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September 30, 2010

Ex-army chief expected to lose his parliamentary seat with jail term

from BBC News online

Sri Lanka's president has endorsed the 30-month jail term of former army chief Sarath Fonseka, an official in the president's office has told the BBC.

Mr Fonseka was found guilty of breaching arms procurement guidelines on 17 September by a military court.

Last month, the MP was stripped of his rank and pension after being convicted of engaging in politics while in uniform. He denied all the charges.

Mr Fonseka led troops to victory last year over the Tamil Tigers.

But he fell out with the president when he stood unsuccessfully against him in polls.

"President Mahinda Rajapakse has approved the prison sentence for a period of two-and-a-half years after returning Wednesday from New York after attending the UN General Assembly," the presidential official said.

As the case had been handled by a military court, the sentence had to be approved by President Rajapaksa, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

With the jail term, Mr Fonseka is expected to lose his parliamentary seat.

The former four-star general and his supporters say the cases against him are politically motivated.

He was arrested two weeks after his defeat in January's presidential elections and has remained in military custody since.

He has been allowed to leave jail under military escort to attend parliament since April, when he was elected an MP for the opposition Democratic National Alliance (DNA).

He was hailed as a war hero by the majority Sinhalese community in May last year after he led the army to defeat the Tamil Tiger separatists, bringing an end to 26 years of civil war. - courtesy: BBC News -

September 29, 2010

SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth! The biggest movie star you've probably never heard of

By Grady Hendrix

Jackie Chan is the highest-paid actor in Asia, and that makes sense. Besides producing, directing, and starring in his own action movies since 1980, he's earned millions in Hollywood with blockbusters like Rush Hour and The Karate Kid. But the No. 2 spot goes to someone who doesn't make any sense at all.

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Serene Romance of the Superstar from 1979 Movie ~ Dharmayutham ~ Sprinkling the stream of The Ganges of sky

The second-highest-paid actor in Asia is a balding, middle-aged man with a paunch, hailing from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and sporting the kind of moustache that went out of style in 1986. This is Rajinikanth, and he is no mere actor—he is a force of nature. If a tiger had sex with a tornado and then their tiger-nado baby got married to an earthquake, their offspring would be Rajinikanth. Or, as his films are contractually obligated to credit him, "SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth!"

If you haven't heard of Rajinikanth before, you will on Oct. 1, when his movie Enthiran (The Robot) opens around the world. It's the most expensive Indian movie of all time. It's getting the widest global opening of any Indian film ever made, with 2,000 prints exploding onto screens simultaneously. Yuen Wo-ping (The Matrix) did the action, Stan Winston Studios (Jurassic Park) did creature designs, George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic did the effects, and Academy Award-winning composer A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire) wrote the music. It's a massive investment, but the producers fully expect to recoup that, because this isn't just some film they're releasing; this is a Rajinikanth film.

At 61 years old, Rajinikanth has made more than 150 movies in India, and he isn't even a proper Bollywood star. He works in the Tamil film industry, Bollywood's poorer Southern cousin, best-known for its ace cinematographers and gritty crime dramas. But whereas Bollywood stars may have devoted fans, Rajinikanth is considered beyond reproach, beyond criticism, beyond good or bad. Ask Bolly-fans about their favorite stars, and they'll spout the typical griping—Hrithik is a little boy, Shah Rukh Khan is spoiled, Amitabh Bachchan wears a toupee—but mention Rajinikanth, and their eyes light up. He is so rich, he does so many good deeds, his films are all No. 1 superhits. Rajinikanth is not just some filmstar, they insist. Rajinikanth is a "real man."

Indian message boards are alight with Rajinikanth jokes, the equivalent of Chuck Norris jokes. ("Rajinikanth was bitten by a cobra. After four days of intense suffering, the snake died.") Onscreen, when Rajinikanth points his finger, it's accompanied by the sound of a whip cracking. When he becomes enraged, the director cuts to a shot of a gorilla pounding his chest or inserts a tiger roaring on the soundtrack. Echo is added to enhance his "punch dialogues," rhyming lines uttered at moments of high drama. "When I will arrive, or how I will arrive, nobody will know, but I will arrive when I ought to," he snarls, confusingly. Or, "I will do what I say. I will also do what I don't say." Then he punches some goon so hard that he flies through the windshield of a minivan and continues on out the back window. Can't argue with that.

Rajinikanth's movies are crammed with comedy, action, and musical numbers (usually by A.R. Rahman), and they take great delight in kicking narrative logic in the face. Chandramukhi (2005) sees Rajinikanth play a psychiatrist so well-trained he can read minds based on a person's facial expression. The movie starts with a marriage, becomes a haunted-house drama, pauses for a musical number in which hundreds of kites spell out "Superstar" in the sky, and then concludes with Rajinikanth fighting a half-naked martial-arts master on the roof during a fireworks display while hundreds of doves flap around. It broke Tamil box-office records, was the longest-running Tamil movie of all time—playing for 800 days at one theater—and became a cult hit in Germany under the title Der Geisterjäger.

When Rajinikanth is around, the camera spirals, dips, dives, and soars during the most banal dialogue scenes while the cinematographer works the zoom lens like a trombone. The editing is hyperkinetic with Rajinikanth thrashing thugs so fast that you don't even see how he hits them. All of his movies are named after his character, and every single one of them starts with a musical number in which he introduces himself in the most insane way possible. In the first scene of Padayappa (1999), he's asked, "Hey man, who are you?" and his answer is a four-minute musical number in which he plays the harmonica, flips through the air, oversees a massive martial-arts demonstration, and then morphs into a baby. At the end, the village chief says, "Padayappa, that song was excellent," at which point the music revs up again, Rajinikanth climbs a 30-foot-tall human tower and smashes open a clay pot, fireworks explode, and the director's credit flies out of it.

But as ridiculous as Rajinikanth is, he's also in on the joke. In Sivaji: The Boss (2007) he's a software engineer returning from overseas to battle political corruption and Wall Street-style fatcats. From a fight in a music store in which Matrix-esque bullet timing allows him to bash five miscreants with a guitar then do a series of dance steps before they hit the floor, to a musical number in front of the Guggenheim Bilbao in which Rajinikanth, in whiteface, sings: "I had a dark complexion then/ Now I am awesomely white!" the whole movie is a combination of fist-pumping populism and wink-at-the-audience masculine camp.

And that's what Rajinikanth offers his audiences: style. The Superstar doesn't just mop his brow with a towel; he flourishes it like a bullfighter. Putting his sunglasses on is an operation as complex as a Vegas floorshow. His action scenes are so mannered that they're like watching a new form of macho Kabuki. As one song about him proclaims, "Your gait is stylish/ Your look is stylish/ Your thunderous action is stylish/ Whatever you do is stylish." While Bollywood movies, more and more, copy Hollywood conventions and morals, Rajinikanth stays respectful to his parents, chaste with the ladies, and firmly on the side of the little guy.

As Bollywood movies drop choreographed musical numbers in favor of MTV-style montages, Rajinikanth stays committed to old-school masala filmmaking. He's "exuberant, mesmerizing, and victorious," as one lyric says about him, but he's also an unreconstructed Indian, a homegrown hero who will never go Hollywood. A Rajinikanth movie without his "SUPERSTAR Rajinikanth!" billing, without his crazy-making opening number, without his fingers pointing like whips, without the world's most complicated plot, without the dshoom dshoom of him punching giant thugs into exploding electrical lines—that's just not a Rajinikanth movie at all.

Laugh at him all you like, but on Oct. 1 Rajinikanth is going to play a robot onscreen in Enthiran, and it is going to gross all the money in the world. Because Rajinikanth, like a Tamil Nadu Cyrano de Bergerac, is the epitome of manly Indian style and, like Cyrano, when one day he goes to his grave, he'll cling to the one thing they can't take away from him, the one thing that has mattered most to him in his life: his panache. - courtesy: The Slate.com -

Endhiran The Robot - First Day First Show - Superstar Rajinikanth's Fans Pray For His Success

Government has not led in its responsibility to educate people that our prosperity is going to depend on the immigrants: Justin Trudeau

By Joe Couture, The Leader-Post

A decade to the day after the death of Pierre Trudeau, the former prime minister's son Justin -- now a Liberal MP and the opposition immigration critic -- was visiting Regina.

"I reflect on my father every single day of my life, particularly in this job," Trudeau said after visiting the Regina Open Door Society on Tuesday.

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Liberal MP and immigration critic Justin Trudeau visited the Regina Open Door Society on Tuesday.
Courtesy: Photograph by: Roy Antal, The Leader-Post, The Leader-Post

"I don't particularly celebrate this day as an anniversary," he continued.

"I celebrate his birthday every year, which also happens to be the birthday of my eldest son, so it makes it a time to remember all the extraordinary things that my father did as a dad. I'll let the historians and journalists wrangle over what his legacy is and I'll remember the values that he shared with me, the way he raised me as a phenomenal dad. It's nice to see pictures of him on the TV and in the news today, but he's always close to my heart."

Trudeau said his visit to Regina was in the spirit of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff's tasking cabinet members to "get out of the Ottawa bubble, get out of our ridings across the country and start talking about the kind of country we want to build."

"It's not about just talking about it," he said. "It's about listening. It's about hearing people. It's about engaging with people on the challenges they're facing. Listening to their fears and their concerns and trying to allay them. Listening to their hopes and their dreams and trying to fulfil them. That's what politics is all about."

He said that, under the Conservative government, "people have forgotten the government should be about that."

His said visiting the Open Door Society was "excellent."

"Organizations like this that work extremely hard don't get the pay or the recognition that they need," he said. "For me to be able to come and tell them, 'Wow, you guys are doing a great job. It's really important. It fits into the kind of Canada we need to build,' is very rewarding to them, but it's also tremendous for us to be able to see what good work they're doing."

He said his priority as critic is to ensure the government "doesn't keep polarizing the issue around immigration."

"We're allowing people to become anti-immigrant in Canada. We're playing into people's fears. We're playing into people's ignorance, as well, because the government has not led in its responsibility to educate people that our prosperity ... is going to depend on the immigrants."

Trudeau also planned to visit the First Nations University of Canada and meet with Liberal Party supporters.

Ralph Goodale, Regina Liberal MP and deputy party leader, said it was "encouraging" that Trudeau visited the city.

"I think he has a dimension now, an understanding, of immigration on the Prairies," Goodale said.

"He'll remember what (the Open Door Society) is and how it functions and what it needs."

Courtesy:

Read more: http://www.leaderpost.com/news/Trudeau+talks+immigration/3594899/story.html#ixzz10vJlzMAI

Former female fighters strive for a better life

by IRIN News

BATTICALOA, 29 September 2010 (IRIN) - Lalitha* was 23, from Petiva Pullumalai, deep in Sri Lanka's eastern interior, when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) came for her.

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For many of Sri Lanka's former female combatants, the road back to normalcy will be a long one-pic by Rebecca Murray/IRIN

At the time, each family living under LTTE control was required to provide a child to the separatist forces fighting for an independent Tamil homeland for three decades. Lalitha joined up to spare her younger sister.

After heading a female Tamil Tiger team in battle for nine years, Lalitha escaped in 2004 to take care of her then-ailing mother, only to end up on the run.

She was terrified of being identified by the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) or the LTTE and putting her family at risk.

"Every day I would change my accommodation so I would not be tracked down," she said. Today Lalitha lives with her mother in their partially built home, earning a small wage managing a makeshift shop in the eastern city of Batticaloa.

According to the World Bank, only one-third of skilled youth are employed in Sri Lanka and much of the Batticaloa's population remains dependent on traditional livelihoods like fishing and paddy farming to subsist.

But for women like Lalitha, that struggle can be more pronounced.

The biggest problem for female ex-combatants in Batticaloa is that a conservative Tamil civilian society does not allow them to use the skills they learnt in the armed movement, said Sonny Inbaraj, a researcher from the UK-based Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who recently completed a study on the reintegration of female ex-combatants in Batticaloa.

"Society would have them learning how to sew or be domestic helpers, rather than being carpenters, masons, bricklayers or computer repairers," he said.

At the same time, however, Inbaraj believes the women have formed strong support networks among themselves, and are often the heads of households in this post-war period.

"I don't think there is stigma at the community level against the women ex-combatants... Most of them were from areas that supported the Tigers," he says.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has helped 660 ex-combatants, more than 50 of them women, who took the risk to enrol in the government-backed plan in the east.

"These are people in government rehab centres," Richard Danzinger, IOM's chief of mission in Sri Lanka, said. "Once discharged they come to us, and we see what their needs and aspirations are. Then we provide both direct and indirect assistance. For example, business grants, civic education training and vocational training."

Rasenthi*, from rural Thihilivetta in the east, was 13 when the LTTE knocked on her family's door. She survived a fierce battle in the LTTE stronghold of Vaharai when 80 Tigers were killed, including her best friend, and Rasenthi was hit by shrapnel. After an operation by LTTE medics, metal now replaces bone on the right side of her skull.

"When I came home I had a bad reputation," Rasenthi recalls. "Many of my old friends didn't talk to me, and feared to be associated with me." After being identified by the SLA, Rasenthi ran away to hide near Batticaloa town for three years. "I was very scared," she says.

The 22-year-old now says she has missed too much school to return. She has instead enrolled in a six-month bakery course at the national Sarvodaya vocational training centre in Batticaloa, hoping for a steady job.

The Sarvodaya programme is part of the government-backed reintegration programme that offers vocational skills for aspiring electricians, plumbers, beauticians and food manufacturers, and community leadership training.

To date, some 200 people have graduated from the programme, and there is a large demand from the private sector for their skills, E.L.A. Careem, Sarvodaya's long-term coordinator in Batticaloa, says.

"With the last 30 years of war, many youth have had difficulties with work and their future," he says. "Mentally and physically they have had challenges - no father, mother, or sister. And many only have only low-level skills, as compared to youth in Colombo. But gradually we are establishing a new generation."

September 28, 2010

Experience of a Sinhala family touring the Jaffna "Cantonment"

by R.A.Ratwatte

The winding narrow lanes with the Palmyra fences almost reaching the tar, ‘herds’ of cyclists (they ride five or six abreast and this I am told is a form of enjoyment)…….are still there. A recent visit to Jaffna after the first sprinklings of rain from the inter monsoonal showers showed us just how different and hauntingly beautiful the landscape could be. The ice cream is still spectacularly decadent and the Palmyra toddy sublime. A well cooked Jaffna crab curry far surpasses the "Singapore style crab curry" that Colombo thrives on today.

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click for larger image ~ pic by indi.ca

The journey is not as tedious as I remember it. In these days of air conditioned, well sprung vehicles a metamorphosis from the days of the humble Morris traveller. The roads too are much better and improvements are being done as we speak. Ours was a first time experience for three children who had not been able to visit due to a war that had prevailed throughout. The traditional pilgrimage to Nagadipa, one of the three places that the Lord Buddha had visited and one of the reasons why this land is sometimes referred to as the thrice blessed land, was mandatory.





picture source: flickr feed-Nagadipa

The designers of the boats carrying passengers to Nagadipa are I am sure, though long dead, would be laughing themselves hoarse in another world! The boat trip is like an act of revenge against Sinhala Buddhist pilgrims . It defeats logic as to why life jackets are worn in a mode of transport that would never allow the passenger to ever reach the open water should the boat happen to sink. As many as 80 passengers packed into a boat meant only for 30, with an entrance with two tiny doors and a clearance that doesn’t allow even a 5’1" medium sized man to stand up straight, are compelled to wear life belts by the armed forces. Ludicrous to say the least!

On the subject of the armed forces, their presence is marked from the time one enters the Peninsula or even before. Their presence is seen at every junction and it was rather amusing to see a Lance Corporal with a whistle controlling the crowd, very effectively at the sacred baths at Keerimale. One wonders what reaction the presence of soldiers at Kataragama (multi religious shrine) or even at the sacred Dalada Maligawa (Buddhist Shrine), carrying out this same function would evoke!

It costs Rs100/- ($1/-) for a vehicle to enter the beautiful Casuarina beach. When one gets there one is pleasantly surprised, as to how clean it is. it has only the stray cattle and aggressive crows who try to disturb those who happen to come there. The water is pristine and the beach is wonderful.

The point I am trying to stress is that the "control" enforced on the hordes of domestic tourists who visit the Peninsula by the armed forces is not at all bad. At the turn off to Kayts and Nagadipa each vehicle is politely told by a Policeman that they are forbidden from throwing their waste and polythene out of the window and are required to put it in designated bins. The bins are freely available and seem to be emptied regularly. As a result the horrible sight of scraps of polythene hanging from barbed wire fences like dead bats’ does not assail one and spoil the serene, and pristine landscape. Hundreds of thousands of noisy and impatient tourists from the South behave with a degree of discipline and orderliness which they should follow when they return to their home provinces.

Of course one is at the "mercy" of these uniformed worthies as they too are only human. At times one is virtually "ordered" to visit monuments and shrines built to honour war heroes that one doesn’t really want to see or has been to before. Other times needless searches that involve 10 year old children to get out of vehicles and carry their bags, for a cursory search at checkpoints happen. But one should realise that the presence of forces’ and their conduct in general is not very offensive , as far as this Sinhala visitor is concerned.

What do the "native" people feel? I was fortunate enough to meet a few intellectuals’ (University, professors, school teachers and educated people working for NGO’s like CARE) who felt that life in Jaffna itself was only slightly better but that life in the Wanni had improved dramatically. But there was one factor that needed to be addressed very urgently.

The IDPs living in camps and more specifically the school going age children apparently had lost at least one and in most cases up to 3 close family members, in the last few days of the bloody war of "liberation". These children are apparently traumatised to a degree that we people of the South would never understand. This combined with the suffering they still undergo in tents and temporary accommodation is, I am told, an area that is not being addressed adequately.

Those who face reality in Sri Lanka - let me tell you such people are few and far between in this land of lotus eaters - should know that psychiatric care given to them is not enough. There is a desperate need for qualified people to work with these children for they are the future of Jaffna and her people. If this generation grows up with fear and hatred, the consequences will be worse than what we have witnessed over the last few decades and will nullify the effects of the golden opportunity that we have now for a lasting peace.

The only peace we can hope to sustain is one based on mutual trust. Trust based on a deep and lasting knowledge of our cultures and their inherent values. This is something my Tamil friend who took me and my family to Jaffna and hosted us, shared during our many discussions.

This is what inspired me to make this humble attempt to write this piece. This is what I hope the rulers of this country, the intellectuals and the majority should realize before it is too late.

R. A.Ratwatte
Kandy





picture source: flickr feed-Jaffna

Coalition of forces trying to paint a target on Sri Lanka's back through three-pronged effort

by Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka

What better sign that Sri Lanka is a functioning democracy, than the very presence of the TNA in parliament? I can think of members of the First World who would not and do not permit such parties to function.

Months after a bloody thirty years war, with a heavy military presence in the former conflict zones, a party which was a fellow traveller of the defeated terrorist enemy, was elected as the main representative of the Tamil people of the North. It is not just the holding of the election but the nature of the result that stands as testimony to Sri Lanka’s democracy.

Is that democracy flawed? Is it incomplete and in need of improvement? Most certainly, but can someone show me a democracy that has been through thirty years of war and has not been damaged and distorted by the experience, with variously atrophied and hypertrophied institutions, habits and practises which take years to overcome?

More basically, how many states in the global South, the Third World, have been through decades of war, not only at its periphery, but right in its capital city, and remained functioning representative democracies without a single episode of military rule?

While the recent constitutional amendment could be said to have narrowed the ‘structure of political opportunity’, it has in no way closed the electoral path to change. So long as the electoral option remains open and the opposition has not been suppressed, Sri Lanka cannot be classified as other than a democracy. Any criticism of Sri Lanka by Lankans or others must validate itself by basing itself on the recognition of this fundament.

Indeed, the degree of democracy prevailing in Sri Lanka would be almost revolutionary in scope, if introduced in several of the closest, most precious allies of precisely those of the international community who criticise Sri Lanka explicitly or implicitly. Some do not have elected leaders; others have no national elections, while still others have no political parties.

Sri Lanka has left the tunnel of a thirty years war, defeated a formidable armed enemy and preserved the foundations of a democracy and the rudiments of a welfare state. Nobody is dying of bomb blasts or machine gun fire, after decades. All those are achievements worthy of respect and recognition, celebration and defiant defence.

I was therefore distressed by the contending reactions to the TNA during the 18th amendment debate, with the government benches shouting ‘kotiya’ (Tiger) at Mr Sumanthiran (who has not said a word in support of, or, it must be said, in opposition to the LTTE) and the civil society liberals spreading his word as if he were an Old Testament prophet or John the Baptist. The catcalls of ‘Tiger’ were scarily reminiscent of the UNP’s collective vilification of Mr Amirthalingam in the 1977 parliament, which, as we know, was signal and symptom of the horror of July 83. I was also distressed by the fact that the obvious response was not made: that if the indictments of Sri Lanka’s democracy made in the TNA speeches were anything like accurate, they couldn’t have been in parliament delivering them!

One problem with Sri Lanka’s opposition is that it is, in the main, minoritarian or at the least, a minoritarian profile. This is not an argument in favour of a majoritarian one. India has a majoritarian opposition which hasn’t been successful. When the UNP tried majoritarianism under DB Wijetunga, it lost out to Chandrika. The answer is a pluralist patriotism. Minoritarianism has cost the opposition since Ranil took over and with or without him, it is a kiss of death as Sarath Fonseka found out the moment the TNA endorsed him. It was as if his credentials and campaign had been embraced by a political suicide bomber.

I don’t want to get into the naming game, but I’ve been struck by the fact that the most sensationalist propaganda protests against the administration are, disproportionately, Protestant. Unlike the far larger, more representative Catholic Church which seems to have opted for a studied and grounded stance of constructive engagement and responsive cooperation with the post-war regime, the most apocalyptic denunciations come from Anglican, Methodist and sundry evangelical/fundamentalist elements, which obviously do not believe in rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.

It is even more noteworthy (and hopefully unrelated) that these worthy critics of Sri Lanka’s democratic credentials and the state of Lankan democracy, will not urge the one move that could cause a democratic surge, thereby contributing to the health of the body politic: preventing the real-time collapse and probable crash-and-burn of the democratic alternative at/after the local authority elections, by immediately ejecting its discredited CEO. Is there a connection between the two factors, the raucousness on the regime and the silence on the opposition leadership? Is it part of a move to leverage regime change without and short of a change in the Opposition leadership?

No matter. What is really dangerous is the three- pronged effort to (a) damn Sri Lanka’s democracy by questioning its very existence (as distinct from a sharp criticism of this or that law, policy or deed as un-democratic), (b) accuse it of war crimes and (c) paint is as a proxy of China. A coalition of forces is trying to paint a target on Sri Lanka’s back.

This is where the question of the Opposition leadership comes up. While successive administrations over fifteen years have found the status quo in the UNP, electorally expedient in the extreme, to my mind it is not in consonance with the national interest. It is the present Opposition leadership that has consistently acted to weaken and discredit Sri Lanka in the international arena. Under his leadership the UNP has functioned as a base for those who would mount ‘deep penetration’ operations against our national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Throughout the war years, the UNP leadership articulated a position that tacitly shifted the blame from the Tigers onto the government, and did so internationally.

So long as the UNP leadership remains unchanged to a patriotic one, efforts at de-stabilisation will find a local partner and external exercises in ‘ regime change’ will proceed unabated precisely because they have a desirable local alternative. If a more patriotic or nationalist leadership takes over, these external efforts may tail off, precisely because there is no desirable domestic replacement.

It is also the present UNP leadership that has converted that party into an aircraft carrier or beachhead for NGOs, by which I do not mean the grassroots development NGOs that do such wonderful work for the poor and underprivileged, but the so-called peace NGOs who engage in unfair, unbalanced propaganda worldwide against Sri Lanka, softening up the country as a global target. Without the present UNP leadership, these ‘cosmopolitan civil society’ types will be like parasites without a host body, and will find themselves suspended in mid-air or inhabiting a social vacuum.

This is precisely why the civil society ideologues and opinion makers are waging a bitter rearguard action to save the UNP leadership, or minimise the changes and retain it in a crucial role, or substitute it with an essentially similar one in social and ideological terms, enabling it to remain in the role that it has played since the latter half of the 1990s. However the U.K. Labour party has just provided a contrasting example for the UNP, by swiftly selecting a new leader, who is young, committed to a new vision, and supported by the party’s grassroots organisations.

The latest arguments deployed by these opinion makers are that the country does not need another Mahinda Rajapakse or UPFA (an editorialist’s phrase is ‘Mahinda Rajapakse Lite’), and that ‘there is no space to the right of the Rajapakse administration’. De-coded, what these mean is that the UNP must not select a leader or policy option that would be as patriotic as Mahinda Rajapakse and the UPFA; it must not take a line that is firm on issues of national sovereignty and independence, territorial unity and integrity and national security.

These causes are seen as somehow to the ‘right’ of the UPFA, as if anywhere in the Global South, these are issues which do not engage the masses deeply and form an essential part of a progressive platform. In Latin America the victorious new Left project describes itself as ‘patriotic’, ‘national’ and ‘popular’. It is also absurd to argue that the UNP’s present leader, who has yet to say a word of criticism of the Tigers and self-criticism of his policy of appeasement, has affiliated his party with the global Right as represented in the IDU, and advocates economic neo-liberalism (which he practised as Prime Minister), does not occupy a political and ideological space to the right of Mahinda Rajapakse.

The politics of Sri Lanka and the world is replete with examples of the desirability and viability of status quo Lite or incumbency Lite. The mechanistic Marxists refused to recognise Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948, because they saw it as colonialism Lite (allegedly we weren’t truly independent). The masses didn’t. SWRD Bandaranaike interpolated himself between the Left and the Right. He could have been regarded as UNP Lite or the Left Lite, and was probably an admixture. So what? Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council retrieved the sectors that had gone ‘Reagan Democrat’ by shifting the party to the centre, from the pacifist progressivism. Was he ‘Republican Lite? New Labour was in one sense, certainly Thatcher Lite. When the UNP, the state and society were besieged by the JVP’s xenophobic surge in the late 1980s, the electorate chose someone who was both JVP Lite and JRJ Lite, to wit, Premadasa. Often, Lite might be right.

As a political scientist who is a non-member of any party, I think Sri Lanka would be safer and more secure and its national interest better served, by an opposition leadership which is firm on issues of sovereignty and national security. We may and must fight on domestic policies (social, economic-developmental, educational, cultural, and ethnic), human rights and freedoms, constitutional architecture and good governance, but on issues of national sovereignty and security there must be consensus. There must be no daylight between Government and opposition for those who seek to trespass on Sri Lanka’s sovereignty or surreptitiously re-canvas the case of and for the Tigers or ethnic separatism.

Politically and ideologically what Sri Lanka needs, has always needed but never really had, lies somewhere in the triangle constituted by India’s Congress, the US Democrats and Britain’s Labour. That may be a task for the next generation of politicians, from the two major parties and elements of the left.

Sri Lanka’s future depends on the North understanding that whatever resonance the Tamil nationalist narrative may have internationally, the Sri Lankan Tamils have to live on this island with the Sinhalese and therefore it is not the world they have to convince of their case, it is the Sinhalese, and that too, the majority of the majority. No external leverage can substitute for internal, domestic goodwill— and as the late ’80s proved, can even be counterproductive as well as unsustainable. Recent news in the neighbourhood should teach Tamil politicians not to overestimate (once again) external capacities and inclinations.

For their part the South must understand that a running sore of discontentment in the North and East will prove toxic for the whole country and all its peoples; that the demographics of the neighbourhood and the reality of a globalised world economy with an even more globalised information system, leave no problem ‘purely internal’.

The country’s North and East are being materially re-connected with the South. The island is being reintegrated. Similarly, the country is being ever more connected with the world. It is up to the communities and their leaderships to follow suit. The subjective must reflect the objective.

AlJazeera Video: India expresses concern over China's contruction projects in South Asia

Storm over China's Sri Lanka port

Sri Lanka has opened a new port built with Chinese assistance, raising concerns in India, which worries that Beijing is expanding its influence in South Asia.

But as Al Jazeera's Minelle Fernandez reports from Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka, authorities there are dismissing such concerns, saying China's interest is purely commercial.

Aired on Aug 22, 2010

Sri Lankan boxer Nilmini Jayasinghe targets 2012 Olympics

By Saroj Pathirana
BBC Sinhala in Colombo

Nilmini Jayasinghe says she is determined to take part at the London Olympics despite her failure at the most recent world championships.

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Nilmini Jayasinghe - pic: SundayObserver.lk

The first female boxer to win a world title for Sri Lanka, Nilmini did not qualify from the preliminary rounds in Barbados and told the BBC: "I am really disappointed. I won my first fight but it was very difficult against the Chinese woman boxer [Cancan Ren].

"I think I will have to train better and be focused on the next world championship in 2012. I am determined to qualify for the London Olympics."

Only two Sri Lankans have ever won an Olympic medal; Duncan White (400m hurdles) and Susanthika Jayasinghe, whose bronze in the women's 200m at the Sydney Games was upgraded to silver after Marian Jones was disqualified.

Nilmini, who won the under 51kg category at the world invitational women's boxing championship in St Petersburg last year, hopes to put Sri Lanka on the Olympic map again in London.

But she has identified the need to improve her form against fellow Asian competitors if she is to take the next step.

She impressed by beating Russian and Ukrainian opponents in the invitational in St Petersburg.

"But in Barbados another Ukrainian boxer won the bronze medal, while I was out in the preliminary round because I found it very difficult to fight with Asians," she said.

A garment worker who started boxing at her factory's gym, Nilmini has already had a battle to get this far.

"I was barely 18 when my boyfriend committed suicide. My whole world collapsed. I was blamed for it. There was no-one to turn to and no way to come to terms with the pain," she writes in a short autobiography.

Nilimini was persuaded by a friend to join the MAS Holdings group and to start training at their gym. She progressed, with help from the Amateur Boxing Association and, in particular, former president Dian Gomes.

Though very appreciative of her mentor, Jayasinghe is critical of Sri Lanka's sports authorities, who she says favour cricket to the exclusion of other sports.

"The government never sponsored any of our tournaments," she said.

"It is not that Sri Lanka lacks talent. We do have talent but there are no facilities, talented players are not supported to help improve their talent.

"Even if we manage to compete in Olympics, I don't think our sports authorities will value us.

"The sports ministry and the authorities suddenly wake up when someone has an international achievement. But until then nobody bothers to help us at all." - courtesy: BBC Sports -

Sri Lanka received more than $6 billion of orders for its global sale of $1 billion in government debt

By Anusha Ondaatjie and David Yong

Sri Lanka received more than $6 billion of orders for its global sale of $1 billion in government debt, according to an official, who asked not to be identified because the details have yet to be announced.

The October 2020 securities were sold to yield 6.25 percent, or 373 basis points more than similar-maturity U.S. Treasuries, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The securities were marketed to investors at an indicative yield of 6.5 percent, according to two investors briefed about the sale. Bank of America Corp., HSBC Holdings Plc and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc managed the issue, assisted by Bank of Ceylon.

“They came in against a positive backdrop for emerging- market bonds and it should be no surprise if they price at the lower end of the guidance,” said Jetro Siekkinen, a money manager in Helsinki at Aktia Asset Management, who oversees $7.8 billion including Sri Lanka’s 2015 dollar debt. He made the comments before the sale was concluded.

Global investors plowed a record $27.9 billion of funds into emerging-market debt this year through Aug. 25, according to Barclays Capital Plc, citing data compiled by EPFR Global. Dollar debt sold by developing nations has rallied 13 percent this year, JPMorgan Chase & Co’s EMBI Global Index shows.

GDP, Stock Gain

Sri Lanka’s gross domestic product expanded 8.5 percent in the three months ended June 30 from a year earlier, the most since 2002, the statistics department said Sept. 16. The $42 billion economy may grow as much as 8 percent in 2010, the central bank said Sept. 21, having previously forecast a 7 percent expansion.

The Colombo All-Share Index of shares has more than tripled since the end of a 26-year civil war in May 2009, the best performance among benchmark stock indexes. The local rupee has strengthened 2.7 percent to 111.90 per dollar over the same period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

S&P upgraded Sri Lanka’s credit rating one level to B+ from B on Sept. 14, four levels below investment grade. Fitch raised its rating outlook to positive from stable on Sept. 21. The latest debt sale is Sri Lanka’s third global offering, following $500 million issues of five-year bonds in October 2007 and October 2009.

Sri Lanka’s debt has returned 42 percent since May 18, 2009, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBI Global Index. That’s when government forces defeated Tamil Tiger rebels. The return compares with a 19 percent gain in China, 24 percent in Brazil and 27 percent in Russia

courtesy: Bloomberg News

September 27, 2010

Jaffna is finally connected again with the outside world. But life under occupation has its own tensions

Winning the Peace

by Ross Tuttle

After 30 years of war, Sri Lanka's Tamil community is finally connected again with the outside world. But life under occupation has its own tensions -- and renewed conflict is always a possibility.

JAFFNA, Sri Lanka -- On a late-summer day, a dozen tractors stopped in front of a Hindu temple just north of Jaffna, the once-future capital of an independent Tamil state.

Each vehicle held aloft long wooden planks from which young men, with large metal hooks piercing the flesh of their backs and legs, hung horizontally; enormous crowds gathered around to watch and make offerings to the Hindu goddess Durga. It was a standard religious rite, an act of penance offered to a local deity -- and a sight largely unseen throughout the nearly three decades of war between Tamil separatists and the Sri Lankan government that ended in May 2009.

More than a year later, the rhythms of ordinary life are slowly returning. The overnight curfew has been lifted, local markets are doing brisk business, and the streets bustle with traffic, as tractors, bikers, buses, pedestrians, and sometimes even cattle jockey for space. Residents are cautiously optimistic now that the war, which caused an estimated 100,000 deaths and displaced more than a million people since it began in 1983, is over.

Jaffna, a peninsular city on Sri Lanka's northernmost tip, suffered the most. As the country's largest Tamil-majority city, Jaffna became headquarters for the Tamil Tiger separatist insurgency; as a result, it essentially lived under siege or military blockade for the nearly 30 years of conflict. Road closures and checkpoints cut it off from the rest of the country, and the land mines that dotted the city kept the populace in constant fear. The economy was a shambles: Power outages were a regular occurrence, and goods were scarce. When they were available, they were often exorbitantly priced. The Tigers were effectively driven out of the city in 1995, but peace didn't return until the separatists' leadership was entirely decimated last year.

Jaffna is now firmly under the civilian control of the Sri Lankan government in Colombo -- a situation whose attendant security benefits even locals seem to welcome. But a long-term political settlement with the Tamils has yet to be achieved, leading to quiet, but unmistakable tension on the streets.

"People are living freely," says Aiyathurai Satchithanandam, a Tamil journalist. "There is no fear, but where is the political solution?" Without it, he maintains, there will be no lasting peace.

Most Tamils were never party to the armed conflict against the Sri Lankan state, but many are still dissatisfied by the post-bellum political status quo; they nurse longstanding grievances against the government in Colombo for its lack of respect and recognition of their language and culture. They still seek "equal rights and equal opportunity," Satchithanandam says, and at their most ambitious they envision something akin to Canada's multi-national federal framework, with self-rule on a local level for Tamil-occupied areas in the country's north and east. Tamils expect to be presented with a political compromise, and soon.

"This is the most opportune moment to introduce a political solution," says Mirak Raheem, a senior researcher at the nonpartisan Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a Sri Lankan NGO. Having won the war, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is enjoying wide popularity, Raheem notes. Tamils -- as well as many other Sri Lankans -- expect him to leverage his political capital for a lasting peace while he has the chance.

Judged from life in Jaffna, while the war is certainly over, Tamil autonomy seems a distant dream. The first thing one notices about the city is the overwhelming military presence. By some estimates, there are as many as 40,000 Sri Lankan soldiers on the tiny peninsula. According to a European development worker, however, that marks an improvement. "There used to be armed soldiers every 20 meters; now it's about every 50," he says. But their very presence is a reminder of their mandate: to ensure that Tamils obey Colombo's writ.

Ironically, the soldiers might now themselves be fomenting a renewed Tamil resistance. Many Tamils point to the amount and quality of land the Sri Lankan Army has occupied in Jaffna. Eighteen percent of the peninsula is designated a "High Security Zone" -- land that used to belong to Tamils, but is now virtually off limits to anyone not in army uniform. The seizure of land has also complicated the resettlement of those Tamils who fled or were forced to flee during the last 30 years of violence. Some have been relocated elsewhere, but many thousands more remain in makeshift refugee camps that have outraged the Tamil population at large, as well as international human rights observers.

Tamils are also unnerved by the fact that the soldiers are almost entirely of the country's dominant Sinhalese ethnicity, and thus don't readily speak Tamil. In fact, the only language they usually share is English, their common colonial tongue. Tamils are so discomfited by the Sinhalese soldiers that they take pains to avoid earning their attention. Locals instruct their guests not to take photos of monuments dedicated to Tamil resistance figures until the Sri Lankan Army is out of sight; residents of Jaffna also show a preference for hiring taxis and rickshaws with older drivers, because Sri Lankan soldiers more readily suspect young people of being militants.

The war's legacy is most evident in the city's devastated infrastructure. Bombed-out, bullet-pocked buildings are scattered throughout the city. Jaffna's central train station is now a massive ruin. The once-proud waterfront is now a sorrowful stretch of hollow building foundations, battleground remnants from the 1980s and 1990s.

Still, despite the simmering tension and lingering destruction, the people of Jaffna are mostly upbeat. Perhaps more than anything else, they are enjoying their freedom of movement. "For the first time in 30 years, we can go to the hospital in Colombo," one local says.

Restaurants and hotels are reporting that business is increasing after decades of stagnation. Indeed, there has been a spike in domestic and expat travel since the road connecting Jaffna to the rest of the country opened in January -- though some locals worry that tourism will drop precipitously once the novelty of visiting this once-forbidden city wears off.

Unfortunately, Colombo has been slow to commit resources or energy to a long-term rebuilding program for Jaffna. "In terms of development," says the CPA's Raheem, "the local concerns of the [Tamil] people are not being taken into account. They are feeling the lack of consultation and participation, and there is an overall sense of disempowerment."

Tamils are still enjoying the immediate fruits of peace, but everyone knows it is a fragile calm. Satchithanandam, who in addition to his reporting duties also writes the horoscopes for the daily newspaper at which he works, offers a less-than-reassuring prediction. The people of Jaffna are willing to struggle nonviolently for some measure of political autonomy and economic dignity, but, he says, "If they have to, they will fight." [courtesy: The Foreign Policy Magazine]

Related: Photo Essay: In Jaffna, Sri Lanka, the Tamil community is slowly rising again

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[Click on Pic for larger image ~ click here for more pictures on Foreign Policy Magazine]

Ross Tuttle is a freelance journalist and documentary producer based in New York City.

Photo Essay: In Jaffna, Sri Lanka, the Tamil community is slowly rising again

by Ross Tuttle

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[Click on Pic for larger image ~ click here for more pictures on Foreign Policy Magazine]

Men participating in a procession at the Nallur Kandaswamy temple festival to pay homage to Lord Murugan, patron god of the Tamils, carry a replica of a deity past the southern entrance of the temple. The festival had been curtailed during the long conflict. The temple, first built in the 10th century, with several subsequent reconstructions, is currently being refurbished. Its damage is due to normal wear and tear, as the building was mostly spared during the war.

[Click here for Photo Essay by Ross Tuttle on Foreign Policy Magazine]

Ross Tuttle is a freelance journalist and documentary producer based in New York City.

Related article by Ross Tuttle: Jaffna is finally connected again with the outside world. But life under occupation has its own tensions

September 26, 2010

In concentrating power in his own hands Mahinda Rajapaksa resembles the ruthless Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran

Sri Lanka needs a president, not a demi-god

by Savitri Hensman

Arriving in Sri Lanka during the Eid public holiday, as usual I spotted statues of the Buddha, Hindu deities and Jesus. But I was struck by the numerous, sometimes huge, images of the president. In towns and villages across the south, Mahinda Rajapaksa's moustached face smiled down on passersby.

Perhaps this was an aftereffect of this year's presidential election campaigning, or euphoria in 2009 in much of the island at the end of a long civil war and the lifting of the threat of terrorism. But his apparently iconic status has disturbing implications in the light of recent events.

His main rival in the presidential elections was arrested afterwards and has been convicted by a military court, supposedly for fraud. Journalists critical of the regime have been threatened or killed, and violence against ethnic minorities by the security forces has gone unpunished.

An amendment to the constitution has been rushed through parliament, giving unprecedented powers to the president.Under the 18th amendment, no longer is he limited to two terms: he can stand for office repeatedly. More importantly, checks and balances against abuse of power have largely been removed. The independence of the commission that oversees elections has been undermined, and the president will have increased control over appointment of top judges and police.

Members of his family now hold several senior government positions, and his eldest son Namal, now an MP, is widely regarded as a potential successor. This impression is promoted by his own website, which proclaims: "A future leader with a friendly spirit, possessing good values is what comes to mind when meeting the dashing and smashing, young Namal Rajapaksa. His credo in life is to bring peace to Sri Lanka starting with the nation's youth, instilling patriotism and universal harmony to bring everyone together."

In the 1980s, democracy and human rights came under attack from the ruling party of the time, bravely opposed by activists such as Mahinda Rajapaksa, then an idealistic opposition MP. But even that government did not go so far in concentrating power in the hands of one person. The situation is unprecedented in post-independence Sri Lanka, except in those parts of the north and east where Velupillai Prabhakaran, the ruthless Tiger leader, once ruled dictatorially, helping to bring misery on large numbers of Tamils until his defeat and death. He was treated as a demi-god, an example that Sri Lankan politicians today would do well to avoid.

While there have been angry protests within Sri Lanka at the undermining of democracy, the main opposition party is in disarray, and many people have not yet woken up to the implications of a measure adopted so speedily.

The president has also had some success in portraying himself as the representative of a nation, so that any questioning of his decisions is regarded as a slur on the people of Sri Lanka – again an approach with unfortunate echoes of that taken by Prabhakaran and other authoritarian leaders throughout the world. All too often, an initial boost to national pride has been followed by ruin, as destructive policies have been pushed through without proper challenge, resulting in disaster.

Treating any politician as a near-deity, and giving him or her absolute power, is a dangerous course. The trade unionists, human rights activists, lawyers and many others in Sri Lanka who are resisting the slide towards dictatorship despite the accusations and threats they face deserve to be listened to, before it is too late.

Savitri Hensman was born in Sri Lanka and lives in London. She has worked for many years in the voluntary sector, mainly in equalities, health and social care. She has contributed to several books and periodicals, and sometimes writes for the Ekklesia and LGCM websites

Courtesy: Guardian UK

The need to implement Tamil as an official language

by M.S. M. Ayub

Ensuring facilities to members of the public to use their own language in official transactions with government departments, especially the ability to make statements to the police in one’s own language” was one among many other recommendation made by the members of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in an interim communication to President Mahinda Rajapaksa at a meeting they had with the President at the Temple Trees in mid September.

The need for administrative changes to enable these measures, according to a statement by the President’s Office, are based on the issues identified by the LLRC from evidence so far led before it by citizens in the former conflict-ridden areas, when the Commission held sittings in some of those areas; and also on the evidence placed before it by other individuals and organizations, keen to see an early return to normalcy in these areas, with effective action towards reconciliation.This fact has been again stressed by the respected Mahanayake of the Bellanwila RajamahaViharaya Ven. Bellanwila Wimalarathana Thera before the LLRC itself, after the commissioners of the LLRC made their communication to the President

It is vivid that although the Commissioners had spoken about the “members of the public” here, they would have had in their mind only the Tamils, especially those Tamils in the North and the East, and not the Sinhalese. It is also logical that the Commission as an official body to base its recommendations on the issues identified by it from evidence led before it by citizens in the former conflict-ridden areas and others.

But the fact is that there has been a demand for “ensuring facilities to ‘members of the public’, specifically to the Tamil speaking people, to use their own language in official transactions” in its concrete form, since 1950s.

If the demand still remains after so many pacts between political parties representing various communities, accords with neighbouring countries and several Constitutional Amendments, it is up to the Commission and the relevant authorities to have a closer look into the issue and find out what the lessons to be learnt-if the country has not learnt yet- and measures to be taken for reconciliation among the communities.

According to the Banadaranaike –Chelvanayakam Pact that was signed in 1957 after the controversial Official Language Act of 1956 the Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike and the leader of the Tamil Arasa Katchi, commonly known as the Federal Party then, have “agreed that the proposed legislation should contain recognition of Tamil as the language of the national minority of Ceylon ….and without infringing on the position of the Official Language as such, the language of administration of the Northern and Eastern Provinces be Tamil, and that any necessary provision be made for the non-Tamil speaking minorities in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.”

However, the pact was torn off publicly by Bandaranaike himself, the founder leader of the current ruling party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), in view of stiff opposition by the Buddhist monks.

Barely eight years later, the Federal Party signed another pact with Dudley Senanayake, Prime Minister of the government led by the United National Party (UNP), the main rival to the Bandaranaike’s SLFP. Assurances with relation to the usage of Tamil language were given in that pact as well. The pact among other things said that “action will be taken early under the Tamil Language Special Provisions Act to make provision of the Tamil Language to be the language of Administration and of Record in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

President JR Jayewardene was coerced by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1987 to sign the now famous Indo-Lanka Accord under which the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was brought in. Although it encompassed a clause that made Tamil too an Official Language, the manner in which the clause has been structured gives rise to doubts whether both official languages, Sinhala and Tamil were treated equally before the law.

The relevant clauses of the Constitution say; “The Official Language of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala.- Tamil shall also be an official language.” It goes without saying that this is a far cry from terming as “The Official Languages of Sri Lanka shall be Sinhala and Tamil.” This wording structure apparently points to the fact that President Jayewardene has not wholeheartedly accepted Tamil language as an Official Language, though in effect Tamil language must have the same status as has the Sinhala language.

The recognition of Tamil language as an official language was further enhanced by the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution by the JR Jayewardene Government in 1988 by way of making provisions for Sinhala and Tamil to be Languages of Administration and Legislation throughout the country. After all these, if Tamil speaking people complain before the LLRC on the lack of facilities to use their own language in official transactions, the problem has to be traced somewhere in the implementation of these laws or in the attitude of the rulers as well as the bureaucracy or in both.

The language gap among communities is so wide that Sinhalese and the Tamil speaking people, especially the Tamils excepting Tamil speaking Muslims, are apparently in two worlds in their perceptions of, and attitudes towards, what is on going in the political field.

The media in the two main vernacular languages also have contributed largely to this great psychological divide.

Perception of concepts such as the ethnic problem, unitary state, federalism and devolution of power among Sinhalese and Muslims are vastly different in view of the decade long divided politics and more importantly owing to the sharply divided media outlook. Reportage of the very LLRC proceedings have got divided in Sinhala and Tamil language media, with Tamil media highlighting the evidence given by the northern civilians on their relatives who had gone missing allegedly after surrendering to the security forces.

This is an extension of a trend that existed for the past several decades. Sinhala media blacked out some incidents in the north and the east while the Tamil media blew them up stirring emotions among Tamils. On the other hand the Tamil media have always attempted to create a mindset against the government in power. Leaders of the governments too failed to identify the psyche of the Tamil speaking people due to the language barrier and to address the issues in the language of the people. The upshot has been the great psychological divide.

The language gap not only hinders the day-to-day life of the Tamil speaking people as the LLRC has pointed out to the President, but also had pushed them to make various demands giving rise to suspicions among Sinhalese. A case in point, apart from the Tamil demands culminating in the demand for a separate state, was the genuine request for a separate kachchery in Kalmunai mainly by Muslims of the coastal areas in Ampara District.

These lessons we have learnt so far have stressed the need for reconciliatory measures by the government that have to be taken to the people in their language in a manner that would respect their language and culture and ensure a sense of security in their mind

Whatever critics may say the 18th Amendement does not augur well for any President

by Gomin Dayasri

The 18th Amendment is like a see saw that swings up and down. It could bring shame or fame to a President. The verdict will come two years into the operation when the people can determine whether the commissions are functioning smoothly or otherwise.

Living under the 18th Amendment will not be worth, if known servile sycophants are appointed

Under the previous Amendment, the Constitutional Council members were accountable to none - or if at all, only to their wives at home! Now the appointment of the prime functionaries and commissions of the land are within the sole purview of the President and he is solely responsible and accountable, if they function as badly as they did under the 17th Amendment. It is a slow handclap instead of three cheers for democracy - the sound of the siren for the President that can develop into a Mexican wave.

Previously the accusing finger could also point to the political parties in the opposition. With the 18th Amendment, the All Party Liability clause has ceased to exist. They are all President’s babes in High Office and Commissions.

They carry the brand name of the President as much as cows do with the initials of their owner inscribed into their hide to save them from cattle thieves. Their good and bad deeds or more likely ‘their do nothing but enjoy the benefits of office’ behaviour will reflect on the President. If they perform well the glory will accrue to the appointees and the President. Otherwise, they will walk hand in hand in a street of sin.

Whatever its critics may say, the 18th Amendment does not augur well for any President for he personally underwrites their performances in High Office and in the Commissions. In a capsulated form, they are the President’s Men. It is for sure an improvement on the previous number of the serial constitution awaiting further serialization, as the 17th Amendment gave birth to fatherless children. Now the birth certificate establishes paternity.

The 18th Amendment has enhanced the powers of the Presidency yielding more likely to its ruin than to its rise in the public perception. Criticism to the 18th Amendment originated from the literate intelligentsia but did they reflect the mood of the electorate?

No, is the answer - but such is public opinion in a constituency that is politically alert and mature, if there is less money in the hip pocket and life becomes harder, the civic consciousness of the people will boom and bloom.

The source of every conceivable evil may then fall into the lap of the 18th Amendment though the lapses may originate elsewhere. The state in which the President manages the country for the benefit of the common man will matter most. Intellectual issues excite a handful.

President Rajapaksa’s appointments hardly reached the required grade on past practice. The President sincerely and genuinely laments that he does not have a reservoir of proper persons available to select - with the good, shirking responsibility to accept office, when offered. Where have all the good men and women gone?

Understandably, the worthy decline to join the motley crowd or are uninvited being unknown. How many honourable men are prepared to place their name on the ballot paper? The few, who did so, have long ceased to be honourable - except possibly Lakshman Kadirgamar, he died early.

Do not be too harsh on a President. The search for people for positions is indeed an onerous task. Yet, is that justification to pick a donkey or a buffalo or an obedient puppy, if meat is not available in the market? Finding the Right People for the key positions is a tough proposition, with the system over -heated, politically. Hardly is that an excuse for a poor choice.

A Nomination Committee packed with head - hunters from the public, private, academic and business sectors, is a prime need to assist a President to unearth talent to make the selections but again servile sycophancy may fill such a vacuum too. It should not be the exclusive domain of the fossils and the decayed as the not - so - young with their skills and talents have much to offer to the nation. Often commissions are a sanctuary for ancient mariners.

Remember it was always the Prime Minister or President that appointed the key nominees and the members of commissions since the time of independence, until the birth of the 17th Amendment. Most often, such appointments were proper and correct. It is in recent times that political interference has raised its ugly head. For a government that badly needs the support of the public sector to achieve its endeavours in the second term of office, it will be suicidal to have a disgruntled public service if a Public Service Commission slants itself politically.

Last time the public servants voted overwhelmingly for the President. The work of the Presidential nominees to the Public Service Commission may determine the next election result for him.

The 17th Amendment looked well on paper but was slippery on the floor. The full blast of it, struck like lightning with some of the appointees nominated by the Constitutional Council performing disastrously.

A President elected by the people has a legitimate right to make key appointments to prime positions to administer the country - rightly or wrongly - rather than have the task entrusted by the constitution to a flock of lame ducks whose claim to fame is that they constitute part of civil society. Indeed a weak substitute to an elected President - though that class modulates public opinion of the miniscule English educated in Colombo whose culture and voting pattern is an anathema to the rest of the country.

That was an elitist exercise to restore the lost power back to the cream of Colombo. If the Constitutional Council faulted, they were answerable to none; there was no check on them, unlike on the President who can be despatched home at an election.

Provided elections are free and fair - a legitimate fear entertained is the emergence of a Ferdinand Marcos or Idi Amin in the future as a potential candidate at a presidential election since he may appoint the Election Commissioners.

The image of a referendum held under the UNP and the disturbed Wayamba Provincial Council elections held during the PA administration still lingers. A dominant public opinion calibrated by a freed media is the safeguard. Neither the UNP nor the PA due to the barrage of subsequent public criticism thereafter disrupted elections. The foreign observers or the Supreme Court has never determined the many elections held subsequently were not free and fair.Sirima Bandaranaike government illegally extended its life - time from 5 to 7 years without the people’s mandate. The masses angrily reacted and a government that held a 2/3 majority in parliament was reduced to 8 members at the next election. It is the people’s power and an unkempt media that can overcome dictatorship as shown in the many coloured revolutions in Europe.

The constitutional circus has come to town with more on parade soon. With the 18th Amendment, the President is in a tangle like a trapeze artiste under the Big Tent balancing delicately on a rope with a free hand while the crowd watches from the stands beneath a net. Will he walk the full distance gracefully or will he take a tumble and fall on to the safety net under the ropeway? It will not take long to know.

It’s the 19th Amendment which is lined up next that needs watching. The 18th is the mere appetizer before the main course.

Beyond lawful constraints: Sri Lanka's mass detention of LTTE suspects

ICJ926.jpg'Surrendees' and 'rehabilitees' in Sri Lanka: ICJ Report addresses concerns arising from what may be the largest mass administrative detention anywhere in the world

By International Commission of Jurists

Summary of Human Rights Concerns

The Government of Sri Lanka’s ‘surrendee’ and ‘rehabilitation’ regime combines measures to address the ‘surrender’ of former combatants, screening for security threats, rehabilitation, and criminal prosecutions. Each of these areas of law and policy contain measures that violate the right to liberty and security of the person (ICCPR, art. 9), the right to due process and fair trial (ICCPR, art. 14), and the rights of the child. They also risk violation of the prohibition against enforced disappearance, torture and other illtreatment, and extrajudicial killing.

[Click to read full report on Scribd]

i. Clear and transparent legal framework for surrendees and rehabilitees

The ICJ is concerned at the lack of a transparent and publicized and effective framework setting out lawful and human rights compliant parameters for effective rehabilitation and reintegration. The existing framework appears ad
hoc and piecemeal, without due regard for international policy and best practice in disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR). In fact, the lack of transparency and accountability engendered through this ad hoc approach will tend to heighten mistrust and detract from a sustainable political settlement. International support to such a process would potentially implicate the donors in enabling violations of international law and human rights, and thereby undermine the prospects for a viable national reconciliation based on rule of law.

The ICJ remains concerned that the existing detention regime violate international legal standards and creates a legal black hole in which detainees are vulnerable to serious violations. These concerns well founded when set against the well-documented history of arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka.

Mass internment clearly falls outside the limitations imposed by the principles of necessity and proportionality under international law.

Individuals have a right in all circumstances under international law to access to a court to challenge the legality of detention and to legal counsel, both denied in this regime.

ii. Procedural safeguards need to be put in place

The ICJ is concerned that the rehabilitation regime sidelines ordinary criminal proceedings and fair trial related due process and fair trial rights.

Administrative detention for up to two years is prescribed even for low risk ‘rehabilitees’, indicating that the mass detention has the character of collective punishment, which is prohibited in any circumstances under international
law.

The existence of a legal gap creates the risk that the Government’s approach, which lacks accountability and transparency, will displace the normal criminal justice system and its safeguards against abuse. Detention for the purpose of gathering information, which often happens in Sri Lanka, has the consequence of blurring intelligence aims with the distinct purposes of criminal investigation and “rehabilitation”. Without clear legal parameters governing the exercise of these powers and strong accountability mechanisms, serious human rights violations are more likely to occur with impunity and without recourse to a remedy.

The legal guarantees that must be provided:

 Safeguards against involuntary ‘surrender’ and coerced ‘confessions’

 Transparent and verifiable screening and registration of detainees, to protect against human rights violations, including torture and ill-treatment and enforced disappearance

 Access to legal counsel

 Right to be informed of the reason for detention

 Prompt judicial control of detention

 Right to challenge lawfulness of detention before a judge

 Protection against inherently arbitrary detention, including prolonged and indefinite administrative detention, that permits the Government to hold someone without charge for up to two years in ‘rehabilitation’ and where an administrator determines whether release is ‘appropriate’

 Protection against obligatory ‘rehabilitation’ that is imposed without judicial authority and outside the criminal justice
process

 Proper screening procedures to ensure identification of children and channelling on individualized needs basis into separate mechanisms for recovery, reintegration, and care

 Avoid detention of children with adult ‘surrendees’

 Protection against broad and vague grounds for arrest and detention on security grounds, leading to prolonged arbitrary ‘preventive detention’ without charge

 Guaranteed visits by family

 Protection against overly broad and vague grounds for criminal prosecutions, including assimilation of innocent
actions or normal criminal offences to acts of ‘terrorism’ with severe punishments

 Protection against double punishment where criminal conviction and sentencing are added to time served as
detainee under administrative detention (‘rehabilitation’)

iii. Need for an independent monitoring agency with a protection mandate

The lack of verifiable public information points to a larger absence of a comprehensive policy and legal framework and transparent process for detention, screening, rehabilitation, release or prosecution, accompanied by unhindered monitoring access by international agencies to adult detention centres. It is this lack of accurate, independent information that makes the presence and participation of such independent protection agencies critical to the well-being of the surrendees and rehabilitees.

Recommendations

A To the Sri Lankan Government

i. Voluntariness of surrender and rehabilitation

• Ensure prompt judicial review and supervision to determine if ‘surrender’ and participation in ‘rehabilitation’ is voluntary.

• Ensure that rehabilitation, where voluntary, is carried out in a manner demonstrably for such purposes and not amounting to a disguised form of criminal punishment.

ii. Due process rights

• Guarantee right to legal representation and access to a lawyer of the detainee’s choosing at all stages, family visits, medical visits, and access by an international and independent humanitarian agency

• Guarantee right to challenge the lawfulness of detention before judge or other competent authority

• Guarantee prompt charge and trial, release, or genuinely voluntary participation in rehabilitation based on transparent and lawful criteria • Guarantee the additional due process rights enumerated on pages 35-36 of this report

iii. Children

• Verify that no children remain in detention, and more broadly ensure full implementation of recommendations by UN Special Envoy for Children and Armed Conflict, particularly with regard to screening procedures and risk of prosecution.125

iv. Amnesty

• Consider amnesty for ex-combatants except where alleged acts amount to crimes under international law.

B To the Sri Lankan Parliament and Government

• End the state of emergency.

• Support legislation establishing the parameters for rehabilitation, prosecution and possible amnesties for individuals who took active part in hostilities.

• Review, reform, and repeal provisions of the PTA and Emergency Regulations (2005 and 2006) identified above, to bring them into compliance with international law and standards

• Take steps to eliminate the practice of administrative (or ‘preventive’) detention, including statutory, regulatory, and administrative reform.

• Where administrative detention is invoked, ensure that this is done only in exceptional situations during declared states of emergency pursuant to ICCPR article 4.

C To the Donor Community and the United Nations

• Donors and the United Nations should offer technical assistance to support the development of a legal framework that complies with international law and standards and that is cognizant of the wider implications of reconciliation.

• Donors should condition their support to rehabilitation on the establishment of a legal framework that provides for due process and safeguards the internationally-recognized rights of detainees, especially children, and ensures a transparent process of ex-combatants’ rights.

• The United Nations should continue to refrain from supporting Government activities within the camps until a legal framework has been put in place which provides for due process and safeguards the rights of all detainees, especially children.

• The United Nations should prioritise advocacy for the establishment of a legal and policy framework for the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals who took active part in hostilities.

Executive Summary

This report addresses human rights concerns arising from what may be the largest mass administrative detention anywhere in the world. The Government of Sri Lanka is currently holding approximately eight thousand individuals under administrative detention without charge or trial. They are alleged former associates of the LTTE and therefore required to undergo ‘rehabilitation’ under Sri Lanka’s 2005 emergency regulations. Hundreds of others have been screened and held separately for criminal prosecution.

The ICJ is concerned that the Government’s ‘surrendee’ and ‘rehabilitation’ regime fails to adhere to international law and standards, jeopardizing the rights to liberty, due process and fair trial. There are also allegations of torture and enforced disappearance. Access required for reliable and accurate monitoring by international agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), has been denied. Political expedience and secrecy have tended to take precedence over legality and accountability.

With the end of the armed conflict, conditions on the ground cannot be considered to give rise to a threat to the life of the nation so as to justify a state of emergency in Sri Lanka, under international standards. Even if a state of emergency were so warranted, the Government has not provided sufficient evidence that the mass detention regime for the purposes of rehabilitation is strictly required to meet any specific threat. In any event, these questions of whether detention is strictly necessary must be subject to judicial review on an individual basis and such review has been unavailable.

The ICJ acknowledges the enormity of the challenge faced by the Government since the end of the armed conflict in May 2009. It has dealt with both massive displacement and security risks. It has the ongoing task of identifying the scope and nature of rehabilitation and other post-conflict assistance needs, including the special needs and rights of children.

Important progress has been achieved. As of August 2010, approximately 200,000 IDPs had been returned or released from camps, with 70,000 that remain displaced or in transit sites near their home areas and less than 35,000 others that still await release from emergency sites. It was reported that 565 children identified by the security forces in May 2009 as associated with the LTTE were almost immediately separated from the adult detainees, held in separate rehabilitation centres monitored freely by UNICEF, and all released by May 2010. These figures come from reliable sources but have not been made public.

However, notwithstanding these positive developments, the Sri Lanka Government has not accepted that “rehabilitation” does not mean surrendees and rehabilitees are no longer entitled to due process and fair trial rights.

Reliance on emergency regulations and counter-terrorism legislation that fall short of international law and standards effectively places detainees in a legal black hole. There is no recourse to an independent and competent tribunal to determine their rights. Obstructed access for independent monitoring further clouds these practices and has made it impossible to verify reports of enforced disappearance, torture and other ill treatment, or the continuing presence of children among the adult detainees.

In assessing the human rights impact of the mass detention regime, this report applies international human rights law as the relevant legal regime, particularly in respect of the right to liberty under article 9 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its Optional Protocol, both ratified by Sri Lanka. It is the State’s duty to respect and protect these rights and to provide a remedy when these rights are violated. International humanitarian law in non-international armed conflict is contested regarding internment and detention, as there are few express rules in IHL treaty sources. In any case, hostilities in Sri Lanka’s internal armed conflict ceased more than one year ago.

There are at least two bases for this detention under Sri Lankan legislative and emergency regulations. First, preventive detention without trial on security grounds for up to one year is authorized under ER 2005, Regulation 19. While magistrates are to be informed of such detentions (21(1)), the regulation excludes judicial review (1 (10)), declares all such detentions lawful (19(3)), and denies the Magistrate power of bail without consent by the Attorney General (21(1)). This regulation remains applicable to those to whom it was applied before May 2010, when the maximum detention period was reduced to 3 months and the appearance before the Magistrate required within 72 hours (1651/42, 2 May 2010).

Preventive detention is the administrative restriction of liberty not undertaken in contemplation of criminal charges, but instead based on suspicion of future criminal behaviour. The substantive grounds for such detention include offences contained in the Prevention of Terrorism Act No. 48 (1979) (PTA), which itself authorizes preventive detention under patently vague and overbroad grounds for up to 18 months (s.9) and indefinitely pending trial.

Administrative detention without charge or trial is also permitted for purposes of the rehabilitation of ‘surrendees’ under Regulation 22 of the Emergency Regulations 2005 (ER 2005 as amended by ER 1462/8, 2006). Administrative detention of a ‘rehabilitee’ may continue without judicial review or access to legal representation for up to two years. These regulations and procedures deny the right of detainees to have the lawfulness of their detention and other rights determined by a court, as established in ICCPR article 9.

The longstanding state of emergency powers in Sri Lanka has led to a situation in which the use of exceptional powers has become the rule. The ICCPR article 4 strictly limits derogations to those strictly required in response to specific threats to the life of the nation. Even in these situations, the right to habeas corpus may not be suspended, nor the right to legal representation, access to family, and measures to protect against torture and other ill treatment.

Prolonged and indefinite administrative detention of ‘rehabilitees’ for up to two years without charge may amount to individual and collective punishment without charge or trial. In addition to this disguised form of punishment for alleged criminal offences, ‘rehabilitees’ face the prospect of a second punishment upon conviction for crimes if criminal prosecutions are eventually initiated. The ICJ is also concerned that detainees are vulnerable to the violation of other rights, including the prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, the prohibition against enforced disappearance, as well as of a number of particular rights applicable to children.

Once the human rights of the detainees are properly respected, the international community should provide diplomatic and financial support to the Government’s plan for processing the detainees according to the rule of law. However, such assistance should hinge on a careful examination of the legal framework guiding Government practice. This report outlines key elements that should be taken into account.

While the ICJ recognizes Sri Lanka’s obligation to protect its population, including from threats that may be posed by members of armed groups such as the LTTE, this should not be done at the cost of detainees’ rights, or outside the framework of the law. Measures taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that those suspected of serious crimes, such as war crimes, are brought to justice must also ensure that others are given assistance, including human rights compliant rehabilitation services, to facilitate assimilation into civilian life.

This is as much a matter of confidence building and reconciliation at this delicate post-conflict juncture in Sri Lanka, as a question of respecting and strengthening the rule of law – both, in fact, are mutually constitutive. For example, except where alleged acts amount to crimes under international law or serious human rights abuses, the Government could consider adopting a reconciliation program that provides for the possibility for amnesty for excombatants as a way to foster reconciliation in post-conflict Sri Lanka.

Given the current legal vacuum and uncertain conditions under which ‘surrendees’ are being detained, external donor support for Sri Lanka’s rehabilitation efforts must be provided only on condition of compliance with international law and standards, or else risk complicity in a policy of systematic mass arbitrary detention.

Part II of this Briefing Paper provides the background to ongoing mass internment of LTTE suspects. Part III (A) outlines international human rights law and standards applicable in Sri Lanka. Part III (B, C) sets out the violations of these laws and standards under the current administrative detention regime. Part IV provides recommendations for addressing these violations.

Why the world should be worried about Sri Lanka's deepening ties with China

Sri Lanka holds tight to China

By Karunyan Arulanantham

LOS ANGELES — When the voters of war-torn Sri Lanka cast their ballots in last January’s presidential election, little did they realize that the winner, incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa, would take such an expansive view of his victory.

Eight months into his second term, Rajapaksa is engaged in an unprecedented power grab that is marginalizing religious and ethnic groups and endangering the island’s fragile democracy. Earlier this month, the country’s parliament abolished presidential term limits, effectively creating an imperial presidency.

No doubt Rajapaksa figures he deserves some spoils for being the leader who finally liquidated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after a 26-year civil war. But he has given himself the portfolios of defense, finance and planning, ports, aviation and highways, and he has appointed one brother economic development minister and another defense secretary. Add a third brother as Speaker of Parliament, a cousin as deputy minister of water and drainage, and a son in the family’s seat in parliament — and it’s clear this is dynasty-building run amok.

People around the world greeted the end of Sri Lanka’s war with relief. But it is time for Western governments and businesses to recognize the rising threat to freedom and use whatever leverage they have to stop Rajapaksa’s divisive and anti-democratic policies, which are dovetailing with island’s ever tighter embrace of China.

Dynastic politics is nothing new in South Asia, but the creation of this family juggernaut is particularly troubling. It comes after Rajapaksa and the Sri Lankan military achieved a decisive — and needlessly bloody — end to Sri Lanka’s long war, killing as many as 40,000 people in the final weeks of fighting. Most were unarmed Tamil civilians.


In the wake of that campaign, Rajapaksa called an early election and coasted to an easy win, pledging to heal the wounds and divisions that left the country so devastated for so long. Tamils were skeptical, but hopeful.

Two weeks after his re-election, Rajapaksa’s government arrested his defeated presidential opponent, who remains in custody on politically motivated charges. As part of a broad campaign to silence opponents, independent organizations report that press intimidation and human rights violations remain rampant.

Instead of embracing democracy, Rajapaksa and his supporters in parliament — where brother Chamal, as Speaker, sets the agenda — have launched a frontal assault on the constitution. In addition to abolishing term limits, other changes have ended independent oversight of appointments to the country’s Supreme Court, human rights and electoral commissions — moves that vastly expand presidential powers and leave them unchecked by other branches of government.

The problems with these changes are numerous: Election promises to decentralize authority and grant more autonomy to Tamil areas in the north and east have been tossed out the window. Vital development aid is being poured into building beach resorts for foreigners and new military bases, while Tamil communities destroyed by warfare go without vitally needed new housing, hospitals, schools and churches. Tens of thousands of Tamils are still detained in camps, unable to return to their homes, while the government conducts a campaign to colonize Tamil areas with Sinhalese families, many with ties to the military. Tamil communities, and indeed the entire culture, are threatened with annihilation.

With Rajapaksa himself acting as Defense Minister and his brother Gotabaya serving as Defense Secretary, no one can challenge the use of Sinhalese Army troops to police Tamil majority regions of the island. But the continued military deployment is exacerbating ethnic tensions that originally sparked the civil war, and reports of harassment, plunder, and rape are multiplying. This will only get worse absent a legitimate peace and reconciliation process.

Truth and accountability are critical elements of reconciliation, but when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon created a three person panel of experts to look at war deaths in Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa’s own housing minister rallied hundreds of protestors outside the UN’s headquarters in Colombo, forcing the offices to be closed and the resident U.N. coordinator to be recalled to New York.

Rather than accept an independent probe, Rajapaksa formed his own “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission,” which most outside observers consider is no more likely to uncover the truth about war crimes in Sri Lanka than the nine other government commissions that preceded it, none of which held anyone accountable.

The international community is not blind to what’s happening in Sri Lanka, but democratic friends seem impotent as Rajapaksa ignores critics in the West and deepens ties with China. While China may be unfazed by the island’s march toward autocratic rule, Sri Lankans should consider what a future with such limited friendships would look like. And the West should consider how many more borderline democracies it can afford to watch fall.

Karunyan Arulanantham is a member of the Tamil American Peace Initiative, a group of Tamil Americans formed to help bring lasting peace and justice to Sri Lanka, as well as to focus attention on the destruction of Tamil communities and culture caused by the war.

Courtesy: The Global Post

The most prominent sovereign of the Chola dynasty - India's Big Temple marks 1,000th birthday

By Swaminathan Natarajan
BBC Tamil

The temple has number of statues and stone carvings depicting the life of Buddha.

Official celebrations are taking place in southern India for the 1,000th birthday of one of the grandest temples ever built on the subcontinent.

The Brihadisvara temple - in the town of Thanjavur, 350km (220 miles) south-west of Chennai - is considered the finest example of southern Indian architecture.

Realated: Slide presentation of Chola Dynasty featuring song in Tamil ~ from the 1973 Movie, Raja Raja Cholan:

R Nagasami, the state of Tamil Nadu government's retired director of archaeology, says it is not clear when work started on the attraction, which is better known as the Big Temple.

She adds: "But we can definitely say it was completed in the year 1010. We made this conclusion from stone inscriptions."

Unlike other Hindu temples built during that period, this one was made using granite.

Dedicated to Lord Shiva, a major Hindu deity, it consists of 13 tiers, and its main tower soars majestically to a height of 60m (200ft).

The master designers built the hollow tower by interlocking stones without using any binding material.

Considered one of the tallest structures in India at that time, the temple was built on the orders of the King Raja Raja Chola, the most prominent sovereign of the Chola dynasty.

The Cholas reached their zenith during the 11th Century, subduing smaller kingdoms and bringing most of southern India under their rule.

They were also pioneers in naval warfare, carrying out hostile waterborne expeditions to Sri Lanka and the Far East.

Song from Tamil movie: Thendralodu Udan Piranthaal ~ T. R. Mahalingam and Sivaji Ganehsan in Raja Raja Cholan

Raja Raja Chola, who ruled from 985 AD to 1014, was a Saivite, a branch of Hinduism that worships Lord Shiva.

His capital was the town of Thanjavur, situated on the banks of the River Cauvery, which is considered sacred by Hindus.

"King Raja Raja was also known as Sivapada Sundaran [which means a man devoted to the feet of Shiva]," says Mr Nagasami.

"Temple inscription says he first placed all the spoils of war at the feet of god and sought blessing from the almighty."

The temple is 240m long and 120m wide. There was no rock formation near the temple, so it had to be transported from quarries 50km away.

It is believed the rock was brought to the building site by river boat.

PS Sriraman, assistant superintendant archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India, says: "If you compare Big Temple with other temples of that time, it is at least 40 times bigger.

"This is a dramatic scaling up. It shows their confidence and imagination. It has a very unique design. It is the first Hindu temple to be built on such a grand scale."

Interestingly, the temple also has number of statues and stone carvings depicting the life of Buddha.

V Ganapati Sthapati, a well-known temple architect, says: "The temple tower incorporates the same building principles used in the construction of great pyramids.

"They designed the temple using traditional knowledge which is held as family secrets, and passed down from father to son. They carved out rocks using hand-held tools."

The inscriptions found in the temple have helped scholars understand the Chola empire.

The temple, which also has fresco paintings, has survived the ravages of countless monsoons, six recorded earthquakes and a major fire.

It is now maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, a central government body.

Its superintendant archaeologist, Sathyabama Badrinath, says: "The temple is in excellent condition. It has no structural problems.

"The weight load is evenly distributed among pillars and beams. It needs very little maintenance."

Unlike its sound structure, patronage for the temple is somewhat shaky.

Soon after its completion, its chief patron Raja Raja died.

His son, Rajendira I, succeeded him. He was a far more successful military leader and wanted to build a much bigger version of the Big Temple.

He shifted the capital of the Chola kingdom to Gangaikondacholapuram, about 60km away, and started building a new temple there.

"Raja Raja had donated large tracts of land to provide money to maintain the temple. But Rajendira Chola diverted all these revenues to his newly built temple," says Mr Badrinath.

Why Rajendira did this still baffles historians today.

His decision deprived the Big Temple of royal patronage.

As artisans went to work at his new temple, work on the Big Temple began juddering to a halt.

But Rajendira was only able to build a smaller version of the Big Temple.

Further down the line, the Cholas built hundreds of temples along the banks of the River Cauvery, changing its landscape forever.

None of the forts and palaces built by the Cholas survives today.

But the remaining temples stand testimony to their achievements and are a major tourist attraction for both local and foreign visitors.

There are, however, concerns about the up-keep of the Big Temple.

Recently, an ill-conceived move to drill a bore-well just a few metres away from the main structure had to be stopped by a court order.

Increasing commercial and construction activities near the temple has prompted local authorities to impose tighter building restrictions.

It is hoped this will help preserve the monument for the benefit of future generations. - couresty: BBCNews -

Scene from Raja Raja Cholan, a Tamil Movie released in 1973:

September 25, 2010

China and India playing the great game in Sri Lanka

by Dr.Ameer Ali

Sri Lanka’s political foolhardiness in its inability to solve peacefully its domestic ethnic minority issue over the last fifty or so years, as an independent sovereign nation state has, as a consequence of a bitterly fought civil war, pulled her into the vortex of a new geo-political game played amongst India, the United States and China in which the island nation’s sovereignty is in danger of being compromised.

Sri Lanka’s dependence on India for domestic security has been perennial. For instance, Sinhalese kings like Kashyapa in ancient times had sought Indian help to defeat a domestic enemy, and in the modern period the former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike rushed for Indian help to put down a coup against her government in 1962. Even during the December 2004 Tsunami it was India’s navy that first came to Sri Lanka’s aid.

However, India’s interest in the Sri Lankan ethnic issue has to be understood in light of her larger interest as an emerging regional power. The Indian Government’s Thimpu initiative in 1985 was its first open attempt to assert its power over Sri Lanka’s domestic problem. Of course it ended in failure and the ethnic war escalated subsequently. Yet, India continued to flex its muscles. When the Indian government air-dropped 22 tons of relief supplies on the Jaffna Peninsula in June 1987 as a protest against the Sri Lankan army’s May offensive, ‘Operation Liberation’, against the LTTE, the then President J. R. Jayawardene described that act as India’s “seventeenth invasion of Sri Lanka” during the island’s 2500 years history.

Following this incident, the India-dictated Indo-Sri Lankan Accord signed on 29 July; the violence that ensued in the Sinhalese areas, and the landing of 7,000 soldiers of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) a day after signing that accord, all went to prove to the Sri Lankan government that the Indian factor in Sri Lankan ethnic politics was going to play a determining and perhaps a permanent role in the island’s future development.

Thus, while Jayawardene was gleefully watching the confrontation between the IPKF and the LTTE with a false sense of hope that the might of the IPKF would wipe out the LTTE, New Delhi was more interested in winning the “Great Game” in the Indian Ocean region and was moving its pawns accordingly rather than to defeat the LTTE. Although the IPKF had the capacity to capture the LTTE leadership it did not have the determination to do so because New Delhi wished for a different outcome. To convert the island-nation a satellite state under India’s zone of control in the long run is the ultimate objective in this game. As Lord Palmerston said, in politics there are no friends or enemies but only interests.

Even though the IPKF was sent back by the Premadasa Government in Colombo in March 1990 under great humiliation, and even though the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a LTTE suicide bomber in May 1991, Indian role in Sri Lankan affairs did not diminish or disappear but remained rather ambivalent until the new millennium.

Its alternating on-again-off-again support to the Tamil struggle and to the Sri Lankan government respectively was, in view of the Great Game, a calculated ploy to enhance India’s own self-interest in the geo-political arena. On the one hand by raising concerns in international forums about Sri Lankan government’s human rights violations and injustice to the Tamil community New Delhi was trying to appease the Tamil Nadu lobby, while on the other it could not completely alienate the government in Colombo because of the danger it will cause to India’s strategic interest in the Indian Ocean.

With the dawn of the new millennium and particularly towards the last quarter of its first decade there had been a radical shift in this strategy. As Robert Kaplan writes in Foreign Affairs and in the context of China, “(a)s states become stronger, they cultivate new needs and ... apprehensions that force them to expand in various forms.” Accordingly, India, the second most populous and the seventh largest country in the world, has emerged in the new millennium as an economic power house competing closely with her nearest rival, China, the most populous and the third largest nation. These two giants are now facing each other to gain control over the Indian Ocean. It is this rivalry that is setting the agenda for India’s relations with Sri Lanka. Kaplan expects, quite realistically, that “China and India will play a “great game” ... in ... Sri Lanka.”

The intensity of this game gained momentum after 2005 when the populist Mahinda Rajapaksa, thanks to another strategic blunder made by the LTTE-supremo Prabhakaran who forced the Tamils to boycott the presidential elections, won the contest by defeating his rival Ranil Wickremesinghe by a narrow margin, and at once resolved to defeat the LTTE militarily. To make this possible, the Rajapaksa government entered the global arms bazaar to procure weapons, and the Eurasian alliance involving Beijing, Tehran and Moscow came to its aid. Of the three, it was China, by signing a deal with Sri Lanka to build a massive harbour at Hambantota in return for military assistance to the government out manoeuvred India and made its physical presence in the island with a strategic foothold in the Indian Ocean. China’s aid to Sri Lanka is reported to have amounted to almost one billion US dollars in 2008.

In spite of this deal with China, from the point of view of Sri Lanka however, India’s friendship and support is crucial to win the civil war. The presence of nearly sixty million Tamils in Tamil Nadu, and, the concentration of Indian-Tamil plantation labourers in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, most of whom are now Sri Lankan citizens, are two strategic pawns that Delhi could move at will to checkmate Colombo in the ethnic chess game.

Thus the weaponry and financial support from the Eurasian alliance had to be balanced with at least logistical support and diplomatic sympathy from India. It was this balancing act that compelled President Rajapaksa and his cabinet caucus to shuttle between New Delhi and Colombo since 2005. Winning the favour of India also meant winning the support of the United States, because that those two are in a regional partnership to prevent the Chinese naval expansion in the Indian Ocean.

The final victory over the LTTE in 2009 was ultimately decided by the covert but strategic support rendered by India. In a strange irony even Karunanithi, the CM of Tamil Nadu was rather muted in his criticism of Rajapaksa government during the final days of the war when the Tamil Tigers were facing utter decimation at the hands of the Sri Lankan military and when the people of his own state were demanding military intervention from the Indian Government. That shows the success of New Delhi’s domestic diplomacy.

The government’s victory over the LTTE is pyrrhic not only in terms of the huge death and destruction but also, even more seriously, in terms of the country’s sovereignty. It is now commonly accepted that the economic and political forces of globalization have liquidized the solid structure of national political sovereignty that was born out of the Westphalian synthesis. But in the context of strategically situated small nations like Sri Lanka, more than economic globalization it is the regional and super power politics that presents a greater threat to national sovereignty. This is bound to create xenophobia.

What price did Sri Lanka pay for the Chinese and Indian support? The economic contracts won by the two giants to reconstruct and develop the island’s infrastructure are only one side of the story. The more critical one however, is the fact that Sri Lanka is now well and truly embedded into the post-September 11 geo-politics in the Indian Ocean. It is not the Cold War that is directing this political game but the rise of China as a countervailing super power to the United States. If the naval base in Hambantota satisfies China’s need to protect its energy-supplying sea routes the control over the Trincomalee harbour becomes absolutely essential for the United States to checkmate China’s expanding naval power.

China has been awarded contracts to build a Special Economic Zone, a 1000 acre Tapioca farm, Hambantota port, 900 MW coal fired Norachcholai power plant, Colombo-Katunayake Expressway, Pallai-Kankesanturai rail-line, Jaffna housing complex for the army and many others. India on the other is about to add details to a Free Trade Agreement with Sri Lanka that was agreed in principle about 10 years ago. However, details of the latest Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) which is supposed to spell out the specifics have not been published yet.

It is natural that in agreements like these there will be gains and losses for both parties. However, there are other disturbing elements that arise from these deals. In the case of the economic projects undertaken by China the presence of more than 20,000 imported convict Chinese labour in Sri Lanka has wider ramifications. Will this labour return to China after completing the projects or will that remain here as the latest wave of indentured labour, as happened in the 19th century under the British? Will the island see the growth of a China Town either in the north or south of the country, as happened elsewhere in the world?

Similarly, with the opening of trade, communication, investment and security links with India the spectre of a possible Indianization of the commanding heights of the Sri Lankan economy cannot be totally discounted. Where is the comparative advantage for Sri Lanka to compete with Indian mega-investors and global manufacturers? Be that as it may, there is another development that is happening at the local scene. The young descendants of the Indian plantation labour are increasingly moving away from the tea estates like their counterparts in Malaysia and are entering the commercial sector. Indian-owned and Indian -financed textile and other retail establishments are on the rise in Colombo and other major towns.

Since these young men and women are Sri Lankan citizens it is their democratic right to establish businesses like any other Sri Lankan. However, past history tells us that the Indian retail establishments have a hidden advantage over their local Sinhalese or Muslim competitors when dealing with businessmen and traders on the opposite coast.

(Dr. Ameer Ali is at Murdoch Business School Murdoch University Western Australia)

"Operation Colombo" plan of Rajapaksa has political and economic components

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“True, it is not the first time Rome has seen a man wielding unlimited power; but it is the first time he sets no limit to it…" — Camus (Caligula)

The 18th Amendment was the elixir of power, absolute and longue durée; empowered, the Rajapaksas are unleashing mopping-up operations to neutralise the few enclaves still resistant to their dominance. Such as the City of Colombo. Colombo’s poor predominantly vote for the UNP.

Thanks to their numerical preponderance and strong resistance to Rajapaksa lures, the UPFA has failed to make a clean sweep of Colombo electorally, as it has done elsewhere in the country, outside of the North and the East. And, a large proportion of Colombo’s poor are Tamils and Muslims.

Mostly Green and largely non-Sinhala Buddhist — for the Rajapaksas, aristocrats from the rural Medamulana — Colombo’s poor would seem the quintessential Other. And Colombo’s poor occupy lands of extremely high commercial value. The Premadasa housing policy endeavoured not to evict the poor but to regularise their occupation and improve their living conditions. This strategy was motivated by two considerations. Colombo’s poor formed an important component of the support base of the UNP and Ranasinghe Premadasa; and the Jayewardene-Premadasa UNP regarded Colombo’s poor as fellow humans and citizens (this was the antithesis of the dismissive attitude de rigueur in the left and SLFP circles).

In the Rajapaksa worldview, Colombo’s poor are alien socially, sociologically (caste) and ethno-religiously and undesirable politico-electorally. And their mass eviction can bring enormous benefits to the Ruling Family. The Rajapaksa plan for Colombo has a political component and an economic component. It aims at establishing political control over Colombo, via a policy of demographic engineering. Initially 60,000 people are to be evicted. Though the regime says only unauthorised occupants will be affected, the reality of previous evictions indicates otherwise.

For instance, in Mews Street, many families with legal title were evicted; other evictees have been living in their houses for decades, paying rates and electricity and water bills. They were all unceremoniously thrown out, ignoring a court order, in a military operation which pitted armed servicemen in full riot gear against unarmed men, women and children. The lands thus cleared will be ‘developed’ and sold/leased. The Rajapaksas would use the prejudices latent in Colombo’s middle and upper classes to manufacture consent for this move, just as they used the prejudices latent in the Sinhala South to manufacture consent for ‘welfare villages’.

The Rajapaksa plan amounts to a veritable class-cleansing, eradicating poverty in Colombo and beautifying it by evicting its poor and destroying their livelihoods and abodes. The mass eviction of pavement hawkers was the first step. Moves are afoot to get rid of beggars as well. Colombo is to be turned into an exclusive preserve of the rich and the beautiful (and the powerful). The Urban Development Authority Act is to be amended, preventing the residents from seeking legal redress against arbitrary evictions. And the Colombo Municipal Council is to be turned into a Special Authority under the Defence Ministry. The purported reason is the inefficiency of the CMC.

If inefficiency is the real criteria, most local authority bodies, provincial councils, ministries, departments and corporations will have to be dissolved. The move against the CMC is akin to the conviction of Gen. Fonseka by the Second Military Tribunal for violating procedures – it is highly selective and politically motivated; an act of persecution rather than of justice.

The regime wants to abolish the CMC because the UNP will win in the city of Colombo, thanks to the backing of its poor. And an elected CMC under UNP control can offer some resistance to the regime’s planned mass evictions. Once the CMC is abolished, the UNP loses its only remaining electoral bastion and Colombo’s poor even a sliver of protection. And the regime has its carte blanche, to paint Colombo in Royal Blue.

Having laid the foundation for dynastic rule with the 18th Amendment, the Rajapaksas are busy erecting the edifice of familial rule. Be it the 18th Amendment or the proposed 19th Amendment, the demographic engineering of the North or the persecution of Gen. Fonseka, the primary purpose of each measure is to enable the Ruling Family to concentrate more and more power in its hands and weaken and defeat actual or potential opponents/impediments. The Rajapaksa onslaught on democratic institutions and popular rights is a common threat, a danger to the South as much to the North, to the rich and the middle classes as much to Colombo’s poor.

The Rajapaksa economic strategy which aims at achieving economic growth at any cost will compel not just the poor but also the middles classes to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden via increased inflation. The prioritising of defence spending will leave less and less money for those subsidies and services which the middle classes need in order to maintain their economic standards and social status.

The Rajapaksas have been uncommonly successful in hiding this unpalatable and frightening reality from Sri Lankans. By isolating each target, they have managed to prevent Sri Lankans from forming a holistic view of the threat posed by Familial Rule. Words are distorted to obfuscate reality and ethno-religious and class prejudices are used to preclude even human sympathy; and the target of the moment is presented as an undesirable alien if not an outright ‘enemy of the nation’. This distortion justifies extraordinary measures, even in violation of justice and decency.

The Rajapaksas understand the danger of a unified opposition. The last thing they would want is a broad coalition, with unjust or anti-democratic acts being resisted even by those who are not directly affected. Rajapaksas want to fragment the people, to prevent any solidarity, cooperation and even sympathy, across ethnic, religious or class barriers.

President Rajapaksa in an interview with the Wall Street Journal presented Sri Lanka as an ‘alternative low cost manufacturing base’ to China. This indicates that Sri Lanka under Rajapaksa rule is destined to become not a knowledge-hub but a sweat shop-hub. The success of such a strategy would require a right-less and a powerless society and a subservient polity. It will also require young people poor enough and desperate enough to work for phenomenally low wages, under abysmal working conditions.

Those who are acquainted with the hell-on-earth working conditions prevailing in China (where death from overwork is a common phenomenon) would be able to imagine the fate that is in store for Rajapaksa Sri Lanka. The UNP of Ranasinghe Premadasa or J.R. Jayewardene would have resisted tooth and nail the moves to politically cleanse Colombo by abolishing the CMC and evicting the poor.

Will the UNP of Ranil Wickremesinghe understand that the party cannot afford to allow the mass eviction of Colombo’s poor or the abolition of the CMC?

Will Sajith Premadasa, who is yet to show a capacity to fight for anything other than personal preference votes, rise to the defence of Colombo’s poor, the bedrock of President Premadasa’s support base?

Or would the Rajapaksas succeed in occupying Colombo, because no one cared enough to resist, because those of us who can resist failed to see the need for it?

President Rajapaksa is the best representative of national democracy

by Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka

What does Sri Lanka need? Some say regime change, others say stability and continuity. Those who say regime change regard the slogan of stability and continuity as one for totalitarianism and/or dictatorship

I say we need Modernisation, Pluralist Democracy, Moderation, and Multi ethnic National Integration/Nation Building. My take is that Sri Lanka

(1) remains in essence a representative multiparty democracy

(2) in an uneven and still open-ended convalescent transition after 30 years of war and

(3) in need of modernising transformation through reform, together with

(4) more pluralist integration, which (5) will be both pre-requisite and resultant of catching up with the ongoing Asian economic miracle. Those who reject out of hand the call for stability and continuity err in seeing the main danger as that of (dynastic) dictatorship. The vision and model is of a pluralist-democratic Asian Modernity.

The real danger I see in an unqualified slogan of stability (‘stability above all’, ‘stability at any cost’) is that of stagnation. Stagnation comes from the shift from a two party system to a one-party dominant system through the failure of a competitive second party to evolve or the collapse of the main opposition. ‘One- party dominant’ systems must not be confused with one party or one person dictatorships. Post-war Italy and post-war Japan under the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Democrats respectively are classic examples, as was India until 1977 and Mexico under the PRI. If Sri Lanka has shifted or is shifting to a one party dominant system or is in danger of doing so, the collapse of the opposition is the result of — as Fidel pronounced about the collapse of Soviet socialism — “not homicide, but suicide”, meaning it is largely self-inflicted.

The counter to stagnation is not frontal assault; a political charge of the Light Brigade. Both instability and stagnation can be avoided and a process of modernising reforms initiated by political permutations and combinations which impact on the balance of social and ideological forces.

Politics, like life, is a matter of choices. Choices can only be made among alternatives, existing or new. Of the alternatives available, I support and defend Mahinda because the country is safest under his leadership.

Serbia watered down its own draft resolution to the UNGA and agreed to one which sealed the acceptance of the secession of Kosovo. A recent article by Diana Johnstone who has authored a Monthly Review book on Kosovo, was entitled ‘Serbia Surrenders Kosovo’. That was the endgame of a peace settlement. Meanwhile Southern Sudan votes in a referendum on independence in a few months, under a peace agreement signed five years back.

The UN Secretary General is being lobbied that he should be on board efforts to manage the transition from the morning after, and help ensure that Sudan accepts a widely accepted verdict of secession. Had the Ranil Wickremesinghe-Chandrika condominium of 2005 managed to prevail over the Mahinda Rajapaksa candidacy, this would have been Sri Lanka’s fate, via the CFA-ISGA-PTOMS route.

Not only did Mahinda defeat the Tigers, he didn’t blink in the face of foreign pressure and external efforts to save them. He also managed relations with India in such a manner as to avoid the repetition of 1987.

There are only two possible – and indeed desirable — vehicles and agencies for democratic reform in Sri Lanka, and these are the two main democratic parties, the SLFP (or SLFP-led UPFA) and the UNP. Either, both or any combination of components from these parties, should be the prospective targets for efforts at social democratisation. It is obvious though, that a leader who broke with tradition and affiliated his party with the International Democratic Union (IDU) led by the Western world’s Right, cannot be the candidate for this conversion.

Today, President Rajapaksa is the best representative of National Democracy and the UNP reformists identified with young Premadasa, the best bet for (pluralist) Social Democracy. While the best case scenario would be a broad ideological and value consensus, with both SLFP and UNP becoming ‘modernising national and social democratic’ formations, Sri Lanka could be almost as well served by two other scenarios:

(i) one of the two major parties ‘upholding the twin banners’ of national and social democracy

(ii) or one of them being the party of ‘national democracy’ while the other becomes the party of ‘social democracy’ — but compete or collude to occupy neither Right nor Left but precisely a modern, moderate centre.

What then of tendencies real or perceived, towards the monopolisation of political power? When a trend towards monopoly is observed or feared in any sector, several responses are possible. Some may protest and denounce, others may boycott, still others may de-link from the market and opt for communal forms of small scale production.

Then there are those who understand that the only real or the most effective counter to monopoly is competition, and the input most worth making is to suggest measures that make existing or potential competitors more competitive. This corrects market distortions, improves the performance and product of erstwhile monopolies which could sit on their laurels, lowers commodity prices and guarantees consumer sovereignty.

As in economics, so also in politics, and this is the constructive intellectual and ideological effort I have been making. It could appear as a recommendation to passivity or worse, a defence of monopoly, only to be-fogged minds. In a dangerous external environment, I cannot but refuse to endorse and shall indeed criticise domestic project and discourse which damage the country’s independence and sovereignty, stability and security.

Efforts at preventing excess and promoting change must also be demonstrably protective of sovereignty and untarnished by association with those who seek to encroach upon it and undermine it. They must surely remain within the parameters of the constructive and the responsible.

18th Amendment is an insidiously destructive piece of constitution-making

by Dr.A.C.Visvalingam
President -CIMOGG

One hundred and sixty-one Members of Parliament, in their understandable admiration of President Rajapaksa’s leadership in eliminating the LTTE, appear to have taken up the position, by voting for the 18th Amendment ("18A"), that he can consequently be trusted unreservedly with whatever powers he wants to have and that he will not misuse them, for however long he is entrusted with such powers.

Be that as it may, in terms of 18A, the same trust would automatically devolve on the presently unknown persons, some yet to be born, who will successively follow President Rajapaksa when he leaves the scene. The People, whether they like it or not, will have to trust all of them absolutely and irrevocably. The alleged safeguard of having end-of-term elections to test the popularity of Presidents is not worth the paper on which it is written.

As for the MPs who voted for 18A, there is little question that, beforehand, almost every single one of them had not seen or read or understood the wording of this Amendment, which had been kept a closely-guarded secret. Indeed, if the sequence of events is examined, it may be inferred that even most of the members of the Cabinet would not have had the opportunity or time to read it, digest the contents, and discuss possible improvements in the degree of detail that a constitutional amendment requires. Moreover, not one Minister or MP who voted for the Amendment has offered an answer to the question as to how any urgency could have been attributed at present to the issue of permitting additional terms of office for the current President, considering that he will be finishing his second spell only in the latter part of 2016.

Perhaps the most disappointing feature of the 18A exercise for many trusting citizens was the performance of MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara, whom so many of them looked up to earlier as a politician of integrity, and a staunch upholder of good governance and the Rule of Law. He confessed, if one might employ that term, that he had voted for the Amendment for other reasons even though he disagreed with it in principle! It is mind-boggling to work out how a man of rectitude could have voted for something that he disagreed with in principle.

In all the circumstances, the Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) is driven relentlessly to conclude that every MP who voted for this Amendment did so solely for the personal rewards he has received or hopes to enjoy in time to come. Furthermore, political aspirants in the President’s party know that there will be no chance in the future of their being nominated or elected as representatives of the People if they do not toe the line laid down for them. They have selfishly and recklessly imperiled the sovereignty of the People of Sri Lanka by compelling all citizens to accept implicitly that every President of the future will be uniformly benevolent, altruistic, transparent, impartial and accountable to the People, as President Rajapaksa is expected by them to be during his remaining period of office.

Although there are nominal provisions in 18A for consultation by Government with the other parties in Parliament, the manner in which this Amendment was hatched and sprung upon the People, leaving no room for their participation, under the guise of requiring virtually instantaneous implementation, leaves us with little reason to treat such provisions as anything but window-dressing. In another exercise in duplicity in the drafting of 18A, the President is supposed to have been made accountable to Parliament. That is, he is required to go to Parliament once in three months. To do what? Presumably to answer question raised by MPs.

From experience, one may surmise that the MPs who voted for this Amendment are not going to ask any embarrassing questions from President Rajapaksa. On the other hand, if the Opposition asks any awkward questions, the President can choose to give an inapposite answer or even remain silent. All he has to do is to ignore uncomfortable queries from any source and carry on as he pleases. For example, what if he decides to disregard Parliament altogether? There is no sanction that can be applied to a President operating in terms of 18A, short of impeachment, which would be even more elusive than bringing the once-promised rice from the moon. The only other weapon that Parliament possesses – namely, the withholding of funds requested by the Executive – is not going to be exercised in practice because of the total control that the President will always be able to exercise over those in the Government party. Can anyone in touch with reality imagine a situation where Parliament is going to refuse President Rajapaksa or a future President such funds as he may demand for any purpose whatever?

Now and in the future, the President for the time being will be able to appoint anybody to any post, especially all the critically important posts in the Executive and the Judiciary. All Ministers, the Attorney General, Inspector General of Police, Secretary to the Treasury, Auditor General, Chairmen of all the "independent" Commissions, Chairmen of the State Banks, the EPF, ETF, all Corporations, Boards, Authorities and State-owned Companies will be appointed at his pleasure. The entire resources of the State will thereby come under the control of the President. Based on the conduct of so many elections in the past, there is no doubt whatever that they will misused by the Government party before, during and after elections to rob the People of the real essence of their much-vaunted franchise.

It does not take a genius to recognise that 18A is an insidiously destructive piece of constitution-making. It successfully undermines Articles 3 and 4 of the Constitution, and will surely and rapidly destroy all democratic institutions and safeguards irretrievably. The aforesaid Articles 3 and 4 state in effect that (a) the People are sovereign and their sovereignty cannot be surrendered to anyone, (b) the Legislative, Executive and Judicial powers of the People shall be exercised by Parliament, the President and the Courts respectively, and (c) the fundamental rights of the People shall be respected, secured and advanced by all the organs of Government. These concepts, which have already been violated grievously, will soon cease to have any meaning.

What about the claim that economic, infrastructural and social development requires a very strong Executive headed by an all-powerful individual? Would any Sri Lankan, given the choice, want to go and take up citizenship in Burma, Libya, North Korea or Zimbabwe, which have such leaders? Have these countries become highly developed by virtue of the supposed advantage of having been subject to long periods of dictatorial leadership? Why do Sri Lankans, including so many prominent personalities, prefer to acquire citizenship or permanent resident status in Australia, Canada, France, Norway, UK and USA, which are not run by dictators? Do they believe that these countries could have achieved better development if they had been led by dictators?

There are those who try to resign themselves and others to their post-18A fate by saying: "Have the grace to accept what we cannot change". CIMOGG’s position is that, if our laws are wrong, there is no way in which responsible citizens can throw up their arms in despair and remain silent. It is their duty to the present and future generations of Sri Lankans to raise their voices against what is autocratic and undemocratic, and to agitate peacefully and persistently to regain their rightful franchise, which can only be achieved by striving for a thorough separation of powers between the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary, and not by subjecting Sri Lanka to the dubious mercies of one-man rule.

Accountability now: The need for a war crimes tribunal regarding Sri Lanka

by UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic
American University Washington College of Law

INTRODUCTION

Justice and accountability are of utmost importance following mass atrocities such as those committed in Sri Lanka during its 25-year civil war. An estimated 80,000–100,000 people were killed during the war, and millions more are still displaced and living in diaspora around the world.

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Establishing an accurate account of the conflict, investigating allegations of human rights violations, and holding wrongdoers criminally accountable are all crucial to providing victims with justice and the nation and international community with vital answers. Effective accountability procedures help heal deep nation-wide wounds and restore people’s trust and security in their communities, their government, and the rule of law. Proper judicial accountability measures facilitate just resolution, peace, deterrence, and security, helping to transform a war-ravaged state into a reconciled society.

When national accountability efforts are inadequate in the face of ethical, legal, and political pressure, the United Nations often facilitates the implementation of effective judicial processes. Over the years, the international community has utilized a variety of accountability mechanisms, beginning with the precedent set by the Nuremburg trials and continuing to the more recent establishment of ad hoc tribunals and hybrid courts. When the need has arisen, the United Nations has assumed the burden of establishing an international tribunal that operates independent of the offending state. On occasion, the United Nations has incorporated a customized national legal system into the accountability process, consequently restoring the integrity of the state’s judiciary.

There is indisputable evidence that Sri Lankan security forces are responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against its ethnic Tamil civilian population. Moreover, rather than fostering justice or accountability after the civil war, the Sri Lankan government has continuously impeded efforts to hold human rights violators accountable. As for its specious efforts, the Sri Lankan government has demonstrated an interest only in prosecuting members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, while failing to express any interest in holding its own state security forces responsible for the willful and deliberate targeted killing of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians. The Sri Lankan government’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), established at the close of the civil war, does not provide any of the requisite safeguards to ensure a fair tribunal, resulting in a system that heavily favors the Sri Lankan military officials while marginalizing the rights of the Tamil population. Moreover, the Sri Lankan government has opposed and obstructed the efforts of a U.N.-appointed panel established to aid fair and impartial accountability.

The Tamil people, along with the other victims of the civil war, continue to wait for an accountability procedure that will restore justice and stability. As their recent conduct demonstrates, the Sri Lankan government has no intention to assist the affected Tamil people in seeking justice or accountability, or to respect fundamental international law principles. As the U.N. Security Council has previously recognized when establishing tribunals, the lack of accountability procedures following widespread atrocities threatens international peace and security.1 We, therefore, urge the United Nations to implement a tribunal to ensure justice for the victims of grave international crimes and to help restore access to the protection of law.

ACCOUNTABILITY MEASURES

Sri Lankan security forces committed grave violations of treaty law and international customary law during the course of the civil war.2 The testimony and reports of victims, eyewitnesses, journalists, and non-governmental organizations establish the responsibility of Sri Lankan security forces in the willful and deliberate bombing of civilian hospitals, schools, and other non-military buildings; the bombing of government-proclaimed ―safety‖ or ―no-fire‖ zones in which civilians were known to have taken refuge; intentional attacks on civilians; rape and other acts of sexual violence; and deprivations of food and medical supplies.3

Both through the statements and concerted actions of officials, the Sri Lankan government has demonstrated its unwillingness to address war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, or to receive support in accountability initiatives. The government’s lack of cooperation despite international attention to human rights abuses in Sri Lanka has not abated since the end of the conflict.4 For example, the Foreign Minister has expressly refused to act upon recommendations of well-respected non-governmental organizations, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Crisis Group, regarding war crimes investigations, stating that the government would only consider yielding to the United Nations.5 The United Nation’s efforts to assist Sri Lanka in addressing allegations of human rights violations have been similarly rebuffed.

LESSONS LEARNT & RECONCILIATION COMMISSION

In May 2009, the Sri Lankan government and the U.N. Secretary-General issued a joint statement wherein the Sri Lankan government committed to addressing alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.6 The Sri Lankan government, however, has failed to investigate and has denied allegations that Sri Lankan troops committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide during the conflict.7 Government officials have unabashedly declared their opposition to international efforts supporting accountability.8 The Foreign Minister has stated that ―[t]he position of the Sri Lankan government is abundantly clear—we will not have [the U.N. panel] in this country.‖9 In light of such statements, the Sri Lankan government has demonstrated a lack of political will necessary to effectively implement the recommendations of investigatory commissions and panels. President Mahinda Rajapaksa established the Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to support ―national unity and reconciliation‖ in the aftermath of civil war.10 Numerous aspects of the LLRC, however, undermine its credibility as an adequate accountability measure.

To reliably and effectively establish a record of human rights abuses that occurred in Sri Lanka during the conflict, a commission of inquiry should be independent, impartial, and diverse in composition.11 Unfortunately, the LLRC lacks all of these features. Notwithstanding the government’s representation that the LLRC is independent and composed of ―individuals presenting all of Sri Lanka’s communities,‖ five of the eight individuals appointed to the commission are former government officials.12 In particular, the appointment of former Attorney General Chitta Ranjan de Silva as the chairman of the LLRC has raised concerns not only about the impartiality of the LLRC, but also about the effectiveness of the inquiry.13 Mr. de Silva reportedly obstructed the work of an earlier commission tasked with investigating possible government involvement in violations committed by Sri Lankan security forces.14 In addition, the Sri Lankan government has failed to sufficiently extend protections to witnesses giving testimony before the LLRC.15 Thus, it is highly questionable whether the historical account to be developed by the LLRC will be based on the broad participation of all affected communities and whether the recommendations that emerge from the LLRC will respond to the entire nation’s needs.

Furthermore, the LLRC lacks a mandate to examine allegations of war crimes, including crimes Sinhalese security forces committed against Tamil civilians.16 Instead, the LLRC’s mandate limits its inquiry to the failure of the 2002 ceasefire through the events leading to the end of hostilities in May 2009.17 Although Sri Lankan officials have stated that the LLRC may investigate war crimes,18 the LLRC is not obliged to do so. The LLRC’s account of the conflict will incompletely address human rights abuses.

THE U.N. PANEL AND GOVERNMENT OPPOSITION

In June 2010, the U.N. Secretary-General established a three-person panel to advise him on the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to implement its May 2009 commitment to human rights accountability.19 The panel is expected to report on the ―modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience with regard to accountability processes‖ within a four-month period.20 Although the U.N. Secretary-General has encouraged the Sri Lankan government to utilize the panel as a resource, the Sri Lankan government has consistently responded negatively to the U.N. panel.21 The Sri Lankan government has not only declared the U.N. panel unnecessary,22 but has claimed that the panel threatens its sovereignty23 and that international criticism interferes with its sovereign right to fight terrorism.24

Statements made by Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa reveal a persistent uncooperativeness, and even an open hostility, towards accountability measures. Amidst reports that former army chief General Sarath Fonseka would be willing to testify before an international commission about the security forces’ role in international law violations, the Defense Secretary has threatened to execute the former army chief if he were to testify.25

Despite the U.N. panel’s best efforts, the Sri Lankan government has affirmatively frustrated the panel’s work. In June 2010, the Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris adamantly stated that the U.N. panel would not be allowed to enter the country and would be denied travel visas.26 The following month, Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa, an ally of the President, staged a hunger strike to protest the U.N. panel.27 With the support of the Defense Secretary, the Housing Minister led thousands of government supporters in a chaotic protest outside U.N. offices in Colombo, disrupting the U.N.’s work and holding U.N. staff hostage.28 As a result of the protest, the U.N. Secretary-General called for the closing of the U.N. office in Colombo.29

Although the panel’s work is now officially under way,30 early reports suggest that the U.N. panel has been forced to operate from a compromised position, far removed from the locus of their study, ―mak[ing] it harder for the truth to be unearthed.‖31 To date, the Sri Lankan government has prevented the panel from carrying out its mandate. Even if the U.N. panel ultimately fulfills its duties to report and provide recommendations, the government’s historical failure to investigate crimes and current opposition to any inquiry indicates that the Sri Lankan government lacks sufficient political will to effectively implement accountability measures.

TEMPORARY INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNALS

The U.N. Security Council has an opportunity to reaffirm its intolerance of serious human rights and humanitarian law violations by establishing a temporary international tribunal to investigate and try alleged Sri Lankan war criminals. Through the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the U.N. Security Council established an important precedent: those most responsible for war crimes will be held accountable by the international community. Violations of international humanitarian law are prohibited under numerous international treaties.32 Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions clearly enumerates the protection civilians must enjoy during internal armed conflict.33 In addition, international customary law prohibits the violation of the laws of war.34

In the past, the U.N. Security Council has found it necessary to establish accountability procedures in response to large-scale human rights and humanitarian law violations. Through its Chapter VII powers, the U.N. Security Council has created non-permanent international tribunals when governments are unwilling or unable to hold war criminals properly accountable.35 By punishing the central architects of mass atrocities, tribunals help deter leaders from committing future crimes.36 Furthermore, tribunals disseminate evidence of war crimes, preventing ―deniers and perpetrators . . . [from] hid[ing] behind the unknown.‖37 The U.N. Security Council is mandated to maintain international peace and security, and the lack of adequate accountability procedures condones violence and breeds instability. International tribunals uniquely tell victims and perpetrators that the international community will not stand for horrific violations.

The U.N. Security Council established two notable tribunals, the ICTY and ICTR, after it recognized the severity of crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Both tribunals were established after the United Nations, through several resolutions, called upon the warring parties to stop violating international peace and security.38 The U.N. Security Council was well aware of the atrocities being committed in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and warned parties that it would act against them if the parties did not cease the violations. The U.N. Security Council classified the violations of international humanitarian law as threats to international peace and security, and accordingly passed resolutions requesting the U.N. General Assembly to establish a tribunal.39

Tribunals are generally created shortly after prolonged hostilities weaken national judicial mechanisms. For example, the ICTR was established after devastating civil conflict that substantially diminished the judicial system.40 Weakened national institutions inhibit thorough investigations and trials from taking place. The international community recognized that justice required external accountability forums to help ensure neutrality and alleviate the national system’s burden.

Using tribunals for accountability, rather than using national judicial systems, understandably raises concerns of national sovereignty. In creating a tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the U.N. noted its unique sovereignty situation: the former Yugoslavia did not enjoy state rights because it no longer existed as it had prior to and during the conflict. In Rwanda, the government requested the creation of a Chapter VII tribunal, waiving its sovereignty.41 Furthermore, Rwanda and the warring factions in the former Yugoslavia were put on notice that their actions violated fundamental international law principles.42 The need for accountability is even greater when a warring party remains in power and is unwilling to respect the rule of law.

Although the Sri Lankan government has opposed the creation of an international tribunal, the international community is obliged to ensure accountability of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The U.N. Security Council has shown it can act affirmatively to hold war criminals accountable and to thwart threats to international peace and security. The U.N. Security Council should similarly establish a tribunal to address the severe, grave, and widespread international crimes committed in Sri Lanka.

PROPOSAL: THE U.N. SHOULD ESTABLISH A WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL

The United Nations can draw from a wealth of precedents to establish accountability mechanisms for Sri Lanka that satisfy the interests of international peace, stability, and justice. Currently, the Sri Lankan government is forcing the U.N. panel to work from a position of compromise. The Sri Lankan government’s obstructionism is unacceptable. Furthermore, even if the U.N. panel is able to provide its advice, the painful reality is that the Sri Lankan government has no political will to implement the U.N. panel’s recommendations.

The Tamil civilian population lacks the political capital and resources to remedy the situation. The Tamil community’s need for truth, justice, and redress will continue to be marginalized without outside intervention. Marginalization and impunity for human rights violations may once again lead to unrest in the country and will impede justice and accountability.

True accountability will not emerge from yet another report illustrating the dearth of appropriate accountability proceedings in Sri Lanka. The Tamil people need and deserve far more. The U.N. panel has an opportunity to use its position to recuperate the fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law.

In light of Sri Lanka’s obligations under the Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, as well as the government’s continued failure to implement accountability procedures, we urge the U.N. panel to strongly recommend the prompt establishment of an international tribunal, or an equally effective accountability mechanism, with the power to prosecute persons most responsible for perpetrating international crimes.

Among other things, the tribunal must have the following features:

1. An appropriate mandate to address grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, violations of the laws or customs of war, genocide, and crimes

against humanity, with special attention to alleged violations occurring between January 2009 and May 2009.

2. Independent judges, prosecutors, and lawyers who have expertise in international law and who can ensure that the accountability process is fair, impartial, and divorced from lopsided politics favoring any one group or sheltering criminal state actors from prosecution.

3. Unimpeded access to evidence within the custody of the Sri Lankan government, including access to witnesses among security forces or the Sri Lankan government.

4. Special protections for witnesses, including measures to protect or obscure the identities of witnesses who fear for their safety and measures to facilitate travel to the forum. Most importantly, other U.N. member states should be approached to arrange for the safe travel and return of witnesses living in diasporas to ensure that they will be given re-entry into the country in which they are currently residing.

5. Access to independent counsel with resources to provide adequate representation.

6. An obligation to publish a record of all hearings, court proceedings, and decisions that will be available to the public.

7. An obligation to regularly report to the Secretary-General on the status of the tribunal.

8. An obligation to guarantee the access of U.N. monitors to ensure the transparency of all proceedings.

9. Rules of evidence and procedure developed in consultation with experts in international law and consistent with international norms of due process.

On behalf of the Tamil civilians who are victims of war crimes committed during the final phase of conflict, we urge the U.N. panel, as representatives of the international human rights community, to press both the U.N. Secretary-General and U.N. Security Council for accountability without concession. The panel can ensure that the U.N. Security Council fulfills its mandate to maintain international peace and security, while at the same time ensuring that the United Nations meets its broader commitment to upholding human rights.

ENDNOTES

1 See S.C. Res. 827, U.N. Doc. S/RES/827 (May 25, 1993) (expressing the Security Council’s conclusion that ―the establishment as an ad hoc measure by the Council of an international tribunal and the prosecution of persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law would enable [the Security Council to achieve the aim of putting an end to violations and bringing to justice the persons responsible for them] and would contribute to the restoration and maintenance of peace‖).

2 INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP, SRI LANKA’S RETURN TO WAR: LIMITING THE DAMAGE, ASIA REPORT NOº 146 15-16 (2008), available at http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-asia/sri-lanka/146_sri_lanka_s_return_to_war___limiting_the_damage.ashx.

3 Report of the Permanent People’s Tribunal, Ireland (Jan. 14-16, 2010) (on file with the UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic).
4 See generally INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP, SRI LANKA’S RETURN TO WAR: LIMITING THE DAMAGE, ASIA REPORT NOº 146 15-16 (2008) (reporting the Sri Lankan government’s intolerance towards international bodies and the media who have publicly questioned the government); available at http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-asia/sri-lanka/146_sri_lanka_s_return_to_war___limiting_the_damage.ashx.

5 Official Website of the Government of Sri Lanka, Amnesty International Can‟t Dictate Terms to Us, Says Lankan Minister, June 1, 2010, http://www.priu.gov.lk/news_update/Current_Affairs/ca201006/20100601amesty_int_cant_dictate_terms_to_us_lankan_minister.htm.

6 See Joint Statement by U.N. Secretary-General, Government of Sri Lanka, ¶ 12, U.N. Doc. SG/2151 (May 26, 2009) available at http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2009/sg2151.doc.htm (stressing the importance of accountability for violations of international humanitarian law and stating that the Sri Lankan government would undertake ―measures to address those grievances‖).

7 Sri Lankans Besiege U.N. Office Over War Crimes Panel, BBC.CO.UK, July 6, 2010, available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10519247; Geneva Convention (IV) Relative to the Treatment of Civilian Persons in Time of War, art. 3, Aug. 12, 1949, 75 U.N.T.S. 287.

8 See Sri Lanka Rules Out Visas for U.N. War Crimes Panel, REUTERS, June 24, 2010, available at http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/SGE65N0AJ.htm (reporting that the U.N. panel would be denied visas and that there was ―no need‖ for the panel).

9See Sri Lanka Says U.N. Panel “Will Not Be Allowed” to Enter, BBC.CO.UK, June 24, 2010, available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10405996.

10 Official Website of the Government of Sri Lanka, Commission on Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation (LLRC), Warrant Issued by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on May 15, 2010, http://www.priu.gov.lk/news_update/LLRC%20news/20100826warrent_issued.htm (last visited Sept. 3, 2010).

11 See STEVEN R. RATNER & JASON S. ABRAMS, ACCOUNTABILITY FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ATROCITIES IN INTERNATIONAL LAW 231 (2d ed. 2001) (―[A] commission’s success will depend heavily on the independence, stature, and moral authority of its members. The nature and history of the abuses that the commission will be examining may also make diversity in composition . . . critical to establishing credibility.‖); see also id. at 238 (explaining that an effective commission ―can establish an official, authoritative record of abuses‖ and thus ―educate the public, possibly deter future abuses, and strengthen the rule of law‖).

12 Official Website of the Government of Sri Lanka, Commission on Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation (LLRC), Context (Aug. 26, 2010), http://www.priu.gov.lk/news_update/LLRC%20news/llrc_home.htm; Official Website of the Government of Sri Lanka, Commission on Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation (LLRC), Commission Members (Aug. 31, 2010) http://www.priu.gov.lk/news_update/LLRC%20news/20100826commission_members.htm.

13 See U.S. DEP’T OF STATE, OFFICE OF WAR CRIMES ISSUES, 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 ¶ IV.2 (2010), available at http://www.state.gov/s/wci/srilanka/releases/145884.htm.
14 Id.

15 See Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, From Post-war to Post-conflict, Global Peace Support Group (Aug. 6, 2010), http://www.globalpeacesupport.com/globalpeacesupport.com/post/2010/08/06/From-post-war-to-post-conflict.aspx (noting the absence of ―a witness or victim protection scheme‖).

16 U.S. DEP’T OF STATE, OFFICE OF WAR CRIMES ISSUES, 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 ¶ IV.2 (2010), available at http://www.state.gov/s/wci/srilanka/releases/145884.htm.

17 See War Crimes Commission „Not Addressing‟ Final Days of War, BBC RADIO, Aug. 14, 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8913000/8913864.stm (noting that the major focus has been on why a 2002 ceasefire did not last, even though international critics have called for an inquiry to focus on the casualties committed in final months of the war).

18 See Elizabeth Dickinson, Sri Lanka Rejects War Crimes Accusations, FOREIGN POLICY, May 25, 2010,

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/05/25/sri_lankas_government_rejects_war_crimes_accusations (reporting Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris’s view that the LLRC can investigate war crimes).

19 Secretary-General Office of the Spokesperson, Statement Attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka, June 22, 2010, http://www.un.org/apps/sg/sgstats.asp?nid=4627.

20 Id.

21 Press Release, Secretary-General, Secretary-General Names Panel of Experts to Advise on Accountability for Possible Rights Violations During Sri Lanka Conflict,

U.N. Doc SG/SM/12967 (June 22, 2010), available at http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2010/sgsm12967.doc.htm.

22 Sri Lanka Says U.N. Panel “Will Not Be Allowed” to Enter, BBC.CO.UK, June 24, 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10405996.

23 Sri Lanka Civil War Commission Begins Hearings, GUARDIAN.CO.UK, Aug. 11, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/11/sri-lanka-civil-war-commission.

24 Official Website of the Government of Sri Lanka, International Community Cannot Punish Sri Lanka for Defeating Terrorism—President, May 28, 2010, http://www.priu.gov.lk/news_update/Current_Affairs/ca201005/20100528following_is_the_full_tex.htm.

25 U.S. DEP’T OF STATE, OFFICE OF WAR CRIMES ISSUES, 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 ¶ IV.2 (2010), available at http://www.state.gov/s/wci/srilanka/releases/145884.htm.

26 Sri Lanka Rules Out Visas for U.N. War Crimes Panel, REUTERS, June 24, 2010, http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/SGE65N0AJ.htm; Sri Lanka Says U.N. Panel “Will Not Be Allowed” to Enter, BBC NEWS, June 24, 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10405996.

27 Office Closed in Sri Lanka After Protests, N.Y. TIMES, July 8, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/09/world/asia/09briefs-001.html.
28 Sri Lankans Besiege U.N. Office over War Crimes Panel, BBC NEWS, July 6, 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10519247.

29 Secretary-General Office of the Spokesperson, Statement Attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka, July 8, 2010, http://www.un.org/apps/sg/sgstats.asp?nid=4668; Ban urges Sri Lanka to normalize conditions around UN office in Colombo, U.N. NEWS CENTRE, July 9, 2010, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=35286&Cr=sri+lanka&Cr1=; UN Chief Ban Ki-moon Recalls Sri Lanka Envoy, BBC NEWS, July 8, 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10562681.

30 Ban Meets Panel of Experts on Human Rights Issues in Sri Lankan Conflict, U.N. NEWS CENTRE, Sept. 17, 2010, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=35966&Cr=SRI+LANKA&Cr1.

31 Sri Lanka Says U.N. Panel “Will Not Be Allowed” to Enter, BBC NEWS, June 24, 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10405996 (quoting Marzuki Darusman).

32 See Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Dec. 9, 1948, 78 U.N.T.S. 277; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Dec. 10 1984, 1465 U.N.T.S. 85; Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, July 1, 2002, 2187 U.N.T.S. 3.

33 Geneva Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, art. 3, Aug. 12, 1949, 75 U.N.T.S. 31; Geneva Convention (II) for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea, art. 3, Aug. 12, 1949, 75 U.N.T.S. 85; Geneva Convention (III) Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, art. 3, Aug. 12, 1949, 75 U.N.T.S. 135; Geneva Convention (IV) Relative to the Treatment of Civilian Persons in Time of War, art. 3, Aug. 12, 1949, 75 U.N.T.S. 287; Protocol

Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol 1), June 8, 1977, 1125 U.N.T.S. 3; Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts, June 8, 1977, 1125 U.N.T.S. 609.

34 The International Committee of the Red Cross has compiled multi-volume publications outlining areas of humanitarian law that are considered international customary law, including the protection of civilians. See Jean-Marie Henckaerts, et. al, CUSTOMARY INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW: VOLUME II: PRACTICE (Cambridge 2005).
35 U.N. Charter art. 39.

36 Id.

37 Richard Goldstone, International Criminal Court and Ad Hoc Tribunals, in THE OXFORD HANDBOOK ON THE UNITED NATIONS (Thomas G.Weiss and Sam Daws eds., 2007).

38 See S.C. Res. 912, U.N. Doc. S/RES/912 (April 21, 1994); S.C. Res. U.N. Doc. S/RES/918 (May 17, 1994); S.C. Res. U.N. Doc. S/RES/925 (June 8, 1994); S.C. Res. U.N. Doc. S/RES/780 (October 6, 1992).

39 See S.C. Res. 827, U.N. Doc. S/RES/827 (May 25, 1993).

40 THE NORWEGIAN HELSINKI COMMITTEE, PROSECUTING GENOCIDE IN RWANDA: THE GACACA SYSTEM AND THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL TRIBUNAL FOR RWANDA 13-15 (2002), available at http://www.nhc.no/php/files/documents/Publikasjoner/Rapporter/Landogtema/rwandarap.pdf.

41 Although Rwanda voted against the creation of the tribunal during the U.N. Security Council vote, Rwanda specifically opposed the exclusion of the death penalty, the use of non-Rwandan judges, and the location of the trials outside of Rwanda, rather than maintaining national sovereignty objections. See Melissa Gordon, Comment, Justice on Trial: The Efficacy of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, 1 ILSA J. INT’L & COMP. L. 221 (1995).

42 See S.C. Res. 912, U.N. Doc. S/RES/912 (April 21, 1994); S.C. Res. U.N. Doc. S/RES/918 (May 17, 1994); S.C. Res. U.N. Doc. S/RES/925 (June 8, 1994); S.C. Res. U.N. Doc. S/RES/780 (October 6, 1992).

Source:

UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic
American University Washington College of Law
4801 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20016
202-274-4088
unrowclinic@wcl.american.edu

Listen to our voice, also - North East Women’s Network

It was observed by us that in the after math of tsunami and the destructive war, resettlement programs have been in progress in the north and the east of Sri Lanka without focusing on the views of women and their special needs.

It is very unfortunate that the resettlement programs that have been initiated in the war and tsunami affected areas of the north and the east of Sri Lanka have failed to incorporate the views and needs of the women who had borne the brunt of the manmade disaster and the natural disaster that had ravaged the country, particularly the north and the east of Sri Lanka. The needs and rights of women have been neglected. Let’s remember once again our neglected rights and needs!

* How can we sleep in houses that do not have doors?

* Even though confirmed that my children are not dead but their whereabouts is still unknown

* Is it too much to provide us with employments as we have lost everything and become destitute?

* How can I visit my husband who is in the detention camp leaving my daughter alone without any protection?

* How long can we bathe at wells and ghats which do not provide us with any privacy?

* Is it fair to decree that entitlement to housing scheme is possible only if we have land deed?

* As women, we bear loads of burdens.

* As the toilets are located far away, we can’t relieve ourselves in the night.

* Even a twelve year old girl is not safe from rape. How can I protect myself?

* The armed groups and the other powerful people are threatening us.

Our requests:

* Please return my land to me

* Please do not separate families and relatives under the guise of relief and resettlement

* Gone are the days people visited homes to enjoy hospitality. Nowadays they visit houses to rape us. Please stop this menace

* The meaning of a house is changed now. Please give us at least a door and a window

* We are tired of repeating this request. Please listen to our concerns and wishes before doing anything for us.

* The war is over. Yet, abductions, murders, robbery and violence are still rampant. Our problems won’t be solved until these things are solved. Please stop these things.

* Our children are missing. They say they are not dead. Then return them to us.

* Please let us live. Please do not deprive us of our livelihoods. Please improve it.

The above are the genuine requests and concerns of the women of the north and the east. We have given it to you in their language as much as possible. It is because we want their aspirations and needs to reach you. We want you to know the sufferings and the pain that they are undergoing. The views and the concerns submitted by women have been prepared as a report. This is a summary of that report. This recommendation is a link between the organizations that serve affected women and the individuals.

The purpose of the recommendation is to revive our action to amplify the voices of women that have been hitherto neglected. The response of handful of government and non-governmental organizations or some individuals to their problems are not enough given the magnitude and the gravity of problems highlighted here. We urge the government, non-governmental organizations, social activists and the society that immediate steps should be taken to secure the demands of women. - North East Women’s Network

September 24, 2010

15 year - old Anusha Ravichandran still looking for her sister: "My sister is my best friend, plase bring her back to me"

by IRIN News

Sixteen months after the end of the civil war in northern Sri Lanka, thousands of former rebel fighters are still missing or in government detention, according to the government and a local NGO, Law and Trust Society.

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Anusha Ravichandran is still looking for her sister ~ Picture by Udara Soysa/IRIN

Anusha Ravichandran, 15, and her family lost contact with 16-year-old Dharisah two months after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels forcibly recruited her in March 2009. Ravichandran spoke to IRIN about her loss:

"My sister was my best friend. We shared a lot together. Even during the war, she would comfort me when I was scared of the shelling going on around me. We moved from place to place during the war. I did not have many friends and she gave me everything a friend and a sister can give.

"They [Tamil Tigers rebels] were losing the war. They wanted one [recruit] from each family. We managed to hide our sister from the kidnappers [rebels] in 2008 but in [March] 2009, they took her from us.

"She got in touch with us through several other cadres who were in the movement in April. She told us the Tigers warned her not to escape or her family would be killed. I know she was scared for our safety.

"There was nobody to tell when this happened. There was nobody in control. We hoped that she would return after being conscripted. When the war ended in May last year, we had high hopes about her return. But she never came.

"Sometimes when I try to study for school, I remember my sister and I feel very sad. My parents are sad too. We have lost a lot, but my sister is my biggest loss.

"We have told [the Sri Lanka] human rights commission and ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] about her fate but nobody has any idea of her whereabouts.

"I want somebody to find her - please bring my sister back to me."

Sri Lankan President and UN chief discuss need to move forward on outstanding issues

from The UN News Centre

24 September 2010 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa met today for talks focused on political settlement, reconciliation and accountability.

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Related on Inner City Press: As Ban Meets Sri Lanka Rajajaksa, UN War Crimes Panel Not Mentioned

In discussions at UN Headquarters, held on the margins of the General Assembly’s annual general debate, the two officials talked about the need to move forward expeditiously on outstanding issues covered in the joint statement of May 2009, according to information released by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson.

Mr. Ban underlined that the President’s strong political mandate provided a unique opportunity to deliver on his commitments to address the issues of political settlement, reconciliation and accountability.

Mr. Rajapaksa, for his part, underlined that development and education in the north of Sri Lanka were integral to national reconciliation. He gave examples of progress made on reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in that regard.

The President also updated the Secretary-General on the work of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.

Bedevil: "In the same boat" - Channa Wickramasekera

Bedevil: "In the same" boat by Channa Wickramasekera
Colombo: Bay Owl Press, 2010

Reviewed by Sivamohan Sumathy

‘We may have all come on different ships, but we are in the same boat now’. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Why has it been difficult to write of this novel, In the same boat, slight in frame and simple and direct in approach? While I finished the novel in one go, whenever I sat down to write about it, it proved a difficult task.

Of course from the beginning I knew it was not going to be easy writing about the book. Despite the simple and direct approach of Channa’s writing, my feelings about the novel were far from being simple and direct. The writing churned up, like the waters of the story, so many personal and pressing memories of our political landscape of the past and the present, of the globe and of the nation. While the novel is simple and direct, my response itself is necessarily circuitous and non linear.

In 1986, around the time I received a TA position at the University of British Columbia, Canada and my application for a student visa was gently refused by the Canadian Authorities, with a recommendation to apply later, a boatful of people, mainly Sri Lankan Tamils, crossed the several seas separating Sri Lanka from the American continent and reached the shores of Canada. It was both a legal and illegal tour (de force). On hearing of this, a friend, half jokingly (only half) remarked that I should have got on that same boat, instead of applying to the Canadian embassy.

This was my earliest personal encounter with the prospect of crossing borders under desperate situations. For me, ‘higher studies’ was a desperate life saving pursuit. Later, at the height of the war, friends, family and persons we encountered in our daily lives, those who laboured in and around our homes, places of work, jumped into these ships, fleeing terror of many sorts, particularly the slow destitution that was taking hold of the north (east and other parts of the country).

The trend continues and it concerns not just Sri Lankans, but many others. It is a part of the way the world is made up. Why go to Australia and Canada in leaky boats? If we take the story of pure and simple imperialism of the west European kind, crossing borders is an integral part of the colonial mapping of the world; the adventures of Captain Cook, a Columbus or Vasco da Gama are the terrible illegality of the boundary breaking stories of those who got on unseaworthy boats. But that was the story of victors and quickly gained legitimacy. Speaking of illegal waters and unseaworthy boats, between 1990-95 fleeing family crossed the kilali lagoon in the north of Sri Lanka, separating the Jaffna peninsula from the rest of the country, in a string of make shift boats tied together to save on fuel, to enter government controlled areas, illegally. What does one call the routes taken by roughly 80-100, 000 northern Muslims evicted by the LTTE in 1990? Today, resettlement programmes by the government reassert and resituate another sense of legality and illegality. And thousands displaced have become illegal citizens within the contours of one’s own national identification.

Border crossing, illegally arrived at, is another way by which we possess boundaries, draw colonial and postcolonial maps. Channa’s evocative novel raises precisely this question. Very broadly the story narrates the fate of a handful of desperate people leaving their home country. They are led by the human trafficker, enigmatically called Red Cap (because he dons a red cap on his head) and encounter on their way various different personalities that form the political and war infused mosaic of our society; the local commander of the patrolling navy of the country, the rebel leader and his troop of gun toting men, fighting against the state, different characters who give life to the collectivity of the people in the boat, including a girl child with a kitten and a stowaway, and a passing ship that could rescue the people in the leaking boat as it drifts on in the high seas.

The story set in mid sea for the most part, literally, metaphorically and allegorically breaks through the boundaries of nationality, ethnicity, citizenship to create a world that is seemingly beyond nation, states and identities. In a world, bound and contained by borders, the seas without borders hold out a terrible and tragic promise of legality for the illegal migrants. They belong nowhere and everywhere. The boat people are citizens of no country and yet it is precisely the quest for citizenship in a country, a state, that drives the dreams and dreaming of the people trapped inside the fishing trawler, falling apart. But the drama of this paradox is not uplifting like Robinson Crusoe’s ingenuity or enchanting like the flight into the exotic of Lord of the Rings by Tolkien or Narnia by C. S. Lewis. The stories of the fleeing refugees and their incessant waiting for rescue is a counter allegory of the colonial mapping of the world. To quote from the introductory section of the novel:

They knew they were not leaving the beauty above but the tragedy below. War hunger and death. Calamities that had gnawed away at their will to endure. Miseries that haunted their lives and tortured their souls. Everybody had a breaking point and they had reached theirs. They were leaving that misery, like many others before them and many others after them. In a boat, across the ocean, heading for lands they had only heard of. (9)

These words written in the most formal and elegant prose of its kind could be part of a colonial narrative, about impoverished Europeans setting out to the new world in search of warmer, greener pastures, of freedom and free land. At first, I was a bit frustrated by the formal tone of the novel. But as I proceeded, I quickly discovered to my surprise that the narrative demanded a contained and formal prose. I also discovered the way the text bound itself within a narrative linearity of voyage, seeking, dreaming and hoping. The significations of the work are entangled in this paradoxical narrative and counter narrative of the colonial story of migration and the postcolonial tragedy of displacement, asylum hunting, illegal travel, of being called wogs, wetback, kallathoni and boat people. It is in that sense a counter narrative of the conventional colonial theme of voyage, discovery and adventure in general.

The novel could be read as a parable. The name red cap itself has the air of a parable about it. The parable like quality is heightened by the fact that the most moral or ethical person in the story is thrown overboard to lighten the load on the leaking ship. The Jonah like figure cannot but be read allegorically and Biblically. But the moral of the story is neither dichotomous nor simple. The child with the pussy cat , both symbols of innocence, are lost in the sea with the others. It is their vulnerability that underpins their story, not a prelapsarian motif of innocence. The voyage consistently turns away from pathos, romanticism and sentimentality to draw a picture, literally a visual image of the harshness of human survival. It is not a duel between good versus bad, but a story of a people, already rendered bad, illegal and a voyage deemed illegitimate from the very beginning by those controlling land and water. On the other hand, those fleeing the controls of authority too are implicated by those very same boundaries of nationality and citizenship, of what is legal and legitimate and the illegitimate. They too are implicated in the politics of the border control and voyaging. Nobody is innocent here.

What is their struggle then? Is it a struggle for legitimacy? Is it for redemption and if so what exactly is the content of that redemption? What makes the novel poignant resides not so much in its awesome tragic conclusion as in its politics of bearing that endows it with a certain kind of legitimacy— the act of reading about the people who are In the Same Boat.

Postcolonial impasse

When I began on the novel, I wondered about why the writer gave the story an aura, the texture of the universal. Why does he not just go ahead and name the rebel group, why isn’t the stowaway, a Tamil, but just a nameless other shunned by the rest of the people in the boat? In other words, why does he not call the people Sri Lankans? I had read Channa’s first two novels, Walls and Distant Warriors and I automatically expected a realist novel with a clearly spelt out, distinctive, social location. Realizing that I was approaching the entire thing wrong, I resolved to read it as an allegory, a parable and a story about people, boat people anywhere, everywhere. An allegory at one level is universal. It is seemingly free of the shackles of politics, nation, gender and ethnicity. It is (seemingly) free of the shackles of belonging to a country. But continuing to read, I was bedeviled by the narrative’s own urge for roots, again and again. We cannot locate ourselves outside of our own national or transnational roots and routes.

In other words, one cannot read the novel as a disinterested reader of an adventure story. The impossibility of realizing the novel as universal and not about Sri Lanka, resides not just within me, but within the contours of the novel too. It suddenly struck me with remarkable and revealing force, how I, as reader and Channa as writer, are tragically bound together to a poetics of the postcolonial. Its borders and boundaries neither of us can escape, nor can the novel. For all that we may dare, we just cannot, fortunately, assume the neutral tone of the allegorical: duels between good and bad (or Christian and Saracen) ; what we have then is a paradox- a tale woven and textured by the social and the universal, the political and the human and the national and the global.

Postcolonial fancy and the flight of humanity

The novel can be read as a counter narrative of the colonial voyage. But if colonial allegories are a celebration of power, there is nothing to celebrate about.

In the Same Boat. It is not even a postcolonial response to colonial power. This is its ultimate strength. It is unromantic and unsentimental, even in some of its more tender moments, like that of the child seeking the whereabouts of the kitten she had brought on board or in the more horrifying ones , like the spraying of an ‘insubordinate’ passenger by the rebel leader, with bullets. A remarkable feature of its textuality is its refusal to produce a ‘human’ alternative to the political dilemma of nations and nationalities, borders and boundaries.

There are predictable features. The patrolling navy leader can be easily bribed. But unlike the leader of the navy, who is only too real, the leader of the rebels is surreal. No less greedy than the commander of the navy patrol, he is a ruthless killer to boot. I was happy to note that Channa did not indulge in any romanticisation of the violence of the rebels. What makes the leader of the rebels drawn in remarkably statuesque terms so spectacular a figure has to do with ambivalently allegorical reference point for the portrayal.

The astonishing figure of the deformed leader sitting cross legged without legs, Buddha like, cries out for comparison with Marlow in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the fraught problematic epic novel about colonial ventures in Africa. Such intertextuality once again bedevils the categories of allegory, politics, personal and the literary. It is not that I make any pronouncement on the writer’s self conscious spin off on Marlow in Heart of Darkness. The significance of the comparison I draw lies in the question: how does one dissolve the colonial adventure story or the character building stories of colonial travel writing into that of a tragic story about the inward looking violence of the postcolonial? How do you portray the border figure of the guerilla leader, who is merciless, does possess authority over territory and yet makes claims of fighting against power and territorial possession? How does one capture the terrible paradox of that admixture of resistance and domination in the allegorical present? For me, the deformed figure of the leader presents to us a moment of flight, and that flight is just momentary, fleeting and intangible. To quote the passage introducing the leader:

At their feet, on the deck, was the man who appeared to be their leader. A man with a large, riotous beard and long, wild hair he first appeared to be sitting cross legged on the deck, the way people sat down to meditate. Then they saw that both his legs were missing below the thighs that ended in fleshy stumps. On closer look they could also see that he even had all the fingers in his left hand missing, making it possible for him to hold his gun only with his right hand.

Seeing the astonishment in the face of the people on the boat, the rebel leader laughed, Don’t look so stunned, he said. Don’t tell me you haven’t seen a cripple! You are not running away for nothing are you? (30)

Let me press the comparison with Heart of Darkness a bit more. Heart of Darkness plunges us into a world of inhumanity that is at the heart of the colonial endeavour; and of course its colonial paradigm locates the heart of inhumanity within the core of what is seen as Africa. Marlow’s passage to Africa and down the Congo is about the illegality of colonialism, in a counter move. But unlike Conrad’s work, In the Same Boat cannot easily posit a named protagonist. This allegory is able to work only with nameless people. In the place of the moral Buddha like figure of Marlow, we have Red Cap. Red Cap is a despicable character, but is less objectionable than Kurtz in Heart of Darkness. Definitely the voyage is less illegal than Belgium’s inglorious expeditions in the Congo.

It is not a decisive protagonist like Marlow that we have in this narrative, but a whole lot of nameless people sailing toward a country whose name they do not know. Red cap is not the narrator. But his narrative, his story, is so entwined with that of the others that he suffers the same tragic fate. Their voyage is not down the river, but is on the high seas. They sail up the sea toward light, welcoming shores and civilization that would give them refuge and not down the river toward darkness and the horror of uncivilisation. They do not lose their humanity on the voyage as happens with Kurtz. They had already lost their human status before the journey. They have no country. In the literally astonishing figure of the rebel leader one gets a sense of the prescientic and the prophetic. ‘Madam, I have seen as many heroes as orphans. And they are all dead’ says the leader in response to a passenger’s query about heroes. And it is death that would haunt them till the end of their short and perilous journey.

The allegorical present

If I may be allowed to go back to my preliminary musings on today’s crisis and contradictions of border crossing, I would like to conclude with just one point of departure. Even as I was reading In the same boat, the Australian government was featuring an advertisement demonstrating the evil and deceptive ways of the ‘agent’, the trafficker in human commodity, on Sri Lankan media, including the television. Telecast, as I understand, only on ‘Nethra’, the Tamil channel of the state broadcasting station, the message is simple: We are powerful enough to air this advertisement of disgusting appeal, complete with bad acting and melodramatic setting. The advertisement would make a good example for the study of popular visual media. As Barthes might say, it is a case of sheer semiotic bliss. But I will keep to the point here. Not only was the advertisement disgustingly predatory, like those charity ads about poverty in Ethiopia, but was also demonstrative of the power of the state, both of Australia and Sri Lanka, acting in tandem to protect their borders and their sovereignty.

In the same boat captures this dilemma of state control and paternal authority faced by transgressive postcolonial subjects. We are all caught, refugee and authority alike, in the rhetoric of sovereignty and nationality, man, woman, self and the other. We are all ‘in the same boat’. ‘We may have all come on different boats; but we are in the same boat now’; these words attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. are not really about existing material reality, but are in actuality, an offer of hope. In a generous gesture of solidarity, he offers the hand of friendship to the oppressor. It is that visionary sense that is glaringly lacking in the narratives celebrating sovereignty, territorial control and conquest. When I quoted King’s words to Channa, he quipped, ‘Not yet. We are not in the same boat yet.’ Marlow in Heart of Darkness could stay in the shadows of the Thames at the end of it all. But for those contesting the borders of authority, as minority narrative subjects, there is no protective shade or deceptive silence that could give them hope. Avenging nature sweeps over the terrible calamity of what we know as manhood and humanity.

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Sivamohan Sumathy is a Senior Lecturer attached to the Department of English, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.

Channa Wickramasekera teaches in Australia and has been involved in raising awarenesss toward a non-violent and just solution to the National Question in Sri Lanka. He has published several works of fiction and on history and is currently working on a monogaph on the first phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka ( 1976 - 1987)

A slightly different version of this review was published in the Island of 22 September, 2010.

September 23, 2010

No nation on earth can wish Sri Lanka's Tamil community more good fortune than Sri Lanka itself

by Mahinda Rajapaksa

(Following is the full text of the address by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the United Nations General Assembly at New York on September 23rd 2010)

“I have great pleasure in congratulating Your Excellency Joseph Deiss, on your assumption of the Chair of the sixty fifth Session of the General Assembly.

I also take this opportunity to extend our appreciation to the President of the sixty fourth Session, His Excellency Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, for his effective stewardship of the General Assembly.

That the United Nations is now in its sixty fifth year serves to underline the durability of this organisation. It is an important mechanism in ensuring co-operation between States and a forum for discussion between sovereign nations. We must never under-estimate the importance of this organisation based as it is, on the principle of equal treatment of countries big and small.

It is in this spirit that I address you at a crucial juncture in the history of my own country. In two months, I will be assuming office for my second term.

My mandate will be very different from my last. For my second term as President, my promise to my people is to deliver sustainable peace and prosperity to all and ensure that terrorism will not be able to raise its ugly head again.

In 2005, I was elected by my people on a promise to rid my country of the menace of terrorism. I say that Sri Lanka is now at peace, peace that was only a dream a few years ago.

Over the past year, much has been reported and much has been said regarding my country’s liberation from terrorism. However, far less has been said of the suffering we had to undergo and the true nature of the enemy we have overcome.

The rapidly forgotten truth is that we had to face one of the most brutal, highly organized, well funded and effective terrorist organizations that could even spread its tentacles to other countries.

Many of the atrocities of terrorism that the West has come to experience in recent times, the people of Sri Lanka were themselves the victims of, for nearly 30 years, losing almost one hundred thousand lives, among them being a President of Sri Lanka, a visionary leader of India and scores of intellectuals and politicians.

The LTTE was an organization so brutal, that even those it claimed to represent, the Tamil community of Sri Lanka, were as much victims of its terror as the rest of the population of our country.

Those who observing from afar, suggested that the Sri Lankan government should have conceded to the demands of the terrorists, need to be reminded that terror is terror, whatever mask it wears and however it is packaged. To all those, I say this. My responsibility is to the entire nation. My responsibility is to the lives of millions of men, women and children, and those yet to be born. My responsibility is to the peace and prosperity of the nation and the right to a peaceful life for all who live there.

In this context, it is worth examining the capacity of current international humanitarian law to meet contemporary needs. It must be remembered that such law evolved essentially in response to conflicts waged by the forces of legally constituted States, and not terrorist groups. The asymmetrical nature of conflicts initiated by non-state actors gives rise to serious problems which need to be considered in earnest by the international community.

As we close a sad chapter in our country’s history, I would like to remind you that we, along with many others, made repeated attempts to engage the LTTE in constructive dialogue. I still believe dialogue is the best method to resolve any conflict but, it is much to be regretted that all these attempts were rejected with reckless arrogance and contempt. It is in these circumstances that we were compelled to mount a humanitarian operation with the blessings of many international friends, to neutralize acts of terrorism and restore peace and security.

The entire focus of our nation, is now on building a lasting peace; healing wounds, ensuring economic prosperity and guaranteeing the rights of the whole nation to live in harmony.

We are mindful that in order to fulfill these aspirations, economic development and political reconciliation must go hand in hand. Towards this end, constitutional changes which appropriately reflect aspirations of our people will be evolved with the full participation of all stakeholders.

We are pursuing a nation-wide agenda of renewal. Sri Lanka has already returned over 90% of the internally displaced persons to their original villages that were previously riddled with landmines, and provided the essential infrastructure necessary to resume normal life. We have helped bring back the vitality of youth to former child soldiers.

We have rebuilt the Eastern Province and begun the same task in the North. Sri Lanka’s Armed Forces now have the role of delivering essential services, rebuilding habitats, clearing mines and restoring vital infrastructure to whole tracts of formerly decimated land.

Despite the lingering dangers that have remained, Sri Lanka has never-the-less repealed a substantial part of the Emergency Regulations so necessary during our conflict situation and plans to repeal a good part of the remainder in the coming months.

A great deal has been said by those beyond our borders about our Tamil community. Let me be clear, no nation on earth can wish Sri Lanka’s Tamil community more good fortune than Sri Lanka itself.

To the mis-guided few, I say, do not allow yourselves to become an instrument of division, hate and violence, to be used as an enabler for hatred to be reborn in another form. Rather come, let us join hands and break the bonds of mistrust to rise to new horizons.

Sri Lanka recognizes the challenges we face, among the greatest of which is healing the wounds of the recent past. To this end, earlier this year, a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission have been established, giving full expression to the principles of accountability.

This independent Commission, comprising eight Sri Lankans of eminence and stature, has already begun its work. Recently, the Commission handed over to me an interim communication recommending certain administrative steps that may need to be taken in the reconciliation process.

We believe that for the rebuilding and healing of our nation to succeed, the process must evolve from within. If history has taught us one thing, it is that imposed external solutions breed resentment and ultimately fail. Ours, by contrast, is a home grown process, which reflects the culture and traditions of our people.

We certainly welcome the support of the international community as we rebuild our lands and our economy. We sincerely hope that they will be prepared to take a practical approach to developing partnerships with Sri Lanka through international trade, investment and capacity building.

Our economy is well on the way to realizing the dividend of peace. We are experiencing steady and sustained growth including during the last quarter of over eight per cent, moderate inflation and low interest rates. During the last five (5) years, we saw our per capita income double. It is our ambition to take this further; to double yet again the present per capita income by 2016 and also become one of the top 30 countries for doing business by 2014.

“Mahinda Chinthana – Vision for the Future”, my election manifesto articulates my vision of having sound infrastructure at the national, provincial and rural levels, which is vital for the inclusive growth that will make development meaningful to the entirety of society.

I can also proudly claim that my country through the economic strategy is comfortably realizing the millennium development goals, well in advance of the target set by the United Nations.

We are at present strongly focusing on putting in place the necessary public infrastructure and strengthening the enabling policy environment for the private sector to invest even more in my country.

In order to achieve the full realization of our potential, we desire a supportive external environment. Towards this end, we will always look for constructive engagement and partnerships. We will from our side, continue to contribute as we have always done, to the cause of multilateralism and a principled global order.

In this regard, I am happy to note that 2010 marks the fiftieth (50) anniversary since we first contributed to a UN Peacekeeping Mission. Our Armed Forces and the Police are today combat tested, with a capacity to carry out their duties in the most challenging of conditions. I wish Mr. President, therefore to use this forum to re-affirm our willingness to further enhance our support to the UN Peace-Keeping Operations.

The world unlike in the past has become severely vulnerable to natural disasters. Almost every day we see millions of people becoming victims of severe floods, landslides, volcanoes, cyclones, earthquakes and the like. It has become increasingly difficult for affected countries to manage unassisted, the post disaster recovery programmers. The recent natural calamities in our region underline the crucial need for effective action, in which there is collective participation, to reduce human suffering. Without doubt, climate change and global warming are today issues which demand the urgent attention of all nations.

Among the political issues that have continued to fester for too long, is the continued denial of the right of the Palestinian people to a State of their own within recognized and secure borders. It is the fervent hope of the people of Sri Lanka that this most tragic of situations would be resolved without delay in a sustainable manner. We hope that Palestine will be a full member of this Assembly next year.

Our guiding principle must always be that of mutual respect in international discourse, even as we disapprove and condemn measures such as unilateral embargoes.

Experience in the recent past amply demonstrates that these embargoes impact not on governments but on the most vulnerable sections of the community. In the same spirit, I would call for the empathy of the international community, towards the aspirations of the Cuban people.

I also wish to urge with all the emphasis at my command the need for greater concern and involvement on the part of the international community to assist the people of Africa in their efforts to elevate the quality of life on their continent.

Leaders who have been chosen by their people often face difficult decisions. They must be entitled to the good will and confidence of the international community with regard to the heavy burdens they are required to shoulder. The results of their decisions must be evaluated objectively and must be allowed to speak for themselves.

That is not to say countries should operate in isolation. In this globally inter-dependent world, we must work together where we can and constructively counsel each other where appropriate.

The United Nations forms the bed-rock of this interaction and in this role it will always receive the support of Sri Lanka

Colombo Municipal Corporation proposal may require constitutional amendment

By Austin Fernando

I Support power sharing. Therefore, my attention is drawn to this proposal, irrespective of no acceptance or denial by any government authority of this purported proposal. What the media reported was that a Development Authority is to be established for the City of Colombo. The move is to abolish the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), vest its functions to this Authority and consequentially scrap the elected Council.

Past performance

Sometimes CMC’s performance has been criticized as inefficient, ineffective, uneconomic, politicized, corrupt, lethargic and inadequate. Large piles of solid waste, dengue spread, environmental pollution, illegal constructions etc were the areas mostly criticized. Hence this revelation may be welcome news to rate payers and citizens interacting with the CMC. Additionally, there was publicity that the proposed Corporation will function under the Secretary, Ministry of Defence, which would have brought happier smiles.

In the recent past there had been periods where the CMC received accolades. Mayoral terms of Sirisena Cooray [pre Provincial Councils (PCs)] and Karu Jayasuriya (post-PC) are examples. These performances were consequential to the political clout the former had and the professional managerial capacity enhancement during the latter’s, respectively. It is the same organization, laws, technocrats, managers and work force that performed for such positive kudos.

Hence, whether corporatization is the only answer to respond to inefficiency, ineffectiveness, uneconomical status may boggle our minds. We hear of undisclosed political intentions for this proposal, but this exercise is to direct attention to power sharing for reengineering.
Pending legislations for centralization

Firstly, we hear powerful legislators speaking of “enhancing the powers of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution” expected to be law in January 2011, but with reduction of certain powers already devolved Additionally, media indicates the new law to convert CMC to a Corporation to be passed before end 2010. Law to change the elections process to Local Authorities (LAs) is scheduled for early passage. Secondly, there are international and domestic demands to strengthen the 13th Amendment to create minority community confidence. Some parties in the government are unsupportive of “power sharing”. By withdrawal of devolved powers (e.g. schools, hospitals), non-implementation of Land powers, blocking sharing Police powers etc, every government since 1987 has proved their allergy to genuine power sharing.

Even the current reengineering exercise proves the incumbent government’s reluctance to power sharing and the enchantment to centralize already devolved power. Thirdly, we have not yet seen the Draft Bill. If we go by the media, with the establishment of a Corporation (or Authority) the democratically elected body to administer the CMC will be erased.

13th Amendment and Corporatization

The existing law for Local Government is constitutionally based on the 13th Amendment.

I quote Section 4 of the List I- Local Government. “4.1 Local authorities for the purpose of local government and village administration, such as Municipal Councils…..” will be under the PCs. Under 4.2 PCs are empowered for “supervision of the administration of local authorities established by law…”. Therefore, by creating a Corporation under central control, the devolved powers of the Western PC (WPC) will be erased. Several items under List I that matter to the CMC will be withdrawn. Therefore, a constitutional amendment may be required to withdraw the reference to Municipal Councils (MCs) under Section 4 of List I, because Parliament cannot make laws overriding the Constitution.

Section 4.3 under List I offers the most relevant powers for the PCs.

“4.3 LAs will have the powers vested in them under existing law; MCs and Urban Councils will have the powers vested under the MCs Ordinance and Urban Councils Ordinance. …….. It will be open to a Provincial Council to confer additional powers on local authorities but not take away their powers.”

If the government wishes to strengthen the CMC, constitutionally it should be done by the WPC. Withdrawal of power is not permitted by the Constitution. But, the proposed organization will take away PC powers, instead of conferring additional powers, thus contradicting the 13th Amendment. Therefore, this constitutional hurdle must be overcome if the Authority is to gain life.

Media reports, though not specific impresses that this law will be introduced soon. Hence, one may explore the forum to legislate to corporatize the CMC. No PC for the last 23 years has passed the LA Statutes, excepting to remove Chairmen and Mayors! A new corporatization Statute may not be born within the next two months. Therefore, the government may get a resolution passed in the WPC authorizing the Parliament to act according to Article 154G (4). It permits the Parliament to pass legislation on the request from a PC. Still the question will be whether the WPC could ask for reduction of its powers- going against Section 4.3 of List I.

When the 18th Amendment was brought, senior ministers argued that the scrapping of the two election terms [Article 31 (2) of the Constitution] reflected the enlargement of franchise; being more democratic; giving more opportunities to the voters to elect a President. If it was enlarging franchise, what is withdrawing the given opportunity to elect their Municipal Councillors? One democratic principle for LAs and another for Presidency! Our politicians are great innovators and justification will be done! The MCs exist in many districts. The electors in these MCs engage in democratic franchise to elect Municipal Administrations.

Creating a Corporation under the Ministry of Defence as publicized, forcibly withdraw them from the election process -‘an afforded possible opportunity to the People to participate’ at a legally accepted level of ‘national life and in government’. It will thus conflict with enjoying the fundamental right provided by Article 27 (4) of the Constitution, which expects the State to “strengthen and broaden the democratic structure of government and the democratic rights of the People by decentralizing the administration”. What happens here will be centralizing administration and withdrawing a democratic right.

Though the constitutional provisions on exercising franchise does not [Article 4 (e) of the Constitution] speak of LA Elections, by corporatizing the CMC and scrapping an elected LA will consequentially disenfranchise the electors in Colombo. This will be discriminatory to the electors within the CMC, when compared with electors in other MCs.

Corporations and success

It appears that the promoters of this proposal believe that corporatization is the panacea for municipal management ills. The cumulative and continuous weak performance of many corporations like the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Ceylon Transport Board (CTB) are examples of centralized organizational failures.

What is the guarantee that a corporatized CMC would perform better than now? Performances during Cooray’s and Jayasuriya’s mayoral terms were proof of the potential to be successful under the MCs Ordinance. Success disappeared after their resignation. The political clout, personality and professional skills of these two could not be sustained afterwards. This could happen with the proposed changes too. Where should we head if and when it happens? The Buddhist theory of impermance is right.

Therefore, if corporatization is to happen as anticipated I caution that the 13th Amendment provisions affecting this proposal have to be erased. Whether, it would suit other political issues is a matter to be reviewed by politicians.

Secondly, the “super managers” with all cross connections may not be available throughout and hence there cannot be solutions to the later emerging problems.

Thirdly, I believe that if the proposed reengineering takes place there will be funds for very sophisticated improvements, such as municipal highways, electric underground trains, mono-rails, infrastructure development, high rise residential areas etc because of the political and official clout of operatives. Will that be eternal for continuing such after the “super managers” withdraw? It is necessary to think on sustainability too.

Lessons learnt from other experiences

I quote an example from India to summarily highlight how the Calcutta Municipal Corporation functions to serve in improving various civic amenities, providing numerous services, slum development programs, sewage and waste management in a city having a 4.6 million population. The lessons from Calcutta could be learnt to avoid major pitfalls in the creation of a Municipal Corporation for Colombo.

1. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation became effective on an appointed date by the State Government, because LAs are a State Government subject. Going along, why not place the proposed Corporation under the WPC? The issue of engaging the Defence Ministry has to be addressed, as WPC does not have authority over a Ninth Schedule List II subject, i.e. Defence.

2. Calcutta Municipal Corporation consisted of elected Councillors and non-voting ‘State Government’ nominees that combined democratic right for franchise and professional contributions respectively. The Defence representatives could be appointed to the Municipal Corporation by providing in the Statute. If the citizens are dissatisfied of the performance of the Corporation they can outvote them. But if it is a centralized Corporation the rate payers will be burdened like our being burdened with the CEB or CPC or CTB inefficiencies.

3. The 149 elected Councillors in Calcutta elect a Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Chairman and later constitute the Mayor-in–Council (MiC). It consists of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and less than ten other elected Councillors of the Corporation- an arrangement like a Cabinet. The appointees to MiC will be the choice of the Mayor and hence collective responsibility could be established.

4. The Municipal Accounts Committee, Borough Committees, Ward Committees and Municipal Consultative Committees are established and empowered by the Act to enhance participation and ownership. These institutional arrangements can be introduced even in Colombo.

5. Municipal Corporation employees from the Municipal Commissioner downwards are appointed and vacancy filling, disciplinary control etc are stated in the Calcutta Act. This could go along with the provisions of our Provincial Councils Act.

6. The establishment of Municipal Service Commission and Municipal Vigilance Authority are provided in Calcutta, which are not in the MCs Ordinance but could be established by WPC’s Statute.

7. General, Obligatory and Discretionary powers and functions in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation are given in the Act. It includes all activities such as works and contracts, controls, Municipal Fund management, budgeting, loans, accounting and audit, taxation, civic services, sanitation related activities, and importantly the State Government’s actions etc. These are mostly the same functions under the MCs Ordinance in Sri Lanka.

These are some highlights.

Urban Development Authority (UDA) and CMCPresently the UDA is under the Ministry of Defence, which may have been so placed to influence the LAs advantageously. I believe that the UDA could be fruitfully engaged in guidance for efficient and effective municipal management through its available expertise in city planning, architecture, Geographic Information Systems, environmental development etc that is not adequately used.

Conclusion

Hence, a Corporation created under the WPC, with external expertise, having a stake in management, facilitated by the UDA (+Ministry of Defence) could be a workable effective combination that could be considered, rather than to violate the existing power sharing provisions in the Constitution and to steamroll devolved governance. Please do not tell that power sharing has failed, as the retort will be that even the centralized administration has failed. Does this mean that there is no solution for problems? It is a matter to develop Laws, Statutes, systems, expertise, professionalism, cooperation etc to optimally perform to achieve objectives. Sometimes centralization may not be the sole answer for municipal ills.

September 22, 2010

World leaders' meetings draw demostrators from Falun Gong, Kurd, Tamil and Tibetan groups near UN Headquarters

As world leaders meet at the U.N. General Assembly, New York is also playing host to scores of demonstrations near the UN Headquarters as well as near hotels where leaders are statying.

The Voice of America reports that, "it's a scene repeated every September, when the United Nations General Assembly opens. Demonstrators rally in the blocks around the U.N., and in front of the nearby Waldorf Astoria hotel, where Tibetans protested the arrival of Chinese premier Wen Jiabao"

Following are pictures of groups holding demonstrations near UN Head quarters on Sep 22nd:

Click on pics for larger images

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"Falun Dafa," also called Falun Gong — defined by supporters as a spiritual movement that embraces truthfulness, compassion and forbearance, and by the Chinese government as an "evil cult." The Chinese Communist Party banned Falun Gong in 1999, The Vancouver Sun says.

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According to VOA news, many demonstrations at this year's General Assembly are in protest of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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The Inner City Press reporting on the Tamil rally said: "Tamils bussed in from Canada held pictures of bodies charred in the Sri Lankan government's “bloodbath on the beach” of May 2009. They spoke of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's slow to begin panel of experts, hoping that it might expand its mandate and do justice. One hope they aren't holding their breaths."

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The Epoch Times reporting on the protests by Tibetans said: “There are lots of human rights violations in Tibet”, said Ngwang Tashi, president of Regional Tibet Youth Congress of NY & NJ. “There is no right even to religious practice, no freedom, no right to express one's own thoughts, not even to keep the picture of the Dalai Lama.”

The Sri Lankan Muslim minority: A bridge to harmony

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

My article about the late Mr. MHM Ashraff on the 10th anniversary of his death has invoked several different responses. One of which was a personal e-mail sent by Dr. Ruvaiz Haniffa from the Faculty of Medicine at the Colombo University.

Dr. Haniffa also sent a paper written by him on the Muslims of Sri Lanka along with his mail to me. I found the paper very illuminating and interesting and thought it contribute constructively to an informed debate on the Sri Lankan Muslim situation [click to read in full ~ on dbsjeyaraj.com]

Returnees dream of new houses in the north

BY IRIN News

KILINOCHCHI, 22 September 2010 (IRIN) - More than two years after she fled her home and 16 months after the decades-long Sri Lankan civil war was declared over, Chandra Jayakumar has one wish.

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A war-damaged home in northern Sri Lanka - Photo: Amantha Perera/IRIN

"A house. That's all I want," the 31-year-old mother said from her family's makeshift shelter under a tarp. "We have been uprooted so many times. Nothing feels permanent. We have survived the worst. Now we want to live in peace."

As the Sri Lankan government and humanitarian agencies start to rebuild tens of thousands of homes in the former conflict zone in the north, many returnees such as Jayakumar hope to finally move out of makeshift shelters.

According to earlier UN estimates, 160,000 homes in the north need to be repaired or rebuilt.

Recent figures indicate almost 80,000 houses have been committed or are under construction by partners, including the Indian government, the World Bank-sponsored North East Housing Reconstruction Programme (NEHRP), the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), the UN Development Programme, Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund, Sarvodaya Economic Enterprise Development, Sri Lankan Red Cross, SEED, Community Trust Fund, Caritas and YGRO.

The Indian commitment of 50,000 permanent houses is the largest, with a technical team to support planning preparations already in the country.

Chance to build

When fighting between government forces and the now defeated Liberation Tamil Tiger Eelam (LTTE) intensified in late 2008, Jayakumar, her husband and baby fled their home in Darmapuram, a village in the Kilinochchi District, deep into Tiger-controlled areas. In the final months of the conflict - just before the government defeated the Tigers in May 2009 - the family crossed the frontlines behind government troops.

They spent more than a year at a government-run camp for displaced people before finally returning home. Jayakumar is now collecting documents and paperwork towards a government application for a homebuilding cash grant. "People who returned to their homes first have begun to construct. I am waiting for my chance," she said.

Her sentiment echoes across the north.

"That is the main need, we can't live in tents or tin sheds for ever," Kilinochchi resident Shanthini Daniel said.

Construction boom

Dozens of cement tile-making plants have sprung up, as well as stores selling construction material.

Shelter projects across the north include the following:

- The North East Housing Reconstruction Programme (NEHRP), the main government agency for housing, is handling an initial caseload of 10,000 houses.

- The Indian government has pledged to build 50,000 houses in the Vanni, the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka has announced.

- The World Bank has allocated funds to build 5,400 houses in Kilinochchi, about 3,000 of which were under construction or already completed as of August, said Raja Rehan Arshad, lead operations officer of the World Bank in South Asia.

- UN-HABITAT is building 4,000 houses in the Vanni.

According to the latest statistics from mid-July, more than 3,200 houses had already been constructed or repaired, including more than 2,100 in Kilinochchi.

Under the NEHRP scheme each family can apply for a US$2,900 grant to build a 46 sqm house, comprising two rooms, a kitchen and a toilet.

Separately, each returning family is provided an emergency shelter cash grant of about $220 by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to facilitate light repairs to partially damaged homes. But returnees have widely used the cash for basic needs, so extensive needs for urgent shelter support remain.

Under the UNHCR emergency shelter scheme, as of end-August more than 55,000 families had been given the grant.

Vancouver Activists Rally in Support of Tamil Refugees

by Zach Baddorf, Voice of America News

The Thai cargo ship MV Sun Sea arrived on Vancouver Island in Canada last month, carrying nearly 500 Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka. They claim to have faced murder, kidnapping and extortion back home and are now seeking refugee status. The Canadian government has detained the refugee seekers while it determines whether they are a security threat.

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Activists yell to show their "love" to refugees inside the detention facility with a sign in Tamil that reads "We Welcome You. We Support You."

Listen: Zach Baddorf report MP3 (VOA News)

About 40 activists banged drams, clanked pots and pans, blew horns and made as much noise as they could. They wanted to get the attention of about 90 Tamil women and children detained inside the Burnaby Youth Custody prison, located about 300 feet away.

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Activists blow horns, beat drums, shake tambourines, and make noise to show their support for the Tamil refugees.

Why should they stay?

Fathima Cader was at the rally. Now a law student at the University of British Columbia, she was born in Sri Lanka, but left with her parents when she was two years old. Cader has lived in Canada for about 10 years and took the Canadian citizenship test last week.

She says the Sri Lankan government devastated the Tamil areas of the country and now those people who were displaced have "nothing much to go home to."

"Your entire town has been demolished and there have been claims that after the war it's become safer," Cader said, "but actually what we're finding is that disappearances which have been really really common during the war -- Tamil men would just randomly disappear and their bodies would appear afterwards -- continue to occur now."

Cader says the Sri Lankan government is still targeting Tamils.

And, she says the Canadian government is targeting the Tamils, too -- detaining them after their arrival from Sri Lanka because of their race.

What Canada has done

Canada has granted refugee status to more than 40,000 Sri Lankans, in the past two decades -- rejecting only 20 percent of those applying.

Canada's public safety minister told reporters that Canada has been "very welcoming" of refugees but says officials must protect the nation from criminals or terrorists. He says the refugees' voyage was organized by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a Sri Lankan separatist group. The Tigers have been considered a terrorist group by many nations and are banned from entering Canada.

Cader is not convinced that the refugees are a threat.

"I'm not sure what we're investigating when we talk about a 15-year-old," Cader said. "Or, as most of the children in the jail currently are between the ages of two and ten."

Despite multiple attempts, both the Canadian Ministry of Immigration and the Canadian Border Services Agency declined interview requests. But the border agency did issue a statement to Voice of America saying every person seeking to enter Canada must follow the same rules and regulations and that all the refugee seekers who arrived on the Sun Sea will go through security and criminal checks.

According to a spokesperson for the border services agency, "the safety and security of all Canadians is a priority."

Innocent until proven guilty

But the organization No One Is Illegal says the Canadians should consider the immigrants innocent until proven guilty. One of the group's organizers, Harjap Grewal, says Canada has been prioritizing trade with Sri Lanka instead of demanding that the island nation improve its treatment of Tamils.

"We've seen over and over again that governments prioritize economics and their economic interests and it often sidelines the very basic justice for most people around the planet," Grewal said.

Grewal says the economic opportunities for Western countries in Sri Lanka come at a cost.

"It comes at a cost of human beings," noted Grewal. "And, it comes at a cost of the oppression that the Tamil community has faced. So we've naturally seen very similarly these migrants that have come here, the refugees that have come here, they're being denied access.

What the refugees are saying

The refugees were charged $40,000 to $50,000 each to make the voyage. Through the Canadian Tamil Congress, the refugees issued a statement saying they underwent "severe hardships" with little or no access to basic necessities like food, water, medicine and sanitary facilities during their four months at sea coming from Sri Lanka to Canada.

The Canadian government is considering increasing penalties for human smugglers and potentially banning smuggling ships from entering Canadian waters.

Canada's immigration minister is in Melbourne to meet with his Australian counterpart to discuss human smuggling. Minister Jason Kenney says Canada intends to work at home and abroad to "combat the crime and fraud associated with the treacherous journey some immigrants make to Canada."

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A young boy bangs a pot lid atop his father's shoulders at a rally in support of newly arrived Tamils from Sri Lanka.

Passionate protesters

Back at the rally in Vancouver, the activists play Tamil music from an iPhone, through two speakers and a mixer powered by a portable generator. They hold a large red banner that reads "We Welcome You. We Support You" in Tamil. Children inside the detention facility can be seen looking out at the demonstration.

Several protesters verbally abused the driver of a Vancouver City police vehicle entering the detention facility.

The activists demand the immediate release of all the refugee seekers. But the Canadian Border Services Agency told Voice of America that the refugees will remain in detention until the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada completes its review.

Latest developments

However, some of the immigrants are being taken out of jail.

A pregnant woman was the first of the refugees to be released from detention, last Monday. She was let go with her three children. The country's independent Immigration and Refugee Board decided to release another four female migrants from custody. But the government appealed to Canada's Federal Court about their release. On Friday, the court ordered the government to let them go free while they await hearings on their refugee applications.

Canadian officials believe there is a possibility that more ships will head to Canada from Sri Lanka. He told reporters the Sea Sun may be seen as a "test ship." - courtesy: VOA News -

Sri Lanka is drawing the interest of outsourcing firms - President Mahinda Rajapaksa

By GABRIELLA STERN

NEW YORK -- Sri Lanka's president said Wednesday that rising labor costs in China present an opportunity for his South Asian country to attract foreign companies seeking an alternative low-cost manufacturing base.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, told The Wall Street Journal that the once war-torn country has enjoyed a 15-month period of peace during which his government has focused on rebuilding roadways and railroads in the ravaged North and East, expanding the availability of electricity and clean water, and providing homes, among other things.

He said Sri Lanka--with a literate population, relatively low labor costs, and a sizeable corps of trained accountants--is drawing the interest of outsourcing firms, including major Indian business-process outsourcing companies seeking ways to expand outside India, where wages also have been rising.

In addition, European and U.S. retailers are increasingly turning to Sri Lanka to produce apparel at costs below those in China, Mr. Rajapaksa added. His country faces a labor shortage in the apparel sector as a result of this interest, he added.

Ashroff Omar, chief executive of apparel exporter Brandix Lanka Ltd., said it currently costs about $150 a month to employ a "trained" Sri Lankan apparel worker, compared with $400 in China. In a couple of years, he said, the cost in China will be about $600, compared with around $200 in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Omar and about two dozen business leaders and government ministers accompanied President Rajapaksa to the U.S.

Tourism is growing in his country, as Indian travelers gravitate to a peaceful Sri Lanka, and interest among European tourists--particularly Scandinavians--picks up, Mr. Rajapaksa said. Agriculture and fisheries are also key drivers of economic growth.

President Rajapaksa acknowledged that Sri Lanka still suffers from a lingering perception that it remains a war zone, but said there have been "no incidents" for more than a year and foreign governments have generally removed advisories warning travelers to stay away.

The country's economy grew 8.5% in the second quarter, compared with 7.1% year-on-year growth in the first quarter, according to Fitch Ratings. Inflation, at just under 6%, is under control, Sri Lanka's president said. The International Monetary Fund recently said a Central Bank of Sri Lanka rate cut was appropriate policy and projected a continuation of single-digit inflation for the year.

The president said his biggest worry is "protectionism" by other Asian countries at a time when Sri Lanka hopes to tap into the region's unprecedented economic expansion.

Sri Lanka, with a population of 20 million, emerged from a three-decade civil war in May 2009 with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. - courtesy: The Wall Street Journal -

President in bilateral talks with Norway

By BBC Sandeshaya

Prsidient Mahinda Rajapaksha has engaged in constructive bilateral talks with a number of heads of state now in New York, says Presidential media co-ordinator Vijayananda herath.

President Rajapaksa is in New York to attend the United Nations 65th General Assembly.

“It was a new beginning with Norway” said Hearth referring to bilateral talks with Norway.

Hearath said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa discussed development co-operation with the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

President Rajapaksha recalled the development aid given to his constituency, Hambantota in his talks, said Hearath.

According to the Presidential media Co-ordinator former peace negotiator for Sri Lanka, Minister of International Development, Eric Solehime had said that the Tamil diaspora needs to resolve their grievances through democratic means in the parliamentary process.

Protest

Meanwhile, around two hundred fifty Tamils from the US and Canadian diaspora participated in a demonstration in New York calling for a full probe in to what happened in the last days of the war in Sri lanka.

“All nationalities should be treated equally and that is not happening in Sri Lanka” said Eeesan, who was among the protesters. - BBC Sandeshaya -

September 21, 2010

South Asians for Human Rights deplore erosion of democracy and rise of authoritarianism in Sri Lanka

Statement issued at the conclusion of the conference held by South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) on challenges to peace and prospects of cooperation, New Delhi, 13 to 15 December 2010:

South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a network of human rights defenders and concerned citizens, held a three day meeting on “Challenges to Peace and Prospects for Cooperation in South Asia” at the India International Centre, New Delhi, from the 13 th-15th September, 2010.

The meeting:

1. Expressed sympathy and solidarity with the people of Pakistan on the devastation caused by the floods, and regretted that no collective action had been taken by SAARC or other regional bodies to provide support, whereas natural or man made calamities in any South Asian country must be treated as a matter of regional responsibility.

2. Expressed grave concern at the erosion of democracy and rise of authoritarianism in Sri Lanka after the war, and delay in settlement of Tamils interned in camps and called for a return to democratic norms and a humanitarian approach to internees problem. Regretted the role of other South Asian countries in not supporting the UN Human Rights Council proposal for an enquiry into war crimes.

3. Expressed shock at the increasing number of victims of recent state violence in Kashmir and the loss of lives in the past three months and urged that immediate steps must be taken to ensure that the human rights of the people are respected and laws such as AFSPA that are contrary to human rights principles be reviewed/repealed. Called for urgent talks between the concerned parties to seek ways for non-violent solutions which would be acceptable to the people of Kashmir.

4. Regretted that while Independence was won through non-violent struggles, South Asia has been the site of conflicts, prolonged disputes, sectarian violence and terrorism. The failure of India and Pakistan to resolve long standing disputes has perpetuated hostility, the costs of which are evident in the absence of regional cooperation and repudiation of peoples’ rights to natural resources, for trade and investment, for freedom of movement. Increasingly, severe visa regulations have become an impediment to the free movement of people. Thousands are arrested at the borders or while fishing in the deep sea. Many have been killed by border forces. SAARC itself has been ineffective, even after 25 years, in providing a regional framework for human rights.

5.Identified terrorism, religious extremism and communalization as major threats to peace, democratic development and security in South Asia. Expanding terrorist activities and networks across the region from Pakistan to India and Bangladesh have undermined human rights, increased polarisation and prevented reconciliation.

6. Critiqued state responses to terrorism which further enhanced insecurity and instability and led to militarization. It has sanctioned impunity for intelligence agencies and security forces, allowed methods of lawless law enforcement, and prevented any accountability for disappearances and extra-judicial killings in all countries of the region, particularly in Sri Lanka during the recent

conflict.

7. Expressed its deep concern at the escalation of violence in Afghanistan which may be exacerbated by competitive and conflicting claims of India and Pakistan, and reiterated an urgent need for political engagement through South Asian Dialogues between governments and between concerned citizens. A concerted South Asian initiative to help Afghanistan regain peace and establish a democratic, pluralist society must not be delayed so that peace and justice comes to ravaged Afghanistan.

8. Viewed with concern the failure of South Asian states to move beyond majoritarian rule under a democratic façade, and called upon the youth to end their alienation from politics, to struggle to liberate national politics from domination by personalities and patronage, and establish traditions of genuine democratic participation of all citizens in political processes.

9. Hoped that the initiatives for a Peace Accord in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and consensus building for constitution in Nepal would be taken forward.

10. The meeting concluded with the following recommendations for regional cooperation, action by governments and citizens’ activism:

Regional Initiatives by SAARC:

a. Set up a disaster management fund to assist countries to overcome natural disasters and explore setting up disaster management mechanisms to cope with rehabilitation of victims.

b. Explore possibilities of a regional mechanism for post-conflict reconciliation.

c. Formulate a South Asian protocol on treatment of prisoners in conformity with the UN standards.

e. Engage citizens in discussions on the drafting of a Democracy Charter.

f. Initiate studies, discussions to work out measures for regional cooperation in sharing of water and other natural resources.

g. Allow representation from citizens’ groups at SAARC meetings.

h. Formulate a regional convention for settlement of the internally displaced in conformity with the UN guiding principles on IDP.

South Asian States

1. India and Pakistan to immediately restart negotiations for resolution of all disputes and disagreements.

2. India, Pakistan and other states to support peace initiatives of the Afghans based on UN resolutions and regional consensus.

3. Institute legal mechanisms for accountability for disappearances and extra judicial killings, including codifying disappearances and extra judicial killings as criminal offences.

4. Engage citizens in decision making processes.

5. Recognize right to self determination as enunciated in UN conventions, ICCPR & ICESCR to which all SAHR countries are party.

6. Evolve a criminal justice system based on respect for human rights and the principles of equity.

7. Withdraw immunity and protection from criminal prosecution for public servants, especially law enforcement personnel and security forces.

8. Take effective measures for settlement of internally displaced persons, allocate land and set up educational institutions in accordance with the UN guiding principles for IDPs

9. Expedite progress towards ensuring equal rights for women.

Human rights defenders and activists

1. Campaign for ratification of UN convention on disappearances.

2. Work for solidarity amongst citizens against militarization, terrorist violence.

3. Establish a South Asia Commission (with prominent figures, including eminent jurists) to investigate cases of disappearances, extra judicial killings and border deaths.

4. Promote mechanisms for post conflict reconciliation

5. Media to be more pro-active in promoting peace and regional cooperation.

6. Inter generational dialogues with the youth on human rights, initiatives for peace and social change.

7. Regional reporting on violations of human rights in each country.

September 20, 2010

Sri Lanka war panel hears of Tamil disappearances

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

People in northern Sri Lanka have told a war inquiry that family members who served with the Tamil Tigers disappeared after surrendering.

They said their loved ones went missing at the end of the war in May 2009.

The defence ministry blocked the BBC from covering proceedings in the former rebel headquarters of Kilinochchi.

But Sri Lankan journalists who did attend said the panel now intends to question security force officials on the subject of missing people.

Accounts from the panel's hearings in Kilinochchi suggest that, as before, Tamil people used the mechanism to air their grievances - including the fact that they have lost all contact with their detained relatives.

One mother quoted by the Tamil-language paper, Thinakkural, said she witnessed her husband and two children - all former Tigers - surrendering to the army following mediation from two Roman Catholic priests.

The woman said her family and others who surrendered were taken away in 16 buses.

Now she did not know where they were, despite searching all the known detention camps and refugee centres.

Others, who said their family members were forcibly recruited by the rebels, had similar accounts.

The Sri Lankan Sunday Times quoted harrowing testimony from within the war zone from an agriculture official, N Sundaramoorthy.

It quoted him as saying that in one incident, shelling and aerial strikes killed some 40 to 45 pregnant women and babies as they queued for food.

His own daughter was injured when a bullet went through her throat.

The government paper, the Daily News, also said women had reported their husbands missing.

Its reporter said the war commission's chairman intends to summon officials of the Criminal Investigation Department to inquire about missing people and those detained in camps.

It said witnesses broke down in tears recalling how the Tamil Tigers had abducted their children.

The government says the commission is the definitive way to examine the final years of the conflict and promote reconciliation. It has rejected international calls for an external inquiry. - courtesy: BBC.co.uk -

From BBC Tamil Service:

In Tamil, MP3

Ananthi Sasitharan, wife of Elilan - who was Trincomalee Political Head of the LTTE spoke to BBC Tamil Service on Sept 18th about the missing surrendees. She says they surrendered through a Catholic Priest in Mullaiththeevu on 18 May 2009.

September 19, 2010

"Kaballeva" in Kandy: Rare photos of a Sri Lankan armadillo

by Dushy Ranetunge

Our sojourn at the hill club was rudely interrupted this summer with a telephone call from an excited Navaratna. They don’t like mobile phones at the Hill Club, which disturb the tranquillity of the place. I quickly grabbed my vibrating phone and ran to the outside corridor to answer the call.

click on pics for larger images

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Navaratna, our village handyman, has a reputation of having a superman like ability to climb trees and then nimbly move from branch to branch almost monkey like and to carry out any tasks, which the others give up saying its difficult. I don’t know anyone in Sri Lanka who has quite the abilities that he has, but unfortunately his personality is such that he is eternally getting into confrontations with villagers and ending up in that "people friendly" police station.

Navaratna in his usual excited voice informed me that he had caught a "kaballeava". I use "v" here instead of the "w" because there is no "w" sound in the Sinhala language, but that’s another story.

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Selva watching the animal

I didn’t know what a "kaballeava" was, but informed Navaratna that I will be in Kandy the following day to view his latest adventure.

The following day, we saw a "kaballeava" for the first time in our lives. It was a Sri Lankan armadillo like animal, clearly an ant/insect eater, which has the ability to do some serious digging going by his armoured claws. Other than our family, our guests Maninda Wickremasinghe and his son Abijith, were also fortunate to see the animal.

I immediately photographed it and had it released in our land and it wandered into the undergrowth, curled up and went to sleep after eating some ants and insects found in forage and pasture. He was gone the following day.

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Lal, carrying the Kandyan Kaballeava

We did not realize the importance of what we had photographed, other than our friend Fuzz, getting all hot and bothered about our Kandyan "kaballeava" I put up on Facebook.

On our return to London we met up with the naturalist, Gehan De Silva Wijeratne at the Winchmore Hill village for a pub dinner last Wednesday. He lives locally, and the "King’s Arms" does a great fish and chips on a square wooden plate.

He informed me that I might have been one of the first people in Sri Lanka to photograph a "kaballeava" as it is rarely spotted. He said that, had I informed him about the find, a whole heap of people would have driven up from Colombo to photograph the Kandyan "kaballeava". The prospect of our quite hideaway in the hills being invaded by a whole heap of naturalists from Colombo was indeed a daunting thought.

So for those who missed it, I am publishing the pictures. The pictures are free of copyright and they may be used for any purpose.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa denies US Terror Alert claims on Lashkar-e-Tobia terrorists

from The Sunday Observer, Sri Lanka

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa today denied claims by the US Terror Alert that terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba is using Sri Lanka as a base to attack India. “There is no truth whatsoever. The allegations are totally misleading and incorrect,” he told the Observer Online a short while ago.

Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said Sri Lanka will never leave room for terrorism and would not allow any foreign militant group to operate on local soil. “We will never let that happen and would always support the battle against global terrorism,” he said.

Earlier, the Indian Express, reported that US agencies have passed intelligence inputs to India that the Lashkar-e-Toiba already has some 200 cadres present in the island nation who plan to use Sri Lanka y as a “staging ground” to enter India.

“According to US inputs,Lashkar’s 200 cadres in Sri Lanka were possibly “planners and facilitators” currently engaged in laying a network before more operatives can be sent for specific attacks in India. In fact, these inputs suggest that Lashkar operatives were being specifically trained to be sent to Sri Lanka,” the report said. The US assessment, in fact, suggests that Lashkar is looking to strengthen its presence in Nepal and Maldives, too. While Nepal has been used to carry out attacks in India, Maldives provides new options if operatives have to reach peninsular India where many “high-value targets” are. - courtesy: http://www.sundayobserver.lk -

September 18, 2010

China footprint bothers Delhi day after Lanka blast

South Block pores over maps and works phone lines to estimate strategic space occupied by Beijing

by Sujan Dutta

When dynamite ripped through the fishing village of Karadiyanaru in eastern Sri Lanka, a former LTTE stronghold, on Friday and killed 25 people, officials in New Delhi’s South Block and army headquarters burned the phone lines to find out what caused it.

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A police officer injured in an explosion sits on a bed next to a colleague at a hospital in Batticaloa, 320 km (199 miles) east of Colombo, September 17, 2010. ~ Picture courtesy of: Reuters

Had remnants of the now-decimated LTTE succeeded in a desperate act of sabotage? As the body count, initially estimated at 60, was revised by Colombo to 25 and Sri Lanka began an investigation into what it believes was an accident, the focus has gradually shifted to the presence of the Chinese.

Among the 25 killed were two Chinese engaged in building roads near Batticaloa. Prima facie evidence suggests that the explosion ripped through the local police station when one of them opened a container of dynamite that was kept close to another container of detonators.

In Delhi, it was the presence of the Chinese in the island nation that immediately sent officials poring over maps of eastern Sri Lanka in the region around Batticaloa, where the LTTE had battled to the last and where the Sri Lankan armed forces are said to have killed hundreds in the opaque war that ended last year.

The presence of the Chinese in Hambantota, on the southern tip of Sri Lanka, was well known. The Chinese are building a port in the strategic town where their merchant vessels and cargo carriers sailing to and from Africa can make a victualling (for food supplies) stop. Ironically, six years back, Colombo had proposed building the Hambantota port in a joint venture with India but New Delhi had let the offer pass.

The presence of the Chinese in Batticaloa highlights how strongly Beijing has been occupying strategic space in the island nation that New Delhi had vacated in the years before the LTTE was defeated. Also, all maritime traffic headed to and from ports in India’s east coast to Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand sail not far from the town.

India has always been sensitive to traffic to the Sri Lankan port of Trincomalee in its northeast. Batticaloa is almost just as important. “We have such close relations with Sri Lanka that neither the Chinese nor anyone else (read Pakistan) can displace us easily but we know how their presence has increased,” one senior official in South Block asserted.

“It is not fair to assume that we are panicky about Chinese presence around us,” the Indian official emphasised. “But it is important that we sustain relations with Sri Lanka and make up for lost ground.”

Through the years of the war with the LTTE, New Delhi kept up a steady exchange with Colombo but categorically refused to sign a defence cooperation pact that Lanka wanted. India also refused to supply lethal weapons — given the sensitivities of its own Tamil population — but the army, air force and navy persisted with training and surveillance programmes for the Sri Lankan armed forces.

Since the middle of this year, however, India has practically launched a charm offensive on Sri Lanka.

Admiral Nirmal Verma was the first Indian service chief to visit a memorial to the 1,200-odd soldiers of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF, 1987-1990) who were killed in the war with the LTTE. The army chief, General V.K. Singh, himself a gallantry medal winner from that war, visited the island nation for five days earlier this month.

Visits by the air force chief, Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik, and defence secretary Pradeep Kumar are on the anvil. External affairs minister S.M. Krishna is due to visit next month after foreign secretary Nirupama Rao’s tour this month. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited New Delhi and Shimla in June.

The flurry of high-profile exchanges marks a huge effort by India to regain lost strategic space on the island that was occupied largely by China and by Pakistan in the run-up to the war that decimated the LTTE.

The Indian and Sri Lankan navies have robust co-operation and also co-ordinate the patrolling of the Palk Straits.

Foreign secretary Rao supervised agreements to open Indian consulates at Jaffna and Hambantota, significantly increasing Indian outreach even as the Chinese footprint in Sri Lanka expands. ~ Courtesy: The Telegraph - Calcutta ~ http://www.telegraphindia.com

Sri Lanka born Canadian Muthu wins world-record for longest Male dreadlocks

by Mahesh Abeyewardene

Sri Lankan-born Sudesh Muthu has captured the world record for longest male dreadlocks, measuring at six feet, three inches, according to Guinness World Records in the United Kingdom.

Growing the dreadlocks was a labour of love for the past 23 years, says Muthu, who owns a plastics recycling company in Canada. The hairstyle was subject to breathless comments over the years with detractors saying his hair was not genuine. This month, Muthu traveled to London for Guinness to set the record straight; his hair was real and longest in the world.

Perhaps it will take much longer to convince his mother, who after 23 years refuses to change her position on the dreadlocks.

"Now that you have the record, you can cut it," she told Muthu over the telephone from Sri Lanka.

In the lead-up to his wedding in 1999 the dreadlocks triggered a stand-off between Muthu and his mother and at least one other relative. They refused to attend the wedding unless Muthu cut his hair. In return the stubborn groom threatened to call-off the entire wedding.

Cooler heads prevailed, the ceremony went ahead with his mother in attendance and the dreadlocks remained intact. His bride, Irosha was fine with the hairstyle and was captured beaming in a red Kandiyan sari at the wedding.

He began growing dreadlocks at the tender age of 17 while studying at St. Matthew’s College Colombo 9 in Sri Lanka. Captivated by the lyrics of Jamaican musician Bob Marley, he decided to emulate the star by growing his hair. Though a life-long Buddhist, he began learning about the Rastafarian movement.

Later, Muthu become a sailor on a cargo ship that navigated across the world and migrated to Canada with no friends or relatives to greet him in 1995. "I only had my shirt and trousers and a few dollars," he said.

During those years he turned to Bob Marley’s music and lyrics and says his favourite song was "Who The Cap Fit". "I like that song, especially the meaning of its lyrics."

A few years ago Muthu played in the band "Reggae Colour" led by Sharman Ranaweera in Colombo. The group was invited to play at an official party to welcome the visiting West Indies cricket team in Sri Lanka.

Muthu has been a long-time supporter of Sri Lankan musicians, ranging from new-age to classical genres. Every year he travels to Sri Lanka to attend the "Ridee Reyak" musical show, where he relishes a chance to meet his favourite stars.

"Public Debate" on 18th Amendment was an exercise in shadow boxing

by Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama

The public debate on the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was an exercise in shadow boxing. A Government that claims to be democratic chose to keep the amending Bill a secret until it had been passed by Parliament.

One wonders whether those members of the Opposition who so enthusiastically crossed the floor to provide the Government with the required two-third majority had actually read the contents of the amending Bill before they did so.

If they had been shown it, the question can legitimately be asked why a Government that had sought and obtained two popular mandates in quick succession earlier this year, decided to hide the amending Bill from the electorate. The answer appears to be that the electorate, and public opinion, no longer matter – at least, not for the next six years. The voters have served their purpose and those whom they installed in office and invested with power now find that while power is delightful, absolute power could be absolutely delightful.

The law-making process

The law-making process, as prescribed by the Constitution, requires every Bill to be published in the Gazette at least seven days before it is placed on the Order Paper of Parliament. Thereupon, any citizen has the right to petition the Supreme Court for the purpose of arguing that the Bill or any provision in it is

(a) inconsistent with a fundamental right or any other provision of the Constitution;

(b) requires to be passed by a special majority;

or (c) requires to be approved by the people at a referendum.

The Supreme Court is required to make its determination within three weeks of the filing of the petition, and it is only thereafter that Parliament can proceed to debate the Bill. The Government, however, did not follow this procedure in respect of the Bill for the Eighteenth Amendment. Thereby, it deprived every citizen of his or her constitutional right to challenge the proposed legislation in court

Urgent Bills

What the Government did in respect of this Bill was to certify that it was "urgent in the national interest". A Bill so certified is not required to be published in the Gazette. Nor can its provisions be challenged in court by any citizen. Instead, the Bill is referred by the President to the Chief Justice, and the Supreme Court is required to make its constitutional determination on the Bill within 24 hours, and to communicate that determination only to the President and the Speaker. The Court is required to hear only the Attorney-General, but on this occasion the ingenuity of a few human rights activist-lawyers resulted in their being able to secure a brief audience before the Court.

Duty of the Court

It must have required incredible effort on the part of the Bench of Five Judges of the Supreme Court to examine a Bill, and thereafter make a determination on the constitutional validity of some 93 paragraphs of that Bill, all within the space of 24 hours. In fact, when the amending Act was subsequently published in "The Island", it occupied one full page and a half of small print. The Judges carried a further heavy burden because their determination would be final and conclusive for all purposes and for all time.

Some 32 years ago, Justice T. S. Fernando, sitting as President of the Constitutional Court, declined to make a determination on the Sri Lanka Press Council Bill even within the 14 days stipulated by the 1972 Constitution. Seven petitions had been filed by citizens and a political party leader, and several senior counsel appeared in support of these petitions. On Day 21, confronted by angry noises from the National State Assembly, he explained why he intended to permit each counsel to make his submissions in full:

"It is the duty of us all, whether we be judges or not, to uphold the Constitution. To uphold the Constitution we as judges must first understand the meaning of the relevant provisions of the Constitution. For that understanding we have to rely on our own judgment assisted, if need be, by the opinions of learned counsel. Any other course of action involves, in our opinion, an abdication of our functions."

The People’s Sovereignty

The fundamental question before the Court in respect of the Bill for the Eighteenth Amendment was whether any provision of that Bill required the approval of the people at a referendum. To answer that question, the Court needed to interpret the relevant provisions of the Constitution. For example, what is the meaning to be attributed to the phrase "an amendment which is inconsistent" with the concept that "sovereignty is in the people and is inalienable"?

Since "sovereignty" includes "the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise", the Court would logically have had to ask whether it would be consistent with the peoples’ sovereignty to deny a citizen the right (which he or she enjoyed until last week) to institute proceedings in a court or tribunal against a president, upon completion of his term of office, in respect of something done by him in his official or private capacity, by enabling that president to repeatedly seek re-election every six years, and thereby perhaps even outlive that citizen?

Moreover, is it consistent with the peoples’ sovereignty to deny accountability in governance by vesting the power of appointment of scores of senior judges, public servants and police officers in a president whose actions (unlike that of a prime minister under earlier constitutions) cannot be questioned in any forum?

How does it enhance the peoples’ franchise if a person who seeks election to the office of president has to contend with an incumbent who has already served two or more terms in that office, and who is allowed to choose the date of that election, appoint the elections commission that would conduct the election, exercise absolute control over all the other institutions of government and its personnel including the police, and who also enjoys immunity in respect of all his official and private acts?

There is nothing in the determination of the Supreme Court to indicate that any of these issues had been considered or addressed.

Purpose of the urgent procedure

The special procedure to be followed when the Cabinet of Ministers considered a Bill to be "urgent in the national interest" had its origin in the 1972 Constitution. It was introduced into that Constitution following the decision of the Constituent Assembly to remove the jurisdiction of courts to review the constitutionality of laws, and to provide instead for the review of proposed legislation by a specially created Constitutional Court. To enable a Bill to be reviewed, it was necessary to make it available to the public through publication in the Gazette.

Thereafter, it was necessary to allow time for the public to study the Bill and decide whether or not to challenge its constitutional validity. Finally, it was necessary to provide for submissions to be made to the Court and for a determination to be made by that Court.

A question that immediately arose was in respect of revenue legislation, especially following the presentation of the annual budget. The experience of the demonetization exercise of 1970 was fresh in everyone’s mind. Under the 1946 Constitution then in force, it had been possible for Parliament to enact the demonetization law in one sitting, Had there been a delay, many people would have begun disposing of their Rs.100 notes, thereby creating chaos in the currency markets.

It was to provide for such extraordinary situations that a special procedure was introduced to enable a Bill to be examined by the Court without making it public, and then presenting it to the National State Assembly at the earliest possible opportunity. Indeed, in justifying its inclusion in the 1972 Constitution, Dr Colvin R de Silva had this to say:

"There comes once in a way, as in the case of the demonetization law, the need for a government in the national interest urgently to pass a law in the shortest possible time before people can make preparations against that law"

Inappropriate use of special procedure

There was nothing in the Bill for the Eighteenth Amendment that could not have been deferred for 21 days. The next presidential election is not due for at least another six years. If the Executive had been strong enough to wage a successful war against the LTTE, had it suddenly become so weak that it could not contend with the pressures of peace?

Therefore, to have utilized that extraordinary procedure, which was intended principally for revenue legislation, in order to provide cover and secrecy for extremely vital, far-reaching and controversial amendments to the Constitution was a gross abuse of the law-making process. Were today’s law-makers unaware of the origin of the constitutional provision they were invoking, or did they cynically disregard it?

Did the Supreme Court also overlook its constitutional duty under Article 105 to "protect, vindicate and enforce the rights of the people" (including the right to challenge proposed legislation) by failing to question the validity of a reference made to it through the inappropriate use of a special procedure?

Can the Tamil National Alliance be trusted with the Northern Provincial Council?

by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

It was Jean-Paul Sartre who used the phrase “imperative yet impossible”. This is true of a negotiated settlement with Tamil nationalism. It is, or seems, imperative yet impossible.

The short answer to the question “can the TNA be trusted with the Northern Provincial council?” is “probably not”. It had a post-war year to sober up, come to its senses, disavow Prabhakaran , the Tigers and its past of collaboration; renounce the doctrines of two nations, self-determination and make a unilateral commitment to remaining within a united Sri Lanka.

It has done none of those things. Does this mean that ‘ethnic parties’ must be banned, and the councils dismantled or disempowered? The answer, again, is no - not unless we want a permanently alienated and restive North, and worse still, a less than friendly India.

This is Sri Lanka’s strategic dilemma, and is in part, a sub-set of the ‘grand strategic’ problem of balancing between India, China and the West. India has something of a strategic problem too: how to balance, in its Sri Lanka policy, between the Sinhalese (a majority on the island, a minority in the sub-region and the world) and the Tamils (a majority in the sub-region, a minority on the island)? Both Delhi and Colombo erred in the 1980s and each paid a price.

Delhi re-balanced during the last war, and is now recalibrating and re-balancing that re-balance. Delhi needs Tamil Nadu and the Sri Lankan Tamils but does not need a re-play of what it has with some of its neighbours, namely the hostility of a religious nationalist majority. Colombo for its part, needs Delhi as a friendly rear area and a strategic partner, and does not need renewed anti-Indianism which would only be wind in the sails of the JVP.

The vital security of Sri Lanka requires that

(a) stability be guaranteed and re-radicalisation be prevented by co-opting the Tamils through equality of rights and treatment and a measure of self-governance

(b) that this measure of self-governance and self-administration does not jeopardise strategic security by providing a platform or launch-pad for centrifugal strivings, irredentism and secessionism

(c) the Tamil Nadu area remain permanently sealed as a rear-base for Tamil secessionism

(d) India, the rising giant, remain our friend and partner, helping us maintain peace and stability, especially in the North and East, without prejudice to our relationship with China.

How can these objectives be reconciled or at least, held in balance?

This article suggests an ‘out-of-the-box’ idea in the spirit of advancing the conversation.

On her tour of the Northern Province India’s Foreign Secretary had a close encounter of the most surreal kind. A Jaffna academic accused India of letting down the Tamils. Madam Rao was too much the diplomat to respond that the Tamils had let India down many times over, by supporting and sustaining the LTTE even after it turned its guns on the Indian peacekeeping force and worse still, assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, former Prime Minister, son of Indira Gandhi and grandson of Shri Nehru.

What the encounter and, as significantly, the lack of a denunciation from within the Tamil community demonstrated is that there has been no fundamental shift in the predominant mentality of the Tamil upper, upper middle and middle classes; a mentality which spawned and sustained the secessionist Tigers. No self examination; no self criticism; no recognition of reality.

This is the mentality that expected India to forgive and forget the murder of Rajiv and intervene against the Sri Lankan armed forces, to save Rajiv murderers from their just reward. It is the mentality that split the multiethnic Ceylon National Congress to found the first ethnic organisation in reaction to, of all things, the abolition of communal representation and the advance of the franchise.

It is the mentality that collaborated with and was patronised by British Governor Manning in the 1920s, against the Ceylon National Congress. It is the mentality that keeps looking for a Lord Balfour to create its separate state, but is frustrated by the fact that Sri Lanka is located in Asia and, unlike in Mandate Palestine under British Colonialism, the West no longer controls the situation on the ground.

Today it is the mentality that hopes to widen competition between India and China, awaits closer alliance between India and the West-which would bring together the weight of Tamil Nadu and the Tamil Diaspora-and attempts to depict the Sinhalese as close to China so as to provoke India and the West to adopt the Tamils (who have never been anti imperialist) as a counterweight against Colombo. Eventually it hopes for secession or a separate existence as a de facto foreign protectorate along the lines of Cyprus or Iraqi Kurdistan.

Moderate Tamil nationalism is integrationist and constructive while it also seeks a measure of autonomy and self-administration. Radical Tamil nationalism rejects integration, regards itself not as a minority deserving of equal rights and devolution of power but as a competing majority, refuses to consider itself Sri Lankan, considers itself superior to the Sinhalese (and the Indians) identifies primarily with and is loyal to other countries outside our continent and hopes to weaken and damage the Sri Lankan state, eventually exiting from it.

Tamil Eelam is a state of mind. Moderate Tamil nationalism is not just temporarily, but congenitally weaker than radical Tamil nationalism. A two-fold policy is needed: one which strengthens moderate Tamil nationalists while containing radical Tamil nationalism.

The task and the challenge our country -state and society- face in this century are the same ones we faced in the earlier century, which we failed to accomplish and surmount: to forge a Sri Lankan identity either by the natural evolutionary fusion or the accommodation of the distinctive identities of all the island’s communities.

Given the antiquity of the languages and cultures, the first path is unlikely, which leaves the latter option, a construction of an overarching identity, however broad or loose, as the sole realistic one.

Nationalist Tamils in whom an Eelam state of mind still exists assume that their slogan of federalism represents great moderation and immense forbearance. That doesn’t sound too bad, except that this means there will be an ethno-federal unit in a security sensitive border area of this island, separated by a narrow strip of water from a landmass which has not only been a launch-pad of invasions historically, but also where a not insignificant number of persons support Tamil separatism.

Geography, history and demography combine to make ethno-federalism (federalism based on the current provinces or a North-East re-merger) a ‘bridge too far’ for the Sri Lankan state and its citizens.

The conversion from unitary to federal would doubtless require a referendum, any political party which sticks to the federal slogan obviously expects a majority to support it or does not give a whit about what the majority thinks. In either case, this is not the profile of a stable peace partner, with a firm grasp of reality.

Despite thinly veiled sympathy for the Iraqi Kurds, even the US occupiers couldn’t force a federal Constitution down the throats of their Iraqi allies, the Baghdad government, or knew better than to try.

Two of the points Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao quite correctly made were salient to our discussion: puzzlement at the failure of the Tamil parties to come together and a salutary cautioning that this was not 1987, much water had flowed under the bridge, imposing limits on the politically possible.

The Tamil moderates mustn’t try to outflank the TNA on its terrain. The Tamil Political Parties Forum (TPPF), in its 11 point programme presented to Nirupama Rao, calls for the full implementation of the 13th amendment as “a first step towards a political solution”, which raises the questions: As a first step towards precisely what? What is the last step envisaged?

The country will be lucky if that step is taken and the 13th amendment fully implemented -because a measure of self-government and autonomy are indeed necessary. However, as far as the domain of devolution goes, that is not merely a first step - it is also, pretty much the last. There can be half a step beyond it, and probably will not be any second full step.

The half step will take us to 13 Plus. The political solution does not lie beyond the 13th amendment and 13 Plus. 13 Plus means those measures needed to improve on the 13th amendment, as promised by JR Jayewardene to Rajiv Gandhi and recommended more recently by the APRC.

There has to be a transparent final status settlement of the Tamil ethnic issue. The Tamils must be assured it won’t go below the 13th amendment and will include the full implementation of it while the Sinhalese must know it will not exceed the 13th amendment qualitatively.

The 13th amendment will be the baseline of the devolution component of the final political settlement, while the rest must consist of Constitutional guarantees of and firm institutional arrangements for equal rights and anti-discrimination.

It is strategically vital not to place Sri Lanka in the vulnerable position that the former Yugoslavia found itself in, where the international community accepts as international borders, the former administrative or provincial boundaries.

With a mono-ethnic Northern Province, the temptation to secession or irredentism (merger with Tamil Nadu) and the opportunity to do so exist. That temptation must be removed.

This in no way means that the State or para-statal agencies should strive for a ‘demographic solution’ in which populations are sought to be mixed by surreptitiously displacing Tamils and introducing Sinhalese settlers.

The country’s progress cannot be held to ransom. We have lost just too many decades to allow the Tamil parties to do what they usually do, which is to pitch it too high, generate and await the Sinhala ultranationalist reaction and continue to wallow in their collective victimhood. It is time to break the cycle, which is actually a downward spiral.

If the Tamil parties do not get their act together fast, and agree on a moderate and acceptable set of demands within the parameters of recent Indo-Lankan understandings, the Sri Lankan state should set a time line and beyond that time line, move unilaterally to change the game.

Sri Lanka’s North and East are not recognised by anyone in the world system as ‘occupied territories’ nor are they ‘disputed’. They are an integral part of Sri Lanka. They are also sensitive perimeter areas. Therefore the state can entertain measures which would be unacceptable or risky in the context of occupation or dispute.

My suggestion is not a demographic solution but a cartographic one. It does not entail the drawing of new boundaries because that requires a delimitation commission and is a long and messy process. My suggestion is simply this: club or bundle together existing adjacent provinces, so that there are large regions or zones, all of which are multiethnic and multi-religious, and the country has no mono-ethnic provinces, the boundaries of which can be recognised by any outside entity as the borders of a separate state.

I suspect the ensuing picture would be similar to the five province demarcation of the Colebrook-Cameron Commission of 1833. Bring together the Northern Province NOT with the East, but the Northwest or North Central. Make all ethnicities in an area, stakeholders in peaceful ethnic co-existence and devolve power so that each region enjoys authentic autonomy (not federalism): 13 Plus, or as recommended by the APRC, or even the provincial powers contained in the August 2000 Constitutional draft.

Every province can be as pluralist in its composition as the Western province and every provincial council can be as multiethnic as the Sri Lankan parliament. That doesn’t need a single Tamil to be displaced or a single Sinhalese given someone else’s land. It eschews the temptation and pitfall of the settler-colonial ‘model’. All it requires is a ‘tipex’ (white-out) and a map.

No party can be political alternative without alternative political project

by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Leon Trotsky may have been pushing it a bit when he wrote that “the crisis of humanity is reduced to the crisis of leadership” but it is certainly true of Sri Lanka: contrary to the apocalyptic “wailing and gnashing of teeth” among the civil society ‘intellectuals’, the crisis of Sri Lankan democracy is primarily (if not ‘reduced to’) the crisis of opposition leadership.

What if the 19th Amendment is to the electoral system? How many seats will the opposition get under its present leadership, when elections are held under a system which is preponderantly ‘first past the post’? Let me put it simply: Imagine that Colombo has only one seat. If the UNP were still led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, on present data, that one seat would be won and Colombo represented not by the UNP but by a certain Mr. Weerawansa.

There will be no revival of a democratic opposition without an opposition politics that reassures the majority of the electorate about its toughness on issues of secessionism, terrorism, national security and national sovereignty. Any doubts on this score, or associations with the past of appeasement will have at the very least the same effect as memories of the closed economy of 1970-77 had on the electoral fortunes of the SLFP and therefore those of the UNP administration.

How can anyone think that the citizenry, the electorate, will take the side of those – local or foreign – who are critical of Mahinda Rajapaksa but were never critical of Velupillai Prabhakaran? Or were and are far more critical of Mahinda Rajapaksa than they ever were of Prabhakaran? Or were more critical of Mahinda than they were of Ranil and his CFA?

In a passionate statement Karu Jayasuriya has said that “Having supported this government while it was in the process of waging war against the LTTE, however brief that alliance might have been, I now believe that I have a bounden duty to rectify the mistake.”

This still being a democracy, Jayasuriya is not only entitled to his opinion but his free expression of it in the mass media. If by his own reckoning, it was “a mistake” warranting rectification to have “supported this government while it was in the process of waging war against the LTTE, however brief that alliance might have been”, what does his conscience tell him about his alliance, however prolonged it has been, with Ranil Wickremesinghe when he was not in the process of waging war against the LTTE and was in fact in the process of appeasing and unilaterally ceding ground to the LTTE? Does he not consider that a mistake requiring rectification?

What of opting out of the inner party struggle of 1997-2000, especially ’99-2000, which hoped to install him as leader of the UNP, an outcome that would have pre-empted everything that Karu now condemns? Does he not regret that?

Has anyone figured out the connection between the sad story of Sarath Fonseka and the inadequacies of the Opposition leadership? Sri Lanka’s best known soldier made the strategic error of judgement of taking on a strong foe frontally and at the wrong time; the time of greatest popularity. He could never have been tempted into this except for three factors: (a) the obvious need of the UNP because of the weakness of its leader as a presidential candidate (b) the efforts by dissident yet cowardly UNP high rankers to induct a Sinhala hardliner for the ‘front desk’, neutralise the Ranil liability but not replace him with a popular party figure like young Premadasa, due to social prejudices and the agenda of keeping the seat warm for other young politicians from the old elite families and (c) the not-so-obvious manipulation by the overseas friends of the UNP and its leader, who wanted a schism in the state and a strengthening of the UNP while providing Ranil with a human shield and safety net in the form of Fonseka.

With the election over, Ranil was so weak as to perceive a threat even from the drastically defeated Fonseka, but still strong enough to cut the latter loose, leaving the latter vulnerable to the counteroffensive of his own provocative adventurism.

None of this has been to the benefit of the country or its citizens. The point is that the Ranil leadership of the UNP is such a zone of toxicity that it affects and damages not only the UNP but many others, and the nation as a whole. Without him the UNP will no longer be a helipad for external intrusion into Sri Lankan affairs. With a patriotic leadership at the head of the UNP, the anti-Lankan Tamil Diaspora will no longer have a prominent Sinhala puppet.

Contrary to the ‘theorists’ of the Opposition, the historical moment is not one of a civic democracy movement but of the revitalisation of the political party system through the revivification of political parties. Non-party political movements are fine but they can be regarded the crucial political agency of change only in a system in which the opposition parties have been actually repressed – not when they are simply unpopular and unelectable.

The civic resistance strategy was the right one for unelected despotisms (the Shah), military juntas or communist party dictatorships, in which there was no multiparty system and elective principle. Only someone with a fragile grasp of reality could claim that it is true of Sri Lanka today, and only someone who has no political memory or is ignorant of our contemporary history could deny that the closest we came to it (apart from Prabhakaran’s fascist rule which surpassed these forms) was between July 1980 (the smashing of the trade union movement by sacking 60,000 workers), through December 1982 (JRJ’s referendum in place of parliamentary elections) and July ’83 (the proscription of the JVP, with the SLFP already decapitated through civic disabilities and incarceration).

In Sri Lanka, the ‘intellectual’ critics of the administration are those least conspicuous in the search for an alternative to the prop that holds up the status quo which they condemn as ‘totalitarian’ and ‘fascist’. Ironically, these civil society ideologues prop up the prop; not support the alternative. Is it purely coincidental that those civil society personalities that opposed the military victory and Mahinda Rajapaksa and advocate an international war crimes probe, are pretty much the same ones that opposed President Premadasa and supported the impeachment motion against him? There are echoes and residues of that political struggle, also in today’s polarisation within the UNP.

Lenin famously said that without a revolutionary theory there cannot be a revolutionary movement. Similarly, without a viable alternative political project, no party can put itself forward as a political alternative and expect to be taken seriously by the citizenry. Such a project is inconceivable without returning the main democratic opposition party to its roots as the multi ethnic, multi-religious representative of the patriotic Sinhala peasantry and provinces (D.S. Senanayake) and the urban and rural ‘have-nots’ (Ranasinghe Premadasa).

The pathetic, retrogressive pseudo-politics of the prevailing UNP leadership can have no resonance with the people – and as Lenin said “serious politics begins where tens of millions of people are.”

Rajapaksas using Sinhala spremacism to win Southern consent for anti-democratic constitutional revolution

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

"..........for countries are not always true to themselves.” – — Tagore (East And West)

Having removed the sole really-existing impediment to dynastic rule with the 18th Amendment, the triumphant Rajapakses are hatching the next step in their constitutional revolution.

According to Minister Maitripala Sirisena, the 19th Amendment will introduce a hybrid of proportional representation and first-past-the-post systems. It will also reform the 13th Amendment, the Indian-propelled constitutional provision which devolved a measure of power from the centre to the provinces and, thus, from the majority to the minorities.

According to the website, Asian Tribune, the government plans to reduce the number of constituencies from 160 to 140 via a re-demarcation process. 140 parliamentarians will thus be elected under the first-past-the-post system, 70 under the PR system and 15 from provincial/national lists. Indubitably, all changes will be custom-made to obtain the maximum politico-electoral advantage to the UPFA. The aim would be to ensure an adequate parliamentary majority for the Rajapaksas, for a long time to come.

The 18th Amendment is a perfect prototype of Rajapaksa constitutional-making. The main purpose of the Rajapaksa constitutional revolution is to provide a political and legal basis for long-term Rajapaksa Rule, in stages. This incremental strategy saves the ruling family the trouble and the uncertainty of facing a referendum. It also enables them to amass absolute power almost in stealth. The radical transformation of the constitution, one amendment at a time, makes it easier for the South to maintain its pose of indifference. A brand new constitution, in one-go, would have compelled us to discard our apathy and face reality.

By using a piecemeal approach to constitution-making, the Rajapaksas have rendered any such collective awakening unnecessary. This way we can convince ourselves that the each amendment is of miniscule import and the Rajapaksas are no different from other power-hungry and vainglorious would-be-despots. Just as Tamil society thought Velupillai Pirapaharan was just a shade more brutal and extreme than competitors, nothing more alarming. And oh-so disciplined and determined and effective, a man who always delivers, a man capable of leading Lankan Tamils to the promised land of Eelam.

Mutilating the 13th Amendment

The Tamil Parties Forum (TPPF) consists of ten anti-Tiger Tamil parties, all of them of moderate political persuasion and most members/supporters of the Rajapaksa administration. Their demands are remarkably modest: the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, improved resettlement, compensation for war victims and an end to state-mandated colonisation. Logically, they are the ideal partners in any genuine effort to reincorporate Tamils into Lankan polity, economy and society.

Well, not according to Rajapaksa logic, because despite their anti-Tiger and pro-government credentials, these parties are floundering in a political limbo. Thus when Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao came visiting, the TPPF requested her to persuade the Rajapaksa administration to “engage the elected representatives of the Northern and Eastern Provinces in the resettlement and rehabilitation work” (Daily Mirror – 3.9.2010).

This one incident suffices to illustrate the distressing state of Tamil politics in post-war Sri Lanka. When Lankan Tamil politicians have to ask a visiting Indian official to persuade the Lankan government to involve them in rehabilitating and resettling Lankan Tamils, it indicates a level of powerlessness and marginalisation totally inapposite with any genuine peace and nation-building effort.

Historically there were two main impediments to a political solution to the ethnic problem – the LTTE and Sinhala supremacism. The Tigers are gone, but Sinhala supremacism is triumphantly ensconced in the heart of the state. Sinhala supremacists believe that there was just a terrorist problem, which began and ended with the Tigers.

President Rajapaksa too denies the very existence of an ethnic problem and is inimical to devolution. His 2007 ‘political solution’ proposed the replacement of provincial councils with district councils with less power, empowering the president to appoint all district chief ministers and a senate, with the president having the right to appoint a majority of members.

Clearly for the President, the real problem is excessive devolution rather than inadequate devolution, which is why his ‘solution’ proposed de-empowering the minorities and re-empowering the President. The timing, however, turned out to be less than propitious for this parody of a political solution; the Tigers were around, Sinhala supremacism was not quite triumphant, India still counted for something and devolution was yet to become a non-issue. There was an outcry against a ‘solution’ which offered Tamils less than they have currently. In consequence, the proposal was shelved and the APC charade commenced.

Will the 19th Amendment revitalise this old Rajapaksa proposal?

According to Minister Sirisena, the 13th Amendment will be reformed to “give the local government bodies more authority” (Daily Mirror – 14.9.2010). Is this a euphemism for replacing provincial-level political devolution with district or local government-level administrative decentralisation? Minister Sirisena’s remark about “doing away with the existing weaknesses in the 13th Amendment” (ibid) hints that this de-empowering may be achieved by abolishing the Concurrent List.

According to the Asian Tribune, the President has appointed a four member committee to draft the 19th Amendment. And this committee tasked with ‘rationalising the 13th Amendment’ does not contain a single minority representative, not even the amenable Douglas Devananda or helpful Rauf Hakeem. This telling exclusion reveals the Sinhala supremacist mindset of the Rajapaksas, their indifference to minority concerns and contempt for minority opinions.

Obviously even pro-Rajapaksa minority parties and politicians are destined to be just window-dressing in Rajapaksa Sri Lanka. The maximum any Tamil or a Muslim can hope for is some crumbs from the Rajapaksa table in return for serving the Rajapaksas faithfully, a future they share with the Sinhala majority.

“The doctrine of the Superman led to the methodical creation of sub-men” argued Camus in The Rebel. The Rajapaksas’ insatiable appetite for illimitable power is gradually rendering all other Sri Lankans powerless. The 18th Amendment did away with the most democratic provision in the 1978 Constitution (term-limit clause) and the most democratic amendment to it, the 17th. The 19th Amendment is likely to mutilate the 13th, thereby destroying the second most democratic amendment to the 1978 Constitution.

A 19th Amendment which de-empowers the minorities may seem irrelevant, if not welcoming, to the Sinhala South. The truth is that the Rajapaksas’ antipathy to devolution is linked to their antipathy to democracy. Devolution and democracy impede absolutist rule and are fundamentally incompatible with the Rajapaksa project of ‘all power to the family, forever’.

Whenever the ruling family manipulates the constitution or the law to amass more power, they infringe on our rights and violate our freedoms and repressing the minorities is but a dry-run for repressing the majority, once economic malaise sours the Southern mood. That is why the attempts to roll back democracy and devolution should be seen as parts of a tyrannical totality which must be resisted equally.

The Rajapaksas are using Sinhala supremacism to win southern consent for their anti-democratic constitutional revolution. But finally even Sinhala supremacism is a weapon in the Rajapaksa arsenal to defend familial rule. Thus Tiger leaders KP and Daya Master are favoured while the anti-Tiger Gen. Fonseka is jailed. Sinhalese who permit themselves to be deluded by the patriotic razzle-dazzle of the Rajapaksas would do well to ponder this seeming paradox.

Ranil has no right to treat the UNP as his personal property

by Namini Wijedasa

For the exceedingly dull and dim-witted amongst us who had expected Ranil Wickremesinghe to whip up a wave of enraged protest against the 18th Amendment, let us — even at this terribly late stage — stop kidding ourselves.

Would a man that patently rejects democracy within his own party give a rat’s tail about democracy in Sri Lanka? Analysed from that angle, it becomes easier to understand why Mr Wickremesinghe chose to stick his rump in the air and his head in the sand at a time when strident action was required to safeguard the people.

Not only did the leader of the opposition scoot along to India to attend a wedding when he should have been on the streets, he chose to boycott the debate on the 18th Amendment when he should have been shouting himself hoarse on its demerits. Yes, this is old news but bear with us; we just can’t stress it enough.

The UNP is losing its members in droves and Ranil acts like this is nobody’s business but his. This papa-knows-best routine is agonisingly vexatious. Distressingly, the man draws his inspiration from, not the best of the UNP’s past, but the worst. He is regularly heard bleating that the party was down to eight seats in 1956 and only marginally up to 17 in 1970. Now, let us see... how many years ago was that? Fifty-four years ago. And the difference between 1956 and 1970 is 14.

So what the devil is Ranil Wickremesinghe trying to tell us? That the UNP was last doing this badly 54 years ago? That it will take 14 years for the UNP to become even a marginal excuse of a party again? Or that there is still time for him to drag the party down to murkier depths than it is in now?

Ranil makes light of nagging questions about his private meetings with President Mahinda Rajapaksa not long before the 18th Amendment was passed. Detractors want to know what he discussed with the president over tea and cake. Ranil says he didn’t have tea... he had black coffee without sugar.

Conspirator

Frankly, Mr Wickremesinghe, you could have drunk your sugarless, black coffee out of one end of President Rajapaksa’s satakaya but what the hell did you discuss? The issue is obviously not about tea, coffee, cake or, indeed, sugar. It is about a manifest lack of trust in Ranil among an expanding section of UNP office-bearers, members, supporters and public. He is seen as a conspirator and his lame attempts at buffoonery have done nothing to help.

Ranil was heard saying Friday that people are not concerned about what he said or did during meetings with the president as they face more important issues. With all due respect, how would he know? Let us endeavour to find one substantial issue over which Ranil Wickremesinghe was seen agitating in recent times, taking the lead. That’s right — there isn’t one. So what is he prattling about?

UNPers are falling away like leaves off a tree at autumn. Forget the heretics that change sides for personal gain. What of the others? There is no argument that many UNPers are desperately holding out in the hope that something will change in the UNP that will give them reason to stay. But if anything is changing, it would be party’s numbers in parliament, not Ranil. In the face of loud, despondent and angry clamours for change within the UNP — particularly in its constitution — Ranil maintains a cool, unmoved demeanour that disproves his bizarre reputation in the West as a great Sri Lankan democrat. All that wears a tie and coat are not democrats and what better example of that than Wickremesinghe.

The UNP constitution is desperately in need of change. Take some of its basic features as highlighted in a recent study on inner-party democracy, transparency and accountability funded by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. It is apparent, the research publication says, that almost all the UNP’s powers are constitutionally concentrated within the top leadership.

Although critical decision-making powers are vested in the working committee, it is the leader that appoints persons to that committee.

There is no provision for the replacement of the leader while there is no entity or mechanism to challenge his powers. Financial operations are exclusively handled by people appointed by the leader and through the working committee he selects nominees for elections and directly appoints chairmen for kottasha bala mandalas. The party has a well-established, multi-layered structure but the working committee exerts control over it. To represent the diversity of membership, there are only the yovun and vanitha sectors and only three spheres for affiliated organisations (trade unions, professional and foreign organisations).

Not a pretty picture

Party members are committed to follow party decisions but there is no mention anywhere about their rights. Furthermore, party membership also does not appear to be a pre-condition for holding office in the party. Delegation of power appears to be confined to the appointment of committees and the delegation of some powers to office-bearers while there is no provision at all for the devolution of powers. There are no provisions to ensure transparency and accountability in the decision-making process.

Not a pretty picture, is it? And in the middle of all this is Ranil Wickremesinghe, wallowing in the power the constitution accords him while refusing to alter a thing. The worst of the story, of course, is that Ranil has no right to treat the UNP as his personal property. The UNP belongs to its membership. And the public have an inalienable right to a vibrant, strong and healthy opposition that can counter the government on substantive issues.

With Ranil, we have neither. Indeed, we only have him. And, heck, that sure sucks. ~ courtesy: Lakbima News ~

Lack of strategic policy and practice is affecting Infrastructure construction projects in Northern Province

by M.Sooriasegaram

The lack of strategic policy and practice in relation to the supply of construction materials is affecting infrastructure building projects throughout Sri Lanka in varying degrees but more seriously, projects in the Northern Province.

The implications of a lack of strategic thinking and a coordinated national plan to deal with the supply of construction materials for post war infrastructure rebuilding are many and carry serious consequences. I will attempt to highlight a few of them here so that the various government ministries and advisers to the President and the ministers can take appropriate measures to redress this situation in order to improve quality, durability and efficiency of infrastructure construction and more importantly to preserve the environment and nature blessed beauty of this island country of ours.

Unplanned and un-coordinated material supply

Commendably the government, through its different ministries, is carrying out maintenance work as well as a massive amount of new construction work. These are not only government funded but also funded by ADB, China, India, Japan, EEC, UN bodies and others. In addition there are many small projects undertaken by the NGO’s, private entrepreneurs and citizens. Therefore the demand for construction materials is enormous. The quality deficiencies in projects and the damage to the environment arising from unplanned, uncontrolled and un-coordinated material supply are also enormous.

While some of the projects are undertaken directly by the government sector, most of the big projects are being carried out by the private sector through competitive tendering.

In this situation the absence of a nationally developed, centralized, quality and price controlled material supply chain is causing many problems such as quality and price variations, illegal quarrying, serious environmental damage, corrupt practices and black markets, unfair competition among private contractors, project delays and delivery of poor quality and less durable projects, none of which are in the long term interest of Sri Lanka and its people, who deserve better especially after what they have gone through during the 30 years of war.

Sri Lanka urgently needs to bring back to life its Building Materials Corporation (BMC) and manage it efficiently to enable high quality and fast infrastructure building in Sri Lanka.

Only standardised building products and construction materials, meeting all the necessary technical specifications and environmental compliances, must be manufactured and distributed via BMC branches in all the provinces. Distribution work of construction materials must never be given to politicians. It can only be done effectively by an independent body with no vested interests.

Environmental Aspects

The quarrying of materials such as sand, stone, gravel and clay for construction purposes must be controlled and centralized and not given to socially irresponsible and profit thirsty private companies unless they are strictly monitored. The environmental effects of quarrying must be studied by Geologists, Environmental Engineers, Marine/Coastal Engineers and Town Planners. Only materials suitable and specification compliant should be quarried.

We are probably blessed with the longest sea coast line per square km of land in the world and therefore in a fortunate position to use sea transport, which is virtually friction-free and therefore, can be operated at very low fuel cost. Transportation of materials could be done by sea/ships to all the provinces bordering the ocean and by train to all the land locked provinces. This is not only cost effective but also protects the environment in many ways. It avoids the constant pounding of our highway network by heavy lorries. Consequently our road network will last long without potholes. Road traffic will be less congested and much safer.

Frequency of re-constructing and resurfacing our road network can be reduced, which also saves harmful effects to the environment and prevents disruption to the economy, businesses and peoples’ lives. It avoids air pollution from exhaust fumes from heavy lorries. Our use of petrol and diesel will be considerably reduced saving the environment and also valuable foreign exchange, which can be diverted to more development work.

I understand that some government corporations such as the Ilimenite Corporation has a vast number of ships idling, simply being moored in jetties and ports without any work. In this situation it is criminal negligence not to put them into use for transportation of construction materials and to allow highly polluting and carriageway damaging lorries to transport these materials. It appears that inter-departmental and inter-ministerial co-operation to maximize the use of available resources (ships) is lacking. The Navy too can be asked to do this valuable task during peace times, as now. In this way Sri Lanka can get some economic return from its huge defence expenditure, which has now become a permanent feature in our annual national budget.

We cannot continue to perform mere paper exercises and pay lip service only to the environment, when we know for certain that our sea water levels are rising, vehicle pollution levels and carbon contribution to the green house effect are increasing and flood damage is on the rise. While emission testing stations are dotted all over the country most vehicles on the roads are spewing dark clouds of smoke and poisonous gases all along our roads while police officers in large numbers stand on the road sides, watch and breathe these poisonous gases without attempting to prosecute the offenders.

Road side exhaust testing on vehicles must be introduced immediately as is common in Malaysia, Singapore, UK and Europe. The fines generated from such offenders will more than pay for police officer training and time and the cost of all test equipment. Moreover, by doing such duties the police officers can legitimately feel proud of their service to improve the environment.

At present vehicle pollution is worse in Jaffna and Colombo. Monitoring of air quality in all cities must be encouraged and these can be given as projects to A- Level Science students in all the 9 provinces as an awareness raising exercise. Air quality monitoring is a very simple matter and can also be undertaken by technicians/engineers in the Municipal Councils.

Availability of construction materials at standard prices and quality is critical to achieve the government’s infrastructure building targets to quality, on time and within budget. Just like Irrigation, Water and Electricity supply, the extraction from the earth and distribution of construction materials are also best undertaken by the state. This should also apply to all other building products.

Sri Lanka definitely needs an efficiently managed and centralized Building Materials Corporation urgently. Environmental protection and reducing carbon emission has to be an integral part of this vent.

Sarath Fonseka: Tragic tale of selective application of law against political opponents

by Thrishantha Nanayakkara

Today, 17th September 2010 is an important day in the legend of patriotism. Different people have said different things about patriotism from time to time.

For Samuel Johnson “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”.

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President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gen Sarath Fonseka ~ in 2009

Mark Twain said “Each man must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide against your conviction is to be an unqualified and excusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may”.

George Bernard Shaw asserted “You'll never have a quiet world till you knock the patriotism out of the human race”.

And, for Oscar Wilde “Patriotism, the virtue of the vicious”.

Most post colonial societies use patriotism to galvanize their people’s ambition to rally round fresh National goals. Sometimes their political leaders abuse these patriotic sentiments to play bull fighting with them – the passion of the bull to get the red-flag by the horns allows the fighter to get the bull by the horns – causing a painful death to the bull.

The recent passage of the 18th amendment to the constitution of Sri Lanka to remove the two term limit on a candidate to the executive presidency is one good example. The ruling party secured a majority in the parliament by presenting a manifesto that asked for a mandate to abolish the executive presidency. Any clue about consolidating the power of the executive president was not given in the manifesto entitled Mahinda Chinthana (2nd edition). Patriotic people were asked to be grateful to the man who emancipated the country from the clutches of brutal terrorism, and to give a clear mandate to strengthen democratic traditions (opposite of fascist terrorism), and to improve standards of humanity and rule of law. Patriotic masses lined up and voted to find their clear mandate being used to do the right opposite.

Let the blind patriots enjoy what they deserve. However, I am a bit more concerned about the plight of the opposition presidential candidate. The whole drama started when General Sarath Fonseka declared that he will testify in the International Court of Justice that no military officer in the Sri Lankan army gave orders to any soldier to shoot rebels surrendering with white flags if that had happened at all. He affirmed that if such a thing had happened, it must have happened due to some non-military authority giving orders to do so.

This transpired a bitter political battle between the country’s president Mahinda Rajapakse, the commander in chief of the three forces, and General Sarath Fonseka. That very evening (8th February 2010), a battalion was sent to arrest Sarath Fonseka. The troop commander had apparent conflict of interest because he had been an officer punished by General Fonseka for wrongdoing. Eye witnesses reported that the arrest was a bitter scene, where General Fonseka, once decorated army commander had been dragged by the neck.

The decision to initiate military proceedings and the composition of the court martial judges was challenged several times, and the nomination of judges had to be changed several times. General Fonseka, who had once suffered severe injuries due to a suicide bomb attack was kept in a cell without adequate ventilation.

General Fonseka and his wife complained about this several times because it was mandatory for him to breathe fresh air and exercise regularly. However, while in custody, he won a parliamentary seat from Colombo district, but he was denied fundamental rights to attend several parliamentary sessions by the supreme authority in Sri Lanka through several clever arrangements.

General Fonseka kept on fighting a lonely battle for respect for fundamental human rights, which he believed to be the basis to build a peaceful society free from frequent armed uprisings (Sri Lanka is a country that went through three bloody wars with its own citizens in a short span of 60 years).

However, on 13th August 2010, the military court found a window of opportunity. Sarath Fonseka’s defense lawyers were on vacation. The court assembled and convicted General Fonseka in the absence of any defense for engaging in politics while in uniform. The conflict of interest of the witnesses (including a Government minister) remains a historical joke in Sri Lanka.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, as the commander in chief wasted no time to second the ruling of the military court. Sarath Fonseka is stripped of military ranks, all medals of honor, and faced a dishonorable discharge of duties. General Fonseka may have obviously made mistakes. He can be seen as a traitor.

Yet, the question is, if rule of law is exercised fairly, there are many other apparent cases including the president’s son himself who did politics while in uniform. This is a catastrophe because law was selectively applied on somebody who challenged the supreme authority.

The second court martial today gave their verdict that Sarath Fonseka is guilty of financial misconduct, because he had authorized to purchase several items from a company said to be owned by his son-in-law. Though the prime-minister of the country made a statement in the parliament that effectively nullified this allegation, some tragic turn of rule of law made Sarath Fonseka a convicted criminal who could be jailed for three years from here onwards.

Again, nothing can be more hilarious than this selective application of law against political opponents for those who are aware of the financial integrity of some king makers. I wonder why so many people call one brother of Mahinda Rajapakse, Mr. 10%. I have heard of this several times, but can not understand why.

Civilized world, what mechanisms have we developed after the World War-II to protect those who stand by humanity and its values?

Certainly what we have developed with so much pain are not working.

The tragic story of General Fonseka adds to the dark legend of patriotism, and proves that the world is still too naive to deal with those heinous political leaders who abuse the supreme authority vested upon them by the citizens of their countries to exercise law

My father is an icon as to what dictators are willing to do

by Apsara Fonseka

I know you all have been there with my father since the presidential election and have been watching closely as to what the government has been doing to him day by day. Things are said to become better with time but so far we are yet to see that day. However, I feel like the time has come to voice out. What are we waiting for? If we do not fight for democracy now, when are we planning on fighting for it?

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Gen Sarath Fonseka

My father is an icon as to what the dictators are willing to do.

However, he seems to still stand strong without bending to their will. He does not change parties or change his views just because the going gets tough. He believes that if going to jail is what it takes to bring the people their rights, then let it be so.

Think about it, if it's a normal political life he wants, why is he the only one suffering in jail? Why does he not just give in to what the government says? He wants a better tomorrow not just for him self but for all Sri Lankans. That is why he has decided to sacrifice his happiness for others.

We waited all this time hoping for a miracle to happen. But, if you don't really stand by him now, the government will make sure you will never get the opportunity to do so.

So, please do what you can to save our hero. Even a small gesture might go a long way. He once promised a country free of terror and kept his word. He has once again promised a country that stays true to democracy. Therefore, give your assistance to him to keep his word. ~ Apsara Fonseka.

United National Party cookie continues to crumble

By Anuradha K. Herath

The ongoing internal conflict within the main opposition United National Party (UNP) is now unfolding in public with party members sending contradictory messages via the media. The independent statements, accusations and denials have highlighted the party’s fragmentation and catapulted this internal struggle onto the national stage.

At a press conference on Tuesday, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told journalists, “The media is saying that (some UNP MPs) are acting independently. If they were acting independently, they wouldn’t be here,” he said pointing to the several party members who participated at the media briefing with him.

Other UNP parliamentarians, however, have issued independent statements stating their frustration with Wickremesinghe’s leadership. Several of them issued statements to Maharaja TV, a privately-owned station in Sri Lanka.

“In order to put pressure on the party leadership, I have decided to sit in Parliament as an independent MP from the next Parliamentary sitting,” said UNP MP Ashok Abeysinghe.

“The reason is because the party leadership has not looked into any of our requests until now.”

Another UNP parliamentarian, Buddhika Pathirana, conveyed a sense of helplessness about the party’s future, given how many members have crossed over to support the government in recent months.

“At the last parliamentary election, we obtained 60 parliamentary seats,” said Pathirana. “Only six months have passed, the 60 has reduced to 43. If the number of parliamentarians reduced to 43 in six months, who knows how much further it will reduce in another six months.”

Wickremesinghe continues to deny that any member of his party will take an independent stand in Parliament, but several UNPers expressed that very intention to the media this week.

“At the next meeting, we will express our views, and if we don’t get a positive response to those views, a majority of MPs have decided to act independently,” UNP MP Thalatha Athukorala.

Parliamentarian Rosy Senanayake took a more neutral stand but also hinted at the same possibility.

“I will fight to bring about party reforms required to defeat this government and come back into power,” Senanayake said.

“The statement I made is that if party reforms do not take place, then I will be willing to even consider acting independently on behalf of the voters.”

The internal struggle within the UNP is now being staged in front of the cameras. Judging by those who are speaking out, Wickremesinghe appears to be unwilling to address concerns that are being brought forward by party members.

“Twenty-eight members have signed (a letter), and asked for a meeting (with Wickremesinghe), but we have not got a meeting up to date,” said UNP MP Sujeewa Senasinghe, also speaking to Maharaja TV. “We were very disappointed. It was an urgent matter that we wanted to talk with the leader, and we didn’t get a meeting even though we requested one. And we have decided to act independently until these amendments are approved at a proper forum.”

The strength of the UNP leadership has been questioned for some time. The last strong showing of the party at an election was during the general election of 2001 when the party secured 45.6 percent of the votes. In 2004, the UNP lost to President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). The UPFA obtained 105 seats in Parliament while the UNP obtained 82 seats. In the presidential election a year later, Wickremesinghe lost by a narrow margin of less than two percentage points.

Since that loss, the UNP has witnessed a massive exodus of prominent parliamentarians including G.L Peiris (the current external affairs minister), Keheliya Rambukwella (the current media minister), S.B. Dissanayake (the current higher education minister), Milinda Moragoda and Rohitha Bogollagama, among many others.

The party had hoped this year’s presidential election would be the turning point. Wickremesinghe was willing to forgo his long-term elusive presidential aspirations to former army commander Sarath Fonseka, whose entrance into politics was just as sudden and surprising as the ending of the war in which he played a significant role. In May 2009, government forces defeated the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), bringing an unexpected end to a three-decade old conflict. Fonseka, then a close ally of Rajapaksa, had also been instrumental in the final stages of the military operations.

The tiff that arose between the president and Fonseka in late 2009 was the cue opposition forces needed to target Fonseka as a possible presidential candidate, particularly since Fonseka had obtained the admiration of much of the Sinhala-Buddhist majority. Opposition parties rallied around Fonseka with renewed energy, hoping the war-hero could inspire voters and help topple the Rajapaksa regime. The euphoria leading up to the election favored Fonseka so much that even confident Rajapaksa supporters began to worry. However, at the polls, Rajapaksa won with a sweeping victory obtaining 57 percent of the votes. The opposition loss was so great that the Fonseka candidacy failed to win the usual UNP strongholds, including the populous Colombo and Kandy districts.

The same pattern followed in the general election in April with the UNP recording massive losses. Bolstered by the presidential win, Rajapaksa’s UPFA won in a landslide victory, just shy of reaching a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The two losses were a clear indication that the UNP was weaker than most had expected. But the true weakness of the party was revealed when the government on Sept. 8 passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution with more than the required two-thirds majority. It would not have been possible without the defection of UNP members and allies (such as the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress).

With another significant setback, party supporters have become even more agitated with the failed UNP leadership. The National Lawyers Association (NLA) of the UNP, who claims to have started the fight to remove Wickremesinghe, stepped up its protest this week.

“Today, the best friend of the government and President Mahinda Rajapaksa is not anyone in the Cabinet but UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe,” NLA’s president, Upul Jayasuriya, said Tuesday at a press conference. “We are respectfully saying, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, you have stayed long enough. We no longer need to discuss in public the harm you have caused to this party. If we are to settle this amicably, we are asking you to respectfully remove yourself.”

Gunaratna Wanninayake, the NLA secretary, speaking at the briefing issued a public ultimatum to Wickremesinghe.
“We have allowed a few more days for an honorable departure,” Wanninayake said at a press conference. “If it doesn’t happen, we will be required to do so by force based on what the party supporters want. He has become politically dead. He killed this party. We are asking him not to put us into a political abyss.”

Even if Wickremesinghe steps down or is forcibly removed, there is no obvious choice to replace him. Though several names have been suggested as potentially good leaders, in comparison to former UNP stalwarts, many wonder whether there is any individual who would be able to reinvigorate the disenchanted UNP supporters enough to be able to turn the tables on the increasingly powerful Rajapaksa government. ~ Courtesy: Sri Lanka News Network ~

September 17, 2010

Sri Jayawardanapura University Students’ Union: Harassment and Gender Discrimination over clothing

By Chandula Kumbukage

Many believe that women in Sri Lanka are in a better place compared to its counterparts in South Asia. This is true up to a certain extent where women enjoy a high level of education, high life expectancy at birth (74 years) and access to economic opportunities.

Sri Lanka elected the first ever female head of state and had since been governed by two female heads of state – namely Sirimavo Bandaranaike and her daughter Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge. Yet women face gender related issues. Dominant among them is violence against women. Once President Chandrika Kumaratunga noted, “There’s a new problem – violence against women, social violence like rape, even rape of little children. Physical violence, (some) not heard of before, is on the increase”.

Indeed as President Kumaratunga says, women face diverse forms of physical violence where some are unknown to many. Like the instance of female students in Sri Jayawardanapura University coming under physical and verbal harassment for wearing three-quarter pants to university.

In the University of Sri Jayawardanapura female students are banned from wearing three-quarter pants and the ones who dare to wear them are often scolded in filth, threatened and raw eggs are thrown at them by the male students attached to the Students’ Union. This ludicrous dress code violating the basic freedoms and rights of the women was imposed several years ago by the male students of the Students’ Union in this university that is often attached to a radical Marxist party. The members of the Students’ Union argue that these pants are indecent and inappropriate to the culture of the University. Therefore it is evident that;

1) Three-quarter pants are banned to protect the culture of the university.

2) Scolding and throwing raw eggs at the ones who wear them are done to discipline them and to protect the culture of the university.

However, a glance at the rules and regulations of the University of Sri Jayawardanapura, does not suggest such ludicrous dress codes or ban female students from wearing three quarter pants to university. Therefore female students have every right to come in three-quarter pants to university as they are only expected to follow the rules imposed by the university not by the Students’ Union.

The University Student Union, which is considered an important body in a university, does not have any authority to make or impose rules in a university according to Section 112 of the University Act dealing with University Students’ Union and Faculty Students’ Union(http://www.ugc.ac.lk/en/policy/universities-act/48.html).

They are only expected to assist the administration of the university to maintain discipline and despite the clear guidelines; the members of the Students’ Union continue to harass female students who come in three-quarter pants. However, this madness of harassing students over their attire is not restricted to female students; it applies to visitors too. Once, two girls who came on a visit to the Post-Graduate Institute of this university had raw eggs thrown at them by the male students for wearing three-quarter pants.

The conduct of the Students’ Union towards female students coming in three quarter pants is similar to the conduct of Taliban militants flogging Afghan women for showing the ankle underneath the Burqa by mistake. And this conduct of the Students’ Union is a violation of Article 12 (2) of the Constitution which states that; “No citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of the race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds.

In this specific issue, the University in any capacity does not agree with or encourage the conduct of the Students’ Union; however, it has failed to efficiently address the issue by taking action against the students who misbehave and harass female students. It appears that the authorities of the university treat this issue as an internal matter between the students and therefore the matter has not been taken seriously. Even the security guards stationed at the gate, who bear the responsibility of providing security to students, are reluctant to take action against the boys who harass students over three quarter pants. Instead they warn the girls on possible attacks from boys, rather than warning the boys not to harass girls.

The most unfortunate outcome of this is that it has become the norm in the university where the students have unwillingly accepted the conduct of the male students and the Students’ Union on three quarter pants. Similarly they don’t resist when they are subjected to similar harassment during the ragging season and when they are forced to take part in protests organized by the radical Marxist parties affiliated to the Students’ Union. Victims who come across verbal and physical harassment often bare the pain and shame in silence, while some courageously defend themselves by arguing with the boys, which is a rare instance.

Victims are often reluctant to resist the oppressors mainly due to the fear of much more stringent repercussions from the oppressors. The lack of awareness on basic human rights and the law of the country among these students also contribute to this. Most students who come across harassment do not know whom to tell, whom to complain to and have no faith on justice served upon them.

It seems that the male students of the Students’ Union have imposed this ludicrous dress code to simply cast their dominance over women and also to suppress the ones who follow a liberal lifestyle. Members of the Students’ Union often come from rural and impoverished backgrounds and fail to adapt to the realities of a modernized urban society. As a result they develop an inferior complex with the ones hailing from affluent urban backgrounds. Therefore banning three-quarter pants as well as ragging new comers (freshers) is a reflection of this inferiority complex.

Tolerance, which implies the loving acknowledgment of the unique dignity of every human being, mutual respect for privacy and rights and the right to equal concern and respect does not exist in the vocabulary of the student political bodies, student political parties and even among the student community. This is another reason that leads certain students to act in such an oppressive manner.

The negligence and the silence of the University authorities and the students who silently oppose these kinds of acts have empowered the rowdy oppressor to continue with this madness.

The writer’s personal experience of being humiliated for coming in three quarter pants made her write this piece to reveal this madness to raise awareness among the society regarding the seriousness of the issue and to date, this issue remains a nightmare for female students.

Despite the change in times and having a special act to deal with domestic violence (Prevention of Domestic Violence Act No 34, 2005), harassment and violence against women continue to occur at universities, which should be a place of light, of liberty and of learning as noted by Benjamin Disraeli.

UNP led opposition under Ranil is like drowning swimmer with dead-weight

by Dayan Jayatilleka

Here’s the way the current political discourse seems to me. In a swimming competition, a swimmer lagging behind accuses the one in front of taking steroids, while ignoring the fact that he is swimming with a weight attached by none other than himself, to his leg.

The swimmer who is accused of just having taken steroids (in the form of the 18th amendment) is the incumbent. The match referee (the Supreme Court) has cleared him, but doubts remain. Fair enough-- but it is stupid of the swimmer who is drowning, to complain about possible steroid abuse as a reason for failing in the competition, without removing the deadweight that is dragging him to the bottom of the pool! The drowning swimmer is the UNP-led opposition and the deadweight is the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe.

When I point that out, I am not merely trying to be fair by the lead swimmer but also to save the drowning one and thereby the entire competition.

The Opposition accuses Mahinda Rajapakse of attempting to prolong his incumbency. While this may or may not be true—and it usually is of incumbents, unless you are a George Washington or Nelson Mandela – the glaring irony is that there is one person who has prolonged his incumbency without even having been elected or having performed a huge national service by winning a great victory. That person is the leader of the very party and the larger parliamentary Opposition that accuses Mahinda Rajapakse of manoeuvring to remain in office! Rajapakse has been (elected, successful) leader of the country and the SLFP for only a third of the time that Ranil Wickremesinghe has been the (unelected, unsuccessful) leader of the UNP. Many of those who criticise Mahinda Rajapakse on the score of entrenchment, and seek regime change, do not criticise Wickremesinghe and seek regime change in the UNP. I find that in equal parts hypocritical and hilarious.

The UNP’s leadership survives because it is propped up by an inherited fortune and foreign patronage. Successive governments may love him as an opponent, but it is only Ranil’s leadership and his civil society solidarity committee that provide the anti-Sri Lankan external elements with a Southern partnership.

9/11 and the Great Terror

Few could have missed the worldwide television coverage of the emotional memorial ceremonies nine years after 9/11. How many 9/11s did we experience? The Central Bank bombing was only one. And our Thirty Years War ended only a year back. We have experienced but a year without the Great Terror visited upon us by the Tigers.

Some, like the admirably eloquent Mr Sumanthiran of the TNA, have yet to make as full length and full–on a critique of Prabhakaran and the Tigers as he did in parliament of Mahinda Rajapakse and the 18th amendment. Ok, forget ‘full-on’, couldn’t he mention the LTTE and its leader even once, in his passionate denunciation of the “nailing of the coffin of democracy”?

It is true that the regime’s ideologues play the anti-Tiger patriotic card to justify the 18th amendment, but that linkage is made not only by pro-18A but also anti-18A personalities. The Opposition which is hobbled by association with the LTTE (TNA) or appeasement of it (Ranil’s UNP), finds itself virtually impaled on the stake of un-patriotism by those like Prof Kumar David who draw a direct line of causation between the military victory and support for it on the one hand, and opposing both the military victory and the 18th amendment on the other. He writes:

“Such is the gravity of September 2010, an inexorable consequence of May 2009...I take no particular delight in rubbing it into my Sinhalese compatriots that, as surely as night follows day, when state power raises itself above society through victory in a racist civil war, its subsequent transformation into an instrument for the repression of its own people is a lesson that history has demonstrated many times. The psychological setting and balances of power fashioned by the overwhelming victory of the state over the LTTE is the backdrop to today’s march to dictatorship... "(‘Treachery what is Left of thy name’, Sunday Island Sept 12, 2010)

Well, if that’s the package, if that’s the retrospective identification and nexus, then Kumar David and his “Sinhala compatriots” are of one mind-- and whose arguments do you think the masses will go along with; which choice will they make?

Unlike the UNP, the TNA and their supportive intelligentsia, the JVP did stand against the Tigers, though they have yet to settle accounts with their own unrestrainedly savage attacks on democracy and democrats in 1986-89

The Post-18A Debate

Marx once said of Jeremy Bentham that “the incredible flatness of present day bourgeois society is best evidenced by the heights of its greatest intellects”. Luckily he never made the acquaintance of Sri Lankan intelligentsia based at home and in the Diaspora.

It is unsurprising that the commentariat which echoes Colombo’s chattering classes have so little resonance in the rest of the citizenry, its friends in the Diaspora and its international allies get Sri Lanka so wrong, and the Opposition is so pathetically weak ( thereby leaving incumbent administration has greater political hegemony than its quite considerable popularity warrants). Part of the reason is that they are so blinkered.

How else could my intervention in the 18th amendment debate be considered a defence of the 18th amendment? I could be reasonably accused of mounting a defence – though not uncritical – of the Sri Lankan state or/and the Mahinda Rajapakse presidency, but a defence of the amendment? C’mon folks, that’s as smart as accusing a medical specialist who provides a dissenting diagnosis and prognosis of a symptom or a malady, of defending the symptom or the malady!

M.H.M. Ashraff: The legendary Muslim Congress Leader

By D.B.S.Jeyaraj

September 16th 2010 was the tenth death anniversary of Mohammad Hussein Muhammad Ashraff, the uncrowned sultan of the Amparai district Muslims and legendary leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). The pioneering president of the SLMC was Ahammed Lebbe of Kattankudi with whom Ashraff co-founded the party in September 1981. It was however MHM Ashraff who gave the Muslim Congress a new vision and direction after he assumed formal leadership of the party in 1986.

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Mohammad Hussein Muhammad Ashraff (Oct 23, 1948 - Sep 16, 2000)

[click here to read in full ~ on dbsjeyaraj.com]

Dozens killed in Sri Lanka blast

from BBC News:

An explosion in Sri Lanka has killed at least 60 people, most of them policemen, officials say.

A military spokesman said vehicles carrying explosives accidentally blew up at a police station near the eastern city of Batticaloa.

The explosives were being signed over to two Chinese road construction contractors, said Maj Gen Ubaya Medawala.

At least 40 people are reported to have been injured.

Maj Gen Medawala told the BBC it was an accidental explosion, with "no sabotage suspected" as security was high at the police station.

The cause of the explosion was unknown, the general said.

He said the explosives were being loaded on to several vehicles at the police station when one of them blew up, setting off the other explosives.

The police station, in the small town of Karadiyanaru, was destroyed, he said.

A local journalist has reported that a police jeep accidentally crashed into the trucks, says the BBC's Charles Haviland in Sri Lanka.

Almost all of those killed were policemen, Maj Gen Medawala told the BBC. Also killed were the two Chinese nationals and several Sri Lankan civilians.

Chinese firms are heavily involved in road building and the construction of two ports in Sri Lanka.

The Batticaloa area was once controlled by the Tamil Tiger rebel group and remains one of the most politically tense in the country, says our correspondent.

Since the Tamil Tigers' defeat last year after a long-running civil war, the government has begun to rebuild roads and other infrastructure in the region. ~ Courtesy: BBC News ~

Report by Xinhua News Agnecy

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dissanayake Jayaratne visited the explosion site of the eastern police station Friday in the company of the Chinese Ambassador Yang Xiuping, an embassy official said.
Jayaratne, who is also the acting defense minister in the absence of the President Mahinda Rajapaksa from the island, and Ambassador Yang traveled in the same helicopter heading for the eastern district of Batticaloa, about 300 km east of the capital Colombo, to carry out on site inspection of the blast at the Karadiyanaru police station.

The lady Ambassador Yang had earlier expressed her shock and concern over the blast in the Karadiyanaru police station which killed at least two Chinese nationals.

The Defense Ministry of Sri Lanka stated that 19 people including 10 policemen, two Chinese nationals and seven civilians have been confirmed dead in the incident.

Another 52 personnel were also injured in the blast.

Earlier, the Chinese embassy dispatched officials to investigate the blast in the eastern police station of Karadiyanaru, the embassy official said.

The military said the explosion occurred when two Chinese nationals had arrived to take some explosives from one of the three explosives laden containers which were kept at the Karadiyanaru Police Station for safety.

One container carrying the explosives exploded and triggered the explosion of the next two containers, the military said.

The explosion took place at around 11:45 a.m local time (0615 GMT).

The Ministry officials confirmed that the blast to be an industrial accident that has no relation to any criminal activity. ~ Courtesy: Xinhua ~

Ministry of Defence - Sri Lanka:

Industrial accident kills over 20 people - Karadiyanaru, Batticaloa [2nd Lead]
Three containers carrying industrial explosives of a Chinese construction company have accidentally blew up killing over 20 people at Karadiyanaru, Batticaloa this afternoon. According to the police sources, two Chinese nationals of the company also among the dead.

The incident has reportedly occurred when the two Chinese nationals arrived at the location by a double cab to unload the explosives from the containers. One container has blown itself up due to an unknown reason and the rest have exploded due to the sympathetic detonation.

The Company is engaged in construction of a highway in the Eastern Province and the explosives were brought for industrial purposes. According to the sources, the containers were parked at the Karadiyanaru Police station premises for security reasons.

The injured were rushed to the Batticaloa hospital and some of them are in critical condition, sources further added.

Police sources confirmed that the blast to be an industrial accident that has no relation any criminal activity.

‘Intellectual’ critics of the administration in Sri Lanka are least conspicuous in search for an alternative

by Dayan Jayatilleka

“In other words it now becomes evident that (to quote Marx) people do not treat somebody as a king because he is a king in himself; he is a king because and as long as people treat him as one.” (Slavoj Zizek, ‘The Ticklish Subject’, p192, italics in the original).

If God is dead, everything is permitted, said Dostoevsky, part echoed by Nietzsche who exclaimed “God is dead, and we have killed him”. The danger of announcing the death of democracy, when it isn’t dead, is precisely that ‘everything is permitted’.

It permits dictatorial practices on the part of the authorities who no longer feel fettered by democracy. It permits violent protest by those who believe that there are no longer any democratic methods of change – which in turn permits greater violence on the part of the authorities which directs it also against peaceful protest.

The placing of an obituary of democracy is even more pernicious because it removes hope from the citizenry, and as Ernest Bloch argues in his multivolume work ‘The Principle of Hope’, it is utterly indispensable.

I agree with Kalana Senaratne’s sober critique of the 18th amendment on Transcurrents and in the Sunday Leader but I also think that the Supreme Court judgement made some valid observations about the franchise. My comments on the debate are a critique of the hysteria and are written in the spirit of what Alain Badiou terms an “interpretative intervention”.

By committing the cardinal error of misinterpreting regime type and state form – and here the LSE’s (Sri Lankan born) Prof Razeen Sally was far more rigorous than the locally based critics when he noted the tendency towards ‘Caesarist-Bonapartist authoritarianism’- the post 18th Amendment discourse of Colombo’s civil society intelligentsia obscures the actually existing political space which constitutes the sites of strivings and struggles for potential transformation.

Here’s something for those who bewail that the 18th amendment was the ‘last nail in the coffin in which democracy has been laid’ to ponder: what do you say when the next nail goes in? To put it plainly, the 19th amendment could be to the electoral system. How many seats will the opposition get under its present leadership, when elections are held under a system which is preponderantly ‘first past the post’? Let me put it in terms of Political Analysis for Dummies: hypothetically speaking, if Colombo has only one seat and the UNP were still led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, on present data that one seat would be won and Colombo represented not by the UNP but by a certain Mr Weerawansa.

This brings me to the Lawrence Olivier question. In Marathon Man, Olivier, playing the Nazi war criminal, Szell, kept drilling without anaesthesia into the teeth of Dustin Hoffman, all the while asking him a solitary, maddeningly repetitive question: “Is it safe?” (By which he meant was it safe for him to get his diamonds). Given the statement of Minister Keheliya Rambukwella (an early donation from UNP ranks to the SLFP government) that the next election, the ones to local government bodies, will be held under the FPTP system, one can assume that a change-over may be contemplated at the national level too, someday soon. Those members of the UNP and its supportive civil society who wish the UNP’s present leadership to remain must then ask themselves the Olivier question: “Is it safe?” (As in “Is it safe for Sri Lankan democracy, to retain Ranil as the party or Opposition leader?”)

As Szell (Laurence Olivier) discovered, it wasn’t safe.

There is the question of moral-ethical credibility. How to take the protestations of those who are critical of Mahinda Rajapakse but were never critical of Velupillai Prabhakaran? Or those who were and are far more critical of Mahinda Rajapakse than they ever were of Prabhakaran? Some, like the admirably eloquent Mr Sumanthiran of the TNA, have yet to make as full length and full–on a critique of Prabhakaran and the Tigers as he did in parliament of Mahinda Rajapakse and the 18th amendment. Ok, forget ‘full-on’, couldn’t he mention the LTTE and its leader even once, in his passionate denunciation of the “nailing of the coffin of democracy”? If this seems like a ‘Sinhalese militarist’ harping on the past, what does one make of the memorial ceremonies nine years after 9/11, not to mention the war memorials decades later? How many 9/11s did we experience? The Central bank bombing was only one. And our Thirty Years war ended only a year back. For the sake of credibility if not ethics and morality, self-criticism of collusion with naked fascism must surely precede criticism of a Caeserist- Bonapartist authoritarianism which still keeps alive the practice of multiparty representative electoral politics.

It is true that the regime’s ideologues play the anti-Tiger patriotic card to justify the 18th amendment, but that linkage is made not only by pro-18A but also anti-18A personalities. The Opposition which is hobbled by association with the LTTE (TNA) or appeasement of it (Ranil’s UNP), finds itself virtually impaled on the stake of un-patriotism by those like Prof Kumar David who draw a direct line of causation between the military victory and support for it on the one hand, and opposing both the military victory and the 18th amendment on the other. He writes:

“Such is the gravity of September 2010, an inexorable consequence of May 2009...I take no particular delight in rubbing it into my Sinhalese compatriots that, as surely as night follows day, when state power raises itself above society through victory in a racist civil war, its subsequent transformation into an instrument for the repression of its own people is a lesson that history has demonstrated many times. The psychological setting and balances of power fashioned by the overwhelming victory of the state over the LTTE is the backdrop to today’s march to dictatorship... "(‘Treachery what is Left of thy name’, Sunday Island Sept 12, 2010)

Well, if that’s the package, if that’s the retrospective identification and nexus, then Kumar David and his “Sinhala compatriot” are of one mind, and whose arguments do you think the masses will go along with; which choice will they make?

Unlike the UNP, the TNA and their supportive intelligentsia, the JVP did stand against the Tigers, though they have yet to settle accounts with their own unrestrainedly savage attacks on democracy and democrats in 1986-89.

It is exceedingly difficult to take seriously the civil society opinion makers bewailing the death of democracy because they are not behaving as do any serious intellectual and political resistance against the kind of phenomenon they claim to be combating.

Take your pick: Lenin’s Bolsheviks against the Tsarist autocracy; Trotsky, his Stalinist opponents and the genius Gramsci against Fascism; Mao against the Japanese invaders. None of them wasted time screaming at or squealing against the enemy. Their audience was precisely their own ranks, those of the opposition or resistance. Their writings were about the strategy, tactics, lines, programmes and slogans to be adopted precisely to stop or roll back what was happening. If they did any yelling, metaphorically speaking, it was within the oppositional space.

Trotsky spent the years 1929-1932 like John the Baptist, a voice in the wilderness, calling for a united front of the working class parties, the Communists and Socialists. The Stalinist Comintern, led by the enormously courageous Bulgarian, Georgi Dimitrov who braved a Nazi court in Berlin (attended by Goebbels and Goering) and won by virtue of his argumentation and international solidarity, campaigned for an even broader alliance -- that of the Popular Front of working class, middle class and liberal bourgeois parties. Mao went further in his advocacy of the united front, twinning guerrilla war with a broad alliance that included erstwhile enemies like Chiang Kai Shek (who had massacred Communists in 1927 and executed Mao’s second wife). Gramsci, jailed by Mussolini’s courts explicitly in order “to stop that brain working for the next twenty years”, spent his time in an encyclopaedic labour of critique and comprehension, forging a whole new arsenal of theoretical weapons, suggesting a sophisticated and seamless long term strategy and minting almost a new lexicon of politics of emancipation, instead of foaming at the mouth at his oppressors.

If someone were to think that I am stuck in a time warp, the point I make applies to Gramscian Marxist intellectuals like Stuart Hall and Martin Jacques who helped the British Labour movement think through and overcome the long Thatcher era. Stuart Hall fought against the dominant views on the Labour Left, that Thatcher was yet another traditional Conservative Right wing government, and of the Trostkyist loony Left that considered her some kind of fascist. Using Gramscian methodological tools, he pointed out that Thatcher had used a package of emotional, psychological and ideological themes to bring together a broad and durable bloc of forces in a project that Hall defined as “authoritarian populism”, which had shifted the national terrain over the long term.

Stuart Hall also pointed out that the fight-back will have to be Gramscian, not a frontal assault by the no longer existing (disintegrated, atomised) “working class movement” against a non-existent “fascism”, but the construction of a countervailing but no less national and popular bloc and a protracted, incremental accumulation of cultural and moral hegemony which finally results in a politico-electoral tectonic shift. Martin Jacques took the discourse forward from that point, putting the spotlight on the disappearance of the old ‘working class’ and the emergence instead of new social forces, critiquing the programmes of the ‘Old Guard’ Labour Opposition and various Marxist groupings, encouraging new thinking about a new programme.

These intellectual and theoretical efforts had an ancestry in the pioneering re-thinking of the mid-1970s, by the Euro-Communists, mainly the neo-Gramscian Italian and Spanish CPs, grappling with the problem of one party dominant regimes such as that of the Christian Democrats who had ruled Italy for decades. The Italian CP leader Enrico Berlinguer floated the slogan of a historic compromise with a wing of the Christian Democrats. Other ‘new thinkers’ were Regis Debray who argued for a ‘Socialism wrapped in the French tricolour’ (the equivalent would be democracy, not twinned with a line that appeased the LTTE, but wrapped in the Sri Lankan flag) and Nicos Poulantzas who stressed that the state was not so much a monolith to be frontally confronted, but itself a terrain of contestation, and the site of power shifts.

Ernesto Laclau, Stuart Hall and Martin Jacques built on these foundations. It was from these intellectual efforts and the understanding that some of what Thatcher had done could not and should not be undone; that the national terrain had permanently shifted; that this shift had to be taken into account and partly respected if it were to be partly replaced and wholly superseded, that New Labour arose out of the ashes of the old.

Much the same narrative, without the theoretical and ideological background, is true of the Democratic Leadership Council, which shifted the US Democrats to a centrist stand, picked and promoted Bill Clinton, and thus put an end to the long era of Reaganism and Republican rule.

If I may reiterate my original point, a serious intellectual resistance begins with the effort precisely to redraw and restructure the oppositional space and outline a viable, alternative political project with a national-popular appeal. Lenin famously said that without a revolutionary theory there cannot be a revolutionary movement. Similarly, without an alternative political project, no party put itself forward as a political alternative and expect to be taken seriously by the citizenry.

Contrary to the ‘theorists’ of the Opposition, the historical moment is NOT one of a democracy movement but of the revitalisation of the political party system through the revivification of political parties. Non-party political movements are fine but they can be regarded the crucial political agency of change only in a system in which the opposition parties have been actually repressed – not when they are simply unpopular and unelectable. The civic resistance strategy was the right one for unelected despotisms (the Shah), military juntas or communist party dictatorships, in which there was no multiparty system and elective principle. Only someone with a fragile grasp of reality could claim that it is true of Sri Lanka today, and only someone who has no political memory or is ignorant of our contemporary history could deny that the closest we came to it (apart from Prabhakaran’s fascist rule which surpassed these forms) was between July 1980 (the smashing of the trade union movement by sacking 60,000 workers), through December 1982 (JRJ’s referendum in place of parliamentary elections) and July ’83 (the proscription of the JVP, with the SLFP already decapitated through civic disabilities and incarceration).

Leon Trotsky may have been pushing it a bit, when he wrote that “the crisis of humanity is reduced to the crisis of leadership” but it is certainly true of Sri Lanka: contrary to the apocalyptic “wailing and gnashing of teeth” among the civil society radicals, the crisis of Sri Lankan democracy is primarily (if not ‘reduced to’) the crisis of opposition leadership.

There will be no revival of a democratic opposition without an opposition politics that reassures the majority of the electorate about its staunchness on issues of secessionism, terrorism, national security and national sovereignty. Any doubts on this score, or associations with the past of appeasement will have at the very least the same effect as memories of the closed economy of 1970-77 had on the electoral fortunes of the SLFP and therefore those of the UNP administration. Amilcar Cabral urged his own class, the petty bourgeoisie to “commit suicide as a class” and be re-born ideologically as “revolutionary proletarians”, in an act that came to be known as “revolutionary suicide”. Similarly, for an effective re-balancing of the polity, the civil society cosmopolitans have to ‘commit suicide ideologically’ and be reborn as (pluralist) patriots or just get the hell away from the UNP and take the Wickremesinghes with them, allowing that party to return to its roots as the multiethnic, multi-religious representative of the patriotic Sinhala peasantry and provinces (Senanayakes) and the urban and rural ‘have-nots’ (Premadasa).

In Sri Lanka, the ‘intellectual’ critics of the administration are those least conspicuous in the search for an alternative to the prop that holds up the status quo which they condemn as ‘totalitarian’ and ‘fascist’. Ironically, these civil society ideologues prop up the prop; not support the alternative. Is it purely coincidental that those civil society personalities that opposed the military victory and Mahinda Rajapakse and advocate an international war crimes probe, are pretty much the same ones that opposed President Premadasa and supported the impeachment motion against him? There are echoes and residues of that political struggle, also in today’s polarisation within the UNP.

These pathetic, retrogressive pseudo-politics can have no resonance with the people – and as Lenin said “serious politics begins where tens of millions of people are”.

September 16, 2010

Sri Lanka's president wants to stay in power for a long time. Only an organized opposition can stop him

by Nira Wickramasinghe

Less than a year and a half ago, Sri Lanka's government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa won a ruthless victory in that country's three-decade-long civil war against a bloody insurgency by the rebel Tamil Tigers.

The stage was set for the wartime president to assume a new persona: that of the father of the peacetime nation. Yet now he risks upsetting the country's democratic balance following passage of a constitutional amendment clearing the way for him to stay in power "as long as the people desire it." As with the hobbit in Tolkien's novel, there is nothing left now between President Rajapaksa and the ring of power.

OB-KA427_Wickra_G_20100916070810.jpg

Image by David Klein ~ Courtesy of : Wall Street Journal

For a country proud to have maintained civilian democratic rule through the depths of the war, Mr. Rajapaksa's moves are disheartening to say the least. In passing the 18th amendment to the constitution earlier this month, the parliament dominated by his Sri Lanka Freedom Party removed the constitutional two-term limit that had capped presidents at a maximum of 12 years in office. They also abolished the 17th amendment enacted in 2001, which had created a Constitutional Council and independent commissions that the president had to consult when appointing people to high-level government posts. That amendment had been a key check on Sri Lanka's otherwise very powerful executive.

Mr. Rajapaksa did not singlehandedly create Sri Lanka's overly strong executive presidency. The constitution introduced in 1978 by President J.R. Jayawardene concentrated significant power in the hands of a single individual. Mr. Rajapaksa's SLFP has claimed at least since it took power in 1994 that it wanted to abolish the executive presidency and replace it with a form of government where power was less centralized. But now Mr. Rajapaksa is embracing a much stronger executive.

With the constitutional term limit abolished, Mr. Rajapaksa has a fair chance of staying in power. Just as in other presidential regimes such as France or the United States, incumbent presidents in Sri Lanka are very likely to win second-term elections. Limits on terms of office are set precisely for this reason.

Many Sri Lankans seem to think, for now anyway, that would not be such a terrible thing. Having ended a debilitating decades-long civil war, President Rajapaksa was re-elected earlier this year with a convincing majority of 58% over his main opponent Sarath Fonseka, a former army commander and erstwhile close ally. If given sufficient time and sufficient powers he promised to rebuild the country, supported by a depoliticized business community.

Meanwhile, the opposition has fallen into disarray. Since 2007 Mr. Rajapaksa has deftly maneuvered to weaken his two legitimate political challengers. The right-wing United National Party led by Ranil Wickremasinghe is in tatters, having lost many of its parliamentarians to the government, and was pushed by popular political pressures to support the ruling party in the "war to eliminate terrorism." The left-wing People's Liberation Front party has split into two factions, one supporting the government and the other in opposition. Its last electoral performance was dismal. Mr. Rajapaksa has hastened this collapse of the opposition with interventions of his own—most notably, the court-martial of Mr. Fonseka for "involvement in politics" while still an officer and dabbling in weapons contracts, charges that conveniently surfaced around the time of the election.

Over the years Mr. Rajapaksa has been busy weakening the institutions that would allow a better-organized opposition to one day become a political force. While the mainstream media are supportive of state policies, dissenting opinions are few and confined to the English-speaking or radical press. The media are on the whole practicing self-censorship.

The fact that academics, lawyers, students and pressure groups took to the streets to protest against the 18th amendment indicates that there is still room for the opposition to maneuver in the interstices of power. The question remains whether, as defenders of the 18th amendment argue, voters will be given a true choice in 2016. This ultimately depends less on Mr. Rajapaksa than on the will of opposition political parties to forge an alternative democratic vision and give leadership to those who believe in it.

It is revealing in this regard that passage of the amendment was achieved with hardly any public debate or scrutiny of such a significant change. It was pushed through parliament as an "urgent parliamentary bill" and it was discussed for only one day. Unsurprisingly, the Supreme Court had earlier ruled that a referendum would not be required. In the end Mr. Rajapaksa secured the requisite two-thirds majority thanks to support from his own party and a smattering of parliamentary votes from some defecting members of the UNP and other, much smaller groups including the main party representing the Muslims.

It is doubtful that this episode will awaken Sri Lankans who were inclined to view Mr. Rajapaksa as the savior of the nation to a more worrying side of his regime. For now there seems to be a wide popular consensus around the shape of the new Sri Lanka: patrimonial, nepotistic, nationalistic and militarized. With a strong electoral mandate and a large parliamentary majority supporting him, Mr. Rajapaksa had a free hand to reform a country bruised by 30 years of violence into a social democratic state. As he instead focuses on consolidating his power, this hope fades away, leaving people in the years to come with a difficult choice: total compliance or desperate revolt.

Ms. Wickramasinghe is professor of modern South Asian studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Courtesy: The Wall Street Journal

In consolidating power, President Rajapaksa risks squandering one of his country's greatest advantages

The Wall Street Journal Opinion, Sep 16, 2010: Sri Lanka's Peace-Torn Democracy

One of Sri Lanka's unique achievements was preserving democratic rule through its 26-year bloody battle against Tamil Tiger insurgents. So it's troubling to see democracy—and the prosperity that ought to come with it—under threat now that there's peace in the land.

Witness the passage earlier this month of an amendment to the constitution making some significant changes to the way the government functions. Most controversially, the provision ends the two-term limit for presidents. That would allow recently re-elected incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa to run for a third six-year term when his current stint expires in 2016. The new amendment also scraps a commission that was supposed to be responsible for hiring top bureaucrats and security officials.

Government apologists offer several justifications for these changes. The end of term limits, the thinking goes, will eliminate the lame-duck problem that plagued earlier presidencies in their waning days, while the people will get a vote every six years in any event. Meanwhile, the constitutional appointments commission never functioned as intended and hindered efficient administration.

But context matters, and provides plenty of cause for concern that Mr. Rajapaksa might abuse his new constitutional powers. In August, his government court-martialed Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the former military leader who challenged Mr. Rajapaksa in January's election, in what many perceived as a politically motivated trial. Some local journalists complain of increased pressure to avoid challenging the government too harshly. Last week's issue of the Economist was stopped at the border Friday and barred from distribution until Wednesday. The reason? Apparently a critical editorial about Mr. Rajapaksa's constitutional amendment, though Colombo tries to pass off the episode as a simple misunderstanding.

This might not appear to matter much right now. Mr. Rajapaksa remains popular thanks to his leadership during the end of the war, and won re-election with some 58% of the vote. His party has a healthy majority in parliament and the opposition United National Party is riven by intraparty feuding. But Sri Lanka needs a functioning multiparty democracy. The country still must address the legitimate concerns of the Tamil minority, such as a history of discrimination in education and government employment. A true democracy would be best suited to forging compromises. Competition from Gen. Fonseka during the campaign goaded Mr. Rajapaksa into more quickly resettling Tamil war refugees, for instance.

Then there's the economy, which has been mired in decades of war and bad policies punctuated by too-infrequent bouts of reform. When it gained independence in 1948, Sri Lanka was the second-richest country in Asia. Now per-capita income languishes at $2,000. Mr. Rajapaksa has promised to increase that to $4,000, and investors may be tempted to cheer his consolidation of power as a way to cut through red-tape. But his economic platform explicitly spurns the Western style "neo-liberal" liberalizations the economy needs to unleash itself.

There may well come a time when investors start wishing there was space for a more liberal-minded opposition party to rise to the top. There also may well come a time when Sri Lankans, newly accustomed to peace, conclude they want to consider new options for leadership. It would be a tragedy if the man who delivered security ends up depriving his country of the liberty to make those choices. - courtesy: The Wall Street Journal -

September 15, 2010

The Reality of Growing Chinese Power and Influence in the South Asian Region

by M.K.Bhadrakumar

An Assistant Secretary dealing with South Asia in the State Department in Washington a decade-and-a-half ago once took justifiable pride that she only needed a clutch of minutes to get the Indians all worked up into a tizzy. What the loquacious U.S. diplomat, who was an old India-Pakistan hand familiar with the human frailties (and vanities) in our part of the world, meant was that Indians never bothered to crosscheck facts when they came across an unpalatable thought.

She had a point. And her adage holds good. When an opinion piece by the U.S. strategic analyst, Selig Harrison, appeared in the New York Times recently alleging large-scale Chinese military presence in the Northern Areas of Pakistan, history seemed to repeat itself. Our tribal instincts resurfaced. It still remains foggy on what basis Mr. Harrison painted the apocalyptic vision of war drums beating distantly in the obscure Himalayan mountains.

The regions beyond the northern edges of Kashmir comprise tangled, inaccessible mountains and it is highly improbable that Mr. Harrison wrote on the basis of any first-hand information regarding the 22 secret tunnels in which 11,000 Chinese soldiers belonging to the People's Liberation Army reportedly huddle uneasily alongside stockpiles of deadly missiles that could be launched against India. (Actually, the Pakistani authorities have invited him to go to that picturesque region and take a good look himself.)

Not much ingenuity is needed to discern that Mr. Harrison based his opinion piece on intelligence sources.

All he would say later was that his story was based on “western and regional intelligence sources.” Who could be these sources? Politics should, after all, begin with asking a few blunt questions. Were these sources Pakistani, Afghan, Iranian, Russian or Chinese who guided Mr. Harrison? Seems illogical.

Were they Indian sources based in Delhi — or Indian “analysts” comfortably located in Singapore? Indeed, by a process of elimination, we arrive at the conclusion that the greatest likelihood seems to be that Mr. Harrison's sources were American.

This of course is by no means casting aspersions on Mr. Harrison's integrity. In fact, he has been most candid about his thesis when he concluded his opinion piece with a stirring call to the U.S. administration. He wrote: “The United States is uniquely situated to play a moderating role in Kashmir, given its growing economic and military ties with India and Pakistan's aid dependence on Washington.

“Washington should press New Delhi to resume autonomy negotiations with Kashmiri separatists. Success would put pressure on Islamabad for comparable concessions in Free Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan … Precisely because the Gilgit-Baltistan region is so important to China, the U.S., India and Pakistan should work together to make sure that it is not overwhelmed … by the Chinese behemoth.”

Both Islamabad and Beijing have since repeatedly and unequivocally refuted the contents of Mr. Harrison's article. Top Indian officials who have full access to intelligence have also off-the-record given their estimation that any Chinese presence in the Gilgit-Baltistan region could be related to flood-relief work and some development projects and it doesn't involve Chinese regulars of the PLA. They are also inclined to accept the Chinese assurance that there is no change in Beijing's stand on the Kashmir issue, including the part of Kashmir that is under Indian governance.

Equally, in their assessment, Chinese nationals are not taking up habitation in Gilgit-Baltistan, but come to the region from time to time to build infrastructure projects and they go away upon the completion of those projects. Delhi regards the figure of $1.7 billion as Chinese investment in Northern Areas and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as far-too inflated a figure. As a senior Indian official put it “They [the Chinese] are a business-like people and they won't invest in that kind of area like that.”

Evidently, there is a glaring disconnect in New Delhi between those who know and generally prefer not to speak and those who rave but have no flair or patience for checking the facts on the ground. The problem with disregard of facts is that incrementally you withdraw into a smaller and smaller coil of rage and ultimately resign yourself to a sense of powerlessness, frustration and defeat. Should that be the fate of a great country like India that has survived for millennia?

Ultimately, it all boils down to China's presence in the South Asian region and, as the Prime Minister put it the other day, “we have to reflect on this reality, we have to be aware of this.” The issue is: what is the nature of the “reality” so that we can come to terms with it?

The reality is China's growing power and influence that need to be tackled in regional politics. The security of our region and its future will significantly depend on the choices that China makes. Having said that, we too have choices to make. Even if India fails to overtake China economically, it will nonetheless be the second-strongest regional power and will be the most serious constraint on Chinese power. That is to say, the manner and the directions in which India chooses to use its power is going to be no less important than China's actions in their impact on regional stability.

Of course, our choices are going to be harder than China's. The heart of the matter is that a stable, peaceful South Asia can only be built if India works with China. The alternative will be war and mayhem and history provides many examples. The point is, there is a fundamental choice involved here — the choice between “influence” and stability. India and China are on the same side — both want influence and neither seeks instability.

However, we cannot insist that regional stability is synonymous with India's primacy. The international community will only mock at us if we do so in this era of globalisation. As, for that matter, was the region in a blissful state of stability even in the halcyon days when India's influence reigned supreme?

In short, the rise in China's influence in the region can lead to peace and regional stability provided we eschew outdated notions of “sphere of influence.” On the contrary, a struggle will inevitably ensue if India chooses to contest China's growing influence since the quintessence of that choice will be that India is prepared to sacrifice peace and stability in the region in its quest for regional primacy. Our South Asian neighbours will only see our choice as a quest for regional hegemony and they cannot be expected to accommodate hubris.

Alas, a segment of our strategic community seems to think that South Asia can be peaceful only under Indian tutelage. It perceives China's desire to expand its influence in the region as inherently threatening. But what is the alternative?

China has already grown to be the second biggest economic power in the world. With such economic power, political and strategic power inexorably follows. To quote from a recent thoughtful essay by well-known Australian scholar Hugh White, “China's power, controlled by China's government, must be dealt with as a simple fact of international politics. If Americans deny the right to exercise its power internationally within the same limits and norms that they accept for themselves, they can hardly be surprised if China decides not to accept the legitimacy of American power and starts pushing back. These days it can push back pretty hard.”

Again, all evidence so far points to a distinct pattern that China wishes to expand its influence in South Asia without breaking international law or the rules set out in the Charter of the United Nations. China has not used its power improperly. The fact that China has growing ambitions to develop communication links via South Asia to the world market bypassing the Malacca Strait (which is an American “choke-point”) or that China aspires to explore the vast untapped potential for regional trade and investment in South Asia do not make the Chinese policies illegitimate.

Our dilemma is that we are used to exercising a level of regional primacy in the neighbouring countries and we may have come to regard it almost as a mark of our national identity. Clearly, the instinct to “fight” to keep our perceived regional primacy stems from a wrong notion.

The rise of China's influence doesn't have to be a story of India's weakness but can remain a story of Chinese strength. What is it, arguably, that prevents Indian companies even today from spreading wings to the mountains, jungles and beaches of Nepal, Myanmar or Sri Lanka with the gusto with which the Chinese businessmen are doing?

Last week, Yunnan commenced direct flight to Colombo. Why is it that a Raipur-Colombo air link remains “uneconomical?”

Nothing like this Chinese “challenge” ever happened before in the South Asian region. Japan or America or Britain could have mounted it in these six decades, but they didn't. But then, they weren't South Asia's neighbours. China is a neighbour.

(The writer is a former diplomat.)

Lankan Tamils in India and abroad are welcome to return - Gotabhaya Rajapaksa

In an exclusive interview, with ‘The Asian Age’ Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that Sri Lanka’s military victory over the LTTE offers lessons for the international community.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q. Recently you visited India for defence talks. There was defence cooperation for years before and during the conflict, so what are both sides talking today?

A. India could not do certain things, meet certain needs of the Sri Lankan armed forces, like supply of weapons, because of the sensitivities during the conflict period. Now that issue is no longer there, so we can think of going beyond that. The whole idea is to improve the defence relationship, to strengthen regional security, to improve maritime security in the Indian Ocean.

Q. There are concerns in India about China looking to beef up its presence in Sri Lanka, particularly its role in the Hambantota port project.

A. It is purely a business arrangement, nothing beyond that. I don’t think there is any issue in that sense. Wherever possible, when India has faced any security concerns, we have always bent backwards to accommodate them. With India, we are not looking at government-to-government relations alone; we are interested in people-to-people ties and trade. I know that Indian investors are interested in infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka. We are studying India’s successful PPP (public-private partnership) model.

Q. There has been criticism of the delay in the rehabilitation of the displaced Tamils.

A. I don’t think any other place in the world has so quickly resettled people in their original habitats in such a short period. In one year we have resettled a majority of the three lakh IDPs. Very few are remaining, and that is because of the delay in clearing landmines. We cannot solve problems overnight but the government has aggressively invested more money in the North and East than the other provinces.

Q. Sri Lanka has also been criticized for not minimizing the civilian casualties of the war.

A. India knows what is LTTE but most of the outside world does not. It was a most ruthless terrorist organisation. Some think the attack on the USS Cole was the first attack by a terrorist group but by that time the LTTE had done many attacks on ships. It had done more suicide attacks in one year in Sri Lanka than all the suicide attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq put together. The LTTE’s weaponry was equivalent to that of the armed forces - heavy artillery guns, mortars, machine guns, missiles, Naval suicide boats and, ultimately, even small aircraft. That was the magnitude of its military strength. So it was not a small insurrection or a civil disturbance. By defeating the LTTE, we have stopped the killings of innocent civilians.

Q. How are you dealing with the former LTTE combatants?

A. We have rehabilitated about 500 child soldiers. We started a skill development program for the 11,000 former combatants who surrendered; some of whom have completed this program and joined the society.

This is the truth but the other side does not know the true story.

Q. What can the world learn from Sri Lanka’s experience with terrorism?

A. What we have done is to defeat the terrorists. I should say any country which faces terrorism should follow the Sri Lankan model. I think in fighting terrorism as well as humanitarian assistance in a conflict like this, there are lots of lessons for others to learn rather than criticise. But there were concerns about humanitarian assistance during the conflict. Our military operations and humanitarian assistance ran parallel. One can say the actions were not effective, maybe there were weaknesses, but it was a success. Of course, there were issues but in a situation there would be issues. We had no-fire-zones and restrictions on use of heavy weapons which are not normally done anywhere in the world in this type of situation, but we did that.

Q. Looking back at the last days of the conflict, would you have done anything differently? There were reports that some LTTE leaders wanted to surrender but they were shot, there was also talk of ceasefire.

A. Prabhakaran did not want to surrender. Even the night before they were defeated, they tried to launch a counter attack and escape. There would have been no problem if they had surrendered, but we came to that last minute after a hard battle and a lot of sacrifices, so we were not ready for ceasefire.

Q. And did they inform the UN?

A. Nobody informed us about any surrender. We took the time to defeat the LTTE because of the civilians. If we had no such concerns, we could have bombarded the place, used all our artillery and walked through within a day but we took over two months. So the international community must consider the risks that we took.

Q. Looking ahead, do you have a political solution of the ethnic problem, a devolution package?

A. Political jargons alone will not bring about a solution.
We have created an environment for everybody to live peacefully, as Sri Lankans, as one nation. All other issues are for politicians.

The ground reality is we must give people the opportunity to live peacefully, with jobs and education. That is what they want and the government will ensure that this is there in Sri Lanka.

Q. What will be your message to the Lankan-Tamils living in India and abroad?

A. Some of them left long ago; others, more recently. The second and third generations have concerns about their children’s education.

I know it is difficult to give all that up and come. But if they come, they are most welcome. I think they must bring their know-how, knowledge, and invest their wealth here because development is the main requirement.

Courtesy: The Asian Age

Negativity on immigration shown by Angus Reid poll conducted after MV Sun Sea arrival may subside with the passage of time

Canadians shouldn't forget their compassion

By Amarnath Amarasingam

Canadians have long been struggling with the place of immigrants and refugees within their borders. The competing forces of humanitarianism that is ingrained in the Canadian identity and the equally important need for national security often clash in public discussions about immigration and refugee policy. The question of which of these dual forces is winning out in terms of public opinion often depends on when the question is asked.

In a 2005 Gallup poll, for example, 58 per cent of Canadians stated that they would like to see the level of immigration in Canada remain the same, 27 per cent wanted to see the number decrease, and 20 per cent wanted an increase. This is in stark contrast to Great Britain and the United States, where 65 per cent and 58 per cent, respectively, wanted to see lower levels of immigration.

As Philippe Bourbeau, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa, has shown, 1994 was the only year in which the majority of Canadians, at 53 per cent, stated that they were letting in "too many immigrants."

This number continued to decline even after the arrival of the "Chinese boat people." During the summer of 1999, four boats carrying 599 migrants from the Fujian province of China arrived in B.C.

In the media, and among certain groups in society, the reaction to these Chinese migrants foreshadowed many of the sentiments heard after the arrival of the MV Sun Sea, which docked in B.C. in early August carrying 490 Tamil refugees. Fears of tuberculosis, test boats, and queue jumping appeared in media reports and statements by public officials.

The Toronto Sun, for example, wrote on July 25, 1999, that "their gamble of jumping to the head of the immigration line by arriving illegally on our shores paid off. They and the smuggling ring that ran the operation rightly calculated that Canada was a weak, easy mark."

With the arrival of these boats, "there were all kinds of unnecessary hand wringing and concerns over Canada being flooded with refugee claimants, that the system was broken, and that this encourages abuse," says Scott Watson, a professor of political science at the University of Victoria.

Many scholars have noted that in addition to its humanitarian tradition, Canada has been moving toward a securitization of migration over the last few decades. What this means is that the movement of people across borders has slowly moved from being viewed in economic, humanitarian or racial terms to being incorporated into a framework of national security and defence.

While this shift to securitization has occurred at the bureaucratic and policy level, it does not seem to have trickled down to the public. When Canadians were asked, in 1997, whether they agree or disagree with the statement, "Immigrants make an important contribution to this country," 67 per cent agreed with the statement. Asked the same question in 2000, the number increased to 77 per cent. This increase occurred, it is important to remember, a year after the arrival of the Chinese boats in British Columbia.

"I don't think that securitization is the dominant view of Canadians," says Watson, "There is a securitized narrative, but I don't think it is necessarily the dominant one. At this point, it is still competing with the humanitarian representation."

This humanitarian representation again took a hit with the arrival of the MV Sun Sea. With reports that a migrant ship was on its way, many Canadians once again abandoned their expressed commitment to multiculturalism as well as the UN Refugee Convention.

In its place, again, appeared a stunning ignorance of Canadian refugee policy, confusion about the Tamil community, fears of test boats, concerns of tuberculosis, and suspicion that Tamil Tigers were constructing a base of operations in Canada.

These nebulous sentiments found online and heard on talk-radio were concretized when Angus Reid released the findings of its national poll on Aug. 20. Many in the Tamil community were saddened by the results. One result in particular was particularly jarring: 48 per cent of Canadians believe that the passengers and crew of the MV Sun Sea should be deported even if their refugee claims are legitimate and even if it is found that they have no discernible link to a terrorist organization.

In other words, many Canadians would send these refugees back, even if they are no different from refugees who come to our borders on a daily basis.

The results of the Angus Reid poll may be partly due to the fact that it was undertaken only a few days after the arrival of the MV Sun Sea. The results may reflect an uncharacteristic alarmism and fear that, if other polls and surveys are true, often subsides with the passage of time. As Canada continues to struggle with issues of national security, we would be best served to take seriously our equally important commitment to humanitarianism.

Amarnath Amarasingam is a doctoral candidate at Wilfred Laurier University.

This article first appeared in The Province, British Columbia

September 14, 2010

Ramifications of no confidence motion against Minister GL Pieris

by Dayan Jayatilleka

It is, in equal measure, ironic and amusing that the UNP has chosen to move a motion of No Confidence in Parliament, against the newish Minister of External Affairs, Prof GL Pieris.

Antonio Gramsci notes that in an intellectual argument one must strike at the opponent’s strongest point, while in war and politics, one strikes the weakest spot in the defences. One certainly does not strike at a stronger point of a strong adversary when one is at one’s weakest. Yet, this is precisely what the UNP, under the “cool, JR-like strategist” Ranil Wickremesinghe and spearheaded by his acolyte Ravi Karunanayake, has signalled its intention of doing.

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s strong suit is not exactly foreign policy. JR Jayewardene appointed him Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and soon made it clear that when it came to foreign affairs they had ‘no confidence’ in him, by removing him from the post in one year flat. The reason seems to have been that while Sri Lanka was still the Chair of the Non Aligned Movement, and Mr Jayewardene had succeeded Madam Bandaranaike as Chairperson of NAM, Mr Wickremesinghe as Deputy Foreign Minister was pushing an unbalanced, anti NAM agenda which the President and the Foreign Minister, ACS Hameed (the UNPs Shadow Foreign Minister in ’70-’77) found disturbing.Possessing the highest academic attainments of any Sri Lankan parliamentarian and indeed any Sri Lankan politician today (and here, the contrast with our post-Kadirgamar pair of former Foreign Ministers could hardly be more striking!), the new Minister of External Affairs is not exactly the weakest link in the administration’s armour.

On the occasions that Prof Pieris’ passed through Geneva when I was serving as Permanent Representative, I would eagerly arrange for him to address audiences of ambassadors and academics, and our team would watch with pride as he delivered his remarks, without a note, on almost any subject. In terms of civility and intellect, of the many who came to Geneva (since it was a hub of UN and multilateral organisations), GL Pieris was in a class by himself. Yet it is precisely against him that the UNP has chosen to move.

This is a UNP that was rightly accused by a fellow Opposition MP belonging to the TNA, of lacking “the guts” to be present in parliament during the debate on the 18th amendment and vote against it.

The SLFP is generally better at ‘doing’ defence and external affairs while the UNP is usually better at modernisation and economic development. The three worst fiascos of Sri Lankas external relations occurred when the UNP was at the helm: Bandung (“Booruwa”) ’55, the ‘dhal’ drop ’87, the CFA ’02. The UNP administration’s deliberate deviation from Nonalignment (fairly soon after President Jayewardene relinquished his duties as NAM Chairman) and the enormous damage to relations with India, resulted in the worst collapse of Sri Lanka’s foreign relations in 1987, with the Indian airdrop and the conspicuous silence of almost the whole of the world.

When Mervyn de Silva, writing in the Lanka Guardian and as columnist ‘Kautilya’ in The Island, defined the war as it was fought by the UNP administration of the 1980s as “unwinnable”, he referred to the gross mismanagement of relations with neighbouring India and the latter’s own axiomatic compulsions over the Tamil question (Tamil Nadu), which meant that the war would not be allowed to be won on Colombo’s terms. Mervyn contrasted the UNP elite’s foreign policy fiasco of 1987 with the triumph of the SLFP’s Non aligned foreign policy in 1971 when India and Pakistan, Russia and the USA, UK and China and Yugoslavia were the most prominent of 21 states that came to Sri Lanka’s aid and assistance.

The UNP that was not motivated into a motion of no confidence against the professor’s predecessor, the most abysmally ignorant and atrociously unintelligible Foreign Minister Sri Lanka ever had, has sprung into action now. It has chosen to do so, not after a decent period of testing like a year or two, but mere months after Professor Peiris has been appointed and is doubtless still grappling with the legacy he was left by a man whom the voters tossed out without a second thought at the last election.

The text of the UNPs imminent motion of No Confidence accuses Prof Pieris of having failed to secure the support of the Non Aligned Movement against the Ban Ki Moon panel. That process started rolling well before GLP was appointed Minister and consequent to an ambiguous reference to accountability conceded when his predecessor held the post. The UNP did not feel motivated to indict the failure to mobilise the Non Aligned, when Sri Lanka lost the vote held in New York for re-election to the Human Rights Council. Mr Bogollagama flew to New York to lobby support and flunked. Perhaps unsurprising, when one considers the fact that in a three way telephone conference in the run-up to the Special Session against Sri Lanka in 2009 with the same Minister and his top official, the Minister dismissed my suggestion of securing a supportive statement from the Non-Aligned Co-ordinating Bureau in New York with the incredible observation that the Non Aligned Movement was split in three and therefore of little use to us!

The UNP is so solicitous of the support of the Non Aligned that Mr Wickremesinghe, addressing the UN General Assembly, tilted in favour of George Bush’s unprovoked invasion of Iraq, strongly opposed not only by the NAM, but public opinion in the West. The Opposition leader’s nominee for managing a ‘mass media campaign at the grass roots’, Mangala Samaraweera as Foreign Minister, assumed a position on Israel/Palestine and Iran in multinational forums, that can only be described, in relation to the NAM stand, as deviant.

The UNPs motion charges the Minister of External Affairs of having “overstayed” his invitation to China by two days, which is bound to raise a chuckle or two, coming as it does from Mr Wickremesinghe who seems to have overstayed his stint as leader of his party and the Opposition, by well over a decade!

Why then is the UNP moving this No confidence motion at this time? There are three discernible reasons in ascending order of importance. Firstly the “tall poppy syndrome” (as the Australians dub it): the semi-spontaneous collective attempt motivated by petty jealousy, to level down. Secondly, the same reason that made the LTTE murder Lakshman Kadirgamar: deprive Sri Lanka and the administration of the most sophisticated communicator and best possible bridge with the world system, thereby isolating Sri Lanka. The third motive is the most serious. When viewed in a global perspective the ‘no confidence’ manoeuvre clearly takes place in a particular context and forms part of a specific strategy. It is part of a ‘pincer move’ against Sri Lanka as a state; a country.

Sri Lanka is in serious danger from an attempt to (a) project the State and the Sinhalese as proxies of Beijing in a grand strategic contest between the West and India on the one hand and China on the other, and (b) on this score, to leverage India and the West against Sri Lanka. This pernicious effort comes from three sources: anti-China Cold Warriors in the West who are attempting as in the 1950s and ’60s, to ‘contain China’ and in fact thwart and reverse the rise of Asia; the pro-Ranil Wickremesinghe neo-comprador elements of the UNP, its supportive journalists and civil society ideologues; and the anti-Lankan ultra-nationalists of the Tamil Diaspora and Tamil Nadu. This bloc of forces is not new, and indeed dates back to the Sri Lankan political polarisation of the Cold War decades.

In the same week as our civil society cosmopolitans and the international media focused on Sri Lanka, the latter was saying virtually the same thing about two other places at least: Russia and Rwanda.

The Financial Times (UK) editorialised as to why the West should oppose Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s possible plans to stand for re-election as President in 2012. For his part, Mr Putin deployed the argument of Franklin D Roosevelt’s fourth term argument—which should be familiar to Sri Lankan readers. In the same week the Western media mounted pressure on President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, with chatter about a UN report on possible ‘war crimes’ and ‘genocide’, allegedly committed by this man who saved Rwanda from its situation of a genocidal hell on earth. He is a wildly popular (elected) president who has not only brought peace and victory to his country but greatly modernised it, exponentially improved standards of public administration and vastly enhanced the presence of educated women in government.

There is a clear trend of the displeasure of the opinion making elite in the West and their favourites in Eurasian societies and those of the global South, against strong, independent–minded, often populist leaders who strive to build or re-build strong sovereign states. This does not mean that everything those leaders do is right or defensible, but that this external dimension of prejudice is also present, must be demarcated and defended against.

Take for instance the new article by Sonali Samarasinghe, currently a Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard, which has this to say: “Why must the world take action now?... Rajapaksa has now aligned his formerly westward-looking country with China, Iran, Pakistan and Libya...” (‘Why The World Must Stop Sri Lanka’s Decline’, Global Post, Sept 10, 2010). Samarasinghe does not specify that golden age when this country was “westward –looking” but one may safely assume these were years under UNP administrations, (barring of course, that of President Premadasa, who far-sightedly looked to East Asia from the 1960s, declared David Gladstone persona non grata and whose favourite political leader contemporary with his own presidency, was Malaysia’s outspokenly West-bashing Mahathir Mohammed). Never was Sri Lanka more “Westward looking” than under the short, unhappy Prime Ministership of Ranil Wickremesinghe. It is the “fall” from this ‘golden age’, the deviation from the “westward –looking” orientation resulting in or occasioned by Sri Lanka’s alleged alignment with China, that is the problem for some sectors of our society as well as for certain elements of the world order.

Thus, the motion of No Confidence against Minister Pieris and the recent external (metropolitan) criticisms of Sri Lanka’s domestic politics must be located and understood in this wider, North-South, West-East context of the long battle for national sovereignty and a multi-polar world.

“Connecting People to Prosperity” in Sri Lanka. A reality check with “Mahinda Chinthanaya”

By Vidya Abhayagunawardena

A World Bank report titled “Sri Lanka: Reshaping Economic Geography- Connecting People to Prosperity”, released in August, provides new insights on the geographic transformations in the country and identifies public policy priorities for connecting people lagging economically.

It uses the framework of World Development Report (WDR) 2009, "Reshaping Economic Geography". According to the report, “Connecting People to Prosperity” is the principle behind the economic integration policies that can help countries to reap the benefits of both uneven growth and inclusive development.

Backdrop

After 1978 Sri Lankan economy opened up to the world to take advantages of competitive and comparative economies around the world. Before 1978 Sri Lankan economy mainly depended on tea, rubber and coconut and it was an agriculture based economy. With liberased economy, Sri Lanka began large scale development programs to create more employment opportunities and connect people to new towns, eradicating poverty, better living standards etc. These included projects such as Greater Colombo Development Plan which was introduced with the Free Trade Zones, Mahaveli Development Project, 200 garment factory project and privatization of public enterprises.

Parallel to those programs, there were poverty reduction/alleviation schemes like Janasaviya, Gam Udawa, Samurdhi, Gami Diriya. These projects were undertaken in pre-conflict stage of Sri Lanka and some are still continuing (Samurdhi).In this particular period Sri Lanka’s economy experienced major internal and external economic threats. Among them were shocks from JVP insurgency in 1988 and continued three decade long ethnic war in the North and East till 2009 and nature made shock in 2004 Tsunami in particular.

“Mahinda Chinthana” Targets & Policy formulations

With the end of North and East conflict, Sri Lankan economy will work towards double digit growth rate with per income capita exceeding US$4000 GDP by 2015 as mentioned in the “New Sri Lanka” “Mahinda Chinthana” ploicy. Mahinda Chinthana (MC) is the policy document for next five years on development projects and programs in the island nation. After prolonged war the country is looking for “New Sri Lanka”. Without taking a side of ethnic, political, religious or any other divisions or differences, people of Sri Lanka will support “people led development programs” to make a “New Sri Lanka”.

In the past we have had some failed development programs due to top bottom approach in development planning. To a great extent MC is a bottom up approach. In the post war reconstruction stage people freedom and space for development and it was not a reality due to the North and East conflict. As Amrtya Sen described five distinct types of freedom needed for development. These are a) Political Freedoms; b) Economic Facilities; c)Social Opportunities; d)Transparency Guarantees; e) Protective Security. All of these factors help advance the general capability of a person.

Country originated policies for economic development

In the past we have noticed international lending agencies to Sri Lanka mainly the World Bank(WB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) were perceived as enemies by some political parties and trade unions. This was mainly due to the inability of previous regimes to communicate to the people in the country about the rationale behind the agreements or discussions they had with them (WB/IMF). In recent years we have not witnessed such scale protests or any sort of displeasure towards WB and IMF involvement in Sri Lanka from these parties. It is because the WB has consulted distinguished Sri Lankan economists, policy makers, administratives, ministries, universities and other concerned institutes. Sri Lanka now needs country originated policy formulations rather Washington-driven policy formulations. This is a very much prudent approach and move by the WB (others also better to follow in the future) in developing policies for Sri Lanka.

“Connecting People to Prosperity”

The “Connecting People to Prosperity” Report consists of three chapters. Chapter One is about unbalanced economic growth and inclusive development and it provides facts on Sri Lanka’s spatial transformation as production concentrated policies balanced basic living standards. WDR 2009 calls for a rebalancing of policy discussions to include all the instruments of integration. It shows how to use the three spatial (space + distance) dimension (3D) of Density, Distance and Division to tailor the use of these policy instruments to address integration challenges facing countries. Density indicates the size of economic out put or total purchasing power per unit of surface area –for example, square kilometer. It is highest in the large cities where economic activity is concentrated and much lower in rural neighborhoods. Distance measures the ease of reaching markets. It determines access to opportunity. Areas far from economically dense centers in a country are more likely to lag. Divisions arises from barriers to economic interactions created by differences in currencies, customs and languages, which restrict market access.

In Sri Lanka’s reshaping economic geography the Western Province accounts for 70 percent of industrial value added, up from 43 per cent in 1983, contributes more than 50 per cent of GDP and this reflects unevenly distribution of employment, income in Sri Lanka. The Western Province has improved living standards for many Sri Lankans due to rising economic densities in the province. 1.5 million people living in Western Province were born in other parts of the country. In the report “Poverty Mountains” has shown that many poor people live closer to prosperity in the Western Province but the province itself home for 16.8 per cent of Sri Lanka’s poor people. Uva Province is the poorest province with per capita expenditure of Rs. 3879 and poverty incidence of 27 per cent, but is home to 12.3 per cent of Sri Lanka’s poor.

The Report suggests that by improving the quality of basic services, such as health and education, policies can facilitate migration and bring people closer to prosperity. Improving the quality of services is important to promote labor mobility. Central, Sabaragamuwa, and Southern are home to almost 50 per cent of Sri Lanka’s poor people. Further, Sri Lanka is one of the few lower middle-income countries that has surpassed or is close to achieving many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Overall achievements in delivering health and education services, gaps in some geographical pockets and vulnerable subgroups remain. The high-risk and underserved groups include the estate population, conflict effected areas, internally displaced people, and the rural poor.

Chapter Two describes, Improving the fluidity of land, labor and product markets and examine the drivers of geography transformation –transformation of land use, mobility of people, and flow of products. In Sri Lanka, there is considerable public land ownership in rural areas in contrast with large urban areas where private ownership is much higher. Colombo metropolitan areas is estimated between 10 to 20 percent of the land own by the state overall land ownership is the government is 6.56 million hectares and about 82 percent. And also larger proportion of people depend on agriculture, land market restrictions tend to keep them poorer as they earn per in unit of labor. Connecting people through labor mobility will help to mitigate differences in welfare that often accompany economic concentration it said.

People are leaving to leading areas from lagging areas due to economic opportunities mainly 45 per cent reported moving for work or in search of land. Internal migration is very much high in Western Province due to most of industrial and commercial activities there. “Push” and “Pull” factors play a pivotal role in migrating people to Western Province in the country . And also due to North and East conflict in-migration rates were high in Polonaruwa, Monaragala, Anuradhapura and Ampara. Northern and Eastern provinces data was not available in the report. Connecting places and exchanges products is very much link with transport and its cost and regulation of the transport industry. Domestic transport cost is relatively high compared to US and over 90 percent of freight transport by road in Sri Lanka. Transport charges are high due to poor infrastructure quality and fuel costs, indirect costs (licensing, insurance and informal payments), transport competition, high traffic congestions, poor road maintenance.

Chapter Three, finds policies for connecting people to prosperity. It identifies public policy priorities for improving spatial equity in living standards. The WBR 2009’s framework for economic integration includes policies on spatially blind policies of institutions, Spatially connective policies refer to infrastructure, spatially targeted policies to stimulate economic growth in lagging areas. All these policies are linked to one driver of geographic transformation. In those places need to ensure basic services everywhere is beneficial for both spatial efficiency and equity.

Overall the report finds, Sri Lanka's public policies have been remarkably successful in leveling social welfare and preparing the ground for inclusive development. Poverty has come down in all provinces and service delivery in education, basic healthcare, and basic infrastructure including water and sanitation is dispersed throughout the country. Government further may look in to education sector. As the WB report says the current challenge is to improve the quality of education in lagging areas and develop skills that help people access opportunities in a transforming the economy. 30% of students fail courses in their first language and mathematics in grade 8, and 50 per cent fail English. Ministry of Education suggests the accessibility is best in Western Province, followed by Southern Province; it is worst in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

The education system in the Northern and Eastern provinces needs priority support to reduce spatial in education opportunities. The Report further says on education “Sri Lanka little invest in education, by international standards, and public investment in education also needs to be raised over time. While there is no doubt that tertiary education is an important pillar for national transformation, the analysis here shows that higher education subsidies disproportionately benefit rich families in Western Province. For spatial efficiency and connecting people to prosperity, private involvement in delivery of tertiary education should be among the option.” The health sector in the country is very impressive. The Report says the current health system has many areas where efficiency can be improved and potentially reduce healthcare costs. Health services are equitable because poor people can seek care at any facility free of charge. Analysts suggests that while health service are geographically dispersed and reach the poor, there are significant inefficiencies due to underutilization of facilities.

“Mahinda Chinthna” at large

As mentioned early, “Mahinda Chinthana”(MC) is still in the implementation stage and results of it would be visible from end of 2011. Development projects such as new high ways, road development networks and transport system development, other infrastructure projects will contribute in connecting people to leading areas and make lagging areas into leading areas. Among the projects of promise include Southern High Way, Katunayaka High Way, Capacity enhancement of Colombo harbor, Construction of a new harbor in Hambantota, a new Air Port in Mattala, Coal power plant, Developing Oluvil harbor and the proposed Kandy express way. Along with these development projects, Northern Spring, Eastern Re-wakening, Gama Naguma, Samurdhi programs are continuing to uplift the regional livelihoods and accelerating and supporting regional development.

Beyond “Mahinda Chinthanaya”

The post war reconstruction of the North and East needs more co-ordinated socio economic development projects and programs. Government always can seek partnerships with private sector and international partners to widen its development capacities in these two provinces. Support in improving livelihoods, improving health and education, speeding up of de-mining especially of the agricultural lands, new and improving irrigation system, financial support for starting up businesses, training and investment in human capital are much needed in these two provinces. Government may encourage private sector to moving into these two provinces to invest and speed up local economic activities.

While MC policy acts as a driving force of economic development and growth of the country, “Connecting People to Prosperity” can be used as a MC’s policy analysis and evaluation tool. To what extend lagging areas has benefited from MC policies? To what level has the poverty level come down in lagging provinces? At what cost transport costs come down? Are North and East regions connected to the rest of the country? Have the Educational facilities and levels of education gone up? Overall are people connected to prosperity?

Beyond this Sri Lanka will need to have a long term sustainable economic policies with suitable and prudent changes and adjustment to the changing world economy. It is hoped that the government and the opposition and concerned parties will work together to lay the foundation for the gigantic task. Only such a strategy can ensure a sustained double digit economic growth rate with a low inflation rate in future Sri Lanka.

'Sri Lanka government is stirring up patriotism, saying the West is against the people of Sri Lanka'

By Johan van Slooten

A leading Sri Lanka expert has warned that with last week’s parliamentary victory on constitutional reforms, Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse has dealt a final blow to the country’s human rights, civil liberties and true democracy. Charu Latta Hogg, an associate fellow at London-based think tank Chatham House, says that Sri Lanka is heading ‘towards a totalitarian state’.

The constitutional reforms, backed by a large majority of Sri Lanka’s parliament, enable the president to seek a third term, which could keep Mr Rajapakse in office until at least 2022. Other changes include a reform of various councils and commissions, such as Sri Lanka’s national police commission, an anti-briberies council and the national human rights commission.

Independent

This is what Ms Charu Lata Hogg, who works for Chatham House’s Asia Programme, is most worried about. “These commissions used to be independently appointed by Members of Parliament, including opposition members, " Ms Hogg told RNW. “But now it will be the president who will solely appoint its members and its chairmen. Essentially, these institutions of democracy will now come under the control of just one man”.

Human rights

She is especially worried about Sri Lanka’s national commission for human rights violations. “It is supposed to document and investigate human rights violations against the people of Sri Lanka. But how effective will it be when the council will be appointed by the president himself? What happens if it is asked to investigate violations by the government or the president?”.

Mr Rajapakse is currently riding on a wave of popularity after he declared victory last year over the Tamil Tiger rebels in the northeast, ending a 25-year civil war in May 2009. Regarded as the main force behind the government army’s victory, Mr Rajapakse clinched an ouright victory in last year’s presidential elections - but not before he'd taken out his main rival, military chief Sarath Fonseka, by placing him under arrest and declaring his bid to run in the elections as invalid.

Totalitarian streaks

“The end of that war was a blessing for Sri Lanka in many ways,” says Ms Hogg, “but it has lead to totalitarian streaks creeping into Mr Rajapakse’s regime, as the government is simply not challenged anymore. Opposition comprises of many different factions and the government puts them under great pressure. Some opposition members even find it strategically wiser to side with the president rather than carry on protesting his policies”.

This was proven in last week’s vote, when many opposition MPs decided to vote in favour of Mr Rajapakse’s reform plans.

International community

The international community seems to be reluctant in breaking ties with Sri Lanka, says Ms Hogg. “The EU is quite firm in its criticism, but the US is not very clear. They’ve shown support in the war on the Tamil Tigers, but they have also criticised Sri Lanka’s poor human rights record”. Not that it will matter to the people of Sri Lanka – the government seems to be more interested in consolidating ties with countries like India or China, which have been wooing Sri Lanka for a long time.

Patriotism

“The government is stirring up patriotism, saying the West is against the people of Sri Lanka," says Ms Hogg. One example is the heavy protest after the UN announced an independent investigation earlier this year into possible war crimes during the final stages of the Tamil Tigers war. “With Mr Rajapakse’s current popularity, it’s not that difficult at all to mobilise the people”. - courtesy: Radio Netherlands Worldwide -

Rights of internally displaced children must be protected,Radhika Coomaraswamy stresses

Human Rights Council holds Interactive dialogue with Special Representative of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict

Human Rights Council 14 September 2010

The Human Rights Council this morning opened its agenda item on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, and heard Radhika Coomaraswamy the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict present her report, which was followed by an interactive dialogue in which speakers welcomed the progress made during the last year in the protection of children in armed conflict and the attention accorded by the Special Representative to internally displaced children and their particular vulnerabilities.

Radikha Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, said last year witnessed some important positive developments with regard to children and armed conflicts around the world, but great challenges remained. The recent incidents of mass rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were mind boggling, and this was the international community's collective responsibility. Ms. Coomaraswamy said that not all practices against children took place in the developing world, and the problem of children in detention had become a new challenge to be faced in the future. The special needs and concerns of internally displaced children all over the world must be highlighted, as they were at higher risk of becoming victims of grave violations, recruited to be child soldiers, and at high risk of sexual violence and harassment. Education was also a basic service that must be guaranteed to children, Ms. Coomaraswamy said.

In the interactive dialogue, speakers welcomed the important international mechanisms established to deal with children and armed conflict over the past decade and the progress achieved over the last year in protecting children in armed conflicts. Despite the progress in legislative terms, there was an alarming increase of children being used in conflict situations. Demonstrable United Nations action was crucial for the improvement of protection of children in armed conflict, particularly in the implementation of action plans, which was where the United Nations could have the most impact. Mainstreaming of child rights issues related to armed conflict into the work of human rights mechanisms, including the Universal Periodic Review, treaty bodies and Special Procedures was seen as important. There was no excuse for a national government to be listed as a violator of children’s rights in the Secretary-General’s report, or to refuse to enter into an action plan when requested by the United Nations. Speakers asked the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to provide her views and further information on a number of issues, including the “Zero under 18” campaign and a working paper that had been launched on the vulnerabilities of internally displaced children.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Qatar, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Georgia, European Union, Sri Lanka, Denmark, Slovakia, Russian Federation, Jordan, United Kingdom, Sweden, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Morocco, Israel, Egypt, Costa Rica, Japan, Brazil, Italy, Republic of Korea, Iraq, Switzerland, France, Argentina, Indonesia, Sudan, Philippines, Austria, Mexico, Greece, Colombia, China, Hungary, Nepal, United States, Norway, Uruguay, Slovenia, Algeria, United Nations Children’s Fund, Viet Nam, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

Also speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: International Save the Children Alliance, Colombian Commission of Jurists, World Muslim Congress, International Islamic federation of student organisations and Action Internationale pour la paix et le développement dans la region des Grand Lacs.
This afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Council is scheduled to hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences and the Chairperson of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impending the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination.


Document

The Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, (A/HRC/15/58), covers the period May 2009 to May 2010 and outlines the activities undertaken in discharging the mandate of the Special Representative, including information on her field visits and on the progress achieved, and challenges remaining on the children and armed conflict agenda.

Presentation by Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict

RADHIKA COOMARASWAMY, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, presenting her report, said last year witnessed some important positive developments with regard to children and armed conflict around the world. The Human Rights Council itself strengthened its own resolution on children to include provisions with regard to children and armed conflict, specifically on the fight against sexual violence against children in war. Despite these moments of progress, great challenges remained. The recent incidents of mass rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were mind boggling, and this was the international community's collective responsibility. Women and children must be protected, and everything should be done to review the situation, to put in place procedures and practices that would alert the international community to such events so as to ensure an effective response. But, most importantly, those who committed these horrendous acts must be held responsible. Without accountability, there was no justice, and without justice there was no deterrent. Not all practices against children took place in the developing world, and the problem of children in detention had become a new challenge to be faced in the future.

The special needs and concerns of internally displaced children all over the world must be highlighted, Ms. Coomaraswamy said. There was no child more vulnerable in the world than a child internally displaced by armed conflict, forced to leave home and community behind, facing discrimination and often denied the documentation and the legal and civic rights guaranteed to other children in the population. Children who had been internally displaced were also at higher risk for becoming victims of grave violations, recruited to be child soldiers, at high risk of sexual violence and harassment. Education was also a basic service that must be guaranteed to children. Humanitarian actors, led by UNICEF, had increasingly recognized that child participation should be promoted in devising local strategies for recovery and reintegration. Universal ratification of the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and on Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography would move the international community toward ensuring that the prohibition against child soldiers became an international norm which would be recognized by international customary law.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict

MOHAN PEIRIS (Sri Lanka) said that throughout the three decade long conflict in Sri Lanka, the Government continued to uphold and enforce a zero-tolerance policy towards the abduction and use of children in armed conflict. The end of the conflict situation in Sri Lanka in May 2009 marked a significant new beginning for former child combatants. As the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam no longer had the ruthless capacity to forcibly separate children from their families, the abominable practice of forced recruitment of child soldiers had ceased to exist. A total of 667 former child combatants had undergone rehabilitation and were reunited with their families since May 2009. Finally, Sri Lanka added that it was among the first United Nations Member States to set up a National Task Force in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1539 and 1612 to monitor and report on child conscription. http://www.ohchr.org/

The need of the hour is a broad civil rights movement uniting all progressive forces

By Surendra

The 18th Amendment is now history. The emperor has been crowned with absolute tyrannical power. He has been vested with effective command over all institutions of the state- the executive, legislative, judicial, financial, the armed forces, police and the bureaucracy. He is in command of all the commissions and councils set up to protect democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

He now controls the Public Services Commission, the Police, the Supreme Court, the office of the Attorney General, the Auditor General, Secretary General of Parliament, Bribery and Corruption Commission, Human Rights Commission, and yes, the Elections Commission. He even commands a Parliamentary Council, which has replaced the Constitutional Council. He, and his crony Cabinet, can now hire and fire anyone at whim or fancy.

This is besides functioning as the Head of State and Commander of the Armed Forces. He, together with his family, commands over 70% of all financial and economic resources of the country. With this total command, he shall command the political, economic, social, ideological and cultural life of society.

His writ is to be the supreme, sovereign Law of the Land. His dynasty is to rule in perpetuity. The regime, and the dynasty, simply cannot afford to lose state power, lest it gets hauled into court on charges of corruption, abuse of power and violation of human rights., leave alone facing the potential wrath of the masses.

We should not be surprised at this turn of events. We warned of this future. We were aware that a military solution to the Tamil National Question would lead inevitably to a hegemonic- chauvinist- militarist state that would seat the Rajapakse regime in absolute power. We argued that the way to co-opt the ‘separatist agenda’ is to provide a democratic political solution- as in Northern Ireland, Philippines, Chittagong Hills and elsewhere. Of course, such a trajectory would have required exceptional statesmanship, quite unlike the bloated, arrogant despots who have ruled this island. The way towards this objective of seizing absolute power was designed by Mahinda, in close collaboration with the JVP and the JHU.

This strategy was to seek a military solution, unleash unbridled chauvinism, consolidate its grip on the ignorant Sinhala masses - aided and sanctioned by the supreme religious authorities, split and decimate the Opposition- which had collaborated in pursuing the military solution, and establish a military-police State, under the banner of patriotism. As it is, the regime has bombed the Tamil nation to splinters, buried Tamil nationhood in rivers of blood, dislocated the Tamil population, robbed them of their land, and deprived them of livelihood.

It has enforced a regime of white state terror upon the masses throughout the Land, along with abduction, arrest, torture and killing of politicians, journalists and oppositional forces. It has amassed vast fortunes through naked bribery and corruption, sold out the country, and our independence and sovereignty to the US, China, Russia, India, Israel and the IMF!

It has now crowned itself with the robes of an emperor – in the name of patriotism, in the style of a liberating conqueror of the Motherland having vanquished the ‘alien Dravidian forces”, who shall now exercise his right to rule and conquer as he pleases- as an emperor! This was the hidden agenda of the Mahinda Chintanaya, all along. This is the agenda that the decrepit LSSP, the rotting, revisionist Communist Party of Sri Lanka and hapless Vasudeva supported and legitimized- and continue to do so.

The 18th Amendment has steeled, sharpened and handed over the sword of dictatorship and tyranny to H.E. Mahinda Rajapakse, who shall wield that sword in a way that no other ruler has ever imagined or dared to. History has recorded such deranged abnormalities in the persons of Hitler, Mussolini, Mugabe, Pinochet, Shah of Iran, Idi Amin, Sadam Hussein and a trail of others. History has also recorded their final doom.

Mahinda Rajapakse is a personification of Capital. He stands as a living confirmation of the barbaric horrors of Capital in its bloody march through history. He stands as a living confirmation of Marxist analysis that revealed the march of Capital, and how these crises, monstrosities and horrors shall pave the way for a whole new epoch of universal human emancipation. Now, that barbaric history ruled by Capital is coming to an end, with the dawn of a glorious era of human freedom rising in the distant horizon all across the oceans.

So Mahendra Percival Rajapakse’s time is running out. When the people shall become aware and rise up to fight and achieve their own freedom, when they shall realize the conditions of their own ignorance and slavery and rise up to end all forms of domination, exploitation and oppression from the earth, then the time would have come. But, we will all have to do our part in order to build our collective will, organizational unity and discipline, and our fighting capacity to meet our historic responsibilities.

We never clung to illusions. We believed that no representative nor regime of this rotting Comprador-Capitalist ruling class would ever abolish the Executive Presidency. This is because the Executive Presidency had been set up by the UNP in order to open wide the gates of the open market economy and subject the country to unfettered global plunder. It was set up to more effectively facilitate penetration by world imperialism and International Finance Capital, rake off fat commissions through mega-projects, grease the machinery of corruption and abuse to satisfy the greed of the political pimps and lackeys, drive the exploited and oppressed masses to dust, suppress and subjugate the oppressed nationalities, and to crush any and all resistance by the full weight of the terrorist dictatorship of the Comprador state.

This is why Ranil Wickremasinghe cravenly cow-tows to Mahinda. They both share the same ruling class agenda. Mahinda Rajapakse has simply taken over the whole cake baked by each successive regime of the Comprador ruling class, which, in turn, reinforced the feudal-colonial, hegemonic-chauvinist terrorist dictatorship. The emperor has simply politically beheaded all those who paved his way to power, save those who limp and pimp to serve him.

The task of the hour is not to bemoan the crowing of the emperor, nor to rely on some supine Parliamentary Opposition to get its act together. The task of the hour is to build a broad, nation-wide, civil rights movement to rescind the 18th Amendment. Such a movement shall draw in all democratic forces who can be united on one main issue: rescinding the 18th Amendment- conjoined with other related legal-political-constitutional issues, as proposed below.

For this, we need to articulate a new constitutional vision that would empower and give pride of place to all nations, nationalities and ethnic-religious communities; that would empower workers, farmers, fishermen, women, youth, professionals, traders, merchants, business community, shanty people, and others who are being trampled by this foul and vile agenda, so they may together exercise their conscious freedom and assert their sovereign right to discuss and decide their future.

The need of the hour calls for a broad civil rights movement that would unite all progressive, democratic, revolutionary forces into a Popular Front For Freedom and Democracy. This process could set the stage for initiating a People’s Democratic Movement that could lead to a fundamental restructuring of the state that could- and would- overthrow the Emperor, along with his blood-drenched regime of deception, manipulation and terror, and pave the way for a new and higher stage of people’s democracy, national unity and independence, economic prosperity and freedom, wherein the people shall claim their rightful right to the infinite harvests of the 21st Century.

As the common minimum principles of unity, we propose the following.

1. Repeal of the 18th Amendment

2. Abolition of the Executive Presidency

3. Activation of the 17th Amendment

4. Repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act

5. End of Emergency Regulations

6. Release of all political prisoners against whom no legal charges have been made

7. Compensation for all those who have lost loved ones, livelihood, limbs and property due to the war.

8. Enshrine the right to land, property and livelihood of all those victimized by war

9. Engage in a broad democratic process of dialogue with all parties and interests in seeking a democratic solution to the National Question, where the national-democratic rights of the Tamil nation, the Hill Country (Malayaga) nationality, the Moslem nationality and all ethnic-religious communities shall live with equality, dignity, security, autonomy and democratic freedom.

10. Enshrine the right of the people to enjoy a life free from perpetual poverty, misery and degradation, so they may realize their full creative potential to contribute their best towards the progress of society and the emancipation of humanity.

To undertake this long and tortuous road to freedom we would have to raise our vision, commitment and determination and be prepared to make the highest sacrifice. As Mao said, “The path is tortuous, but the future is bright. Nothing is impossible if you dare to scale the heights”.

(The writer is general secretary of the Ceylon Communist Party - Maoist)

Karu Jayasuriya regrets his inadvertent role in stabilising Rajapaksa regime

UNP deputy leader and Gampaha district Parliamentarian Karu Jayasuriya has issued a statement expressing regret for his inadvertent role in stabilising the Rajapaksa regime in the past. He has declared his intention of devoting the remainder of his life to face the challenge posed to the nation by the 18th Constitutional amendment

Following is the full text of Mr.Karu ayasuriya’s statement:

Two years ago I rendered my support to the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa when it decided to go to war against a terrorist scourge. I did not come to that decision lightly. It gave me great pain to change ranks and move away from the United National Party for a time. Yet in that instance, I did so in the firm belief that the national need was greater at the time than the needs of the political party I had chosen to serve through.

I made that difficult decision in the hope that I would be contributing to an effort to prevent the north and east of my beloved country falling into the hands of a tyrant. I am proud to have supported my country’s troops to achieve the great victory over terrorism, yet today, a few days after the most undemocratic, ludicrous amendment was passed in parliament ensuring the virtually unending reign of the incumbent President, I am filled with regret.

In my desire to see my country freed of the iron grip of a megalomaniac terrorizing our people, I have inadvertently contributed to the political stabilization of this regime, which has produced a despot whose writ extends over all of this land. For there is no doubt that none of this would have been possible if not for the triumphs of our brave troops out on the blood-drenched battlefields of the north and east and for the political support its allies provided this government to enable it to go to war.

Ironically then we are at this strange juncture of our history. The unceasing call from all sectors of Sri Lankan society for the last several decades has been for the abolishment of the executive presidency. Having lived through and experienced first hands the pitfalls and dangers of this system for more than 30 years, Sri Lankans have reached the unanimous conclusion that the executive presidency is not only a serious threat to the principles of democracy upon which this republic was founded, but also a plague on society at large. This country has watched politician after politician ascending this seat of power promising to abolish it.

But once they have savoured the power it affords they have clung to the presidency, in many cases morphing into mini-dictators with no further ambition than ruling supreme for as long as possible. And yet, while this has been the dominant political discourse in this country and his own election manifestos have promised the abolishment of the office of the executive presidency, President Mahinda Rajapaksa last week moved insidiously and with little warning towards transforming the very nature of governance in Sri Lanka, by introducing a constitutional amendment that virtually assures him the presidency for life. In so doing, the President has revealed his hand and exposed to the country at large his dynastic agenda and the means by which he intends to reaching these ends.

The desperate and revolting power grab, achieved through intimidation, extortion and outright bribery, has been more than anything else a tragic betrayal of the electorate who voted him into office, both in 2005 and 2010. On both occasions, President Rajapaksa campaigned on a platform to abolish the presidency, calling himself a mere custodian of Sri Lanka with a different vision for governance. Yet with the 18th Amendment he has successfully anointed himself King, once again proving that his word is worthless and that he is in no way honour bound to his voters unless it serves his own purposes.

Having supported this government while it was in the process of waging war against the LTTE, however brief that alliance might have been, I now believe that I have a bounden duty to rectify the mistake and ensure that it does not cost Sri Lanka her status as Asia’s oldest democracy. For that reason I assure all the people of this country who mourn the death of democracy and freedom by the passing of the 18th Amendment that I will devote the remainder of my life and political career towards overcoming this challenge.

To this end, I will leave no stone unturned to unite all forces that reject the despotic policies of this regime and take the battle to this government. I have no doubt that together, with truth and democracy on our side, we will not fail.

September 13, 2010

Mano Ganesan charts new political approach for Democratic Peoples Front

My party is convinced that UNP leadership is not doing anything on this. You can ask anyone of those ‘national list MPs’ to resign in the interest of the party. Or even you can compensate any of them with the Colombo Mayoral candidature. You can request any Colombo based National list MP to step down and stand for CMC mayor. We will support. But you are not doing either. I cooperated with patience and goodwill since April. But nothing has happened.

The former Colombo district Parliamentarian wants to maintain equidistance between the UNP and UPFA and be able to criticise both parties if necessary on the one hand while having an issue-based working relationship with the DNA and TNA whenever necessary.

He is thinking of contesting future local authority elections as an Independent entity

Mano Ganesan whose party continues to remain within the UNF despite the cross over of its solitary Parliamentarian Praba Ganesan has indicated his fresh line of thought to UNP and opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe in a recent missive.

The full text of the letter is reproduced below:

Hon. Ranil Wickramasinghe MP
Leader of opposition and UNP

Dear Sir,

What’s happening in the UNP is pathetic. There had been other in the past. But this is the worst of all considering the internal and external conditions. However I am confident and pray that you will be able to overcome the difficulties in your party.

On the other hand, I need to inform you, the readings within my party and Tamil community in general.

Tamil community is suffering with the defeatist complex. In the north and east and south, the western province and plantations, the new development amidst the Tamil community is that they have started talking about ‘reality conditions’ and ‘positive aspects’ of the govt and president Mahinda Rajapakse.

This is certainly wrong. There is no positive realities in president Mahinda Rajapakse’s regime for the Tamils to be happy about. Not even there is anything considerable. But it is happening. It is because there is no respectable and convincing Tamil leadership element to challenge this new development from within the UNP/UNF.

The general situation now for the govt/UPFA, in the north, east, upcountry and Colombo is changing. They have Minister Devananda and now KP for the north. Chief minister Pillayan and minister Karuna Amman for the east. It is ‘some’ hold against TNA for the govt in the north and east. TNA is slowly losing ground in this post war era.

UNP should have gained from this trailing of TNA. But today it is gained by the UPFA. It is due to the weak unimpressive Tamil leadership in the UNP. On the other hand UPFA is well established in upcountry, Nuwara Eliya and Badulla with minister Thondaman’s CWC and now added with Mr. Digambaram and Mr. Sri Ranga.

That leaves western province, Colombo. Even during it’s time of highest popularity, UPFA could not win Colombo’s five electorates. Colombo is the last remaining hold of the UNP. At every elections Tamils and Muslims saved UNP alliance.

It is itching the govt. Govt tried to change Tamil vote with UPF’s Mr. Radhakrishnan and CWC’ Mr. Yogarajan then, but failed. I was there all along as an iron curtain with the UNP. But now you have changed the equation. You dropped me and opted for some non entity Tamils thinking they are Tamil vote pullers.

The govt is very tactful. It has now pulled Mr. Praba Ganesan. They are planning to use him in Colombo at all future local and general elections. I know some of the lower level cadres of my party in the slums in the Colombo north, central and borella are meeting him for the ‘development projects’ of their respective ‘wattas’. They are my supporters and organizers of the party. But this is slowly happening. He is very cunningly reaching them by not criticizing me and the party.

The Tamil business community and people of north east origin in Colombo are with me. But the business community is not comfortable with the UNP lately. It is also going through the post war era changes. Please do not imagine that anyone of your three UNP Tamil MPs is representing these Tamils.

I am shocked by the defection of Mr. Praba Ganesan. I knew he was unhappy with UNP but did not anticipate his latest action. Our trouble with UNP and supporting the govt are two separate issues. This has been my matured stand always. But he has used my name and fame and party machinery to reach parliament and finally used this issue and deceived me. So far I am able to keep my party intact with my personal charisma.

Now I will have to fight him to save my party. I have to match him. As the UNP leader you have to help me by restoring my status. Tamil people and my cadres will laugh at me if I continue with UNP anymore without UNP regretting for what it has done to me. The time has come for me to make a decision. If not I will lose my party. I cannot be with the UNP anymore unless I am nominated to the parliament. I have done enough for the UNP led alliance in the past. I am not demanding anything unfair. I am eligible.

My party is convinced that UNP leadership is not doing anything on this. You can ask anyone of those ‘national list MPs’ to resign in the interest of the party. Or even you can compensate any of them with the Colombo Mayoral candidature. You can tell Mr. Swaminathan or Mr. Eran Wickramaratne to step down and stand for CMC mayor. We will support. But you are not doing either. I cooperated with patience and goodwill since April. But nothing has happened.

Colombo’s and Nuwara Eliya’s Provincial and former municipal councilors and other local govt members of the party are with me. I will have to protect them and convince them of a sure future. I can’t do that by going with UNP when they are convinced that UNP has deceived me.

There is no UNF. UNF is a nonentity. If I keep walking with this nonentity, I will ruin my future and as that of my party.

I will not support or join the government. It is because I am a principled person. I cannot ruin all what I have done during the past ten years, especially last 5 years. I have a way out by being in-between UPFA and UNP. I can criticize both. I can work with DNA and TNA on issue based manner. This way is open for me.

We will face the local govt elections on our own in Colombo, Gampaha, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya districts. I can keep my party alive this way until next general elections. This is the respectable way out for me.

Trust you can understand.
Mano Ganesan

Full Text: Sri Lanka External Affairs Ministry ‘regrets’ US condemnation of an ‘internal matter’

Observations by Sri Lanka on the US State Department Press Release
Ministry of External Affairs, Colombo

13th September 2010

The attention of the Ministry of External Affairs has been drawn to the Press Release issued by the US Department of State under the caption “The September Passage of Sri Lanka’s 18th Amendment”.

The Ministry wishes to observe in this regard, that the passage of the Amendment is an entirely internal matter that moreover took place in full accord with the provisions of the Constitution and in total compliance with a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court, with an overwhelming majority of 161 Members of Parliament of a total of 225, voting in favour.

It would be pertinent also to note in this regard that the Amendment was presented after careful consideration. A situation had arisen of attempts covering successive administrations and spanning a period of several years, to operationalize under the provisions of the 17th Amendment several key institutions of governance, having palpably failed. There were additionally well founded apprehensions that the provisions of the 17th Amendment whatever the intent behind their introduction, could lead to the practical situation of depriving the executive arm of government of the authority and disciplinary control, essential to meet the constitutional obligation of managing the machinery of state.

The 18th Amendment resolves this situation, by introducing the necessary constitutional clarity. It revives the functioning of the Commissions sought to be covered by the 17th Amendment through a Parliamentary Council which importantly provides by the inclusion of Members of Parliament, for the salutary principle of accountability to the people.

The removal of term limits by the 18th Amendment will serve to prevent any potential for the political authority of the Head of State and Government being eroded during the course of a second term, due to an arbitrarily imposed time limitation of service to the nation. In fact the 18th Amendment re-establishes the will of the people as the sole factor, which should correctly determine the continuity of tenure.

The Government and people of Sri Lanka value their longstanding relationship with the United States. The Ministry of External Affairs therefore regrets that the US State Department comment has not been able to do justice to the true intent and circumstances behind the enactment of the 18th Amendment.

Full Text of US State Dept. statement on the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka:

The September 8 Passage of Sri Lanka's 18th Amendment

Philip J. Crowley
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs, Washington, DC

September 11, 2010

The United States has closely followed the progress and the passage of the 18th Amendment in Sri Lanka. The amendment eliminates term limits for the president and expands the power of the president over independent institutions, including the elections, police, and human rights commissions, as well as the judiciary.

The United States is concerned that this constitutional amendment weakens checks and balances and thus undermines the principles of constitutional democracy.

The United States calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to promote the principles of good governance, democracy, and independent State institutions. The United States looks to the government to take measures that will strengthen democracy including appointing appropriately qualified officials to bolster independent institutions, increase transparency, enhance power sharing and dialogue, and promote national reconciliation.

September 12, 2010

‘Blast suspects did not receive training in Sri Lanka'

by B. Muralidhar Reddy

Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has denied the claim made by one of the two suspects in the Pune German Bakery blast case that he received his training in the island nation.

A report on the Defence Ministry website quoted Mr. Rajapaksa as saying that extremist groups operating in Pakistan have not received any type of training on Sri Lankan soil.

He said Sri Lanka was free from terrorists and there was no ground for terrorists to receive training in the country.

Two suspects involved in the bakery attack were arrested by the Anti-Terrorism Squad last Tuesday. Nine people were killed and 45 injured in the blast.

Report sought

The website further said that Sri Lanka has sought a comprehensive report from the Indian authorities over the claims made by the suspect through the Defence Attaché of the Sri Lankan High Commission in New Delhi.

The State-run English paper, Daily News, quoted a high-level official of the Foreign Ministry as saying that the Ministry was in touch with the Indian government and the defence authorities on the latest developments in the investigation. ~ courtesy: The Hindu ~

The Rajapaksa juggernaut rolls on

By Col R Hariharan

Sri Lanka parliament voted to end the two-term limit imposed on the president by more than the required two thirds majority in the 225-member house on September 8. With the passing the 18th amendment of the constitution, the parliament has removed the constitutional bar and paved the way for President Mahinda Rajapaksa to get elected president a third term.

The ruling United Peoples Front Alliance (UPFA) with 144 seats was short of two thirds majority required to push through the constitutional amendment. Despite this, thanks to the President’s adroit advance political manoeuvres, the amendment had a smooth passage with 161 members voting in favour, and only 17 voting against.

The voting pattern showed deep divisions within opposition ranks in handling the relentless onslaught of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political juggernaut. The opposition members appear to feel helpless; a remark attributed to one of the members aptly described it: “what to do, he will be in power for the next 12 years”.

The main opposition party - the United National Party (UNP) – wracked by internal dissension boycotted the debate as well as the voting on the bill. Instead, it chose to demonstrate outside the parliament. It had to suffer the ignominy of seeing six of its members cross voting in favour of the bill. In the wake of the voting, the UNP-led opposition coalition is in tatters as four smaller constituent parties switched their loyalty to Rajapaksa. The after shock has left UNP left in disarray with 28 out of 43 MPs members raising the flag of dissent against Ranil Wickremesinghe’s party leadership.

Even before the bill came up in parliament, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) parted with the UNP alliance and announced its eight members would vote for the 18th amendment. Even the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) rank was depleted when its lone Sinhala member C.H. Piyasena voted for the bill.

The executive president enjoys enormous powers under the 1978 constitution. He can dissolve the parliament and declare emergency. In a state of emergency, the president can even promulgate regulations to override laws enacted by the parliament. Sri Lanka has had long spells of emergency. The state of emergency continues to be in force even now though the war ended in May 2009. He also appoints judges, heads of armed forces and police, election commissioners and secretaries to the government etc.

Both the opposition parties and the civil society had been demanding the curbing president’s powers by amending the constitution for quite sometime now. President Rajapaksa appears to have used their desire to his advantage with the18th amendment. The opposition parties and civil society have expressed serious concern over not only its form and content of the amendment but the unseemly haste with which it was being pushed through without adequate public debate.

In particular, they are concerned with two aspects of the amendment - the lifting of the two-term restriction on the president and the discarding of the 17th amendment to the Constitution. This amendment was adopted in 2001 to ensure some form of control over President’s powers in making appointments to high office.

The lifting of restriction on the number of presidential terms will provide enough time for President Rajapaksa to consolidate his power. Not only that, it could usher in dynastic rule of Rajapaksas. This is nothing unusual in South Asia; dynasties have been in power not only in the past in Sri Lanka, but also in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But after years of internal conflict, Sri Lanka is passing through a delicate stage as the process of reconciliation and reconstruction of its democratic structure is not yet complete. At this stage the enormous powers Rajapaksa enjoys, coupled with 16 years in office (if he gets elected even once more), could neutralise the checks and balances so essential for democracy.

The removal of the 17th amendment has done away with the Constitutional Council (CC) created under of the constitution. It was mandatory for the president to act on CC’s recommendations on appointments to high office. Though partisan politics of Sri Lanka had ensured the 17th amendment was never followed both in letter and spirit, the president was obliged to follow it. As per the new amendment, the CC has been replaced by a five-member council consisting of the prime minister, speaker, leader of the opposition and a member of parliament each to be nominated by the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. This makes it purely political in character unlike the CC which provided for participation of eminent persons outside the political spectrum.

However, the catch is the president is only required only to seek the observations of the members of this parliamentary council while appointing the chairmen and members of election commission, public service commission, national police commission, human rights commission, permanent commission to investigate allegations of corruption and bribery, finance commission and delimitation commission. The president similarly consults the Council while appointing the chief justice and judges of the Supreme Court, the president and judges of the court of appeal, and members of judicial service commission other than chairman.

Almost all opposition leaders have condemned the adoption of the18th amendment saying it will lead to tyranny and dictatorship. The leader of the opposition Sarath Fonseka’s comment that the government was inviting revolutions and coups against it by creating a constitutional dictatorship through the introduction of the 18th Amendment was curious. Did have the example of rise and fall of President Fujimori of Peru in his mind?

Alberto Fujimori served as President of Peru for three terms from 1990 to 2000. During his controversial rule he eliminated the left wing Shining Path guerrillas and restored the economic stability of the country. Despite allegations of his authoritarian methods and human rights violations, he was enormously popular. In April 1995, at the height of his popularity, Fujimori was re-elected with almost two-thirds of the vote.

Though the constitution allowed only two terms for a president, he successfully contested for a third term after his party voted a law in parliament to allow him to contest. However, when a huge corruption scandal erupted, he fled to Japan in 2000. He lived in exile for five years; when he visited Chile in 2005 he was extradited to face criminal charges in Peru. He was convicted in a number of cases of bribery and corruption and human rights violations during his rule. He was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment in connection with human rights violations when death squads of the government had carried out killings and kidnappings on his orders. While the example of Fujimori looks far fetched in the context of Sri Lanka, it is a grim reminder of how public adulation can change when unfettered power is misused.

What does it mean to India?

Strictly speaking, the constitutional changes in Sri Lanka are an internal structural rearrangement. However, the growing power of President Rajapaksa and the likelihood of its further consolidation during a decade and a half makes are of special interest to India. President Rajapaksa is firmly in saddle and as the opposition is weak and divided than ever before, his assertive style of governance is unlikely to change in his coming term. He would also have sufficient time and freedom to plan his foreign policy on the long term to achieve his ends. This luxury is not available to the Indian Prime Minister; so India will have to evolve at least the firm contours of its Sri Lanka policy for the long term. This becomes important as China’s foot prints in South Asia and Indian Ocean region are growing. It also makes it imperative for India to structure its security relations with Sri Lanka on a firm footing and build India-Sri Lanka trade relations by removing India's non tariff obstructions stifling the growth of free trade with Sri Lanka.

With the President calling the shots, the political package for Tamils will come only as and when he decides. He seems to be in no hurry to do this. Apparently India is not happy with this as evident from the remark of Indian Foreign Secretary for External Affairs Ms Nirupama Rao during her visit to Sri Lanka in the first week of September.

She said: “He [Rajapaksa] has constantly said that he is focused on that [political solution] need. And that he plans to move on it. He has his sight set on that. And this point about the need to be more than just focused on the economic issues and the development issues and to look beyond. Everybody in the government got a sense of how we look at it. From that point of view, I think they know how India is approaching or looking at this issue.” This issue is likely to become crucial when the election fever sets in Tamil Nadu. Presumably, the issue will be discussed when SM Krishna, India’s external affairs minister visits Sri Lanka in October.

The United States has condemned the passing of the constitutional amendment saying it undermined democracy; reactions of other western powers are also likely to be the same. So Sri Lanka can expect a renewed spell of international confrontation on allegations over human rights violations and war crimes. Frustration on this count is manifest in the statements of Sri Lanka minister of external affairs as Sri Lanka does not want to change its stand against international accountability on allegations of human rights violations.

So Sri Lanka is likely to need India’s support in international forums more than ever before. With the continuing economic downturn in the West, Sri Lanka would also need more Indian economic assistance, investment and aid for economic growth apart from funds for reconstruction of infrastructure and rehabilitation. So New Delhi will have to work out a well rounded a strategy to handle the enormous clout of President Rajapaksa to its advantage.

(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)

Cross - cultural comparisons

by Chandra Arulpragasam

The Vedda and the Sociology Professor

In 1950, I undertook a sociological survey of the veddas of Wellassa-Bintenne. This involved a trek of around 250 miles in the jungles of the Uva and Eastern Provinces where few had ventured before. My Professor of Sociology at the University of Ceylon, Dr. Bryce Ryan came to the beginning of the jungle trail (near Bulupitiya in the Badulla District) to see me off. Just as we were sitting down to lunch, a vedda happened to pass on the trail. I engaged him in conversation while Professor Ryan started eating at his picnic table, just six feet away.

The vedda with long matted and unkempt hair was naked except for a skimpy loin-cloth and an axe on his shoulder. When he saw the Professor eating with his fork and knife, he shook his head disapprovingly and spat disgustedly on the ground saying: "Look at that white man. See how he eats!" The Professor knowing that something disparaging was being said about him, asked with curiosity: "What’s he saying"? " So I imitated the vedda’s reply, translating literally and spitting appropriately. The Professor, now agog, asked excitedly: "Why does he say that? Why does he say that?" To which the vedda replied: "See how this man eats: with some kind of instrument! How does he know how many other people have eaten with that same thing"- and spat again with disgust.

The professor rejoined excitedly: "So what does he do? What does he do instead?" To which the vedda proudly replied: "I eat with my right hand, which nobody else can use. I don’t use my left had because I know what it does"! What really surprised me later was the fervour with which the professor defended his culinary habits – as fervently as the vedda did his!

Informed by this insight, during my travel abroad for FAO (for whom I worked for 25 years) my eyes were always open to the eating habits of different peoples. For instance in Japan, when a bowl of rice is served, a pair of chopsticks is included. The two chopsticks are cut out of pine wood but joined at one end like Siamese twins. This is to ensure that no one else had used the chopsticks before – thereby guaranteeing that they are clean. It struck me however, that these chopsticks having been cut out of a pine tree, then dragged through the forest floor, then cut by a machine and falling on the factory floor, could not be all that clean! But I then realized that I was just trying to justify my eating with my right hand (because I know what my left hand does!) as being "superior" to eating with chopsticks! And so it goes, with each culture doing its own thing – but insisting always that it is the "best"!

Sri Lankan Mannerism in Ischia

Strangely, I became aware of a Sri Lankan mannerism on a two-hour ferry-boat to Ischia in 1967. My wife and I were on this ferry on our way from Naples to Ischia, an Italian island off Capri. We were on one side of the boat while the bar was at the other end, about 20 yards away. Since I was going to get myself a beer, I asked my wife whether she wanted a drink and she indicated "Yes" with her head. So I crossed the boat to the bar and ordered the two drinks. The barman, hardly looking up from washing his glasses, stated to me briskly: "You are from Ceylon, Sir?" I almost dropped with astonishment.

First, hardly anyone in Italy knew at that time where Ceylon was or even that it existed. But secondly, how could he have guessed my nationality just by looking at me? Surprised, I asked him how he could have guessed this so quickly. Smilingly he replied: "I saw you asking your wife if she would have a drink, and she shook her head from side to side, signifying ‘No’. But you came across and ordered a drink for her – which means that she said "Yes". And the only place where shaking your head to indicate "No"means "Yes" is in Ceylon!"

First, I was surprised because I had not noticed this seeming "contradiction" myself. But secondly, I could not resist asking him how he could possibly have known this. He replied smiling that he had been prisoner of war in Ceylon during World War II in the 1940s - and remembered this Ceylonese trait even 25 years later, in 1967! So Sri Lanka remains the country, where when we shake our heads, understood elsewhere as "No", we actually mean "Yes"!

As a matter of interest, the barman also told me that the happiest years of his life were spent "in prison" in Ceylon, roaming the hills of Diyatalawa where the Italian prisoners were supposed to be confined!

The British must have been confident that their prisoners would not escape from their haven (heaven) to go back to war-torn Europe!

"Madame, your Midriff is Showing"

In Italy today, women at the age of 50 are usually slim, elegant, well-groomed and sexy. This was not the case in Italy in the 1960's when women over 50 (especially in the south) often had "pasta rolls" around their waist, usually dressed in black, with black stockings, as a sign of mourning for some long departed member of the family. My wife, on the other hand, usually dressed in her full sari with a choli blouse, showing a bit of midriff. This was the cause of some consternation among two elderly Italian ladies, modestly dressed in black. Talking agitatedly among themselves, one of the ladies, not able to contain herself any more, came across to my wife and said "Pardon me, Signora, but your midriff is showing." (in Italian: "nuda", meaning "nude").

My wife, somewhat taken aback and non-plussed, looked down at her midriff and asked in surprise: "What's wrong with my midriff?".The old lady, even more agitated, replied that it was "nuda". At this point my wife looked at the old lady's legs and said "Signora, but your legs are showing". The old lady, equally taken aback, looked down at her legs and said: "What's wrong with my legs?" And my wife replied "they are nuda". The old lady, puzzled, not knowing what to make of this, walked back to her friend for more agitated exchanges. We were amused at this cross-cultural exchange - of two cultures speaking across each other, but not to each other, in terms that neither could understand.

It is equally interesting to note the changes within a particular culture over time. On a typical Italian or western street today, girls walk around with whole midriffs exposed, showing also their belly buttons (suitably embellished with rings), while their "hipsters" are worn so low that they are in danger of falling off altogether! I wonder what the Italian old ladies would say to this now!

Along the same lines, the exposure of female legs is either a matter of good taste, sexiness or shame, depending on the culture or country concerned. In the Indian sub-continent (including Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) it is not decent for women to expose their legs (least of all above the knee) although it is customary, fashionable and sometimes sexy in the western world to do so. Going farther afield, in China, one notices that legs are not considered sexy at all: not a matter of pride, shame or sexiness.

Traditionally in China (not in Mao’s time) women wore the cheongsam, a long dress with a slit all the way up the thigh. I have seen women in Taiwan in the 1960s, sitting at their sewing machines on the sides of the street, with their legs apart and their inner thighs showing - which in India would have been considered outrageous and indecent in America – but not at all indecent in Taiwan at that time. For legs were not sexy at all. On the other hand, these same Chinese women were embarrassed to show their necks, favoring high collars so that their necks would not be exposed! This is in contrast to women in the Indian sub-continent who have no problem in showing their necks but do have problems in showing their legs!

Sex in Samoa

Growing up in Ceylon (I was probably in my last year at Royal College), reading Margaret Mead's "Coming of Age in Samoa" (published in 1928) came as a shock to me. I know that her findings have subsequently been challenged by Dr. Derek Freeman. But since the final verdict is not in, I shall treat her observations as valid for purposes of this article. I myself was personally able to visit the Pacific islands in the 1980s: but found that everything has changed with colonization and christianization. The girls now wear grass skirts over tight jeans and sing hymns to hula music!

According to Mead, young boys and girls in Samoa in the 1920s, ranged around in groups, swimming together and having fun and sex together. Teenage girls slept with many boys and even had children together. More interesting to me (later) was how the social, moral and family organization accepted these activities and absorbed their consequences. First, in the Samoan context at that time, it was not shameful or sinful for boys and girls to have sex before marriage, even at the age of thirteen or fourteen.

Secondly, if a girl of that age were to give birth to a child, this was quite normal and not a matter of shame. Hence, thirdly, this was not a bar to future marriage of the girl, since a man would marry her especially because she had proved that she could bear a child, which was important for his future family. Fourthly, there was no question of the child being ostracized or abandoned, because it would be gladly taken into the extended family or kin group, where an extra pair of working hands was an asset rather than a liability. When I read Margaret Mead in later years, what impressed me most was how arrangements relating to sex, and the family had been so rationally organized (internally consistent) within the Polynesian society from a biological, social and economic point of view.

When Margaret Mead wrote of teenage sex in Samoa in the 1920s, the western world reacted with moral outrage at the immorality, licentiousness and sinfulness of it all. This was a time in the west when sex before marriage was a sin and children born out of wedlock were marginalized by law and by custom. However, in the west today, teenage sex seems to be more the norm than the exception. A survey in America recently showed that more than 50% of teenagers have had sex before they leave high school. Although this now seems socially and morally acceptable, amusingly, the possible result in terms of unwanted pregnancy (due to failed technology) is not - since teenage pregnancy out of wedlock is still considered socially and morally reprehensible.

In America today, there is sex among teens, sex before marriage, couples living together without marriage and multiple divorces. Sounds familiar? Exactly! In less than 70 years, western society (the dominant culture today) has gone back to (regressed?) or advanced (progressed?) to equate the sexual practices of Samoa in the 1930s! Thereby hangs a cautionary tale!

It is of course well understood that these changes in sexual norms, in marriage and the family in America have been brought about by the forces of individualization, women working, commercialization, social/physical mobility and technology (internet, TV, etc). It will take time, however, to bring about an equation between what American society says it believes (its moral code) and the actual reality relating to sex, marriage and the family and to develop institutions and arrangements to cope with this changed reality.

September 11, 2010

Text of Supreme Court determination on 18th Constitutional Amendment

Text of Supreme Court determination on 18th Constitutional Amendment

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF SRI LANKA

In the matter of an application under Article 122(1) of the Constitution.

S.C. (Special Determination) No. 01/2010

Present: Dr. S. A. Bandaranayake - Judge of the Supreme Court
K. Sripavan - Judge of the Supreme Court
P. A. Ratnayake - Judge of the Supreme Court
S. I. Imam - Judge of the Supreme Court
R. K. S. Suresh Chandra - Judge of the Supreme Court

Counsel: Mohan Peiris, P.C., Attorney-General
with Sanjay Rajaratnam, D.S.G., A. H.
M. D. Nawaz, D.S.G., and Nerin Pulle, S.S.C., appears on notice.
Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, P.C.,
with Ms. Pubudini Wickramaratne
and Ms. Chandrika Silva for Chandra
Jayaratne and Lal Wijenayake.
J. C. Weliamuna with Maduranga
Ratnayake, Pasindu Silva, Pulasthi
Hewamanna and Sanjeewa
Ranaweera
for Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna.
Saliya Peiris with Asthika Devendra,
Thanuka Nandasiri for K. W. Janaranjana.

Viran Corea for the Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Chrishmal Warnasuriya with Revan
Weerasinghe, Pulasthi Hewamanna
and Dulhantha Kularatne for Sunil Hadunneththi and Vijitha Herath,
Rohan Edrisinha appears in person.

The Court assembled for hearing at 10.30 a.m. on 31st August 2010.

His Excellency The President has made a reference in terms of Article 122(1)(b) of the Constitution with regard to the Bill described in its long title as ‘an Act to amend the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka’, which is the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. The Bill bears the endorsement of the Secretary to the Cabinet of Ministers made in terms of Article 122(1) of the Constitution that the Bill is urgent in the national interest.

Upon receipt of the Bill the Court issued notice on the Hon. The Attorney-General as required in terms of Article 134(1) of the Constitution.

Hon. The Attorney-General, the Counsel representing the petitioners, and the petitioner, who appeared in person were heard before this Bench at the sittings held on 31.08.2010.

The Bill proposes, inter alia, to amend the following specific provisions of the Constitution.

A. Clause 2 - Amendment to Article 31(2) and Article 31(3A) (a) (i) of the Constitution, which refers to the election and the term of office of the President of the Republic.

B. Clause 3 - Amendment to Article 32(3) to make it a requirement for the President to be present in Parliament once in every three (3) months.

C. Clauses 4 and 5 - Redefining the composition and functions of the Constitutional Council referred to in Chapter VII A of the Constitution which would be hereinafter known as the Parliamentary Council.

D. Clause 6 - Amendment to Chapter IX of the Constitution with reference to the, powers and functions of the Cabinet of Ministers and of the Public Service Commission.

E. Clauses 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 22 and 23 - Amendment to Chapters X and XVIII A of the Constitution to classify the Police officers including the Inspector General of Police within the ambit of Public Officers and to redefine the Powers of the National Police Commission

F. Clauses 13 and 14 - Amendment to Chapter XIV A of the Constitution redefines the composition, powers and functions of the Election Commission.

G. Transitional provisions which are necessary and consequential in view of the aforementioned amendments.

The main contention of the learned counsel for the petitioners was that the proposed Amendments referred to above were inconsistent with Articles 3 and/or 4 of the Constitution requiring the Amendment to be passed by the People at a Referendum in terms of Article 83 of the Constitution and specific reference was made to Clauses 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 13 and 14 of the Bill.

Clause 2

Clause 2 of the Bill seeks to Amend Article 31 (3A) (a) (i) of the Constitution, which is in the following terms:

"The Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (hereinafter referred to as the "Constitution") is hereby amended in Article 31 thereof, as follows:

(1) By the repeal of paragraph (2) of that Article; and

(2) in paragraph (3A) (a) (i) of that Article.

a. by the substitution for the words "at any time after the expiration of four years from the commencement of his first term of office" of the words "at any time after the expiration of four years from the commencement of his current term of office"; and

b. by the substitution for the words "by election, for a further term" of the following:

"by election, for a further term:

Provided that, where the President is elected in terms of this Article for a further term of office, the provisions of this Article shall mutatis mutandis apply in respect of any subsequent term of office to which he may be so elected".

Article 83 of the Constitution refers to the approval of certain Bills at a Referendum. This Article reads as follows:

"Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the provisions of Article 82-

b: a: Bill for the amendment or for the repeal and replacement of or which is inconsistent with any of the provisions of Articles 1,2,3,6,7,8,9,10 and 11 or of this Article; and

b. a. Bill for the amendment or for the repeal and replacement of or which is inconsistent with the provisions of paragraph (2) of Article 30 or of, paragraph (2) of Article 62 which would extend the term of office of the President, or the duration of Parliament, as the case may be, to over six years, shall become law if the number of votes cast in favour thereof amounts to not less than two-thirds of the whole number of Members (including those not present), is approved by the People at a Referendum and a certificate is endorsed thereon by the President in accordance with Article 80".

It is not disputed that Article 83 makes no reference to proposed Article 31 of the Constitution. However, the contention of the learned counsel for the petitioners was that although the aforesaid Article is not referred to in Article 83, the provisions in the proposed Amendments are inconsistent with Article 3 read with Article 4 of the Constitution which is specifically mentioned in Article 83 of the Constitution.

Learned counsel for the petitioners contended that the removal of the limit on the President’s term of office would affect the manner in which the executive power of the People is exercised and would therefore violate the provisions contained in Article 3 of the Constitution.

Article 3 of the Constitution deals with the sovereignty of the People and reads as follows:

"In the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the People and is inalienable. Sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise".

The exercise of the sovereignty referred to in the said Article 3 is clearly stated in Article 4 of the Constitution. In the Supreme Court Determination on the 18th Amendment to the Constitution (SD No. 12/2002), this Court, referring to a series of previous Determinations (SD No. 5/80, 1/82, 2/83, 1/84 and 7/87) had stated that Article 3 is linked up with Article 4 of the Constitution and therefore these two Articles must be read together. Article 4 of the Constitution reads thus:

"The Sovereignty of the People shall be exercised and enjoyed in the following manner:

a. the legislative power of the People shall be exercised by Parliament, consisting of elected representatives of the People and by the People at a Referendum;

b. the executive power of the People, including the defence of Sri Lanka, shall be exercised by the President of the Republic elected by the People;

c. the judicial power of the People shall be exercised by Parliament through courts, tribunals and institutions created and established, or recognized, by the Constitution, or created and established by law, except in regard to matters relating to the privileges, immunities and powers of Parliament and of its Members, wherein the judicial power of the People may be exercised directly by Parliament according to law;

d. the fundamental rights which are by the Constitution declared and recognized shall be respected, secured and advanced by all the organs of government and shall not be abridged, restricted or denied, save in the manner and to the extent hereinafter provided; and

e. the franchise shall be exercisable at the election of the President of the Republic and of the Members of Parliament and at every Referendum by every citizen who has attained the age of eighteen years and who, being qualified to be an elector as hereinafter provided, has his name entered in the register of electors".

It is to be noted that the aforesaid Article 4 (e) of the Constitution refers to the exercise of the franchise of the People and the amendment to Article 31 (2) of the Constitution by no means would restrict the said franchise. In fact, in a sense, the amendment would enhance the franchise of the People granted to them in terms of Article 4 (e) of the Constitution since the Voters would be given a wide choice of candidates including a President who had been elected twice by them. It is not disputed that the President is directly elected by the People for a fixed tenure of office. The constitutional requirement of the election of their President by the People of the Republic, strengthens the franchise given to them under Article 4 of the Constitution.

In such circumstances the said amendment does not restrict or curtail the provisions contained in Article 4 of the Constitution and accordingly there is no inconsistency either with Articles 3 and/or 4 of the Constitution.

Clause 3

Clause 3 of the Bill deals with Article 32 of the Constitution, which is to be amended in the following manner.

"(1) by the repeal of paragraph (3) thereof and the substitution therefore of the following:

"(3) The President shall by virtue of his office attend Parliament once in every three months. In the discharge of this function the President shall be entitled to all the privileges, immunities and powers of a Member of Parliament, other than the entitlement to vote, and shall not be liable for any breach of the privileges of Parliament or of its members; and

(2) by the addition immediately after paragraph (3) thereof, of the following new paragraph:

(4) The President shall by virtue of his office, also have the right to address and send messages to parliament."

It was the contention on behalf of the petitioners that by this provision the immunity granted to the President under Article 35 of the Constitution is being extended. Accordingly it was submitted that this amendment would give rise to the divisibility of the legislative power of the People in terms of Article 3 and/or 4 of the Constitution. Learned Counsel referred to the Determination regarding the Third Amendment to the Constitution (S.D. No. 5/1980).

In that Determination, the Supreme Court had to consider the provisions which sought to seat two members for one electorate – one nominated and the other reelected. In considering the said provision, the Supreme Court had decided that the effect of that Bill was to seat two (2) members for one and the same electorate, which contravenes the provisions of Article 161(a) of the Constitution, in that it increases the composition of the first Parliament and thereby affects the franchise referred to in Article 4 of the Constitution and also infringes the sovereignty of the People entrenched in Article 3 of the Constitution.

However in the present Bill the specific provisions that are being introduced under the amendment do not contravene any of the Articles dealing with the Parliament. In fact the provisions related to President being present in Parliament on a periodically stipulated basis read with Article 42 of the Constitution would clearly ensure that the President be answerable to People in a more meaningful manner which would enhance the provisions contemplated in Articles 3 and 4 of the Constitution.

Accordingly, this Clause has no inconsistency either with Articles 3 and/or 4 of the Constitution.

Clauses 4 and 5

It is to be noted that Clause 4 of the Bill makes provision in repealing Chapter VII A of the Constitution, refers to the Constitutional Council which was introduced under the 17 Amendment to the Constitution. Clause 5 of the Bill, introduces a new heading, the Parliamentary Council, and an Article having the effect as Article 41A of the Constitution.

Learned Counsel for the petitioners contended that the provisions contained in Clause 5 have the effect of diluting the independence of the judiciary and therefore has a direct impact on Article 4(c) regarding the exercise of the judicial power of the People and the sovereignty of the People in terms of Article 3 and therefore requires to be approved by the People at a Referendum in terms of Article 83 of the Constitution.

The said amendment referred to in Clause 5 is in effect to amend the provisions brought in by the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. The Constitutional Council which is proposed to be replaced by the Parliamentary Council, came into being as a result of the 17th Amendment in 2001.

Considering the Bill brought in for the establishment of the Constitutional Council under the 17th Amendment, this Court had noted that the establishment and functions of the Constitutional Council was the core of the 17th Amendment.

The question at that time this Court had to consider was as to whether the subjection of the discretion of the President to the recommendation and approval of the Constitutional Council as envisaged by that Bill, would amount to an effective removal of the President’s executive power in that regard. Considering the said question, this Court had noted the submissions made by the Hon. The Attorney-General that although there was no removal of the executive power of the President, that it was a restriction on the exercise of the discretion by the President. On a consideration of the totality of the provisions in the said Amendment, the Supreme Court had determined that the said Bill required to be passed by a special majority specified in Article 82(5) of the Constitution, but that there was no provision in the Bill, which required approval of the People at a Referendum in terms of the provisions of Article 83.

The contention of the learned Counsel for the petitioners was that the Constitutional Council was established with the intention of safeguarding the independence of the judiciary and the purpose and the objective of the said introduction was to place a restriction on the discretion of the President in appointing judges.

As stated earlier, the 17th Amendment was brought into effect only in 2001 and from 1978 up to the 17th Amendment came into effect, for a period of over 13 years, judges were appointed in terms of the provisions laid down under the 1978 Constitution. This position in fact was considered in Silva v Bandaranayake [(1997] 1 Sri L.R. 92), by a 7 judge Bench of this Court. In that matter consideration was given to the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court by HE the President of the Republic under Article 107 of the Constitution. At that time, as could be clearly seen, the 17th Amendment had not come into effect and the Supreme Court had considered the matter under Article 107 of the 1978 Constitution. In that decision, the Supreme Court had clearly held thus:

"The President in exercising the power conferred by Article 107 of the Constitution has a sole discretion. The power is discretionary and not absolute. It is neither untrammelled nor unrestrained and ought to be exercised within limits.

Article 107 does not expressly specify any qualitifications or restrictions. However in exercising the power to make appointments to the Supreme Court there should be cooperation between the Executive and the Judiciary, in order to fulfill the object of Article 107."

Prior to the decision in Silva v Bandaranayake (supra) this Court had examined the powers of the Executive with regard to appointments. In Premachandra v Jayawickrama ([1994] 2 Sri L.R. 90), this Court had stated that.

"There are no absolute or unfettered discretions in public law; discretions are conferred on public functionaries in trust for the public, to be used for the public good, and the propriety of the exercise of such discretions is to be judged by reference to the purposes for which they were so entrusted."

It is therefore quite apparent that even prior to the introduction of the Constitutional Council in terms of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, there were necessary safeguards which restricted the discretion of appointing authorities since no one possessed any unfettered discretion. The relevant provisions contained in the 1978 Constitution had not violated Article 3 and/or 4 of the Constitution and similarly the introduction of the Constitutional Council also had not violated any of the said provisions.

The present amendment refers to the introduction of the Parliamentary Council in place of the Constitutional Council, which consists of a Prime Minister, the Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition, a nominee of the Prime Minister, who shall be a Member of Parliament; and a nominee of the Leader of the Opposition, who shall be a Member of Parliament. The persons appointed as nominees of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition should be nominated in such manner as would ensure that the nominees would belong to communities which are communities other than those to which the Prime Minister, the Speaker and the Leader of the Opposition would belong.

On a consideration of the totality of the provision dealing with the establishment of the Parliamentary Council, it is abundantly clear for the reasons aforesaid that the proposed amendment is only a process of redefining the restrictions that was placed on the President by the Constitutional Council under the 17th Amendment in the exercise of the executive power vested in the President, which is inalienable.

Accordingly, these Clauses have no inconsistency either with Articles 3 and/or 4 of the Constitution.

Clauses 6, 7, 8 and 9 Clauses 7, 8 and 9 of the Bill deal with the powers and functions of the Cabinet of Ministers and of the Public Service Commission. By these amendments, Article 55 of the Constitution is to be repealed in order to transfer the powers which were earlier vested with the Public Service Commission to the Cabinet of Ministers, Clause 6 clearly refers to the fact that the Cabinet of Ministers shall provide for and determine all matters of policy relating to public officers. Clauses 8 and 9 also refer to the authority which was exercised by the Public Service Commission, being given to the Cabinet of Ministers.

Articles 55, 56 and 57 of the Constitution do not attract, Article 3 and/or 4 of the Constitution and therefore there is no inconsistency which would need the approval of the People at a Referendum.

Clauses 13 and 14

Clause 13 refers to the amendment of Articles 103 and 104B of the Constitution. These amendments deal with the redefinition of the composition, powers and functions of the Election Commission.

Learned Counsel for the petitioners contended that Clause 14, which deals with the amendment to Article 104B is inconsistent with Article 3 of the Constitution as it curtails the power of the Commission.

The said clause 14 is in the following term:

"Article 104B of the Constitution is hereby amended as follows:

(1) by the insertion immediately after paragraph (4) thereof, of the following new paragraph:

4(a) For the avoidance of doubt it is stated that any guideline issued by the Commission during the period commencing with the making of an Order for the holding of an election or the making of a Proclamation requiring the conduct of a Referendum, as the case may be, shall:

a. be limited to matters which are directly connected with the holding of the respective election or the conduct of a respective Referendum as the case may be; and

b. not be connected directly with any matter relating to the public service or any matter within the ambit of administration of the Public Service Commission or the Judicial Service Commission as the case may be, appointed under the Constitution; and

(2) in paragraph (5) by the repeal of sub-paragraph (b), (c) and (d) thereof and the substitution therefore of the following paragraph:

"(b) It shall be the duty of any broadcasting or telecasting operator or any proprietor or publisher of a newspaper as the case may be, to take all necessary steps to ensure compliance with any guidelines as are issued to them under paragraph (a)."

As could be seen, the amendments are in addition to the present powers, functions and duties of the Election Commission. A careful perusal of the proposed amendments, indicate that they are for the purpose of ensuring that other organizations of the Government are not stifled in their functions during the pendency of Elections. It is to be borne in mind that Commissions such as the Public Service Commission and the Judicial Service Commission are also Independent Commissions established under the Constitution, whose functions should not be curtailed at any time. As stated by Mark Fernando, J., in Karunathilake and Another v Dayananda Dissanayake, Commissioner of Elections and Others ([1999] 1 Sri L.R. 157) in reference to Article 104 of the Constitution,

"Article 104 refers to the powers, duties and functions of the Commissioner of Elections. But that is not exhaustive of his powers and duties. Article 93 of the Constitution requires that voting be free, equal and secret and it follows that the Commissioner of Elections has such implied powers and duties as are necessary to ensure that voting is free, equal and secret."

It is therefore apparent that the said amendments in terms of Article 1048 of the Constitution do not in any way curtail the powers of the Election Commission, but only brings a safeguard in terms of the functions of the other Commissions.

There are few other matters we wish to make note in this Determination.

In terms of Clause 10 of the Bill, an amendment is brought to Article 61F of the Constitution to bring the police officers within the ambit of public officers and subject them to the same legal regime as the other public officers. Accordingly, the police officers would be treated as any other public officer and the Inspector-General of Police would be a Head of a Department appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers.

None of these provisions would be inconsistent with Articles 3 and/or 4 of the Constitution.

Mr. Saliya Peiris submitted that Clause 21 of the Bill has the effect of amending Chapter XVII A of the Constitution. Accordingly learned Counsel contended that it is necessary to give effect to Article 154G(2) of the Constitution and therefore the Bill has to be first Gazetted and referred to the Provincial Councils. Accordingly at the conclusion of the submissions by all parties, we sought for a clarification on this point from the Hon. The Attorney-General who had appeared on notice.

Clause 21 of the Bill which deals with Article 154R of the Constitution is as follows:

"Article 154R of the Constitution is hereby amended in subparagraph (c) of paragraph (1) thereof, by the substitution for the words "three other members who are appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council, to represent"of the words "three other members appointed by the President, to represent."

Hon. The Attorney-General had submitted that the objective of the aforementioned amendment is to make consequential amendments brought about by the change of the terminology to the body known as the Constitutional Council for the term "Parliamentary Council" referred to in the proposed amendment. It is an amendment to amend the provisions, which were originally contained in the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. In the Bill pertaining to the 17th Amendment to the Constitution the specific provision had been introduced as Clause 19. The said Clause was considered by this Court in that Determination as a consequential amendment, which did not require any other procedure to follow such as being Gazetted and referred to the Provincial Councils.

Accordingly it is pertinent that the said amendment does not attract the provision of Article 154(G)(2) of the Constitution.

We have examined the remaining provisions of the Bill and we do not see in any of them any issue that would require consideration by this Court in terms of Article 83 of the Constitution.

We have noted the following inconsistency between the English and Sinhala version.

"Clause 41A(6) of the English version refers to the word "Committee" which should read as "Council".

It is also observed that in view of the Repeal of Article 31(2) of the Constitution, which provides for the qualification required to enable a person to qualify to stand for election as President, it is necessary that a consequential Amendment be made to Article 92 of the Constitution that refers to disqualification for election as President by the Repeal of Article 92(c) of the Constitution.

Accordingly this Court determines that the Bill entitled "the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution"

1) complies with the provisions of Article 82(1) of the Constitution;

2) requires to be passed by a special majority specified in Article 82(5) of the Constitution;

3) that there is no provision in the Bill which requires approval of the People at a Referendum in terms of the provision of Article 83 of the Constitution.

We shall place on record our deep appreciation of the assistance given by the Hon. The Attorney-General, learned Counsel who appeared for the petitioners and the petitioner who appeared in person and made submissions in this matter.

Signed

Dr. S. A. Bandaranayake
Judge of the Supreme Court-Signed

K. Sripavan
Judge of the Supreme Court-Signed

P. A. Ratnayake
Judge of the Supreme Court-Signed

S. I. Imam
Judge of the Supreme Court-Signed

R. K. S. Suresh Chandra
Judge of the Supreme Court-Signed

What was wrong with the executive we had before the 18th Amendment?

By Namini Wijedasa

"So, miss, will we have to vote under a different system now that this constitutional amendment is passed?” the cab driver asked, waiting for the green light. “Like, is the preferential system a thing of the past now?”

The driver — an amiable, politically savvy young man from Balapitiya who had worked in Manusha Nanayakkara’s campaign during the last parliamentary poll — said several customers told him the 18th Amendment would bring about changes to the system of voting.

In the face of such justifiable ignorance, it is no surprise the government has managed to sell the argument that the 18th Amendment was a prerequisite to ensuring development. If the government’s purpose in rushing the bill to parliament was to blind the public to its true nature, the strategy worked.

Not that it matters. The public were never a consideration to being with. Explicit effort was made to freeze them out and to ensure that there was no time to educate people about the changes envisaged.

Still do not know

Voters still don’t know a fraction of what is contained in the 18th Amendment and how it will impact on their lives years from now. Many of those that helped pass the bill in parliament did not care about its contents but were guided by party interest, personal interest and incentives, or a thirst for revenge. The process from the outset smacked of bad faith. Not an ideal start to “development”, is it?

Now, take the bill on its own merits. What in this piece of legislation will facilitate “development”? Proponents point to the promise of continuity. Stock markets (in particular) love the idea of stability. A strong and enduring executive means there would be no political turmoil and there is less chance of interruption in policy implementation. Plans can be made with the future in mind.

Besides, look at what is already taking place. Roads, bridges, causeways, harbours and power plants are being built at admirable speed. Village centres are transforming into town centres. Billions of rupees worth of infrastructure will come into operation by next year, bringing returns of the kind the country has never before seen. Tourism will pick up, industry will pick up, everything will pick up and people will be happy. Who cares if the same president rules forever?

But it must be pointed out at the outset that many supporters of the 18th Amendment are continuing to promote the bill on the impossible but deliberate hypothesis that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is the individual that will rule till the end of time, and not anybody else. In other words, the government’s relentless propaganda on the 18th Amendment (post its passing) has been designed to endorse, not only the legislation, but President Rajapaksa.

This is telling in itself. It underscores the reality that the 18th Amendment was designed to keep President Rajapaksa in power. The bill warps the public service system in a manner that would facilitate this. But when you change the constitution of a country, it will serve in practical terms to benefit whoever assumes the position of executive president in future. And there is no telling the kind of politician that will take on that mantle.

The 18th Amendment is a classic example of a government tampering with the supreme law of the land to grant short-term benefit with the effect of damning the country in the long-term. In addition to removing the limit on the number of times an incumbent president can contest, the bill has introduced provisions to bring every arm of public service — including the police, judiciary, elections, auditor general, bribery investigation and human rights protection machinery — directly under the president or cabinet.

How does it help development to have a politicised police force or judiciary?

How does it serve development to have a head of the bribery commission appointed by the president when it is usually serving governments that are responsible for the most corruption?

How does it favour development to have a human rights commission staffed with appointees of the president when most rights violations are committed by serving governments?

How does it help development to have a weak elections commission filled with appointees of the president when this same commission will be the people’s only hope of getting rid of unwanted political leaders?

Proponents of the 18th Amendment act like nothing will ever go wrong; that the incumbent president will continue his development drive and continue as a ‘benevolent dictator’, taking Sri Lanka to unimaginable heights. But what if something does go wrong?

Who will the people turn to then?

After the passing of the 18th Amendment, there isn’t a single independent oversight institution left in Sri Lanka that is not in direct control of the president. And we are fed the drivel that to have an independent elections commission, judiciary or public service will undermine development!

As one observer pointed out, those among the public that back the constitutional amendment do it on trust. “It’s like we have agreed to change the rules in a sports game because we get along with the referee, who incidentally doesn’t like the other team, and the other team is too weak,” he remarked. “But what happens if we fall out?”

The government says you need a strong executive to develop the country. What was wrong with the executive we had before the 18th Amendment? If it was weak, it couldn’t have defeated the LTTE. The government says you need strong laws to develop the country. Implement the existing ones!

So what does the 18th Amendment entail in practical terms? It could lead to a situation whereby the supporters of the ruling party are favoured over others in all arms of public service. It could lead to a situation where the electoral system is so compromised by political appointments that incumbent rulers will be even more difficult to unseat than before.

The judiciary ought to be totally independent but now fall under the politico-executive. One function of the judiciary is to resolve disputes between the state and its citizens so it is doubly important that they are distanced from both parties. But with the appointing authority, promoting authority and disciplining authority all resting with the chief executive, how could a reasonable person be expected to work in an independent manner?

Risk

There is more risk of judges thinking of their next promotion — or their future as a judicial officer — when deciding a case. What is the relationship between bringing judges under the command of the politico executive and promoting development?

As for the police, politicisation is a curse Sri Lanka has been fighting for many decades. And the questions remain. Is there any rational link between expediting development and getting police officers to act under the directive of the politico executive? Police officers derive their powers from the Police Ordinance, the Criminal Procedure Code, Emergency Regulations and certain other statues. Implementing those duties have nothing to do with accelerating development. Since 1978, have we not witnesses sufficient instances of total bungling up by police due to them having listened to political directives?

Too many questions unanswered, too many doubts. Reactions to the 18th amendment as observed now could be classified thus: Support; opposition; utter confusion. And then there is the category that says, “Who cares? I haven’t even read it.”

Oh, you will care. Maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow... but you will care, eventually.

“What if the majority is right?”

I left a Facebook status update last week that read:

What if the majority is right? What if civil liberties are secondary to development?

Below are some of the replies received, none of them in favour of the 18th Amendment:

- Then we should all just shoot ourselves in the head. Messing with the constitution of a country should not be done so fast. 99% of Sri Lankans don’t know what this even means.

- First educate, discuss, take a vote, then change. Not change and then tell everyone later.

- Why should civil liberties get in the way of development?By that logic, shouldn’t the dictatorships of Africa be the most developed nations in the world and the liberal democracies the rotting carcasses?

- My only surprise is that all this is done for ‘’development’ and not for some patriotic calling.

- Most Sri Lankans want a king, not a president.

- Singapore is a success because the whole society, including the rulers, respects a system of law and order. Civil liberties are curtailed only up to an extent where it is not allowed to misuse your liberties and rights to infringe on those of others.

- My worry is that once the power is given that there will be no development. After all, if you don’t need to please the people anymore, why do it? Sri Lanka hasn’t had many presidents that cared about the average Joe on the street. In the end, it’s all about them and their rich buddies. I know some of these “rich buddies” and all they do is get richer and don’t see the poverty around them.

- Singapore is a story of more equitable growth where a fully functioning multiparty system is lacking. State played an important role in managing growth.

- The 1980s old argument which has now been dismantled is that growth will trickle down and bring equity. My fear is that many politicians (especially UNP) are still stuck in this mode despite evidence having shown this doesn’t work. 1990s onwards it’s been found that focusing on economic growth alone isn’t enough as it leads to wide inequality and has led to increasing poverty among large sections. So development needs to be thought of carefully with equity in mind and governance and democracy are part of that. Also need to consider cases of growth and lack of democracy (e.g. Singapore, China, and Vietnam). China has economic growth but vast inequities and Singapore is more equitable because state has been involved more.

- courtesy: Lakbima News -

Ten observations on the 18th Amendment to the Constitution

by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

The cynic in me is tempted to remark that the neoliberal, Rightwing Opposition and civil society groups wanted ‘regime change’ throughout the war years and boy, they’ve got it. They didn’t change the regime, the regime changed itself.

What has it changed into, why and how? Reading the vibrant commentaries that accompanied the impending passage of the 18th amendment, two resonated with my own sense of what was going on. In their distinct ways Kishali Pinto Jayewardene and Indi Samarajiva critically perceived it as a process and pointed to the quintessential continuities, while almost all others highlighted what they thought were decisive, dramatic dislocations and discontinuities.

As a student of politics, I have ten observations.

Firstly, had the UNP not set fire (quite literally) to the August 2000 draft Constitution presented by President Kumaratunga and negotiated by Professor GL Pieris, KN Choksy and Karu Jayasuriya, there wouldn’t have been an 18th amendment.

Secondly, while the amendment rolls back an attempt at roll back (the 17th amendment) and therefore restores a status quo ante, taking us back to vintage JR Jayewardene ’78, it makes de jure what was de facto, and gives constitutional form to the wartime Presidency.

Thirdly, it brings Sri Lanka more in line with the forms of state that are most widespread in precisely that part of the world which most strongly supported Sri Lanka in the war. Though it has its exceptions, this is the state form or regime type that preponderates in Eurasia and the global South, characterised by a strong Executive or centre, and governed by the most diverse array of ruling parties, from Westernised nationalists to Communists and centre right modernisers.

Fourthly, this evolution or modification of state form almost always occurs in the context of a real or perceived external encirclement or threat. External threat or intrusion almost always leads to internal hardening. "Circling the wagons" is what the Americans call such political ‘protectionism’. This shift is a salutary example of the counterproductive nature of the West’s failure to fully solidarise with and support Sri Lanka, a practising if flawed democracy, in its war against the Tiger terrorists, and the still more counterproductive character of continued external pressure against a post-war, post victory Sri Lanka.

Fifthly, any game has an umpire and as the saying goes, the umpire or referee’s word is law, or else there will be anarchy. One may disagree with the verdict but the point is that the Supreme Court heard the submissions of the critics, and doubtless read the papers, and has ruled on the matter, without dissent.

Sixthly, the 18th amendment is far less of a turning point, and far less dangerous than President Jayewardene’s Referendum of 1982, which arbitrarily extended the term of parliament by postponing a scheduled parliamentary election by means of a fraudulent and coercive referendum. This took place at a time when the main Opposition party, the SLFP, had been decapitated by the deprivation of Mrs Bandaranaike’s civic rights. All this closed off the safety valves and rendered explosion inevitable. It came six months later in the form of a massive anti-Tamil violence.

Seventhly, this shift is not the death/demise of democracy. Or to put it differently, the critical variable – the big story – is surely the meltdown of the main democratic opposition. The Sirimavo Bandaranaike administration of 1970-77 had a far greater degree of structural control over society, what with the abolition of the independent Public Services Commission, the notorious District Political Authorities and the near monopoly of the mass media. Yet it was swept away in 1977. In 1982 JR Jayewardene needed to have Sirimavo Bandaranaike politically ‘decommissioned’ and the most dynamic elements of the SLFP (Vijaya Kumaratunga, Ossie Abeygoonesekara) locked up on spurious charges of Naxalism, printing bogus rice ration cards etc in order to make his move. Mahinda Rajapakse has not suppressed the UNP in the least, has been solicitous of the political fortunes of its leader (far from depriving him of civic rights) and is the beneficiary of a seemingly endless stream of defections due to the ‘bandwagon effect’. Go figure.

Start with the simple arithmetic. How many of the votes for the 18th amendment, from senior Ministers to teleplay Barbies, come from former UNPers who crossed the floor precisely during the tenure of Ranil Wickremesinghe as UNP leader? How many non-UNP Opposition votes are those of defectors from Ranil’s stint as Opposition leader? The numbers and trajectories of the parliamentarians tell the story: if the 18th amendment renders the Presidency overly powerful, it is Ranil Wickremesinghe who has empowered him.

President Jayewardene would never in his worst nightmares, have thought that the 65th anniversary of the United National Party would have been commemorated in the Centre named after him. The Jayewardene Centre was used for exhibitions and gatherings of Friendship societies etc, and not the anniversaries of the UNP which can usually fill an indoor stadium. It is not as if Mahinda Rajapakse used state repression to reduce the numbers attending the UNP anniversary celebration. No, it has taken Ranil Wickremesinghe to confine to the Jayewardene Centre auditorium, what used to be the country’s largest single political party!

What is even more telling – and disgraceful– is that the UNP was reduced to such a pathetic state of insecurity that it chose to boycott the debate in the legislature on the 18th amendment, thereby passing up the chance to use the best possible platform, the floor of the House, to place its critique before the country and on the parliamentary record.

Eighthly, the slew of defectors from the UNP, which include not just the old but the young, new, and popular (such as the lass from Gampaha with all those UNP preference votes) shows that the undercurrent of popular opinion is still flowing towards the incumbent. The multiethnic character of the support from the Opposition (SLMC, two Tamil MPs) is telling, but still more so was the silence of the largest institution which crosses the Sinhala-Tamil divide; the oldest globalised, multinational institution in the world, the Catholic Church, headed in Sri Lanka by the brilliant and multilingual Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) Dr Malcolm Ranjith. This is hardly a besieged, unpopular administration which has become more authoritarian as a defence against popular pressure.

Ninthly, what then of the future? The foes have it wrong and the fans may not have it right. All the parallels deployed by the foes, from Louis Napoleon to Marcos, are wrong. These regimes were either defeated in war (Napoleon’s nephew by Prussia), or were perceived as puppets by the populace (Marcos, the Shah), or bureaucratic autocracies divorced from national, religious and popular sentiments of the majority (Poland). Mahinda Rajapakse is far more Lech Walesa than Jaruzelski or is a fusion and the regime is as much or far more populist and patriotic than praetorian.

The fans may not have it right either. The trade-off of a developmental miracle or sustainable ‘take off’ requires many factors which are not yet in place and some, not even on the far horizon, ranging from standards of education through ethnic reconciliation to the efficacy of public services.

The success of the mutation of the form of state will stand or fall on whether or not the administration delivers the goods to the vast majority of the electorate. It has delivered some of the greatest public goods such as victory, pride, peace, security and stability, but that political capital won’t last forever. The litmus test will be whether, as in East Asia, the strong state/political leadership will deliver rapidly rising levels of prosperity and an improved quality of life, not just for the ‘haves’, the crony capitalists and the courtiers but for the overwhelming majority of the citizenry.

Tenthly, most of the civil society critics of and signatories against the 18th amendment are those who either support or sympathize with Ranil Wickremesinghe in the inner-party struggle. Many of these also refused to criticize Ranil during the CFA and refrained from criticizing the Tigers themselves. Of those few who did criticize the Tigers, the majority criticized Mahinda Rajapakse even more, during the decisive last war. There are of course, honourable exceptions, but the considerable degree of overlap between those civil society covens that denounce the death of democracy and those who didn’t denounce the Tigers for their deadly assaults on the democratic state, helps explain the lack of mass resonance of their appeal. Their support of Ranil Wickremesinghe also makes them culpable of the crime they accuse the administration of, namely the passage of the 18th amendment. Their continued campaign for Western pressure on Sri Lanka has also contributed to the reinforcement and raising of the regime’s ramparts.

The alarmists decrying the ‘death of a nation’ should know that the nation was far more in danger of death at the hands of the Tigers than it is now, and anyway, nations are too strong a socio-historical reality to be killed off by Constitutional amendments. The more hysterical civil society intelligentsia should not mistake the visible disappearance, possibly terminal illness and potential death-knell of their party of choice, the UNP, for the ‘death of democracy’ in Sri Lanka.

What has taken place is a shift, not an ending.

18th Constitutional Amendment has twelve objectives

by Basil Rajapaksa

(Following is an edited text of the speech made by Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, during the debate in Parliament on September 8, on the 18th Amendment to the Constitution)

The 18th Constitutional Amendment has 12 objectives, the first of which is the removal of fetters against the people's sovereignty.

The legislative power of the people is exercised by the Parliament which is made up of elected representatives. In a referendum, the people exercise their supreme sovereignty by casting their vote. The executive power vested with the people including defence of the country is exercised through a President elected by the voters themselves.

The Judicial power of the people is exercised through the judiciary, tribunals or other institutes created and recognized by the Constitution or created by law. Therefore, it is our responsibility as people's representatives to remove any such fetters against the people's executive power or sovereignty. Removal of Sections 31 (2) and 92
(1) which pose restrictions on the sovereignty, helps consolidate sovereignty. The two-term ceiling on the executive Presidency is an affront to the people and their sovereignty.

Secondly, we are giving effect to the pledge made in the Mahinda Chintana – Vision for the future, that the President's accountability to Parliament would be further strengthened. The President is generally accountable to Parliament and the 18th Amendment makes his attendance in Parliament compulsory.

The other objective is to solve the riddle of the 17th Amendment. It was deeply flawed. The DEW Gunasekera Committee appointed to go into it found most of its provisions not practicable. The Constitutional Council could not be appointed.

The UNP too had its fair share of difficulties in implementing the 17th Amendment. At least, the Elections Commission could not get off the ground.

The Constitutional Council has now been transformed into a Parliamentary Council conferring authority on Parliament. The present Amendment provides for the appointment of five members by the President as nominated by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition.

Our fifth objective aims at putting an end to fetters against people's sovereignty. Unlike its predecessor, the 18th Amendment under Section 41 (6) requires observations to be forwarded within a week failing which the President would act.

The sixth objective empowers all members of Parliament to make nominations which is a novel feature which democratises the process of nomination.

The seventh objective envisages a more efficient public service meant to accelerate national development and provide a better service to the public as provided for in the Mahinda Chintana – vision for the future.

There is an allegation that under Section 55 of the 18th Amendment we have dispersed with the freedom the public service enjoyed itself in regard to various matters.

Section 55 (1) in the Amendment however, stipulates, "the Cabinet of Ministers should provide for all policy matters relating to appointments, promotions, transfers, disciplinary control and dismissal of all public officers."

The 18th Amendment has conferred on the Cabinet of Ministers all powers relating to appointment, promotion, transfer or disciplinary control of all Heads of Departments. The 17th Amendment stated, "The Cabinet of Ministers shall give effect to such powers only after calling for the observations of the Commission."

In this new amendment we have not interfered with powers devolved upon the Provincial Councils. We have only maintained the status quo. Section 5 clearly states: In regard to the exercise of its powers the Commissions shall be accountable and answerable to Parliament and shall submit to Parliament a report of its performance during each calendar year. Consequently the Parliament has been further empowered.

The functions of the Commission have been explained in terms of Section 55 (3) of the 18th Amendment which states, "subject to the provisions of the Constitution, appointments, promotions, transfers and disciplinary control of public officers shall be berthed with the Public Service Commission.

Despite the Constitutional requirement in 57 (1), the Commission failed to appoint sub-committees. The Commission was adequately empowered to delegate its power to Heads of Departments or any other officers. This never did materialize. Having observed all these lapses and shortfalls we have incorporated into the new Amendment the special provision, "A specially stated by the Cabinet of Ministers..." so that the Commission has no alternative but to strictly comply with the Cabinet directives.

We have made the police, a true service to the people, having shed its military outlook. We made the police much closer to the people - a peoplized police.

The tenth objective deals with media freedom. This Commission had its control only over Rupavahini and SLBC. The ITN did not come under its purview. The Independent Election Commission has been given adequate powers to treat all media institutions equally since we firmly subscribe to the principle of equality before law.

We have made one more amendment! These Commissions including the Public Service Commission did not come under the financial control of Parliament.

Recruitments were made contrary to the accepted rules and regulations and procedures. The staff of all these Commissions is now deemed to be public officers - subject to Government regulations.

The President needs the strength and support of all to 'deliver the goods' during his second term as pledged. A stable Government is indispensable.

18th Amendment is a reversible shift and not a permanent ending

by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

It gives me no pleasure to contradict an Editorialist I respect in a paper I like, but the passage of the 18th Amendment does not mark the ‘death of a nation’. Nor does September 8, 2010 “mark the death of democracy”, as the TNA declaimed during the parliamentary debate. If these claims are to be believed, both the nation and democracy, or at least one, should be dead by the time you read these lines. I really don’t think either are.

The nation was far more in danger of death at the hands of the Tigers than it is now, and anyway, nations are too strong a socio-historical reality to be killed off by constitutional amendments. The TNA shouldn’t confuse the death of their pinups, Prabhakaran and the Tigers, with that of Sri Lankan democracy, which is far more durable an entity, and far more robust in the Southern two thirds of the island than in its North.

The more alarmist civil society intelligentsia should not mistake the visible disappearance, possibly terminal illness and potential death-knell of their party of choice, the UNP, for the ‘death of democracy’ in Sri Lanka.

What has taken place is a shift, not an ending. It is not an irreversible shift either. A reversal of the conditions that made the shift possible will render the shift reversible.

Any game has an umpire and as the saying goes, the umpire or referee’s word is law, or else there will be anarchy. One may disagree with the verdict but the point is that the Supreme Court heard the submissions of the critics, and doubtless read the papers, and has ruled without dissent on the matter, following which parliament has voted.

All this was avoidable. Had the UNP not set fire (quite literally) to the August 2000 Draft Constitution presented by President Kumaratunga and negotiated by Professor G.L. Peiris, K.N. Choksy and Karu Jayasuriya, there wouldn’t have been an 18th Amendment.

While the Amendment rolls back an attempt at roll back (the 17th amendment) and therefore restores a status quo ante, taking us back to vintage J.R. Jayewardene ’78, it makes de jure what was de facto, and gives constitutional form to the wartime Presidency.

It brings Sri Lanka more in line with the forms of state that are most widespread in precisely that part of the world which most strongly supported Sri Lanka in the war. Though it has its exceptions, this is the state form or regime type that preponderates in Eurasia and the global South, characterised by a strong centre (governed by the most ideologically diverse array of ruling parties and personalities).

This evolution or modification of state form almost always occurs in the context of a real or perceived external encirclement or threat. External threat or intrusion almost always leads to internal hardening.

The 18th Amendment is far less of a turning point, and far less dangerous than President Jayewardene’s Referendum of 1982, which arbitrarily extended the term of parliament by postponing a scheduled parliamentary election by means of a fraudulent and coercive referendum. This took place at a time when the main Opposition party, the SLFP, had been decapitated by the deprivation of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s civic rights. All this closed off the safety valves and rendered explosion inevitable. It came six months later in the form of massive anti-Tamil violence.

Today’s big story is surely the meltdown of the main democratic opposition. The Sirimavo Bandaranaike administration of 1970-77 had a far greater degree of structural control over society, what with the abolition of the independent Public Services Commission, the notorious District Political Authorities and the near monopoly of the mass media. Yet it was swept away in 1977. In 1982 J.R. Jayewardene needed to have Sirimavo Bandaranaike politically ‘decommissioned’ and the most dynamic elements of the SLFP (Vijaya Kumaratunga, Ossie Abeygoonesekara) locked up on spurious charges of Naxalism, printing bogus rice ration cards etc. in order to make his move.

Mahinda Rajapaksa has not suppressed the UNP in the least, has been solicitous of the political fortunes of its leader (far from depriving him of civic rights) and is the beneficiary of a seemingly endless stream of defections due to the ‘bandwagon effect’.

Work the simple arithmetic. How many of the votes for the 18th Amendment, from senior ministers to teleplay Barbies, come from former UNPers who crossed the floor precisely during the tenure of Ranil Wickremesinghe as UNP leader?

How many non-UNP Opposition votes are those of defectors from Ranil’s stint as Opposition Leader?

The numbers and trajectories of the parliamentarians tell the story: if the 18th Amendment renders the Presidency overly powerful, it is Ranil Wickremesinghe who has empowered him.

President Jayewardene would never in his worst nightmares, have thought that the 65th anniversary of the United National Party would have been commemorated in the Centre named after him. The Jayewardene Centre was used for exhibitions and gatherings of friendship societies etc., and not the anniversaries of the UNP which can usually fill an indoor stadium.

It is not as if Mahinda Rajapaksa used state repression to reduce the numbers attending the UNP anniversary celebration. No, it has taken Ranil Wickremesinghe to confine to the Jayewardene Centre auditorium, what used to be the country’s largest single political party!

What is even more telling – and disgraceful – is that the UNP was reduced to such a pathetic state of insecurity that it chose to boycott the debate in the legislature on the 18th Amendment, thereby passing up the chance to use the best possible platform, the floor of the House, to place its critique before the country and on the parliamentary record.

The slew of defectors from the UNP, which include not just the old but the young, new, and popular (such as the lass from Gampaha with all those UNP preference votes) shows that the undercurrent of popular opinion is still flowing towards the incumbent.

The multiethnic character of the support from the Opposition (SLMC, two Tamil MPs) is telling, but still more so was the silence of the largest institution which crosses the Sinhala-Tamil divide; the oldest globalised, multinational institution in the world, the Catholic Church, headed in Sri Lanka by the brilliant and multilingual Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) Dr. Malcolm Ranjith. This is hardly a besieged, unpopular administration which has become more authoritarian as a defence against popular pressure and national isolation.

The 18th Amendment’s foes have it wrong and fans may not have it right. All the parallels deployed by the foes, from Louis Napoleon to Marcos, are wrong. These regimes were either defeated in war (Napoleon’s nephew by Prussia), or were perceived as puppets by the populace (Marcos, the Shah), or bureaucratic autocracies divorced from national, religious and popular sentiments of the majority (Poland). The Rajapaksa regime is as much or far more populist and patriotic than praetorian.

The fans may not have it right either. The trade-off of a developmental miracle or sustainable ‘take off’ requires many factors which are not yet in place and some, not even on the far horizon, ranging from standards of education through ethnic reconciliation to the efficacy of public services.

The success of the mutation of the form of state will stand or fall on whether or not the administration delivers the goods to the vast majority of the electorate. It has delivered some of the greatest public goods such as victory, pride, peace, security and stability, but that political capital won’t last forever. The litmus test will be whether, as in East Asia, the strong state/political leadership will deliver rapidly rising levels of prosperity and an improved quality of life, not just for the ‘haves’, the crony capitalists and the courtiers but for the overwhelming majority of the citizenry.

Mahendra Percival Rajapaksa is now the King of Sri Lanka

by Mangala Samaraweera

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.” - George Orwell, 1984

As I pen these lines the knowledge bears heavy upon my soul that by the time these words go to press, Sri Lanka is well on the path to dictatorship and oligarchy: from the moment the Speaker puts his signature to the 18th Amendment bulldozed through Parliament on the 8th of September, his brother will become the constitutionally sanctioned autocrat of our troubled island. Perhaps 8/9/10 will go down in history as the day one of Asia’s oldest democracies lost her soul.

It is unfortunate that the government’s propaganda machine has been so effective as to still the consciences of the majority of Sri Lankans, most of whom are not even aware that as they go about their lives, apathetic and ignorant, their democratic rights are being signed away by the man who claims to be their liberator, Mahendra Percival Rajapaksa.

In what has been an insidious political maneuvering since he assumed the Presidency of Sri Lanka in 2005, Mahinda Rajapaksa and the ruling family have finally shown their hand in a way that makes it impossible for any right thinking citizen to ignore. That is why the newspapers, pundits, columnists, lawyers and civil society on every side of the ideological divide have made a unified plea, because not even Mahinda Rajapaksa and his talented team of spin doctors at the state media houses can disguise this unbridled lust for absolute power as an act of patriotism. Finally then the true persona of the man so many have hailed as liberator is laid bare.

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution so secretly drafted and so insidiously placed upon the agenda of the legislature is nothing but an unabashed power grab by a man who has had despotic ambitions from the start; a man who has done everything in his presidency so far to arrive at this day – the day when he can secure the position of ‘President For Life’, for himself, until such time that his brothers and sons are ready for the throne. For those who gave him the benefit of the doubt when he had artistes write songs about Mahinda being a ‘Maharajaneni’ as far back as May last year, let there be no mistake now that as of September 8, 2010, Mahinda Rajapaksa is the self appointed king of Sri Lanka.

This new Amendment which aims to reverse the progressive 17th Amendment, a historic piece of legislation endorsed unanimously by parliament and also allows an executive president to serve an unlimited number of terms in office, has been rushed through the legislative process like no other bill put forth by the Rajapaksa Administration. There is good reason for this. While protecting the presidency and keeping it in the hands of the Rajapaksa family, the 18th Amendment also ensures that all appointments to the public service, judiciary and the appointment of the elections commission or commissioner fall under the writ of an almighty executive president.

In short, the 18th Amendment is a piece of Rajapaksa legislation that ensures that the Rajapaksa writ holds sway over every single area of governance and public life, exactly that which the 17th Amendment sought to prevent by way of de-politicizing the public service, judiciary, police and ensuring independence during elections. It is indeed a strange situation we are faced with today.

For decades, the central political and public debate in Sri Lanka has been about trying to find ways to dilute the extraordinary powers vested with the executive president by the 1978 Constitution. At the last two national elections, this debate and discourse took pride of place in the plethora of political issues raised. How ironic it is then for us to find ourselves at this juncture. While all those of us in the political firmament have been determined to redefine the Sri Lankan constitution that would make the presidency more accountable to the people, Mahinda Rajapaksa has checkmated the nation by this constitutional coup to increase his powers and ensure that he and his family remain at the helm of this country for an indefinite time to come.

In short, he has managed in less than a week to change the Sri Lankan presidency into the office of an all powerful dictator. It should be recalled that some of the worst dictators the world has ever seen have tried to legitimize their positions by conducting nominal elections. Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein held an election every five years where he was the only candidate. So does Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Adolf Hitler too obtained a 2/3 majority in the notorious elections of November 12th 1933; armed with this majority, within 12 months Hitler substituted his personal dictatorship for its democracy, destroyed all political parties but his own, wiped out the labour unions, stamped out democratic associations of any kind, abolished freedom of speech and of the press, and stifled the independence of the courts.

Today it has become crystal clear why President Mahinda Rajapaksa has chosen to associate himself with the worst human rights violators and dictatorial regimes in the world at present. Since assuming power Mahinda Rajapaksa has strengthened relations with the military dictators of Myanmar who brutally massacred Buddhist priests clamoring for democracy and have imprisoned democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi since 1989 when her party won an election. Rajapaksa is bosom buddies with Libya’s Mohammed Gaddafi who has ruled that country for 40 years without an iota of democracy and Mahmaud Ahmadinejad of Iran who last year squashed opposition protests after a disputed election.

In 2006, when I attended the UN General assembly in New York with the President, many were surprised when our leader embraced the Zimbabwean dictator to express his admiration for the aging tyrant. The 18th Amendment, passed into law last Wednesday ensures that all future elections are rendered meaningless, given the sheer power and control over state machinery by the incumbency.

Where the 17th Amendment upholds the writ of the Commissioner of Elections appointed by the Constitutional Council over the state media during elections, the 18th Amendment holds that the Elections Commissioner (appointed by the President) will control all public and private media, ensuring that the writ of the incumbent will also extend over independent media houses during polls. In short, a political opponent would stand no chance against the Rajapaksa juggernaut; picture the last two elections held in Sri Lanka magnified a thousand fold.

It has long since been established that candidates constantly come into presidential office swearing to abolish the executive presidency only to experience the absolute power of that office and be intoxicated by it. Few who ascend the presidency have ever wanted to relinquish it. To her credit, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga made a sincere attempt to introduce a new constitution minus the executive presidency on 3rd August 2000; history would have been so different if she succeeded then. When a man is afforded unlimited terms in that position, with full control over state machinery indefinitely, only the naive would believe he will give it up one day when his ‘vision for Sri Lanka’ is achieved.

But here’s the rub. Both Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election manifestos, Mahinda Chinthana and Mahinda Chinthana Idiri Dakma clearly stipulated that the executive presidential system will be abolished. In April 2010 he received nearly two thirds of a majority to abolish this system. It is therefore abundantly clear that Mahinda Rajapaksa did not win a mandate from the people to extend his term in office indefinitely. He received a mandate, both in 2005 and in 2010 to abolish the presidency and replace it with a different system of governance. So never mind his opponents, this move to extend his presidential term indefinitely is a grotesque subversion of the people’s franchise and a slap in the face for those who voted for him.

In 1977 when J.R. Jayewardene moved to change the constitution and establish an executive presidency it was the likes of Mahinda Rajapaksa and many other senior SLFPers who took to the streets claiming that it was paving the way for dictatorial government. Today those same SLFPers are supporting this Draconian piece of legislation that not only establishes an all powerful president, but changes the very nature of the state, making a farce of democracy and placing all power in the hands of a single family. There is no doubt in my mind that a majority of the opposition to this Amendment comes from within the ranks of the government. And yet, in the face of this subversion of democracy and in fact the very parliamentary system, SLFPers have chosen to be silent, perhaps out of fear, perhaps out of a sense of complacency. I can only hope that they will remember that it was in their hands to reverse this, in their power to stall the Rajapaksa power trip in its tracks.

The rest of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s numbers he achieved by using the full might of the government’s financial strength, to bribe and entice opposition members to sign over a country’s democratic rights to a despot in waiting. Where financial enticement failed, the Rajapaksas employed tactics of terror and intimidation, threatening lawsuits and trumped up charges against those they needed to pass the 18th Amendment into law. It is this purchase of opposition MPs to pass this bill that will be most harshly judged by history.

The people who voted with the opposition voted stoically and determinedly against Mahinda Rajapaksa and the continuance of the executive presidency. They voted for an opposition which had pledged to abolish the all-powerful presidency and bring about a parliamentary system of governance in its stead. The opposition members who have crossed over with little moral compunction represent the interests of that section of the populace; people who categorically rejected the Rajapaksa doctrine for Sri Lanka even when they were at the height of their popularity and power. What kind of warped politicking is this? How will the MPs who have betrayed the mandate they have received answer to their electorates?

You have repaid their faith in you by signing over your voters’ rights to a President they rejected, ensuring that their votes will count for nothing ever again, given the all powerful nature of the incumbency.

All this for money? All this because you refuse to stand up to the man who has proven time and again that his word is good for nothing? There is no doubt that this is a crime for which your voters will never forgive you. You have betrayed them and signed away what was left of their freedom to a megalomaniac in return for the perks of ministerial office.

As for the minority parties who have opted to support this ludicrous piece of legislation, I can only say to them that they have dug their own political graves, by having entrusted more power into the hands of a extremist madman who will use the additional power you have gifted him to further oppress your people.

There is simply no precedent for the way in which this bill was rushed through. It was proposed as an Urgent Bill, begging the questions about why and in whose interests it was necessary to speed up the process, disallowing time for debate, protest or the creation of public opinion. Furthermore the government has opted to do away with the need for a referendum despite the fact that record low voter turn out in April meant that this government has a mandate of a mere 34 percent of registered voters.

If the government was not afraid that the people would vote against this amendment en mass, why not offer a referendum? Surely an amendment that vests so much power indefinitely in an incumbent was more than worthy of seeking the explicit opinion of the general populace? Instead, the amendment was introduced so suddenly and without any warning, ensuring that there was no time for the opposition to educate the people about how dangerous the legislation would be for the future of democracy in this country.

The President should have followed the example of his friend, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who directly went to the people to remove the two term barrier; Chavez called a referendum instead of trying to device an artificial majority in parliament through coercion and intimidation, blackmail and bribery.

The nature of executive presidencies is such that in most parts of the democratic world where the system is in place and there is legal immunity for persons holding the office, term limits are practically mandatory. Term limits offer a slight deterrent to incumbent presidents, ensuring that when their term or terms of office are ended, they will be vulnerable to legal action.

The unlimited number of terms clause put forth in the 18th Amendment nips this small safeguard in the bud, assuring the incumbent president of immunity for life. The floodgates are therefore open for the Rajapaksas, with this Amendment being passed into law, to commit all manner of sins against the Sri Lankan state and citizenry at an intensity greater than the abuses that currently occur. Given the powers afforded to the incumbent by this legislation it is more than likely that Sri Lanka will never be able to prosecute the Rajapaksas or hold them accountable for their misdeeds while in power.

This climax has been some time coming. Those of us who recognised Mahinda Rajapaksa for the megalomaniac he truly was some years ago, realised that this day would come. Ever since he assumed office in 2005, the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency has unfolded before our eyes as a truly Orwellian nightmare. When we expressed our fears then we were labelled unpatriotic and envious. Today, things have come full circle. Supporters and detractors alike have had to swallow the bitter pill that Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family are only concerned about entrenching themselves in power and perpetrating a dynasty; that their lofty rhetoric about patriotism, about being custodians of this nation, it was all a means to an end.

An end in which the Rajapaksa family will finally own Sri Lanka, her people and their vote. If we are mourning the death of democracy today, we must indeed share some of the blame. Sri Lanka has been too gullible, too ready to forgive, too willing to overlook the sins of this regime, to believe it was working in the interests of this country. If the lunatic fringe has won the day, it is because the moderates have chosen silence over dissent and passivity over affirmative action. Today, Mahinda Rajapaksa stands exposed, his power lust, greed and deception is there for all to see. We cannot continue to stand mute in the face of this revelation.

Once again, I must beg forgiveness of my country and my people for having once supported this man’s effort to attain the presidency. Once, he was able to fool me too. I will rue that day as long as I shall live. And to correct my mistake, I pledge my life and all the strength left in me to make it my cause to strip him of power and reverse his dictatorial policies in order to regain Sri Lanka.

I urge all those who believe in democratic values and oppose this dictatorship to join hands with me and those of us in the opposition who believe that the future of democracy in Sri Lanka is far more important than one man’s madness and power lust. Together we are stronger than them, together we can stall their despotic march, for a few of us who uphold the principles of democracy, freedom and equality for all can take on an entire regime of despots and still emerge triumphant.

The time to unite, rise up and act is now.

“Na antalikkhe na samuddamajjhe – na pabbatanam vivaram pavissa Na vijjati so jagatippadeso – yatthatthito munceyya papakamma.” Not in the sky, nor in mid-ocean, nor in a mountain cave, is found that place on earth where abiding one may escape from the consequences of one’s evil deeds. (The Dhammapada)

Compliance with Rajapaksas is the only way to prosper in the Rajapaksa - Land

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Today there was total confusion in Sri Rajapaksistan (formerly Sri Lanka) when thousands and thousands of people changed their name to “Rajapaksa” to get into Parliament or even get a job… Hospital authorities report that all new born babies are being named Rajapaksa by their parents (also called Rajapaksa)….

The police and the courts are having trouble with most victims and offenders being called Rajapaksa, said Inspector Rajapaksa…. Emerging reports indicate that the Mahanayake Theros and the Bishops have changed their names to Rajapaksa….Ranil Wickremesinghe of Cinnamon Watta C7 will henceforth be known as Ranil Rajapaksasinghe” (A 2007 anonymous e-mail titled “Aiyo Rajapaksa”)

The President celebrated the emergence of Rajapaksa Dynastic Rule with a portentous gesture. He reinstated Mervyn Silva as Deputy Minister. That obnoxiously insensitive step signalled the President’s willingness to violate any legal or moral code to assist a loyal henchman. Under dynastic rule, faithful courtiers prosper, even when they break the law. The triumphant return of Mervyn Silva demonstrates that unquestioning obedience and adoring servility are sine-qua-non for survival and prosperity in Rajapaksa-land.

And, post-18th Amendment, we are in Rajapaksa-land. Had the 18th Amendment removed presidential term-limits without enhancing presidential powers (via the negation of the 17th Amendment) or had it enhanced presidential powers but retained presidential term-limits, the damage done to Lankan democracy would not have been terminal. But the two juxtaposed cannot but ensure – and indeed are meant to ensure – that future Lankan elections will have a preordained conclusion. The Ruling Party will always win, because the 18th Amendment not only destroys the autonomy of the Elections Commissioner by giving the President the right to hire and fire him; it also emasculates the position, thereby enabling the Ruling Party to abuse state property, including the state media, at will. Elections in which the rulers always win, officially, are a staple in many countries, from Zimbabwe to Myanmar; with the 18th Amendment we too join that distinguished throng.

This momentous defeat would not have been possible without the fatal injuries inflicted on the independence of the judiciary by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. She hand-picked Sarath Silva and made him Chief Justice, in order to debase the role of the judiciary from independent arbiter and protector of the law, the constitution and citizens’ rights into an advocate and enforcer for the executive. Silva eventually double crossed her and was double crossed in turn by the man whose political fortunes he saved and promoted, at two critical junctures.

By then the anti-democratic vision of the former president had come into fruition, even though its fruits became the property of her successor (such as getting the 18th Amendment through sans a referendum). A country in which the legislature and the judiciary are subserviently dependent on the executive, the public service is supine and the media is threatened, elections alone cannot ensure democracy. In fact, in such a country elections will be parodies, democratic illusions to mask and justify tyranny.

The Rajapaksas are superlative at language rules. At his recent meeting with media heads, the President reportedly opined that the removal of term limits will dilute presidential powers! Either dilute has opposite meanings in the normal lexicon and the Rajapaksa lexicon or the President is too cognitively challenged to realise that increase is not decrease. Rajapaksa also stated that the replacement of the powerful Constitutional Council with the toothless Parliamentary Council – tasked solely with offering opinions to the President which he is at complete liberty to ignore – will ‘ensure the supremacy of parliament in a better way’ (Ada Derana).

By the same (Rajapaksa) logic, would the absolving of Mervyn Silva for the crime of tying a Samurdhi official to a tree amount to justice being done ‘in a better way’? It is certainly the Rajapaksa Way, as we, Lankan citizens turned Rajapaksa subjects, will realise, ere long.Last week, the police arrested the wife and the two brothers of a printer who, on the orders of the UNP, printed a not entirely apocryphal poster of Mahinda Rajapaksa with a Hitlerian visage — because the printer could not be caught. Arresting family members for the supposed crimes of a man was the norm in absolutist-monarchic times, as was the tying of supposed miscreants to trees. When presidents turn themselves into de facto absolutist-monarchs, it is but natural for monarchical values and practices to return, with a vengeance.

Compliance with the Rajapaksas is the only way to avoid trouble and prosper in the Rajapaksa-land. And our political class is learning fast, as the shameless conduct of the UNP defectors and the supine surrender of the ‘old left’ demonstrate. The SLFP, having ceded its rights, will settle down to obey with alacrity every whim of every Rajapaksa. Using stealth and deception, the Rajapaksas will continue their process of constitutional metamorphosis, one anti-democratic amendment at a time, thus evading both public scrutiny and the referendum a new constitution will require.

Ideally the UNP and the JVP should work together to resist this descent into tyranny via anti-democratic constitutional amendments. Unfortunately, the UNP will remain immersed in its leadership squabble, which, incidentally, helped ease the passage of the 18th Amendment. In reaction, the JVP may become more sectarian. The opposition will follow the UPFA in making itself irrelevant politically, leaving the Rajapaksas as the sole arbiters of Lankan destiny.

Without the chronic disunity and incapacity of the German opposition, the Nazis may not have succeeded in destroying Weimer democracy from within. And a portion of the blame accrues to the German people, for surrendering their political rights and moral inhibitions, in return for Nazi promises to make Germany great (and those promises did work, phenomenally, for a while). Still the main culprits are not the German Left or the Right but the Nazis, who, having come into power democratically and entrenched themselves in power electorally, moved inexorably to destroy democracy from within.

The Rajapaksa Brothers have managed to wound Lankan democracy, possibly fatally, thanks to innumerable sins of omission and commission by everyone of us. The UNP and the Opposition are certainly culpable, especially for losing the winnable battle over the 18th Amendment. We, the People, cannot disclaim responsibility either because the Rajapaksa process of subverting democracy from within is being partly sustained by our witting or unwitting consent (The Tamils made the same choice vis-à-vis the LTTE/ Pirapaharan). But the primary culpability must be located in the Rajapaksa Province.

From the inception of the Rajapaksa Presidency, the Brothers worked, consciously and deliberately, to undermine Lankan democracy and achieve their familial and dynastic ambitions. In the Rajapaksa future, political disempowerment of all but the Ruling Family will coexist with economic repletion for the wealthy and well-connected and economic deprivation for the have-nots. The consent of the Sinhala majority for this iniquitous system will be obtained by feeding their ‘national-pride’, by intoxicating them with the belief that, as members of the victorious and dominant ethnic group, they are privileged and special, despite economic deprivation. Tamils will be compelled to abandon political demands in return for a modicum of normalcy and a sliver of economic improvement. The Rajapaksa utopia will be our common dystopia.

When democratic institutions die people become the living dead

by Kishali Pinto Jayawardene

There were passing antics on display this week over the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. One considerably amusing spectacle was the unholy difficulty with which apparent supporters of this perverse amendment stuttered and stammered over their positions or the lack thereof.

Unconvincing actors and pathetic explanations

For instance, we had the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem embarking on a defensively convoluted explanation of why his party is switching political hats, which hearkened back to his schooldays. His pious if not quite vain hope that the independence of the judiciary will be safeguarded could only evoke ironic chuckles.

Then we had the (erstwhile?) leftist Vasudeva Nanayakkara who cut a somewhat more pathetic picture than most when he endeavoured to explain that he was against the contents of the 18th Amendment but was anyway supporting the government due to his fear that the administration will be overthrown by unpatriotic forces. Would it not have been far more honest to have simply declared that they are supporting the 18th Amendment out of sheer self interest?

Apart from these unconvincing actors, we had External Affairs Minister GL Peiris surpassing his usual inanities when he proclaimed that the 18th Amendment will lead to a strengthening of the franchise. And the less said of the Jathika Hela Urumaya, the better. This party apparently saw nothing incongruous in their firm declaration that the constitutional commissions should be independent despite the reality that the 18th Amendment actually destroys any vestiges of such independence.

All this is nothing new. We have seen such ‘patriotic’ treachery in the past. And history has always recorded this fact, even if the gains appear to be all to the contrary in the immediate present. There is no doubt that those who supported this death chant for democracy in Sri Lanka, will also have to rue this fact later.

When institutions die…

However, this column is preoccupied with a more pressing question than the antics of hypocritical politicians. The passing of the 18th Amendment brings to the fore, a curious but fundamental question. When liberties are taken away and when democratic institutions die, is it even worse than human beings dying? This is the query that came to my mind when writing to a colleague and friend this Wednesday. His immediate answer, that when institutions die living people end up living as if they are dead, touched a raw nerve.

Let us take some time to ponder this question. In the eighties, people of both the majority and the minority communities died in their thousands both in the North/East as well as the South, broadly speaking. State repression was at an all time high under the heavy hand of the United National Party. Yet there was vigour in opposition and not necessarily political opposition.

The media played a significant role as an opinion maker in compelling even the most grandiose politician to rethink certain strategies. There was intellectual opposition coming from community movements and protest groups comprising of academics, lawyers, activists and trade unionists among others, most often operating out of their homes and working with the bare minimum of financial resources.

The strength of apolitical voices

These voices did not belong to commercialized professional outfits with sprawling offices located in Colombo’s elite residential areas. Their moral authority came from the fact that they did not toe the line of any particular political party and therefore, when they spoke people as well as politicians listened. Most importantly, despite the terror of the eighties there were the courts.

Using a so called referendum to undermine the franchise by then President JR Jayewardene, the stoning of the houses of ‘politically unpopular’ judges and the abuse directed at them is now part of recorded history. Jayewardene, it must be recalled was thought to be positively Machiavellian until Mahinda Rajapaksa came along and stood this received wisdom quite upon its head.

But the point is that the judiciary (largely as a whole) kept their integrity intact during that period. A constituency of public opinion recognized the core importance of constitutional institutions in general and an independent judiciary in particular. This faith was kept alive and enabled judges to stand up against aggressive political authority, sometimes in the most dangerous of moments.

Liberties lie in the hearts of people.

Yet do we have this same faith today? In the sphere of public debate, we even hear dismissal of the very idea of liberal democracy. China is being touted as the role model where economic development has trumped personal liberties and political freedoms. Is this what this country, earlier referred to as one of South Asia’s oldest democracies, really aiming at?

The fact that academics, professionals, lawyers and law students protested this week against the 18th Amendment was encouraging. Far more voices should rise against the veritable dying of our constitutional institutions. We need a public constituency in support of the independence of the judiciary. Even if a judicial officer attempts to be independent, what stands between that individual and swift executive vengeance?

An appellate court judge deciding weighty issues of constitutional law or a High Court judge deciding an issue of the liberties of this country’s former Army Commander will face this same dilemma. Much of the deterioration today is due to the infamies practised unconscionably by former Chief Justice Sarath Silva during his ten year term but it is time enough and more we stopped lamenting the past.

The line advanced by some that ordinary people are not interested in the Constitution but are occupied only with filling their stomachs is so simplistic as to be virtually laughable. Such painfully superficial advocates should be reminded of Judge Learned Hand’s beautiful appeal that liberties lie in the hearts of the people and when that hope dies, no Constitution and no law can save it.

In support of a Constitution embodying justice

The 18th Amendment exposes the Constitution of 1978 as the utterly perverse constitutional document that it is. The bandages temporarily put on this constitutional obscenity by the 17th Amendment have now been stripped away and we cannot shut our eyes to this fact. This ‘basic law’ should be rejected by a growing constituency of public opinion as unjust. It should be replaced by a Constitution embodying a fairer contract between the rulers and the people.

This country could perhaps recover from the deaths of its people through a process of mourning and reconciliation. But can we say the same when institutional democracy dies? Where is the recovery then? ~ courtesy: The Sunday Times ~

U.S. says Sri Lanka amendment undermines democracy

Sep 11, (Reuters) - The United States on Saturday condemned Sri Lanka's passage of a constitutional amendment granting the president vast new powers, saying it undermined democracy.

Sri Lanka's parliament on Wednesday voted for the measure sought by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which removes a presidential two-term limit and grants him more power over appointments to the police, judiciary, public service and electoral commissions.

"The United States is concerned that this constitutional amendment weakens checks and balances and thus undermines the principles of constitutional democracy," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement.

Crowley called on Rajapaksa's government to take steps to strengthen independent institutions, increase transparency and promote national reconciliation in the Indian Ocean nation, which is recovering from a long civil war.

The government argued the constitutional change was justified to give Rajapaksa, whose second term ends in 2017, time to build Sri Lanka's $42 billion economy after victory over the Tamil Tiger separatists last year.

Opposition and rights groups criticized the measure as a blow to democracy and a step toward dictatorship by Rajapaksa, who parlayed last year's victory over the rebels into a re-election to a second term in January and a landslide for his United Peoples Freedom Alliance party in parliament in April.

However, critics accuse him of stifling dissent, jailing opponents and disregarding the rule of law as he holds an office with almost unchecked control of the government.

Sri Lanka's relationship with Western nations was strained earlier this year after it objected to a decision by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint an independent panel to assess whether crimes were committed during the final months of Sri Lanka's war against the Tamil rebels in May 2009.

Rights groups said the U.N. panel was necessary because Sri Lanka appeared unwilling to seriously investigate possible abuses itself.

The government denies any war crimes took place, but rights groups say that both the government and the Tamil Tigers were guilty of human rights violations that resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths. - courtesy: Reuters -

The 18th Amendment and the reawakening of President Rajapaksa

By Kalana Senaratne

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution makes it clear that Sri Lanka, after the end of a brutal armed conflict, is moving in the wrong direction. It is also clear that President Mahinda Rajapaksa, as a leader, has got his national priorities mixed up, and this too, rather wittingly.

The people of Sri Lanka were in need of a ‘national reawakening’; amendments to the Constitution were essential, but amendments which further promoted democracy and good governance. What they have got instead is a more powerful President, who now has firm and total constitutional control over some of the most important public services and institutions of the country. Two basic features of the 18th Amendment make this all too clear:

removal of the two-term limit of a President, and the creation of a largely impotent Parliamentary Committee which replaces the Constitutional Council established under the 17th Amendment.

Executive Presidency

While the office of the executive president may have played a useful role especially during the last phase of the armed conflict, it was quite clear ever since 1978 that the executive presidency was not the kind of political office which did much good for the country. It was the creation of a man who had dictatorial tendencies, and the enormous powers attributed to the President which gave rise to authoritarian rule in the country went against all norms of democracy and good governance promoted by the Buddhist philosophy. Curiously, it is this same document which creates an undemocratic, unaccountable and authoritarian leader that also gives foremost place to the peaceful and sublime teachings of the Buddha (Chapter II, Article 9).

Given the damage successive executive presidents had caused over the years, there were two options before President Rajapaksa, especially after May 2009. Firstly, it was to totally abolish the executive presidency. As Judge CG Weeramantry, former judge of the World Court, once noted: “A Sri Lanka which aims at being a stable democracy needs to avoid the temptations towards authoritarian rule which are inherent in the concept of executive presidency. This should rank high in the list of proposed reforms.”

Secondly, if total abolition was not possible, then, amendments which reduced some of the powers of the President should have been introduced, which would have made him more accountable to Parliament, the Judiciary, and the people. After all, it was President Rajapaksa who promised that he would convert the executive presidency into a ‘trusteeship’, by making it more accountable to Parliament and the Judiciary (see Mahinda Chintanaya: Vision for the Future, 2010, p. 56).

Those were the options available and the basic nature of the reforms that were required (reforms, which had been promised to the people by so many leaders on so many occasions before). If then, even a school child would understand that the removal of the two-term limit of the President is a classic case of misplaced priorities. Unfortunately, President Rajapaksa seemed to have known what he was going to do, for it was not yesterday, but some months ago, that he told Al-Jazeera during the first international interview since the end of the conflict:

“I am going to win again”. The intention was clear. To win again, there had to be the removal of the two-term limit. The 18th Amendment, therefore, fulfills his desire and even the (unquenchable?) thirst for power. That temptation towards authoritarian rule seems to be continuing.

Amending the 17thAmendment

Now, the removal of the two-term limit would have still been fine (at least theoretically), had the 18th Amendment simultaneously reduced certain powers of the President; just as the 17th Amendment aimed to do. But sadly, it is precisely the opposite which the 18th Amendment aims to do. The two-term limit is removed, and more Presidential powers are introduced.

Firstly, the provision in the 18th Amendment which states that the President shall “attend Parliament once in every three months” does not essentially suggest that the President will be more accountable to Parliament or the people. One still does not know what the President ought to do after attending Parliament. It is said that he has the right to “address and send messages to Parliament.” But then, will he exercise that right? What if he decides to simply attend Parliament, and watch Parliamentary proceedings where his message will be read out by the Prime Minister?

If real accountability was to be ensured, he should actively engage in Parliamentary proceedings and be involved in some form of active debate and discussion. The 18th Amendment does not do this. It is not surprising. Given the popular Sri Lankan trait of ‘cringing before superiors’, such a scenario where Members of Parliament can question the President of the country is unimaginable, unthinkable.

Secondly, in amending the 17th Amendment, what the 18th Amendment has done is to take away all the powers of the Constitutional Council and thereby crush the fundamental purpose of the 17th Amendment; i.e. the reduction of Presidential powers concerning the appointments made to some of the important high posts in the country.

The ‘workability’ of the 17th Amendment gave rise to a number of problems, and the 17th Amendment was not by any means a perfect document in that regard. But if, as the government claims, the problem was with the ‘workability’ of the 17th Amendment and the complexity surrounding the functioning of the Constitutional Council (CC), the answer to that is to make the functioning of the body less complex whilst ensuring that the fundamental purpose of the 17th Amendment is retained.

Instead, the 18th Amendment creates a Parliamentary Committee (PC) which is less complex; but having done that, it reduces the powers of that PC to such an extent that it becomes an utterly impotent mechanism in terms of curtailing the powers of the President. Consider the enormous difference between the powers of the new PC and the powers of the old CC. Under the 18th Amendment, the President only needs to “seek the observations” of the PC concerning the relevant appointments (and such observations have to be communicated within one week);

whereas earlier, under the 17th Amendment, the President could only make appointments “on the recommendation” of the CC (as per Article 41B, concerning posts listed in the Schedule under 41B), or else, only if the appointments had been “approved” by the CC (as per Article 41C, concerning posts listed in the Schedule under 41C). It is clear then that the fundamental purpose of the 18th Amendment is to give absolute control and power to the President over the appointments to some of the most important high posts (which include appointments to several key Commissions and other posts such as the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, the IGP etc., etc.)

In any case, the President has the additional advantage of being able to ensure that 3 of the 5 members of the new PC are from the Government or its main political party (i.e. the Speaker, the Prime Minister, and the nominee of the Prime Minister). In that sense, it is clear that under the pretext of this argument of ‘workability’, the present regime has introduced a ‘workable’ mechanism which does not address a national ‘post-war’ priority – viz, the reduction of Presidential powers and the strengthening of independent institutions.

Conclusion

The implications arising from the 18th Amendment are serious. There is, now, firm constitutional and legal control over the public service and the judiciary; not just de-facto control. This, in turn, affects the public perception regarding some of the most important institutions in the country which had to remain independent, and thereby erodes public confidence.

The promotion of equality of citizenship is also threatened, and this seriously hampers efforts made at ensuring a greater degree of ethnic reconciliation. The problems surrounding the promotion and protection of human rights, in particular, have not been addressed, since the vital mechanisms which would guarantee such independent and impartial human rights investigations and inquiries are firmly under the control of the President.

Given the absence of a democratic and popular alternative to the undemocratic form of government that is being further strengthened and promoted by the current regime, it is difficult to imagine what, and how long, it would take to address these problems in any meaningful and peaceful manner in the future.

Residing at Jaffna Railway Station: “Nobody cares for us and we have no where to go”

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure. But risk must be taken because the greatest hazard is to risk nothing” – Anonymous

A family of three reside at the Jaffna Railway Station. Selvaratnam Jeyalingam (43) and his wife Jeyarubi Jeyalingam (40) have lost their legs and fingers in 1992 in Vasaavilaan, in Jaffna Peninsula.

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Main entrance of the Jaffna Railway Station

“We were at sleep, when a shell landed in our house during a heavy fighting. My husband lost his right leg, and I lost both of my legs and 10 fingers. We were lucky to have survived” says Jeyarubi Jeyalingam tears fills her both eyes and voice cracks.

They got married in 1990, and were leading a normal life. Both husband and wife used to make sweet called “Muscat” and sell for survival. But after they got injured, they have become immobile. Jeyarubi Jeyalingam crawls on the ground and grass to move around. Her husband Selvaratnam Jeyalingam has a wooden clutch to support.

“We got displaced from our place after we got injured, and moved to Oottumadam. We were staying at a house belongs to a Muslim family for many years. Now, the owner has returned from Puttlam as the war has ended in May 2009, and we had to leave as they want to occupy their house. We had no place to go, therefore we found refuge at the Jaffna Railway Station. We neither have income nor help. We are struggling to survive daily”.

They are currently living in the station master’s room at the abandoned and destroyed Jaffna Railway Station with card board boxes of kitchen utensils and used clothes. Kitchen is set up in a corner of the same room.

“People who visit the station give us some money or meals. Daily we depend on some visitors who visit the Railway Station. We are grateful to those who helped us in a big or small way. But it is for a very short period. And, we are worried about our future especially our daughter’s education and future”.

Their only daughter Tharshika Jeyalingam (4) sits quietly between her parents on the ground of the landmark building of Jaffna, which bears the scars of a brutal war. She does not attend school a her parents do not have Rs.7,000/= (approximately US$63) to pay the Montessori. She either plays alone or with her parents in the railway station building. She does not have any toys.

“We are happy that the long running war is over. People begin to return to their places of origin and begin farming or fishing. But future holds no hope for us because we have nobody and nowhere to go. We hope and pray somebody will be able to help us soon”.

They do not know how long they will have to stay here, as they have neither money nor property.

“Staying at the damaged Railway Station building brings back nightmares. But we do not have a better place to live. We are the innocent victims of a cruel war and we have been forgotten” lament handicapped couple.

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Jeyarubi Jeyalingam (40) and Selvaratnam Jeyalingam (43) [click on picture for larger images]

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Jeyarubi Jeyalingam cooks at a corner of the station master’s room

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Jeyarubi Jeyalingam (40),Selvaratnam Jeyalingam (43) and their only daughter Tharshika Jeyalingam (4)

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At the main entrance of the Railway station

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Many people are looking forward to the cherishing Yazh Devi journey

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Another view of the Jaffna railway station

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Dilapidated building of the station

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Another deserted look of the railway station

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Inquiries counter at the Jaffna railway Station

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Names are written by the visitors

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Entrance used by passengers to board the third class

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Pillars of the building along the rail track

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Many make it a point to visit the historical railway station

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Yazh Devi used to run daily from Colombo to Jaffna two decades ago

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Building bears the scars of war

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Kids at the Jaffna Railway Station after school

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A section of the station

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Sign for the Canteen of Jaffna Railway Station

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Names written on the step of the Railway Station

Courtesy: HumanityAshore.org ~ Email: dushi.pillai@gmail.com

September 10, 2010

A govt viewpoint on why the 18th Amendment to the Constitution is necessary

by Mahinda Samarasinghe

(Text of the speech by Plantation Industries Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe during the debate on the 18th Amendment to the Constitution Bill in Parliament on September 8 )

The attention of this August assembly is focused on an important item of legislation. It is my privilege to commend this Bill for the Amendment of the Constitution, also known as the 18th Amendment to the Constitution to the Members of this House. The use of several inflammatory and emotive words and scare mongering has characterized the public debate regarding this legislation.

Words and phrases like ‘dictatorship’, ‘authoritarianism’, interfering with the will of the elected representatives of the people; undermining the separation of powers; manipulating the Parliamentary process; giving unfettered power to the President; undermining free and fair elections as well as the independence of independent commissions; and all manner of imagined evils, are threatened and predicted as outcomes of this legislation.

However, anyone with a modicum of common sense, knowledge of the history of this legislation and a touch of fair-minded and impartial ability to analyze it, will realize what is factual. Those who seek to generate public trepidation and Opposition to the Amendment have consistently sought to undermine confidence in this administration and the one immediately preceding it - both led by the President. They do this for reasons known only to themselves and those who command them. Nevertheless, I am confident that the intelligent and erudite Members of this House, who represent a literate and mature electorate and a people, are able to separate inescapable fact from insidious fiction and exercise sober and astute judgement and vote accordingly. The fact that so many Members have openly declared their support to this measure is, in itself, an indication that these agents of fear and discord are largely unsuccessful in their attempts to mislead and confuse the issues.

People’s choice

One of the aspects of this Bill which its opponents seek to portray as controversial is the removal of the two-term limit that hitherto has been attached to the Presidency. The proposed removal of this limit has been criticized as undemocratic. This is the complete opposite of the truth. This is especially the case in a relatively mature democracy such as Sri Lanka. We are quite capable as a people of changing our leaders and Governments democratically and periodically. We have proven this over and over again. A two-term President presenting himself at a third Presidential ballot will have to convince the people that he is a deserving candidate among all the other candidates.

The people will have a wider choice as to who they want to lead the country. The people, ultimately, will decide upon their preferred choice. This is the pith and substance of democracy.

How then, can this be characterized as undemocratic or tending towards authoritarianism? One outstanding example from relatively recent memory is the case of President Franklin D Roosevelt of the United States. Despite an informal tradition of a two-term limit from the time of President George Washington, FDR - as he is popularly known - died in office while commencing a fourth-term. It is commonly known that FDR led the United States through some of the most difficult periods in its modern history - the recovery from the Great Depression and World War II.

The legislative intervention by Congress to formalize the original informal two-term limit was only made in 1951, six-years after this death in 1945. No one claimed that it was to forestall a slow decent into dictatorship in the United States. In Parliamentary democracies, no one insinuates that a Premier who wins consecutive terms - time and again is tending towards authoritarianism. Some Prime Ministers are indeed thought to exercise ‘Presidential style’ governance and wield an enormous quantum of power and authority.

Humanitarian effort

We are fortunate to have a President who has the ability and the will to lead us through great adversity. He has proven himself in the few years since he took office. He led us though the armed operations against terrorism and the massive humanitarian effort.

He led us through a global economic crisis all but unscathed. He has accelerated, initiated and put in place islandwide development initiatives that will make us the emerging wonder of Asia.

If the people wish to continue to repose their faith in his leadership and reap the obvious rewards for a longer period, who are we to stand in their way by continuing to maintain an arbitrary time limit on the Presidency?

Members of this House have received the determination of the Supreme Court made in terms of Article 122 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka. The Apex Court has determined that the Bill may be passed by a special majority of this House. It has determined that a referendum in terms of Article 83 of the Constitution is not warranted. The learned Justices of the Supreme Court have heard several strands of opinion and have determined on the basis of law and the Constitution, that this Bill is consistent with the Constitution. The Justices of the Court have made their determination based on dispassionate assessment of the arguments made before them. They are not swayed by political rhetoric and exaggerations of interested parties interested in impeding the passage of this Bill. They are guided by considerations of legality, justice and reason. We should all respect the opinion of the learned Justices who have determined that the inalienable sovereignty of the people as given expression to in Articles 3 and 4 the Constitution is not infringed by the proposed removal of the time-limit on the Presidency.

Another argument that is sought to be made out by the opponents of this Bill is that the President’s presence in Parliament on a regular basis and the conferment of the right to communicate with the legislature is somehow a diminution of sovereignty of the people. Indeed the Supreme Court’s determination accepts that such a measure enhances accountability to the people “in a more meaningful manner.” Those determined to give this salutary step a negative twist have alleged that this is an interference with the legislature. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Difficult issues

We, the elected representatives of the Sovereign Sri Lankan people constituting this seventh Parliament of Sri Lanka, are also concerned today with righting a historic mistake. Several colleagues in Government, analysts, experts and writers have pointed out that the Supreme Court of this country, in the course of its determination on the 17th Amendment to the Constitution in terms of Article 122 (1), expressed a degree of reservation as to the pragmatism and practicality of a flawed but nonetheless well-intentioned legislative act in 2001.

Seventeenth Amendment

This was especially so because that Court probably realized the nature of politics as engaged in Sri Lanka and the difficulties that could be encountered in forging a consensus on critical albeit difficult issues.

It must be recalled that the intervention in 2001 by the legislature arose out of the unique political circumstances and relationships characteristic of that bygone era.

It sought to address a perceived problem in a hasty, unfocused and ill-conceived manner. No less a luminary than the late Justice K M M B Kulatunga in a web-published article in December 2001 called for the correction of ‘defects and shortcomings’ by further amendment and said that until these defects were rectified, the 17th Amendment should not be implemented.

In 2002 a Bill - the 18th Amendment to the Constitution - was presented seeking to supplement and amend certain aspects of the flawed 17th Amendment, but that was not proceeded with after a constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court.

Another learned administrator of repute was quoted in 2004 as stating: “The 17th Amendment was regarded as a salutary injection of good governance into the polity of Sri Lanka. Some even regarded it as the panacea for all that was evil in the governing processes. However, the speed with which it was drafted and the haste in which it was rushed through Parliament left many a flaw, that has up to now not been highlighted.” Latterly, my Cabinet colleague, the former Constitutional Affairs Minister, worked on evolving a consensus position on changes to the 17th Amendment but that effort also did not come to fruition.

This is only brief recapitulation of some significant events caused by the enactment and attempted implementation of this misguided and hasty attempt at constitutional tinkering. Many of us in this August House were responsible for the unanimous passage of that legislation.

We must display the maturity and strength of character today to admit that an error was made and demonstrate that we have the means and the determination to carry through the Amendment before us today.

It is heartening to note that there are many in this House who have pledged support for it in a bipartisan spirit for the good of the country and her people.

Government Departments

We must remember, that in the period during which we experienced a deadlock in appointing the unwieldy and unrepresentative Constitutional Council, the functioning of several institutions and offices were potentially placed in jeopardy. It took courage, backed by a clear recognition of the need of the hour, to take resolute steps to keep those institutions functioning.

These are not mere Government Departments or statutory bodies, these institutions are critical to the maintenance of democracy, peace, justice, law and order, human rights and good Government.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa demonstrated the required strength of purpose and courage in full measure.

He took steps where necessary to keep these institutions functioning, their staff usefully employed in serving the people and ensuring that the critical services provided were continuously available to all Sri Lankans.

All this, while leading the country in a victorious battle for its very life and soul against forces of terrorism.

He is now leading us forward into a new era of peace, development, prosperity and equality of opportunity for all. Not one of the bodies are being jettisoned. They all remain intact. They will continue to provide the backbone of our system of governance.

Political interest

What is proposed today before this House, is neither more nor less than a practical response to a burning need.

We need these institutions and offices to take us forward. However, at the same time, we need practical means to ensure that appointments are duly made and these bodies function effectively for the betterment of the country.

It is incumbent on us - elected representatives of the Sri Lankan people - to ensure that the best possible and most practical constitutional arrangements are in place to ensure our progression towards a better future for all.

It is a cardinal principle that Parliaments do not bind their successors. We therefore have the authority, the ability and the mandate to undo any past mistakes.

This is a sacred responsibility that is thrust on us. We must not shirk it and we must not allow narrow parochial or political interests to deter us from our mission on the people’s behalf.

The Supreme Court has reaffirmed that the exercise of the executive power of the people resides in the Presidency.

The provisions relating to the Constitutional Council have been consistently recognized by the Court as directory and not mandatory.

To do otherwise, would have necessitated the 17th Amendment being placed before the people at a Referendum in 2001 for its passage.

While not intending to dwell at length on the legal arguments advanced in Court, it is clear that the executive power of the people always resided in the President and the 17th Amendment did not divest the President of that power.

Similarly, with regard to the Public Service, the powers of the Cabinet of Ministers to determine policy and to make appointments of departmental heads will be restored to the position that existed before the 17th Amendment.

It is also pertinent to note that the alleged infringement of the powers of franchise urged by those opposed to the Bill has not found favour with the Court which has emphasized the necessary balance to be struck between the powers of the Elections Commission and other Commissions such as the Judicial and Public Service Commissions.

Similarly the National Police Commission has had its role redefined has the Police Service will be brought within the ambit of the Public Service Commission.

Several other arguments adduced also failed to convince the Supreme Court of the merit in the claims of the petitioners.

In this context, it is my submission there is no impediment to this House passing this Bill and I urge Members to support this Bill and the process of national renewal that we have undertaken under the leadership of the President.

To those who continue to protest, as long as they are peaceful and do not infringe upon the rights of others, they are perfectly at liberty to express their views in a display of democratic dissent. This is what happens in a democracy and I can only expect that their protestations will be democratic.

I only hope by their actions that their story is not remembered in same terms as the characterization of life by Shakespeare's Macbeth as "..... a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.

Why the world must stop Sri Lanka’s decline

Increasing the presidential term hastens a dictatorship

By Sonali Samarasinghe

NEW YORK, NY. — On Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s Parliament overwhelmingly passed an urgent bill removing term limits for the president. The constitutional amendment also gave the president unlimited power over judicial, police and other public service appointments and removed constitutional safeguards over the electoral process.

The amendments abolished the Constitutional Council established to ensure the independence of appointments, transfers and removal of persons to the Judiciary and to the police, bribery, finance, elections and human rights commissions. The independent oversight body has been replaced by a toothless Parliamentary Council whose observations the President must seek but need not act upon in making these key appointments.

Sri Lanka is a country rapidly in decline. After the conclusion of its 27-year-long civil war in May last year, President Mahinda Rajapakse was handed a second term in office by a grateful and war-weary electorate. It might have been the turning of a new page. It wasn’t. Instead the country has hurtled towards a dictatorship that has now been constitutionalised, and it seems that the incumbent president has missed the message.

Riding on a wave of popularity and a rare two-thirds majority in parliament – which he obtained with the help of a weak opposition and wily political maneuvering — Rajapakse has now acted swiftly to constitutionalize and consolidate his power. Hence, this week's urgent bill.

Indeed Rajapakse, who as president enjoys immunity from prosecution, has been nothing if not timely and opportune in his politics. In 2005, he came in on a platform of war promising to eradicate Tamil Tiger terrorism. By May 2009 he had done that. Despite clamping down on human rights and achieving only modest economic growth, Rajapakse’s re-election victory in January 2010 — an election held almost two years ahead of schedule and just eight months after his military victory — was not surprising.

Thousands of civilians died in the military offensive. Video evidence emerged of soldiers summarily executing detainees, amid strenuous denials of such action by the government. Sri Lanka’s former army commander, Gen. Sarath Fonseka — the man who led Sri Lanka’s army to victory — went on record saying orders were given to shoot Tiger leaders attempting to surrender, a statement he later retracted.

Fonseka challenged Rajapakse in the January election, alleging blatant nepotism in Rajapakse's first term and citing the fact that after assuming office in 2005 the president appointed three of his brothers to high office. Sri Lanka is now governed by the Rajapakse brothers and their offspring who hold powerful cabinet positions. Other Rajapakse relatives also control large numbers of important offices, including diplomatic missions and state owned businesses.

Just six days after Rajapakse's re-election, Fonseka was arrested and court martialled, presumably for fear he would turn whistle-blower.

The government’s justification of the indiscriminate aerial bombardment of the north and east during the last stages of the military offensive and the resulting civilian death toll was that it was necessary to end the war. However, this May the International Crisis Group called for a U.N. investigation into the final bloody months of the war, stating in a report it had “reasonable grounds to believe that the Sri Lankan Security Forces committed war crimes.”

Sri Lanka has fiercely resisted any inquiry led by foreign authorities, stating that it would conduct its own investigations under a "Reconciliation and Lessons Learned" commission. Many have no faith in such homegrown inquiries that have been more about the reinforcement of the government viewpoint, denial, botching evidence and creating confusion rather than genuine investigation. Sri Lanka has yet to seriously investigate the murder of 15 journalists since Rajapakse’s government took office.

Meanwhile, Rajapakse’s supporters maintain that the removal of the two-term limit this week will shore up a number of choices as candidates in a presidential poll. Yet the repeal of provisions ensuring an independent elections commission will only serve to undermine free and fair elections and make the incumbent president more powerful. With the elections commission no longer having power to issue directions preventing political parties from exploiting state resources to run their campaigns, the incumbent president will have unfettered access to public property to the exclusion of all other candidates. The new amendments also place a duty on both the public and private media to comply with directions issued by the elections commission — a commission over which the incumbent president has absolute control.

Under the new amendments, Rajapakse must attend parliament every three months, a provision his supporters argue will increase accountability. In fact, such a move will only serve to increase presidential power, manipulation and interference in the parliamentary process and remove any semblance of the independence of parliament and the separation of powers.

Certainly for a country that has seen some of the bloodiest years of its 27-year civil war under the present regime, the culture of impunity, the fear propaganda, the persecution intimidation, murder and muzzling of the press is nothing new.

Why must the world take action now? ~ Courtesy: The Global Pot ~

US halts training 3,000 Northern Sri Lanka youth in outsourcing

By Sutirtho Patranobis

The US has suspended the training of 3000 youth from the war-ravaged northern Lankan districts in outsourcing skills.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID), a government agency that provides humanitarian and economic aid worldwide, suspended the programme apparently to ensure that the new jobs created will not take away employment opportunities from Americans.

The announcement comes within days of the US state of Ohio imposing a ban on offshore outsourcing. India has said it would formally convey its disappointment over the ban at the bilateral Trade Policy Forum meeting in Washington later this month.

On July 30 this year, the US Embassy in Colombo announced a programme to generate 10,000 jobs in the north.

Part of the programme was a training module for youth in the northern districts titled "Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Alliance."

According to press statement from US Embassy in Colombo, it was to be done to "help fill workforce gaps in BPO and IT, USAID is teaming with leading BPO and IT/English language training companies to establish professional IT and English skills development training centers in each of the five districts in the Northern Province. Courses in Business Process Outsourcing, Enterprise Java, and English Language Skills will be offered at no charge to over 3,000 under- and unemployed students who will then participate in on-the-job training schemes with private firms."

It has now been put on hold. "The programme has been suspended and is being reviewed," Glen Davis, US embassy spokesperson in Colombo, told HT.

Davis did not comment on the rationale behind suspending the programme begun a barely a month ago.

On September 9, US Republican lawmaker Tim Bishop, according to reports, announced the programme's suspension. Bishop then shared a letter from USAID with website Hamptons Online which said "it had suspended a job skills development project in Sri Lanka while we conduct a review to ensure the project will not take any jobs away from Americans."

The USAID has been active in Sri Lanka since 1956 and invested Rs 230 billion country-wide on various projects.

Courtesy: Hindustan Times

Remarks made by the US Ambassador Butenis for Ifthar Dinner at Fathima Welfare Center

Good evening and a very special thank you to Mrs. Akbar for all of her assistance in coordinating this Ifthar meal tonight. I’d also like to thank the young men and Moulawis from Ihsaniya (Ik-SAH-nee-ah) Arabic College for participating with us today. I’d especially like to recognize all the young women here. It is a pleasure to be with all of you during this holy month of Ramadan.

It may surprise you, but Americans have been participating in Ifthar meals for a long time. Well over 200 years ago, one of America’s first Presidents and the author of our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, hosted the first Muslim Ambassador to the United States, a Tunisian, for an Ifthar dinner at the White House. President Obama continued that tradition this year when he celebrated an Ifthar meal at the White House at the beginning of Ramadan.

Muslims were not merely visitors to the U.S. in the nineteenth century; they were immigrants, too. These immigrants established the first Islamic Center in New York City in the 1890s and a mosque on the prairies of the Midwest not long after. Recently, an American imam who currently runs the Islamic Center at New York University even visited Sri Lanka to speak to community leaders and schools all over the island. They have all enriched American life while remaining devout followers of Islam. Today, I’d like to briefly share with you the stories of three of them.

Rashida Tlaib is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants. In 2008 she decided to run for political office. In a district where Arab Americans made up only 2% of the population, Rashida earned an astounding 90% of the votes. She became the first Muslim woman elected to the Michigan state House of Representatives.

Robina Niaz immigrated to America from Pakistan. While working in New York City as a social worker, she saw a need to help the victims of domestic violence in her community. So, she founded an organization to help women and children who had been beaten at home, providing counseling and other forms of assistance. Today, more than two dozen volunteers work with her.

Debbie Almontaser is the daughter of Yemeni immigrants. She recognized a need for her community to learn about Arabic culture and history, so she did two things. First, she founded the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn, New York—the first English-Arabic public school in America. Second, she lobbied for the adoption of Arab Heritage Week in New York to encourage appreciation for the great cultural diversity that exists in America.

Muslims all over America are working to dispel stereotypes and become leaders in their communities. I hope these examples give you a small picture of Muslim contributions to U.S. culture and help inspire you to become active agents for change in your own communities here in Colombo. Thank you and I wish you all a blessed Ramadan.

Source: US Embassy, Colombo, Sri Lanka - September 1, 2010

Jaffna Open Forum Takes Off

Point Pedro Institute of Development

The Jaffna Open Forum, a joint venture between the Point Pedro Institute of Development (PPID – independent private social science research institution based in Point Pedro) and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES – social democratic political foundation of Germany working in Sri Lanka for 46 years), took off at the Jaffna Public Library auditorium on September 02, 2010. This was the first of a series of Jaffna Open Forums to be conducted in the peninsula jointly by PPID and FES.

The theme of the first Jaffna Open Forum was “Pathways to Knowledge-based Development” and was envisioned to address the following questions:

1. What are the prerequisites to foster knowledge-based development in the North?

2. How can the state and private sector (in partnership with the diaspora) take the lead in founding knowledge-based development in the North?

3. What could be the specific ways and means by which the government, corporate sector, academia, and schools facilitate and promote knowledge-based development in the North, where natural resources are scarce?

4. What are the policies and regulatory framework should the government put in place to create an enabling environment for the private sector (national, international, and diaspora) to undertake knowledge-based development in the North?

5. What strategies should schools, universities, and other higher education institutions adopt to improve the learning outcomes of primary, secondary, and tertiary students in the North that could in turn generate nationally and globally competitive workforce?

6. How could modern information and communication technologies contribute to enhancement of teaching quality and learning outcomes of students at schools, universities, and other tertiary educational institutions?

The overall objective of this public conclave was to present submissions and debate the ways and means and costs and benefits of transforming the traditional agrarian cum fisheries economy of Jaffna and the North into a modern knowledge-based economy.

The four key speakers representing the provincial government, corporate sector, academia, and schools were Mr. Selvaratnam (Additional Director of Education, Northern Province), Mr. Niranjan Nadarajah (Manager, Consumer Credit and Risk, Asia Pacific Risk, HSBC), Dr. P. Balasundarampillai (former Vice-Chancellor of the Jaffna University), and Mr.T.Mahasivam (General Secretary of the Ceylon Tamil Teachers’ Union - CTTU) respectively. Mr. S. Rangarajah (Advisor to the Governor of Northern Province and former Chief Secretary of the North East Provincial Council) deputised for the Governor of Northern Province, Mr.G.A. Chandrasiri, who was to represent the provincial government but could not attend due to unavoidable circumstances.

Mr. Selvaratnam enunciated government’s policy framework on school education (primary and secondary) enshrined in the Education Sector Development Framework (ESDF). Four key goals of the ESDF are: (i) increasing equitable access to basic and secondary education, (ii) improving the quality of basic and secondary education, (iii) enhancing the economic efficiency and equity of resource allocation, and (iv) strengthening education governance and service delivery by strengthening the monitoring and evaluation of educational outputs and outcomes. In order to achieve the foregoing policy goals, annual and medium-term implementation plans are to be devised at different levels of the school education system.

Mr. Niranjan Nadarajah pointed out that while the twentieth century was dominated by the industrial economy, the twenty-first century would be dominated by the knowledge economy. He also contended that knowledge-based economy is a greater wealth creator than an economy based on any other sector. He further highlighted that though Jaffna (North in general) is endowed with limited natural resources (“moola valam”) it is endowed with lot of brain resources (“moolai valam”).

There are four key pathways to knowledge-based development, claimed Niranjan Nadarajah, which are enhancing the

(i) human capital, (ii) stakeholder capital, (iii) structural capital, and (iv) reviewing the policy and regulatory framework. He opined that it is the skills and competencies of the workforce that would determine their productiveness and competitiveness internationally. He urged the educationists to align the curricula to the needs of the market (rather than expecting the market to absorb the output of schools and universities).

Niranjan Nadarajah also stressed the importance of the process of education (as opposed to the outcome of education) and emphasised the need to inculcate a culture of lifelong learning in order to remain competitive in a fast changing world.

Dr. P. Balasundarampillai emphasised the need to increase the number of technological colleges and establish engineering universities in the North in order to enhance and improve the scientific knowledge and skills of youths. He cited the example of Tamilnadu (Southern India in general) where there is mushrooming of technological and engineering tertiary educational institutions, especially during the past decade, and urged our authorities to tap that vast pool of knowledge centres in our neighbourhood.

Dr. Balasundarampillai also highlighted the fact that some Jaffna youths who get just ordinary passes in the G.C.E. A/Ls enter British universities and do very well in their undergraduate studies and called upon the authorities to open-up access to higher education for such youths within the country so that their human and knowledge capital could be retained. He lamented that though over the years he had acquired expertise in the discipline of development planning his university colleagues prevented him teaching it claiming that a Geographer is not suitable to teach development planning.

He also said that when he attempted to introduce information technology courses at his university during his tenure as Vice-Chancellor, he was stopped by some of his colleagues who argued that without the introduction of Civil Engineering courses IT should not be introduced. Thus, Dr. Balasundarampillai regretted the rigid and obstructive mentality of the Jaffna academia.

Mr. T. Mahasivam, General Secretary of the Ceylon Tamil Teachers’ Union, lamented that when there is no path for development in the North we are discussing the pathways to knowledge-based development. When there is no human security in the North how can we discuss development? queried Mr. Mahasivam. He noted that people’s participation in development planning is vital. Mr. Mahasivam urged the authorities to set-up a regional institute of education for the North.

Of course not everyone actively participated in the Open Forum was in agreement with its theme or the submissions made by the key speakers. One argued that the presentations were too much focussed on university or tertiary education. It was further argued that Indian experience or example is inappropriate for Sri Lanka or the local context. One even cast aspersion about the anticipated entry of private and foreign universities into Sri Lanka. While one participant opined that development should be community-based rather than knowledge-based, another opined that development should be “philosophy-based”.

One enthusiastic participant observed that while Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) firms have mushroomed throughout Southern India, some women working in those BPOs are verbally abused by clients and therefore BPOs have become an occupational hazard. One cynic opined that the theme of the Open Forum makes him suspect that it was designed to promote globalisation backed by western countries.

There were around eighty participants at the first Open Forum, which included both the young and the old; government officials, youths, teachers, educationists, social activists, civil society members, academics, municipal council member, local business personalities, school and university students, and one priest participated in the Open Forum. Both men and women in large numbers attended the Open Forum. There were few participants from the local Muslim community as well as few from the majority community in and around Colombo. Moreover, few Tamil diaspora people attended the event.

Hence in many respects the inaugural Jaffna Open Forum was very inclusive. But, the fact that females and minority communities of the North (Muslims and Sinhalese) were not represented among the panellists was a sour point of the event.

A lot of time was devoted to the panel cum public discussion though not everything that was said by the key speakers or the participants were focussed on the theme of the Open Forum. Besides, the caterer to the event arrived thirty minutes after the formal closing of the Jaffna Open Forum, which is symptomatic of the challenges ahead for transforming the traditional agriculture-based economy of the North into a modern knowledge-based economy.

September 09, 2010

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s new powers are unnecessary and dangerous

Eighteenth time unlucky

from THE ECONOMIST

NATIONAL constitutions come in two main types. Some are prescriptive, enshrining freedoms, curtailing the powers of the state and generally hampering would-be dictators. Others, however, tend to the descriptive, and are often revised to catch up with changes that have already happened. Into this class can be put Sri Lanka’s 1978 constitution, this week amended for the 18th time, with unseemly haste.

The Sri Lanka described in the revised charter is not a pretty place. It is one where the forms of parliamentary democracy are preserved but the substance has become subordinated to almost untrammelled presidential power. With the opposition divided, his rival in the presidential election in January in detention and his popularity still high, President Mahinda Rajapaksa already seems monarch of all he surveys.

The amendment changes the constitution in two main ways. The first is to remove the bar on the president’s serving more than two six-year terms. First elected president in 2005, and then re-elected with a thumping majority in January, Mr Rajapaksa has in fact not even started his second term. But he seems to be settling in for the long haul.

As government spokesmen have pointed out, however, Sri Lanka’s voters will at least have the chance to turf him out in six years’ time. That is why it is the second change that is more pernicious. It is (such is the way of descriptive constitutions) to overturn the 17th amendment. This was an admittedly muddled attempt to curb the powers of the “executive presidency”, partly through a “constitutional council”. After the latest change, the constitution will both grant the president immunity and also give him final authority over all appointments to the civil service, the judiciary and the police. He is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Almost the only formal constraint on him—electoral considerations aside—is an obligation to show up in parliament once a quarter.

Sri Lanka, goes the argument of Mr Rajapaksa’s cheerleaders, needs a strong executive to seize the chances of peaceful development offered by last year’s victory in the 26-year civil war with the Tamil Tigers. But confusingly they also point to that victory—grasped with a ruthlessness that shocked many of Sri Lanka’s foreign friends—as evidence of the virtues of a powerful presidency. Indeed, whatever problems Sri Lanka’s political system suffers from, the weakness of the presidency, which is already directly responsible for over 90 institutions, is not one of them. Quite the contrary: Mr Rajapaksa himself, before he tasted its benefits first-hand, used to campaign for the abolition of the executive presidency.

His new vision of further strengthening the president’s powers has been greeted with an outcry from Sri Lanka’s liberals, but few mass protests. The public must feel bewildered by it all. The change was pushed through as an “urgent” parliamentary bill in under two weeks from the draft’s first appearance, thanks to Mr Rajapaksa’s recent acquisition of the requisite two-thirds majority. Such important changes should have been put to a referendum. Mr Rajapaksa might well have won one. But a campaign would at least have thrown the issues open to public debate and scrutiny.

Because he can

The only urgent compulsions facing Mr Rajapaksa and his brothers (two have senior jobs in his government and a third is the parliament’s speaker) are those of parliamentary arithmetic and personal popularity. Still basking in the glow of military and electoral triumphs, the president has done in haste what he knows he can get away with. That he has preferred to put the consolidation of his family’s power ahead of a sorely needed national reconciliation with an aggrieved Tamil minority is a decision Sri Lanka will repent at leisure. - courtesy: The Economist -

Women take over as breadwinners in North

by IRIN News

JAFFNA, 9 September 2010 (IRIN) - Fifteen months after the end of fighting between Sri Lankan government forces and the Tamil Tigers, women in the north are taking up a new and challenging role as breadwinners - with more and more becoming day labourers to support their families.

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Kaliamagal is the owner of a small shop at an IDP camp in northern Sri Lanka ~ Photo: Dilrukshi Handunnetti/IRIN

A survey conducted by the Jaffna-based Center for Women and Development, a non-profit group, revealed that the northern region had approximately 40,000 female-headed households - including more than 20,000 in Jaffna District.

"Three factors have reduced the male-headed households in number: the war, disappearances or being in military custody," said Saroja Sivachandran, the centre's director.

The Sri Lankan civil war, which began in the 1970s, claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced more than 280,000 people, primarily in the north and east of the country. The government took control of the east in 2007, and declared victory in the north in May 2009.

Although up-to-date statistics are hard to come by because many people remain displaced, Sivachandran and government officials say the northern and eastern regions combined are home to some 89,000 war widows.

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The number of female-headed households has increased

"This has drastically altered their livelihood options. Over 50 percent of them [women who head households] are single parents under 30 years of age supporting their own and extended families," said Visaka Dharmadasa, executive director of the Association for War-Affected Women (AWAW).

Women = cheaper labour

AWAW and other support groups say many employers are discriminating against women, in some cases paying less than US$1 a day.

Maillaiyappal Thangavelu supports her two children, parents and three sisters by working on a construction site.

"My husband disappeared," said the 26-year-old Jaffna resident. "My sisters are still in school. My eldest child is in school. My parents are too weak to work."

She earns a $1.25 a day - but according to Sivachandran, this is half of what a man would earn for the same work.

"It has become cheaper to hire women - men would demand higher daily wages. Women unquestioningly accept what is given, often because they have many mouths to feed," Sivachandran said.

"Women provide cheap labour, so they are preferred," said Nagarasa Thavaselvam, president of the Kampanai Camp Residents' Committee in Jaffna, adding that in some households, men are now becoming dependent on women for economic support. Thavaselvam himself is one of many house-husbands.

Government security restrictions on traditional occupations - such as fishing and farming, the main industries of the north - have also driven women to work, Thavaselvam added.

At a construction site, a manager gave his own reasons for hiring women over men: "Women report to work on time. They don't drink and provide cheap labour."

Food, livelihood assistance

Although many women are finding jobs, more assistance is needed to boost their livelihoods in a society where many women have never worked outside the home before, and had never imagined they would do anything other than care for their families.

Imelda Sukumar, a government official for Jaffna and Mullaitivu districts, said industries had to be encouraged to create more jobs, but there had been some programmes for community-based income generation and cash for work at small infrastructure development projects.

"These projects are vital for areas where women carry heavy economic burdens," Sukumar said.

Meanwhile, unemployment - particularly with fishing and agriculture still being pieced back together - is fuelling food insecurity, she said.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has provided returning families with six-month food packages, but because many households have been unable to access their land and "resume normal activities", they have given returnees three additional months of food support.

While determining the extent of further assistance needed, WFP will move away from free food and to food for work on community projects or skills training - which will also benefit women.

“It is critical that female-headed households are supported with skills training and other appropriate interventions,” Giancarlo Stopponi, officer in charge and head of WFP’s programme unit in Colombo said. “This will better prepare families for a successful transition from resettlement to early recovery, and thus achieving some form of sustainable household activity.”

The Center for Women and Development said one economic support programme for war-affected women is a $100 grant to help them open a shop, pack chillies and coriander for commercial distribution, or purchase a sewing machine.

An AWAW programme assists farmers to secure farmland.

According to an update from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, nearly 6,900ha of abandoned land is being targeted for cultivation.

"The next season is likely to be better, enabling farming families to return to their original livelihoods," said Dharmadasa of AWAW.

18th Constitutional Amendment must obtain assent from Provincial Councils to be law

by M.A. Sumanthiran

(This is the text of an objection raised by Tamil National Alliance Par;iamentarian M. A.Sumanthiran when the 18th constitutional Amendment was placed on the order paper of Parliament)

Mr. Speaker, I rise to a point of order.

This point of order is in relation to Standing Order No.46A.

Standing Order 46A mandates the procedure with regard to Urgent Bills with a provision in respect to any matter set out in List III of the Ninth Schedule to the Constitution.

This is in view of the provision contained in Article 154 G (2) and (3) of the Constitution.

Article 154 G (2) states that “no Bill for the amendment or repeal of the provisions of Chapter XVIIA or the Ninth Schedule shall become law unless such Bill has been referred by the President, after publication in the Gazette and before it is placed on the Order Paper of Parliament, to every Provincial Council …”

And Article 154 G (3) provides that “no Bill in respect of any matter set out in the Provincial Council List shall become law unless such Bill has been referred by the President, after publication in the Gazette and before it is placed on the Order Paper of Parliament, to every Provincial Council …”

The Bill titled “Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution” has certain provision in respect of matters set out in Chapter XVIIA and List III of the Ninth Schedule to the Constitution:

Clauses 20 and 22 of the Bill have provisions in respect of matters set out in the Provincial Council List and seeks to amend and/or repeal the provisions with regard to Provincial Public Service Commission and Provincial Police Commission, both of which are referred to in the Ninth Schedule to the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has at least on two previous occasions ruled that such Bills cannot be placed on the Order Paper of Parliament without first complying with the procedural requirements of Articles 154 G (3):

Supreme Court determination on “Water Services Reform Bill” made on 13.11.2003 clearly holds that a Bill in respect of a matter set out in the Provincial Council List cannot be placed on the Order Paper of Parliament without first complying with the provisions of Article 154 G (3) of the Constitution;

Supreme Court determination on “Local Authorities (Special Provisions) Bill made on 19.12.2010 also holds that since the said Bill relates to certain matters set out in the Provincial Council List it ought to be referred by HE the President to every Provincial Council as required by Article 154 (G) (3) of the Constitution before it is placed on the Order Paper of Parliament.

In view of the fact that the Bill titled: “Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution” has not been referred to every Provincial Council after publication in the Gazette, as mandated by Article 154 G (2) and (3) of the Constitution, this may not be placed on the Order Paper of Parliament at this stage as it violates Standing Order 46A as well.

M A Sumanthiran MP
ITAK (TNA) – National List

7 September 2010

18th CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT:"How Can This Bill be Urgent in the National Interest?

By M.A.Sumanthiran

(Full Text of address by Tamil National Alliance Parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran on September 8th 2010 during Parliamentary debate on the 18th amendment to the Constitution)

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M. A. Sumanthiran MP

Mr. Speaker,

I rise to speak to today with a very heavy heart. Not even half a year has passed since I stepped into this assembly for the first time. I did not realize then that I will be participating in a debate such as this; on a Bill that threatens to finally nail the coffin in which democracy of this country had been laid for some time now.

First and foremost, I wish to place on record – for whatever it is worth - our very strong objection to the manner in which this Bill is being rushed through. That in itself is an indictment and an indication of the anxiety of the government to have it passed with little or no public discussion on the matter. Leave a alone discussion – there is no notice to the public and only 24 hours to the supreme court comprising of such exceptionally talented judges who seem to be able to dissect these proposed constitutional amendments with consummate ease and deliver their determination in such short time. In the process though, they seem to have overlooked at least two of their own determinations of the past – those which they had a little more time to deliberate on. I will refer to those in a little while. This House too had no notice of this Bill. Yesterday when I rose to a point of order, and referred to certain clauses in this Bill, the Members of this House did not have a copy of this Bill. The copies were ordered to be distributed after I made those references. If that did not happen yesterday, perhaps we would not have these copies even today!

Although there was general talk of impending constitutional amendments in the public arena, and that removal of the term limits of the President was one of those, no proper intimation was given to anyone of the contents of this Bill. In fact what was given publicity was of an agreement reached between HE the President and the Leader of the Opposition that the Executive Presidency would be abolished and the post of Executive Prime Minister would be introduced in its place.

When and where then did this Bill originate? Was it in the Cabinet – No! The Cabinet of Ministers has certified that this is urgent in the national interest. Can anything be more laughable than that? Did the Cabinet have a copy or even a draft of this Bill? I think not. What the Cabinet certified and what was sent to the Supreme Court were two different versions and this came to light at the hearing in the Supreme Court. For instance, what is now called the Parliamentary Council was called Constitutional Council when it was before the Cabinet. The issue with regard to the removal of the term limit of the President will not be faced by this country at least for another Four years and Two months. How then can this Bill be “urgent in the national interest” to warrant such indecent haste? Sir, I ask you in all humility: is this House also expected to capitulate and take leave of its senses like the Cabinet and permit the passage of this Bill post-haste? The rush is so intense, that even the special resolution provided in Standing Order 46A designed to by-pass Constitutional requirements, itself, is being avoided, since there is no time to waste to indulge in something that is made for that very purpose! I not think that these maneuvers are becoming of any responsible government. All right-thinking people of this country have condemned this.

The Civil Rights Movement, The Organization of Professional Associations, The Bar Association of Sri Lanka have all warned the government not to resort to the “urgent bill” procedure. Some leading academics have said this yesterday in a statement:

I quote:

Constitutional reforms, like elections, go to the heart of what it means to be a democracy in the modern-day world. Any changes that are introduced to a country’s constitution should be undertaken after due deliberation and consultation while having at its centre, the will of the People. In a pluralistic society such as Sri Lanka , ascertaining the will of the People can be a time-consuming and complex exercise. While the will of the People must be given due consideration, the essential features of a democracy, such as the rule of law, accountability of the government and transparency must be preserved and promoted through any constitutional reform.

By choosing to amend the constitution through an urgent bill the entire process of reform has been expedited, if not short-circuited, and no room has been left for any kind of public debate let alone public consultation. Under a Constitution that explicitly recognizes the “Sovereignty of the People” that process is not acceptable, especially when no convincing reasons have been given as to the need to expedite this process. Indeed, the most distressing aspect to this whole process is the lack of interest in government ranks on the need to raise awareness, let alone build consensus, among the general public on the need for such urgent reform.
Unquote.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka, having warned in due time, has again issued a statement this morning, and I quote:

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka is perturbed by the move of the Government to introduce the 18th Amendment to the constitution as an “urgent bill”.

As early as June this year, the bar Council resolved that constitutional Amendments should not be presented as “Urgent Bills” and urged the Government to desist from proposing Constitutional Amendments in the form of “Urgent Bills”.

This position of the Bar Association was communicated to the Government and given wide publicity as well. We regret to note that despite this, the Government is planning to proceed with the proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution as an “Urgent Bill” to be debated and voted on 08.09.2010.

As the professional body representing all lawyers of this country, we strongly urge the Government not to move this proposed Bill without a fuller public discussion and debate on such an important matter
Unqoute.

Needless to say, no right thinking person can condone this, and we unreservedly condemn the government for making a mockery of the hallowed process of constitution-making.

I wish to ask the Honourable Prime Minister: why did you choose to dismiss this wealth of advice from the intelligentsia of this country? There can be only one answer: Fear!

There can be many fears: some may be personal. But there is also the fear that if this is permitted to be discussed in public, it will be roundly rejected. There is room for such fear because the people of this country have repeatedly voted to abolish Executive Presidency; not to bolster it with more powers. In 1994 people gave President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga a mandate to abolish Executive Presidency within 6 months. She herself introduced a new draft Constitution to this House in August 2000, seeking to abolish Executive Presidency, but retaining it for her term of office! In 2005, President Mahinda Rajapakse himself sought a mandate to abolish Executive Presidency in Mahinda Chinthana. I have not attended one session of this Parliament in which at least one government member had not referred to the Mahinda Chinthana as their Bible.

Will they refer to Mahinda Chinthana today? In Mahinda Chinthana 2 also President Mahinda Rajapakse sought and obtained a mandate to reduce the powers of Executive Presidency. President Mahinda Rajapakse was at the fore-front of the agitation against all anti-democratic moves of the UNP governments, particularly in the 1980s. I am absolutely certain that if President Jayawardena had actually tried to abolish this term limit of the President – a move he seriously contemplated at that time – President Mahinda Rajapakse would have been at the fore-front of an agitation against it. And so I ask the Honourable Prime Minister again: why are you moving against the wishes of your leader and that of your people?

All progressive forces in this country are against the abolition of the term limit of the President. In all civilized jurisdictions that have Executive Presidency have a two-term limit. They are all not less intelligent than us. It is a universal principle that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Leading academics and jurists have all opined that concentration of power in one individual for too long is detrimental to democracy. Why is it even necessary for me to say this? It is because even such first-principles take a flight out of the window when political office and power ensnares and entraps you.

There is a book that all first year law students of this country study. It is titled: Essays on Administrative Law in Sri Lanka, by G L Peiris, first published in 1980.

"Parliament always enacts legislation on the presumption that the repository of power will act in good faith and reasonably...yet the courts remain responsible for checking the abuse of powers..." (p.309).

Citing Indian case of Mohambaram v. Jayavelu: "There is no such thing as absolute or untrammeled discretion, the nursery of despotic power in a democracy based on the rule of law." (p.310).

Citing Wade and Schwartz: "Every legal power must have legal limits, otherwise there is dictatorship." (p.310).

The Civil Rights Movement has reminded us in its statement that in 1978 when immunity was being conferred on the Executive President, which is unparalleled in the world, the consolation argument was that there was a two term limit on anyone holding the office of President. This amendment that seeks to permit a person to hold the office of President for life also confers immunity for life on that person. This amendment will create this super-human being not only out of the present incumbent. If the next President ascends the throne at a tender age of 30, this will enable him to remain President for life, periodic elections notwithstanding. I wish to ask the Honourable members on the government side: would you have supported such powers to be concentrated on President Jayawardena or President Premadasa? Or are you under the impression that this amendment will give this power only to President Rajapakse, and to no one after him?

And what about my good friend Honourable Vasudeva Nanayakkara? For a brief moment we deluded ourselves into thinking that perhaps the leftists had some conscience left in them. But, alas, they too have gone the way of their departed leader Dr Colvin R de Silva, who having prophesied in 1956 that a single language policy will lead to separatism in this country, was the very person who drafted the 1972 Constitution that gave to Sinhala the status as the only official language for the first time in the Constitution, and as if that was not enough, gave to Buddhism the foremost place to the exception of all other religions. It is perverse to say that we are opposed to this in principle but will vote for it! Principles don’t matter to many people in this country any more. If not will we see this sad spectacle of so many back-stabbings and defections from the UNP? Surely the consideration for this mass movement cannot be principles.

The concern of the TNA is also to do with regard to the other provisions of this Bill. The removal of the term limit of the President is but one line in this 16 page Bill. The other provisions of this Bill are equally, if not more dangerous. The 17th Amendment to the Constitution is the only part of our Constitution which did not have even one vote cast against its passage in Parliament, and has very salutary provisions for good governance and checks and balances against concentration of power. That very part of the Constitution is sought to be nullified by this Bill. The Constitutional Council is abolished and in its place a totally ineffective Parliamentary Council is introduced. This Parliamentary Council does not meet; does not have even a Chairman. Powers of the Election Commission and the National Police Commission are seriously eroded. Even the very limited powers granted by the 13th amendment to the Constitution are being removed by this Bill. This affects the Chapter on devolution, but the Bill has not been referred to the Provincial Councils as mandated by Article 154 G (2) and (3).

Clauses 20 and 22 of the Bill have provisions in respect of matters set out in the Provincial Council List and seeks to amend and/or repeal the provisions with regard to Provincial Public Service Commission and Provincial Police Commission, both of which are referred to in the Ninth Schedule to the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has at least on two previous occasions ruled that such Bills cannot be placed on the Order Paper of Parliament without first complying with the procedural requirements of Articles 154 G (3). I wish to table the two previous determinations of the Supreme Court in this regard, which were recorded in the Hansard:

Supreme Court determination on “Water Services Reform Bill” made on 13.11.2003 clearly holds that a Bill in respect of a matter set out in the Provincial Council List cannot be placed on the Order Paper of Parliament without first complying with the provisions of Article 154 G (3) of the Constitution. This appears in the Hansard of 20th November 2003, Volume 151, No.02;

Supreme Court determination on “Local Authorities (Special Provisions) Bill made on 19.12.2010 also holds that since the said Bill relates to certain matters set out in the Provincial Council List it ought to be referred by HE the President to every Provincial Council as required by Article 154 (G) (3) of the Constitution before it is placed on the Order Paper of Parliament. This appears in the Hansard of 6th January 2009, Volume 180, No.01.

Articles 154 G (2) and (3) of the Constitution are very clear and specific that if such a Bill is not published in the Gazette first and/or not referred to every Provincial Council, then it will not become law. I am now aware that the Supreme Court in this urgent and hurried determination has held that such a procedure was not necessary, forgetting that it has previously determined otherwise. Those were not urgent Bills and the Supreme Court had a little more time to consider the law at that time. This principle is known as per incuriam, which means that the court had ruled in forgetfulness of a relevant provision of law or a precedent. Such rulings are set aside later as a matter of course when court becomes aware of its mistake. This Bill therefore is in danger of being later ruled as not having become law.

I am only referring to a well established rule of law called the per incuriam rule. I am not being disrespectful of the judges of the Supreme Court.

This is the holy month of Ramadan and it disturbs to a great extent that the members of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress have decided to act against their own conscience. I an saddened that two members, one by the Plantation Tamil community on the UNP ticket and another from Colombo on the UNP ticket decided to cross-over within 4 months of being elected on by anti-government vote. That is their right. But I am saddened by that spectacle. The question has been posed to us: other minority communities in this country know how to survive, never mind, principles, why is it that only the community that I represent is so foolish as to always hit our heads against the stone all the time? I don’t think I need to answer that question.

Mr. Speaker, I am repeatedly asking you this question: Are you able to control this house?

I am proud to stand up straight today with my head held high because none in our party has bowed to any pressure. It is only the Democratic National Alliance and the Tamil National Alliance today that can proudly say this in this house. Between 1978 and 1994, the period the members of this government describe as the 17 year mis-rule, several constitutional amendments were rushed in as urgent bills. Several members of this house were the ones vociferously objecting to that procedure.

But today when history is written it judges President Jayawardena in a particular way. We all know how history judges President Jayawardena even today. And when today’s history is written, at least there will a record of the fact that the TNA did not betray the country even for parochial short-term considerations of our own community

Thank you.

September 08, 2010

"Constitutionalization of the wartime presidency": Sri Lanka Ends Presidential Term Limits

By Lydia Polgreen

NEW DELHI — Sri Lanka’s Parliament on Wednesday passed a proposal to remove presidential term limits from the Constitution, paving the way for the popular president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to run for a third term and cement his grip on power.

Bolstered by a convincing victory in the presidential election in January and the near-collapse of the main opposition party, Mr. Rajapaksarallied enough votes to pass the amendment, which requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament, analysts said. Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that a referendum was not required to make the change.

The amendment also includes provisions that could prove even more far-reaching by increasing the president’s power to act without oversight, legal experts said.

It removes an independent advisory council that the president currently must consult before appointing people to important, nonpartisan posts like Supreme Court judgeships and Sri Lanka’s human rights and electoral commissions. In its place will be a parliamentary council without veto power and with only two opposition members.

The amendment puts the president “in control of many independent institutions,” said Rohan Edrisinha, a Sri Lankan constitutional scholar. “That is going to have a serious impact on justice, human rights, free elections and the future of our democracy.”

Mr. Rajapaksa received more than 60 percent of the vote in January after his government’s decisive May 2009 defeat of the Tamil Tiger insurgency, which had raged for 25 years and defied the efforts of his predecessors. He easily defeated his main opponent, Sarath Fonseka, a former general who had been a close ally. A motley coalition of opposition parties had drafted Mr. Fonseka, who gained popularity for carrying out the ruthless and highly successful military strategy that defeated the 25-year-old Tamil Tiger insurgency.

After the election Mr. Fonseka was arrested and court-martialed. The government said he had broken the law by politicking while in uniform and mishandling weapons contracts, but his supporters saw the arrest as evidence that the president was solidifying his grip on power by going after opponents.

Sri Lanka’s Constitution features a strong presidency, and many analysts have argued that a country with such a long history of religious, ethnic and regional strife needs to devolve, not concentrate power. Indeed, Mr. Rajapaksa himself campaigned on promises to give more power to regional governments within Sri Lanka as a way to avoid future conflicts with its Tamil and Muslim minorities.

Mr. Rajapaksa’s spokesman, Lucien Rajakarunanayake, said that given the president’s popularity and the difficult road ahead in rebuilding the country, it made sense to remove term limits.

“This is a president who has a huge mandate and has to do a great deal of work to make sure the country moves forward,” he said.

He dismissed the notion that the abolition of the independent advisory council would make the president more powerful. The previous panel was perpetually deadlocked, he said, and the new body would work more efficiently.

Dayan Jayatilleka, a diplomat political analyst who was Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the United Nations until he was removed in 2009, said that the changes simply formalize the vast enlargement of presidential power that has already take place.

“It is a constitutionalization of the wartime presidency,” he said.

But he added that opposition politicians are as much to blame for this expansion of presidential power. The main opposition party, the United National Party, is in shambles, and several of its members have defected to support Mr. Rajapaksa’s amendment. Sri Lanka’s Constitution, written when the country had a strong two-party system, did not envision that the second party would become so weak, Mr. Jayatilleka said.

“In the past neither party would be sufficiently popular or unpopular to permit constitutional change,” he said. “Clearly that has changed.” - courtesy: NYTimes.com

September 07, 2010

Sri Lankan military victory was commendable but not unique

by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

The ongoing visit by the much-decorated chief of the Indian army provides an occasion for an objective perspective on Sri Lanka’s military achievement as well as the reactions to it. The Lankan military victory and our military have earned the respect of military professionals the world over.

If they haven’t been exactly hailed or has sometimes been "damned with faint praise", the responsibility accrues not only to the propaganda of the hostile but the wild exaggerations and embellishment of the Sri Lankan cheering squad. If Sri Lanka’s military performance and achievement is to be recognised, applauded and immortalised for what it was, it must not be depicted as what it was not. The achievement must be regarded objectively. This requires de-limiting and identifying its dimensions, contribution and applicability.

While it is indubitable that every serious military machine in the world took note of this or that aspect of the war and some would definitely have studied it more deeply, the chorus of congratulations offered to the Sri Lankan state have been short lived. Neither the states engaged in anti-terrorist warfare, nor anti-state movements with a history of engagement in asymmetric warfare have made any sustained analyses and commentaries on the war. From the anti-terrorist side one can think of only two think pieces, the Indian Defence Review one that has been recycled by the publishers and in the Lankan media and a significant essay by Robert D. Kaplan, followed by an interview. (The latter has been subject to reasoned criticism by Prof Michael Roberts and security studies researcher Sergei De Silva Ranasinghe).

Kaplan’s point was very simple, and goes a long way in explaining why even Western conservatives, neo-conservatives and military establishments have been wary of praising, let alone embracing, the Sri Lankan model: the attitude to the media; the controls, the disappearances, the killings, the justificatory propaganda. No Western military, no military of a developed or advanced liberal democracy could or should conceive of functioning along such lines, says Kaplan.

Both the relative silence that has accompanied the Sri Lankan military victory internationally and the parochial braggadocio that has followed it locally are unfortunate and counterproductive. The best recent example of the latter was last Sunday, in a long piece by a retired army officer, Lalin Fernando which was a counter-critique of a critique I had made of Prabhakaran and the LTTE from a comparative historical perspective. He accuses me, in the very title of his piece, of "Trivialising the Victory of May 2009". His opening criticism of me is that I do not hold, as he does, that the Sri Lankan victory was "unique". "...the question arises why after over one year he [DJ] propels himself to propagate his theory that the victory of 2009 was not all that unique. It appears to be a stubborn attempt to take away the lustre of what was SL’s epic victory."

Though I readily assert that it was exceptional in its own way and had its specificities which must be studied, I do not state that the Sri Lankan victory was "unique", for three reasons. (a) It is a demonstrable fiction. (b) It goes against my own writings and numerous lectures at Sri Lankan military academies (including to select audiences of our Special Forces and US Green Berets), before (not "over one year" after) the war broke out, in which I pointed to the successful, inspiring examples which proved that we could in fact win the war. (c) While it may be quite in order for a retired military officer writing to the Sri Lankan papers to assert this claim to uniqueness, I would have seemed an ignoramus if I were to have made this claim, for instance, at last Sunday’s brunch discussion hosted by Singapore’s President that we seniors of the National University of Singapore’s think-tanks had with Lord Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University (Oxford and the NUS being partners in the International Alliance of Research Universities).

The Sri Lankan military victory was commendable enough for it not to be passed off as unique. It is not ‘unique’ because in recent years (leave alone the long annals of military history) there were at least three outright victories of state forces over powerful irregular armies engaged in asymmetric warfare, of which two were more relevant to Sri Lanka than the third. I refer firstly, to the victory by Russian forces under the Presidency of Vladimir Putin, over the Chechen militia, with its fanaticism, ferocious mountain fighters, veteran jihadi foreign volunteers, deadly female suicide squads (the Black Widows) and terrorist outrages in Moscow itself. Putin’s forces smashed the Chechen separatist terrorist formations after Russia had failed to do so in two earlier wars and had also made the mistake of entering an appeasing ‘negotiated (non)settlement’ under weaker, pro-Western political leaders. The Sri Lankan military victory is not ‘unique’ also because of Angola, where after decades, the government forces succeeded in decapitating the UNITA (built up and equipped by the West and apartheid South Africa) by killing its legendary (Chinese trained) leader Jonas Savimbi. The third, though slightly less relevant recent military victory by state armed forces against a strong insurgency was that of the Algerian state under President (former foreign minister) Abdelaziz Bouteflika, which crushed the Islamist terrorist militias.

Lalin Fernando takes umbrage at my evaluation of Velupillai Prabhakaran, complaining that "DJ says that VP was ‘not a master strategist….. like Fidel, Ho Chi Minh’... DJ says that any comparison of Prabakaran with Castro is like comparing ‘[a] Hobbit with an Olympian’. Did he get the order of names right? He goes on to state that the ‘LTTE was the world’s top terrorist but not the world’s best guerrilla formation’, without defining the difference."

Finally Fernando bares the heart of his argument and historical evaluation, constructing the silliest of syllogisms, as follows: "The courage, daring, resolve, endurance and initiative of the LTTE was second to none amongst terrorists, insurgents and guerrillas in history. That is what makes the SL victory famous. ... Castro has a place amongst the best insurgent leaders of the 1950s. VP has one amongst the best in the world in history. That is why the victory of May 2009 is momentous, tremendous and yes thrilling and those who won it famously. [Sic]"

While I have made the point that Prabhakaran was indeed "second to none among terrorists", I have contested, resorting to many comparisons and examples (e.g. the Hezbollah), that he holds the same status among guerrillas and insurgents. Fernando’s bundling of ‘terrorists’, ‘insurgents’ and ‘guerrillas’, with the implication that they are all really the same, tells us at least two things about him. He cannot tell the hugely basic difference between the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and the LTTE or the Vietnamese NLF (Viet Cong) and al Qaeda, or Che Guevara and Bin Laden.

He is utterly unaware of the doctrinal debate among leading political and military professionals in the USA precisely between "counter-terrorism" and "counter-insurgency" strategies in Afghanistan!

As ancillaries of Fernando’s ignorance we have remarks on Mao, Leonidas and Fidel Castro, which seek to counter my own assessment that Velupillai Prabhakaran was not in the same league as strategist or leader. Fernando writes "However it is true that VP did not revert to guerilla war like Mao when his conventional war attempt was failing... When the LTTE were surrounded by the SL Army in Mullaitivu their position was unlike that which faced Mao‘s force of 200,000 surrounded by the 700,000 Nationalist Army of Chiang. Mao’s great escape with a ‘Long March’ of 6,000 miles left him with only 8,000 of the 100,000 who started the trek"

The Long March took place before Mao got to Yenan and it is indeed to Yenan that Mao marched, after the urban insurrections were defeated in 1927. In 1945 when he abandoned Yenan, Mao’s forces were way over the 200,000 mentioned by Lalin Fernando, and ran into the millions, organised into several armies! If Mao was able to abandon the extensive Red base of Yenan after a decade of control and 28 years of warfare, while Prabhakaran didn’t want to or couldn’t do likewise, there was something wrong with the latter.

In Fernando’s version of Thermopylae, King Leonidas and the 300 Spartans faced an opposing Persian force of "180,000 infantry and cavalry (not ‘several hundred thousand’ as DJ states) of the invading Persians..." However, the revered ancestor of modern history writing, Herodotus (thought to have had access to official Persian Empire records) gives a total figure of 2.5 million military personnel, accompanied by an equivalent number of support personnel. His near-contemporary Simonides says four million while Ctesias says 800,000. Even the most wildly conservative of contemporary ‘revisionist’ scholar estimates puts the Persian combatants in the battle at no less than a quarter million. Taking all this into account I used the figure "several hundred thousand" which is very low, but way too high for Lalin Fernando. In the admittedly difficult choice I have to make between Herodotus and Fernando, I’ll stick with Herodotus over the home-grown.

Fernando reserves much of his literary powder and shot for Fidel Castro’s military stature, scorning it as infinitely inferior to that of Prabhakaran, let alone the latter’s nemesis the Sri Lankan army brass. To show this up for the arrant nonsense it is, I quote from ‘AFTER FIDEL’ (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002) by Brian Latell, the CIA’s topmost Cuba analyst for decades, and hardly a Fidel fan or consumer of Cuban propaganda:

"With the exception of Israel, no other small country has tallied as many stunning battlefield victories as Cuba has. Not even the Israeli military has ever exhibited the long-range force projection capabilities that Cuba’s did in the 1970s when tens of thousands of troops were dispatched first to Angola and later to Ethiopia, both many thousands of miles from Cuban shores. It was Fidel to be sure, who was the grand strategist of those interventions ...he was sharp and in command during the Bay of Pigs, moving Cuban forces around the island like chess pieces. He made all the strategic decisions during Cuba’s military interventions overseas."

In order to make his absurd argument, Fernando ironically canonizes Prabhakaran ("among the best in the world in history") to a degree that no Tiger spokesman living or dead, has attempted! For its part, the Sri Lankan military achievement is sufficiently superb not to require tall claims and which erode, not enhance our credibility. The lily needs no gilding.

Civil Rights Movement appeals to fellow citizens

We have witnessed thirty years of armed conflict and the erosion of democratic values entrenched in the first post-independence Constitution. The end of the armed conflict brought with it high expectations of a just peace, strengthened democracy and development. The proposed changes to the Constitution do not merely disappoint these expectations, but in themselves give rise to grave apprehensions.

Major changes affecting the scope of the President’s powers are being rushed through as “urgent in the national interest”. They were approved at a special meeting of the Cabinet on Monday 30th August, and referred immediately to the Supreme Court. We understand that the final form of the Bill was made available to concerned citizen groups and legal counsel only halfway through the Attorney-General’s submissions to the Supreme Court at the hearing on 31 August. We see no justification for having certified the Bill as “urgent in the national interest”. Such certification gives the Supreme Court very little time to reach its determination, and restricts the opportunity for members of the public to intervene and make representations at the hearing.

“What is contemplated is a judicial decision as to whether a provision of a Bill is inconsistent with the constitution. A judicial decision means that the court must judge conscientiously and as correctly as it possibly can. To do this the court must first inform itself regarding the arguments for and against, read the authorities cited, and make up its mind. The human mind is not an automaton which can be called upon to make a decision in a limited time without regard to arguments, reasons or precedents. A judge should be convinced of the correctness of his decision before he decides. If he decides with a mental reservation that he has not had time to explore all aspects of a question, he should not decide, as he may decide wrongly, and thus the citizens may be deprived of the benefit of an important safeguard.” (S. Nadesan QC address to the Constitutional Court, 1972)

The Bill is reportedly to be debated to a finish on Wednesday 8 September. All this within the space of ten days! Political parties, civil society groups, concerned citizens and the media have had no adequate time to discuss the provisions of the Bill or express views on its content and implications for future governance. To engage in informed public discussion is surely a basic right of the people. Its denial indicates a cynical disregard of citizens’ rights and the public interest.

1. Main objections to the Bill

(a) It seeks to eliminate the limitation placed by the constitution on the Executive President’s term of office; and

(b) It dilutes, to the extent of negating, the effect of the Constitutional Council responsible for nominating and/or approving suitable candidates to the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the independent Election, Public Service, Police, Judicial Services and Human Rights Commissions.

The 1978 Constitution confers near absolute powers on the executive presidency, coupled with immunity from legal action. This has contributed to an erosion of the key institutions necessary for good governance. This is evidenced by the reality of political interference with law enforcement agencies such as the police as well as the public service and the conduct of elections to legislative bodies. For these reasons abolishing the Executive Presidential system was incorporated in election manifestos of many parties over the years, including in the Mahinda Chinthanaya of 2005.

Democratic governance requires adequate checks on state power. The only existing checks on the executive President of Sri Lanka are (a) the limitation of the presidency to two terms and (b) the Constitutional Council (as created by the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution). We are of the opinion, that the presidential immunity was conferred in view of that term limit. If the term limit is to go, then the immunity conferred on the President must also be removed. For the knowledge that at a definite time within the foreseeable future the President will once again be legally accountable for acts committed whilst in office is a powerful deterrent against misuse of power.

The reality of abuse of executive powers that the country witnessed in these key areas was addressed to some extent by the Seventeenth Amendment which provided for independent commissions. While recognizing the weaknesses in the Seventeenth Amendment with regard to the method of appointment of the Constitutional Council, we must appreciate that it was for the purpose of introducing mechanisms to prevent abuse of Presidential powers and minimize political interference with key institutions. The proposed amendment once again gives t he President untrammeled power to make direct appointments to bodies that should, in the interests of the people, be independent of political pressure. If this becomes law, a President will only have to obtain “the observations” of others; and will not be bound to follow those observations. We unreservedly oppose this move.

The President will be required to attend Parliament at regular intervals, but this cannot be considered an arrangement that will make him accountable to Parliament in the manner of a Prime Minister.

A check on the executive is the only way to protect citizens’ rights. Hence the importance of fundamental rights challenging state action, and the limited term of the presidency. That a person may be a Prime Minister or a Minister or an MP or Leader of the Opposition any number of times is irrelevant because they do not exercise the same near-absolute powers. More important, they do not have the immunity from legal action that the Presidency enjoys.

Current arguments on the need to re-elect a President for unlimited terms personalize the issue and focus on the importance of permittingPresident Rajapaksa to be a Presidential candidate for many terms given his landslide electoral success. However, Constitutional amendments will incorporate conditions that will apply irrespective of personal considerations, to any successor to this office.

The proposed amendment will further entrench the worst features of the Presidential system of Government under the present Constitution. The government did not receive a two thirds majority with a mandate from the people to introduce these major changes to our political life.

Development is about the rights and wellbeing of the people. To deny to the people accountable governance and democratic space is to make a mockery of the development process, especially in the context of a post-conflict society.

OUR APPEAL

We seek the support of all Sri Lankans, in calling upon members of Parliament to exercise their right to vote against the Bill

We appeal to fellow citizens and civic-minded organisations to prevail on the government to postpone the enactment of the Amendment until the public has time to be properly informed, to debate, and to respond to its implications

We appeal to the President to even at this stage halt the process that has been set in motion, and to revert instead to the long-hoped-for and many-times-promised abolition of the executive presidency.

Suriya Wickremasinghe

Hony. Secretary
Civil Rights Movement

Sri Lanka Remittances May Rise to Record $3.8 Billion After Civil War Ends

by Anusha Ondaatjie

Remittances sent home by Sri Lankan nationals overseas may rise to a record $3.8 billion in 2010, a central bank official said, adding that policy makers will ensure stability of the currency as the flows increase.

“We are still getting sustained inflows from the Middle East and people are sending more money to their families in the north and east since the war ended,” Swarna Gunaratne, acting director of the central bank’s economic research department, said in a telephone interview today.

Sri Lankan troops defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009, freeing areas in the north and east which were controlled by the separatists for 26 years. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka would “purchase excess foreign exchange in the market” and keep the Sri Lankan rupee stable, Gunaratne said.

Spending on imports will exhaust some dollar inflows and prevent a sharp gain in the rupee, she said.

The Sri Lankan rupee, which has climbed about 2.3 percent since the war ended, was at 112.55 to the dollar at 1:20 p.m. in Colombo, according to Bloomberg data. - courtesy: bloomberg.net. -

Confusion over national reconciliation, unity and lasting peace in post-war Sri Lanka

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

Not surprisingly, many confusing and contradictory comments have been made on the ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) set up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on May 15 this year; 12 months after the prolonged self-destructive war ended with enormous losses to the country and the citizens of all ethnicities.

The main aim of the LLRC is to look into the happenings between February 21, 2002, when the Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA) brokered by Norway came into effect and May 19, 2009, when the Eelam war IV ended to ensure that the abysmal situation that prevailed in the recent past should not arise again. Actually political violence in independent Sri Lanka has a long history starting from the time the Sinhala Only Act was enacted in 1956. Tamil youth militancy emerged much later when discrimination against the ethnic Tamil minority intensified in the 1970s.

The war mentality

The distrust, disunity and the related ethnic problem that endangered the unitary structure of the island nation emerged decades before February 2002. These have been worsening since then by the continued implementation of discriminatory policies disadvantageous to the ethnic Tamils and the lack of balanced development taking cognizance of the natural resources and the skills available in different provinces, the needs of the people there and the future well-being of the entire nation. The neglect of the grievances, security concerns and aspirations of the politically marginalized ethnic Tamils was also a major cause for the intensification of the national problem, which was seized by the LTTE to justify the war for partition.

Their strategy for boosting the armed struggle for separation included the exacerbation of the ethnic division created by the nationally damaging ways the two rival political parties in the South competed for State power. The influence of Sinhala nationalists that gave vigour to this competitive politics was also considered useful for achieving the separatist goal. The moderate Tamils who wanted devolved and shared political power within undivided Sri Lanka, useful for safeguarding the collective interests and rights of the ethnic minorities including their safety and security, consistent with the pluralistic nature of the island nation were regarded as traitors to the ‘Tamil cause’. Had the genuine grievances of the Tamil speaking people been addressed and political power shared equitably, the case for a separate Tamil State would have been undermined. To the militant Tamil separatists, the enemies were the moderates who sought a political settlement within one unified nation and not the ultra Sinhala nationalists. The advocacy of Sinhala nationalism for political gain has also contributed to the emergence of the concept of two nations.

The contributory factors

The widely esteemed leader of the Federal Party, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam perceived the disfranchisement of ethnic Tamils in the plantation sector, the descendants of the labourers brought from South India during the British colonial period, soon after independence as the start of the process of marginalizing the Tamil speaking people in the entire island. It was only after 1956 the majority of Tamils in other parts of the island realised the veracity of his prognosis. The disturbing events that occurred with growing intensity since Sinhala became the sole official language of the multi-ethnic State are due to the failure to settle this problem as agreed then with the Federal Party leader.

Mistrust in Sinhala political elite as a result of broken promises and unilaterally abrogated pacts also propped up the case for separation. These were mainly because of the desire to please the Sinhala nationalists, including the Buddhist priests, who unjustifiably believed the future of their religion in Sri Lanka depended on absolute Sinhala dominance in national politics. Nevertheless, giving timely promises to resolve critical issues and ignoring them later for some narrow political benefit has become a facet of the country’s political culture. Recent victims of broken promises include foreign dignitaries, whose conventional ideas of democracy, sovereignty, equality, freedom and civil rights do not conform to those of the shrewd political leaders at the helm in the island liberated from Tamil Tiger terrorism. The neglect of minority rights is intrinsic to the Sri Lankan concept of democracy.

The fact that the seeds of division were sown much earlier with the moves to politically marginalize the ethnic Tamils must not be ignored in the complex task of rebuilding the damaged nation. Development of the previously neglected and damaged infrastructures is only one aspect of nation building. The past acts of commission and omission cannot be ignored in the ways and means being sought to avert another revolt in the foreseeable future. Significantly, many occurred after the enactment of the first Republican Constitution in 1972. Although the second Republican Constitution declared Sri Lanka to be democratic and socialist, these depictions have become meaningless. A durable political settlement under a truly democratic and socialist system is imperative for the good of the future generations of Sri Lankans.

People and their political leaders

The political leaders of the naïve people, many indoctrinated by racial prejudices propagated by the power seekers lacked the will to act courageously from a truly national perspective, recognising the diverse regional cum demographic realities. Instead of building a strong unified nation based on democracy, equality and justice, political leaders have been concerned primarily on furthering their self-interests. Astoundingly, the basic concepts of democracy, national unity, peace and reconciliation have distorted meanings to the political elite. To the egoistic leaders, fundamentals like national interest, unity in diversity and even religious beliefs have no relevance in Sri Lankan politics. There are signs now even democracy has relevance only during elections held periodically to select the representatives of the people. These are characterized by deceptive election promises and irregularities in the conduct of polls.

The opportunistic politics that focused essentially on gaining and consolidating State power, disregarding the long-term interests of the people in the different provinces and the entire nation has been the curse that blighted the future of the promising island that was the envy of many less developed countries at the time of their independence. In fact, it is the rise in parochial politics after independence that led to many national problems. The denial of the rights and freedoms of the minorities as in totalitarian regimes undermined democracy and was inherent to the customary cutthroat politics in independent Sri Lanka. But, this has been at a heavy price borne by all citizens, including the members of the majority community.

Towards undemocratic rule

The low priority given to important national issues such as those concerning good governance, rule of law, basic rights and freedoms of citizens and impartial police service, judiciary, election office, public service etc indicate the shift away from the Western European model of democracy towards totalitarianism. Sri Lanka’s key benefactor, totalitarian Republic of China has now become the world’s second-biggest economy, overtaking democratic Japan. There are concerns in the West about China overtaking the United States sooner than previously thought. There is some anxiety among committed Sri Lankan democrats about the future of constitutionalism in their motherland.

China’s view of peace is discernible from the statement issued by Sri Lanka’s Ministry of External Affairs, following the meeting External Affairs Minister G. L. Peiris had with Li Kegiang, Vice-Premier of China in Beijing on August 11, 2010. Chinese government has welcomed “the current situation in Sri Lanka, characterized by durable peace and stability”, and looked “forward to intensifying its initiatives to offer Sri Lanka every assistance in developing its economy and strengthening its infrastructure”. (Transcurrents August 12, 2010).

Both China and India are competitively providing financial and technical assistance for reconstruction and development of the infrastructure. But many doubt whether the development of the kind taking place per se will obviate the need for political settlement of the multifaceted ‘ethnic problem’. It is true post-independence development was regionally biased for political reason, which also damaged national unity and the trust of the Tamils in the central government. It is just wishful thinking that sensible development alone will reunite the divided nation. China has no interest at all in Sri Lanka’s written Constitution. India’s interest too is considerably less than during the 1980s and 1990s.

Devolution of powers is intrinsic to the democratic process. Without devolution, democracy in a plural society like India and Sri Lanka is not very meaningful. Democracy is not a hindrance to development if it is not distorted as in Sri Lanka by centralized ethnic majority rule. Multi-ethnic Singapore developed fast under Lee Kuan Yew while consolidating national unity and ethnic harmony because of his honesty, impartiality, selflessness and liberal views. Merit and not ethnicity or loyalty to the ruling party/minister influenced appointments in the public sector. Meritocracy has been the fundamental canon of the administration there.

LLRC and the Constitution

In his written submission made to LLRC, Jayantha Dhanapala, a career diplomat in the Sri Lanka Foreign Service from 1965-97, who served as Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office in Geneva (1984- 87) and Ambassador to the USA during1995-97, who had also worked for the United Nations before his brief 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 has warned 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 is unlikely the Government is waiting for the recommendation of the LLRC to change the Constitution meaningfully as envisioned. The present and previous Republican Constitutions sadly failed to promote unity in diversity. On the contrary, these exacerbated the ethnic majority–minority division.

In his oral presentation (transcript posted by transCurrents on September 2, 2010) too, the senior diplomat has drawn attention to many important issues which are, undoubtedly, relevant to the permanent resolution of the protracted political conflict that culminated in the futile war. From the warrant issued by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Commission is expected to submit its report before 15 November 2010. Obviously, one cannot expect recommendations for amendments to the present Constitution in order to ensure a balanced governing structure consistent with the real make up of the multi-ethnic sovereign nation with customarily and linguistically diverse population across the island from North to South and East to West. This writer is not competent to comment on the controversy over the relevance of existing international laws to deal with the crimes committed during conflicts of the kind that caused many civilian casualties in Sri Lanka. However, the need for UN approved international laws in the civilised world cannot be overlooked.

Significantly, LLRC has not been asked to make recommendations for constitutional reforms. According to the Warrant issued by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Commissioners are to inquire and report on the following matters that may have taken place during the period between 21 February 2002 and 19 May 2009:

(i) The facts and circumstances that led to the failure of the ceasefire agreement operationalized on 21st February 2002 and the sequence of events that followed thereafter up to the 19th of May 2009;

(ii) Whether any person, group, or institution, directly or indirectly bears 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 dependants or to heirs can be effected; and

(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.

Clause (v) needs some elucidation, as it can be misinterpreted to mean constitutional changes needed for “national unity and reconciliation among all communities”. My understanding is that “the institutional administrative and legislative measures” sought are within the existing structure and the “concerns” mentioned refer to those prevailed during the ‘peace and war’ period viz. from 21 February 2002 to 19 May 2009. It also assumes with the war over and subsequent resettlement and rehabilitation of the majority of the persons displaced (IDPs) during the tail end, there is some national unity and reconciliation and what is needed is further promotion of these attributes. However, on the real situations there are conflicting reports.

Dr. Daya Somasundaram has revealed the disturbed mental state of the traumatized people in his report titled, ‘Collective trauma in the Vanni’. Some others who recently visited the post-war Vanni have said, although the fear of sudden shell attacks has vanished, the living conditions there are far from normal. As mentioned earlier, development is the key instrument to the Government for restoring normality and furthering national unity and reconciliation.

The UK daily ‘The Guardian’ on 5 September reported: “There are genuine concerns that the Lessons Learned Commission will serve only to whitewash allegations of serious abuses, and that its conclusions will be used to brush off calls for an international investigation. The panel's mandate is deliberately limited: its main responsibility is to understand the reasons for the collapse of the 2002 ceasefire agreement, and there is no express mandate to investigate laws of war violations”.

LLRC and APRC

The lessons to be learnt from the happenings during the restricted period from Feb. 2002 to May 2009 cannot help in finding the effective solution to the political problem that culminated in enormous destruction of life and property and suffering to the helpless survivors. These are useful to avoid the mistakes made in negotiating with an intransigent militant group under a contentious Cease-fire Agreement (CFA). The considered view of many analysts, for instance the aforementioned commentary in ‘The Guardian’ that the LLRC was set up belatedly to pacify the foreign powers clamouring for independent international investigations into the violations of human rights, international laws, UN covenants and Geneva Conventions during the final phase of the Eelam war IV is credible.

The All Party Representative Committee and the Expert Committee for assisting the former (APRC) were set up by the President during the war for finding a widely acceptable political solution. The APRC report submitted to him last year has been buried. The main reason for this can be surmised from the controversial amendments to the Constitution submitted to Parliament by the government which are at odds with the APRC proposals. Certainly, LLRC has not been set up to examine the weaknesses in the Constitution and the official decision-making process. It is the decisions made in the run-up to the signing of the cease-fire agreement (CFA) and afterwards that are at the centre.

Regardless of whether or not the LLRC has to recommend the kind of political solution needed to avert another destructive conflict in the foreseeable future, the following comments of Jayantha Dhanapala are useful, if and when a political solution is sought to the national problem. To quote:

“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”.

“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………..”

What is lacking in national politics in Sri Lanka is evident from his concluding remarks. “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.” (Posted by transCurrents on August 30, 2010) No sensible person will disagree with this vital need. But the knotty question here is who can bring about this much needed reform in politics? The civil society has handed over its responsibility to the unprincipled egoistic political elite. Even Buddhism, the religion of the majority has been used deceptively for gaining political power, which is later exercised contrary to Its noble principles! Observations on the sudden shock that awakened the civil society following the 18th Amendment are in the section below under the sub-title ‘Lessons from the 18th Amendment’.

Meeting of minds

The surprising partnership between the government and former
LTTE chief arms procurer, Thambiaiya Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias ‘KP’ also indicates the planned method of post-war reconciliation. From the extensive telephone interview D. B. S Jeyaraj had with KP last month, the circumstances that brought about this amiable relationship are fathomable. To quote the interviewer (August 6th instalment): “Though under detention, KP has been afforded great autonomy of action by the Government to play a constructive role in uplifting the Tamil people and achieving ethnic reconciliation. The ex-LTTE chief has set up a new non –governmental organization known as the North – East Rehabilitation and Development Organization (NERDO). The NERDO is focusing on the release, rehabilitation and re-settlement of ex –LTTE cadres and IDP’s of the North – East. KP himself is concentrating on garnering aid and assistance from sections of the Tamil Diaspora for the NERDO to formulate and implement projects”.

The mutually useful relationship is also seen in the interview given to ‘The Island’ (August 7 issue) by the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. He is reported to have said: “KP could play a vital role in Sri Lanka’s efforts to patch up differences with the Tamil Diaspora. In a post-war era, nothing could be as important as reaching an understanding with the Tamil speaking people, both here and abroad. KP can play a pivotal role in the ongoing reconciliation process”. Without the lessons from the happenings during the period indicated in the Warrant, the reconciliation process is under way. The Diaspora to cooperate fully in the development process and building trust and unity, there must be at least convincing sign of trustworthy political settlement acceptable to all communities if not a final settlement. This dilemma has also significance to the proposed 18th Amendment.

For obvious reason, KP has not shown interest in political settlement requiring constitutional changes, which from recent developments are clearly the prerogative of the government. The present situation has made it necessary for minor parties and powerless groups in post-war Sri Lanka to depend on the politically powerful leadership, whose powers have been consolidated following the military victory in May 2009, to depend on the magnanimity of the government for any salvation from the ethnic cum regional discrimination, insecurity, indignity endured as second class citizens and denial of the sovereign right to protect their collective interests, fulfil their common aspirations and shape their future. The current moves of Colombo and KP are only the initial step towards national reconciliation, unity and lasting peace.

The situation now is comparable with that prevailed at the time of independence. Assurances were given by the then Sinhalese leaders that the minorities would be treated justly and they have nothing to fear about their future. What happened shortly afterwards is a good lesson. A realistic approach now to national reconciliation, unity and lasting peace cannot ignore these deep-seated fears.

Lessons from the 18th Amendment

The debate on the 18th Amendment has ignored one crucial issue in the same way when the 1978 Constitution was structured by its chief architect J. R. Jayewardene. He never thought about the country’s future after his tenure as all powerful Executive President. He was fully aware of the powers he had as Executive President. He declared publicly he could do anything, except to make a man into a woman and vice versa. It is difficult to believe that he believed all his successors would be benevolent persons like some ancient noble monarchs.

In short, the sensible and not just hypothetical question the supporters should have asked themselves is what kind of person will be at the throne later? Will he or she be like the incumbent? The remarkable way the government succeeded in progressing towards its objectives is mainly due to the prevailing jubilant and hopeful climate, despite the confusion on several fronts. The muddled political situation created with considerable assistance from the main opposition party, whose leadership is in disarray has also helped to lend support to the government’s political agenda. Most of the concerns raised about the 18th Amendment are from civil society organizations (e.g. OPA, CRM) and learned persons not actively involved in party politics. The conspicuous division between the myopic political elite and the far-sighted segment of the civil society could be the turning point in the political life of the nation since independence. Sadly the historic victory that liberated the nation from terrorism has not obliterated the doubts about the future of the country.

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

Statement by University academics on Proposed 18th Constitutional Amendment

We, the undersigned academics attached to different universities in Sri Lanka, call upon the government to re-consider the proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution for the reasons set out below.

Constitutional reforms, like elections, go to the heart of what it means to be a democracy in the modern-day world. Any changes that are introduced to a country’s constitution should be undertaken after due deliberation and consultation while having at its centre, the will of the People. In a pluralistic society such as Sri Lanka, ascertaining the will of the People can be a time-consuming and complex exercise. While the will of the People must be given due consideration, the essential features of a democracy, such as the rule of law, accountability of the government and transparency must be preserved and promoted through any constitutional reform.

By choosing to amend the constitution through an urgent bill the entire process of reform has been expedited, if not short-circuited, and no room has been left for any kind of public debate let alone public consultation. Under a Constitution that explicitly recognizes the “Sovereignty of the People” that process is not acceptable, especially when no convincing reasons have been given as to the need to expedite this process. Indeed, the most distressing aspect to this whole process is the lack of interest in government ranks on the need to raise awareness, let alone build consensus, among the general public on the need for such urgent reform.

The substance of the proposed reforms is also problematic. History provides many examples of the need to limit not only power, but also access to power. The limit to the number of terms that the head of the executive can hold has emerged as a best practice, through those bitter lessons. The introduction of the Parliamentary Council instead of the Constitutional Council is not satisfactory as it contains no clauses to promote accountability on the part of the President in whose hands come to be concentrated the power to make several key appointments that promote governance, accountability and due process of law.

This is the first attempt at constitutional reform in the post-war era of our country. We hope that it would therefore signal a break from the constitutional reform experiences of the past, where powerful executive Presidents “reformed” the constitution to serve their personal political agendas.

We therefore call upon the government to re-consider their decision to introduce constitutional reforms in such a hasty and ad-hoc manner and to open avenues for greater participation and consultation before setting in motion a process that is of utmost importance to the political culture of Sri Lanka.

C. R. Abayasekara (University of Peradeniya),
Suresh De Mel (University of Peradeniya),
Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri, (University of Colombo),
Priyan Dias (University of Moratuwa),
Asoka N. I. Ekanayaka (University of Peradeniya),
Avanka Fernando (University of Colombo),
Hans Gray (University of Moratuwa),
Dileni Gunewardena (University of Peradeniya),
Janaki Jayawardane (University of Colombo),
S. I. Keethaponcalan (University of Colombo), Amarakeerthi Liyanage (University of Peradeniya), Dinesha
Samararatne (University of Colombo),Vasanthi Thevanesam (University of Peradeniya),
Ruvan Weerasinghe (University of Colombo),
P. Wickramagamage (University of Peradeniya), Carmen Wickramagamage (University of Peradeniya)

Public appeal to all parliamentarians to vote against 18th Constitutional Amendment

Colombo

03 September, 2010

To All Hon. Members of Parliament,
Parliamentary Complex,
Sri Jayawardnepura,
Kotte.

Dear Member of Parliament,

The 18 th Amendment to the Constitution to be debated in parliament

The urgency of this very important issue at hand, compels us to address you through this letter, though briefly.

Let us be very precise on one issue. This is no attempt at changing governments, but one that seeks a change for democracy, the country is in dire need of.

While the conclusion of the war one year ago was interpreted as an opening for democratic life in society, we desired a serious political intervention that would strengthen democratic life in this country.

The abolishing of the Executive Presidency thus remained a basic requirement. This Executive Presidency remains to be abolished even on the consensus that had been reached in the APRC that has

11 political parties in the government alliance including the SLFP and 02 others that were then in the Opposition agreeing.

While there is such broad consensus in abolishing the Executive Presidency, the urgency in bringing this 18 th Amendment to the Constitution to remove all restrictions on the number of presidential terms, we clearly note here, is a total violation of social perceptions.

Also, we wish to stress, the Constitutional provisions included in this amendment to alter the spirit and contents of the 17 th Amendment, passed in agreement with all political parties to depoliticise State institutions and high positions, in allowing them to function independently, is again a step that violates public sentiments, yet again bringing all such positions and public departments into politics, through presidential influence.

It is necessary to stress that all those citizens who cast their vote for you at the general elections in April this year, never anticipated such anti democratic steps to be effected.

We therefore have very justifiable reasons and also facts that necessitates democratic life, in our society.

Removal of restriction on presidential terms

1. All democratic societies with free and fair elections accept that presidential terms should be restricted to two terms, as a democratic necessity. Apart from all other reasoning, common sense would tell that allowing enormous power in the hands of a single person for long, is too dangerous a provision. Even the two term presidency that was established with the 1978 Constitution was experienced as too powerful and dictatorial, during the past decades. Late Madam Sirimavo Bandaranayake, as the leader of the SLFP and the then Opposition, opposed establishing of a presidency and had this to say at the debate in parliament on 04 October 1977, when the Amendment to create the presidency was moved to the 1972 Constitution.

“The effect of this amendment is to place the President above the National State Assembly. Above the law and above the courts, thereby creating a concentration of State power in one person, whoever he might be. This has happened in other countries before, and history is full of examples of the disastrous consequences that came upon such nations that changed their Constitutions by giving one man too much power.

We oppose this Bill firmly and unequivocally. It will set our country on the road to dictatorship and there will be no turning back. This Bill will mark the end of democracy in Sri Lanka, as the late Mr. Dudley Senanayake realized when these same ideas were put to him in the United National Party.”

2. On the flip side of it, a presidency with no term restrictions is enjoyed in politically backward,
undemocratic countries. If any reference for such is necessary, names like Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Syria, Yemen, Burkina Faso and Uganda are the best.

3. A restriction on presidential terms brings in a political party approach to governance with democracy, instead of a personal approach, while also providing space for development of party leadership and change.

4. It is the limitation on presidential terms that provided a tangible restriction on this Executive Presidency with enormous powers, established through the 1978 Constitution. With the removal of that restriction, this Executive Presidency plunges into dictatorial rule, as foreseen by Madam Bandaranayake, at its initiation.

Removal of Constitutional Council and Independent Commissions

1. There are ample facts and reasons in public domain on the degeneration of public institutions and services. It is the police department that is often taken for such reference. Police department is referred to as the most corrupt department in this country. The accepted explanation for such degeneration is political interference from provincial level to the very top. It was public perception of having independent public institutions and high offices that compelled all political parties to adopt the 17th Amendment.

2. This social perception was further strengthened during the past few years. Therefore it was expected the 17
th Amendment would be strengthened to provide for better and more independent public services. Instead the amendments in front of you, would further erode independent functioning of these public institutions and high offices through political interference.

3. Bringing these public institutions and high offices under a further strengthened presidency that has no restrictions on its terms, would also erode democratic life of the people in a very serious manner. We do accept that these don't need to be any more explained. We also know, that you are are well aware of this government's behaviour, irrespective of whether you sit in government or opposition benches.

Therefore it is not necessary to note here, how undemocratic it had been. You thus know how seriously the 18th Amendment now with you, would erode democracy in this country. The dictatorial path Madam Bandaranayake foresaw when this presidency was first introduced, would certainly open up, if you decide to vote for this amendment.

You have in front of you now, a social responsibility that can not be compromised with. This responsibility has no political divisions and differences. You are now expected to give worth to your representation in parliament. That defines your decision to vote against the 18 th Amendment in allowing the people to enjoy their due right to a democratic life.

We therefore firmly believe, your conscience would have this day.

Yours in democracy,

Name Profession/Affiliation Signature

1. Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, PC Sgd
2. Srinath Perera, PC Sgd
3. Prof Navaratne Bandara, Peradeniya University Sgd
4. Prof. Kumar David Sgd
5. Prof Ajith Abeysekera University of J'pura Sgd
6. K.W. Janaranjana Lawyer/Journalist Sgd
7. Gamini Viyangoda Writer/Columnist Sgd
8. Kusal Perera Journalist Sgd
9. Dinesh Dodamgoda Legal Consultant Sgd
10. Sudharshana Gunawardne Attorney at law Sgd.
11. Prof. Ranjith Amarasinghe Sgd
12. Lal Wijenayake Senior Attorney at Law Sgd
13. Shiral Lakthilaka Legal Consultant Sgd
14. Prof. Desmond Mallikaracchchi Sgd
15. Dr. Mahim Mendis SL Open University Sgd
16. Dr. Asoka Silva SL Open University Sgd
17. Jayathilake Kammellaweera Novelist Sgd
18. Dr. Theodore Fernando SL Open University Sgd
19. Dr. Shantha Abeysinghe SL Open University Sgd
20. Dr. Rohan Rathnayake SL Open University Sgd
21. Dr. Michael Fernando Former Head,

Fine Arts Dept. Peradeniya Sgd
22. Chandraguptha Thenuwara Creative Artiste Sgd

September 06, 2010

Thilanga Sumathipala and Sanath Jayasuriya implicated in cricket match fixing

by Ashis Ray

The spot-fixing scandal could engulf cricketers outside Pakistan. There were reports on Sunday that a leading Sri Lankan player was under suspicion for links with a bookie. And this has led to fears that IPL was also not immune to investigation by the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit.

A senior figure in world cricket said the ICC has been probing Lankan betting links with IPL since its second edition, if not earlier.

Meanwhile, 'News of the World' released another sting tape which showed Pakistani batsman Yasir Hameed claiming that most Pakistani players were embroiled in fixing and "they are doing it (fixing) in almost every match".

The disclosure that a leading Sri Lankan cricketer was under suspicion for too much late-night conviviality with a bookmaker is a warning that the Twenty20 Indian Premier League (IPL) is not immune to investigation by ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU). A senior figure in world cricket said the ICC has been probing Sri Lankan betting links with the IPL since its second edition, if not earlier.

The ICC's interest has been trained on Thilanga Sumathipala, a former chairman of the Sri Lankan cricket board (BCCSL), whose family operates betting shops all over the island, especially in the capital Colombo. Sumathipala denied any involvement with this aspect of his family's businesses.

However, the ACSU secretly filmed his residence and office and reportedly gathered evidence of betting-related elements frequently visiting at least one of such premises. Besides, his rival in the BCCSL, the erstwhile Sri Lankan captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, is convinced Sumathipala is involved.

More importantly, in an chat with this correspondent in the presence of an English cricket official, Ranatunga revealed: "Sumathipala and Sanath Jayasuriya were instrumental in setting up a meeting for Lalit Modi with the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in July 2008".

The purpose was to persuade this powerful politician to overturn Ranatunga's decision as the then chairman of BCCSL to disallow Sri Lankan players to participate in the 2009 IPL and instead tour England, who had offered $2 million to the cash-strapped BCCSL to do so. Rajapaksa duly obliged; the England visit was cancelled and the Sri Lankan cricketers reaped a harvest in the IPL in South Africa.

Sumathipala is an influential newspaper owner, who the reputedly ruthless Rapapaksa would like to keep in good humour for political purposes.

Ranatunga further alleged that Sumathipala's vested interest was the turnover in his family's bookmaking business, which had boomed at the time of IPL 2008. To maintain this momentum, it was essential to have the continued participation of Sri Lankan players in the IPL; otherwise, punters' interest in Sri Lanka would drop dramatically.
Repeated phone calls to Sumathipala failed to elicit a response.

In 2007, Sumathipala was sentenced to two years hard labour by a Sri Lankan court. As the then deputy solicitor general of Sri Lanka put it: "He was convicted of having abetted a person (belonging to the underworld) to use a forged passport for the purpose of travelling overseas (to watch the 1999 World Cup in England)." He was released on bail pending an appeal.

Earlier, the ICC had more than once written to the BCCSL not to send Sumathipala to attend ICC meetings given his allegedly dubious activities, including one categorical letter from Ehsan Mani, then ICC president, not to do so. So, the question that now arises is: was Modi, now charge-sheeted by the BCCI for other reasons, privy to Sumathipala's motives in helping him to meet Rajapaksa? If so, then he knowingly and willingly accepted this assistance, ignoring the disrepute that such collaboration might potentially bring to the the IPL.

More seriously, did the odds that have been offered by Sumathipala's family's bookmaking concern border on match fixing or spot fixing?

The ICC is clearly under pressure to clean up the game. It cannot be seen to be obsessed with Pakistan and oblivious of other areas of abuse. In the past week, a section of Pakistani media have repeatedly reminded the ICC it is turning a blind eye towards the IPL.

What is abundantly true in the past week's developments that, while the fixers may be Pakistan players and middlemen, the illegal bookies are mostly Indians.

In other words, the national issue for India is: should it legalise bookmaking across the board? The answer to this has got to be an emphatic "yes", while protecting the vulnerable. For instance, only persons holding PAN can be permitted to place bets. Licensed betting will enforce regulation as well as generate thousands of crores of revenue each years, otherwise swirling in the black economy. - courtesy: Times of India -

My acquaintance with the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress

By M.S.Shah Jahan

On Friday August 27th, the day the “Athi Uyar Peedam” or High Command of the SLMC met at the party headquarters “Darussalam” in Colombo, in a “Ifthar” [breaking fast] function –not breakfast, I happened to meet a sitting Muslim Congress Member of Parliament who is well known to me for the last two decades and presently defined as one of the “trios”, and said “it looks you all are going to go”. He smiled and replied “what to do, he will be in power for the next 12 years”. This MP skipped the High Command meeting.

In 2004, I bumped into a breakaway former SLMC nominated MP, a lawyer turned politician who is now a diplomat in a Middle Eastern country, in Trichy, Tamilnadu airport. He was going to the Southern part of Tamilnadu to attend the wedding of a daughter of a prominent business magnate in Dubai.

I took him to the hotel I was booked to stay and while we were chatting about SL politics, he said “Madam [Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge] asked me, why Muslims are so much with the UNP even though we have done a lot for them?”. “Madam, trade is the main source of living for Muslims. UNP does not interfere with trade and private life but the socialistic policies of the SLFP cause hindrance to their life” was his reply.

An example is, Dr.Badiuddin Mahmud who did yeoman service to the Muslim community, as the Minister of Education in Madam Sirimao’s government, contested the General election of 1977 on SLFP ticket in the Eastern province with the desire to be elected by overwhelming Muslim voters to stand for them through thick and thin. But he was defeated by least known Fareed Meera Lebbei of UNP.

Three years ago when I hosted ‘the right and left hands of Rauf Hakeem’ [as described by DBS] and Hakeem for a dinner in India, I told Hakeem that his ties with the UNP will be acceptable to the majority of Muslims. He nodded.

Few months before the helicopter crash on 16th September 2000, late leader M.H.M. Ashraff came to my house for a dinner along with “Kavikko” Abdul Rahman, a poet from Tamilnadu who is a close friend of Tamilnadu Chief Minister M.Karunanithi, and D. Eswaran, a business man and Consol for the Republic of Mauritius. We discussed politics of Sri Lanka and across the Palk Straits. As Kavikko and I were arguing on Tamilnadu politics, Ashraff admired my knowledge of current affairs of India.

At one point Ashraff told me that he intended to resign from Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government as relationship between he and the “Madam” had become strained. I was alarmed and advised negatively. “Do not resign. If you are dissatisfied with her, act in a way that she herself ousts you. Then only you can gain sympathy from the masses. A resignation on a conflict of policy will not go much with people. MGR’s [a late Tamilnadu Chief Minister -actor cum politician] phenomenon rise was based on the sympathy wave.” He did not resign.

Before he departed, holding the door and with one leg inside in his Volvo, he invited me to come as an advisor to NUA –National Unity Alliance, another multi ethnical political party he formed to broad base his political career. I smiled and said nothing. It meant sorry. Subsequently this was my last conversation with him. It is to be noted here, Ashraff made Hakeem to resign from SLMC and he obliged without reservation. Then in a week he was put into shoulder the NUA.

When my wife called me to Bangkok and briefed about Ashraff’s helicopter crash I was dumbfound and saddened beyond comparison. My mind was haunting with the thought ‘is it because of me? Would not he have avoided the helicopter ride if he had got out of the cabinet?’ In a way it could have been true. I keep the handkerchief he left behind in my house in his memory. Further it was I who in 1991 suggested to Shankar Anna or Ananthi Sooriyapragasam of BBC’s Tamil service to contact Ashraff also for matters concerned to Lankan Muslims and Eastern province.

On Saturday 4th September I mentioned about DBJ’s article in a local daily to a former SLMC Municipal Councilor of Colombo, a lawyer [interestingly most of Ashraff’s front line buddies were his law college mates] from Malay ethnicity and asked him, ‘could not have this chaos been avoided had Ashraff supported the UNP in 1994’?.

He said what Ashraff explained in the politburo in today’s “Darussalam” which was an old house, that being a minority party, they had to support either of the Sinhalese party and UNP was in disarray at that time with Premadasa’s death and squabble between Gamini Dissanayake and Ranil Wickramasinghe. Further incumbent President D.B.Wijetungha’s remark against the minorities also prompted him to be away from the UNP.

In personal life, though Ashraff’s proximity to a Chennai’s Tamil actress with Sinhala blood was not much exposed, Hakeem’s link with a Sinhala divorcee came to light prominently and cast a dark cloud over that threatened to eclipse his political career, but he came out miraculously. This made his opponents, former SLMC rebels to hammer him harder.

By the way, the problems the present SLMC leader Hakeem faces are immense. First of all, SLMC derives its strength from the East though it has reasonable support all over the island. As long as Ashraff, a son of the soil, was in the throne, his words were gospel and everybody was obedient. The ship had a smooth sail under the Minister of Ports. But the curse with SL politics is, every Tom and Harry has leadership ambition regardless to whether he/she is qualified or capable. This was what disturbed Premadasa’s presidency too. His opponents though matured were impatient.

The growth of SLMC made Eastern politicians over enthusiastic with a dizzy head. Murky lambs that were not known outside their own electorates also wanted to grab the throne the lion sat. Hakeem, despite of his efficiency, talent and contribution to the party was marked as an “outcast” – an outsider from the hill country who should not make any claims. That way the Congress was not for Muslims but for Easterners.

Policy based politics in Lanka has become a thing of the past – antique. The day leaders sold their own properties to run parties are gone. Power and profit are the main goals today. In simple word politics has become a business. You approach them for anything, there is a fee. That way SLMC’s trauma is also chiefly based on profit motivated second ranked politicians.

The representation electoral system what JRJ introduced only gave the Minority parties including the SLMC a bumper harvest and a big say with the major parties as king makers. No doubt SLMC commanded immense influence.

Today’s UNP has more problems in hand than in 1994. Ranil is more of an unlucky statesman than a politician. He has vision but blind to see how and where the wind blows. Also he has a bad nose that does not smell. A wrong person is in the wrong place. If he were a real politician, regardless to the consequences, he should have toppled Chandika’s 1994 government that hung on one seat majority with Upcountry’s Chandrasekaran.

Or else he should have taken protective measures in 2002 for Chandrika not to dissolve his government. He proved to be a statesman. Thanks to the LTTE that decimated more of Lanka’s talented politicians. Today’s confused and unorganized state of affairs is also mainly due to lack of good politicians in the country who are dead and gone by nature or bombs.

The LTTE though got eradicated finally, succeeded in its aim to rock the boat or bring unstable political climate to Lanka. If Gamini had survived, it is doubtful whether Chandrika could have captured power which has led to 11+4 years of SLFP rule and, as the one of the “trios” said, another 12 or more years of power.

The direction less situation in the UNP also must have prompted the SLMCers to cross the bridge rather than idling in the bank of the river for too long with Ranil. Ashraff wanted to resign from the SLFP government. Hakeem was once sacked and later withdrew from the SLFP cabinet. Now the SLMC has one leg here and one leg there. But it is believed before the end of the year SLMC will have both legs there. Many of SLMC’s former rebels lost election and the few in the cabinet also are now voiceless or noiseless. Their importance is gone. Therefore time only will tell whether SLMC’s decision is right or wrong.

Any way it is ugly for politicians to join the winning team after blackguarding the other side in the election. The voters who voted for them cast their votes for the party only. Presently there is no politician among us who can win an election independently without party support. MR and Ranil may be exceptional. Let us wait and see how the chess game of Lankan politics progress.

Proposed 18th Amendment is grave threat to democracy and good governance-National Christian Council

by National Christian Council

The National Christian Council views the proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution as a grave threat to democracy and good governance in our country.

We are deeply concerned at the way this Bill is being rushed through as an urgent Bill. No amendment to the Constitution should ever be passed in this manner without proper discussion and debate. The removal of the two term limit on anyone holding the office of President is a very dangerous change for the future. Whoever ascends to that high office will then be confound with a concentration of power that will be difficult to reverse when alarmed particularly in the context of immunity. This is also against the mandate granted by the people to abolish executive presidency itself or at least to reduce the powers of the President upon Mahinda Chinthana and Mahinda Chinthana II.

We also find that the checks and balances and the safeguards brought in by the 17th Amendment to the Constitution through a process of consensus is being largely removed. The independence of the commissions and high posts is severely undermined. We think that the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and the judiciary should be strictly maintained in preserving democracy and to move forward as a country utilizing the opportunities that we have to meaningfully enhance peace and reconciliation.

We assure the people of our land of our constant prayers for all God’s blessings for the welfare of the nation.

Signed by

Rt. Rev. Dr. Daniel S. Thiagarajah, Chairperson of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, Bishop of Jaffna Diocese, Church of South India
Rev. Dr. A.W. Jebanesan, President – Methodist Church in Sri Lanka
Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo, Church of Ceylon Diocese of Colombo
Rt. Rev. Kumara Illangasinghe, Metropolitans Commissary, Vicar General , Diocese of Kurunegala
Rev. Saman Perera, Presbyterian Church,
Rev. Kingsley Perera, President, Sri Lanka Baptist Sangamaya,
Colonel Lalzamlova, Territorial Commander, The Salvation Army,
Rev. Charles Jansz, President, Christian Reformed Church

The NCC also represents the following Ecumenical Organizations-
Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA)
Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA)
Student Christian Movement (SCM)
Ceylon Bible Society
Christian Literature Society

Position of the Tamil National Alliance on the proposed 18th Amendment to the constitution

Full Text of Statement by Tamil National Alliance

'T.N.A cannot support the Eighteenth Amendment as presently constituted'

The proposed eighteenth amendment to the constitution contemplates two basic changes in regard to:

1) The incumbent President’s right to be elected to a further term beyond the presently stipulated two terms in office.

2) The repeal of the provisions of the seventeenth amendment to the constitution relating to the establishment of a constitutional council and it’s powers, the legalising of steps hitherto taken in breach of the provisions of the17th amendment to the constitution and new provisions in regard to the President’s powers to make appointments to the commissions and high offices to which the approval or appointment by the constitutional council was required as per the provisions of the seventeenth amendment to the constitution.

These two sets of amendments are incorporated in the proposed eighteenth amendment to the Constitution.
The Tamil National Alliance wishes to state that at the invitation of His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapakse, the leader of the Parliamentary Group of the Tamil National Alliance Mr. R.Sampanthan met with His Excellency the President and others on the morning of 4th July 2010. At this meeting the proposed entitlement of the incumbent President to be elected for a further term beyond the stipulated two terms was discussed.

The leader of the parliamentary group of the T.N.A stated that as long as such an amendment retains the right of the people to ultimately determine whether an incumbent president should continue for a further term or not, in the event of an incumbent president seeking such a further term, and the sovereign right of the people to determine this issue was preserved, responding favourably to such a proposal could be considered.

This view of the parliamentary group leader of the T.N.A was also influenced by the need and the desire to remain engaged with the government on issues of immediate concern to the Tamil people and particularly the displaced Tamil people, and the evolution of an acceptable political solution, in regard to both of which preliminary discussions had taken place between the President and Government and the T.N.A.

To an enquiry whether the proposed amendment was available, government spokesman responded that the proposal was under preparation. No other proposed amendment to the constitution was discussed at this meeting. The T.N.A now finds the scope and content of the proposed eighteenth amendment goes far beyond the entitlement of the President to seek a further term.

The seventeenth amendment to the constitution established a Constitutional Council in view of the extreme politicisation of the institutions of governance and to ensure the independence and integrity of the higher judiciary and other higher offices and thereby free the executive and judicial arms of the government from political influence. The measure of approval and importance attached by Parliament to the seventeenth amendment is apparent from the fact that the amendment was unanimously approved by Parliament.

A Constitutional Council was established under the seventeenth amendment. The Constitutional Council appointed the chairman and members of the different commissions and also granted approval for the appointment of the higher judiciary and other high offices. Unfortunately the elections commission was not appointed by the then president as per the nominations of the constitutional council.

On the expiration of office of the first Constitutional Council, the new Constitutional Council was not reconstituted. The advice of the Attorney General in regard to the modalities for the appointment of a member of the Constitutional Council representing the political parties other than those to which the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition belonged was not followed. Meanwhile, without the Constitutional Council playing its due role appointments to the different commissions, the higher judiciary and other important offices were made.

The present amendment seeks to remove the Constitutional Council, legalise all appointments made in breach of the seventeenth amendment to the constitution, and restore the status quo ante as it existed prior to the enactment of the seventeenth amendment.

Such extreme politicisation of the institutions of governance and high offices would render good and democratic governance impossible, and the executive and judicial arms of governance to a great measure of unhealthy political influence. The rule of law and the fundamental and human rights of the people would be greatly jeopardised, making the position of the minority Tamil speaking people even more vulnerable than at present.

Even the very limited powers granted by the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution are being removed by this Bill, by the abolition of the Provincial Public Service Commission and Provincial Police Commission. It is for these reasons the T.N.A cannot support the Eighteenth Amendment as presently constituted.

In Pictures: Installation of new deities - Lord Murugan, Goddesses Valliyammai & Theivayaanai

“Noothana Prathishda Maha Kumbabishekam” at Naattukkottai Nagaraththaar Srikathirvelaayuthaswamy temple

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasbapathipillai

Three new deities namely Lord Murugan, Goddess Valliyammai and Goddess Theivayaanai have been installed at Naattukkottai Nagaraththaar Srikathirvelaayuthaswamy temple recently.

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[ click here to see & read in full [HA]]

The Visitors in Yala and Jaffna: "Culture of polluting"

Massive Pollution in Yala

by Dushy Ranetunge at Yala Village

It was the long weekend at Yala Park and the word got out about the sighting of a leopard. The drivers scrambled and raced to the spot only to be confronted with a massive traffic jam, with about 30 Jeeps blocking the little dusty track in all directions. There was no movement, the leopard had long gone and as we sat and waited in the dusty jungle jam, we wondered if the leopard was watching the traffic jam from the jungle and giggling.

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[click on pic for larger image]

With the prospect of watching leopard diminished, it was time to watch the humans.

The British are sticklers for queue etiquette and it was surprising that the Sri Lankans were by and large sticking to queue etiquette in the jungle at Yala. But it didn’t last long. One smart Alec decided to overtake the queue by moving two wheels of his jeep into the drain. After overtaking a few vehicles at a dangerous angle and getting stuck in the mud in the drain he had to reverse all the way back. The jeep had tourists and if it had toppled, it would have caused serious injury to the occupants.

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In light of smart Alec trying to overtake the jam from the right, some others got into the act from the left side, including a vehicle carrying Mr junior Cummings generators. They didn’t get far and the leopards by this time would have been howling with laughter.

In order to avoid the stampede, we decided to enter Yala block 2 the following day. It lies between the Menik Ganga and the Kumbukkan Oya. Not many humans venture this far.

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Rajapakse has not yet concreted the roads here and they are not wide either like the aircraft landing size tarmac at Sooriyawewa, built to transport three wheelers and carts of the Hambanthota folk who have “great expectations” of going “back to the future”. That’s the silk route.

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We grew up in Sri Lanka with everyone talking about Trincomalee and how the Americans and the rest of the world were lining up to get their foot into Trincomalee. I am glad that the next generation will not grow up on a diet of Trincomalee. They can grow up on a diet of Hambanthota now that they have grown from the gushing oil wells of the Mannar basin.

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You need to hire two jeeps with cables to gain entry to block two and it’s a whole day affair getting stuck in mud no less than five times and on some occasions pretty serious with no trees for shade from the hot sun. It was however a thrilling adventure.

The cost of hire of two jeeps ranged from Rs 40,000 to Rs.24,000 and we realised that it was worth it, considering all the pools of mud that we got stuck in and the cable used to drag the other vehicle out. We were one with the buffaloes wallowing in the mud.

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Block two at Yala does not have as many animals as block one, but the ones we saw were physically much larger than the animals in block one.

But, what was most disturbing was the thousands of plastic bags, plastic bottles, biscuit and drinks wrappers thrown all over the Yala Park at block two. There were entire sections where all the short bushes had plastic bags stuck and rustling in the wind.

We were told that the pilgrims who walk to Kataragama through this forest during the festive season have left these behind.

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Tamils in Jaffna complain that Sinhalese visitors to Jaffna are polluting the peninsula with plastic bottles and bags etc, but a mirror image of this pollution is taking place in the Deep South, where predominantly Tamil pilgrims are polluting Yala national park with their rubbish.

This culture of polluting needs to be addressed by the authorities by awareness campaigns and prosecutions, especially if Sri Lanka wants to boost its tourism industry to cater to the $200 a night clientele.

September 05, 2010

All attempts to investigate atrocities in the Tamil Tiger conflict have been stifled, despite promises made to Ban Ki-moon

Sri Lanka is still denying civilian deaths

by Peter Bouckaert
Director of Emergencies Division, Human Rights Watch

During the Vietnam conflict, the US military developed some creative ways to increase the numbers of Viet Cong insurgents it claimed to have killed. "If they're dead, they're Viet Cong," meant that any Vietnamese killed by American soldiers would automatically count as enemy fighters.

Sri Lanka's defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, has taken such creative accounting to new heights. The United Nations reported that at least 7,000 civilians were killed and tens of thousands wounded during the final months of the brutal conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which ended in May 2009. But Gotabhaya has repeatedly cast aspersions on the idea that there were any civilian casualties.

In his recent statement before a Sri Lankan commission looking at lessons learned from the war, Gotabhaya claimed that injured Tigers "changed their uniforms into civilian clothes" and that the Tigers must have suffered at least 6,000 dead and 30,000 injured – suggesting those counted as civilian casualties were really just Tamil Tiger fighters who had shed their uniforms.

As for the widespread war crimes and human rights abuses by both sides reported both during and after the conflict by various UN agencies, the US state department and human rights organisations, the defence secretary seems to be suffering from severe amnesia. He told the Lessons Learned Commission: "No complaints about human rights violations or abuses by the army were brought to my notice. None at all."

Despite the promises made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon in June 2009 to investigate wartime atrocities, as well as Sri Lanka's international legal obligations to investigate alleged laws of war violations, the president and his brothers in power have not lifted a finger to do so. The president often appears stunned when other governments both praise the government's victory yet insist on accountability for laws of war violations.

Gotabhaya also proclaimed that the military operation was a really a "humanitarian intervention" in which "we took great care to avoid [endangering] civilians … our military had to stop operations and give protection to people, food convoys." In practice, however, rather than protecting civilians, the government blocked access by humanitarian organisations. The International Committee of the Red Cross complained publicly that it was unable to reach those most in need.

There are genuine concerns that the Lessons Learned Commission will serve only to whitewash allegations of serious abuses, and that its conclusions will be used to brush off calls for an international investigation. The panel's mandate is deliberately limited: its main responsibility is to understand the reasons for the collapse of the 2002 ceasefire agreement, and there is no express mandate to investigate laws of war violations.

The government clearly wants to avoid an honest attempt to find the truth. During a BBC interview in June, Gotabhaya threatened to have the commander behind the final military offensive, Gen Sarath Fonseka, executed after he promised to co-operate with investigations into wartime violations. The government took Fonseka – who earlier this year unsuccessfully ran against the president – to court martial, where he was convicted, essentially cutting him off from any capacity to challenge the Rajapaksa version of events.

The government announced in June that it will deny visas to the members of a UN expert panel established to advise Secretary General Ban on mechanisms for accountability. For those who didn't get the message, protests against the panel led by a government minister outside the UN compound in Colombo should have: this government has no interest in investigating abuses and providing victims a measure of justice.

Add to this the continued suppression of government critics, civil society, and media, the restricted access for independent monitors to the northern and eastern parts of the country where the fighting occurred, the lack of information about an estimated 8,000 suspected Tamil Tiger fighters currently detained in "rehabilitation camps," and the conditions are ripe for a complete rewrite of history.

What the Lessons Learned Commission makes of the testimony it receives remains to be seen. One would hope that it would see the government's version of events for what it is: a cynical fabrication designed to avoid scrutiny. Unfortunately, there is every reason to fear that the panel will believe the story that is being spun by the Rajapaksa brothers, which basically runs to the formula from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland: "Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't."

(This article first appeared in The Guardian.UK)

18th amendment is submission to autocracy - Mano Ganesan

The ugly urgency tells all says Mano Ganesan

18th amendment aims at reversing all what this country gained during the last decades against the politicization of the state services. It tends to handover total power to the proposed ‘term limit-less’ executive presidency by removing all the hard-earned constitutional checks and balances.

Shocking it is that the government prepares to amend the most basic law of the land in one stroke in a ‘one day affair’ in the parliament without substantial national discussion. This ugly urgency tells all, Democratic Peoples Front leader Mano Ganesan told today. Ganesan said further on the subject in a statement released by the DPF media office.

The substance of the amendment undoubtedly attacks the independence of the state and police services. The powers hitherto devolved within the state machinery are being taken back onto the hands of the office of powerful executive presidency. This is coupled with the undermining of the functions of the elections mechanism, again through this amendment.

Certain Tamil and Muslim parties are tactfully taking pains to describe this amendment as an ‘external affair’ to the minorities. It is a sinister logic. Tamil speaking people of this country cannot be ignorant and idle at this historical moment. This has to be confronted with a national perspective outside ethnic radiuses. DPF joins hands with all the democratic forces of the country in opposing this autocratic move.

Civil Rights Movement Statement on 18th Amendment to the Constitution

BY Suriya Wickremasinghe

A President’s immunity is not for life. It is only for the period that he or she is President. Once a President steps down from office he or she may be sued like any other citizen for any wrongful act committed while in office. A powerful deterrent on a President committing an offence while in power is the knowledge that, once his or her terms ends, which end will be at a time in the foreseeable future, liability under the normal law of the land will resume. Justice is not denied to an injured party, it is only postponed.

The 1978 constitution limited this possible postponement to a maximum of twelve years. This is already long enough for an injured party to wait for redress, for memories to stay fresh, for witnesses to remain available and healthy. Imagine trying to seek justice after a span of eighteen, or twenty four, or thirty six years! There may be countries (such as the UK) where the nominal head of state enjoys lifetime immunity; this is passed down from the age of monarchs whose real power has been steadily stripped away. Is there any democratic society in the world that grants a political head of state, one who wields real political power, such immunity, which may in practice last even a lifetime?

Under the Prime Ministerial system, a person could be Prime Minister any number of times, and indeed this happened. That was no problem because the Prime Minister did not enjoy any immunity whatever, and nobody ever suggested that this was a hindrance to his or her work. Under the Prime Ministerial system of the 1972 Constitution (but not under the Soulbury Constitution) the nominal head of state enjoyed immunity but his powers were negligible. Here again immunity ceased when the President’s term, which was four years, ceased. The 1977 amendment and the 1978 Constitution introduced the totally new concept of the Executive President in whom unprecedented powers were vested.

It was the introduction of Presidential immunity that gave many persons grave misgivings about the Executive Presidency when it was first introduced. Some of these fears were slightly assuaged by the two term limit. It is hard to believe that even J.R. Jayewardene would have had the chutzpah to make the present proposal.

It is outrageous that a constitutional change of such serious implications be rushed through the Supreme Court and Parliament as “urgent in the public interest” without people having the chance to discuss this serious issue amongst themselves, for individuals and lawyers to make considered representations to the Supreme Court, and without the Supreme Court itself having time to hear well thought out and cogent arguments.

The rushing through of the virtual repeal of the 17th amendment to the Constitution is equally astounding but is not adverted to in this short paper.

Rauff Hakeem: Why we are Supporting the 18th Constitutional Amendment

by Rauff Hakeem

The year was 1977. I was an impressionable youngster of seventeen, studying at Royal College. I was in the running for the Best Speaker's contest where the coveted Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan Prize was on offer. The topic I picked was 'Introduction of the Presidential system to Sri Lanka'. After robustly arguing in favour of J.R. Jayewardene's concept, I won the prize.

More than three decades later, as the leader of a national level political party I find myself doing more or less the same task today. However, contrary to popular belief, there are no prizes or even medals at stake this time. Instead there are many brickbats coming my way, questioning my recent actions and casting doubts about my integrity. A few words by way of explanation, I believe, would not be inappropriate.

Thirty years ago, it was easy to argue in favour of an Executive President. We hadn't suffered the ill-effects of a Presidency. JR appeared to be the saviour who would deliver the country from the economic ruin. It seemed only right that the country should give him a free hand without being constrained by Parliament, even though he commanded an unparalleled five sixths majority in the legislature by then.

We sincerely believed then, with JR being moulded in the best of Westminster traditions, there was no need to incorporate his accountability to Parliament. The rest is history: the United National Party (UNP) passed many constitutional amendments for very parochial political purposes, using and abusing the five-sixths majority at their command. Parliament became subservient to the Executive which started flouting the best principles of good governance.

I have no doubt that if not for the precarious situation the country had plunged into by late 1988 - a burning insurgency in the South and a raging war in the North - JR would himself have sought to amend the Constitution to run for a third term of office. Many have told me that, then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa actively canvassed grassroots UNP activists against any such attempt!

On the other hand another anecdote I have heard is that of the gracious First Lady of yore, Elena Jayawardene: when some overanxious MPs broached the subject of JR going for a third term, she had politely asked them, " Do you all want Dickie killed?"

In hindsight, what strikes me was how vulnerable a President could be in his second term of office. Both JR and Chandrika Kumaratunga experienced this, the former despite his overwhelming majority in Parliament-and that vulnerability spelt catastrophe to the country. I would therefore argue that however 'invincible' a President may be, a second term in office would have a high propensity for turbulence.

One may argue that the removal of the term limit placed on an incumbent President may pave the way for dynastic politics. However, the reality is that healthy inner party democracy is elusive in most parts of the Third World. In fact, dynastic politics is an endemic feature in our part of the world with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, all having their own dynasties while the Bush dynasty continues to make headlines in the US.To my mind, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is in an unassailable position today.

Yet he is deeply conscious of the polarization between the majority and minority communities that became evident during the recent polls that consolidated his position and that of his party. Therefore, there is a need to insulate him from the customary vulnerability, if he is to embark on a path that would narrow the differences between the majority community and others. Our support to him for the 18th Amendment would in the first instance ensure him a trouble free reign during his second term.

The President being the astute politician that he is, I sincerely hope would be keen to maintain his popularity in the South while making an extra effort to reach out to the minorities to reduce the polarization of the electorate.

It is however a matter of regret that we are jettisoning some of the salutary features of the 17th Amendment. In 1948, the British left behind a system of public administration which was independent and very much insulated from party politics. But retrogressive politicization has now eroded people's confidence in most sectors of the public service and the proposed changes to the 17th Amendment are unlikely to reverse this trend.

I learnt from the President that Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was prepared to endorse a viable alternative to the 17th Amendment. The only contentious issue though was the additional member to be nominated by the President to the body that would replace the currently defunct Constitutional Council envisaged by article 41A of the Constitution, where the Speaker would have a casting vote in the event of a stalemate.

I urged the Leader of the Opposition to be pragmatic and suggested that we look at other alternatives which might be useful not as a compromise but at least to limit the discretion of the Executive from abuse of power. I pointed out to the possibility of re-enacting original paragraphs 8 and 9 of Article 155 which were repealed by the UNP government by way of the 10th Amendment in 1986.

These provisions required a resolution passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament to continue a state of emergency which has already been in operation for ninety consecutive days or ninety days in aggregate within a period of six months. Unfortunately, that suggestion did not find resonance with Mr. Wickremesinghe. I discussed with some of my party seniors about the possibility of proposing this in Parliament but they felt it would be a futile exercise without the backing of the entire Opposition.

Similarly, I have been advocating that the Supreme Court should not be the court of first instance in fundamental rights jurisdiction. When an attempt was made to increase the number of appeal court judges to enable Courts of Appeal to function in the provinces ostensibly to get rid of the mounting backlog of cases, the Leader of the Opposition was willing to concede that. I insisted that as a quid pro quo, original jurisdiction of fundamental rights be vested in the Courts of Appeal. This would have enabled aggrieved litigants to appeal to the Supreme Court. Again, it was not to be.

In strengthening our judicial system, I also believe it would be salutary for us to create a convention where the Executive would consult and be guided by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and the Chief Justice in the appointment of superior court judges. I recall that the Supreme Court performed a significant role in asserting itself against the Executive during the very challenging periods of emergency rule especially in the late eighties and early nineties. I do hope that the healthy tradition of activism continues in the future.

Our party's decision to support the proposed constitutional amendments had seen me answering many questions about the morality in politics today and the ethicality in supporting the ruling coalition after entering Parliament on the UNP ticket. I have also been questioned as to why I joined a UNP delegation for talks with the President, if I was intending to 'join' the government.

Poaching of MPs is not a practice any Party Leader enjoys. A party joining the government should do so on a voluntary basis and the absence of such voluntariness makes it uncomfortable for both sides. And I must make it absolutely clear that we have not 'joined' the government; we are only supporting a constitutional amendment which we feel would be beneficial to the country at large. In the future, we will decide on our support to the government on similar issues on an 'issue by issue' basis.

A week before I went to meet the President with the UNP, I met the President at his request when he attended Parliament for the Consultative Committee meeting of the Ministry of Defence. I immediately informed the Leader of the Opposition about the contents of my discussion. At that stage, it was increasingly clear that the government was not willing to yield beyond a certain point and our parliamentary colleagues in the opposition were also not willing to compromise.

Therefore, as a party, we had to take a decision and that is what we did. In doing so, we took into consideration the fact that removing the restriction of two terms for the Presidency was not an emotive issue for the masses and the reality that the Opposition had not mobilised sufficient support against it. Even the issue of the 17th Amendment, however significant it may be, is yet to be taken to the grassroots as a political issue.

Hopefully under the new dispensation, we could fine tune some of these amendments by discussion and compromise because it is not desirable to move a constitutional amendment as an 'urgent bill in the national interest'. Sufficient public interest and discussion are indeed necessary and there appears to be an indecent haste in the exercise, which is to be regretted.

There are also other issues that were considered by our party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), before deciding to support the proposed amendments. The right of return of Muslim refugees who were forcibly evicted by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) poses a unique problem.

This issue must be resolved expeditiously for which more funds need to be mobilised, instead of being over-sensitive to non-existent security concerns. We also noted that devolution continues to remain an elusive political dream despite the end of the war.

There is an urgent need for changes in the educational sector to better the prospects of minorities. The electoral reforms that are being envisaged are also a matter of concern because weaker sections of the Sri Lankan community should be ensured representation, instead of reforms being bulldozed through merely because the ruling party possesses the numbers to do so. As a party we felt these issues could be dealt with in a more satisfactory manner if we supported these amendments and reduced the President's susceptibility to electoral pressures.

Besides, the President must now think of pruning his Cabinet and placing the country on the fast track for development. In terms of good governance, we would like to see the reactivation of the Bribery Commission and the Human Rights Commission as priorities. Parliament should oversee public finance; if this is to be meaningful, the opposition should be given some leverage in this exercise.

From a realistic perspective, I concede that a healthy give and take between a strong Government and a weak Opposition maybe too much to ask. Yet, the President could look at the need to restore the credibility of his government vis-a-vis the Aid Donors and other well-meaning friends in the international community. Our support for him, we hope, will convince him that these are needs of the hour.

But I do also hope that the Opposition would not become despondent and that it will not go into hibernation as a result of these constitutional amendments, even though my party and I have decided to support these reforms. It must quickly re-group and get its act together. I say so because, being a democrat, I always believe that a healthy and vibrant Opposition is a sine qua non for any decent democracy.

I know that over the past few days, I have become a favourite subject among cartoonists. Many question my credibility-or the perceived lack of it. However I must point out that I also have the unenviable record of being sacked from the Cabinet once by President Chandrika Kumaratunga in June 2001 and of having resigned from the Cabinet on another occasion, under President Rajapaksa, in December 2007. I have therefore been in the Opposition for a considerable length of time, not because of circumstances but by choice!

I have always been outspoken while being in the Cabinet. In fact, when this government broached the issue of re-introducing criminal defamation laws I was the first to speak against it in Cabinet, when others took some time to summon the courage to do so.

Of course, I am certainly not suggesting that I wish to join the Cabinet now; we as the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress have only decided to support the President and his party in the process of seeing these constitutional reforms through.

My conscience is clear. I know that I have not sought any opportunistic favours. I did not ask for any particular Ministry-as some news reports have outrageously suggested- nor did I make any other demands whatsoever. What I have done is, I believe, in keeping with the best traditions of democracy: opting to take a decision which though unpopular, we as a party believe is the best option available to us.

And, in helping President Mahinda Rajapaksa to secure an additional term of office, we hope that the enticement of a third term will compel him to seek the mantle of a sincere statesman rather than being remembered merely as a clever politician. - courtesy: The Sunday Times -

September 04, 2010

Power greed and dictatorial ambitions of President Mahinda Rajapaksa exposed

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” — William Pitt the Younger (Speech in the House of Commons – 18.11.1783)

So the Emperor is finally divested of his dazzling patriotic mantle, his vulturous greed for power and grandiose dynastic ambitions bared.

The proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution is quintessentially Rajapaksian: anti-democratic and deceptive, megalomanic and supercilious, rapacious and unctuous. The confluence of its two main components – presidential term-limit removal and negation of the 17th Amendment — would produce a supra-presidency which Mahinda Rajapaksa can hold for life and bequeath to his chosen successor. A virtual monarchy with a reassuringly democratic title – this was the predestined destination of the Rajapaksa project.

The road to tyranny is often paved with indifference on the part of unexceptionable, law-abiding citizens. No perilous turning point happens in a vacuum but is preceded by innumerable official misdeeds, to which society should have reacted with outrage but did not, deeming them unimportant, irrelevant or kosher. The Rajapaksas have come within striking distance of transforming Sri Lanka from a flawed democracy into a dynastic oligarchy because their crimes and abuses have gone largely unchallenged by Lankan society, especially that intellectual-ethical obscenity, the zero-civilian casualty myth (and the incarceration of more than 300,000 Tamils in ‘welfare villages’).

The case of Sarath Fonseka was a dry run for the 18th Amendment. The regime demonised and persecuted Gen. Fonseka and yet, no societal opprobrium ensued. The opposition launched a few desultory protests, but failed to comprehend the gravity of the common threat or to unite to defeat it. Emboldened by this indifference and ineptitude, the rulers imposed a pernicious sentence on Gen. Fonseka, depriving him of his rank, honours and even pension.

It was news for a couple of days while the normally voluble Buddhist monks, business and artistic communities and academia acted deaf-mute. For the Rajapaksas this would have been proof-positive that Lankan society will not react, even in its own defence or enlightened self-interest.

When a society is afflicted with indifference, resistance becomes a non-option. In such bleak psychological landscapes would-be tyrants thrive. Today the Rajapaksas are making a blatant power-grab, motivated by nothing other than greed and ambition, and, yet, where is the outrage? Why aren’t we opposing, to the full democratic measure, this most anti-democratic deed? Is our psychological degradation so complete, we see nothing wrong in Mahinda Rajapaksa being president for life or Namal (or Basil or Gotabaya) Rajapaksa succeeding him? Or have we been deceived by that beguiling lie assiduously spread by Rajapaksa apologists – that the 18th Amendment would not endanger democracy, because the electorate can vote out Mahinda Rajapaksa or his chosen successor, whenever necessary?

L’ affaire Mervyn and the 18th Amendment

Rajapaksa-justice is an oxymoron, as is evidenced by the scandalous exoneration of Mervyn Silva by the SLFP disciplinary committee. This was despite the existence of innumerable visual records in the public domain of Mr. Silva getting the Samurdhi official tied to a tree. The SLFP disciplinary committee claimed that the incident was a mere piece of theatre; an Orwellian self-incriminatory letter was obtained from the hapless victim, indubitably under duress. The entire charade was so specious as to insult the intelligence of even a small child; it demonstrates the contempt with which the Rajapaksas hold the Lankan people, including fellow SLFP leaders.

The conduct of the SLFP disciplinary committee is a prototype of how the 18th Amendment will work, in reality. The electoral removal of President Rajapaksa presupposes the holding of even marginally free and fair elections. Are free and fair elections possible, once the 18th Amendment empowers President Rajapaksa to hire and fire all key officials, including the Election Commissioner and the IGP? On the contrary, the 18th Amendment is tailor-made to prevent free and fair elections.

The proposed Advisory Council is a toothless entity; its sole task is to offer advice which the President may accept or reject, as he sees fit. The President will be empowered to appoint members to ‘independent’ commissions and remove them, thereby devaluing these entities into presidential appendages. This subversion of the independence of the Independent Commissions would enable the total subjugation of the public service, the judiciary and the media to the will of the omnipotent President. The 18th Amendment will further strengthen the presidency at the expense of the legislature, the judiciary and the citizens, thereby exacerbating the imbalance inherent in the system.

The 18th Amendment will enable the President to make and break careers with total impunity. Would public officials, civil or military, want to antagonise President Rajapaksa by acting justly and independently, when their career prospects and opportunities for post-retirement preferment are completely dependent on him? Particularly when they know how far, fast and hard a man can fall, once he has antagonised the Rajapaksa brothers?

After all, Gen. Fonseka was the third member of the triumvirate which defeated the LTTE, a man whose popularity was second only to the Rajapaksa brothers’, a warrior with a very real following in the Lanka Army, a Sinhala supremacist hero-worshipped by Southern hardliners and the Sangha. Today he is defeated and humiliated, a fallen idol whose fate is of indifference to his erstwhile devotees. The contradictory trajectories and the contrasting fates of Tiger Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP) and anti-Tiger Sarath Fonseka indicate how to survive in a Rajapaksa Sri Lanka.

The faultline is whether one is with the Rajapaksas or against the Rajapaksas. All other factors, from ethnicity and religion to party affiliations, will avail a citizen nothing if he/she takes that fatal step of opposing the Rajapaksas effectively. For the Rajapaksas, patriotism is ultimately a means to an end, an attractive garb under which their naked power-hunger is concealed. After all, Mahinda Rajapaksa, during his years as the leader of opposition, did maintain a near total silence about the Wickremesinghe-Pirapaharan appeasement process and the ensuing Tiger atrocities.

So Sri Lanka is a land polarised between the friends and the enemies of the Ruling Family. In this land, anyone who is willing to play by Rajapaksa rules and submit to Rajapaksa dictates can lead a ‘normal’ life, without experiencing state terror. The North has been bludgeoned into sullen silence; Tamils will be stigmatised and repressed as Tiger supporters if they show signs of democratic dissent. If the 18th Amendment is through and the Rajapaksas entrench themselves, a majority in the South, including most of those who voted against the UPFA, will consent to Dynastic Rule and the loss of basic rights and freedoms, in return for a measure of peace and normalcy. Extreme economic deprivation can shatter this deceptive calm, but a general outburst of discontent may take years to happen.

If the 18th Amendment is through, other constitutional reforms will follow, subverting democratic freedoms in the name of national security. The regime’s political solution to the ethnic problem (if it materialises) will involve less and not more devolution. The Rajapaksas do not want to share power anymore than they want to give it up. Democracy is incompatible with the Rajapaksa project; and in this battle for supremacy, the Rajapaksas seem to be winning.

Chandrika Kumaratunga Condemns The 18th Amendment

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga condemned the 18th Amendment proposed by the government saying it is a “horrendous move” and that she could not agree with it in any way.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader Kumaratunga said that being “a total democrat,” she believes that rulers must not grab power, but on the contrary make it even more democratic. Kumaratunga said she had been firmly committed to abolishing the Executive Presidency and tried to do so in 2000 along with the devolution package, since the position was extremely dangerous to democracy. “Abolishing of the Executive Presidency was also included in the package,” she said,

“I was always against the Executive Presidency and the extreme powers vested with it. When I proposed to abolish it, G.L. Peiris said not to and asked me to keep it for one or two years. But I said it should be abolished in one year,” she claimed.

When asked if she would contest once again if the two-term limit on the Executive Presidency were lifted through the proposed constitutional amendments, Kumaratunga said she would not. “I’m not greedy for power,” she said.
“I was dragged into contesting by the party after being defeated so many times. I came in when the country was in a bad way. I made four promises and except for bringing in peace, I fulfilled the rest. Even with regard to peace, I managed to complete three quarter of the war,” she said.

Kumaratunga maintained she had made a promise to herself and her children that she would not ever contest after her second term.

Reiterating that she was not greedy for power, Kumaratunga said she was the only former President living in a government residence paying for everything with her personal money.

“Finally, Ranil Wickremesinghe shook hands with me in front of the media and agreed with the draft and when I asked if he would support it in parliament, he said ‘I suppose we will,’ However, every one knows what happened when it was presented to parliament on August 3,” Kumaratunga said.

Speaking of the callous manner in which the government is currently treating her, Kumaratunga said that many letters written personally by her to the government with regard to her facilities and security have been ignored.
“Three weeks before my daughter’s wedding in the UK, my security was withdrawn and one week before her wedding reception in Sri Lanka, the government closed down my office,” she said. “Websites maintained by the government have said that I have robbed and that I have purchased mansions overseas. But in reality, I actually live in a two-bedroom flat in London. There are a few politicians who have visited me and they know it is true,” she added. Finally when asked to describe President Mahinda Rajapaksa in two sentences, Kumaratunga said she could not respond to the question, as “a white van” would be sent for her.

“Contrary to many stories being said, I have never robbed a cent during my tenure and I now live by selling lands that were given to me by my parents,” she said adding that she has already sold four such ancestral lands for her survival. “After five years, I was given Rs. 11 lakhs by the government to paint the house and have been given three vehicles that are over 12 years old.”

Elaborating on the abolishing of the Executive Presidency she said that Prof. G.L. Peiris and she worked on the modalities of the devolution package in 2000, and then Attorney General Sarath N. Silva, Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne, Dr Neelan Thiruchelvam and M.H.M. Ashraff drafted it. However, Kumaratunga was unable to receive the necessary approval due to the opposition by the UNP, she said. Explaining her failed move to abolish the Executive Presidency, Kumaratunga said while the UNP agreed on almost all the content in the draft in 2000, they resorted to various delaying tactics to avoid discussion on the abolishing of the post.

“When it was time to discuss the abolishing of the Executive Presidency, the UNP asked for another date. Finally I gave them seven dates to discuss the matter, but on every occasion they asked for more time. When I asked what they were waiting for, they said they were not ready and wanted approval from the Ex-Co, as it was a crucial issue. The delegation that used to consist of six to seven members reduced to about two to three when it came to discuss the abolishing of the Executive Presidency. Ranil Wickremesinghe did not even attend some of the discussions,” she said. - courtesy: The Sunday Leader -

Federalist Fantasy of TNA

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

If the Southern Opposition is dwindling or dying, the Northern Opposition is deluded and in deep denial. These wings or streams of the opposition seem to be marginalising themselves to the point of irrelevance.

In a new interview, lawyer and civil society activist Sumanthiran, billed as the TNA’s Colombo Tamil civil society whizz-kid, has dug his heels in on federalism and a re-merged North and East, rejected the 13th Amendment, and is derisive about unity with the Tamil Political Parties Forum (TPPF) because they disagree on ‘fundamentals’. Here is the core of what he says:

“We have very specifically said that these reforms… must take the form of a federal structure… 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 13th Amendment obviously is not the answer… Therefore, we take it that any solution that goes beyond the 13th Amendment naturally must include the merger of the North and East… I don’t see any issue if the North and East are to become a merged province again.

“…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.” (The Nation, August 29, 2010)

With an LTTE intact and Prabhakaran alive, the TULF’s respected parliamentarians in exile in India, MGR as Chief Minister in Tamil Nadu, seventy thousand Indian troops on Sri Lankan soil, the Sri Lankan army either withdrawn or confined to barracks in the North and East, and no China card for Colombo to play, federalism could not be prised out of the Sri Lankan state, which conceded nothing more than the 13th Amendment, a temporary merger of the N&E and a promissory note (from JR!) to Delhi to improve upon the amendment.

Now, with a decimated and decapitated LTTE, a hundred thousand Sri Lankan troops in tight control of the North and East with every sign of constituting a permanent presence, dwindling numbers of Tamil voters in the area, and a reduced percentage of Tamils in the demographic makeup of the island, the TNA’s most sophisticated spokesperson scorns the 13th Amendment and clings to federalism with re-merger.

How does Sumanthiran’s TNA hope to obtain that which Chelvanayagam, Prabhakaran, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, and MGR were unable to secure from the Sri Lankan state? My old man told me of a visiting US Marine who wanted to see a film and when taken to the New Olympia cinema, exclaimed, “Man, if this is the New Olympia, I’d sure have hated to see what the old one looked like”. Similarly, if Sumanthiran is the smartest the TNA (or is it the CPA?) can come up with, I’d hate to hear how the dumb ones sound. Luckily for the Tamil community, it has far superior (and realistic) minds such as Profs Ratnajeevan Hoole and Karthigesu Sivathamby and political and civil society activists Dharmalingam Siddharthan and Ahilan Kadirgamar.

There are no domestic drivers for federalism of any sort. The multiplier effect of the outright military triumph and the domestic drivers are all in the direction of the undermining of even the devolution available on the statute books and the reconfiguration of the realities on the ground in the hope of foreclosing space for territorially based Tamil (sub) nationalist politics. The TNA doesn’t seem to realise that it is fighting a desperate defensive struggle; not one that permits political fantasies or dogmatic and demagogic sloganeering.

What audience could the TNA be playing to and what factors or forces could it be counting on? If it is the Tamil Diaspora, the TNA should recall that it doesn’t vote at Sri Lankan elections and that Prabhakaran fatally overestimated its international leverage (tactical as distinct from strategic, or more cynically, a major nuisance value).

Could the TNA be hoping for India to pull a federal rabbit out of the hat? This seems the case, going by Sumanthiran’s interview. If so, the TNA should meditate on the phraseology of S.M. Krishna, India’s respected Foreign Minister, in the Lok Sabha, when he referred to a political settlement in Sri Lanka; “within and beyond the ambit of the 13th Amendment”. So, in Delhi’s calculus, that’s the base line: no less and no more.

I can’t recall when I last heard the term ‘merger’ or ‘re-merger’ (leave alone ‘troop pullback’) from Delhi. S.M. Krishna’s formulation sounds to me like 13 Plus, not in the least like federalism (with or without re-merger). How then does the TNA hope to secure that which way outside the parameters of the possible as laid out by Delhi for its policy towards Sri Lanka and the Tamils of the island’s Northern and Eastern provinces? Going by the view of an ‘enlightened moderate’ like Sumanthiran, the TNA looks askance at the Tamil Political Parties Forum because it represents “forces which have been rejected by the people”. Now there’s a bit of a problem there. The TNA has been accepted by a majority of the Tamil people of the North, which is why no one can rightly argue that either the TPPF or the Government of Sri Lanka should not enter a dialogue with it or consider it a prospective partner.

By the same token, the TNA is unacceptable to the vast majority of people on the island, i.e. in the polity taken as a whole, while the TPPF or its leading elements are acceptable to that vast majority. Being acceptable to the Tamil people is simply not enough. Any serious Tamil politics has to be acceptable to at least a bare majority of the Sinhalese, if not the overwhelming bulk of them, if these political demands are to be achievable. Thus Tamil politics requires a coming together of those Tamil parties acceptable to the majority of Tamils, with those acceptable to a minority of Tamils and a majority of Sinhalese.

Sumanthiran is ready to accept that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has a mandate, but he says that the TNA has a mandate too. True, but the mandate of the Executive deriving from the electorate comprising the whole country and its peoples cannot but supersede a mandate derived from a far more restricted and parochial electoral base. The two mandates cannot be passed off as equal because we are not dealing with two sovereign and independent political units. It is this politico-ideological Freudian slip that reveals the secessionist residues (a cynic may say the recessed secessionist project) of the TNA.

'156 MPs will vote for 18th amendment’ – Basil Rajapaksa

Government upbeat on support from leftist parties

By Rasika Jayakody

Economic Development Minister and Senior Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa says that Government is confident of passing the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, providing for the controversial constitutional reforms, with 156 MPs voting in favour.

In an interview with our sister paper, RIVIRA, the Minister also said that he had no doubt that the MPs representing the leftist parties would vote for the amendment.

“I am quite certain that the leftist parties in Parliament would vote for the amendment. These parties had never in the past taken political measures supportive of reaction. I hope that they would continue to act in the same manner,” said Minister Rajapaksa.

Rationale for the proposed CC

Asked to account for the rationale for providing for a body smaller in composition (under the new amendment) to replace the 10-member Constitutional Council (CC), the Minister said that, under the present Constitution, people exercise their legislative power through their MPs. He pointed out the proposed new Council, given its composition, could be called a Parliamentary Council in the real sense of the word.

Minister Rajapaksa added: “Now let us examine the difference between the present CC and the proposed new one. The Prime Minister, the Speaker and the Leader of the Opposition are members of the CC under the present Constitution. They will be represented by two MPs in the CC to be constituted under the new amendment as well. However, there will be no nominee of the President in the new CC.”

President’s powers pruned

He also pointed out that, under the 17th Amendment, the President can reject the nominees to the CC. But under the proposed new provisions, the President cannot do so. Because, once the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader nominate their members, their appointment will automatically receive legal validity.

He said that, under the new provisions, the powers to appoint members vested with the President have been transferred to the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and to Parliament. “They are all members of the Legislature. That is why I call this CC a Parliamentary Council.”

Our mandate 10% higher

Minister Rajapaksa said: “We are now going to amend a Constitution introduced in 1977 by the UNP, which commanded a five-sixths majority in Parliament. It is the UNP that amended their Constitution a number of times. The number of votes polled by the UNP in 1977 is 3,178,221, which works out to 50% of the total votes polled. At the last Presidential election, President Rajapaksa polled a record 6, 015,934 votes. At the General election that followed, the UPFA mustered a 60.33% of the total vote polled. Therefore, we have received a mandate which is 10% higher than that obtained by the UNP in 1977.”

The Minister said that the Government’s mandate has been further strengthened by opposition MPs crossing over to the government. “UNP MPs Prabha Ganesan from the Colombo district, P. Digambaram who topped the UNF list in Nuwara Eliya, and Abdul Cader from Kandy, are supporting us today. We can easily have the Amendment passed with at least 156 MPs voting for it.”

Present provisions unfair

Under the proposed Constitutional Reforms, provisions restricting the tenure of an incumbent President to two terms have been repealed. Is this not a telling blow to democracy?

“The Constitution stipulates several factors leading to disqualifying a citizen from running for President. Persons who have already held the Presidency for two terms with the popular mandate are among the ineligibles to contest. However, a person who has unsuccessfully run for the Presidency even five times is eligible to come forward as a candidate. The Constitution itself, at the outset of the relevant provisions, says that the people have the right to elect a President of their choice. In this instance, however, the very fact of having been a President elected by the people on two earlier occasions disqualifies a person seeking a third term. Therefore, the obvious logic is that having been a popular choice of the people is a disqualification to seek to become the popular choice of the people again! Is it wrong to find a way out of this imbroglio?”

Hypothetical situation

Asked to comment on the criticism that the provisions of the proposed Constitution have provided room for a President once elected to office, to easily win successive terms open-ended, by abusing the powers of his office, Minister Rajapaksa said that the possibility of abusing the powers of office was there at the last Presidential election, but that did not happen.

“Besides, there is no sense in making Constitutions with provisions aimed at dealing with hypothetical situations, where an elected President would possibly abuse his powers to remain in office,” he added.

Minister Rajapaksa also denied the charge that the proposed Constitutional amendment has violated the independence of the Public Service, by vesting the powers of making appointments to high posts, with the Cabinet of Ministers.

He explained that identical powers relating to the relevant appointments are vested with the Cabinet, under the present Constitution as well.

“The correct position is that, powers of the Cabinet, relating to appointments to the Public Service, in terms of the provisions of the proposed Amendment, are confined to making policy decisions. For instance, the Cabinet may take a decision to recruit engineers whose age is not more than 30 years. But of course, selection and recruitment of engineers are functions devolved on the Public Service Commission.”

Referendum not necessary

Asked whether the Government was prepared to meet the UNP’s challenge to seek a mandate for the proposed Constitutional reforms at a Referendum, Minister Rajapaksa said that his personal opinion is that there is no need to hold a Referendum to test public opinion. “Holding a Referendum would be an unnecessary burden on the economy. We can test the public’s opinion at the upcoming elections to local authorities. As regards the UNP’s challenge, well, they have been shouting all the time on all issues.”

India expressed no views

Asked to comment on the talks he held with the Indian authorities, during his recent visit to New Delhi, Minister Rajapaksa said: “Our talks mainly centrered on relations between the `New Sri Lanka’ and India, and on the present strong economic ties in particular.”

Minister Rajapaksa also said the Indian authorities did not express their views on the Constitutional Reforms. - courtesy: The Nation -

A plea to withdraw the Eighteenth Amendment - Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera

A Statement by the Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo

Many sections of the population are deeply alarmed at the possible repercussions the proposed 18th Amendment to the Constitution will have on our system of democratic governance

If passed by Parliament, the constitutional changes will remove the restriction on the two terms a person can serve as President, which all democratic countries with an Executive Presidency subscribe to. In addition, it will much more than before empower the Government and President to select and appoint persons to serve on the crucial commissions that are meant to safeguard the democratic rights of the people, such as the Elections Commission, Public Services Commission, Judicial Services Commission, National Police Commission, Bribery Commission and so on.

The nature of partisan politics is such that this will no doubt be a step backwards. It will inevitably lead to a further, dangerous politicisation of our national institutions and a speedier, destructive erosion of our already fragile democratic culture.

It is therefore imperative that Parliament rejects this Bill, and that all who value democratic freedom in the country voice their objection to it.
Along with this, Parliament and the people should call for the full activation of the 17th Amendment (passed by consensus between the Government and Opposition Members of Parliament), which ensures the independence of the Commissions referred to. It is only after this amendment is given a chance to impact on our shared national life that we will be able to assess the need for any further democratic constitutional amendments.

If and when such a stage is reached there must be no haste to rush Bills of such serious implications through Parliament, as is being done with the 18th Amendment; and adequate space must be provided for public debate. It is when the people are properly informed of the pros and cons of constitutional change, and given a chance to participate in this process and make informed decisions, that democracy prevails and our legislators fulfil their obligations. The political freedom that our legislators are endowed with is determined by the democratic rights and aspirations of the people. To disregard these obligations amounts to a misappropriation of the peoples’ trust.

May the God of peace and justice hear our cry and bless and nourish our beloved nation.

With peace and blessings to all

The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo 2nd September 2010

18th amendment will lead to a dictatorship – Karu Jayasuriya

The eighteenth amendment to the constitution would pave the way for a dictatorship in this country and enable some to ‘secure full power for generations’, UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya said.

‘We can’t see any logic in the President seeking a mandate for a third term when the first term itself is not over. The second term has not officially begun and no oath has been taken and it is meaningless to talk of a third term for the presidency, which would begin in 2016, when there are so many burning problems in the country waiting to be resolved’, Jayasuriya told this newspaper when asked in an interview what the position of the UNP would be on the 18th amendment to the constitution which would be put to the vote in Parliament on Sept. 08.

‘There is the continuing problem of the cost of living, there are lakhs and lakhs of people who cannot afford three meals a day, there is mass unemployment, there are health hazards, such as dengue and malaria, and when such issues are rampant, is it the duty of the government or the Head of State to seek self-power for a further period? So, we in the Opposition feel this is nothing but an exercise to secure full power for generations and in our view this 18th amendment will pave the way for a dictatorship in this country’, Jayasuriya explained.

Excerpts of interview:

Q: What is the position of the UNP on the 18th amendment to the constitution?

A: Well, the UNP was the architect of the Executive Presidency and so we have seen the black side and the white side of it. From 1978 up to now, having gone through the mill, we have come to the conclusion that the Executive Presidency is not desirable for this country and also, leaving so much of power in one person will be undesirable and will be a threat to democracy. It will also pave the way for a single party, single person dictatorship.

It is in this context that the UNP decided as a matter of policy that we would recommend the abolition of the Executive Presidency. It is on the same lines that we decided to support a common candidate at the last presidential poll. We sacrificed our party symbol and our own candidate for a common candidate. Under a different umbrella it was possible to bring all opposition parties together.

So, our position remains unchanged and the UNP still maintains that the Executive Presidency should be changed and at the next presidential election we will be seeking a mandate from the people for its abolition.

But over the years, the SLFP from 1978 onwards, opposed the Executive Presidency. They called it a "demon" and wanted to abolish it. In 1994, they sought a mandate to abolish it and this promise was continued up to the last parliamentary poll. President Rajapaksa, as much as Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga, pledged to abolish it. Even the Mahinda Chinthanaya, at the last parliamentary election, spoke of an executive Head reporting to Parliament. Now it is a complete about turn.

A third term for the Executive Presidency is certainly undesirable for this country. Secondly, the changing of the 17th amendment which covers the Constitutional Council and the Independent Commissions, cannot be accepted under any circumstances because here, power which was vested with Parliament and the independence that we noticed in the Commissions, has now been taken off. In 2005, President Rajapaksa allowed these Commissions to be killed through a slow process. He did not appoint the Constitutional Council members who were recommended to him jointly by the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. He also did not replace members for the Independent Commissions. As a result the entire government structure is malfunctioning at the moment. All this is because one person wants power.

When the President invited the Opposition Leader for talks on the basis of an alternative proposal for the Executive Presidency, we did take part in good faith. There was divided opinion among the parties and a majority of members felt that we should not go for negotiations because the President would not keep to his word. But we decided that if we could find an alternative to the Executive Presidency, which could be answerable to Parliament, we should take part in talks. On the other hand, if we did not take part, the Opposition would have been blamed. It is in this context that the UNP took part in the dialogue.

But the President indicated that he was keen to come back to Parliament and when the idea of the Executive Prime Minister was proposed by the Opposition Leader, he thought it was worthwhile and was willing to discuss the idea further. He also commented on the local government Bill that was to be tabled in Parliament, and we all agreed that we need to get back to the Ward system.

On the 17th amendment, our position was that as a result of the President not adhering to the constitution, the Independent Commissions are not functioning. This is seriously affecting good governance which everyone is expecting. But under what has been proposed instead of the 17th amendment, the President takes over all powers. It is said that he will consult before making important appointments but consulting does not mean that we could maintain the necessary independence and transparency, particularly when politically alienated members are appointed to top posts.

Q: Are you certain that the UNP could put up a united opposition to the amendment when it comes up in Parliament?

A: Theoretically, things can’t go wrong at the vote. Unless people are pressurized and various steps are brought about, we can’t see a change but Sri Lankan political culture is different. The culture is one that we see in undemocratic countries. The game is not played according to its rules here.

Q: Supposing the amendment is passed by Parliament and it becomes law, what is the UNP planning to do after that?

A: The UNP and all the democratic parties in the Opposition would have to come together. Even now we are discussing with various parties in the Opposition and we all agree that we should all get together for the amendment’s withdrawal. Even if they pass the amendments with the so-called two-thirds, we know for certain that the people are of this country would not endorse it.

If you look at the results of the last general election and presidential election, the votes polled at the general election were a million votes less. Then there was a survey done by some English newspapers. Here, 1.8 percent voted in favour of the third term, while 90 percent voted against it and eight percent abstained. Although these voters are more urban-based, even on a national level the statistics can’t differ very much. We have seen certain surveys, we have seen the opinion of various social segments and religious leaders and one can find that all are against the amendment. - courtesy: The Sunday Island -

18th Amendment stable door: Parliamentary arithmetic horse has bolted

by Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka

Sri Lanka’s experience with Constitutions is not a happy tale. The first and best, or at least the one that was preceded by the most extensive consultations, the Soulbury Constitution, proved ineffective in the face of Sinhala Only.

The second, the Sirimavo Bandaranaike (or Colvin R de Silva) Constitution, which rightly instituted a republic, was otherwise so unenlightened as to spawn a separatist movement which, in its violent form, drastically damaged the country before destroying itself while leaving an unarmed offshore movement. The third, JRJ Jayewardene’s 1978 Constitution, concentrated and centralised power, partly triggering and partly unable to prevent two civil wars, North and South.

Whatever one may think of it as an idea, President Mahinda Rajapakse is well within his rights to seek the removal of term limits, provided he does by way of a process that is legal, transparent, democratic, Constitutional and peaceful. Let me put it another way. I support President Hugo Chavez’ effort to remove his two term limit by means of a referendum. Chavez failed at first, accepted the verdict and retreated, but returned to the fray and obtained an affirmative vote. So how can I oppose the same effort when made by President Rajapakse, especially when there is no patriotic or (more) progressive alternative in sight?

Though they may be better served by a more enlightened and modernist policy mix, the important goals of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity will be safer in Mahinda Rajapakse’s hands than those of his main opponent, given the options available in actuality.

As for the argument that Mahinda Rajapakse has submitted the economy to IMF conditionality and therefore his commitment to national independence and sovereignty is suspect if not hollow, I cannot but recall Lenin’s stinging rebuttal of the ‘economism’ of Rosa Luxemburg and Nikolai Bukharin who confused political sovereignty (achievable under imperialism) with economic sovereignty (unachievable in an imperialist world economy). Lenin’s willingness to let Western capitalists exploit the goldfields and forest reserves of Siberia under the NEP, in no way meant a compromise on or retreat from the political sovereignty of the state (which is why, in the same period, he broke off talks with the European Social democrats when they objected to the stiff sentences imposed by the Soviet state on its ‘left’ opponents).

Those who object to the Government’s proposed Constitutional change with respect to the two term limit or seek added safeguards, surely can and must petition the Supreme Court. My personal preference is that the idea should go before the people at a peaceful plebiscite as in Venezuela, but that too is a matter for the highest court to rule on.

Allergic as I am to quasi-monarchic ruler-ship (and I had the State’s repressive apparatus on my case for radically rebellious activities during both Mrs Bandaranaike’s and JRJ’s authoritarian stretches), I cannot but recall the most cynical wise-cracker of our revolutionary foco, the ‘Vikalpa Kandayama’, Chinthan de Silva, ex-Thomian son of an Anglican pastor, who used to say "these things happen in the best of circles, DJ". I have been educated by a riveted reading of In Praise of Our Lords, the lengthy recent autobiography of one of my boyhood intellectual heroes Regis Debray. He observes that the longer the war and the greater the victory, the more the tendency to monarchic martial forms, styles and subcultures of rule.

In a work almost two decades before, Critique of Political Reason, he had already observed this tendency in societies which have had a long historical experience of such institutions, and had detailed his amazement at witnessing this ‘throwback’ in places that had undergone a radical revolution. In making this observation more sharply in his autobiography he is referring to exceedingly admirable leaderships he has had close acquaintance with (the very "best of circles"), in more than one part of the world.

Thus, if we want someone to blame for these unsavoury corollaries of the war and its aftermath, let us place it where it is due, on those leaders and supportive social and ideological strata that dithered in winning a winnable war, needlessly prolonging it until a martial Sinhala nationalism became the guiding ideology for an imperative historical task, almost by default. As for myself I can console myself (and prove) that I strove tirelessly for decades to motivate leaders and administrations with a more inclusive, pluralist vision, to finish off the LTTE – but failed.

Speaking of Constitutional change, what could be more pathetic than the sight of the mainline Opposition party, the UNP, proving completely irrelevant to the Government’s search for a two thirds majority – unless of course, one counts the UNP’s contribution in the number of MPs it has generously donated over the years, to the incumbent administration, be it under CBK or MR.

As pathetic was Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya’s rousing call for Opposition unity, just a week before the first response came in, namely the decision of long standing UNP ally and Ranil think-alike Rauf Hakeem, to provide the Government the votes it needs for the change. Notably, the SLMC was preceded by a duo of radical (or militant) Tamil MPs.

Critics and opponents of the incumbent’s attempt at Constitutional change hope for broad opposition agreement to thwart it. While their apprehensions may well be valid, the slogan seems rather like closing the stable door after the horse of parliamentary arithmetic has bolted. What is more, it flies in the face of evidence. The UNP in Opposition didn’t raise a squeak against Sirimavo and Colvin’s Constitution of 1972 and indeed voted for it. A consequential opposition was born a year later, precisely when—and because—there was a new leadership, namely JR Jayewardene, who promptly ‘de-Senanayakised’ the party and together with R Premadasa, make it a modern formation with a populist appeal.

The fact of the matter is of course that today, no sane Opposition party will throw in its lot with a UNP that is determined to sink, owing to its reluctance to dispense with its discredited leadership. Our contemporary political history proves that efforts at unity achieve any kind of success only when there is a new personality at the helm.

I have worn out too many pairs of sneakers, marching in demonstrations of and for left unity, with every possible permutation and combination of Old and New Left/s, not to remember that it was a vain exercise in reshuffling the same deck of cards from 1978 to 1984, until something happened. That was the emergence of Vijaya Kumaratunga, a charismatic new leader, around whom the left converged and enjoyed a renewal until he was murdered by the JVP four years later.

This is true not only of the Left but of the mainstream UNP and SLFP as well. The UNP responded to the Hartal of 1953 by placing Sir John Kotelawela instead of Dudley Senanayake, while reacting to the electoral washout of 1956, by ditching Sir John and restoring Dudley. In short, it was a moving target, unlike today’s UNP. When the SLFP lost the first election of 1960 under the leadership of CP de Silva, it promptly installed SWRD Bandaranaike’s widow Sirimavo and won the next election that year. Again, the lesson is that of a new leadership.

Whatever the combinations of SLFP–led opposition unity (and these included unprincipled blocs with the JVP) the UNP was electorally impregnable for 17 years, so long as Mrs Bandaranaike was the visible leader. The moment that changed and the leadership of the SLFP was taken over by Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (who was not only a Bandaranaike of the younger generation, but unlike her brother, also had a progressive profile enhanced by her Kumaratunga tag), the Opposition revived, gathered new forces around it and was a strong contender for power.

It is not entirely fair though, is it, to keep blaming Ranil Wickremesinghe for the plight of the UNP, the Opposition and the country? If a household continues to harbour the kind of receptacles that breed the dengue mosquito, is one to blame the mosquito (which must of course, be exorcised by fumigation) or the householders?

Is it not the UNP parliamentarians and office bearers who must take the blame for their unwillingness or inability to do the obviously imperative and overdue thing, i.e. practice political euthanasia to ensure the greater good of the greater number?