited as examples the Colombo – Katunayake Express Highway, the Hambantota Port and Bunkering Project, the Mattala International Airport, the Colombo – Matara Highway, the Norochcholai Power Project, the Matara – Kataragama Railway, and the Centre for the Performing Arts in Colombo.

Prof. Peiris told Vice-Premier Li that, within 4 days from the date of their meeting in Beijing, water will be let into the Hambantota Port and that the first ship will call at the Hambantota Port on 19th November, soon after President Mahinda Rajapaksa takes his oaths for the second time as Executive President of Sri Lanka after a resounding victory at the Presidential election.

Vice-Premier Li responded that, having extended her support out of a deep sense of friendship and goodwill, China derives great satisfaction from these developments, crucial for Sri Lanka’s wellbeing. He remarked that, with the attainment of peace, Sri Lanka is firmly poised for rapid progress in respect of investment and trade, and that China’s support is assured for Sri Lanka’s efforts in these fields at a decisive time in her history.

Prof. Peiris appreciated China’s support in enabling Sri Lanka to derive the fullest benefit from the unique opportunities now available in Sri Lanka after the eradication of terrorism. In response to his remark that trade between the two countries, now approaching the threshold of 1.7 billion U.S. dollars, had almost doubled during the last year, Vice-Premier Li expressed confidence that a further increase in the volume of trade will take place shortly because of the current favourable conditions. Prof. Peiris, commenting on airline connectivity, said that Sri Lankan Airlines operates 11 flights weekly to China at present – 4 to Shanghai, 4 to Hong Kong, and 3 to Beijing – and that further expansion is contemplated to serve the growing demand from tourists.

Vice-Premier Li told Prof. Peiris that he looks upon the relationship between Sri Lanka and China as a model of cooperation between countries with different political systems.

Mr. Yang Jiechi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of China, Mr. Karunatilaka Amunugama, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in China and Madam Yang Xiuping, China’s Ambassador in Sri Lanka, accompanied by other officials, attended the meeting.

Prof. Peiris will hold detailed discussions with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi of China, on whose invitation the Sri Lankan Minister of External Affairs is on an official visit to China. He will address an intellectual forum at the China Institute of International Studies, as well as an investment forum at the Shangri-La Kerry Centre for leading entrepreneurs of China, co-hosted by the Embassy of Sri Lanka and the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machinery and Electronics.

NGOs question tighter access to Sri Lanka's north

by IRIN News

For years, the Tamil Tigers restricted access to the northern areas of Sri Lanka under their control, but after the decades-long civil war ended a year ago, the government relaxed security checkpoints and most NGOs were given access to the war-affected population in the north.

IRIN812N.jpg

NGOs can play a key role in recovery efforts in the north

However, in the past month, the government has again tightened regulations, hindering access to people in need.

"Even we can't understand the situation - it is so unnecessarily complicated and confusing," said Vinya Ariyaratne, executive director of the Sarvodaya Movement, Sri Lanka's largest NGO. "This is retarding the recovery process significantly."

In mid-July, the government's NGO Secretariat was transferred from the civilian Ministry of Social Services to the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Since then, several NGOs have been denied access to the region, pending approval from the MoD.

Lakshman Hulugalle, director-general of the NGO Secretariat, said the government was merely enforcing existing regulations.

"We only want to find out why they are going and where they are going. In recent months, we have not introduced any new laws," Hulugalle told IRIN by phone from Colombo. Hulugalle is also director-general of the government's media centre for national security.

"The law that has been there was not enforced earlier," he said, pointing out that previously, anybody could travel north and some had abused that access.

"Sometimes unwanted people have gone in. Now we are asking them to give a proposal, which will be approved by the Presidential Task Force, then we will give permission."

While some aid workers interviewed by IRIN have not had problems with access, others have been stymied in their work.

"In the last week of June 2010, all agencies working in the north were almost overnight denied access to the north pending approval from the Ministry of Defence," an aid worker from an INGO said on condition of anonymity, echoing the views of several colleagues from other agencies.

The new regulations appear to be in flux, said Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council, but he is concerned his agency's work will be affected.

"This can lead to delays and also to the government being able to restrict or change the scope of activities," Perera said.

The debate

There has long been a rocky relationship between the government and NGOs, with some agencies accused of being too critical of the government - or too sympathetic to the separatist Tamil Tigers, who were defeated on 18 May 2009.

Some aid workers see regulations as the norm in a country that had been at war since 1983, and is still concerned about national security and safety.

"This is not anything new... The government is concerned about the security of people involved in humanitarian assistance work in the north, as de-mining is yet to be completed," said Menaca Calyaneratne, a spokeswoman for Save the Children.

Calyaneratne said the government for many years has kept watch on NGO activities, and through the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA), recently requested NGO input on a monitoring system.

"We see this as a positive move, because it clearly demonstrates government willingness to take more of a participatory approach to the development of effective monitoring systems for NGO work," she said.

Others described the regulations as a hassle.

"One of the most difficult challenges is the ad hoc manner in which new regulations and procedures are introduced and the general lack of clarity around the reasons for these issues, the authority in charge or the process required to be followed in adherence to these new rules," said the INGO worker who spoke to IRIN on condition of anonymity.

Harsha Kumara Navaratne, chairman of the Sewalanka Foundation, said that Basil Rajapaksa, Minister for Economic Development and brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, recently promised some leading NGOs that "he will sort out all of these issues [regarding restricted access] as soon as possible. He will also be looking at solutions to the visa and work permit issues."

Nonetheless, NGOs may have to get used to these new rules.

"Similar changes have all been followed by a period of complaints from the INGO community - because any change inevitably interferes with their operations for a short period and creates uncertainty - until they get used to the new system and it is regularized," said Simon Harris, a visiting research fellow at the Boston-based Feinstein International Centre who worked more than 15 years in the NGO sector in Sri Lanka.

Building trust

Some say the government is particularly concerned about criticism and negative media coverage. It blames a few NGOs, but has lumped all humanitarian agencies together.

"Since October 2009 we have fought to restore, maintain the credibility and integrity of the sector by communicating robustly our intentions and through continuous dialogue," said Jeevan Thiagarajah, executive director of CHA.

"INGOs and local partnerships need to show their intent, and seek approval. The bottom line is - no group of persons in need will be denied access to assistance for their recovery."

Sewalanka and CHA have requested a meeting between NGOs, the minister and other senior government officials.

"The country is passing through a very difficult period, so security concerns are still seen as a priority," Navaratne said. "The best way to sort out these issues is to continue this critical dialogue with the government."

Meanwhile, people are returning to dire conditions in an area that has been in the midst of conflict for nearly 30 years.

"As their homes are destroyed, they are living in temporary shacks. They do not have proper toilets or privacy. They depend for their food on rations which are made available by foreign donors for the most part," said Perera of the National Peace Council.

"The war-affected people have [few] resources or ability to restore normality to their lives, and the government does not appear to have either the resources or political will to make a change."

U.S. Members of Congress have made a valiant push towards reconciliation in Sri Lanka - Tamil spokesman

58 US Legislators Call on Secretary Clinton to Support War Crimes Probe in Sri Lanka

Press Release by Tamil American Peace Initiative

Fifty-eight U.S. Members of Congress have signed a letter urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to call for international investigations into alleged war crimes committed during Sri Lanka’s civil war. The Tamil American Peace Initiative (TAPI) has long supported such a probe. TAPI commends the work of the letter’s co-sponsors, Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Jim McGovern (D-MA), and applauds all of the cosigners for supporting an international war crimes probe.

“We are deeply grateful that the 58 lawmakers made such a strong push for international investigations into war crimes in Sri Lanka,” said TAPI spokesperson Dr. Karunyan Arulanantham. “These Members of Congress are leading the international effort to help build the lasting peace and meaningful reconciliation that Sri Lanka so desperately needs.”

Without transparency or creditability, the Sri Lankan Government's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission has failed to live up to the standards set out by US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. Because of this, international organizations such as Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, and Amnesty International have all called for international investigations into alleged abuses committed during the conflict in Sri Lanka. Purported crimes include the intentional bombings of civilians, humanitarian organizations, and hospitals; extrajudicial killings; the internment and abuse of unarmed civilians and former combatants; the killing of captives or combatants seeking to surrender; and individual disappearances.

According to their letter, the 58 Congressmen believe that these allegations must be fully investigated. The signatories also expressed doubt about the efficacy of the Sri Lankan Government’s plan to investigate human rights abuses, citing the failed efforts of nine past commissions. The letter maintains that without the verification of an international mechanism conducting an independent investigation, “neither accountability nor trust can be achieved, which are crucially important for any successful reconciliation.”

“These Members have made a valiant push towards reconciliation in Sri Lanka,” said Dr. Arulanantham. “We hope that Secretary Clinton takes heed of the letter and puts her weight behind a robust international investigation.”

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.

August 11, 2010

US Report Shows No Progress on Accountability in Sri Lanka - HRW

One Inquiry ‘Ineffective,’ a Second Raises Concerns

by HRW

(New York) - A US State Department report released on August 11, 2010, shows that Sri Lanka has not yet conducted an effective investigation into laws-of-war violations by government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the final months of the war that ended in May 2009, Human Rights Watch said today.

report states that one post-war government inquiry was "ineffective" and that a second inquiry, just under way, raises concerns about its mandate and composition.

"The US State Department report shows that nearly 15 months after the war, the Sri Lankan government has accomplished nothing for the victims of war crimes," said James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch. "Real progress on justice demands an international investigation."

The 18-page State Department report, mandated by the 2010 Appropriations Act and prepared by the Office of War Crimes Issues, examines two ad hoc bodies that the Sri Lankan government established after the 26-year armed conflict ended in 2009.

The State Department report concludes that the "Group of Eminent Persons," a committee created to examine more than 300 alleged laws-of-war violations detailed in an October 2009 US State Department report, was "ineffective" and "did not produce any discernible results."

The report states: "The Department of State is not aware of any findings or reports of the Group. The Group did not appear to investigate allegations or to make any recommendations pursuant to its mandate." The Group of Eminent Persons missed several deadlines for its report, the last in July, and now has been subsumed into the new commission.

The State Department report expresses concerns about the mandate and composition of the second panel, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which has just started its work. The report notes that "the terms of reference are ambiguous as to what types of harms they cover and whether the investigation is linked to violations of international law."

The report also says that there are "questions concerning the independence and impartiality of some members of the commission," including the chairman, C.R. De Silva. It noted that De Silva's "relationship to the government" and "his involvement in the failure" of a previous commission "could compromise the independence and impartiality" of the commission.

The report also concludes that several experts commissioned by the government to examine a video of alleged extrajudicial executions by army soldiers were government and army experts and that such an inquiry "should have been undertaken by individuals without an interest in the outcome of the forensic analysis."

The report notes "the history of failings of a series of past [Commissions of Inquiry] established in Sri Lanka." Sri Lanka has a long history of establishing ad hoc inquiries 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 more than 10 such commissions, none of which have produced any significant results.

On June 22, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed a three-person Panel of Experts to advise him on next steps on accountability in Sri Lanka. The US and other governments have supported the panel, which follows up on the commitment to investigate abuses made by the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to Ban in May 2009. Sri Lankan officials have called the panel "an unwarranted and unnecessary interference with a sovereign nation." In July, demonstrations against the panel led by a Sri Lankan government minister blocked access to the UN compound in Colombo, prompting Ban to recall the UN's ranking official in Sri Lanka temporarily and to close one of its offices. The Panel of Experts is to present its findings in four months.
"The State Department report shows that countries should be looking toward the UN to see justice done in Sri Lanka," Ross said. "The support of the US and other governments for the UN Panel of Experts and the implementation of its recommendations is crucial."

Full Text: Evaluating the effectiveness of measures to investigate incidents during conflict in Sri Lanka - Office of War Crimes Issues, US State Dept

Report To Congress on Measures Taken by the Government of Sri Lanka and International Bodies To Investigate Incidents During the Recent Conflict in Sri Lanka, and Evaluating the Effectiveness of Such Efforts

Office of War Crimes Issues

Report
August 11, 2010

This report is submitted pursuant to the Joint Explanatory Statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010 (P.L. 111-117), which directed “the Secretary of State to submit, not later than 180 days after enactment of this Act, a report supplementing the Secretary’s October 21, 2009, report on crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka detailing what, if any, measures have been taken by the Government of Sri Lanka and international bodies to investigate such incidents, and evaluating the effectiveness of such efforts.”

I. Background

The October 2009 report to which this Statement refers compiled over 300 reports of incidents alleged to have occurred during the final months of the 25-year armed conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that may constitute violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) or crimes against humanity and related harms.[1] The October 2009 report did not, nor was it intended to, provide a comprehensive portrayal of the conflict. Instead, that report focused on alleged incidents that occurred during a period of especially intensive fighting from January through May 2009.

The categories of reported incidents detailed in the October 2009 report included allegations of forcible recruitment and unlawful use of children in armed conflict; harms to civilians and civilian objects resulting from shelling and other combat activities; killing of captives or combatants seeking to surrender; enforced disappearances; and the denial of food and medical supplies to civilian populations.[2] Pursuant to the Congressional directive, the current report details and assesses the effectiveness of any efforts undertaken by the GSL and international bodies to investigate the aforementioned types of alleged violations of international law and related harms.

II. Executive Summary

•Since the release of the October 2009 report, the principal measures the Government of Sri Lanka has taken to investigate incidents of alleged violations of international law have been the appointment of two commissions, the “Group of Eminent Persons” and the “Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation” (LLRC). The Department of State concludes that the Group of Eminent Persons was ineffective. The LLRC is less than halfway through its six month term (it was established May 14, 2010). Initial actions taken by the Government of Sri Lanka, including aspects of the naming of commissioners and publication of terms of reference detailed in this report, have raised concerns regarding the LLRC’s mandate and its independence. Accordingly, the Department of State will continue to evaluate whether the LLRC is acting in accordance with best practices derived from broad experience as well as utilizing its powers as described in the Special Presidential Commissions of Inquiry Law of 1978.

•A three-person Panel of Experts, which the United Nations has stated is not an investigatory body, was appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on June 22, 2010, to advise him on the implementation of the commitment on human rights accountability made in a Joint Statement issued by Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa and UN Secretary General Ban in May 2009. Following a disruptive protest at the United Nations’ offices in Sri Lanka attributed to a senior Government of Sri Lanka official, the U.S. Government again urged the GSL to take advantage of this resource.

•Both the Government of Sri Lanka and the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions analyzed a video that purported to show Sri Lankan Army soldiers executing two bound and nude Tamil captives. The Government of Sri Lanka concluded that the video was “fake”; the UN Special Rapporteur concluded that there is strong evidence to suggest the video is authentic.

III. Relevant principles for assessing effectiveness

In evaluating the effectiveness of measures taken by the GSL and international bodies[3] to investigate incidents detailed in the previous report submitted to Congress, the Department of State has taken into account several considerations. First, the GSL must abide by its obligations under international law, which can include subjecting to criminal processes individuals credibly alleged to have committed certain serious violations of international law. Pertinent treaties to which Sri Lanka is a party include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), and the 1949 Geneva Conventions, Common Article 3 of which applies to non-international armed conflicts, as well as relevant customary international law obligations, which in the area of international humanitarian law include the principles of distinction and proportionality to protect innocent civilians from harm.

There are a variety of ways in which a government may undertake effective investigations and other accountability processes. While some international law conventions call for criminalization of certain human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law,[4] other routine administrative and special investigative processes, such as commissions of inquiry (CoI), can play an important role in establishing a factual record of events. However, such commissions may not be an adequate substitute for prosecutions.

Although CoIs and other investigative bodies are often implemented at the national level, in some instances governments seek international participation to bring specialized expertise into, and help foster public confidence in, so-called “hybrid” investigations. Fully internationalized processes undertaken without the relevant government’s consent have generally been pursued by the international community only when the State concerned lacks the capacity, political will, or both, to undertake an independent, credible, and effective inquiry itself.

Whether domestic, hybrid, or international, to be credible and effective, investigative processes should operate consistent with best practices derived from extensive experience. Because the principal form of investigative process instituted to date by the GSL is a CoI, the rest of this section focuses on best practices for such commissions, many of which are outlined in a statement by the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, on May 10, 2010.[5] During a press appearance with Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris during his May visit to Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed President Rajapaksa’s establishment of the commission and conveyed U.S. expectations that the commission would follow established best practices as laid out by U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice.

The following discussion, which elaborates on and is consistent with the Rice and Clinton statements, is not intended to present a comprehensive list of criteria for establishing a CoI but rather to highlight several core areas that should be considered in assessing such a process.

1. Independence and Competence—A CoI should be independent, impartial and competent. It should be established in consultation with all communities affected by the subject of its inquiry and be composed of members who do not have, and are not perceived as having, an interest in the outcome of the commission’s work. The commission’s members must have the requisite expertise and competence to carry out the mandated inquiries effectively. For example, if the core allegations to be examined include violations of the laws of war, commissioners should include experts in international humanitarian law. Likewise if sexual and gender-based violence is suspected and it will therefore be important to encourage victims to provide testimony, it may be beneficial to have gender-balanced commission members and/or staff.

2. Adequate Mandate and Authority—A CoI’s mandate should be adequate to empower and direct the commission to evaluate the harms that may have occurred in light of domestic and international law. The mandate should not restrict the commission’s scope in ways that compromise its ability to perform the function for which it was established (for example, by prohibiting it from examining certain categories of individuals or types of alleged violations of international law) and should provide the necessary authority to obtain all information the commission may need to develop its findings, including the power to compel production of documents and witness testimony from State authorities, and to examine confidential information, where appropriate.

3. Witness and CoI Protection—To help ensure that commission members can act independently and that witnesses are able to testify without fear of reprisal, both members and witnesses should enjoy adequate protection and be provided security where necessary. Adequate protection may include holding closed hearings if and when necessary. Adequate protection and security are particularly important when CoIs are established in countries that have recently emerged from conflict or when State military or security services are alleged to be complicit in crimes that the commission will examine. The credibility of a CoI’s inquiry and findings will be determined in part based on the extent to which it is able to obtain relevant testimony from victims and witnesses. To this end, a witness protection program should have adequate financial and personnel resources, with an independent protection division (rather than relying on regular domestic police forces), and should be open to foreign expertise and assistance. Officials who leak information about protected witnesses should be investigated and, if appropriate, subjected to criminal proceedings.

4. Adequate Resources—CoIs should receive adequate (1) resources, including sufficient and transparent funding; (2) logistical support, including transportation, office space and office equipment; and (3) human support, including personnel with the necessary technical expertise, to carry out their work. Resource levels for a commission are often considered an indicator of the real political will of a government to address the matter that the commission was established to examine.

5. Public Report—A CoI should issue a public and timely report of its findings, including its recommendations. Although some information provided to a CoI may require confidentiality, this should not prevent the commission from issuing as complete a public version of its findings and recommendations as possible.

6. Government Response—Finally, a key indicator of a CoI’s effectiveness is whether the government responds in a timely and transparent fashion to its recommendations and undertakes prosecutions and takes other accountability measures as appropriate.

IV. Measures Taken by the GSL

Since the October 21, 2009 release of the Department of State’s “Report to Congress on Incidents during the Recent Conflict in Sri Lanka,” the principal measures the Government of Sri Lanka has taken to investigate incidents of alleged violations of international law have been the appointment of two commissions, the “Group of Eminent Persons” and the “Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation” (LLRC). The first did not produce any discernible results; the second, established in May 2010, has only recently commenced operations and is scheduled to provide its findings by November.

The only other investigative measure undertaken by the GSL that falls within the scope of this report and of which the Department of State is aware is an analysis of a video purporting to show Sri Lankan Army members engaged in the extra-judicial killing of bound captives. Sri Lankan officials have not informed the Department of State of any other investigations or prosecutions conducted in relation to the over 300 alleged incidents catalogued in its October report to Congress.

1) Group of Eminent Persons

Overview

Immediately following the release of the October 2009 Department of State report to Congress, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a “Group of Eminent Persons” to look into the allegations in the U.S. report and prepare a report for him with its recommendations. The group’s report was initially due to President Rajapaksa on December 31, 2009, but the due date was subsequently delayed to April 2010 and then again to July 2010. The group did not submit a report and has been subsumed by the recently-formed Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC).

Evaluation of effectiveness

The Department of State concludes that the Group of Eminent Persons was ineffective. The Department of State received conflicting reports about the progress of the Group’s inquiry,[6] and confirmed in May that it had not been active for months and that its mandate had been subsumed by the new commission. The Department of State is not aware of any findings or reports of the Group. The Group did not appear to investigate allegations or to make any recommendations pursuant to its mandate.

2) Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)

Overview

On May 4, 2010, Sri Lankan Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne informed Parliament that the GSL intended to establish a broad-based "reconciliation commission" to cultivate ethnic unity between Sinhalese and Tamils, award compensation to war victims, and prevent future discontent among the minority population along the lines of that which led to the rise of the Eelam independence movement and the LTTE. The Ministry of Defense announced on May 6 that the new commission would “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.”[7]

On May 15, President Rajapaksa issued a warrant to establish an eight-member commission under the Special Presidential Commissions of Inquiry Law of 1978.[8] The warrant did not explicitly direct the commission to identify violations of internationally accepted norms in conflict situations or to identify those responsible. Instead, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission was charged 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 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.”[9]

The warrant also appointed the commission members and required the commission to transmit a report to the President within six months. Since then, the Government of Sri Lanka has clarified the mandate of the LLRC in private conversations with U.S. Government officials (although it has not yet done so publicly).

On June 10, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense announced that President Rajapaksa had met with the members of the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation on June 4. The Ministry’s announcement said that the President had informed commission members they had “the responsibility of acting in a forward-looking manner, through focus on restorative justice designed to further strengthen national amity.” The statement further noted that the President encouraged the members to “utilize their wide-ranging mandate to fulfill this objective, while always safeguarding the dignity of Sri Lanka.” Members were also briefed on the financial, organizational, and secretarial support in place, and were told that the facilities of the Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies in Colombo, an international affairs think tank functioning under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, were available for their work.[10]

Media outlets reported on July 3 that commission members held regular meetings in the month of June, initially to focus on institutional matters to make preparations for public hearings. It was also reported that the LLRC received an initial allocation of 10 million rupees, expected to commence public hearings in August, and has published notices in three languages calling for written representations to the commission by August 18 on matters related to its mandate.[11]

Evaluation of effectiveness

While the defeat of the LTTE and the end of the civil war, coupled with the government’s sizeable electoral majority, offers the GSL an opportunity to ensure that this latest CoI effort proves more successful than past efforts, evaluating the effectiveness of the CoI should first take into account the history of failings of a series of past CoIs established in Sri Lanka. For example, a 2006 commission charged with investigating sixteen allegations of serious human rights violations ultimately partially investigated only seven of the cases and did not identify any of the perpetrators. An International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) invited by President Rajapaksa to observe the local commission resigned after concluding that the GSL lacked the political will to properly pursue the investigations and that the commission was not meeting international standards in areas such as witness protection, transparency, and financial commitment to the commission. The IIGEP was especially critical concerning a severe conflict of interest by the Attorney General’s office, which both represented the GSL and led questioning during hearings.[12] The then incumbent Attorney General, who in that capacity was criticized for obstructing the IIGEP’s work, has been appointed as Chairman of the LLRC.

GSL officials have assured the Department of State that the LLRC will conduct itself according to the principles laid out by Ambassador Rice and Secretary Clinton. However, the terms of reference are ambiguous as to what types of harms they cover and whether the investigation is linked to violations of international law. While the terms of reference do not explicitly state that the LLRC will investigate alleged violations of international law, they also do not explicitly rule them out.

While the LLRC has only just begun its work, there are signs of initial activity. Terms of reference have been established, members selected, facilities provided, and funding allotted. Members have held initial meetings and announced public hearings in affected areas. Yet some initial steps have raised concerns, which the United States will continue to monitor as the LLRC moves forward in its work. These include questions concerning the independence and impartiality of some members of the commission, including the former Attorney General who served in that capacity during the 2006 CoI and is now chair of the new LLRC. His relationship to the government and his involvement in the failure of the previous commission, which also sought to investigate incidents of alleged government involvement in violations by security forces, could compromise the independence and impartiality of the LLRC.

In addition to monitoring developments, the Department of State will continue to evaluate whether the commission is acting consistent with other best practices derived from broad experience as well as utilizing its powers as described in the Special Presidential Commissions of Inquiry Law of 1978. Specific benchmarks for the commission associated with such an evaluation may include, but not be limited to, the list of criteria from Section III, namely:

•Independence and Competence:

•Taking steps to ensure the independence and impartiality of commission members, so that the conflicts of interest alleged regarding the conduct of past CoIs do not resurface

•Consulting with all communities, including the minority Tamil community, affected by the scope of the inquiry

•Ensuring that CoI members are identified who have the requisite expertise and competence to carry out the mandated inquiries effectively

•Adequate Mandate and Authority:

•Publicly clarifying the specific avenues of inquiry the CoI will pursue in the context of its broad mandate, including affirmatively stating that it will investigate the specific allegations of violations of international law from January to May 2009

•Using its granted powers to compel testimony if necessary

•Taking testimony from local government officials in the North as well as from current and former senior government and military officials[13]

•Requesting and receiving documentation, including classified information, as appropriate, from federal government agencies and the military

•Considering information, analysis, and recommendations from various expert resources, which have become available since the Department’s October 2009 report (including the Panel of Experts appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General in June)[14]

•Witness and CoI Protection:

•Establishing an effective witness protection program

•Holding private hearings in addition to public hearings as necessary to encourage witnesses to provide testimony

•Seeking testimony from persons abroad,[15] in particular from witnesses and victims who were located in the North from January to May 2009

•Investigating and prosecuting, as appropriate, individuals who leak information about protected witnesses

•Adequate Resources:

•Obtaining adequate logistical support, including transportation, office space, and equipment

•Hiring investigators and other qualified support staff that include women and minorities

•Hiring independent lawyers not connected to government agencies that may have an interest in the outcome of the commission’s work

•Public Report: Issuing a timely public report of CoI findings and recommendations

•Government Response: The degree to which the government responds to the CoI’s recommendations

Legislation regarding witness protection was introduced in the last session of Parliament, and the GSL has said it will be re-introduced during the current parliamentary session. Immediate establishment of a viable mechanism for witness protection, irrespective of whether Parliament passes related legislation, will be crucial to the effectiveness of the LLRC. Experience in other countries has shown that absent such a program, witnesses, especially those victimized by recent conflict, are often unlikely to come forward due to fears of arrest, personal harm, or harm to their families. In Sri Lanka, those who come forward publicly to speak to or criticize government actions also run the risk of being branded LTTE sympathizers, a legitimate concern as shown by certain statements of GSL officials noted below,[16] heightening the likelihood of reprisal. Provided other concerns noted in this section are also addressed, a credible witness protection program could serve to help build confidence among Sri Lankans in the credibility of the commission and encourage witnesses and victims to come forward, both of which are necessary conditions for the LLRC to be effective.

In addition, the extent to which the GSL consulted the Tamil community during the establishment of the commission and selection of its members is unclear. The extent to which such consultations took place or were sufficient could impact whether the LLRC adequately investigates the concerns of those communities and receives broad-based support across affected communities for its inquiry and ultimate findings and recommendations. Consultations with the Tamil community going forward on the work of the LLRC would help address any insufficient engagement with them during the establishment phase.

Public statements by senior officials, such as President Rajapaksa’s brother, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, have prompted concern that the government may limit the scope of the LLRC’s inquiries and/or access to witnesses or otherwise undermine its effectiveness and that the GSL may not be committed to complying with LLRC recommendations. During a BBC HARDtalk interview, the Defense Secretary threatened to execute former Army chief General Sarath Fonseka for treason following statements by General Fonseka that senior GSL officials may have issued orders that could be construed as war crimes[17] and that he would be willing to testify before an international commission about the conduct of security forces.[18] In early February 2010, the Defense Secretary stated that he would not allow “any investigations in this country. There is no reason. Nothing wrong happened.”[19] These statements could undermine the effectiveness and credibility of the LLRC and are concerning to the United States.

V. Measures taken by international bodies

1) United Nations Secretary-General Advisory Panel

Overview

On June 22, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed a three-person Panel of Experts to advise him on the implementation of the commitment on human rights accountability made in a Joint Statement issued by President Rajapaksa and Ban during the latter’s May 2009 visit to Sri Lanka. [20] The panel members are Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia, Yasmin Sooka of South Africa, and Steven Ratner of the United States. The panel will look into the modalities, applicable international standards, and comparative experience with regard to accountability processes, taking into account the nature and scope of any alleged violations in Sri Lanka. The Secretary-General has emphasized that the primary responsibility for investigating alleged violations during the conflict in Sri Lanka rests with the GSL. The United Nations has stated that the panel is not tasked with investigating individual allegations of misconduct.[21] Indeed, the Secretary-General’s spokesperson noted in a statement that “the panel will be available as a resource to Sri Lankan authorities should they wish to avail themselves of its expertise in implementing the commitment.” [22]

The United States welcomed the appointment of the UN Panel of Experts and strongly urged the GSL to take advantage of its expertise. France, Norway, the United Kingdom, Sweden and others have similarly come out in support of international involvement with respect to moving forward with accountability in Sri Lanka, including strong statements of support for the UN Panel of Experts. Sri Lankan Minister of External Affairs G.L. Peiris, however, issued a response calling the panel “an unwarranted and unnecessary interference with a sovereign nation.”[23] Russia and China also criticized the Secretary-General’s decision. The Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister announced that members of the panel would not be granted visas to go to Sri Lanka (were they to apply)[24] and subsequent demonstrations – orchestrated by a Cabinet minister – at the UN compound in Colombo on July 6-9, 2010, that disrupted the normal functioning of the UN offices suggest the GSL is disinclined toward utilizing the Panel of Experts as a resource, though the United States continues to urge it to do so.

Evaluation of effectiveness

It is too soon to assess the ultimate effectiveness of the Panel of Experts. There has been initial progress, with a mandate established, members selected, and funding source determined. While it seems unlikely at this time that the GSL will utilize the panel’s expertise, it appears its mandate is such that its advisory role for the Secretary-General will not necessarily be compromised by being unable to travel to Sri Lanka for meetings with GSL officials. Additionally, if the protests at the UN compound in Colombo are indicative of a willingness by officials within the GSL to now and in the future seek to intimidate and disrupt the work of local UN officials, it would suggest a determination on the part of the GSL not to cooperate with the panel.

VI. Other investigative measures by the GSL and international bodies

1) Review of alleged extra judicial killing video:

Overview

In late August 2009, UK Channel 4 News broadcast a video that purported to show Sri Lankan Army soldiers executing two bound and nude Tamil captives. Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, the original source of the video, claimed that the killings had been filmed in January 2009 by a Sri Lankan soldier using a mobile phone camera.

The GSL commissioned four experts to evaluate the authenticity of the footage, and on September 7, 2009, issued a response that set forth the experts’ conclusion that the video’s most sensational elements were fabricated.[25] On September 15, 2009, the GSL reported to the UN Human Rights Council claiming that four separate investigations scientifically determined that the video is “fake.”[26] The “Consolidated Response of the Government of Sri Lanka to the Telecast by Channel 4 News of the United Kingdom on 25 August 2009 of a Video of Supposed Extra-Judicial Executions in Sri Lanka” explained that the Government’s conclusion was based upon the following factors:

•The discharged weapon used in the video showed no recoil.

•The lack of audio and video synchronization showed manipulation of the video footage.

•The second victim moved unnaturally after being shot.

•Wind could be heard in audio but not seen in the video.

•The video was probably recorded on a digital camcorder, not on a mobile phone.

Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, welcomed the GSL review of the video and attention to the issue. He noted in particular the promptness of the GSL’s action, which occurred within two weeks of the information becoming available. However, Alston stated that he was not in a position to conclude that the GSL’s investigation was thorough, as he had not seen the original version of three of the four expert investigations. He also expressed concern regarding the impartiality of the GSL experts, two of whom were members of the Sri Lankan Army (the entity whose actions had been called into question).[27]

Professor Alston commissioned a separate independent group of forensic experts to analyze the video, and in January 2010 issued a report produced by these experts. Their findings countered those of the GSL experts, and concluded that there is strong evidence to suggest the video is authentic. Specifically, they concluded:

•The discharged weapon had a visible recoil consistent with firing live ammunition.

•Audio and video can be unsynchronized based on several variables, and the synchronization in the video was well within acceptable limits.

•The second victim’s movement was entirely consistent with the way in which he apparently was shot.

•Several places in the video showed clear evidence of wind.

•The metadata retrieved from the video was consistent with multimedia files produced by mobile phones with video recording and would have been very difficult to alter.[28]

Evaluation of effectiveness

The Department of State notes the concerns of the Special Rapporteur about possible conflicts of interest and notes that best practices would dictate that such an inquiry should have been undertaken by individuals without an interest in the outcome of the forensic analysis.

VII. Conclusion

The most significant steps taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to investigate alleged crimes against humanity, violations of international law, and related harms have been its establishment of two commissions. The first, the Group of Eminent Persons, concluded its work without issuing a report and, in the judgment of the Department of State, was ineffective. The Department of State welcomed the establishment of the second body, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. This report notes several aspects of its constitution and mandate that are of concern. Until further steps are taken, it is too early to determine whether the LLRC will be effective. The United States encourages the Government of Sri Lanka and the LLRC to strive to act in accordance with best practices derived from broad experience and outlined in this report.


[1] Like the present report, the October 2009 report was prepared by the Department of State in accordance with a Congressional directive. The Joint Explanatory Statement accompanying the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2009 (P.L. 111-32), provided in pertinent part:

The conferees direct the Secretary of State to submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations … detailing incidents during the recent conflict in Sri Lanka that may constitute violations of international humanitarian law or crimes against humanity, and, to the extent practicable, identifying the parties responsible.

[2] The report did not reach legal conclusions as to whether the incidents described constituted violations of IHL, crimes against humanity or other violations of international law, nor did it reach conclusions concerning whether the alleged incidents actually occurred.

[3] For purposes of this report, “international bodies” are defined to be United Nations agencies, offices, and entities.

[4] See, e.g., Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, arts. 4.1, 7.1, Dec. 10, 1984, S. Treaty Doc. No. 100-20 (1988), 1465 U.N.T.S. 85 (entered into force June 26, 1987).

[5] In that statement, Ambassador Rice said:

The U.S. Government welcomes President Rajapaksa’s announcement of his intention to establish a Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation to examine key aspects of the recently ended conflict in Sri Lanka and his acknowledgment in doing so that accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law is a crucial pillar of national reconciliation and the rule of law. Experience in other countries has shown that commissions of inquiry can play a valuable role in advancing accountability when they are appropriately constituted and enjoy broad public support. Particularly important in this regard, broad experience has shown that to be effective in advancing accountability and reconciliation, commission members should be and be perceived as independent, impartial and competent; their mandate should enable them fully to investigate serious allegations of violations and to make public recommendations; commission members and potential witnesses must enjoy adequate and effective protection; the commission must receive adequate resources to carry out its mandate; and the Government should undertake to give serious consideration to its recommendations. We hope the commission will also reflect the desires and requests of the citizens of Sri Lanka, who were the primary victims of the conflict. Being responsive to their needs will be an important measure of the commission’s success. In light of these general principles, we would welcome the Sri Lankan Government's commitment to give the Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation a mandate to probe violations of international standards during the final stages of the conflict and to identify those responsible and, we would expect, to make appropriate public recommendations based on its findings.
“Statement by U.S. Ambassador Susan E. Rice on Sri Lanka’s Announcement of a Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation,” USUN PRESS RELEASE # 083, May 10, 2010, http://usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/2010/141657.htm.

[6] For a publicly available report, see, e.g., http://in.reuters.com/article/idINIndia-48432720100512.

[7] http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=2100506_04.

[8] Under article 2(4) of the Commissions of Inquiry Law, “It shall be lawful for the President to state in the warrant the terms of reference of the commission in general terms and it shall be competent for the commission to determine the scope of the inquiry and to select specific matters which, in the opinion of the commission, should be inquired into and reported upon”. Under article 7, the commission has power to “(a) procure and receive all such evidence, written or oral, and to examine all such persons as witnesses, as the commission may think it necessary or desirable to procure or examine; (b) to require the evidence (whether written or oral) of any witness to be given on oath or affirmation….” Article 12 relates the procedures for failure to obey summons to give evidence before a commission.” Special Presidential Commissions of Inquiry Law of 1978, http://www.commonlii.org/lk/legis/consol_act/spcoi9504.pdf.

[9] http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20100517_07.

[10] http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20100605_05.

[11] “Sri Lanka approves appointment of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation,” http://www.colombopage.com/archive_10B/May 13_1273763794CH.php. “Sri Lanka’s Reconciliation Commission to hear from people in conflict-affected areas,” http://www.colombopage.com/archive_10B/Jul03_127816557CH.php.

[12] See statements and report of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons at http://sitesatrisksl.wordplay.com/category/iigep.

[13] Some former Sri Lankan officials have made public statements. For example, on July 10, 2009 at the margins of a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Egypt, former Sri Lankan General Fonseka reportedly stated, “Our soldiers have seen in life the kind of destruction carried out by those people before they decided to come carrying a white flag. Therefore, they carried out their duties. We destroyed anyone connected with the LTTE.” (http://www.lankanewsweb.com/news/EN_2009_07_18_005.html.) On December 13, 2009 in an interview with The Sunday Leader, Fonseka said that information in the final days of the war was not conveyed to him, and he later learned that [former Senior Presidential Advisor and current Minister of Economic Development] Basil Rajapaksa conveyed to Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who in turn spoke to Brigadier Shavendra Silva, Commander of the Army’s 58th Division, giving orders not to accommodate any LTTE leaders attempting to surrender and that “they must all be killed.” (“Gota ordered them to be shot,” The Sunday Leader, December 13, 2009.) On February 8, 2010 the BBC reported that General Fonseka was arrested at his office in Colombo, and earlier in the day he had said on the subject of war crimes, “I am definitely going to reveal what I know, what I was told and what I heard. Anyone who has committed war crimes should definitely be brought into the courts.” (“Sri Lanka election loser Sarath Fonseka arrested,” BBC News, February 8, 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8504882.stm.) He made a similar statement on May 5, 2010 to reporters inside Parliament, “I will go out of my way to expose anyone who has committed war crimes. I will not protect anyone, from the very top to the bottom.” (Sri Lanka ex-army chief vows to expose war crimes,” AFP, May 6, 2010.)

[14]The Department of State does not take a position on the accuracy of recent inquiries, findings, or specific recommendations of international NGOs, media outlets, or other sources. However, it is notable that since the release of the Department’s October 2009 report, new information has come to light, and potential witnesses with potentially relevant testimony have stated a willingness to provide testimony. For example, in a certified deposition, one former senior Sri Lankan Army officer has provided currently unsubstantiated background and exculpatory and inculpatory information regarding military chain of command, treatment of prisoners, avoidance of civilian targets, disappearances, and the 2006 commission of inquiry. The former officer said that government policy was to avoid churches, hospitals, and schools. He also said that colleagues had informed him that now deceased LTTE leader Prabhakaran’s twelve-year-old son was killed along with five escorts after surrendering, although he admitted he did not know whether Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa or General Fonseka had ordered them killed. The former officer also said that the 2006 death of five students in Trincomalee was directed by a senior superintendent of police and carried out by a special task force.

[15] Given the time and expense incurred by traveling to obtain information abroad, some commissions have permitted the use of written and video testimony.

[16] See footnote 18.

[17] See footnote 13.

[18] “Fonseka threatened with execution,” BBC, June 6, 2010.

[19] “Fighting impunity in Sri Lanka,” Andrew Wander, http://englishaljazeera.net/focus/2010/05/20105186355957306.

[20] http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2009/sg2151.doc.htm.

[21] "Ban urges Sri Lanka to normalize conditions around UN office in Colombo," July 9, 2010, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=35286&cr=sri-lanka&Cr1.

[22] http://www.un.org/apps/news/printnews.asp?nid=35099.

[23] http://xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2010-06/24/c_13367689.htm.

[24] “Sri Lanka Rules out Visas for UN War Crimes Panel,” www.alert.net.org/thenews/newsdesk/SGE65NOAJ.htm.

[25] “Consolidated Response of the Government of Sri Lanka to the Telecast by Channel 4 News of the United Kingdom on 25 August 2009 of a Video of Supposed Extra-Judicial Executions in Sri Lanka,” September 7, 2009.

[26] “Statement by Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland,” September 15, 2009, http://mahindasamarasinghe.org/human-rights.html.

[27] “Sri Lanka Should Permit an Impartial Investigation into the Channel 4 Videotape, Says UN Expert,” Statement by Professor Philip Alston issued by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, September 17, 2009.

[28] Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Technical Note prepared by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Philip Alston, in relation to the authenticity of the “Channel 4 videotape,” January 7, 2010, p. 2.

Full Text: Letter signed by 58 US lawmakers urging independent international investigation of Sri Lanka war

58 US lawmakers are urging the Obama administration to call for an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes that occurred during Sri Lanka's civil war.

In a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the members of Congress called for such a probe saying panels set up by the Sri Lankan government to probe the allegations "lacked the needed credibility."

Aug 9, 2010

Hon. Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton

We are writing to express our concern about the post-conflict situation in Sri Lanka, and to urge the U.S. government to call an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes that occurred during Sri Lanka's twenty-five year civil war.

We believe that Sri Lanka's past efforts to investigate severe human rights abuses through Commissions of inquiry - even when supplemented by an international element such as the International Independent Group of Eminent persons (IIGEP) - have not been successful and do not inspire confidence that the current national mechanism would be any more successful, transparent, or credible. As Amnesty International has noted, the Government of Sri Lanka has formed nine other ad0hoc commissions of inquiry since 1991 to investigate disappearances and human rights - related issues. These commissions have lacked the needed credibility, have delayed criminal investigations, and in several instances members of these commissions have resigned In protest at the Government's interference.

As Members of Congress, we fully share the concerns of international community that Sri Lanka's Reconciliation Commission has too much narrow scope and no mandate to hold those investigated accountable for their actions. Whatever conclusions this Commission will come to, we strongly believe that only a parallel international mechanism conducting an independent investigation with the formal backing and the authority of the specialized United Nations mechanism, such as the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Council, or the Office of the Secretary-General, can verify any conclusion of Sri Lanka's Reconciliation Commission. Without such verification, neither accountability nor trust can be achieved, which are crucially important for any successful reconciliation.

As you know, May 19, 2010, marked the one-year anniversary of the end of the war in Sri Lanka. There is mounting evidence that suggests both parties in the conflict committed severe human rights violations during the conflict. The State Department's own October 21, 2009 "Report to Congress on Incidents During the Recent Conflict in Sri Lanka" lists numerous crimes that require further investigation. These 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; and individual disappearances.

We believe it is in the best interest of the United States and the people of Sri Lanka to ensure a lasting peace in Sri Lanka following a quarter century of ethnic conflict, and that such a peace can only be reached once the full truth about the past is understood.

In light of these concerns, we urge you to call for a robust and independent international investigation that would finally clarify the events that occurred during the conflict and provide the foundation for a sustainable peace in Sri Lanka.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue.

Yours Sincerely,

Jan Schakowsky

James P. McGovern

Full Text of the letter dated August 9, signed by 58 members of the US House of Representatives: (PDF File)

Mervyn Silva must be arrested and produced in courts

by Kusal Perera

Latest news on Mervyn caught every one off guard and in total surprise. There were frantic calls on Tuesday night by many who wanted to know, if the news was right. Some one left a comment for an online news on Mervyn’s removal that said, “Don’t do this. This would rob us, of our popular Sri Lankan identity.”

All that said, the Rajapaksa regime is duly acknowledged for its decision to remove Mervyn Silva from his Deputy Minister’s position and from the SLFP membership. For once President Rajapaksa has shown he is willing to concede to public pressure to politically punish one of his veteran foot soldiers, for doing things too shoddily and to arouse public anger.

This nevertheless brings out more issues now that leads to other logical conclusions, the Rajapaksa regime would not be happy about. Removing Mervyn Silva from his Deputy Minister’s position and from SLFP membership, only proves that President himself had accepted, Mervyn did commit an offence that can not be ignored, as he did when Mervyn stormed the Rupavahini Corporation in 2007 November. It is good, the President accepts it so and it is good too that Mervyn is punished within the political system.

But now, what of his parliamentary seat ? If, as revealed by “Lankapuwath”, Mervyn Silva has been removed from his SLFP membership, he automatically ceases to be a member of the UPFA too. Once he looses his membership of the UPFA from which party he was nominated for the 2010 April parliamentary elections, he ceases to be an elected Member from that list of nominees to the Gampaha District, according to Parliamentary Elections Act No. 01 of 1981 as amended thereafter. Preference votes gained, loses all validity and count, once a candidate loses the political party membership, on which he or she collects those preference votes from.

Therefore, as Secretary (General) of the UPFA, Susil Premjayantha has to inform the Commissioner of Elections of Mervyn Silva’s removal from the party and request for the appointment of the next person in the UPFA list on preferential votes, as MP of Gampaha district. If that does not happen, then it would create a conflict in parliamentary law and would amount to Mervyn Silva as a delisted person, enjoying parliamentary privileges. Any elected MP could therefore raise this issue as a privileges issue, at any parliamentary sittings.

From Mervyn Silva’s side, he could go to Courts asking for an injunction till a ruling is given on his removal. That has many precedents already created, on which he could stay as a MP.

While citizens could wait for a few more days to see the outcome of Mervyn’s political influence in this Rajapaksa regime, President’s decision to remove Mervyn from his Deputy Minister’s job, proves Mervyn has committed an offence that President this time can not ignore. That therefore demands an answer as to why no legal action has not been taken against Mervyn to date.

As every ordinary citizen understands, Mervyn Silva has to be arrested and produced in a Court of Law for the criminal offence committed against the Samurdhi employee in Kelaniya, on 03 August. Witnesses if necessary, could be the police men who were there at the time of roping the Samurdhi employee. With President now accepting Mervyn’s offence, the next logical step should be to initiate legal action, at least now.

This has to be the next issue trade unions, political parties and concerned citizens should raise, immediately. With too many Presidential pardons granted before, the President can not now compromise on his own decision, having accepted Mervyn as continuously breaching the law of the land.

Omanthai! Omanthai! Succour for the Tamil Thousands in Sri Lanka, May 2009

by Prof. Michael Roberts

The citizens of Thamileelam who struggled out of the inferno of war in the north-east corner of the northern Vanni during the months of January-May 2009 journeyed on foot or boat. During the first few months the escapee refugees got out mostly in dribs and drabs. But circa 20-23 April, and then again in mid-May during the last stages as the LTTE resistance was smashed, two hordes of "Thamileelam people" poured out of the confines of the LTTE corral.

These Thamileelam people, or TEP as I shall present them in shorthand, included Tiger fighters in civilian attire as well as other Tiger functionaries. It is probable that all the TEP were in a state of exhaustion. Bombs and bullets in that context do not distinguish between age, gender, class, or military/civilian status.

Attending to the needs of the TEP from the month of January 2009 onwards within the parameters of the government’s insistence on security precautions was a feat of considerable coordination for combination of military and government personnel, foreign and local INGO personnel, local NGO functionaries, hired local staff and volunteers assembled for the purpose. My focus here will be restricted to the large body of Tamil refugee people whom these agencies had had to deal with in May 2009 and the special operation to feed them mounted at the former border post at Omanthai.

After most of those considered LTTE had been separated out by the army at the edge of the frontlines, the rest of the TEP were driven down to Omanthai in buses from private companies from all parts of the island that had been assembled by the Govt. Agent of Vavuniya (Mrs Charles, a Tamil) in combination with military officers, with each bus being manned by driver, conductor and two military personnel. This was three-four hour journey. So it was that between the 17th and 24th May 2009 an exhausted, hungry and thirsty mass of some 60,000 Tamil refugees reached Omanthai.

The magnitude of the relief-cum-security operation at the staging post of Omanthai is not easy to capture in words. The operation was overseen by the World Food Programme in association with the military. WFP chose the Sewalanka Foundation as its main implementation agency for this task; but they also had funds and assistance from such agencies as IOM, UNICEF, ECHO and government agencies under the G. A. There were few buildings in the village and its school was used as the main shelter on a temporary basis; while about 50 temporary toilets had been quickly built near the school building by ECHO (a European Union NGO) in league with Sewalanka through UNICEF funding.

What requires stressing, and what should not be taken for granted, was the fact that this operation entailed work. Yes WORK, hard labour in organisation, coordination and cooking hot meals for the large number of refugees. I can only provide a partial picture through the eyes of those who worked for Sewalanka, [a Lankan NGO that has been at work since 1992 and one that had developed considerable experience in empowering people to help themselves, in particular through its engagement in tsunami relief activities].

As such, it is also an invidious tale. I have little doubt that the other organisations referred to above devoted as much sweat and blood as the Sewalanka personnel in assisting the Tamil refugees to survive and adjust to life in the new circumstance of the IDP camps. Reports that I have received from sources at ground level in the UN agencies indicate that the work of such NGOS as Caritas, CARE, SEED, Sarvodaya et cetera in their designated spheres of activity was as immense as invaluable.

My choice of Sewalanka is fortuitous. Through a chance reference I stayed for a few days at their model farm on the outskirts of Vavuniya.1 In this non-comprehensive manner I consider it better for readers to be exposed to a sliver of the activities that occurred during the real hard crisis time in April-May-June-July 2009 than to remain in the dark. A one-man exploration in a brief visit cannot cover the whole range of organisations and activities through an in-depth study. So, it is to Sewalanka’s operations at Omanthai in May that I move now.

Succour at Omanthai Staging Post

One day in May, late in the evening as their office was closing shop, the local Sewalanka head received a call asking for urgent aid in feeding busloads of refugees. The unit swung into action immediately. In Vavuniya town they used IOUs to purchase cooking pots and other gear from local wholesalers (e.g. Maliban, Ozone), hired extra cooking staff and purchased the supplementary provisions in bulk, namely vegetables, dried fish and fish.

The system in place was for the World Food Programme to provide the basic dry rations, namely, rice, dhal, oil, sugar and wheat flour, to the NGO’s tasked with cooking meals and for these organisations to supplement these base goods with other supplements through their own funds and/or donor monies.

A critical aspect of this emergency operation was the fact that Sewalanka had been working in Vavuniya and the north for seventeen years and had local knowledge and local networks, besides mostly Tamil staff. The trust generated in the course of this history was central to their ability to cope with the enormous demands of the crisis. Thus, both their model farm and local networks enabled them to collect supplementary vegetables for both the Omanthai operation and the long-term ongoing task of cooking meals within the IDP camps assigned to them.

Armed then with cooking gear and other essentials in three lorries, the Sewalanka team proceeded that very night in a convoy by road to Omanthai where the military had built tent facilities for their work. Their working group amounted to about 40 people and they had eight sets of cooks working in rosters over a 24-hour period for several days at Omanthai. Indeed, some of them did not sleep at all over a couple of days. That is one reason why I underlined the word "work."

Lakshi Abeysekera, the Deputy Chairperson of Sewalanka in Colombo, also travelled down and joined them, while Chairman Harsha Navaratne, parked in Anuradhapura some 90 minutes journey away, joined them periodically (while also reviewing Sewalanka operations in the camps assigned to Sewalanka). The executive staff, Annet Royce and Thamilalagan from the Vavuniya Office and Abeysekera from Colombo, participated actively in the tasks of moving goods and distribution of food parcels, while attending to their primary duty of directing and overseeing. The men, including Thamilalagan, stayed overnight — sleeping on packing cases made into rough beds. The Sewalanka women usually returned to Vavuniya late at night and were back early the next day to continue their labours.

Liaison with the military personnel was a central aspect of the feeding programme at Omanthai. Indeed, the military, UNICEF and IOM provided the other essentials: water bottles as well as energy biscuits; while military men and women were involved in the succour of those emerging from the buses.

These Tamil refugees were hungry. It follows that the rush to food meant that the older and slower were last in any line. Two incidents provide one with a glimpse of the human frailties arising in such circumstances.

(A) As one busload hastened to get their food and lined up in a disorderly mass, a Tamil-speaking man in army attire started beating them with a stick to get them into an orderly line. When a Sewalanka worker accosted him and protested, it turned out that he was a former-Tiger soldier who told her that such disorderly queues would never have been tolerated in Thamileelam (or words to that effect).

(B) When a Sinhalese soldier entrusted with the task of carrying food parcels to one busload of refugees asked for 105 parcels, one of the Sewalanka supervisors asked him how many that bus carried. He answered sheepishly: "101." Then added: "there are four pregnant women and they could do with two each." Eminently compassionate and sensible one would think right? But, no, an army officer intervened and chastised the soldier with a knock, what would be called a tokka in Sinhala, with the implicit meaning that it was a legitimate act of guti dheema (punishment). Eminently rigid and bureaucratic-harsh, don’t you think?

Concluding Remarks

I have presented this Omanthai sustenance work within the umbrella term "relief operation." It is a catchword that Sewalanka themselves would frown upon. Harsha Navaratne, its Chairman and founder, had insisted that their personnel should not be described as "Relief Officers; rather the titles were to be "Development Officers" because their role was to be directed towards empowering those receiving aid and encouraging them to stand on their own feet.2

I have not followed this dictum because readers would comprehend the description "relief" more easily than the term "development" and because it fits the type of work undertaken at Omanthai and the IDP camps. That said, I add that it was a service to people-in-need that also uplifted the spirits of those providing the services. When I encouraged Lakshi Abeysekera of Sewalanka to send me a memorandum describing her work at Omanthai, she responded thus: "Indeed the exposure at the Omanthai at the last movement is something I will always remember and regard as one of the rarest experiences in 17 years of service" [email, 21 July 2010].

She is not alone. Elsewhere, through BBC’s Hard Talk Programme, the wider world was exposed to the Bernadine Anderson’s captivating emphasis on the upliftment she and her aides had derived from her voluntary work in teaching Tiger captives English at the special facility that had been created in 2008-09 at Hindu College in Ratmalana.3

There are, therefore, reciprocities in such work. But there can be little doubt that the greatest beneficiaries at Omanthai were the exhausted, hungry and thirsty mass of Tamil refugees from the war zone.

[1] This article was made possible through interviews with Mrs Annet Royce nee Rajajohn (2 June 2010), T. Thamilalagan (3 June 2010) and Peter Voegtli (1 June 2010). I also interviewed Singham of SEEDS, two expatriate executives in UN agencies and two of the Sewalanka officers in Jaffna, Harsha Navaratne of Sewalanka in Colombo and C. Soloman of the Health Ministry (now in UNICEF).

[2] Interview with Annet Royce, June 2010.

[3] BBC HardTalk Sri Lanka 8-9: Rehabilitation of Former LTTE Child Soldiers, 9 June 2010, http:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1wxl5J_vsA&feature=related.

Remembering Lakshman Kadirgamar on Fifth Anniversary of his Death

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Independence dawned for Sri Lanka then Ceylon on February 4th 1948. The union jack was lowered and the national flag raised at the stroke of midnight. Even as the flag fluttered proudly four young athletes carrying flaming torches entered the square and ran up the steps of Independence hall. Together they lit the lamp of freedom.

[click here to read in full ~ dbdjeyaraj.com]

August 10, 2010

Govt focus on resettling "New" IDP's resulting in "Old" IDP"s being overlooked

by Mirak Raheem

In June 2010 the Minister for Resettlement, Milroy Fernando stated that there were 60,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sri Lanka and that the Government would resettle them by August 2010. With some 30,000 IDPs remaining in Menik Farm at the end of July it would not be impossible for the Government to close the camp down and meet this self-imposed deadline.

With the movement of these IDPs it would not be too unexpected if the Government was to announce that there are no more IDPs in Sri Lanka. It would also not come as too big a surprise if the Government would phase out the Resettlement Ministry, as a part of the expected cabinet re-shuffle when the President assumes his second term in November 2010.

As with the closure of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, following the April Parliamentary Election, the Government would be sending a clear signal that it no longer sees this issue as a significant problem requiring a separate portfolio and that whatever outstanding problems could be handled by other line ministries and departments. In essence, the Government will be declaring the end of the displacement problem that has been a direct consequence of the thirty year war, with the last three years of the war alone displacing over half a million people.

As Sri Lankans we should receive this news with a sense of relief that this large scale problem of displacement has been addressed and that communities whose lives were ruptured are able to return home and rebuild their lives. There are, however growing concerns as to the implications of the problem being declared “complete.” In the rush to end displacement and declare that there are zero IDPs in Sri Lanka there is the danger that the true scale and nature of displacement, and the return as it exists on the ground is being ignored. As this article will argue, there is real need to take a more thorough look at the problem. With a new Minister in charge who is also well aware of the different IDP population, this is the moment to take stock and to develop a fresh approach.

Old and Forgotten

There are a whole series of issues relating to the displacement problem which need to be highlighted but this article will focus on only one aspect of this problem – that of the Old IDPs. At the outset it needs to be noted that when the Government announced that there were only 60,000 IDPs, serious questions arise as to what is the Government’s definition of an IDP and the reliability of the statistics being used by the Government.

Even if one is to accept, for sake of argument, that this figure refers purely to the New IDPs i.e. those displaced in and from the Vanni from April 2008 onwards, the figure does not accurately reflect the ground situation. While the Government in Colombo maintains that of the original 260,000 who were in camps, the vast majority have been ‘returned,’ it appears that at least 30,000 IDPs are staying with host families (friends and relations) mainly in the North as a temporary measure. In effect the question that arises is – has this displaced population been effectively de-recognised without a lasting solution being found for them?

Furthermore, in areas such as Jaffna it seems that many New IDPs were ‘returned’ to their original addresses but given their multiple displacements, many of these people may actually prefer to return to their homes in the Vanni where they may have been living for the past few years and where they may even own land. The main reason many of these families and individuals opted to move in with host families in the run up to the August 2009 Jaffna Municipal Elections and the January 2010 Presidential Election may have been due to their eagerness to leave the closed displacement camps.

As to what will happen to this population once the rations and resettlement allowance runs out, especially for those who do own land and cannot find employment in Jaffna is by no means clear. There are also ‘returnees’ who have been unable to return to their original properties or in some cases even their village and so they are currently in transit sites, i.e. still in displacement, either because the land is currently occupied by the military or due to mines. On August 2nd TNA MP Suresh Premachandran stated to the media that some 3,000 persons have been moved back to the Vanni but are prevented from returning to their home and that the military is planning to acquire land and build cantonments.

The official statistics for IDPs being cited by the Government also completely blind sides the issue of the Old IDPs. This again raises questions as to whether the Government officially recognises Old IDPs as IDPs and whether the Government is sincerely committed to addressing existing challenges, as opposed to winning public relations battles at both the international and domestic level. The lack of reference to Old IDP statistics seems to be part of a larger policy problem, in that this population finds itself excluded from official policy documents and statements.

It is estimated that at the end of the war there were approximately 300,00 Old IDPs which includes Northern Muslims, Tamil IDPs affected by the Jaffna High Security Zones, Sinhala IDPs from the North and border villages, and IDPs from all communities in the East. The figure for Old IDPs is approximate because the Government has not provided official statistics for this population. While there have been a significant number of returns of some old IDPs since the war ended the process has been laboriously slow.

In addition, there are other IDP populations such as those displaced by the tsunami. Even though the official position is that the tsunami recovery is over, there are significant numbers of tsunami affected still living in ‘transitional shelters’ which generally have a life time of a year, especially in Eastern Muslim coastal areas such as Marathamunai, Muttur and Kalmunai. Overall, the return of Old IDPs is lagging behind that of the New and there are growing concerns that they will be left behind and forgotten. In order to ensure a more comprehensive and effective response to the displacement issue in Sri Lanka there is a need to focus on the Old IDPs and include them in official policy.

Differential Treatment

It needs to be noted that the New IDPs and returnees face a whole series of challenges and many of them are still in a vulnerable situation, hence there is a clear need to ensure their concerns are immediately addressed with full recognition to their rights as citizens of this country. The argument for recognising Old IDPs cannot and should not be at the cost of the New.

However, it is apparent that there is no uniform process for resettlement of the New and Old IDPs. Whereas in the case of the New, the State and humanitarian agencies assists the IDPs in the shift through providing transport and de-registering them as IDPs and registering them as returnees, most Old IDPs have returned spontaneously, meaning they use their money to transport their belongings and family members, and have to negotiate with the authorities to allow them to return.

Generally, the process is for a displaced family to cut the rations they receive in the site of displacement and inform the district authorities, and on resettlement they need to inform the relevant district authorities so that they can get resettlement assistance such as the World Food Program’s 3 month rations, a resettlement allowance of Rs 25,000 funded largely by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and temporary shelter which has been mainly paid for by donors.

The return of Old IDPs is lagging behind that of the New. The roughly 100,000 Northern Muslim population that was expelled by the LTTE from the five districts of the Northern Province have demanded parallel, or alternately slightly delayed, resettlement for Old IDPs. Musali in Southern Mannar was the first area in the Vanni opened for resettlement in April 2009 when they had to wait for weeks to secure permission to return. While the situation improved in the latter half of 2009 in that Northern Muslims could go and negotiate access, in recent weeks however, there have been reports that some Northern Muslims attempting to return to Killinochchi and Mullaitivu have faced problems in either securing assistance or even in some cases approval to resettle.

It appears that the Government is focussed on dealing with IDPs at Menik Farm to the point of asserting that all assistance is required for this group of IDPs. Humanitarian agencies in turn insist that they are under strict instructions to provide assistance only to the New IDPs. One group of Northern Muslims who wanted to return to a village in Mullaitivu were advised by one helpful government official that the best solution would be for them to re-register as IDPs in Menik Farm in order to secure permission to return and resettlement assistance! Differential treatment already exists for New and Old IDPs as the former receive rations based on nutritional needs provided by WFP, as opposed to the latter who receive Government rations based on a costing from the mid-1990s of basic goods.

It should also be noted that like in the case of New IDPs ‘returning’ to Jaffna but hoping to resettle in the Vanni where they have homes and lands, there are families of Old IDPs who may opt to relocate to other locations, as opposed to resettle. It should be noted that not all the Northern Muslims will opt to return and may prefer to locally integrate in areas such as Puttalam where the largest proportion of this population were displaced, as would old Tamil IDPs displaced from Jaffna and the Vanni currently living in Vavuniya. Given the population growth of these communities while in displacement, what was one family some twenty years later could be now three separate family units who may make independent choices regarding return or relocation.

In the case of other Old IDP populations, there is currently very limited change in the primary obstacle to their resettlement. For the vast majority of Old IDPs in Jaffna, numbering 65,000 as of July 2010, return is not an option currently open to most of them as their homes are in High Security Zones (HSZs). The HSZs roughly account for 18% of Jaffna’s territory and civilians are not permitted to live in these areas. The HSZs are a key stumbling block for the restoration of normalcy and the rights of the affected population.

These IDPs and Jaffna residents in general question why such extensive areas are declared as no-go areas for civilians and why such severe restrictions are required when the LTTE has been defeated. While assurances have been provided by key figures in Government that the HSZs will be rolled back, on the ground the process has been slow, with Gurunagar and the border of Tellipellai being opened up. As quoted in the Daily Mirror on July 15th Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella stated that HSZs in the North would remain, without specifying a time limit and without clarifying whether it would apply to all HSZs, thereby contradicting the position of Minister Douglas Devananda who has stated that the Government will gradually reduce HSZs.

Officially in the East, there are no more IDPs. Yet, some 1,700 families are effectively displaced by the Sampur HSZ, in Eastern Trincomalee which covers 4 GN divisions. It is apparent that the Government has a plan to make this a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) which would include a coal power station which is to be constructed by an Indian Company. There are also smaller populations including 1,000 families from Kanjikudichcharu, Ampara and other displaced people from all three ethnic communities wanting to return to rebuild their lives. Very clearly the statistics, the timeline and the overall plan for resettlement needs to be re-visited and revised.

While clearly the primary onus is with the Government to address this issue of disparity and unequal treatment, through policy, providing adequate assistance and raising international funding, the donors and humanitarian agencies also bear some responsibility in failing to attend to this issue. It is becoming increasingly apparent that there is a huge funding issue, with international donors not able and willing to continue providing funds for all aspects of resettlement. The increasing restrictions imposed by the Government in terms of access for local and international agencies will only make it more difficult for agencies to raise funds and carry out activities.

The shortage in funds has resulted in Old IDPs being downgraded in terms of priority for assistance, including in terms of permanent housing. India has announced that it will provide 50,000 shelters but the total number of destroyed or damaged houses in the province from three decades of war is estimated to be at least three times that figure. Most donors, including India, make sympathetic noises at best, regarding the Old IDPs but make no reference to the issue nor do they pledge assistance which will facilitate their return. Hence, if resettlement is “completed” in August 2010 it is unclear how Old IDP resettlement will be supported and whether they will be provided the same assistance package as the New IDPs, which in turn raises questions relating to the principle of equity and equality in terms of the assistance and policy towards the different IDP populations.

Confronting the Problem

There are numerous problems which could result from the marginalisation of the Old IDP issue including tension between Old and New IDPs, mistrust of the authorities, fear and anxiety among Old IDPS, and land conflicts. The delay in resettlement has resulted in a variety of problems. Electoral registration is taking place in the North at the moment but it is unclear if the Northern Muslims in Puttalam and other locations will be included into the list or whether they will be excluded on the grounds that that they are not living in the area at present. SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem stated in the Daily Mirror on August 4th that Muslim families from Nachchikuda, Killinochchi District were unable to reclaim their lands because these areas had been occupied by others, which highlights the serious problems which are emerging on the ground. This problem of secondary occupation could be further complicated by the lack of documentation proving ownership. While these are complicated problems, a mixture of legal, policy and community oriented solutions could ameliorate and address these problems.

These problems are basically the result of the lack of a clear, consistent and comprehensive policy on resettlement for all IDPs. This has to be a policy that is based on constitutionally guaranteed rights and principles of equal of treatment and participation. Ensuring fair and appropriate assistance to the displaced and affected population will also serve as a crucial building block towards achieving reconciliation and a lasting peace in this country. But to find a solution you first need to acknowledge the problem.

Forced into fighting and still missing

by IRIN News

Parvathi Kumar has no idea whether her son is in detention, or worse. He was abducted by the Tamil Tigers in January 2009, and she has not heard from him in more than a year.

IRIN810A.jpg

Allagamma Sivam is still waiting for her son to return - pic by: Udara Soysa

"We really do not have any information about him," said the 59-year-old from Mullaitivu, a small town on the northeastern coast of Sri Lanka. "I suffer every day thinking about my son. Please bring him back to me."

Kumar fears her son, who was forced into battle, is now among many thousands in military custody even though the war has ended. She has no idea where he is, or if he is still alive.

The government maintains it is working to reunite detainees with their families, but activists say it is virtually impossible to find their relatives because of the lack of information about who is detained or where they are being held.

"One main problem and controversy is the secretive and conflicting figures different government officials give about the number being detained," said Ruki Fernando, head of the Human Rights in Conflict Programme at the Law and Trust Society.

"Most appear to be detained around Vavuniya, but this is not clear. I've heard of other places."

As many as 11,000 former Liberation Tamil Tiger Eelam (LTTE) fighters were detained initially but 6,900 remain in detention - including 600 who will either face charges or "long-term rehabilitation", according to Rajiva Wijesinha, a member of parliament from the country's ruling United People's Freedom Alliance coalition.

Rights activists say information about the detained has not been made public, and there is no central list specifying where people are being detained.

However, Wijesinha said the government had compiled lists of names from families and ensured that all those in rehabilitation centres had access to family.

"We [the government] have faced all sorts of allegations, but it was agreed that a system is needed, not to deal with the allegations, but to assuage the worries of parents," Wijesinha told IRIN by email.

"Most of them were forced into combat by the LTTE, and their studies, etc, were disrupted. It is essential to equip them with skills that will enable them to move back into being normal members of society."

He said they were being given training "in select vocations", such as primary-school teaching and driving.

Detention concerns

International human rights organizations are very concerned about the continued detention of alleged LTTE members and reports of alleged mistreatment.

Detainees have not been permitted to challenge their detentions in court and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) does not have access to them.

Although an increasing number of families has gained access to relatives detained by authorities for "rehabilitation", some have not had any contact, Amnesty International said.

The watchdog group said many families had not been informed of prisoner transfers.

Meenakshi Ganguly, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) spokesman, said it was concerned that these combatants had no access to lawyers and that there had been no legal process to review the detention.

"The international community, including donors, should also demand that ICRC [gain] access to the detention camps," Ganguly said.

Lack of contact

The difficulties of resettling after a civil war have not helped. People attempting to leave displacement camps to return to their home villages voiced fears that they would face even greater obstacles maintaining contact with detained relatives, according to Amnesty.

Wijesinha says the government was collecting names from families to help confirm whether their relatives were alive.

"The relative paucity of queries thus far suggests that numbers floated about regarding deaths are exaggerated, but obviously it is in everyone's interests to clarify uncertainties," Wijesinha said.

Uncertainty is what one mother, Allagamma Sivam, finds hard to bear. She says her son was kidnapped by the Tamil Tigers in August 2000 and forced to fight against the government. But even though the war ended more than a year ago, her son, now 34, is still missing.

"My husband died in a shell attack in 2008, and my son was my only hope to live," said Sivam, a 53-year-old teacher from Anandrapuram, in the northern Kilinochchi District.

[IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) is part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, but its services are editorially independent. Its reports do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations and its agencies, nor its member states]

August 09, 2010

'Not every Tiger is necessarily guilty of crimes' - Amnesty International

Sri Lankan asylum-seekers deserve hearings

By James McDonald

From Letters to the Editor @ The Washington Post ~ Monday, August 9, 2010; A12

The Aug. 4 news story "U.S. monitoring Sri Lankans aiming for North America, asylum" quoted a former Pentagon official who advocated summarily sending approximately 200 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum-seekers, now on a boat heading toward North America, back to Sri Lanka. This is a dangerous, ill-considered position.

Further, the asylum-seekers could be at risk of harm if returned to Sri Lanka. Thousands of Tamils suspected of being members of the Tigers are being detained there without charge; some have reportedly been tortured or have died in custody.

People seeking asylum have the right to a fair hearing on the merits of their individual cases. Treating them all like war criminals without giving them hearings is simply unjust.

(James McDonald, Chicago - The writer is Sri Lanka country specialist at Amnesty International U.S.A.)

Sri Lanka Using Sama, Dana, Bheda and Dand strategy against Tamil Diaspora

by Col. R. Hariharan

Sri Lanka appears to be following Hindu philosophy’s four ways of dealing with people - Sama, Dana, Bheda and Dand - in defusing the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora’s potential to incubate separatist militancy of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) kind.

While Sama uses logical reasoning and common sense to explain one’s position, Dana is the classical carrot ploy of offering incentives – as Americans say ‘if you can’t win them, buy them.’ Bheda the third option is the one that politicians indulge all the time – create a split to win over a section. Dand, the last resort is to use force (or the stick, the other half of the proverbial carrot ploy).

The recent high profile public projection of the former LTTE international affairs representative and a high security prisoner Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP) is apparently a part of Sri Lanka’s Bheda strategy. It fits in well with the larger Sri Lankan game plan to handle the Tamil Diaspora. Already it seems to have worked as a few known personalities of the Tamil Diaspora (who had supported the LTTE in the past) have agreed to join hands with KP and participate in the reconstruction process in the North.

KP had confirmed this in a series of media interviews recently. According to him his newly formed NGO outfit ‘The North-East Rehabilitation and Development Organisation' (NERDO) located in Vavuniya, was preparing to play a key role in the rehabilitation, reconstruction and resettlement processes. With years of overseas exposure in his LTTE days, KP had built influential Diaspora connections. While all of them may not join KP’s efforts, he seems to have thrown a spanner in the works of sections of the Diaspora to rebuild a unified organisation to carry forward the LTTE cause. Of course, hard boiled LTTE acolytes would now find justification to call him a quisling.

Justifying his action to collaborate with the government, KP said it was essential for Tamils to realise the ground realities in a post-LTTE era in the island nation and review its strategy to meet the new challenges. His said he was only “concerned about the welfare of the people, particularly children, though some seek fresh funding to cause mayhem. People are fed up with war and every effort should be made to alleviate their suffering without playing politics with a purely humanitarian motive.” This is so true. Logical reasoning with LTTE supporters had never worked successfully in the past when the LTTE’s flag was flying high. But words coming from a senior leader like KP in times of adversity would definitely create at least second thoughts in their minds.

In his interview, KP comes out as a man of sound common sense and pragmatism. He attributed the defeat of the LTTE to the change in global political leaders’ attitude to the LTTE after the 9/11 al Qaeda attack and the US led war on Jihadi terrorism in its wake. Prabhakaran did not realise the urgent need to change the LTTE strategy to suit the new environment. KP’s observation “there is a new world order today, which does not tolerate armed campaigns and that is the hard reality,” showed a realism much needed by those still voicing LTTE slogans.

The increasing public projection of KP in spite of his detention has caused uneasiness among Tamil politicians who consider it as Rajapaksa’s ploy to destabilise them. This fear is probably justified as KP is no ordinary prisoner. Normally as a member of the inner cabinet of Prabhakaran he should be cooling his heels in the Sri Lankan version of the Guantanamo Bay, where his former colleagues are awaiting prosecution. His arrest in Malaysia and rendition was the biggest story of the year after the defeat of the LTTE.

But even before KP completed his first year of imprisonment, rumours are thick that the elusive former chief arms procurer of the LTTE, may rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of Tamil militancy to join the political mainstream. And if the media space he is already hogging, even as a prisoner, is any indication the process for his political anointment has already started. It fits in well with a series of stories that started with his much publicised visit to Vanni in the company of Tamil Diaspora leaders to look at the state of rehabilitation and the formation of a NGO for canalising contributions from the Diaspora thereafter.

KP’s candid interviews bearing his views not only on the LTTE’s defeat and Tamils suffering but also his favourable comments on the Defence Secretary and the President came as icing on the cake of his publicity blitz. There is no doubt that KP’s privileged public access is part of a Sri Lankan game plan. However, his political rehabilitation may come through only after his evidence as a crown witness is fully milked during the prosecution of 737 LTTE hard core cadres in custody. This process could take a year to complete unless special courts are set up. If this surmise is correct, probably KP is slated to occupy a place in the political firmament in 2011.

Even before the war, Sri Lanka had embarked upon an effort to make it difficult for LTTE to retain its foothold in many countries. The President, prime minister, and the foreign minister in the past had stressed this aspect in their international visits and appearances. Apart from these efforts, Sri Lanka said it was launching with the help of INTERPOL a coordinated effort to dismantle LTTE’s international network. These efforts got a big push when Sri Lankan military intelligence recently unearthed highly classified documents and diaries of Castro, former head of the LTTE's international wing, at Viswamadu. These documents have provided details of LTTE international activists engaged in human trafficking, arms smuggling and financial bases in East Asia, Western Europe, Canada and Africa.

In this context it is interesting to note that the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa touched upon this aspect while addressing the Galle dialogue on maritime security conference over the week end. He said, “no matter how powerful we are individually, so long as we act in isolation, we will be ineffective against threats arising from the trans-national operations of non-state actors.”

Can Sri Lanka wean over the Tamil Diaspora from the Eelam cause and support to resurrection of Tamil militancy?

To answer yes to this question would be oversimplifying a complex problem compounded by uneven composition of the Diaspora. And it would also be ignoring the historical realities of how the Tamil Diaspora became the main supporters of Tamil militancy. The Tamil Diaspora is neither uniform nor clearly segmented in their support to the Eelam cause. Basically they act in two planes. One is on the emotional plane based upon their own bitter experience over the years, having lost their kith and kin. Their inability to directly go the aid of their kin when they are still suffering makes them angry now. Swayed by emotions on happenings in Sri Lanka the majority probably belong to this category. The Sri Lankan strategies aided by KP would probably work on this segment, provided political initiatives are also taken in tandem.

The other segment has a much deeper ideological belief in preserving the Tamil identity and creation the Tamil Eelam as the only process to do it. This segment has its origins even before the LTTE was born. This segment is deeply suspicious of majority Sinhalese’s political intentions due to historical experience. And it had been the fountainhead of separatism. It would probably be never wholly won over by the reasoning of the type KP dispenses. However, he may make a dent in its system of beliefs.

This segment needs political solutions to disprove their ingrained beliefs. These have not been forthcoming for the last three decades from successive Sri Lankan governments. And even now little has been done, other than talking about implementing even a half way house solution like the 13th amendment to the constitution.

Prof Rohan Gunaratne, Sri Lanka’s own high profile terrorism analyst of international repute, touched upon this home truth while speaking on post war challenges of Sri Lanka in Colombo last week. He said “failure of Sri Lankan leaders to govern a multi-ethnic and a multi-religious society since independence precipitated Sri Lanka’s ethno-political conflict. Sri Lanka ’s political masters compromised Sri Lanka’s long term national and strategic interests for short term political gain. Unless Sri Lankan politicians build the understanding to never again to play ethnic and religious based politics, poison the ground by radicalizing its youth, and reinforce ethnic and religious divisions, the country is likely to suffer a repetition of its unfortunate past.” The Sri Lanka government and the national leadership would do well to heed his words of caution as there is no indication they are attending to this vital aspect of political confidence building.

Unless this is attended to mere Machiavellian strategies in handling the Diaspora would not provide a satisfactory solution.

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

People must demand that govt should take immediate action against Mervyn Silva

By Sumanasiri Liyanage

Why do we need laws? If all of us are law-abiding citizens, laws may become redundant. Someone has remarked that laws are needed to restrict and limit the actions of the heartless people.

Thomas Hobbs believed that men were inherently ‘solitary, nasty, brutish, and short’ and such men were made civilised citizens because of the presence of the State and the laws executed by it. Now, it is clear that in Sri Lanka, even the State and its laws cannot make those ‘solitary, nasty, brutish, and short’ men civilised.

Has the State failed in Sri Lanka at least in Kelaniya? Deputy minister of highways, who is ironically deputy to the President, who happens to be the Minister of highways, suggested in a TV programme the other day that that a Samurdi Niladhri had been tied to a tree because of his absence to anti-dengue programme in Kelaniya without prior notice.

When the deputy minister had the Samurdhi officer tied up, two police officers who are supposed to maintain law and order and protect the rights of the individual from unlawful actions were present at the scene but they were totally inactive. If the police officers behaved in this manner in all the other places, what would happen to the ordinary citizens and ordinary public servants?

In this context, I was so pleased when I saw over TV that the Samurdhi Niladharis in the Gampaha District stage a protest against that inhumane action and police inaction. In responding to the Opposition MPs protest, in Parliament, the deputy minister turned the story upside down claiming that he had, in fact, untied the Samurdhi officer, who got himself tied to a tree as a kind of self-imposed punishment for not having attended a dengue eradication programme in Kelaniya.

Let me confess. I have a personal reason to raise this issue. The university teachers are having negotiations with the government over a salary issue and they are planning to take trade union action if the government fails to respond positively to their demands. As a member of a trade union, I am worried that my colleagues in the University of Kelaniya may face a similar problem at the hands of the same deputy minister. If the government politicians emulate their Kelaniya colleague, all public servants may face the same inhumane treatment.

Mervyn Silva’s action affected not only an individual public officer but also Minister in charge of Samurdhi, the President and the Secretary of Defence! As far as I know, his action was criticised by only two members of the governmental coalition, Minister Champika Ranawaka and Namal Rajapaksa. Media Minister and Cabinet Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella at the weekly Cabinet press briefing tried to avoid the issue by saying there had been no complaint from the victim.

Let me ask a question. If a corpse is found on the roadside, do the authorities protecting the law and order need a complaint to investigate it? The entire country saw on TV what actually happened in Kelaniya, and do the government and the police need an official complaint? Will the Opposition bring a no confidence motion against the deputy minister if he refuses to make a public apology as the Samurdhi officers’ trade union has demanded?

The Kelaniya incident runs counter to the principle of democratic governance. The country does not need the European Union, Robert O Blake or Ban Ki-moon to advise it on these issues. Principles of democratic and representative governance were grossly violated by Deputy Minister Silva, known as a person close to the President. The protest by the trade union of Samurdhi officers is sufficient for the government to take action against the deputy minister without further delay.

However, the question is whether we can expect the government to take action against him. He behaved in the same way some time back at the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation. The government said action would be taken against him after the conclusion of a party disciplinary inquiry. What happened to the party internal inquiry?

President has reiterated many a time that law will be applied equally to everyone irrespective his or her position and power. Does the same principle apply to his deputy minister? Can the Minister of Samurdhi protect his officers against unlawful harassment by his colleagues? These are some crucial issues that the citizens of this country, not the so-called international community, should raise.

This takes us to a fundamental constitutional issue. Independence of the public service and the police was lost following the enactment of the first Republican Constitution in 1972. Instead of correcting that mistake, the same was given legal validity in the Second Republican Constitution. The 17th Amendment enacted in 2000 to give a semblance of independence to the public service, police service etc has yet to be implemented.

Unless and until the appointments, transfers, promotions and disciplinary action in the public service etc are vested in the hands of independent commissions, incidents such as what happened in Kelaniya recently cannot be avoided. And there will not be proper protection for the public servants to perform their duties without fear or favour so long as political interference is permitted. Does the Kelaniya incident demonstrate that the country is moving towards authoritarianism? Well, maybe yes. There are two kinds of authoritarianism: Authoritarianism of modern type and authoritarianism under feudal monarchical set-up. While the actions of authoritarianism of the first kind may be predictable, those of the second kind are not.

Hence, I submit that we the people should demand immediate action against Deputy Minister Mervyn Silva as well as the police officers who were present at the incident. People, irrespective of their political affinities—let me make it clear that I am, in the broad sense, a supporter of the UPFA—should wholeheartedly support and be identified with the struggle of the Samurdhi officers against the action of the deputy minister.

If Minister Champika Ranawaka thinks that it is a punishable offence, he and other ministers who share his view, should take up the matter at Cabinet level and press for necessary corrective action. In the lone run, it is imperative that the process that began in 1972 with the first Republican Constitution be reversed and the independence of public service, police service etc., re-established through the Constitution.

(The writer teaches political economy at the University of Peradeniya)

August 08, 2010

Why Central highlands of Sri Lanka were made a World Heritage Site

by L C A de S Wijesinghe

The World Heritage Committee, the decision-making body on matters connected with the World Heritage Convention, met in Brasilia, the capital city of Brazil, from 25 July to 3rd August 2010. A major item on its agenda was to decide on nominations that had been made by member states for inscription of properties in the World Heritage List. On 30th July, after deliberating on the matter, the Committee declared the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka as a World Heritage, and it will be so inscribed in the World Heritage List.

WHSDH88.jpg

[click for more pictures]

To qualify to be placed in the World Heritage List a property has to be a heritage of outstanding universal value. Such sites fall into three categories: Cultural Heritage, Natural Heritage and Mixed (i.e. both cultural and natural) Heritage. The Central Highlands of Sri Lanka has been declared for inscription on the World Heritage List on account of its outstanding universal value as a Natural Heritage.

What makes the Central Highlands special as a Natural Heritage of Outstanding Universal Value? The Central Highlands occupy but a small part of the country in the south-central region. Its natural ecosystem is the submontane and montane (or cloud) forest. Biogeographers who have studied the biodiversity of these forests in recent times have come to recognize these forests as an ecological region that is quite distinct from the the rainforests of the lowlands typified by Sinharaja and Kanneliya-Dediyagala-Nakiyadeniya.

In past geological ages, with the uplifting of land and the formation of the central highlands, the climatic conditions and the land forms and topography of this part of the country changed dramatically from the lowlands. Its cooler climate, led to the adaptation of the structural features of the rainforest. In contrast to the majestic tall trees of the lowland rainforest, the montane forest developed a vegetation comprising trees with gnarled branches and flat-topped crowns, and in some places stunted trees of just about a metre in height, the so called pygmy forest. But this structural difference by itself does not qualify the montane forest to be of outstanding universal value. What is more important is that the central highlands being isolated from the lowland rainforest of Sri Lanka, and from the rainforests of the Western Ghats of India for even a longer geological period, has led to biological evolution and the development of new species (speciation).

The rugged mountains, the many peaks and valleys, and the steep escarpments and dissected terrain have provided a multiplicity of habitats where plant and animal populations got isolated and, in the course of time, evolved into many new species distinct from each other and from the lowland species. This is most evident among the groups of smaller animals, the fishes, amphibians, lizards and invertebrate species. In the Knuckles Conservation Forest for example, because of its heavily dissected terrain and consequently high level of habitat partitioning, evolutionary changes have taken place to a amazing degree, exemplified in the prolific range of species in the amphibian genus Philautus.

It is also seen among the plant species. For example, in the endemic dipterocarp genus Stemonoporus, over six species are confined to the central highlands, mainly in the Peak Wilderness area, and it has been remarked that nowhere else in the world do dipterocarps appear at such high elevations. Rhododendron, isolated in the Horton Plains area, has developed into a distinct subspecies Rhodendron arboretum zeylanicum. These are but a few examples of the spate of evolutionary changes that have occurred in the Central Highlands.

The montane forests also serve as an important habitat for some of the larger vertebrate species. For example, the populations of the leopard in the central highlands are isolated from the lowland populations paving the way for evolutionary changes to adapt to the conditions in the mountain habitats. This would also apply to the populations of the extremely rare and globally threatened Slender Loris. So, one of the criteria for being recognized as a heritage of universal value is fulfilled, namely, the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka being an outstanding example representing ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of communities of plants and animals.

The forests of the Central Highlands are rich in biodiversity and a great many of these species, both plants and animals, are endemic. Of the 555 woody plant species recorded from Peak Wilderness alone, 50% are endemic. Moreover, the endemic species have very localized distribution so that if their particular habitats are destroyed they would be lost to the world. Of the 555 species, 147 are globally threatened. Among the plants, the central highlands are also a paradise for orchid species, with Peak Wilderness recording 121. Over half of them are epiphytic, which means that they depend on the presence of the trees on which they grow for their survival.

The Central Highlands is equally rich in faunal diversity. For example, the Knuckles Conservation Forest, which is the richest of Sri Lankan forests in terms of faunal diversity, records 338 vertebrate species, of which 99 are endemics and 28 globally threatened. These include birds and mammals.

Hence the Central Highlands also fulfils a second criterion for recognition as a heritage of outstanding universal value, namely: contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

In considering the Central Highlands, the Man and Biosphere National Committee which initiated action on this nomination way back in 2004 had to decide on making a selection that would exemplify and embody the maximum degree of biodiversity and of habitat diversity. Also the forest should be near pristine, as far as possible, and should be large enough to ensure the conservation of the species within it. It was clear that more than one forest had to be selected. Eventually, a series comprising Peak Wilderness, Horton Plains and the Knuckles Conservation was selected for nomination. As the Peak Wilderness area and Horton Plains, as well as Knuckles though to a lesser extent, also had outstanding cultural features, it was decided to nominate the serial property as a Mixed Heritage.

The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources at this stage spear-headed the preparation of the nomination document with the recruitment of a Lead Consultant and other subject area consultants where needed. The process took two more years to complete.

The nomination was evaluated by a mission representing the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The ICOMOS evaluator (Dr Jane Lennon) found that the cultural values of the three component parts do not qualify it to serve as a serial cultural property. However, her observations indicate that the Adam’s Peak shrine, the pilgrim pathways and the Galpothawela temple could, collectively, by itself, be considered as a cultural heritage of outstanding universal value.

Hence, at a meeting presided over by the Hon. Minister of Environment, it was decided, with the concurrence of the other stakeholders, including the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, to separate the Adam’s Peak Shrine and the pathways from the rest of the Peak Wilderness and to treat the rest of the property, together with Horton Plains and Knuckles, as a Natural Heritage in the current serial nomination. The same meeting urged the Ministry of Cultural Affairs to avail of the observations of the ICOMOS representative and put forward a proposal for recognizing the Adam’s Peak Shrine and the pilgrim pathways as well as the associated temple as a Cultural World Heritage.

What has now been declared as a World Heritage is the Peak Wilderness Forest (excluding the Peak itself and the pathways), the Horton Plains National Park and the Knuckles Conservation Forest.

(The writer was the lead consultant throughout the nomination process. He was earlier Chairman of the MAB National Committee, President of the National Academy of Sciences, President of the Institute of Biology and Country Representative of IUCN. The collaborating consultants included Dr Jini Dela and Prof Nimal Gunatilleke)

Go, Thora, Go; Thomians become Asian Schools Rowing Champions

by S.Muthiah

Go, Thora, Go,” the girls from Colombo shouted, and responding to the shouts from their sister school, Bishop's College, the boys from St. Thomas' College, Mt. Lavinia, a suburb just south of Colombo, came up with an all-out effort to row away with the honours — just as the shouting girls had done — at the recent Asian Schools' Rowing Championships held near Muttukkadu.

Intrigued local journalists were keen to find out what ‘Thora' meant, but Thomian parents were as dodgy about the meaning as Balu Alaganan, former Ranji Trophy captain of Madras and an Old Thomian, was, when I asked him about it, after congratulating him on Thomians moving beyond cricket and swimming, and tasting success in a new sport — rowing.

Old Royalist as I am — like Gopi of the Madras Players — after a stint at its sister school, Ladies' College, though there was a spell at St. Thomas' Prep in between that influenced me considerably throughout my life, I have my own explanation. St. Thomas' is primarily a boarding school and, being right by the beach, boarders would have more than their fair share of Thora, seer fish in Sinhalese (a mackerel we call vanjara), and students from Royal College, landlubbers in the heart of the city, had a ball with the fishy term. But Thomians such as Ravi Menon, District Grand Master of the Freemasons, or my brother, S. Nagarajan, well-known in the heavy vehicle industry, might not have felt the full brunt of the Royalist angle to Thora,as they went to St.Thomas' branch in Gurutalawa in the hills.

Two things you might have gathered from this is that the Royal-St. Thomas' rivalry was akin to the Eton-Harrow one — and something lacking in Indian school circles — and that there was a time when several students from India studied in Ceylon schools. To take the latter point first, indeed they did.

Many from the P.T. Rajan family and from the Madurai area studied at Trinity College, Kandy (schools were called colleges in Ceylon), many from the Tuticorin area studied at St. Benedict's in North Colombo, and several Chettiars, such as my father, studied at Ananda College, founded by Col. H.S. Olcott and the Buddhist Theosophical Society as the first Buddhist public school (in the British sense).

And, as befitting a British public schools ethos, long inter-school rivalries were a tradition.

No matter what other schools you played against, the Big Match in every sport was against a traditional rival — Royal versus St. Thomas'; Ladies versus Bishop's; St. Joseph's versus St.Peter's; Ananda versus Nalanda in Colombo; Trinity versus St. Anthony's in Kandy (but Trinity versus Royal in rugby football); Richmond versus Mahinda in Galle; etc. During the Big (cricket) Matches the students of the rival schools would take over the whole town, and crowd the playing ground with not only numbers but drown it in song and dance.

To this day, the annual Royal-Thomian match draws a bigger and more boisterous crowd than a T20 international featuring Sri Lanka. And I'm sure that, as in my day, that crowd takes time off ever so often during the match to take over the roads of Colombo, and barge into the girls' schools to serenade the awaiting young misses with ‘You Are My Sunshine'.

For the record, the Royal-Thomian cricket match is the second oldest schools cricket contest in the world, the first game in the series having been played in 1879. The matches were two-day ones initially, but three-day ones starting with the Centenary match to which thousands of Old Thomians and Old Royalists came from all over the world to scream “the Blue, Black and Blue Forever” or “The Blue and Gold Forever” respectively.

This rivalry is only one year younger than the one between St. Peter's College and Prince Alfred College in Adelaide. The Chappell brothers played for Prince Alfred, which appears to have had a greater sporting record than that of the more scholarly and older St. Peter's.

I've often wondered why schools in India, even the public schools, have never been able to generate such passion over a match against a rival school. Does anyone have an answer? I'll also be glad to hear from all those who went to school in Ceylon in pre-Independence days, and have never forgotten the experience.

COURTESY:THE HINDU

Villages destroyed, residents driven out to develop tourist sector

by Melani Manel Perera

On 17 July, masked men wielding weapons destroyed the homes of residents in Panama and Ragamvila, two coastal villages in northeastern Sri Lanka. Police and troops who now occupy the area have prevented residents from coming back. Locals accuse the government of taking their land to promote tourist development.

Ampara (AsiaNews) – Colombo is confiscating the land of residents of the villages of Ragamvila and Panama, Ampara Province, northeastern Sri Lanka, to give a boost to the local tourist sector, a decision slammed by the residents before the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) last Sunday.
PPTs were set up back in July by the Praja Abhilasha Network, a body created by the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NFSM) to focus on land issues, especially seizures, in order to denounce them to public opinion and bring them before the courts.

Panama and Ragamvila are coastal villages. The local tourist sector was badly damaged by the civil war between the government and Tamil Tigers that ended in May 2009. Currently, the government in Colombo is taking over land and cutting down forests to built facilities to increase tourism in war-affected areas.

On the night of 17 July, armed men wearing masks attacked the villages. They set houses on fire, destroyed a village temple and drove people out. Police and troops moved in and took over the area and have prevented residents from coming back.

Altogether 35 families, both Tamil and Sinhalese, called the place home. “We condemn this unjust act by police of stealing our land,” some residents, who preferred to remain anonymous, said to AsiaNews. “We have lived here for 20 years and tended coconut and cashew nut trees, our sole source of income. The government does not care about our lives; it only wants to boost tourism.”

On 27 July, residents of the two villages protested in the streets. Edision Gunatilake, senior deputy inspector general of the Eastern Province, promised he would meet them. So far, he has not yet set a date for a meeting.

“It is a bad thing that land is being grabbed with police protection,” a PPT judge told AsiaNews. “People who live along the coast are in real danger because they can be driven from their land at any time.”

“We urge politicians and investors to stop grabbing land and violating the rights of residents,” said Herman Kumara, secretary general of the World Forum for Fisher People. - courtesy: AsiaNews.it -

August 07, 2010

MIA on YouTube (and the Sri Lankan government)

MIA takes on Google, YouTube and Wikipedia

by Malik Meer

Sri Lankan military take down my videos and bully my fans, says the controversial star on a trawl through her web profile. But she's fighting back by communicating in characters

"Mathangi 'Maya' Arulpragasam (born 18 July 1975), better known by her stage name MIA, is a Sri Lankan/British songwriter, record producer, singer, rapper, fashion designer, visual artist, and political activist."

 MIA4-Ravi Thiagaraja

And right now, perched on a sofa at the XL Records office in west London, staring into her gold Apple MacBook, MIA is reading the above words on her Wikipedia entry. Seven years after her first single Galang spread across the web like an art-school-incubated virus – confirming her status as one of the first pop stars of the digital age – she's back with /\/\/\Y/\ (or Maya, for those who can decipher the slashes), and the Guardian has asked her to talk us through her online presence in an attempt to sort fact from fiction. On paper this sounds like a straightforward process. In reality though, as with MIA's music, a single answer can see her head off across continents on dizzying tangents, and encompass pop references, multi-layered political rants, occasional bouts of paranoia, identity politics, and what was the question again?

We meet 10 days after the music blogs have gone into meltdown following her "trufflegate" feud with the New York Times after its writer Lynn Hirschberg suggested MIA wasn't as 4REAL as she claims. MIA responded by posting the writer's mobile number on Twitter and uploading a clip of the interview online. "This is the new shit," she says unabashedly. "This is the new way to interpret the news for artists because we have got the internet, we have got Twitter, we have got all our fans right there. So why do you have to let someone like Lynn shit on you?"

A prolific web user, she says she doesn't really have a favourite go-to website or music blog because she doesn't trust many of them. "I do go on my Twitter [@_M_I_A_] and look at what my fans say though," she admits. "If my fans are funny then I'll retweet and read what they're saying about other shit." Other than that she says she spends a lot of time looking at "stoopid shit", Mexican gangs, Islamic art, images of "3D mosques", and web art, which is where she discovered the photo illusions of Jaime Martinez and signed him to her label NEET.

Recently, MIA also warned fans that Google was developed with the help of CIA seed money. And her new album opens with The Message, a robotic skit that goes: "iPhone's connected to the internet connected to the Google connected to the government." Still, she's game for our Google challenge. Let the digital dissection begin ...

MIA on her Wikipedia entry

MIA1-Ravi Thiagaraja

Firstly, we ask her to pull up her Wikipedia entry. It's fairly generic, detailing everything from her name in Tamil script to her love of Harmony Korine and radical cinema. "I hate my Wikipedia page," she announces as soon as it loads up. "It's really boring to look at. I'd get rid of all this white space. And I'd make the font a bit more interesting." If you've ever seen the fluoro overload of her own website or Twitter page this should come as no surprise. As Wikipedia is notorious for its user-generated inaccuracies and also prone to sabotage, has she – as someone with form in using the net to set the record straight – ever doctored her own entry? "No," she insists. "I really don't know how to do that."

We scroll through the page. In the "Art and Film" sub-section it says, "Jude Law was among early buyers of artwork" after her stint at St Martins. That's a lie, surely?

"It's true, actually. He said that his house got burgled and someone took it, though." So, somewhere in London a burglar is sitting on an original MIA print? "Yeah and he's probably, like, peed on it or something and couldn't give a shit," she jokes. We whizz through the sections on her time working with Elastica and meeting electro sex pest Peaches who encouraged her to make music – all true. Is there anything on here that is incorrect? "Are you working for Wikipedia?" she laughs. "I haven't actually read it in detail but … I thought it was interesting that the section on Diplo got removed when we stopped working together. He emailed me about that; that's why I know that section's missing."

Does she know who removed it? "I have no idea."

MIA on why her new album is un-Googleable

MIA often tweets using nothing but keystrokes and punctuation. So it's hardly surprising that she used the outer reaches of the keyboard to spell out the title of new album, /\/\/\Y/\. Why? "I know it's hard," she says sarcastically, "but once we get there it's gonna be OK. You're learning to use keys that are not letters …" She instructs me to type: "Forward strike, backwards strike, forward strike, backwards strike and so on, then Y for 'Why are we doing this?' [laughs] Then we go back to forward strike ..."

So we put /\/\/\Y/\ into Google, hit return and – drum roll, please! – no matches are returned (possibly because Google doesn't recognise slashes as characters). "OK, it doesn't come up, yeah, but one day that'll be coded and take you somewhere amazing." Ask her why she didn't choose something more Google-friendly and her response is another declaration of war on The Man: "To resist the internet is really difficult to do. I mean, there are so many cunts on there. Loads of Wall Street dudes are stepping on to the internet and seeing it as the gold rush and I think it's [about] not wanting to be used for that reason …"

MIA on the music blogs

On the day of our interview, the music blogs are running a story about the appearance of a new MIA vocal on a track called Toldya by British outfit Sali. It rates highly when we first Google "MIA" (alongside the Born Free video and, unexpectedly, her version of The Wire theme with Baltimore's Blaqstarr). NME.com, meanwhile, runs the story as "MIA lends her vocals to new underground track Toldya." So, how did the track come about? "That's not me," she quickly corrects. "It's somebody that's taken a bit of my song and now they're saying that I worked with them. They asked for permission but I didn't write back so they put it out anyway." She sighs: "I already have to deal with being misrepresented all the fucking time but when it's people you know adding to it, then it gets really hard."

And there's another misconception that she'd like to clear up: that former boyfriend and collaborator Diplo produced her first album. "That annoys the fuck out of me because I met him way after I finished it. Everyone is always [adopts mardy voice], 'The producer who made all the songs.' If you read the credits, he worked on one song and that's just putting somebody else's song next to my vocal. Diplo was the mediator with the phone numbers."

MIA on YouTube (and the Sri Lankan government)

MIA's fraught relationship with the Sri Lankan government has been well documented. She named her first album after her father, Arular, a key member of the Tamil separatist movement, and his links to the Tamil Tigers have earned her a "terrorist sympathiser" tag. She has spoken out against the events which last year saw Tamil civilians rounded up and placed in prison camps after the defeat of Tamil Tigers; she says she agreed to perform at the Grammys with Jay-Z, Kanye and Lil Wayne to bring international attention to the cause. She's also tweeted links to executions carried out by the Sri Lankan government. But it's when we direct her to YouTube that she really begins to vent. Type "MIA" into the site and her Clash-sampling, film-soundtrack-bothering global hit Paper Planes is the first video up. But it's hosted by US video channel Vevo, not by her own channel, or any of her fans.

"They buried my Paper Planes, none of my fucking shit comes up," she says. "All my videos have been constantly pulled, the latest thing that's up there is from 11 months ago."

Who's pulling them? The record company?

"No, the Sri Lankan government is writing to them and saying, 'If you stick MIA videos up we're gonna take you to jail for supporting terrorism.'"

What follows is a convoluted, impassioned, 15-minute rant covering death squads, Californian internet servers and Sri Lanka's defence minister. In summary, here are the key points:

1) The Sri Lankan government bombarded fans who uploaded her videos, asking them to remove them: "They've Facebooked and MySpaced my fans saying, 'If you support this person you'll get done for terrorism because under the PTA [Prevention of Terrorism Act] you're supporting someone who supports a terrorist group and you're a terrorist because it covers anything to do with affiliation.'"

2) For a developing country, the government is also scarily clued-up when it comes to the internet, due to its IT links with the west: "They really fucking know what they're fucking doing and it's crazy fucked-up that I am the first artist on the internet who happened to be a Tamil. And the first government that took down the Tamils is the most internet-championing family of the third world. So it was a battle of the internet when we got on there."

3) Her track Sunshowers from 2004 is one of the oldest MIA videos on YouTube. It's hosted by someone called TubeyBooby and the user comments tell their own story. "He's the only fan that's got shit up," she says with pride. "Whoever he is and wherever he is, he doesn't give a fuck, I like him ... I have the Sunshowers comments printed out." There are 10,000 of them, she says, and if you look, you can see where "the military started going in and commenting".

4) By 2008, she says, the propaganda was kicking in and she was "getting boxed in by my own shit". But she doesn't regret anything she's done or said and puts it down to experience: "That's a great lesson to learn, like, this is how it can be manipulated."

MIA on internet skits

As things are, unsurprisingly, getting a little heavy, the Guardian suggests we lighten the mood by searching for "MIA + comedy". "Didn't you find my Born Free video funny?" she jokes, about the Romain-Gavras video which comes with an age restriction on YouTube. "I try to be funny but it's always misconstrued." Although there's a great sketch in which comedian Aziz Ansari tells how he planned to employ his best Tamil chat-up line on MIA, little comes up. However, one site does: Amiright.com advertises itself as "making fun of music, one song at a time" and includes parody songs (All He Wants To Do Is Shoot And Kill Bugs Bunny to the tune of Paper Planes) and a section called "change a song letter in a song title" which sees MIA's Galang become Galant, a Mitsubishi car model. MIA stares at it blankly.

"What? That's meant to be funny? There's loads of fun stuff in my songs; you'll get it if you listen," she protests. "Anyway, I say jokes and people think it's the most fucking controversial thing anyone's ever said. The thing I said about Justin Bieber was a joke but no one got it ..." (She said she found his video "more violent and more of an assault to my eyes and senses than what I've made.").

"So I'm not gonna say jokes any more," she jokes. "You can't trick me, I'm not gonna walk into that trap." - courtesy: The Guardian -  UK -

I Joined Govt to Help Tamils and not to betray them - Prabha Ganesan

by Shanika Sriyananda

Parliamentarian Prabha Ganesan who pledged to support the government on Thursday to help reach a two-third majority, said the weak Opposition could not address the grievances of the Tamils and the only leader that could solve the national problem was President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government, which would be in power for the next 15 years.

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Meeting the President

A businessman and an electronic engineer by profession, Ganesan in an interview with the Sunday Observer said his crossover was supported by all the organisers of the Democratic People's Front (DPF) and the President has pledged to look into the grievances of Tamils.

"Tamils are happy and have placed trust in President Rajapaksa as he wants all ethnic groups to be Sri Lankans. President Rajapaksa has a special affection for Sri Lanka and as he was determined to free the country from terror he will develop this country to a world class destination. I don't think that there would be any other who can solve the national problem."

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: Why did you decide to support to the government?

A: During the military operation Tamils had lots of problems. At that time being in the Opposition we took to streets and protested against the government. We, the Democratic People's Front (DPF) wanted to show the government the problems faced by the Tamils due to military operation through our agitations. Responding to our protests, the government took some decisions to ensure the safety of Tamils.

There are allegations of human rights violations during the military operations and the government has appointed the Commission to prove them. But after the war everything has become normal and no such allegations are propped up so far as the government is looking into human rights seriously.

Now the war is over but the root causes of the conflict have not been addressed.

After the war victory the government is in a strong footing. Therefore while being in the Opposition, we cannot find solutions for the problems of the Tamils. Tamils need development and need to restore their rights. It is not productive to be outside the government and criticise the government at this juncture.

As a Tamil I can not become the President of this country to solve our problems.

The only alternative is to be with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and get his support to find reasonable answers.

Q: What are the immediate problems of Tamils that you are talking about?

A: During the emergency period the Tamils were registered in Colombo. Recently the government has re-commenced registering Tamils. These activities humiliate Tamils. We need to addresses problems of Tamils who one yet subjected to suspicion. I hope I can talk these issues with the President and I'm confident he will address them

Q: DPF was with the Opposition throughout and how stable is the Opposition to meet the aspirations of the Tamils?

A: The Opposition is weak so as its leadership. Within the Opposition, there are two or three groups who struggle for power. I believe this government will last for over 15 years and the weak opposition will be weaker.

We don't see a good future being in the Opposition. As minorities we cannot imagine of solving our problems. There is no alternative other than supporting the government.

Q: But your brother, Mano Ganesan, who is the leader of the DPF is still in the Opposition and has opposed your move by saying you have betrayed the Party and the Tamil people. How do you respond to his claims?

A: I didn't betrayed Tamils and I took this decision to ensure a better future for Tamils. He will understand this truth soon. In the 2010 Presidential Election President Rajapaksa sought our support. At that time I told my brother to support President Rajapaksa but he took a different line and supported Sarath Fonseka.

I was aware that the Opposition cannot come to power and I wanted to support the President and I invited some of the powerful government ministers including an advisor to President to my house and held discussions to support the President. We negotiated but my brother refused to change his stance.

He supported the UNP led Alliance to win Sarath Fonseka and led several protests against the government. But at the General Election the UNP betrayed him by not offering him a national list slot.

The entire thing was manipulated by Ravi Karunanayake and Karu Jayasuriya. Ravi was afraid of Mano thinking that he would secure more votes from Colombo. Ravi wanted to become the Colombo North Organiser but he knew since majority of voters are Tamils he could not have a place if Mano was given a chance. Therefore, he had well planned the conspiracy to drop my brother's name from the national list.

My party people were very much upset and they wanted to have a change. I consulted the organisers before pledging my support to the President and they all gave me their blessings.

Q: As a pro-Government Parliamentarian what are your priorities now?

A: I will do my utmost to educate Tamils in Colombo North about the development drive initiated by the government. They are with the UNP for over several decades but the UNP cannot help them to fulfill their needs. People of Colombo North have lots of problems and their living standards are very low.

I had already spoken to Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa and he told me that he would help me to develop the areas.

I will work hard to get their votes to the government in the next Municipal Council election. Over 59 percent of voters in the Colombo North are Tamil speaking people. I would convince them and change them. I will visit these areas from Monday to talk to them.

Q: What would be the future of the DPF? Will you be able to convince your brother to support the government?

A: I had consulted all the party organizers before taking the decision. They fully agreed with my decision. Though my brother is the party Leader, he only handled the national and international issues. I am the one who is in touch with the people. I am the one who go to grass roots level and want the DPF to support the government.

My brother is in India and I will tell him my stance when he returns. I am sure I can convince him.

Q: Are you confident that Tamils will have a better future under this government?

A: Tamils are happy and confident of President Rajapaksa as he wants all ethnic groups to be Sri Lankans. After the war there are no divisions in this country. It is a united country and we all have to work together to develop the country.

We all believe that Tamils will find solutions for their long standing grievances under the leadership of President Rajapaksa. As the way he had end the terrorism, he will address the national issue too. To me he is the only leader who can do this. We have confidence in him. President Rajapaksa told me: " Prabha if there is anything tell me, I will look into the matter". I trust him a lot.

President Rajapaksa has a special affection for Sri Lanka and as he was determined to free the country from terror he will develop this country to a world class destination. I don't think that there would be any other who can solve the national problem.

Q: Some LTTEers are still trying to recoup. Do you think there is an opportunity for them to build up the LTTE?

A: No, there is no possibility for them to re-group. Earlier, all the Tamils, including me, were very much with the LTTE in our minds. That is the truth and no one can hide this fact. But nothing brought through the LTTE's military struggle. The LTTE started its arms struggle during the late 1970 and the Tamils experienced only destruction.

Q: Do you mean that Tamils have rejected the LTTE's separatism ideology?

A: Yes. They want to live in a united country. What the Tamils are asking is not a separate land but power sharing. We want the government to amend the 13th Amendment to devolve power.

Q: It is seemed that Tamil politicians are divided and how do you see the future of these Tamil political parties?

A: Tamil politicians in the North and the East are different from the Southern Tamil politicians. The Southern Tamil politicians have always lived with Sinhalese but those in the North and the East are living with Tamils. But we try to support each other when needed and wanted to get all of them together.

Q: The Tamil Diaspora has pledged it support to develop the country and how do you plan to get the support of the diaspora known to you?

A: I have contacts with them and we requested them to support the development activities in the country. They are not talking about the LTTE or a separate land for Tamils. They are aware of the suffering undergo by the Tamils in the North. The government is doing its best but needs help to uplift their living standards.

The diaspora needs to release their funds to develop the country.

Q: Are you supporting the government for getting some personal benefits?

A: It is wrong. I have enough money to live. I am a businessman and this was not discussed at the meeting.

I have extended my support for the government unconditionally. The government does not offer any posts or perks as it has a strong foundation. - courtesy: The Sunday Observer -

The ghost of Anton Balasingham haunts the Sri Lankan state

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Whether it is aware of this or not, a spectre is haunting the Sri Lankan state — the spectre of Anton Balasingham. The Sri Lankan state defeated and virtually destroyed Velupillai Prabhakaran’s LTTE, but it couldn’t and didn’t destroy Anton Balasingham’s LTTE.

The focus is now on the global logistical network of the LTTE, of which KP was a kingpin. This is all to the good but it is not good enough. The growing international pressures narrowing Sri Lanka’s global space are not the doing of the residues of Prabhakaran’s Tiger army or KP’s logistical network, nor entirely of the Sri Lankan government’s sins of commission and omission.

The project of Tamil Eelam is being kept alive internationally and the campaign against Sri Lanka is being driven by a politico-ideological international movement which was founded by and is the legacy of the main spokesperson, most able ideologue and chief negotiator-cum-public diplomat of the Tigers: Anton Balasingham. He established the London hub from which the concentric circles of influence still spread and have been replicated with necessary modifications in other parts of the world.

The legacy of the ideologue has lasted longer than that of the supreme military commander. It is Balasingham’s ideological and intellectual sophistication that tailored the message in such a way that young educated Tamils born in the West (not the ones ‘off the boat’ from VVT) could be attracted. It was also Balasingham’s skills as an interlocutor that opened so many doors in Western capitals; doors through which the traffic is still flowing and openings through which anti-Sri Lankan diplomatic impulses emanate.

Thus, Balasingham’s legacy seems at the moment, far more durable than Prabhakaran’s and Prabhakaran’s legacy is being kept alive by Balasingham’s, albeit with suitable modifications bringing it far more into line with the latter’s own, more sophisticated, Westernised, Marxisant-Realist thinking.

In a path-breaking interview obtained by Shamindra Ferdinando of The Island, the LTTE’s erstwhile chief of procurement ‘KP’ gives an interesting perspective on Prabhakaran’s defeat. In his re-construction, the most important single element is that Prabhakaran failed to understand the changed world order after 9/11 and to make the necessary adjustments. KP repeats this in an interview with Wathsala of The Sunday Leader. Dr. Rohan Gunaratane in a recent interview with Shakuntala Perera of the Daily Mirror reiterates this as KP’s fundamental difference of opinion with Prabhakaran: the latter didn’t understand the post-9/11 world order.

his is most interesting. The emphasis of the post-mortem of Prabhakaran moves from the local to the global, from the military to the paradigmatic and political-diplomatic. The unit of analysis is the ‘world order’ and the key driver, the changes i.e. the dynamics, in the world order.

While we may debate the weight that must be ascribed to this factor in a holistic, historical analysis of the fate of the LTTE and Prabhakaran, it does have the ring of truth: just as the dinosaur could not make the change necessary to survive the transformations in the external environment and thus died out, so too did the Tiger regular armed force.

The question is whether the same danger threatens the Lion? Will the same fate befall it? Has the Sri Lankan state understood the changes in the world order and has it made the necessary structural adjustments in order to survive and prevail? Isn’t the Sri Lankan side still trapped in the time warp of the Bush era and its GWOT (‘global war on terror’) discourse?

What the Sri Lankan side has failed to comprehend is that we are no longer in the post-9/11 moment. While the reaction to 9/11 does constitute an aspect of the world order, we are in a moment that has reacted against the bellicose nationalist militarism of the US neoconservatives in the wake of 9/11. The 9/11 moment was squandered with Bush’s Iraq war. The defeat of the US neoconservative paradigm of ‘anything goes in the war on terror’ has been replaced by a return to greater multilateralism, use of international organisations and institutions, respect for the rule of international law, a re-emphasis on human rights and humanitarian norms, greater media and religious freedoms and the whole package of Western liberalism.

Nothing symbolises the post, post-9//11 order than the ruling of the World Court on Kosovo’s independence, which was the upholding of a pre-Bush era victory for Clintonian ‘liberal humanitarian interventionism’ and the breakup of existing states on the grounds of violations of human rights specially of ethnic minorities.

Of course, the post, post 9/11 moment has features that countervail Western liberal hegemonism. Russia has re-emerged. The economic crisis has weakened the West, leaving China and India virtually unscathed. The USA is economically interlocked with and vulnerable to China. This too is an aspect of a mega trend: the rise of Asia and the possible eclipse in 25-50 years, of the West. But that is a megatrend, a powerful tendency and not yet an actuality. The actuality of the present is seen by the latest US naval exercises conducted by the powerful George Washington battle group, together with the South Korean armed forces, close to a strategic part of China.

So we are left with the question of who – which formation and force – is better geared to the changed world order, which is no longer simply that of post 9/11: the Sri Lankan state or the anti-Sri Lankan international movement for which the foundation was laid by Balasingham?

Balasingham’s diplomatic ghost, the international solidarity movement that was his legacy, and the allies it had leveraged were outclassed and outperformed by the broad united front forged by a Sri Lankan vanguard and its partners in the decisive diplomatic showdown in a multilateral zone of engagement in May 2009. That was achieved by a consciously Gramscian approach of convincing the many through a policy of principled stances, credible argumentation and flexible concessions to the sensitivities of friends and allies.

But that was then and this is now, and that moment of politico-moral hegemony has passed or been squandered. Paradoxically Sri Lanka’s global space has shrunk rather than expanded in this first post-war year. The global movement of secessionist solidarity, lobbying and public diplomacy initiated by Anton Balasingham is still functioning — unlike Prabhakaran’s defunct Tiger army — with new recruits and socio-political advances internationally.

We have no Balasingham out there. The Tigers don’t either, but with internationalist activism, ideological pedagogy and public diplomacy from his liberated zone in London, ‘Bala Anna’ cloned and mentored an entire cadre. In the new Cold War after May 2009, Balasingham’s ghost is proving more than a match for Sri Lanka’s schizophrenic persona of confrontational street theatre and conservative conventional diplomacy.

This is a govt of the Rajapaksa, for the Rajapaksas, by the Rajapaksas

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

The welfare of the people in particular, has always been the alibi of tyrants…”
— Camus (Resistance, Rebellion And Death)

After a lull, the onslaught on the media has resumed. “We need to maintain emergency laws to ensure the safety and security of the nation,” the Prime Minister informed parliament, days after the slash and burn attack on the Siyatha office, located in a downtown Colombo high security zone. The PM also announced that more than 1,500 Tiger suspects were arrested, post-war, even as the police claimed to be ‘clueless’ about the identity of the Siyatha attackers.

When, in a country which accords absolute primacy to security and is spectacularly successful in apprehending Tigers, a media office in close proximity to the presidential abode is attacked, only one of two explanations are possible: either the authorities are criminally incompetent or they are criminally complicit.

Post-war, Sri Lanka’s defence expenditure remains stratospherical; a host of repressive legislations are still in place and the humiliatingly discriminatory practice of registering Tamils has resumed – in the name of security. And yet, deputy ministers tie public officials to trees in the West; mysterious attackers bulldoze temples and dispossess Sinhala villagers in the East, to make way for tourist hotels and displaced Northern Tamils returning to their ancestral lands are expelled, to build cantonments. Behind a façade of democracy, impunity is ravaging post-war Sri Lanka.

Impunity is a cancer which cannot be localised to one group or region. Impunity is invasive and pervasive and victimises even its one-time practitioner-beneficiaries, as the fate of Gen. Fonseka demonstrates. The Rajapaksas became habitués of impunity during the war and their appetite for it remains undiminished, post-war. Only the congenitally purblind can believe that 15 armed men can wreak mayhem in an office located cheek by jowl with check points and vanish, without official sanction.

Moreover, the Siyatha attack bears a striking resemblance to other outbursts of lawlessness targeting Rajapaksa critics, such as the armed assault on Sirasa office and the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge. In each instance, ubiquitous and stringent security measures did not hinder the perpetrators from fulfilling their gory mission and leaving unscathed.

Impunity, which took root during the Eelam war behind the twin myths of humanitarian offensive and zero-civilian casualties, is spreading nation-wide. It is evident in the obnoxiously jejune conduct of Mervyn Silva (who summoned the media to witness him tying a public official to a tree), the Siyatha attack, the bulldozing of the Sambodhi Viharaya in Arugam Bay and the dispossessing of Ragamwela villagers. The insolently nonchalant comportment of the perpetrators could not but result from an absolute belief in impunity, sourced in the certitude that law-enforcers will not impede their lawless conduct.

In a society of onlookers, justice is a scarce commodity. Tamil society permitted the Tigers to perpetrate outrage after outrage in the name of national liberation, until aberrations became the new norm, turning such civilisational crimes as child conscription into accepted practices. A similar process of self-debasement is underway in Sri Lanka.

Mervyn Silva tied a public official to a tree in full public view. But, apart from a couple of courageous officials (who were promptly threatened by the rampaging politico), no one protested. If a public official is in dereliction of duty, he should be dealt with legally; with Silva’s act, another dangerous precedent has been set and one more notch in the downward spiral towards a state of lawlessness passed.

Hell hath no fury like a Rajapaksa scorned, as the witch hunt against Gen. Fonseka and his intimates demonstrates. Siyatha belongs to erstwhile Rajapaksa allies, who fell foul of the ruling family when, in the limited realignment of the Lankan polity consequent to the Rajapaksa-Fonseka split, they opted for candidate Fonseka. The timing of the attack is as significant as its target. Post-elections, the regime focused on getting the IMF loan reactivated, blocking the UN panel and regaining the GSP+ facility.

The first object was achieved through a budget a la economic neo-liberalism prepared under IMF tutelage.

The second and third objects failed, despite isolated acts of political liberalisation (repealing some emergency measures) and a degree of self-restraint (no major attacks on the media since the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda). Now that the Advisory Council is on and the GSP+ facility is lost, external compulsions towards moderation have evaporated and the Siyatha attack may be followed by other acts of violent intolerance.

Had a clear line of demarcation been drawn between Tiger interests and Tamil interests, early on, the subsequent debasement of the Tamil struggle could have been prevented. Post-war, we need to prevent national sovereignty from becoming a cover for Rajapaksa impunity. The process of international de-legitimisation that Sri Lanka is experiencing currently is caused not by a necessary fidelity to national interests, but by a damaging insistence on Rajapaksa interests.

International pressure which advocates the implementation of the 17th Amendment and citizens’ rights are not inimical to Sri Lanka, however much they may obstruct the dynastic project of the Rajapaksas. In any case, the Rajapaksas are not opposed to international intervention per se, as their compliance with IMF conditionalities demonstrates. Their allergy is to international interventions which promote democratic and human rights. The fates of Ragamwela villagers and the Sambodi Viharaya demonstrate that the wellbeing of the Sinhalese and the protection of Buddhism stops when they impede Rajapaksa interests.

Given the Rajapaksa adherence to their brand of trickle-down economics (development via mammoth infrastructure and construction projects), ordinary citizens will increasingly find themselves ignored, incommoded or dispossessed. The Rajapaksa model’s disregard for job creation and poverty alleviation is evident in the importation of Chinese labourers and the absence of a contingency plan to address the adverse effects of GSP+ withdrawal.

According to World Bank report, The Towers Of Learning, “Sri Lanka under-invests in education compared to other middle-income and developing countries”; we spend 2.8% of GDP on public education, below the 4.3% lower-middle income average. Our rank in the Knowledge Economy Index is 82, again below the lower-middle income average. Hardly a performance worthy of an aspiring Miracle of Asia!

The chairman of the NHDA opines that 1.2 million people will be homeless in Colombo by 2012. The official panacea is to double the housing loan to Rs. 200,000, when most of the homeless will be poor and lack even the land to build on! The only realistic solution is to restart the Premadasa housing programme island-wide and not to demolish houses of ordinary people, from Mews Street in Colombo to Ragamwela in the East or to spend scarce resources on building cantonments in the North (the inalienable right of a Lankan to live anywhere in Sri Lanka is not akin to state-engineered colonisation schemes with political agendas).

This is a government of the Rajapaksas, by the Rajapaksas, for the Rajapaksas. And the Rajapaksas are subverting democracy, violating fundamental rights, attacking media freedom, sabotaging the APC consensus and implementing an anti-poor economic model, under the guise of patriotism and national sovereignty. That is why the necessary defence of national sovereignty should not be allowed to degenerate into a defence of Rajapaksa sovereignty to act with impunity.

How Girl Guides in half-sarees from Jaffna came to Colombo in 1922

by Amy Rose Thomas

Girl Guides, as many as 100, from all over the country will converge in the south and then head to the north in true Guiding spirit to help set up libraries in three schools in Jaffna.

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Intrepid Guide from the north: Ponnammah

A journey of 100 friends’ to commemorate the centenary of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts this August will culminate in the Guides assisting the Nanapiyasa Library Project of the Disaster Management Committee for libraries, information services and archives set up by the National Library Documentation Centre of Sri Lanka, IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations) and UNESCO said Communications Director Shaleeka Abeygunasekara. “The aim of the journey is to strengthen the existing fellowship ties between Girl Guides in the north and south.”

As the Guides head to the north in their numbers, will anyone remember the first “minority native girl” to become a Guide Captain and lead the 4th Jaffna Company Guides?

Eighty-eight years ago, in 1922, it was Ponnammah Arulampalam, “small and courageous” according to her daughter, who made her journey, the other way round, to Colombo for the first All Ceylon Girl Guide rally, an initial event of the Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association (now 35,000 strong) which had been born in 1917.

Toting a rifle, for this slip of a 23-year-old girl not only had to be conscious of her safety but the entire troupe from Jaffna, Ponnammah guided them to Colombo for the rally which was held on October 4, 1922, says daughter Navamany Selvarajah, who heard many stories from her mother about her life as a Guide.

Ponnammah who was then teaching at Ramanathan College, Jaffna, had come along with her students to Colombo to march, says Mrs. Selvarajah, retired Professor of Zoology, University of Jaffna.

Clad in a white half-sari, her mind on the drill, Ponnammah along with other Guides lined up on the grounds of Queen’s House (now President’s House) and prepared to give the salute to none other than the Duke of Gloucester, uncle of Queen Elizabeth II.

She was out there all by herself, away from family and home. That day was etched forever in her mind. She and other Guides had practised and trained tirelessly, recalls Mrs. Selvarajah.

Ponnammah had enrolled as a Girl Guide just three years after the Girl Guides’ Association was established in Sri Lanka by Lord Baden Powell himself. She was later transferred to the Girl Guides Company 4th Jaffna, permitted by none other than the erstwhile Island Secretary E. C. H. Barrow, as Ceylon was then under the British.

Guides from Jaffna had outshone others at the rally and added glamour to the scene by donning the white half-sari while others were attired in khaki, blue and white, newpapers of the time reveal.

The rally had drawn Guides from different parts of the island including Galle, Matara, Kurunegala, Badulla, Batticaloa, Nuwara Eliya, Matale and Panadura, in addition to Jaffna.

This blending of cultures from around the island had provided an opportunity to Ponnammah and others from Jaffna to forge lifelong friendships, as they mingled during activities other than marching.

Collecting money to get a teak set and a table, intricate furniture made by prisoners, the Guides had then sent them as gifts to Foxlease, the training and activity centre of Girl Guides near Hampshire in Britain.

“It has arrived here safely and will be a great addition to the Rose Garden. It is so beautifully solid and good and will last forever and always remind us of all of you, our sister Guides in Ceylon. It is so lovely just having it in time for the World Guide Camp,” states Miss Behrens, Guide-in-Charge at Foxlease, in a thank-you letter to the local Guides.

All these nuggets of information taking us back into a past long forgotten have been treasured and lovingly saved as yellowed news clippings and frayed documents by none other than Mrs. Selvarajah.

It was also at that momentous Colombo rally that Ponnammah’s friendship with then Girl Guide Chief Commissioner Bella Woolf began.

Incidentally, in addition to being a writer herself, Bella was the sister of political theorist and author Leonard Woolf of ‘The Village in the Jungle” fame. Leonard Woolf was also part of the Ceylon Civil Service and worked as Assistant Government Agent in many areas in the country.

“To see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower; hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour,” is what Bella Woolf wrote in Ponnammah’s autograph, testimony to their enduring friendship.
For Ponnammah, that Colombo rally had been an adventure that left her fulfilled but thirsting for more of which she had spoken frequently to Mrs. Selvarajah throughout her childhood.

Ponnammah passed away in 1988

courtesy: The Sunday Times

The UNP is the only party in Sri Lanka with a future

by Mangala Samaraweera

This week marks a momentous occasion in my political journey. After 22 years of politics in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), a party to which I have given the best years of my life, I have now joined its arch rival, the United National Party (UNP).

Some are asking me whether I am following the footsteps of my father, Mahanama Samaraweera. That is not quite correct. He, along with C.P. de Silva, did quit the SLFP on the issue of the Press Takeover bill in 1964. But he then formed the Sri Lanka Socialist Freedom Party and contested the Matara seat under the symbol of the rising sun at the 1965 general elections-although it had entered into a ‘no-contest’ pact with the UNP. My father lost to B.Y. Tudawe by some 900 votes. He died shortly afterwards but he never joined the UNP!

I know that many disagree with my decision. They are even questioning my political wisdom because of some of the so-called ‘problems’ in the UNP. But I beg to differ. I have good reasons to do what I am doing and I feel my decision should be viewed from a proper political context-then it can be understood better. And to do that, I must trace my political beginnings.

Although I came from a ‘political’ family, I never harboured ambitions of becoming a politician. I was nine years old when my father died. My next brush with anything political was over 20 years later in 1986, when I had just returned from England where I had completed my degree at London’s St. Martin’s School of Art with Upper Second honours.

JR was President, the free market was flourishing and the economy was booming and I had my sights firmly set on a career in clothing design. I was also a visiting lecturer at the Institute of Aesthetic Studies at the University of Kelaniya-it was a world as removed from politics as can be.

It was then that my mother, Khema Samaraweera who at a wedding introduced me to the Grand Lady of the SLFP, Sirima Bandaranaike. I was meeting her after seeing her as a child and she was a formidable personality. Mrs. Bandaranaike was amused to find that‘Mahanama’s son is in town’ and suggested that I should organise the electorate of Matara, just like my father did. Absolutely taken aback, I simply said no and that was that.

About a year later, Jith Peiris-more famous for his plays and a mutual friend of Anura Bandaranaike and myself-met me at a party and said that both Mrs. Bandaranaike and Anura were keen for me to join the SLFP as the organiser for Matara.

Within a few days, a meeting with Mrs. Bandaranaike was arranged at Rosmead Place where she told me that I was the best man for the job because I could easily harness the affection the people of Matara had for Mahanama Samaraweera. It was an offer I promised to consider.

Around this same period the country had taken a turn for the worse. The ‘Desha Vimukthi Janatha Viyaaparaya’ (DJVP) was at its zenith and the forces of darkness from both sides of the political divide were unleashing their respective brands of terror.

When I visited Matara I found mothers handing me letters to be given to Mrs. Bandaranaike querying the whereabouts of their loved ones: having gone to the ruling party politician, the Police and the soothsayer and having failed, they were desperately hoping that ‘methini’ could help them. It convinced me that I could, perhaps, make a difference and subsequently I phoned Mrs. B and said that I was prepared to take up the challenge. Officially, I was appointed SLFP organiser for Matara on the 19th of June, 1988.

Because Matara was a hotbed of the southern insurrection, I was thrust headlong into the whirlpool of politics. Within the party too, there was an insurgency brewing. Mrs.. Bandaranaike’s leadership was being challenged by Anura Bandaranaike who was in a hurry to claim the mantle. Mahinda Rajapaksa stood by him firmly.

In the Central Committee of the SLFP, Anura had the support of the majority. As I can remember, only Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, S.B. Dissanayake, Nandimithra Ekanayake, Richard Pathirana and I openly supported Mrs. Bandaranaike. It was a baptism of fire. And having seen that through, I can vouch that the internal squabbles in the UNP today pale into insignificance in comparison!

There are interesting parallels, though. In 1989, the SLFP had 63 MPs (the UNP has 60 now), there was an extremely powerful and autocratic President in President Premadasa and there was talk that he was attempting to perpetuate himself in power through a family dynasty. Mrs. Bandaranaike’s advice to us in the midst of all this was to get back to our electorates and to give leadership to the rank and file of the party-and this must be relevant to the UNP today too.

We did that and in the local elections that followed in 1991, we won some 30 pradeshiya sabhas. Of course, the UNP had a landslide but the areas that we won in gave the party rank and file hope that all was not lost. It created a political momentum of its own and was the beginning of the winning streak the SLFP has enjoyed since. And for what it is worth, there will be local government elections next year!

What brought me into politics was my inherent belief in the right to life of all beings. In 1990, I formed the ‘Mother’s Front’ on behalf of those whose children had ‘disappeared’ during the southern insurrection.

My co-convenor was Mahinda Rajapaksa. I handled its domestic agenda and he organised its overseas activities, travelling to many countries, advocating the cause of human rights in Sri Lanka. In Parliament he requested that the United Nations should actively engage with what was happening here. In fact, Rajapaksa received a doctorate from an Indian university for his contribution to human rights in Sri Lanka!

Both of us were younger and idealistic. We believed in the same principles-freedom of expression, the rule of law, democracy, and good governance. We both supported the Free Media Movement when it was first formed. We fought for justice in the Richard De Zoysa killing and Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu was our mascot. These struggles bonded us together. Today, I am saddened that by a quirk of destiny we have to protect all these principles and causes which we fought for from the very person who championed it 21 years ago!

I would propose that the final ‘factor’ which made the SLFP coalesce into a winning unit five years later was Chandrika Kumaratunga. She had the charisma, energy and the ‘common touch’ which made her a hands-on politician in her own right. She commanded a great deal of affection. The rest, as they say, is history.

While in government, I have been a harsh critic of the UNP. As part of the SLFP-led coalition government which had to depend on other parties, I did my utmost to sustain the regime. And I was with the SLFP through thick and thin, especially when it was ousted from power in 2001. We worked harder and by 2004, through some skilful manoeuvring we were back in office.

After the UPFA won in 2004, we had an informal ‘management committee’ to decide on who the next Prime Minister would be. It consisted of the President, Ratnasiri Wikremanayake, Maithripala Sirisena, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Susil Premajayantha, Sarath Amunugama, Lakshman Kadirgamar and myself. I said that Lakshman Kadirgamar was my choice. I knew that President Kumaratunga sympathised with my sentiments.

Others however were of the view that such an appointment could cause a division in the SLFP and that Mahinda Rajapaksa would get the Buddhist clergy on the streets to protest. That view prevailed. Kadirgamar was obviously disappointed but being the gentleman that he was, he accepted the decision gracefully.

My support for Kadirgamar may not have endeared me to Mahinda Rajapaksa but once he was Prime Minister, it was a forgone conclusion that he would be our next presidential candidate. Anura Bandaranaike knew that his best political days were over.

In fact, at the Party’s Central Committee, Rajapaksa’s name was proposed by President Kumaratunga and seconded by Kadirgamar who made a moving endorsement. That evening, President Kumaratunga telephoned me to say she was greatly relieved that ‘everything went smoothly’.

When Mahinda Rajapaksa wanted me to be his campaign manager, I had absolutely no qualms about it. He was my friend, I had known him for two decades, he was the Party’s chosen candidate and I went all out to ensure his victory-although I did have reservations about his suitability. My attitude was different from many of those who are ministers who are falling at his feet today; they hardly spoke a word to support him, believing that Ranil Wickremesinghe would win the 2005 election!

During this campaign, we did talk to a person with close links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at Tiran Alles’s office at a meeting attended also by Basil Rajapaksa. We asked that those in the North and East be allowed to vote but on election day we learnt that the LTTE had engineered a boycott. That was a bonus-and in the final analysis, the key factor in deciding the election.

The horror of what I had done-in being instrumental in having Mahinda Rajapaksa elected as President- dawned on me at the Kalubowila hospital as I watched Lasantha Wickremetunga fighting for his life. Two years later, I feel it even more. I didn’t in my wildest dreams imagine that Mahinda Rajapaksa would lead the country down this road.

Yes, Mahinda Rajapaksa must get the due credit for winning the war in its final phase. But I do object to his claiming copyright and sole proprietorship for the war victory. The war was not won overnight. There were many who did their bit. From the battlefield, the Kobbekaduwas and Wimalaratnes and many more paid the supreme sacrifice. Today, the very man dubbed by this government as “the best army commander in the world” is being hounded by the most vicious political witch hunt ever seen in this country.

In the political arena, D.B. Wijetunge (liberating the East), Chandrika Kumaratunga (liberating the Jaffna Peninsula) and Ranil Wickremesinghe (mobilising international support for our country through the CFA) all contributed.

Lakshman Kadirgamar was instrumental in galvanising international opinion against the LTTE and I am proud that in my short stint as Foreign Minister I was able to enlist the LTTE as a terrorist organisation within the European Union-the same group of nations which is threatening to revoke our GSP concessions today.

In fact, Velupillai Prabhakaran grudgingly conceded the effectiveness of our diplomacy when in his Mahaveer speech of 2006 he lamented that “the international community has been fooled by the government.” Perhaps that is why he paid people like the two men who were convicted recently, to report on my movements.

In 1951, when S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike founded the SLFP, he said that it would be a social democratic party which will not tolerate the rule of one person or one group. That is precisely what has happened to the SLFP today-the total expenditure of the last budget was 1.7 trillion rupees of which 1.2 trillion rupees are directly controlled by the Rajapakasas!

The SLFP was always seen as a ‘common man’s party’. Today, its government is promoting a crony economy a la Marcos, while dancing to the tune of the International Monetary Fund. The endless list of promises given to the people during the last few elections are now been dismissed with disdain by the President; the President even says that he did not promise a two thousand five hundred rupee pay hike!

The SLFP always stood for ethnic harmony and reconciliation. Today, it has been hijacked by extremist chauvinist elements. Now that the war is over the government has no plans to win the peace. The country is on the verge of becoming a pariah state in the eyes of the international community and could well be hauled up before the International Criminal Court through the United Nations.

These are the some of the reasons why I am disillusioned with the SLFP. For those who point to the so-called ‘problems’ within the UNP, I can only say that the while the Rajapaksas probably do have a future, the SLFP as we have known it and the ideals it has stood for, does not have a future. And that is why I have decided to join the UNP.

I believe that the UNP is the only party with a future and that this future is in keeping with the liberal democratic political principles that I have stood for in the past two decades. I refused to rejoin the cabinet despite several invitations during the last two years, because I could not agree with the direction in which the SLFP was heading and I am walking into the UNP today because I can see eye to eye with their policies.

To those who point at the so-called ‘divisions’ within the UNP, I would suggest that this is part and parcel of any party in the opposition and that it is negligible compared to the internecine warfare that prevailed in the SLFP in the late eighties. The UNP will surely recover-and will become stronger because of it. Also, after the last Parliamentary election, it has got a fine set of young MPs-honest, untainted by corruption or violence, well-meaning and idealistic-and the stage is thus set for a revival of the Party.

I for one have been among the harshest critics of Ranil Wickremesinghe but the more I associate with him, the more I am convinced that he is the man that Sri Lanka needs. He may be weak in his public relations but his strengths in governance and his vision for the country makes him irreplaceable. If we are to move forward as a nation, especially in this post war period, we need an intellectual leadership as opposed to the photogenic ‘baby kissing – Bo sapling worshipping’ type of leadership we have now.

Sajith Premadasa is an energetic and talented young politician. So is Ravi Karunanayake. Their time will surely come. But I feel this is not the appropriate time to be in-fighting. This is instead the time to recognise the true enemies that we have to contend with rather than devouring ourselves!

I must point out that J.R. Jayewardene was not the most charismatic of leaders in 1977. Yet, he was able to project the UNP policies through a team of bright young turks which included people like R. Premadasa, Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanaike etc. and record a landslide victory. History can surely repeat itself for the UNP, I believe.

Some have apprehensions about the talks the UNP is having with the government on constitutional reforms. Even though the government may not have the best of intentions in this exercise, if they do say that they wish to abolish the executive presidency, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt. But such discussions should not be undertaken blindly because I feel Mahinda Rajapaksa is playing for time and trying to gain respectability from the international community which comes with co-operating with the Opposition.

But I do strongly feel that what is more important is the strengthening of the 17th Amendment. Without the independent Police, elections and judicial commissions it provides for, all other amendments become irrelevant and the executive prime minister would be as disgusting as the executive presidency. And, even if we do revert to a purely Westminster style government, the Rajapaksas can easily have a de-facto dictatorship, Zimbabwe style, by staging flawed elections.

As for me, I do not personally seek any position from the UNP! I only ask for the right to work at the grassroots level in my home turf, the Matara district. I only seek the authority to go from house to house, door to door, reorganising and restructuring the party.

Yes, earlier I did make a fuss about the symbol that we would contest under, when we were forming an alliance with the UNP. That was because I believed-and still believe-that a coalition should have a distinct symbol instead of the symbol of one constituent party, however dominant that party may be. The SLFP, for instance, readily abandoned the ‘hand’ in favour of the ‘chair’ first and the ‘betel leaf’ later-and they didn’t suffer as a result.

My final intention by joining the UNP therefore is to try and form a government that respects the rule of law, upholds democracy, displays good governance and cares about its people-not just a few people and their hangers on.

I say so because now more than ever I strongly believe the time has come to say ‘Thank you, Mr. Rajapaksa, for winning the war; now allow a set of competent people to take over the country so that all its people can make use of this window of opportunity to enjoy the peace dividend, instead of squandering it on the glorification of a selected few’. - courtesy: The Sunday Times -

Tamils in Sri Lanka seeking asylum: A need no more or not?

by Rev.John Barr

After UnitingWorld’s the Rev. John Barr returned from visiting the war-torn north of Sri Lanka in June, he described his journey as one of the most challenging and confronting trips he has ever experienced. Here is his reflection.

The island of Sri Lanka is likened to a tear drop in the Indian Ocean. This is, perhaps, a most apt image given the country’s tumultuous history. In 2009, we all cried and opened our hearts to over 280,000 Tamil civilians that were interned in detention centres run by Sri Lankan security forces. Humanitarian aid was severely restricted and ‘unexplainable disappearances’ were frequent.

My recent journey to the north of the island gave a chilling insight into the issues that thousands of Tamils continue to face. While much of the conflict is over, it is clear that many people have been unable to access their most basic needs. My experience left me questioning whether Tamils are truly safe from harm today.

During the one week trip to assess the situation, I visited several holding centres for Tamils who have been released from detention camps and await permission from security forces to return to their homeland.

These holding centres are extremely dire places. Food is scarce and access to basic health care is minimal.

One of my strongest memories is my visit to a centre located in the grounds of the former Killinochchi Central College, where some 335 families reside today.

The top floors of the main building have been blasted by artillery and mortars during the war. The people who live there receive food from the United Nations World Food Programme, but access to basic health care remains extremely limited.

A doctor from the Jaffna Diocese Green Memorial Hospital in Jaffna visits the centre for a few hours whenever possible to perform medical checkups. During this visit I met Annamma, a young mother of three children. One of her legs had been blown off during the recent war. Her husband was incapacitated due to a bullet lodged in his spine.

Annamma’s family were Tamils that had fled Jaffna in 1995 to rebuild their lives in Vanni, an autonomous Tamil region. Their future now remains in serious jeopardy.

Annamma told me she is “sick of being here”. She is “sick of waiting… all we do is line up and wait… for food, for water, for a shower…”. Thousands of others are in this same situation. There was a depressing sense of hopelessness in this holding centre.

These families are waiting here for land to become available where they can resettle, but much of the land remains riddled by land mines and is as such uninhabitable.

At another centre, the people were in no better condition.

I met a man who had lost both his legs. Another man suffered shrapnel wounds in his stomach. Then a woman next to me collapsed to the ground and gripped her head tightly, convulsing on the ground. People tell me that this happens to her frequently, a result of shrapnel lodged in her brain.

Today approximately 45,000 people have no choice but to continue to live in these centres scattered throughout the country’s north.

Back here in Australia, we hear little more than reports that we war is over and that conditions are improving in Sri Lanka. But my first hand view highlights that the Tamils there continue to experience a real sense of subjugation and humiliation.

Many queue for hours to access to food and health care. They wait for months on end, uncertain of when they will be able to return to their land and start rebuilding their lives. There are no places for Tamils to mourn, and many do not know what has happened to their loved ones. Trauma is a massive issue, and there is no closure for so many people.

An urgent question in Australia concerns the wellbeing of Tamils from the north and the east of Sri Lanka seeking asylum in Australia. Many are detained in terrible conditions with limited access to their most basic needs.

Are Tamils truly safe in Sri Lanka today? From what I saw the answer is NO.

We have a responsibility to continue opening our hearts to the many thousands of Tamils who face danger in Sri Lanka today.

John Barr is Associate Director for Church Solidarity (Asia)

‘Lions’ and the ‘Tigers’ of Sovereign Sri Lanka

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

The ‘Lions and Tigers’ here are not the four-legged animals that live in forests away from human habitats but the two groups of natives in the war-torn island, who opted to embrace the lion and the tiger as their distinct emblems after the British colony, Ceylon (Sri Lanka since 1972), became an independent self-governing State in 1948.The ‘Tigers’ emerged openly as a distinct species after Black July 1983, though there was some indication of their emergence in the 1970s.

In the light of blatant discrimination and intimidation by the ‘Lions’ that made the ‘Tigers’ feel insecure and futureless, the latter started the violent campaign to preserve the portion of the island considered to be their territory. On the other hand the ‘Lions’ believe they are insecure unless the have full control over the entire island. To the ‘Lions’ nothing else only numerology, the power of numbers, counts. They make up nearly three quarters of the total inhabitants including some liberal Sinhalese. Hence, the justification for insisting on controlling the entire island under centralized majority rule. The diverse demographic features across the island are unimportant.

Their respective flags, one with the whole lion taking the major portion with narrow margins on one end representing the marginal status of the minorities in national politics, while the other with the fierce face of about to attack tiger depict the nature of the conflict that deprived many citizens as well as the entire island the benefits of uninterrupted development, which many less developed countries gained swiftly after independence under sensible leaders committed to national unity and peace.

The narrative of the ‘Lions’ and the ‘Tigers’ below depicts the opportunistic ways the power seekers used the electorate for achieving their narrow aims which promoted ethnic division and disharmony. They were not at all interested in building a robust democratic socialist nation in which all the diverse ethnic groups feel safe and confident about their future. If this had happened, Sri Lankans today would be leading a far better life. Instead, they made security the prime concern of the ‘Lions’. Even now this concern is sustained for political reason. The true fact is the security of all communities and the State depends crucially on their confidence in the system of government that must be inclusive and unbiased. Such an equitable system will help to ensure the ground conditions remain conducive for all to live in concord without encroaching on others rights, liberties and property.

Use of emotional symbols in politics and the consequences

Dr. A.R.M. Imtiyaz, Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Temple University, USA in a comprehensive analysis of electoral politics in independent Ceylon/Sri Lanka has discussed the importance given to emotional symbols such as ancient Sinhala monarchs and Buddhist heroes by the main political parties competing for power. “Almost all elections in Sri Lanka, between 1948 (parliamentary election) and 2010 (both Presidential and general election), have made use of religio-ethnic symbols”. These are irrelevant in the modern world and increasingly damaging to the solidarity of the pluralistic nation. When the developed countries and developing countries committed to steadfast social and economic development have discarded their real dissonant history, even mythological events are politically useful symbols for the ‘Lions’ in Sri Lanka.

Not surprisingly, the way these symbols were used continuously in politics promoted separate communal identities instead of the common national identity. The common interests, the ethnic communities had before independence also disappeared afterwards because of this symbolism. Patriotism became synonymous with Sinhala nationalism, advocated by the self-seeking Sinhala elite, aspiring for power or wanting to consolidate further their influential positions in their society. In response, Tamil nationalism grew as a patriotic fervour fuelled by the policies and actions of the State dominated by the Sinhala majority that blatantly discriminated against the ethnic minorities for immediate political advantage. These as intended pleased the Sinhala electorate. Certainly, there were many disadvantaged people among the Sinhalese compared with the average persons in the minority communities. There were acceptable ways of improving the living standard of the poor Sinhalese but the power seeking political elite chose to remove the rights and privileges of the non-Sinhalese. Thus the case for two separate nation-states was established by the ruthless Sinhala Lions.

To quote Dr. Imtiyaz: “This study argues that symbols are powerful, and they often motivate voters against the ethnic others when they are being politicized. In electoral politics, as argued above, symbols of groups become critically important due to its appeal to the nature of electoral politics, which requires votes for its survival. Political choices of masses not always associated with rational choices, and symbols often influence their choices. In Sri Lanka, elections are heavily symbolized. Sri Lanka’s experiences prove that the symbols win votes and thus politicians continuously use them to win and consolidate power.

But what is equally true is that the use of symbols or politicization of symbols of a particular group gradually increases the sense of insecurity among the ethnic others who became clear victim of politicization of symbols. In Sri Lanka, the Tamils, who became a clear victim of politicization of symbols that paved the way for the introduction of the deadly anti-Tamil policies such as the Sinhala-only language and ethnic education standardization as well as state supported anti-Tamil ethnic pogroms, feel that they were being marginalized by the Sinhala politicians to please the Sinhalese, and they will not win justice from the Sinhala polity.

Conversely, the Sinhala symbolism and nationalism pressed the Tamils to adopt their own form of symbolism as a defensive strategy to counter the threats of the Sinhala symbolism. Moreover, the Tamils’ distrust in the fair deliver of state and its institutions persuaded some to embrace violence to exercise their self-determination to build the separate state in the corner of the North and Eastern.

Sri Lanka’s experiences also prove that the use of symbolism for electoral politics in deeply divided societies would hurt the progress of the country. The island of Sri Lanka could have emerged as a model for successful democracy and economic growth, if there had been ethnic harmony and unity among the masses. But such progressive end was not gained mainly due to Sinhala elites’ misuse of primordial symbols for electoral gains”. [The full article, “Deadly Symbols, Vibrant Electoral Politics and War Crimes in Sri Lanka” was posted by TransCurrents on July 28, 2010. It appeared in the IUP Journal of International Relations, Vol IV, No. 3, July 2010. http://www.iupindia.in/International_Relations.asp]

The military victory last year that annihilated the ‘Tigers’ is now the new symbol of power of the majoritarians (‘Lions’). It helped immensely to win this year’s Presidential and Parliamentary elections. The current plan to celebrate annually May 19 as a victory day reflects the intent to hold on to this new symbol, hoping it will be useful for gaining the votes of the ‘Lions’ in future elections. This has also been of immense use in diverting the attention of many ‘Lions’ from pressing economic issues. But as expected by realists, recent developments indicate the emergence of discontent.

Buddhism and contradictory political culture

There is no doubt Buddhism another useful symbol in electoral politics has played a key role in the contest for political power within the Sinhala polity. The rival political parties have exhibited their commitments to Buddhism pretending there are threats to the Buddhist Sasana and there is the need to safeguard the interests of the Sinhala-Buddhists. The ‘Lions’ believe they are “the Buddha’s chosen people, and view the island of Sri Lanka as the Buddhist Promised land”. According to Dr. Imtiyaz, “Buddhism will continue to play a determined role in Sri Lanka’s polity, and that Sinhala political elites, regardless of their attachments to various ideologies, will employ Buddhism to win public office and to outbid their opponents in elections”. Buddhism which served as a useful symbol has no bearing on the nation’s political culture that is immoral and divisive.

What Kumsyoh has said on ‘Low intensity evil in Sri Lanka’ (Groundviews 31 July 2010) is very relevant here. “The logic to make someone or a group dominant at the cost of others is evil. Those who want to dominate make their viewpoints the most dominating viewpoints in public life. They make their viewpoint permeate every facet of society; it is beamed through different lenses and repeated intentionally so that it would influence the totality of the way people think”. The concluding paragraph highlights the dire consequences of negative politics. To quote: “The problem with low intensity evil is that it cannot be always managed. With sustained dissent or the convergence of suppressed anger and we can experience violent repercussions, leaving us to wonder what went wrong. Sri Lanka has been down this path before. Should we travel on it again?” Sadly there are no signs of a mutually acceptable arrangement for the ‘Lions’ and the ‘Tigers’ to shun their separate identities and live in concord in the present as during the time they were pleased to be known as Ceylonese. They did not have then any make-believe enemies within the island.

The creation and subsequent exploitation of the Tamil problem for narrow political gains illustrate this stratagem. The influence of the ‘Lions’ on the Sinhala-Buddhists, the mainstream voting public would not have been strong if not for the punishing treatment given to the ethnic Tamils. Now that the terrorizing lot is gone, the ‘Lions’ seem to be anxious to have at least a proxy to justify the continuation of the role of the protector of the ‘Lions’ terrain. The usefulness of having a hidden enemy within the blessed island is multifaceted.

The continued presence of the armed forces in the Tamil majority Northern and Eastern provinces, where military cantonments and quarters for the families of army personnel posted there can be justified. This is perceived by many Tamils there as another opportunistic move by the ‘Lions’ to colonize the former ‘Tiger’ land. The residents who have suffered under the control of the armed ‘Tigers’, now are under the control of uniformed men with guns from the traditional land of the ‘Lions’. Many do not feel liberated from the fear of sudden attack and displacement experienced since the time the ‘liberation’ struggle intensified into a full-scale war.

Apparently, there is a political need for the government to claim that the ground situation is not normal yet to remove fully the various restrictions imposed during the war. Emergency rule continues still, more than a year after the war ended. Also the emphasis on security helps to distract the people from annoying day-to-day problems, which have multiplied with the collapse of good governance, rule of law, independent judiciary, poverty alleviation, forward planning and not least the widely relied APRC process. It is unclear whether the development of the war-torn North-East is according to a comprehensive plan prepared in consultation with the local leaders.

The absence of coherence and practicality in decision-making is patent from the impulsive decisions such as the substantial salary increase promised to public servants, the award of 20% bonus on the interests paid to the savings of senior citizens deposited in commercial banks and to pay the monthly pensions of Sri Lankan government pensioners residing abroad in foreign currencies. Those who opted to receive their pensions in Dollars or Pounds are free to spend them at any time they want but other expatriates who get paid in Sri Lankan Rupees that too only into specified savings account must revisit Colombo to withdraw their pensions! Now the authorities are finding it difficult to implement the earlier decisions because of the shortage of funds. Any further discussion on this subject is outside the scope of this paper.

Buddhist principles did not influence the way of life of the majority of Sri Lankans, particularly the governance. The teachings of the Buddha, emphasize that falsehood, deception, pride, arrogance, intolerance, inconsideration, violence etc. are negative qualities. Both the ‘Lions’ and the ‘Tigers’ have competitively contributed to the evolution of the violent culture that continues to destroy life with impunity even after the much acclaimed dawn of peace with the elimination of the ruthless ‘Tigers’. Ironically, the ‘Lions’ and the ‘Tigers’ have each contributed unwittingly to the ruthlessness of the other. The ‘Lions’ defeated the ‘Tigers’ using some brutal methods during the final months of the war similar to those used by the ‘Tigers’ for decades. Given the nature of the conflict between the ‘Lions’ and the ‘Tigers’, will there be any use in investigating the alleged war crimes? Human rights, UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and international humanitarian law seem to be irrelevant in the ferocious ‘war’ between the two Sri Lankan groups, the ‘Lions’ and the ‘Tigers’. This contentious issue has to be seen in the context of ‘lost senses’ alleged to have prevailed since Black July 1983.

‘Lost senses’ since Black July 1983

Basil Fernando, a Director of ‘The Asian Human Rights Commission’ (AHRC) a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia based in Hong Kong in his article on Black July 1983 interpreted the gruesome event and subsequent ones, paradoxically in the name of peace that caused destruction and extensive suffering in the context of lost human senses.

“When acts of violence become so common and there is nothing much to talk about, it simply means life itself has reduced to something that there is nothing much to talk about. That is how I saw July 1983 events. Things in Sri Lanka is reduced to a point where there was nothing much to talk about. People talk about things in order to make some sense out of it and if possible to remove the nonsense that is involved in some events and to bring back society into some sense. To bring the lost senses back to what may be called a normal human sense and then to make some change, something creative, something meaningful out of suffering”

All what happened after Black July1983 are considered as just incidents reflecting more of the lost senses. “Then we got divided - The South Vs the North and East. Many of yet another incidents happened every day. Then a victory (refers to the triumphant military victory that mercilessly destroyed the ‘Tigers’) was celebrated. Was the victory not yet another incident? Many wanted to believe it was not. As days goes by it not possible convince ourself that such victories also are yet another incident only. …. I did not see July 1983 as an ethnic event. I saw it as a senseless situation. I saw it as a problem of the whole nation I have not seen an end of that situation but only a continuation.” (Sri Lanka Guardian 26 July 2010)

Although the optimists will not agree fully with the above comments, these give some idea of the complex nature of the national problem and the approach needed to resolve it once and for all. Joint actions are needed on several fronts, which entail the vital attitudinal change and trust between the divided ethnic and religious groups. The sensible Tamils have urged the different political groups in the North-East to abandon parochialism and unite at this critical time when the future of the community is increasingly uncertain.

Lionel Bopage, a former JVP leader in his recent speech on ‘Peace and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka’ delivered in Melbourne, Australia said: “The current political conflict cannot be oversimplified to a simple linear equation between development and peace”, which seems to be the case going by the government’s statements and actions. He has emphatically said that “the way forward for peace and reconciliation lies in exploring the potential for rebuilding inclusive relationships among the diversity of people through the existing and available dialogue and interaction mechanisms within communities both local and diasporic”.

Since a principled or rights based approach to resolve the issues of Tamil people cannot be expected to materialize from the ruling elite, he has suggested all movements committed to human rights, democratic rights, civil liberty, social justice and social inclusion to join in a non-violent campaign to get rid of the repressive political culture. The need for them “to exert pressure on the state to negotiate towards a meaningful and just power-sharing arrangement” has also been stressed. The political elite will not voluntarily change their attitude but will continue to exploit the social and political divisions for their benefit. They will also keep the present system exploitable. (The entire speech posted by groundviews on July 25, 2010)

Another prominent Sri Lankan residing in Australia, Brian Senewiratne has also explained lucidly ‘why national reconciliation is not possible in Sri Lana’ (30 July Sri Lanka Guardian). He has said for national reconciliation to occur the following fundamental requirements must be met.

“1. There must be a genuine intention to do so.

2. There must be regret for all that has happened to make national reconciliation necessary.

3. The fundamental problems that caused the rift must be addressed.

4. There must be a determination to wipe out all the obstructions to this process.

Since none of these are present in Sri Lanka, national reconciliation is not possible”.

He thinks the ‘Lions’ feel they are now in a good position to achieve their aim of formalising Sri Lanka as a Sinhala-Buddhist country. “The major obstruction (to national reconciliation) indeed the most virulent ones are the politically active Buddhist clergy and Sinhalese ethnoreligious chauvinists. There has been no action to control these disruptive elements that are now more vocal and virulent than they have ever been. If the Buddhist clergy are told clearly and unequivocally that their place is in Buddhist temples and not on the streets stirring up Sinhala supremacy and demanding the establishment of a Sinhala Buddhist country, then there might be some optimism of a national reconciliation. There has been no such move and these bigots are doing what they have done since Independence in 1948, destroying any possibility of a united country”. Although, there are Sinhala moderates and few politicians from the ethnic minorities in the government, it is the staunch Sinhala Buddhist nationalists who are influential.

My own view is they are not against unity but they want this on their terms that entail the acceptance by all the supremacy of Sinhala Buddhists and their right to govern the entire island which they consider to be exclusively their native land. Because of the influential status they have acquired after independence for reasons stated earlier in this paper, Brian Senewiratne thinks no government “will have the courage to confront these dreadful people who are not only doing irreparable damage to the country and its future, but bringing disrepute to one of the greatest teachers of peace and nonviolence the world has ever known, Gautama Buddha”.

Conclusion

The ultimate aim of the government leadership given the present ad hoc initiatives on the political front that are unrelated to the widely desired needs of the humble people is puzzling. No discerning person has said it focuses on rectifying the past blunders and building a unified nation respecting pluralism and equality, human and, political rights and democratic freedoms of all citizens. The system must also ensure equal justice for all regardless of their locality and status in the society. The civil society can no longer allow the political elite to decide the system of government needed for the welfare of the country and all the diverse groups in the Sri Lankan society. The two Republican Constitutions failed to protect equal rights and the justifiable interests of all recognised segments of the mixed society because of the exclusion of independent experts.

As before, the present political elite too are overly concerned about the near term in their approach to constitutional reform. The contemplated reforms too are perceived from their own political needs. It seems their confidence in effecting these changes within the present structure is high because of the military victory and the impression created that they have the power and the means to protect the Sinhala nation from any future revolt. Even the apparent move towards authoritarian rule may be perceived by some as necessary to avert another ‘Tiger’ menace. Sri Lankan Prime Minister told Parliament on August 3, the government troops have arrested more than 1500 Tiger suspects last month, nearly 14 months after the heavily armed group was crushed militarily. The usefulness of the ‘Tigers’ at the present time is also in other critical areas.

The ‘Tiger’ leadership or more aptly the leader also believed in the effectiveness of his high-handed methods in the pursuit of absolute power ignoring completely international opinion. The Tamil community paid the terrible price for his unrealistic conviction in absolutism and confidence in the brutal methods used to achieve his political aim. Now it is for the Sinhalese to think seriously whether they should be led along similar risky path, ignoring the present national and international realities.

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

Dystopian Politics: UNP suicide, a Clown Minister, and two Crossovers

by Rajan Philips

Two weeks ago I wrote that “everything is predictable in Sri Lankan politics but nothing bears a positive outcome”. Well, not everything is predictable it turns out from the events of the last two weeks. Who would have predicted a longstanding supporter of the UNP setting himself on fire disgusted by party infighting and its falling support in the country?

Who could have predicted the fiasco of a moronic government minister tying a helpless government servant to a tree as punishment for whatever? And who would have been surprised by the two crossovers from the UNP Opposition to the government so soon after Ranil Wickremasinghe thought he had successfully checkmated Mahinda Rajapakse’s desire to have a third term (why not more?) as President?

The tragic death of UNP supporter Rienzie Algama has been attributed to his frustrations with the leadership crisis in the UNP. Although Mr. Algama died supporting Mr. Wickremasinghe, the supporter’s sacrifice has not solved any of the leader’s many problems. The leader is under challenge within the party and is facing criticism from outside the party. Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe is being blamed for atrophying Sri Lanka’s Grand Old Party and thereby undermining Sri Lanka’s democracy. The criticism is coming even from those who would never support or vote for the UNP, who would consider as outcasts those among their peers who vote for the UNP.

Ranil Wickremasinghe deserves all the criticism that is being thrown at him but the suggestion that Sri Lankan democracy is going to founder because of him is more than far fetched. The villain of the piece when it comes to undermining democracy in Sri Lanka is the government itself and there is no point in kicking the molehill that is Ranil while standing under the shadow of the Rajapakse mountain and pretending not to see how dysfunctional and dystopian the mountain is growing in the name of national security and national sovereignty.

The pretention of these critics is somewhat inevitable because they are also the unsolicited theoreticians of security and sovereignty, defending both against perceived attacks from the international community. Unsolicited – because the government cares no hoot about their sophisticated opinions when it can deploy direct action by the likes of Wimal Weerawansa and Mervyn Silva. There have been spurious defences of Weerawansa’s antics but it would be a tough one for anyone with any intelligence to explain the presence of a person like Mervyn Silva in the cabinet of ministers.

The folly of Ranil Wickremasinghe is that no one takes him seriously when he lashes out at the ministers who are turning the business of government into mad hatter tea party. Those in the government must be relishing Wickremasinghe’s attacks – “like being savaged by a dead sheep” as Dennis Healey famously ridiculed Sir Geoffrey Howe in the British House of Commons. But that’s not the point - for shouldn’t those who cavil at Ranil for not being effective in Opposition be also castigating Rajapakse for presiding over a dystopian regime?
Five Questions

The latest criticism against Ranil Wickremasinghe is that he has brought the United National Party of D.S. and Dudley Senanayake to its current predicament by aligning his Party with the agenda of the NGOs and the INGOs. Even new terminology has been ventured: the NGOisation of the UNP! The specific clincher in this general accusation is that the NGOs and INGOs were not supportive of the 2000 constitutional proposals (of Chandrika Kumaratunga) because they did not believe constitutional changes will work without prior agreement with the LTTE. Ranil Wickremasinghe fell for this NGO ploy, so goes the theory, and ended up defeating the 2000 constitutional proposal.

The 2000 reversal is identified as the start of Ranil’s so called sellout that soon led to ceasefire with the LTTE and the peace process. It needs to be said in passing – that it says something of the war and its consequences when the theoreticians of the war have to keep criticizing Ranil for the dead end peace process instead of criticizing the government for not positively moving forward after winning the war.

A counterfactual argument has also been put forward. Had Gamini Dissanayake been the UNP leader instead of Ranil Wickremasinghe, he (Gamini) would have supported the Kumaratunga proposal to end the presidential system and would have engineered a ‘parliamentary coup’ (whatever that means) to bring UNP to power with himself as Prime Minister under the new constitution. There are several holes in this theory and reasoning and it is not necessary for my purpose to expose all of them. I will limit myself to a few pertinent questions and direct them not at Ranil Wickremasinghe and the UNP but at Mahinda Rajapakse and the government.

First, instead of blaming Ranil in 2010 for bringing down Chandrika’s 2000 constitutional proposals, why not ask the Rajapakse government if it would reintroduce them now. After all the proposals were prepared by the SLFP-led by People’s Alliance government. President Rajapakse was a Minister in that government and presumably supported those proposals. Their principal architect, G.L. Pieris, is a key minister in the present government and he could champion a worthy cause that befits his forensic learning instead of being the mafia lawyer defending every kind of governmental mess up.

Second, the 2000 proposals were drafted independent of any agreement with the LTTE; so wouldn’t reintroducing them be appropriate now that the LTTE has been eliminated? It would also amount to a fitting homage to Neelan Tiruchelvam and Lakshman Kadirgamar both of whom were killed because they tried to find a solution to the Tamil question without consulting the LTTE. It would also make it unnecessary for the government to enter into unsavoury deals with former LTTE operators turned renegades.

Third, are not the chances of obtaining the requisite two-thirds majority in the current parliament for constitutional changes almost perfect compared to what they were in 2000? With the crossover of the two Upcountry Tamil parliamentarians, the government now requires only four more votes to meet the two-thirds target. In fact, even a four-fifth majority support is quite achievable in the current parliament if the government were to bring back the 2000 proposals or some version of it.

Fourth, while taking put shot at Ranil, can it be asked of the government why is it searching for dystopian constitutional changes – such as extending the presidential tenure beyond two terms, or contriving an Executive Prime Ministerial system, when it can use the 2000 proposals, modifications of it, or even the APRC proposals?

Fifth, the NGOs and INGOs are not likely to support changes to extend the presidential tenure or the Executive PM system. So if Ranil were to support Mahinda Rajapakse’s Executive Prime Minister system, despite NGO opposition, would that mean a sufficient de-NGOisation of the UNP? Will it render Ranil a more acceptable, patriotic, politician? Will it restore the UNP to being a normal political party seeking to win power from what it is currently alleged to be: a single issue NGO and agnostic about power?

I have no hope in hell that the present government will even consider or implement positive and practical constitutional changes. But it is useful to keep the debate going to at least prevent the government from implementing wrongheaded and self-serving changes. And while it is necessary to take Ranil to task for his failure to vigorously present to the country an alternative to the government, it is doubly necessary to hold the government’s feet to the fire for its continuing failure to govern in keeping with law and order and with fairness and efficiency, and for contemplating constitutional changes that have nothing to do with the interests of the country but everything to do with entrenching and extending the power of the Rajapakse regime.

August 06, 2010

"KP" speaks out: An interview with former Tiger Chief

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

It was one year ago on August 5th 2009 that Thambiaiya Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias "KP" was taken into custody in Kuala Lumpur at First Tune Hotel on 316 Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman road.The former chief arms procurer of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) was brought to Colombo the following day.

[click here to read in full]

August 05, 2010

Speculation rife on more crossovers following today's Digambaam and Ganesan formal announcement

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Two Tamil MP's P. Digambaam of National Union of Workers & Praba Ganesan of Democratic Peoples Front crossed over to the Govt formally today

Both were elected on the UNF ticket at the 2010 polls. Digambaram from Nuwara-Eliya & Praba Ganesan from Colombo.

Though from different parties both MP's met President Rajapaksa together at "Temple Trees" today & declared their support to UPFA government

Digambaram says he joined govt for the welfare of plantation Tamils & Praba Ganesan says he joined for the benefit of the Tamil people

Both of them after being elected had functioned "independent" of the UNF under which they contested the April 2010 Parliamentary elections

Both had problems with UNP leadership immediately after elections over allocation of national list seats to their respective

Digambaram wanted a seat for National Union of Workers general - secretary Uthayakumar who contested &lost in Nuwara - Eliya district

The Democratic Peoples Front wanted a seat for party leader &Praba's brother Mano Ganesan who had contested &lost in Kandy district

Ranil Wickremasinghe refused to nominate saying it was against party policy to appoint national list MP's from defeated candidates

The Tamil parties protested saying UNP policy wont apply to them the UNP said they could not give seats to other parties &had to give to UNP

UNP's Ravi Karunanayake added insult to injry by speaking disparagingly of both parties in an interview to the BBC Tamil service 3 minutes ago

Even as the problem occurred President Rajapaksa spoke to leaders of both Tamil parties and expressed his "sympathy" on their predicament

It was a foregone conclusion then that the crossing over would take place in due course. The only question was "When"?

Interestingly Praba's brother & party leader Mano Ganesan was not present at the ceremony when his sibling formally joined the Govt today

With the two Tamil MP's move, speculation is rife about four Muslim Congress MP's joining the Govt next followed by some other MP's from UNP [ http://www.twitter.com/dbsjeyaraj ]

Barack as Anti-Christ: End times theology in the age of Obama

By Amarnath Amarasingam

Kenneth Alex Randolf is a fifty-six year old former lawyer living in Seattle. When Barack Obama announced his presidential aspirations in 2008, Randolf got to work on a blog that soon attracted some attention, and was later featured on CNN.

The blog presented several pages of evidence - some numerological, some astrological, some Biblical - for his overall argument: Barack Obama was the Antichrist. It is not really known how many people in the United States believe this, but what remains evident is that apocalypticism - and right-wing populism more broadly - is alive and well in the United States.

One of the individuals who first put apocalypticism on the bestseller lists in the United States was a charismatic preacher named Hal Lindsey. His book, The Late Great Planet Earth, was published in 1970 and has sold over 35 million copies to date. Apocalyptic thinking entered American politics on the back of an individual deeply inspired by Lindsey's book. Ronald Reagan was so influenced by Lindsey's book, that he wanted his military leaders to fully understand its significance. With Reagan's blessing, Lindsey was invited to brief the Pentagon on the "divine implications" of their hostilities with the Soviet Union. No other president in recent history has allied apocalypticism and national security with such ease.

Speculation about the identity of the Antichrist has also been a constant presence in the United States. In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy was suspected by some writers. After his death, a few waited for Kennedy to rise from his coffin, pointing to the Book of Revelation, which states that the Beast would survive a head wound. In the 1970s, Henry Kissinger was a suspect, as well as Ayatollah Khomeini (during the hostage crisis), Saddam Hussein (during the Gulf War), and Osama bin Laden (after 9/11). Beginning during the 2008 election cycle, the Internet began teeming with speculation about Obama. Emails circulated widely and amateur videos were posted on YouTube proclaiming strange personality and numerological resemblances between Obama and Biblical statements about the Antichrist.

One of the most popular videos propounding that Obama is the Antichrist is entitled, "Did Jesus Give Us the Name of the Antichrist?" The narrator of the video points to Luke 10:18, which states, "And he said unto them, I saw Satan as lightning falling from the heights." The video notes that Jesus probably spoke Aramaic, and since Aramaic is the "most ancient form of Hebrew" (which is false) it holds that we can translate the key terms in this verse into Hebrew to see what they really mean. The narrator says that, according to the Strong Hebrew Dictionary, the word for lightning is 'baraq'. Similarly, the word for heights is 'bamah'. The narrator then points out that the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, waw, is often transliterated as a 'u' or 'o' and is mostly used as a conjunction. Thus, "I saw Satan as lightening falling from the heights" would, in Hebrew, be: "I saw Satan as baraq o'bamah". For a thorough treatment and debunking of this popular viral video, see Michael Heiser's PaleoBabble blog.

Another viral video, one which Randolf also takes as strong evidence, argues that Obama's name actually adds up to 666. It approaches the issue through the use of numerology and Gematria (the Hebrew system of assigning numerical value to words and phrases). According to the video, Barack in Arabic means 'blessed', Hussein in Arabic means 'handsome', and Obama is an African word meaning 'leaning'. The video notes that when the Gematria values of blessed (246), handsome (268), and leaning (152) are added together, the sum is 666.

In addition to such obvious contributions by religious tenets, the internet must be seen as one of the main driving forces behind the persistence of apocalyptic thinking and right-wing populism more generally. This can be understood in two ways. First, the ease with which blogs, forums, and websites are created has given rise to an alternative media, existing outside traditional sources of information, and varying in size and reliability. The internet becomes hugely important for right-wing populists who nurse a deep sense that the individual is under attack, and express a fundamental distrust of those who produce knowledge and sanction truth. On the internet, any individual regardless of education or expertise can create websites, dialogue with others in forums or message boards, and produce viral video clips that may be viewed by millions of people.

Second, the internet fosters an environment in which individuals more easily interact with people who think like them. "Instead of getting together with people who are close to us physically, now we can get together with people who are close to us ideologically, psychically, emotionally, aesthetically," says Farhad Manjoo in his book True Enough. In other words, the internet has the potential to create ghettos or enclaves where alternative viewpoints dare not enter. These enclaves only reinforce a belief among right-wing populists and apocalyptic writers that they are privy to certain kinds of knowledge that the rest of society is unable or unwilling to see. They are the embattled vanguards of a fight that the rest of the world does not even realize is taking place.

It is uncertain the extent to which online communities and enclaves, which exist only on the web, have an impact on actual politics. The internet is most powerful - as seen in the Tea Party movement - when it adds to the mobilization already taking place on the ground. When I asked Randolf whether he planned to take his views to the streets, he argued that the streets of the twenty-first century are on the internet. "If done properly and if the circumstances are just right," he says, "it's clearly possible to reach hundreds of millions of people on those 'streets'. In terms of cost-effectiveness, time consumption, over-coming language and cultural and national barriers, there are no better 'streets' to be active on." Randolf is optimistic, but it remains to be seen whether the rallying cries and slogans of socio-religious movements can be heard when shouted solely, or even primarily, from within the dark alleys of cyberspace.

(Amarnath Amarasingam is a doctoral candidate in the Laurier-Waterloo PhD in Religious Studies in Ontario, Canada, and is the editor of Religion and the New Atheism: A Critical Appraisal.This Article appeared in the Guest Voices section of Washington Post)

Arrest perpetrators of the attack on Siyatha TV - Free Media Movement

Press Release

It is now a week since the news room of Siyatha Television was destroyed by masked gunmen. The Free Media Movement (FMM) is concerned that the authorities have not been able to shed light on the perpetrators of this attack even after one week.

The FMM and other media organizations have repeatedly questioned as to why the Police that investigate and prosecute other crimes successfully has not been able to arrest a single person for a series of attacks against journalists and media institutions.

This inaction by Police has brought the country disrepute internationally as well.

Whatever the motivation of the armed group that attacked and destroyed the new room of Siyatha television on July 30th, it is the responsibility of the government to investigate and prosecute those responsible for this attack.

Attacks such as these not only affect thatmedia organizations, but also sends a shilling message to all media institutions in the country.

The FMM calls a porn the government to take effective and meaningful steps to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of this attack and call on all those who value democracy to pressurize the government to do so.

Seetha Ranjanee
Secretary
FMM
05th August 2010

Of histories and identities -11th Neelan Tiruchelvam Memorial Lecture

The lecture was delivered on August 1st at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute

by Prof. Romila Thapar

I would like to express my deep appreciation to the Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust and the International Centre for Ethnic Studies for inviting me to deliver this lecture. I feel immensely privileged. I am also grateful for this opportunity to express my admiration and regard for Neelan, and for his insistent upholding of the rights that make for a just society.

My attempt in this lecture is to suggest that historical explanations can assist in this latter quest. May I add that as a historian of India my work has been on Indian material but I believe that what I have to say would be, with some modification, relevant to other societies of South Asia, and this would include Sri Lanka.

The mid-twentieth century was a dramatic turning point in the histories of the countries of South Asia. It was the time of liberation from colonial rule which in many ways had unraveled the earlier past and left us somewhat bewildered about the future. There was the intoxication of freedom – the release from being a colony – but there was also the apprehension of having to define the nation-state that subsequently emerged. I can recall my final year in school when on the 15 August 1947 I was asked to hoist the flag of independent India. I gave my first public speech and it was inevitably on the anticipation of becoming a nation holding promise of a coming utopia.

Gradually the reality became more visible. How were we as citizens of a new nation to define ourselves ? All of us in South Asia, not to mention other ex-colonies, have faced the same questions. And among them was the question of identity or identities. We in India thought the answer was simple – it was the single identity of being Indian. But the reality on the ground has turned it into a complex question without a simple answer because even a single identity can subsume others. The utopias that we wished for have retreated in the face of identities in conflict.

Let me clarify that I am not using the word ‘identity’ with reference to the individual self, but rather as it is used currently to refer to how a collective of people or a community labels itself. And further, I am concerned with those identities where the label claims to have an accepted historical and cultural origin. I would like to assess the validity of this connection by re-examining these historical claims. An identity has a genealogy and knowing it would help us understand why it came into existence.

History as we were taught it in school and even later was a representation of the past based on information that had been put together by colonial scholarship. But when identities relevant to the present claimed roots in the past it became necessary for us historians to unpack the past. In this process of unpacking one realized that the past registers changes which could change its representation. The past does not remain static.

In examining the construction of the past which we had inherited from colonial scholarship we found that it was further inter-twined with the reactions of nationalist thinking towards this legacy. Nationalism, also born from a historical condition, builds itself of necessity on a single, focused identity that aspires to be inclusive of the entire society. But it can sometimes be more limited when it represents elites or majoritarian groups seeking dominance. Inclusiveness is problematic since every society since early times has overlooked the need for equality and has registered the dominance of some and the subordination of others. Inequality is thus predictable and results in multiple identities.

In our present post-colonial times in South Asia, the multiple identities of the period before nationalism begin to surface but do so in a changed historical context. Each demands priority for its single identity which is treated as exclusive and this becomes an agency for mobilization. The multiplicity and inclusiveness of earlier times is set aside. In claiming legitimacy from the past that past itself is converted into an assemblage of what is most desired in the present.

Among our current identities in South Asia the more prominent ones go back to colonial times and were usually constructed with links to pre-modern history. Examples of this are identities of race and language, caste and tribe, religion and a permanent economic poverty and inequality, as the heritage of large segments of the population. Interestingly these were issues widely discussed in Europe in the nineteenth century. They became the prisms through which Europe viewed the past of South Asia. The history of the colony was of prime concern in order to understand its alien culture, to govern its strange peoples and to exploit its wealth. Some of this concern resulted in path-breaking work on deciphering scripts, revealing tangible history through excavations and investigating language through philology – analyzing its linguistic components.

But at the same time it was argued that there was an absence of historical writing in South Asian cultures. Therefore a history had to be constructed for the region by colonial scholars. The subsequent nationalist historians tended to accept the positive assessments in this construction but rejected the negative. However, what were missing were alternate explanations where there was disagreement with the colonial construction.

Let me turn to some identities that emerged from these studies and are now being questioned in current historical work. I shall be speaking about what I know best, namely issues in early Indian history. Possibly there will be parallels in other parts of South Asia or possibly not. I’ll leave you to judge that. But comparative histories of the larger region might well be insightful.

Among the more prevalent identities has been that of being Aryan. The notion of an Aryan race has held the stage for almost two centuries. It was rooted in philology and focused on Sanskrit thereby discovering its affinity with Old Iranian and some early European languages. An ancestral language was reconstructed and called Indo-European, the South Asian component being Indo-Aryan.

As far as language analysis went this was a useful exercise. But it did not rest there. It was then argued that all those who spoke the same language belonged to the same race. The slippage between race and language simplified classification since languages were easily differentiated. It is obvious to us now that the equation of language with race has no validity. Race, if at all it exists, is a biological entity entailing birth within a specified group whereas language is a cultural entity and can be used by anyone belonging to any group. The late nineteenth century in Europe was the high point of the new ‘race science’ as it was called. Its generalizations were adopted without adequate verification.

Insisting on a hierarchy among races predictably placed the speakers of Indo-European languages at the top. The Aryan or Indo-Aryan language was named after those who called themselves aryas in the Vedas. They were described as Sanskrit speakers belonging to the Aryan race, although no mention is made of race in the texts.

These were not racial identities but were language labels. However, the confusion once introduced, continued. Even Max Mueller who warned against mixing language with race contributed to the confusion. For example, he described an eminent Bengali intellectual as belonging to the Bengali race. Soon every language of the sub-continent became a race – Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic, Tibeto-Burman, and so on. Among these, importance was given to the group of Dravidian language speakers.

The notion of two separate Aryan and Dravidian racial identities had no basis in history but became axiomatic wherever local populations were believed to have descended from one of the two. There was talk then – and it hasn’t stopped even today – of north-western India as the homeland of the pristine Aryan, an idea supported by movements like the Arya Samaj, eulogizing Vedic culture and prescribing a return to it, and by some leading Theosophists. This would locate the homeland in what is today northern Pakistan.

The origins of the Dravidian race were traced back imaginatively to the mythical continent of Lemuria where Tamil culture was said to have had its locus. Among the linchpins in these discussions were the ideas of the colourful Madame Blavatsky who enthralled both Indians and Sri Lankans. Each of the two so-called races made exaggerated claims to having founded world civilization. But unfortunately the antagonism that grew out of such contested but virtually make-believe origins have been the burning embers for a variety of largely political ignitions.

Other identities also came to be subsumed under the label of race. There continue to be references to Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh races not to mention Pathan, Punjabi, Maratha, Bengali and what have you, races. This is a misuse of the term particularly now that the very concept of race has been questioned. Nevertheless although the term is virtually meaningless, it can be thrown around to create misleading identities,

Let’s look at what the texts tell us about arya. The land where the Indo-Aryan language is first recorded (in the Rigveda) was the north-west of the sub-continent and dates to about 1400 BC. A few centuries later the core area of the language had shifted to the western Ganges plain. By the Christian era it was familiar to all of northern India and spreading south. The language underwent change travelling into new areas and used by a variety of people, not to mention the normal linguistic change that occurs in a language over many generations.

Two points are worth noticing. Existing populations in northern India were using other languages when the speakers of Indo-Aryan settled in their midst. A text of about the seventh century BC, the Shatapatha Brahmana, makes fun of those who could not pronounce Sanskrit correctly and replaced the ‘r’ sound with the ‘l’ sound. Instead of ari they said ali. Because they could not speak the language correctly they are called mleccha, or barbarians. Language was the demarcation between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Secondly, Sanskrit was more often the language of Vedic ritual and was spoken by brahmans and the learned few. The majority of the people spoke a variety of Prakrits, which were more simple languages but akin to Sanskrit. The edicts of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka of the third century BC which are spread over a major part of the sub-continent are written in variants of Prakrit and not in Sanskrit.

Interestingly, the replacement of ‘r’ by ‘l’ is also characteristic of those Ashokan inscriptions that are located in the Ganges plain in the heart of the Mauryan Empire. The word raja is rendered as laja. Such changes are likely because of the presence of other languages that contributed to the making of Prakrits. Even the language of a dominant group tends to soak up linguistic elements from populations whose languages are different. And from a strictly brahmanical perspective these were all mleccha peoples, impure barbarians ! So who were the Aryans ?

The connotation of the term arya is ambiguous because it changes through history. In the Rigveda the composers of the hymns describe themselves as aryas and by definition the honourable ones. Opposed to the arya is the dasa which connotes all that the arya is not. The dasa is unable to speak the Aryan language correctly, worships alien deities, and is associated with evil and darkness. Above all the dasa is enviably wealthy and therefore subject to raids.

But a few centuries later the emphasis in the definition changed. Now the aryas were more frequently those who commanded respect in society irrespective of their ethnic origins or the language they spoke. Arya was used as an honorific. Buddhist and Jaina monks were addressed as arya /ayya by their lay-followers, despite the fact that they came from various castes including those ranked low by the brahmans. Buddhist texts also use arya as meaning the best, the highest, the most noble and therefore as an epithet for the teachings of the Buddha. The word is not used in any racist sense. As a mark of respect arya was frequently attached to terms for parents and grand-parents. Sons of royalty and well-to-do families, are referred to as aryaputra, the son of an arya, irrespective of caste, and even the rakshasa Ravana is called thus by his wife.

This in part accounts for another turn in the meaning of the word. This time the reference is linked to the classification of Indian society into four varnas or castes in the social codes – the famous Dharma-shastras. By the early centuries AD the word arya referred specifically to those of the three upper castes (brahman, kshatriya, vaishya) in these codes. The fourth caste of shudras was that of non-aryas. It states that all those not included in the three upper castes were to be treated as non-aryas, irrespective of the language they speak. Language is no longer a marker of the arya. Even more interesting is the reference to children born of mixed arya and non-arya parents and the problem of defining their status. There were many permutations and combinations. The children of an arya father and a non-arya mother had arya status and presumably the caste of the father. Evidently such marriages were frequent enough to demand attention from the authors of the social codes. Caste rules would have to be adjusted when new groups were incorporated requiring a new definition of arya in caste terms.

For the historian then, the identity of ‘Aryan’ changes radically from a supposed race to language to status to caste. This is not surprising because identities change with historical change as also do the choice of identities. But colonial scholarship treated them as static. It was argued that each caste was a separate race and that this was the most effective way of segregating races. Herbert Risley went round measuring cephalic index and nasal width in order to prove the connection. This was perhaps a fore-runner of the attempt to prove segregation by ascertaining the genetic pattern of the four castes.

The normative codes describing the four castes were earlier taken at face-value and thought to be descriptions of how society actually functioned even if such a scheme seemed much too rigid. Historical records naturally show obvious discrepancies. Each caste has its own hierarchy which allows of some flexibility and provides a mechanism sometimes for incorporating those regarded as low born into the lower levels of the top castes. This may explain why some brahmans are either specifically excluded from or else limited to, participating in certain rituals. Why this was so is not always clear. Or there is the curious reference in the Kaushitaki Brahmana to the dasi-putra brahman, literally a brahman who is the son of a non-arya, dasa women. The term is something of an oxymoron. Such persons were initially treated with contempt but when they demonstrated their supernatural power they were accepted as brahmans.

The second caste that of kshatriyas was the one that was supposed to provide the dynasties. However political activities were relatively open and persons of other castes bid for power as well. The Mauryas appear to be included among the shudra dynasties in brahmanical literature perhaps because they patronized heterodox sects such as the Buddhist and Jaina. Some dynasties of obscure origin supported their claim to being kshatriyas by having genealogies fabricated for them linking them to the epic heroes of old. Such claims became quite fashionable after the sixth century AD when mention is made of making what are called ‘new kshatriyas’ .

It was presumed that the pattern of the four castes was uniform in the sub-continent. But in fact it differed from region to region and occupational castes were often prominent. Thus in the Punjab the dominant caste has not been that of brahmans but of khatris or traders. In medieval times they had problems with the peasant castes aspiring to high status. Dominant castes may formally claim a higher caste status but in fact their dominance came and comes from land and wealth. An on-going debate among historians of south India concerns the vellalas as a dominant caste at various times which is doubtless of interest to Sri Lankan historians as well.

Colonial scholarship saw the connection between caste and religion but this did not lead to the recognition that religions in South Asia followed a pattern different from the Judeo-Christian ; nor did they observe distinct, monolithic identities at the popular level. They are better viewed as juxtaposed sects that formed a mosaic. Harmony or discord between them, both of which feature in early texts, referred itself to sects and communities rather than to an over-arching religious identity of Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim or Christian. Conflicts therefore were localized, were on a smaller scale and were easier to resolve.

Another difference was that all religions - indigenous or immigrant - internalized caste. Those who converted to religions promising social equality ended up by carrying the baggage of caste with them. An entire village may convert, as for example in recent years when Dalits converted to the neo-Buddhism advocated by Ambedkar, nevertheless caste hierarchies continue to be observed.

The litmus test of the centrality of caste shows up in having to conform to the caste rules of marriage circles. This means having to follow the rules of which groups can intermarry and which cannot. The rules are still generally observed. The essential requirement in this was to ensure control over women. Matrimonial columns in the newspapers with requests for a Brahman Christian bride can be puzzling. Or take the case of Islam where Muslim society was also fragmented. The Muslims claiming ancestry from west Asia are of a higher caste than the local converts. Despite both being Muslims there is a distinction in caste. Muslims who came from elsewhere and settled in South Asia and married into local communities adapted local belief to Islam. Local custom and practice could take precedence over Islamic law of Shar’ia. Such communities would have had problems with a monolithic Islam. At the lowest level were the Dalit Muslims who like their Hindu counterparts were denied entry into the more sacred mosques and burial in the Muslim graveyards. Similarly, places of worship built and managed by Mazhabi Sikhs regarded as untouchable tend to be avoided by upper caste Sikhs.

Converting Dalits into a separate community where they could only marry among themselves meant that they were Dalits by birth and remained so all through life. Using them in the meanest occupations was a mechanism of ensuring a permanent supply of labour. What remains unclear even for the modern scholar is why particular groups were degraded in this manner ; or why religions claiming to be non-segregated and inclusive still exclude some groups as untouchable ?

There were nevertheless contestations of the Brahmanical code as in the social ethics taught by the Buddhists and Jainas and by dissident Hindu sects. However, an astonishing reversal of roles also occurs in the Mahabharata. A story is narrated that there had been a twelve-year famine and there was nothing left to eat. The desperately hungry brahman sage Vishvamitra wandering through the land arrived at the hut of a Chandala, an untouchable. Here he saw a butchered dog whose hind legs he wanted to eat. Dog-meat was considered the worst food and fit only for the untouchable. The Chandala argued with him and tried to dissuade him from breaking the dietary rules of the code for brahmans but was unsuccessful. The irony of the story is self-evident.

For obvious reasons neither the Brahmanical codes nor the construction of caste in the nineteenth century captured the functioning of castes on the ground. This is also applicable to the way religion was projected as an identity.

The construction of religious identities emerged from the textual bias of Orientalist scholarship. Since the texts were in Sanskrit and Arabic the scholars were tutored by the brahmans and the ulema. The brahmans highlighted the Vedas and the Dharmashastras, the others highlighted the Qur’an and the Shari’a. There was little discussion of other texts or other religious groups that questioned these. Buddhism and Jainism were treated as sub-sects of Hinduism as they still are by some scholars. Popular religion was part of the oral tradition or was recorded in languages that were thought not to be on par with Sanskrit such as Prakrit, or Tamil and other regional languages. That religious practices did not always follow the texts was barely noticed. Recording practices was the domain of the ethnographers and the authors of District Gazetteers. There was little recognition that in complex societies there are multiple voices and they all have to be heard.

From the colonial perspective Hinduism and Islam were two separate monolithic religions and all Hindus and Muslims observed the rules of formal religion. This may have been applicable to sections of the elite, such as court circles and heads of religious institutions. However, for the vast majority of people religion was an open-ended experience – a mixing, merging, overlapping, borrowing or rejecting of forms and ideas beyond the formal labels. Religion for the larger population lay in forms of personal devotion, in the worship of the spirits within trees and mountains, nagas, yakshis and ancillary deities of local cult shrines, in listening to the words of the bhikkhus and the nayanars and alvars, the bhakti and sufi teachers, to the stories retold from the epics and the Puranas, and to the conversations of those that congregated around gurus, faqirs, pirs, and other ‘holy men’, agreeing or disagreeing on the essentials of understanding the purpose of life and the meaning of death. Visits to the grand temples and stupas were special occasions. Ritual and belief because they were a mix of caste practices and the norms of one’s sect differed among communities. It is these that we should be studying in seeking the histories of religion.

Religions in South Asia were generally flexible enough to allow people to worship in each other’s sacred places when there was a wish to do so. My first experience of religion was when I was visiting my grandmother at the age of four. She was a devout worshipper of Krishna yet she took me one morning to the grave of a locally venerated Muslim holy man, a pir, and taught me how to offer flowers and seek blessings in my own way. The imprint has remained. Religion is the person, her relationship with the world around her and if she is a believer, then her relationship with the supernatural. Today we insist on impermeable boundaries and this is true of most of South Asia including Sri Lanka.

It is perhaps as well to remember that there was no label earlier for all that was placed together beneath the umbrella of what later came to be called Hinduism. It can be better described as a mosaic of sectarian belief and worship rather than a single system with a linear history.

People identified themselves by their sects. It was as late as the eleventh century that the term Hindu was first used in Arabic and referred to the people living across the Indus river in al-Hind. In the fourteenth century it referred to those that were not Muslim and this brought the mosaic under one awning. The single identity was also inapplicable to the Muslims who by now had fragmented into many communities differentiated by the imprint of local culture. Buddhism too became variegated over time, ranging from Theravada to the complexities of Ge-lugs-pa. The internalization of religion in South Asia was not the same as that of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The nineteenth century experience of religion in these parts became something of a mutation from its earlier fluidity at the popular level into a defined pattern with indelible boundaries. This facilitated its mobilization on a large scale as and when required, as has been apparent in recent times. Having established two monolithic religions as the major religious contribution of the Indian past, the census data was added in. There followed the theory of the majority religion of Hinduism creating a majority community and the minority religion of Islam creating a minority community each given a religious identity. It was then erroneously argued that the separation of the two communities was rooted in history. This reduced the incidence of people getting together across religious boundaries focusing on issues of wider concern.

Religion became fundamental to the interpretation of history. The colonial version of Indian history narrated it as moving through three periods - the Hindu, the Muslim and the British. The Hindu period began with the Vedas roughly 1400 BC and continued for twenty-five centuries remaining unchanged until the time of what are called the Muslim invasions in about AD 1000 ; and the Muslim period ended with the arrival of the British. These were arbitrary divisions supposedly based on the religion of the dynasties. Religious identities have varied and changed within the same religion over time and from one social segment to another. Periodisation based on religion as a single criterion of historical activity is a negation of history. It has now been discarded by historians. However, it remains central to the creed of extreme religious nationalists, Hindu and Muslim, still drawing legitimation from colonial theories.

Colonial scholars argued that the Hindus and Muslims belonged to two entirely separate cultures with little in common; that the relationship was always one of extreme antagonism ; that Muslim rule tyrannized the Hindus to the extent that they were grateful when British rule replaced Muslim rule and the tyranny was terminated. History became the foundation of establishing a Hindu and a Muslim identity and defining the two accordingly. These identities were based on misunderstanding the nature of religion in the sub-continent. It was not these identities alone that brought about the subsequent fractures in the sub-continent but they were used to legitimize the political mobilizations that led to the break-up. The pattern is almost a blue-print for colonial policy elsewhere as well.

And then there was the insistence that poverty had been endemic to South Asia. It was attributed to the political system of Oriental Despotism said to characterize pre-modern Asia and which left little alternative. In contesting this view Indian opinion argued that poverty was recent and resulted from wealth was being drained away to fuel British industry. We seem to have come round full circle. The globalized market economy has been described as a form of neo-colonialism. The wealth produced in the developing world goes to enrich the national and multinational corporates. It cannot therefore stem the increasing impoverishment in the developing world.

Let me consider two identities associated with poverty that were not created by colonial writing but were re-iterated by the colonial perspective. These were the Dalits and the forest dwelling tribes both dating back to more than two millennia. Colonial scholarship generally ignored the first but the second was reinforced through the dichotomy of the civilized and the primitive. The two were classified as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

The British Census differentiated between tribe and caste but Indian ethnography preferred a continuum from tribe to caste arguing that some tribes evolved into castes. What then has been the identity of these forest tribes ? In historical records they were the mleccha, the primitive ‘Other’, the alternate to the civilized. A brahmanical myth of origin makes this clear. It tells of Vena, the ruler who having stopped performing brahmanical rituals was killed by the brahmans. But a ruler was necessary. So they churned the left thigh of Vena and a short, ugly, dark man with blood-shot eyes emerged and they called him Nishad. He was banished to the forest and became ancestor to the Pulinda, Shabara, Bhil and other forest dwellers and also the rakshasas, the demons. They then churned the right arm of the dead Vena and up sprang a handsome young man whom they named Prithu. Significantly he was the one who introduced settled agriculture and animal breeding and observed all the rituals. And the earth in gratitude took his name as Prithivi. There is a parallel to this in Sri Lanka where the Sabaragamuv in historical sources designate hunting groups and the Veddas are a survival.

The myth colours other texts. The forest dwellers are said to be hostile and to attack the armies that march through their forests. This was a classic case of the settlement encroaching on the forest and resenting the forest dwellers resisting the encroachment. Very occasionally the encroachment resulted in a reversal of identity. A person given a huge grant of forested land would establish himself in the area, perhaps marry into the tribal chief’s family and gradually build up an independent base. Such a royal family would need a carefully crafted genealogy claiming royal status as is evident from those of the Raj Gonds and the Nagabansis of central India.

With an increase in lands granted by kings in the period after about AD 1000, the encroachments became more common. Slowly the tribal peoples began losing their land, their forests and rivers, their animal and mineral wealth. In medieval times traders were attracted by this wealth and set up the monetary market with inevitably, money-lending. Acquisition of tribal land by British administration further reduced whatever rights remained. The latest predators are the corporates demanding huge areas for mining and timber. They claim to be introducing the benefits of civilization but the identity of the forest dwellers remains that of the ‘Primitive Other’. The past for them is not a shared history but a remembered exploitation carried out by the representatives of civilization. These tribes are now among the most impoverished peoples.

The permanence of poverty has been assumed and until recently has raised little alarm. But poverty was not what they were identified with in earlier times. Where forest produce was available to them and where land could be used for shifting cultivation, life had a different quality. The forest was contrasted with the settlement as an alternate way of life, with its own cultural values that were sometimes even romanticized.

Today both groups have forced themselves into the consciousness of the societies where they are present. Dalits associated with Hinduism are receiving some benefits from reservations in educational institutions and state employment. Other Dalits are quite rightly demanding the same benefits. Predictably the resentment of the upper castes is expressed in outbursts of violence against the Dalits. By contrast the rights of the forest tribes having been reduced to a minimum they are now caught in a condition of continuous violence. The Naxals or Maoists claiming to speak for the tribes are battling it out with government administration in the forest habitats.

I have been trying to question some of the identities with which we live and which some regard as historically valid. I have tried to argue that those that condition our lives in South Asia should be re-assessed to ascertain their validity. There is a need for recognizing that some may not be rooted in history but are based on other extraneous factors. If the premises of the identity are no longer viable, can we continue to use the same label ? Such monitoring involves a dialogue among historians and scholars but also and importantly, between them and citizens.

This would not merely be an exercise in historical research but would help us understand why an identity was initially constructed and how it was subsequently used. Ostensibly it may relate to race or religion, or whatever, but implicitly may be connected with other intentions such as access to power or aspirations to status. Is the identity then a mask to hide disparities, disaffections, inequities, encouraging a deviation from facing actuality ? An identity is not created accidentally nor is it altogether innocent of intention.

Analyses of identities are pertinent also to the extensive and vocal South Asian diaspora. Nationals settled in distant lands often nurture identities that may well be historically untenable and outdated in the culture of the home country. But they are a source of solace to the migrant in an alien culture and underline a claim to connectedness. Such identities frequently deny the plurality of South Asian civilization and the intersections within it. The replacement of these becomes a problem of trans-nationalism.

Beyond this we might consider what the premise should be if we are to encourage the emergence of other identities given that the context of our times is not what it was a century or two ago. A nation needs identities that are broad, inclusive and that support its essential requirements of democracy, secularity, equality, rights to the institutions of welfare and to social justice. If we continue to make identities of colonial origin a part of our thinking they will continue to be the quicksand that prevents us from even aspiring to, leave alone reaching, the utopias we had once visualized.

It might help if we searched for more diverse identities where none can be coercive or hegemonic and where their validity is transparent. This would require us to move away from the earlier closed and barred representations of culture and community that control our present lives. And that in turn might enable us to engage openly with, and ultimately overcome, our current inequities.

Suggestions for Further Reading

N.Stepan, The Idea of Race in Science : Great Britain 1800-1960, London 1982

T.R.Trautmann (ed.), The Aryan Debate, Delhi 2005

Romila Thapar, The Aryan : Recasting Constructs, Delhi 2007

Sumathi Ramaswamy, The Lost Land of Lemuria : Fabulous Geographies, Catastrophic Histories, Berkeley 2004.

Romila Thapar, “ Imagined Religious Communities ? Ancient History and the Modern Search for a Hindu Identity”, in Cultural Pasts, Delhi 2000, 965-989

Romila Thapar, “Syndicated Hinduism”, in Cultural Pasts, Delhi 2000, 1025-1054.

August 04, 2010

Prageeth's Disappearance 200 days ! Sathyagraha and seminar on August 10th

A silent protest (sathyagraha) and seminar aimed at forcing the authorities to find Prageeth Eknaligoda will be held on August 10, 2010. The silent protest (sathyagraha) and the seminar is organized by Alliance of Media organizations to mark the 200 days since the disappearance of media personal Pradeep Eknaligoda.

The protest will be held at 3.00 p.m. in the Viharamahadevi Park (In front of Town Hall) followed by Seminar which will be held at 4.00 p.m. in the Public Library’s Auditorium.

Alliance of Media organizations urges the media personnel, activists, trade unionists, civil society organizations, political parties and citizens who stand for the media freedom, democracy and human rights to find out Prageeth Eknaligoda.

This protest and the conference to mark the 200 days since the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda in jointly organized by Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), Free Media Movement (FMM), South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF), Sri LankaTamil Journalists Association (SLTJA), Journalists Against Suppression (JAS), Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU).

Alliance of Media Organizations
August 4, 2010

Further inquiries:

1. Seeta Ranjani, Secretary Free Media Movement (FMM)– 0777-312460
2. Lakshman Gunasekara, Chair Person- South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA)
- 0777-305764
3. N.M Ameen, Chair Person, Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF)- 077-2612288

Amnesty says Sri Lanka emergency rule must end

by IRIN News

NEW YORK, 4 August 2010 (IRIN) - The decades-long civil war in Sri Lanka ended more than a year ago, but emergency powers are still in place, sending the wrong message, Amnesty International says.

"With the Sri Lankan military's defeat of the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] as a military force there were high hopes and every reason to expect a loosening of some of the highly restrictive laws and abusive practices that had characterized life in Sri Lanka for the past years," Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director for Amnesty International, told IRIN by email from London. "Unfortunately that has yet to materialize.

"Continued reliance [on emergency regulations] when there is no longer evidence of an emergency... sends a message to Sri Lankan citizens that the state does not respect the rule of law," Zarifi said.

However, Rajiva Wijesinha, a member of parliament, defended the state of emergency, saying the government had maintained such measures since its defeat of the Tigers in May 2009 because of the concern that former cadres might "reactivate" with support from abroad.

Wijesinha said that while Amnesty's accusations were unwarranted, he recognized room for improvement. "We are aware that torture and other violations do occur, which is why we are trying to improve training for the police, as was done consistently with the army."

Expectations for reconciliation and rehabilitation are strong since fighting ended.

The Sri Lankan government has set up a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate events in the final years of the civil war, from February 2002 to May 2009. Tens of thousands of people are estimated to have died since the conflict began in 1983, according to government figures. Both sides are accused of human rights abuses.

A three-member panel set up by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to look into human rights accountability issues during the final stages of the civil war should begin work in August, amid criticism from the government.

August 03, 2010

New dress code for Dalada Maligawa entry

New ¾ Rule of the Maligawa

by Dushy Ranetunge

According to police officers controlling entry at the Maligawa in Kandy, a new dress code is in place from Thursday. Those wearing ¾ length trousers will not be allowed entry. However those wearing ¾ length skirts were allowed entry on Thursday.

According to the police these rules were introduced by the Diyawadana Nilame and the chief priest of the Maligawa.

Unofficially a WPC told this reporter that the reason for this discrepancy was because trousers hug the thighs, while skirts don’t. But full length body hugging tight jeans were allowed. She found the new rules ridiculous and so did many police officers, but were carrying out the “orders” for fear of damaging their employment.

This reporter inquired from the Police officers, if in this republic the Diyawadana Nilame and the priest at the Maligawa had the right to make law.

The enforcement of dress codes for entry into public places were in breach of the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution.

This reporter informed the police that he with his party intends to test this constitutional right of access and the rights of the Diyawadana Nilame and Buddhist monks to impose dress codes on citizens in the courts, and entered the Maligawa with several ladies wearing ¾ length trousers.

The Police hurriedly called their officer who was apologetic and acknowledged that only Parliament had the right to make law and not the Diyawadana Nilame or Buddhist monks.

He asked us to proceed while other officers who thought that the rules were plain stupid were grinning and some even expressed their support for us to take on the new regulations. They complained that they were fed up of turning visitors away because the earlier rule was below the knee.

Later we were asked to speak to the OIC who was stationed in a building opposite the Maligawa. I informed the OIC that I wished to test the right of the Diyawadana Nilame and the Chief priest of the Maligawa to make law, by imposing dress codes on citizens in breach of the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution.

He agreed that they had no such rights to make law and that the new dress code was only a recommendation, and agreed that they cannot legally enforce it or legally block the right of free access. We continued in our journey into the Maligawa.

After the Maligawa drumming ceased at around 8pm we visited Senani Restaurant, with spectacular views over the lake and the Maligawa. We were provided with a set of menus and a few minutes later the loitering waiter rushed back and provided us with a new set of menu’s.

When we inquired as to what the problem was, we were told that they initially thought that we were foreigners (Indians) and on realisation that we were Sri Lankans, a different menu had been provided.

It seems one of Kandy’s premiere restaurants has the same menu printed with two price lists. If you are local you get one price, but if you are a foreigner you get a different, much higher price.

It’s a bit like the Maligawa rules, ¾ skirt and the ¾ trouser.

Govt goons flout road rules on Colombo - Kandy Raod

by Dushy Ranetunge

Three vehicles carrying goons of the regime were spotted speeding to Kandy with scant regard to the road rules last Thursday. The registration numbers of the three vehicles were WP KC 2275 (Land Rover), WPC 2008/2009 (Toyota Land Cruiser), WP HN 4217 (Volvo car). They were regularly crossing the white lines and double white lines while Kegalle police looked the other way

DRTC83A.jpg

[click pic for larger image]

The goons were in such a hurry that the security officer riding on the front passenger seat of the Land Rover was displaying his pistol by holding it in his left hand and resting it on the open window to intimidate other road users off the street. This was a serious breach of regulations.

This type of behaviour is a regular sight on the Colombo Kandy road. A few months ago when I questioned two traffic policemen who were standing near the Thirst aid centre before Kegalle as to why they did not stop the speeding vehicle that was driving on the wrong side of the road crossing a double yellow line, they responded by stating that the official vehicle might have been in a hurry.

DRTC83B.jpg

Yet, this Police force, which claims to be “people friendly” is regularly stopping vehicles for crossing white lines and doling out fines to extract additional revenue from the taxpayers.

When the regime is accused of human rights violations, apologists try to defend by stating that the Americans and the British also do so in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Perhaps motorists charged in court with crossing the white line should offer a similar defence that the regimes goons are also crossing the white lines regularly and that the selective implementation of the law is a serious violation of their fundamental rights.

Report of the visit of Members of Parliament of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to Santhapuram and Vavuniya on 29th July 2010

On 29th July 2010 Members of Parliament of the TNA, Suresh Premachandran, M A Sumanthiran and S Shritharan visited Santhapuram and met with the original inhabitants now living in a transit camp at Santhapuram. On the same day Suresh Premachandran, M A Sumanthiran and Sivasakthy Anandan also met the original inhabitants of Indupuram and Thiru Murikandy who are still at the ‘Welfare Centres’ in Chettikulam.

This follows the visit of the Parliamentary delegation of the TNA to the war affected areas in the Districts of Vavuniya, Mannar, Mullaitheevu, and Killinochchi on 21st 22nd 23rd and 24th May 2010, details of which are given in the Report of same submitted to the President and tabled in Parliament on 9th June 2010 by Hon R Sampanthan, at the time of making a Statement on same.

We quote from that Report the following:

Returnee families from Santhapuram in the Kilinochchi District

288 families from Santhapuram in the Kilinochchi District who are presently in the transit camp at Kilinochchi Central College are not able to return to their village. Similarly, over 400 other families from 8 other villages in Kilinochchi are unable to return to their villages. Further information in regard to these matters are contained in our detailed report. All these families should be enabled to return to their respective villages.

And,

Resettlement at Thiru Murugandy between 232 km and 247 km

The families around 1,000 in number living at Thiru Murugandy on the Eastern side of the A9 Highway were also displaced and lost all their assets as a result of the War. They have been living in camps at Chettikulam. Some of these families have been living at Thiru Murugandy from 1977; the others from 1983. They are all persons of recent Indian origin who were displaced from the areas in which they lived, in other parts of the country. They lost all their belongings, came to Kilinochchi and at great effort cleared and occupied the land at Thiru Murugandy.

They developed the land and established their homes here. They had been living on this land for over 25 to 30 years and looked upon this as their home. There seems to be a move to temporarily delay their resettlement. These people are anxious to resettle with the others and recommence their lives. They should be afforded the same facilities and enabled to resettle in the lands from which they were displaced.

At the discussion held at the Presidential Secretariat on 7th June 2010 these issues were discussed and we quote below from our letter dated 17th July 2010 addressed to the President, after the Media Minister Hon Keheliya Rambukwella made an announcement that these persons will not be resettled in their original places since the military requires these lands:

On the issue of Internally Displaced People not being able to return to their land in Thiru Murikandy, Santhapuram, Keppapulavu and Sannar (Vide – pages 12 and 13 of our Report submitted to you), you will recall that Hon. Basil Rajapakse informed us that the delay in resettlement in these areas was only due to roofing sheets not arriving on time. To our query as to how much longer these people should wait, he stated that in a couple of months the ships would arrive and that they would be resettled soon thereafter.

Your Excellency will appreciate that we accepted these responses in good faith and agreed with you to continue to be engaged in these matters with the government, although we had information that some steps had been taken to acquire land (totalling 4,811 acres) in Indupuram, Thiru Murikandy for the purpose of establishing a military cantonment. In this background, the announcement by the Hon. Media Minister after a Cabinet meeting comes as a shock to us and to the people who have been kept away from their original places of dwelling.

Presently though, in view of the contradictory positions taken up by two cabinet Ministers, we think it has become necessary for Your Excellency to clarify the position to the people concerned and alleviate their anxiety in regard to their resettlement in their original places. We trust Your Excellency will also see it fit to assuage the feelings of these people who have been away from their homesteads for over 1½ years now. Such a step will go a long way in the process of reconciliation that Your Excellency is very keen to initiate with the Tamil People of this country.

However, there has been no response or clarification from the Government on this issue up to date. The Army Commander was also reported to have told the Venerable Mahanaykes in Kandy that soldier families will be settled in these places and farm lands will also be given to them for cultivation.

It was in this background that the visit of the Members of Parliament was undertaken to ascertain the true facts in this regard.

As we approached the Santhapuram Vidyalayam premises on 29th July at around 10 am , we saw a number of people lugging their meagre belongings and trekking towards the school. On inquiry we were told that these are persons whose places of residence were beyond the 10th Lane and three days previously they were told by the Brigadier in Mankulam and they could go back and resettle in their original places. However, after they went and set up their temporary shelters, on 29th morning army personnel had come and chased them out saying that they were not permitted to resettle in those places.

Apparently this is the third time they have been allowed to go to their land and then been chased back to the school. The people were highly distressed and were literally rolling on the ground and weeping. The army had forcibly loaded their belongings on to a tractor and was bringing it to the school premises when we got there. On seeing us the tractor was hidden behind some bushes. But we managed to photograph it before leaving.

There are 281 families (980 persons) in this school premises. They were taken out of the so called ‘Welfare Centres’ in Chettikulam on the 7th of May 2010 and kept in Kilinochchi Central College . On the 1st of July 2010 they were moved to the present location. Their tents are low tarpoulin sheets. Twice previously, on 12th July 2010 and on another occasion, they were first allowed to go to their land and then chased back. They fear that they may not be permitted to ever go back to their own lands. Once the rains come, this month, the present location will be flooded. Some of them managed to reach the President at Kilinochchi after the Cabinet meeting and he had assured them that they will be allowed to resettle in their own lands soon.

In Vavuniya, later in the day, we met with a representative body of the people of Thiru Murikandy and Indupuram who have not been allowed to resettle back in their original lands. They too have been told several times to be ready on occasions to be taken, but it hasn’t happened yet. The Military tells them to ask the District Secretary and other civil administrative officials about their resettlement. But those officials say that the Military is the one that is not permitting their resettlement. These people have Land Development Ordinance permits for 2 acre (0.869 hectares) plots to their lands. They are all now entitled to Crown Grant as well. Over the last 30 – 40 years they have lived in these lands they have planted many trees and plantations, which has been their main livelihood apart from paddy cultivation. Coconut, jak, and other trees have taken decades to grow and bear fruit. They will not go to any other land but their own.

The traders in and around Murikandy temple have not been permitted to re-take their own shops or re-start their businesses. Other outsiders have been allowed to put up shops and business places. A new hotel is also being constructed close to the temple on temple land without any authorization.

The people have written many letters, in Tamil, English and Sinhala to the President, the Minister of Rehabilitation and others, all of which have gone unanswered! They only ask that they be granted the equal right as any other citizen of this country to be permitted to live in their own land. The people of Santhapuram, Indupuram and Thiru Murikandy appeal to the collective conscience of this country to speak up on their behalf and obtain remedy for them.

Suresh Premachandran MP
N Sivasakthy Ananthan MP
M A Sumanthiran MP
S. Shreetharan MP

1st August 2010

A post-war challenge for Sri Lanka: Dismantling the LTTE overseas and rebuilding a Sri Lankan identity

by Dr.Rohan Gunaratne
Professor of Security Studies
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
Nanyang Technological University
Singapore

Delivered on 2nd August 2010,
at the Auditorium of the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute
on the invitation of the Nandadasa Kodagoda Memorial Trust.

Chairperson of the Board of Trustee of the Nandadasa Kodagoda Memorial Trust Mrs. Ratna Kodagoda, Chairman of the Board of Management Professor Colvin Goonaratna, other office bearers of the Memorial Trust, family member of late Professor Kodagoda, distinguished invitees, ladies and gentleman

It is my distinct privilege to deliver the 13th Desamanya Professor Nandadasa Kodagoda Oration this evening. Professor Kodagoda was an intellectual giant of our times. Born in Ahangama in the Galle District in 1929, he was educated at the Ahangama Village School , Nalanda Vidyalaya (till the onset of the 2nd World War) and at Mahinda College , Galle . He received his medical education at the Colombo Medical Faculty and became a doctor in 1954.

He served in Galle and Karawanella for two years as a medical doctor and joined the Faculty of Medicine in Colombo in 1956 as a junior lecturer. His postgraduate qualifications included a MD ( Ceylon ), DMJ, MRCP ( UK ) and FRCP ( UK ). He was Senior Lecturer in Forensic Medicine, Professor in Forensic Medicine, Head, Department of Forensic Medicine, Dean of the Colombo Medical Faculty for two terms and Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo . Professor Kodagoda functioned as the Chairman of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board for two terms and as the Acting Director of the Institute of Indigenous Medicine .

He was also the founder Chairman of the Alcohol & Drugs Information Centre (ADIC). Although Professor Kodagoda retired from university life in 1995, he remained active continuing his lifelong passion as a keen and an effective mass communicator in public health issues using both the radio and the TV. He was awarded national honours, Kalaa Keerthi in 1986, Deshamanya in 1992 and Vishwa Prasaadini in 1995. He was also awarded honorary Fellow of the National Academy of Science.

As a student at Ananda College in Colombo , I met with Professor Kodagoda. He inspired a generation of students like me by his prolific writings and talks. What touched me most was his deep interest in national and international issues, and the need for all of us to be educated formally and informally on such matters before they affect us. As such, I like to share my own views about a challenge facing Sri Lanka after the defeat of the LTTE.

The Context:

Sri Lanka defeated the world’s first insurgency of the 21st century.[1] On May 19, 2009, the country achieved a great strategic and moral triumph by militarily defeating the LTTE. The theory that a political solution is a prelude to defeating an insurgency articulated by Western theorists and scholars was shattered. After three decades of fighting a cruel and costly insurgency, peace finally returned to Sri Lanka . Whether peace will endure and future prosperity will be achieved will depend on the ability and willingness of the political leaders of the country to work together across the party divide to build a new Sri Lanka .

The failure of Sri Lankan leaders to govern a multi-ethnic and a multi-religious society since independence precipitated Sri Lanka ’s ethno-political conflict. Sri Lanka ’s political masters compromised Sri Lanka ’s long term national and strategic interests for short term political gain. Unless Sri Lankan politicians build the understanding to never again to play ethnic and religious based politics, poison the ground by radicalizing its youth, and reinforce ethnic and religious divisions, the country is likely to suffer a repetition of its unfortunate past.

Sri Lanka celebrated the end of the war but a segment of radicalized Sri Lankans both at home and overseas resent this victory. The terrorist threat to Sri Lanka has diminished but has not ended. The LTTE threat has declined in Sri Lanka , but it is on the incline overseas. The LTTE had two organizational bases – the domestic or the territorial base, from which it recruited, and, the foreign or the diaspora base, from which it generated the funds.

To prevent a disconnect the LTTE exercised exceptional control over these two bases through intense and sustained propaganda and punishing dissent, at times brutally. After the LTTE was dismantled in the banks of the Nandikadal lagoon, the group very quickly reorganized itself overseas. Regarded once as the world’s most ruthless terrorist and guerrilla group, the LTTE after one year, is steadfastly re-emerging in Western cities.

The LTTE is acting through three fronts – the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam led by Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran in New York , Global Tamil Forum led by Father S. J. Emmanuel in the U.K. and the criminal faction led by Perinbanayagam Sivaparan alias Nediyawan in Norway . The LTTE leaders, offices and assets overseas are largely intact. The LTTE-controlled diaspora campaign contributions and carefully orchestrated constituency pressure/electoral compulsions compel the U.S. , U.K. , Norway and a few countries to turn a blind eye to LTTE activities.

Although the LTTE leadership in Sri Lanka has been decapitated, the LTTE’s global network poses an enduring and a long term threat to the stability and security of the country. The LTTE ideology is intact, its financial infrastructure is operational, and its vicious propaganda machine is impactful. For sustainable peace and stability, the long term ideological and the operational threat posed by the LTTE will need to be carefully managed.

To harness the hard earned gains of militarily defeating the LTTE, government must quickly develop a strategy of working towards engaging both the international community as well as the resident and non-resident Sri Lankan populations. Fourteen months have passed since May 2009, but we still need a concept, a master plan, or a national road map of crafting a future of prosperity for all Sri Lankans.

While security is essential to setting the conditions for such success, a lasting victory comes from a vibrant economy, broad-based political participation, and restored hope.[2] The likely future trajectory of the LTTE will depend on the government’s ability to continue to work with the Tamil population, move fast and reach out to the Tamil diaspora and invest the time and resources to co-opt the Tamil political opposition both at home and abroad. The art of politics is not only to work with friends but also engage the opposition, the pockets of adversaries, and even past, present, and future enemies – this includes even those infected and still suffering from the Eelam ideology and seeking pathways to lead to a respectable mainstream life.

To craft a road map to unify the country through nation building will de-legitimize and effectively invalidate the vicious ideology that spawned and sustained the violence that plagued Sri Lanka during 30 years. The government’s highly visible strategy of attrition of the past must be replaced by a high profile strategy of proactive engagement.

The New Political Landscape:

My presentation seeks to map contours of Sri Lanka ’s new political landscape and what we must accomplish in a post-War phase to stabilize Sri Lanka with a short- to mid-term strategy. Today, every Sri Lankan must comprehend the new political reality and benefit from the peace dividend before us. The most dominant actors at play are the government, the international community and the remnants of the LTTE. The LTTE remnants seeking to reorganize include three components: (i) the LTTE group (dismantled), (ii) the LTTE network (active), and (iii) the LTTE movement (active). Let us examine each one of these components that took our country backwards by three decades.[3]

The LTTE as a group:

The LTTE as a group is militarily vanquished. Although its ideology is intact, the component that was physically based in Sri Lanka is no longer operational as a coherent group. The conduct of the LTTE leadership in the final phase of battle demonstrated its true face of being willing to sacrifice its own support base and potential support base. Despite every Tamil family voluntarily or involuntarily providing a family member and resources, the Tamil public confidence the in the LTTE that was meticulously built through years of systematic indoctrination was shattered. Instead of respecting the fifth No Fire Zone (NFZ), the LTTE held nearly 280,000 Tamils as hostages.

When the LTTE persisted and eventually started to shoot the civilians who wanted to flee, the Sri Lankan military was able to breach the LTTE human shield and launch an operation to rescue them. The angry Tamil civilians rescued by the Sri Lankan forces identified several thousand LTTE leaders, members and helpers. While over 10,000 LTTE cadres were killed, a total of 12,500 LTTE leaders, cadres and helpers who did not wish to fight either surrendered or were spotted by the Tamil civilians in the welfare centres. Although government was highly criticized for holding and screening the civilians, its strategy of preventing a re-infiltration and re-radicalization of the community was effective.

Today, except a few thousand civilians who are free to leave the open welfare centres, every Tamil civilian have been resettled. Ironically, one part of the UN lobbied by the LTTE called and campaigned side by side with the LTTE fronts for early release of IDPs, while another part of the UN pressurized the government to delay the releases because of the slow pace of demining. Some leaders of international organizations, foreign governments, non-governmental organizations and a segment of the press exposed to LTTE’s powerful propaganda towed the LTTE line when they spoke of “concentration” and “internment” camps. This includes some poorly informed think tanks in Colombo that even propagated this view.

Despite the status of the economy of a country recovering from conflict, government even provided a resettlement allowance and continue to assist those IDPS. In recent history, no country has resettled such a significant number of the displaced in such a short period of time. Government appointed one of its ablest commanders Major General Kamal Gunaratna, the General Officer Commanding the 54 Division, as the Competent Authority of the IDPS, a task he admirably accomplished. Likewise government skilfully launched a multifaceted rehabilitation program under the guidance of the former Justice Minister Milinda Moragoda and Secretary of Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to engage the LTTE followers.[4] Away from the glare of the international media, government has today released all the disabled and student rehabilitees and has started the process of releasing the women rehabilitees.

Unless there is a terrorist attack, government is likely to release over half of those undergoing rehabilitation within the next year. To prevent recidivism, it is paramount for government to continuously engage this vulnerable segment of our population. To ensure complete reintegration back to the community, there should be a separate authority to monitor their re-entry and maintain the engagement. Although the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation and his dedicated staff has treated the rehabilitees in the most humane way, the government has yet to get the re-entry piece into the community especially the long term monitoring part worked out.

To prevent a relapse to the old ways, governments’ reintegration staff should work with the families, community and religious leaders, business and NGO communities. Extensive interagency collaboration is necessary to ensure that each one of the rehabilitees has a job and is never again trapped and once again misguided by the vicious and the intolerant ideology of the LTTE. The LTTE network overseas in partnership with a few Tamil political leaders at home seeks to re-poison another generation of Tamil youth.

If government is strategic in its thinking, the LTTE as group is unlikely to re-emerge in Sri Lanka in our life time. As long as government continues to re-orient its combat forces to developing the north and east and expand its intelligence strength, government will be capable to detect LTTE individual operatives and emerging support cells both at home and overseas especially in Tamil Nadu. In addition to focusing on economic growth and strengthening the partnership with Tamil parties, a powerful national and military intelligence service at home is the key to securing Sri Lanka in the coming years.

The LTTE Network Overseas:

The LTTE as a group has been rendered impotent at home. Nonetheless, the second component of the LTTE – its network overseas - has survived. The network’s activities that supported the terrorist campaign in Sri Lanka have moved to the diplomatic and international arena. They lobby not only governments but also the U.N., World Bank, IMF and other important stakeholders in international affairs.

The network presents a short term (1-2 years) nuisance and an irritant and dependent on government response, a mid- to long-term threat (5-10 years). Although factionalized into three entities, these factions cooperate, at times, fight. To ensure compliance, the LTTE shadow leader Nediywan who heads the criminal network threatens and conducts acts of violence against other LTTE leaders and activists. The three factions are no longer genuinely interested in the welfare and well being of Tamils including those affected by the war.

Their leaders, Nediyawan, Rudrakumaran and Emmanuel are interested in building their personal and political power and financial strength. As the activists and assets of the LTTE are located overseas, its network of front, cover and sympathetic organizations are not within the reach of the Sri Lankan law enforcement. Due to an inherent weakness of the Sri Lankan government’s overall strategy, in parallel with the security forces and the intelligence agencies that dismantled the LTTE in Sri Lanka , there was no similar fight overseas.

Like the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of External Affairs must develop a vision and a mission that they too must play their role by making it their personal fight. The former foreign minister Lakhman Kadirgarmar, PC, a Tamil himself, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during his tenure understood the threat from overseas and the need to counter it. Nonetheless, the working culture of Sri Lankan Foreign Service and other associated systemic factors of the service did not make it its single most important mission to dismantle the LTTE overseas.

Unfortunately in the run up to the final Wanni operation, most career foreign service officers appeared in the shadows without forcefully representing Sri Lanka ’s interests and rebutting the LTTE and others influenced by its black and grey propaganda. There was no structure in place in the Ministry of External Affairs of appointing, promoting and rewarding based on merit, ability and performance in this domain. As such most career foreign service officers and political appointees did not adequately understand the importance of and hence did not embrace the responsibility of working closely with key international partners.

To ensure that the LTTE presence is dismantled in the countries to which they are appointed, they must proactively identify and build adequate working relationships with the influential leaders in the political establishment, security and intelligence services, law enforcement authorities, human rights groups, think tanks, media and the Tamil community. To this date, when LTTE generates false report there is no established practice to monitor, counter and rebut the adverse publicity within six hours.

As government neglected this crucial dimension, the LTTE network was able to convince some host governments and host communities of “ethnocide,”“genocide,” and “war crimes,” activities that were not perpetrated by the government and labels that Sri Lanka never deserved. Furthermore, the LTTE interfaced, interlocked, and galvanized a segment of the Tamil population overseas and used them as pawns to wage their vicious and malicious propaganda campaign.

The configuration of the LTTE network overseas evolved dramatically even before its defeat at home. The successor to K.P., Manivannan Veerakulasingham alias Castro, headed LTTE’s international network since 2003. Raising funds under the pretext of relief and rehabilitation, the LTTE invested the bulk of its finances in arms procurement from North Korea and propaganda in the West. Although the bulk of the LTTE ships have been destroyed, its propaganda network is still intact. Dismantling the LTTE infrastructure and countering the false propaganda can be accomplished by two principal methods.

First, government should create platforms and institutions in northern and eastern Sri Lanka to engage LTTE leaders and their activists overseas. Ideally working with the parliamentary opposition, government should build a mechanism, to invite these misguided LTTE leaders to witness for themselves the unprecedented economic development in the north and east, the humane treatment of the displaced and the rehabilitees, and create opportunities for their participation. Ironically, most Tamils including those who contributed to the LTTE and protested in Western capitals are tired and they want to visit their loved ones or return home to invest. In the larger interest of peace and national reconciliation, the President should grant an amnesty to those who engaged in not so serious criminal activity in support of the LTTE.

Government should build a mechanism through its missions abroad to ensure that their travel is facilitated and they are engaged in a manner to facilitate others to re-enter the Sri Lankan mainstream. Sri Lankan political opposition should declare its support to the government for such a mechanism including to engage with Rudrakumaran, Father Emmanuel and Nediyawan. If they or other high ranking figures of the LTTE’s international network remains stubbornly uncooperative notwithstanding sincere attempts by the government, should be totally left out of the political discourse and thereafter exposed to the law enforcement authorities of their countries of domicile to be dealt with for their criminal activities.

Second, government should expand the mandate of its national and military intelligence services to operate overseas both to develop its coverage of terrorist support and operational activities. While the dominant strategy should be to engage, it is native for Sri Lankans to think that LTTE network aboard will not plan and prepare acts of terrorism overseas for striking in Sri Lanka . Although most Tamils including those radicalized see the sense of pursuing non violence to achieve their goals, there are a few fanatics with the mindset within the three factions determined to resort to violence.

Already, LTTE cells in India and Malaysia that supported acts of terrorism in Sri Lanka have been detected. As an LTTE hardcore is active overseas, they need to be closely monitored and appropriate actions taken. There should be dedicated desks to every country and not every region where there is LTTE personnel, infrastructure and activities. Such desks should work closely with the diplomatic, political, intelligence, law enforcement - police, border control, and others - judicial and other branches of government. After 9-11, if there is a will, there are sufficient political commitment and mechanisms available globally to bring to justice anyone who is seeking to spawn, support and sustain terrorism.

Sri Lanka was fortunate that by 2005, virtually all countries in the developed West and Europe had proscribed the LTTE. We will be failing in our duty, if we fail to recall with gratitude the untiring efforts of the late Minister Kadirgarmar with regard to successfully satisfying foreign leaders that the LTTE was no mere 'liberation or freedom organization', by a 'criminal terrorist outfit'. It is the international proscription on the LTTE, which made it difficult for any foreign government to directly criticize the Government of Sri Lanka for its resolve to militarily demolish the LTTE.

If we are serious in our current determination to continue to take all meaningful measures to eliminate the LTTE's remaining tentacles located overseas, it is of paramount importance that Sri Lanka ensures that countries which have proscribed the LTTE continues to have on board the proscription, and countries such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa proscribes the LTTE. It is vital that diplomatic measures aimed at achieving this objective, should be implemented following a comprehensive understanding of the divergent mechanisms in place in such countries. In certain countries the authority to designate an organization as an 'International Terrorist Organization' or as a 'Terrorist Organization' (and thereby proscribe it), rests with the Executive i.e. the Head of State, Minister of Defence or some other official of the executive.

In certain other countries, the designation of an organization and thereby proscribe it should be done through legislative action i.e. by passing a law. In certain other countries, there is a need for both the central government and the federal government and their respective Parliaments to collaborate in this regard. Australia is one such example. This means that, proscription or designation, is basically a political decision taken in the backdrop of factual circumstances such as the conduct of the organization. Under these circumstances, if we are to ensure that the LTTE remains proscribed and countries such as Australia which has not yet proscribed the LTTE proscribes it, Sri Lanka has to necessarily have a positive diplomatic and political relationship with such countries.

Furthermore, apart from continuing to brief those governments regarding continuing activism (aimed at re-activating terrorist operations) by LTTE organizational manifestations in those countries, Sri Lanka needs to have a better ground situation. This means that the government should in good faith necessarily address the genuine political needs of the Tamil minority. Foreign leaders should necessarily perceive that the Government of Sri Lanka is acting reasonably and will effectively protect the interests of Tamil people, in the aftermath of a full elimination of the LTTE.

Now that an armed conflict does not exist, the only legally tenable way in which LTTE activists could be neutralized and thereby prevented from continuing to engage in LTTE activities, is by successfully prosecuting them for their terrorist and other criminal activities. Sri Lankan authorities have been somewhat successful in that regard, by launching successful prosecutions against LTTE hardcore activists in Sri Lankan courts and thereby getting them imprisoned to serve terms of imprisonment, and by promoting investigations and prosecutions against LTTE activists who operated on foreign soil.

Both due to keen interest shown by local authorities and due to initiatives of foreign intelligence and law enforcement agencies, successful prosecutions have been launched against LTTE activists in Canada , United States of America , United Kingdom , France , Italy , India , and Australia . If LTTE activists are to be kept at bay and dissuaded from engaging in LTTE activities on foreign soil, these investigations and prosecutions have to necessarily continue. However, now that LTTE activists operating in developed countries appears to have satisfied foreign powers that they are no longer engaging in terrorist or otherwise illegal activities on foreign soil and that their activities are limited to lobbying and political activism, the challenge for Sri Lanka would become considerably difficult.

Though we as Sri Lankans will steadfastly argue that a