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October 31, 2010

Some TV channels and newspapers are brazenly inciting mob anger against me

by Arundathi Roy

(This is the text of the statement issued by writer Arundhati Roy after BJP woman cadres staged a demonstration at her residence on Sunday October 31st.In a troubling development concerning media ethics sections of the mainstream TV had advanced knowledge of the demonstration and were on the spot long before the protestors were on the scene)

A mob of about a hundred people arrived at my house at 11 this morning (Sunday October 31st 2010.) They broke through the gate and vandalized property. They shouted slogans against me for my views on Kashmir, and threatened to teach me a lesson. The OB Vans of NDTV, Times Now and News 24 were already in place ostensibly to cover the event live.

"The most important thing is not to allow India or Pakistan to speak for the people of Kashmir" - Arundhati Roy ~ Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow interviews Arundhati Roy on Kashmir, Oct 27, 2010

TV reports say that the mob consisted largely of members of the BJP's Mahila Morcha (Women's wing). After they left, the police advised us to let them know if in future we saw any OB vans hanging around the neighborhood because they said that was an indication that a mob was on its way. In June this year, after a false report in the papers by Press Trust of India (PTI) two men on motorcycles tried to stone the windows of my home. They too were accompanied by TV cameramen.

What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle?

Does the media which positions itself at the ‘scene' in advance have a guarantee that the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent?

What happens if there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something worse?

Does the media then become accessory to the crime?

This question is important, given that some TV channels and newspapers are in the process of brazenly inciting mob anger against me. In the race for sensationalism the line between reporting news and manufacturing news is becoming blurred. So what if a few people have to be sacrificed at the altar of TRP ratings?

The Government has indicated that it does not intend to go ahead with the charges of sedition against me and the other speakers at a recent seminar on Azadi for Kashmir. So the task of punishing me for my views seems to have been taken on by right wing storm troopers.

The Bajrang Dal and the RSS have openly announced that they are going to “fix” me with all the means at their disposal including filing cases against me all over the country. The whole country has seen what they are capable of doing, the extent to which they are capable of going. So, while the Government is showing a degree of maturity, are sections of the media and the infrastructure of democracy being rented out to those who believe in mob justice?

I can understand that the BJP's Mahila Morcha is using me to distract attention from the senior RSS activist Indresh Kumar who has recently been named in the CBI charge-sheet for the bomb blast in Ajmer Sharif in which several people were killed and many injured.

But why are sections of the mainstream media doing the same?

Is a writer with unpopular views more dangerous than a suspect in a bomb blast?

Or is it a question of ideological alignment?

Banning landmines in Sri Lanka by signing treaty would make country become "Wonder of Asia"

By Vidya Abhayagunawardena

Since independence in 1948, Island nation of Sri Lanka has faced two types of internally originated human destruction and debacles which were the Southern insurgencies (in 1971 & 1988) and a nearly three decade long North and East conflict which ended in 2009.

Sri Lanka could have avoided both the conflicts with political will with correct mechanism to address the root causes for the conflicts that time that left to the strife. After 1948 no country from outside world had tried to invade or take control of Sri Lanka. But in today’s world, many countries engage in different scales of protracted wars and conflicts and taking control of territories illegally by using lethal weapons destroying humans, animals, nature and properties in an unaccounted and unprecedented way. Sri Lanka is lucky enough to be devoid from present day international conflicts and wars.

Sri Lanka is now entering into a new era after the internal strife and attempting to address many issues and related root causes for the conflicts, socially, economically and politically. As Sri Lanka grapples with the issues of the post-conflict situation, it is necessary to look at the legacies left behind by the conflicts and the lessons to be learnt. Sri Lanka should emerge with a new hope and guaranteed concrete solution for future generations saying, that scale of conflicts will never happen again in the Island. All concerned parties should work towards a permanent peace for coming generations. One possible positive step is to “Ban Landmines in Sri Lanka” by acceding to the “Mine Ban Treaty”. With this Sri Lanka can ensure for the future generations that land will never again be contaminated with antipersonnel landmines, that the rights of present victims of landmines are respected and their needs fully addressed, and stockpiles of landmines get destroyed. The ultimate goal is that innocent civilians will no longer lose their lives or limbs to these hidden killers, landmines.

The war is over but Sri Lanka is now busy fighting a new type of war to unearth hundreds of thousands of landmines, unexploded and abandoned ordnance and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) scattered all over the war ravaged North and East Provinces. The two provinces are not yet safe to live and people eke out economic and development activities. The situation on the ground reflects the brutality of the war. The danger and viciousness of victim-activated landmines when compared with other weapons is their destructiveness is indiscriminate and that they last for longer periods. Landmines and explosive remnants of war kill humans and animals alike or can make them permanently disabled and a pose threat to the environment. Landmines ultimately bring only human misery. This issue can be looked at from religious point of view and being a Buddhist country and with other religions it is all more imperative for Sri Lanka to accede to the Treaty. Further, to what extent can religions tolerate and allow the use of landmines as a weapon without considering human and animal lives, and socio-economic and environmental consequences?

The Government of Sri Lanka with the support of the international community in 2002 began a large scale humanitarian de-mining programme with the goal of creating a mine and explosive remnants of war (ERW) free environment in support of resettlement and development programmes. It has targeted a mine threat free Sri Lanka in 2020 and this means it will take at least another ten years to clear the land. The Official Government News Portal of Sri Lanka has reported that over 640 villages have been affected by the mines. In September 2010 The National Strategy for Mine Action in Sri Lanka was shared among mine action stakeholders by the government: according to an estimation done by the Sri Lankan Army 1.6 million landmines have been laid in Sri Lanka of which 366,870 mines have been cleared through military de-mining and humanitarian de-mining. Further, this leaves the country with an estimated number of 1.23 million mines still to be cleared. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Sri Lanka since January 2009, 309sqkm have been cleared in the North, while an estimated 396sqkm in all five Northern districts are still littered with mines. In the Eastern province approximately 552sqkm to be cleared and still the mapping survey is going on.

The government and the international community has spent millions of dollars so far for the mine action programme in Sri Lanka. In 2008 alone, US$ 8,173, 696 (in 2007 US$ 7,586,350) support was provided for mine action program in Sri Lanka by the international community according to the Land Mine Monitor. Still, there is no correct figure how much money has been spent so far and how much money is to be spent in the future. Any how we can think and figure out that an enormous amount of money is needed for this task and if during war time nobody had used landmines the country could now use this money for other development purposes in those areas.

Since the 1980s, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) website (Landmine Monitor, Country Profile, 18 October 2010) “there were a total of 21,993 landmine casualties, including 1,419 civilian returnees”. Ninety percent of Sri Lanka’s estimated 160,000 amputees, many disabled by land mines and explosions linked to the war, do not have proper artificial limbs according to the Sri Lanka School of Prosthetic and Orthotics, a project of Cambodia Trust. The country’s health system and very few victim assistance programmes are in place for support for mine victims and other people with disabilities but majority of victims are unable to fulfill their basic needs and their rights today. This is due to inadequate financial resources, lack of human expertise in the field and inadequate institutional support.

According to the latest Landmine Monitor report of ICBL, “Sri Lanka’s Government has voted in favor of the annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution calling for universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty, UNGA Resolution 63/42, on 2 December 2008, as it has for every annual pro-ban General Assembly resolution since 1996. Further, Sri Lanka provided voluntary article 7 report in 2005. It subsequently indicated it would provide an update, but has not yet done so. In December 2008, an official told the ICBL that due to the security situation and other priorities, Sri Lanka was not in a position to provide an update, but would endeavor to submit a report, including information on stockpiles during 2009”. Acceding to the Mine Ban Treaty Sri Lanka will have many benefits such as extra funding support for ongoing mine action programme which is much needed today and it has to be expedited due to many reasons mainly in safer human re-settlement, livelihoods developments and victim assistance.

Since Sri Lanka is not a country that produces land mines and with the end of the conflict it does not need to use them, it is much easier to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty. When we are looking at countries that have not yet acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty they mainly do so because they still want to posses, use or produce them. As few as three countries may have been producing anti-personal mines in 2008 (LM), India, Pakistan and Myanmar, as well as some Non State Armed Groups. For the sake of the future generations the island nation should ensure that its geographical territory is devoid of indiscriminate weapons hidden inside the ground. Landmines pose particular dangers for children. According to UNICEF, landmines and unexploded ordnance violate nearly all articles of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC): a child’s right to life, to a safer environment in which to play, to health, clean water, sanitary conditions and adequate education. A landmine is a morally outlawed weapon and should never be used again. Security forces know best how horrible the effects are as far too often they got injured and killed from these hideous devices during the war time.

There are hundred and fifty six countries (States parties) in the world today who have acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Only thirty nine countries (States not parties) including Sri Lanka remain outside the Treaty according to the ICBL. The State parties to the Treaty put in place very sophisticated human security systems to protect civilians and boundaries without using landmines. Now Sri Lanka needs to have a public debate on the ban of landmines because the war is over and there is no need to use mines or posses them either. Sri Lanka should be an example to the world; it needs to become a greener nation and a safe place to live anywhere in the country for humans and animals without threat from landmines.

A protracted deadly war is over in Sri Lanka, time has come to join the club of Mine Ban countries and ensure the people of Sri Lanka that security is guaranteed in the country without using anti-personal mines and in the mean time there is no need to have another weapon system to replace landmines. His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka and the Government should see the Treaty as an opportunity and make all the efforts and support towards acceding to the Mine Ban Treaty. Sri Lanka is now working hard towards becoming an “Emerging Wonder of Asia”. One step towards that definitely would be the accession to the Mine Ban Treaty. This will pave the way not only to become an “Emerging Wonder of Asia” but also beyond that to become a “Wonder of Asia” too.

Why the war waged against the LTTE was a just a war

by Gomin Dayasri

(The following is the text of a paper headlined ‘Legal Issues to Establish Just War’ presented by Lawyer Gomin Dayasiri to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission)

(1) The war was waged against an organisation (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) deemed to be a terrorist organisation that had bans imposed against them and recognised by the UN as utilising child soldiers. Its war was not a liberation struggle.

(2)The LTTE was terrorist outfit that spilt beyond territorial boundaries as evident from the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. In the international realm there were money laundering rackets, terrorist funding, especially through networks such as the TRO, illegal shipping activity, narcotics trade that enabled the outfit to buy/bring arms to the country.

(3). It was a war Mahinda Rajapaksa government had to wage after all attempts at peace talks failed. At the first round of talks at Geneva, the LTTE was not interested in a peaceful solution but wanted to disable the breakaway Karuna group. At the second round, in Oslo they refused to talk at the table. When they realised at the third round in Geneva that the government was not going to open the A-9 highway, they walked away from talks. It was only after the government realised that there was no purpose in continuing peace talks and when it was clear that the CFA was being violated beyond the limits of tolerance, that had decided to wage war to rid the country of terrorism after the failure of all other options.

(4) Features of the war that makes it a just war were:

(a) It commenced after exhausting the peace process to its end after many futile attempts and after LTTE re- launched several attacks after violating on many occasions the terms in the CFA and when the terrorist started depriving civilians of water resources available to the local population that the government decided to undertake the war

(b) The fact the war was completed successfully within a short period ending terrorism and ushered a period of genuine and lasting peace. The people held captive were restored their democratic rights with political plurality and the right to exercise the franchise together with the right to dissent. The fact that a party opposed to government won a majority of the votes in the North and East is a matter of significance as it shows that political plurality was indeed established, democracy restored and a free and fair election duly held without delay.

(c) The fact that a stable and peaceful society emerged after the end of terrorism shows that it was a just war that benefited the people. A just war was the only possible avenue to a lasting peace and a society where law and order prevailed and there was end to the carnage of 30 years.

(d) The fact that during the military campaign (until the final stages) there were no complaints of harm to civilians (except of a few stray and vague complaints) and that the majority of the complaints were during the last few days of the war establishes that the military exercise was carried out with the intent of minimising civilian casualties and it was successful. You can never have zero casualties in a: war but this reveals that the principles of proportionality leading to excesses did not feature. If so, civilian casualties should have been a uniform complaint throughout the military campaign but that was not the cry or complaint. Even the complaints made by the US State Department covers a period that coincides with the period that the terrorist were holding civilians as human shields for their protection during the last days of the war when the theatre was in a restricted area.

(e) The fact that all times when the civilians desired to make the crossing to government areas and when ever they got the opportunity they did make the crossing and never desired to go back to the terrorist controlled areas.

(h) Rehabilitation of cadres returning child soldiers to parents, no prisoners of war except in cases where crimes have been committed- the characteristics of a just war.

(i) Principle of jus ad bellum-can be invoked since the military operation commenced with the intent to provide water to a multi ethnic community where water sources were deprived by the terrorists; which is needed for consumption and livelihood- so that it originated with the intent to restore lost basic human needs. Throughout the military campaign the purpose was to end brutal terrorism that terrorized the entire country and deprived a sector of people their democratic fundamental and human rights. The fact of success within a limited time frame shows it was an achievable goal realistically undertaken that contribute to eventual greater good theory-a principle of a just war. This was indeed achieved.

The accusation of excesses came in only during the last phase of the war when there was near hand- to- hand fighting in a small theatre where the terrorist were hiding in a zone meant for civilians exclusively and civilians were held in captivity as a human shield. If the war had been not completed within a short time frame there would have been serious international ramifications that would have prevented the end to the war. If Millebands and Kouchners were let loose to sun bathe on the beaches in Nandikadal we would not have been enjoying the luxury of peace today!

(j) Principle of jus in bello has been satisfied because the targets taken were of a military nature. It was proved beyond doubt the Senencholai (that was the celebrated human rights case) showed beyond doubt that it was military training camp where children were taken against their will. There were no complaints during the Eastern campaign or till the last days of the Wanni campaign that there were civilian targets zeroed. In that narrow stretch of land between the lagoon and the sea where the terrorist established every inch of the land termed a ‘no fire zone’ as a cover for civilians as a protective shield for themselves. In fact, it was a live military camp where the terrorist leadership quartered holding the civilians against their will, as their final line of defence. That whole stretch of land was a military target required to complete the war against terrorism as it was the final headquarters of those mastering the terrorist war. Two factors stand out-

(i) With the backbone of the terrorist leadership being decimated, terrorism came to an abrupt end. This would not have been possible to achieve unless terrorist military installations was over run. You cannot take the prime military installation without civilian casualties when they kept civilians as the last defence line till the attempted final break out by the leadership took place with their family members.

(ii) The fact that hordes of civilians crossed the line during the last 48 hours when the LTTE began to loosen their iron grip over them displayed that they lived in captivity searching for the first opportunity to escape. If the Forces did not carry out a softening up operations to flush terrorists, those civilians would not have obtained escape avenues. It was an imperative military exercise. All attacks were made within limits of token collateral damage to civilians. The military objectivity of ending terrorism and the achievement of greater good within a limited time frame was successfully achieved

It fits perfectly with additional protocol No. 1 of 1977 on the principle of an advantage achieved in defeating terrorism, in terms of a just war in the absence of excessive collateral damage. Democratic and human rights were restored over territory held over by terrorists. This battle brought to a conclusion 30 years of terrorism. The extent of collateral damage is minimal compared to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which ended the war against Japan?

There was minimising of collateral damage to the possible minimal by resorting to No Fire Zones, Precision bombing, use age of small arms, intelligence obtained from surveillance drones on civilian presence as the methods to lower human casualties. On the contrary, drones are used as attack instruments in Pakistan presently, while in Sri Lanka it hovered over the battlefield relaying pictures of civilian movement to ground commanders to save innocent lives.

Humanitarian aspects of the military undertaking have already been presented by other witness and therefore will not dwell.

There are seven principles required to establish a just war coming down from the time of Hugo Grotius, eminent jurist

(1) there is a just cause-[to end terrorism and restore democracy]

(2) there is right authority-[undertaken by a sovereign state to regain land/people captured by terrorists and held under their command depriving them of the democratic rights enjoyed by the rest of the country]

(3) right intention-[to attack the terrorists while providing humanitarian assistance to the people under the control of the terrorist and to safeguard civilians from collateral damage]

(4) resort to force being proportionate to the object- [the safeguards taken to protect civilians, the attacks directed at military targets]

(5). last resort-[after efforts at peace talks collapsed and at the stage the terrorists deprived people of facilities to water to maintain life and agriculture that the war was initiated when the terrorists were disregarding the CFA comprehensively]

(6) peace is the goal-[the results show permanent peace was restored and democracy regained]

(7) hope-of success-[success achieved comprehensively within a short time frame for the greater good. in a planned undertaking with minimal damage to human life].

What was at stake was the self - defenses of a sovereign state where the sovereignty is vested in the People by the Constitution which was under attack by a terrorist organisation which does not adhere to the principles of democracy or the norms of human rights. Should that have been a state in perpetuity or regained by an armed assault after efforts of peaceful undertakings were rejected by the terrorists? The government had no other option.

The war effort was criticised by only a handful of western nations ironically engaged in wars fought without any considerations of humanitarian efforts (unlike the campaign in Sri Lanka where humanitarian consideration were a prime factor) that have been universally condemned as wrongful interventions and a few NGOs carrying out their own agenda on human rights. Most countries after the war lauded Sri Lanka for eliminating terrorism comprehensively and are learning lessons from our campaign

Why did ex-CJ Sarath Silva ask the President and not the Judiciary to Protect the rights of Sarath Fonseka?

by Kalana Senaratne

There are speeches which remind us of the past: the distant, as well as the recent past; the forgotten, as well as the unforgettable past. Such a speech was delivered by Mr. Sarath N. Silva recently, in defence of Mr. Sarath Fonseka (at a petition-signing ceremony on 25 October, 2010).

SSSFTC1031.jpg

Mr. Sarath N. Silva & Mr. Sarath Fonseka ~ pic courtesy: the sunday leader.lk

Protection of human rights campaigners

There was a topical issue raised by Mr. Silva, unintentionally, when he began to recount the numerous allegations which had been levelled against Mr. Rajapaksa years and decades ago (including allegations of murder). Mr. Silva, in the process, refers to the case of Mahinda Rajapaksa v. Kudahetti and others (judgment of the Supreme Court, of July 1992), to remind his audience how the Supreme Court protected Mr. Rajapaksa’s fundamental rights. But there is a more important issue here.

The case was about the alleged violation of fundamental rights of the then MP Mahinda Rajapaksa. MP Rajapaksa (in 1990) was to board an aircraft bound to Geneva, to participate in the 31st session of the working group on Enforced Disappearances. At the airport, his bag had been examined by an Assistant Superintendant of Police named Kudahetti.

Interestingly, inside the bag were some 533 documents containing information on missing persons, and 19 pages of photographs. Since ASP Kudahetti took charge of these documents and photographs (under Emergency Regulations), MP Rajapaksa later alleged that he had been "prevented from presenting, distributing and or publishing them at the Conference in Geneva" and hence, a violation of the freedom of speech and expression.

What is topical about the above is that the very same practices adopted by MP Rajapaksa continue, and those engaged in such acts (i.e. highlighting human rights problems and protecting the rights of persons) are not necessarily ‘enemies of the state’. MP Rajapaksa was known then as an "active campaigner for the protection of human rights" (as per his affidavit), and he was in the Opposition. And if MP Rajapaksa wasn’t an enemy of the state, others who resort to similar practices are not either.

This may be certainly different as regards the elements which directly advocate separatism; but not so, as regards those who only advocate the importance of human rights protection. The government should remember that an ‘active campaigner for the protection of human rights’ is not necessarily an active campaigner against the state (otherwise, President Rajapaksa, one would need to conclude, was one of the most prominent campaigners against the state!); especially at a time when sweeping generalizations are made and all individuals and groups advocating the protection of human rights are lumped together and conveniently labelled ‘enemies of the state’. The fundamental task here is the protection of rights of citizens as well as the rights of those campaigning for the protection of human rights.

Independence of the judiciary

Another important issue that was perhaps indirectly raised by Mr. Silva was the issue concerning judicial independence.

Mr. Silva refers to the instances when the judiciary protected President Rajapaksa’s fundamental rights. But having done that, he then goes on to ask President Rajapaksa – and not the judiciary - to do the same with regard to the rights of Sarath Fonseka. The more logical appeal would have been for Mr. Silva to request the judiciary to protect the rights of Sarath Fonseka. To ask President Rajapaksa to protect Mr. Fonseka’s rights because the judiciary protected the rights of President Rajapaksa is, as many would note, illogical. And if the intention was to ask for a Presidential pardon, then Mr. Silva need not have reminded the public of how the judiciary protected President Rajapaksa’s rights!

But is there some hidden logic to all this, that Mr. Silva does not want to reveal in public?

Without asking the judiciary to protect the rights of Mr. Fonseka, why did Mr. Silva ask President Rajapaksa to do so? This appeal seems to imply, rather seriously, that the judiciary is under the absolute control of the President. What Mr. Silva seems to be saying is that he has no faith in the judiciary. This raises a lot of questions, and the judiciary would do well to take serious note of the perception that has been created in the minds of the people, of a deeply politicized judiciary (a problem which is not resolved, but rather exacerbated, by the 18th Amendment).

This also reminds us further that the former CJ’s was an accusation which was so tellingly leveled against the judiciary for many years, especially during the time that Mr. Silva was a dominant or even domineering figure of that important branch of the state. One cannot forget the unfortunate way in which the erosion of judicial independence took place, due to certain actions and decisions of the former CJ Silva. It is unnecessary, and even difficult, to enumerate here the number of accusations that have been leveled against him in this regard. These accusations have been well documented by his critics elsewhere, and even referred to by certain international organizations in numerous reports.

Mr. Silva, having left the judiciary, talks today with a sense of deep conviction about justice and why President Rajapaksa needs to show greater compassion in the handling of the Fonseka issue. But then, one only needs to ask one Anthony Emmanuel Fernando about how his fundamental rights were protected, about how justice was meted out, and the sheer compassion (!) with which he was treated in the Supreme Court and imprisoned, when he appeared before the former CJ some years ago; a case which even shocked the former UN Rapporteur Param Cumaraswamy since one noticed that former CJ was hearing a case in which he was a party!

Mr. Silva, during the course of his recent speech, also refers in a mocking and sarcastic tone to the absolute powers of the President: the power he has to establish a military tribunal and ratify its decisions, apart from the fact of the President also being the Commander-in-Chief. But of course, while appreciating the point made by Mr. Silva, one also should remember that it is this same kind of absolute power which the President had under the Constitution, in the form of Article 107(1) that enabled former President Chandrika Kumaratunga to appoint Mr. Silva to the post of Chief Justice (reportedly acting contrary to the serious concerns raised by eminent lawyers such as the late Mr. H. L. De Silva PC and Mr. R. K.W. Goonesekara).

Mr. Silva in particular should have been a bit more mindful when accusing the office of the President or the powers of the President because it was that very office and its powers which elevated him to that high post of ‘Chief Justice’; the image of which he, quite sadly, tarnished due to some of the decisions he made during the course of his tenure.

Conclusion

Revisiting the past is a necessary and useful exercise, but it is not always an enjoyable one. There are lessons to be learned, and one hopes that the present government, as well as the distinguished members of the judiciary would do so, sooner rather than later. In short, be mindful of what Mr. Silva tells us today, for there are many things to learn. But be mindful of what he did, too. For reminding us of all that, of things which some may have forgotten and things which remain unforgettable, we ought to thank Mr. Silva.

(Kalana Senaratne is a postgraduate research student at the Law Faculty, University of Hong Kong)

TNA ready for a structured dialogue for acceptable Political Solution

An Interview with R.Sampanthan by Arthur Wamanan

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is willing to hold talks with other Tamil parties in its bid to work together for the betterment of the people, says its parliamentary group leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan. In an interview with The Nation, Sampanthan said he was not aware of any moves to change the party leadership, asserting that any change would be brought about in a democratic manner.

Q. Several changes have taken place in the country’s political scene after the war. A few Tamil political parties have come together to voice their concerns on behalf of the people. How do you look at this development?

The war came to an end in 2009. Many things have happened since then. We had the presidential and parliamentary elections. The people of the north and east have substantially reposed their confidence in us at the parliamentary elections. We have to recognise these responsibilities and do our best for the people in every possible way.

We are prepared to work with all Tamil political formations and personalities. We do think that our unity at this point of time is important, without compromising on basic principles.

I am aware that several parties have been meeting under the banner Tamil Political Parties Forum (TPPF). The TNA has also been invited for these meetings. The TNA did not participate since I was not in the country at that time due to personal reasons. Some leaders of the forum have met me and we are looking forward to meet them again and have discussions.

Q. There was speculation recently that there was a move to change the TNA leadership, as you were not well and was away from the country. Are you aware of such a move? What is your take on this?

We are a democratic political party. Any position I hold is consequent to the democratic thinking of the party and our people. To the best of my knowledge, I am unaware of any proposed change. But, a change will be a normal event in the future of the party if the party and the people feel it is required, according to the circumstances.

Q. India has been playing a big role in the political scene of Sri Lanka. How do you look at the role of India at this juncture? And what role does Tamil Nadu play?

India is our closest neighbour.

It cannot be denied that the Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslims very substantially came to Sri Lanka from different parts of India.

Culturally, we are closer to India than to any other country in the world.

In fact, I recently read in the Indian media, about a proposal to revive the Nalandha University in Bihar on which I think primarily, the Nobel laureate Dr Amithiya Sen is currently working.

And all Buddhist countries in the Asian region are going to be invited to play a role in forming the university in Bihar. That shows the closeness of our culture and of our historical past.

India has been concerned with finding a just and peaceful solution to Sri Lanka’s national question within the framework of a united country.

ndia has never thought of dividing Sri Lanka.

During the time of the LTTE on account of some bitter experiences, India merely played the role of a spectator.

Now that the war has come to an end and the LTTE is no longer a hindrance to the evolution of a political solution, India being close to the Sri Lankan government, opposition and to the Tamil political formations, is willing to be of help at the invitation of all of us.

There is nobody who says we do not want India.
The government is not saying it.

The opposition parties are not saying it.
The Tamil parties are not saying it.

Everybody realises that India can play a useful role.
I think that India will play a responsible role.

There are certain realities that one cannot get over. Tamil Nadu is one such reality. Tamil Nadu, which has 60 billion people who happen to be Tamils, is geographically very close to Sri Lanka.
That is the reality.

The central government of India, will in my view, take its decisions with regard to Sri Lanka according to its own assessments and also taking into consideration, the responsible views of political personalities and parties in Tamil Nadu.

Q. Is the TNA looking for the full implementation of the 13th amendment or an improved one?

Any solution has got to be within a united country. The unity and territorial integrity must be preserved.

The identity of distinct people of Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese, Tamils and the Muslims, must be fostered and nurtured.

People must have the right to determine their destiny in the territory in which they live, within the framework of a united, undivided country.

After the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement in 1987, the 13th amendment was the first constitutional step.

Thereafter, efforts have been made over a period of 23 years to evolve a political solution that will be acceptable to the people through the Mangala Munasinghe Select Committee proposals during President Premadasa’s time, through the constitutional reforms that emerged between 1995 and 2000 during President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge’s time, through the Oslo declaration and the Tokyo communiqué during prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s time, and through the APRC after President Rajapaksa assumed office in 2005.

The President addressed the inaugural meeting of the APRC, the experts’ committee report and the deliberations of the APRC.

Much work has been done.

A fair amount of consensus has emerged from these processes.

Therefore, if there is political will and commitment, the evolution of a political solution should not be difficult.

And we expect that this will become a reality at the earliest.

Q. The TNA met President Mahinda Rajapaksa in June this year. Have there been any progresses after these discussions? Is there a possibility of the TNA working with the government in the future?

The discussions took place after an extensive visit of the TNA to the Wanni.

We visited 28 villages in the Wanni, and just before the President left for India we discussed in length and we submitted a report to the government in regard to what we observed in the Wanni.

I made a statement in parliament in regard to what we observed.
We discussed at length on the resettlement, rehabilitation, livelihood opportunities and various aspects.

We also discussed the need for a political solution and the modalities that could be agreed upon to take these processes forward.

Certain initial understandings and agreements were arrived at.
It was agreed that certain mechanisms would be set up to deal with these processes.

One is the resettlement, rehabilitation, livelihood, development and reconstruction and the second is to find a solution to the political question.

Those mechanisms have not been formally set up yet.

Nevertheless, there have been contacts between the Members of Parliament of the TNA and personalities in the government in regard to these matters.

We want these processes to become functional.

We have communicated our nominees to the government in regard to the process pertaining to resettlement, rehabilitation etc.

We are ready to commence a structured dialogue, based upon a framework for the evolution of an acceptable political solution.

These matters are very essential and important not merely in the interest of the Tamil people but in the interest of the country as a whole.

We are prepared to play a very responsible role in regard to the discharge of our responsibilities in these matters.
And we are looking forward to the government to invite us to commence and continue these processes that will bring us great deal of relief to all our people. - courtesy: The Nation -

October 30, 2010

Student radicals protesting against modernising reforms can happen only in Sri Lanka

by Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka

Name a country that has developed successfully without first rate universities, or at least one? Not a single!

Sri Lanka has, man-for-man, a world class military, but it once had world class schools and universities, which is no longer the case. If we are to be strong, defeat our enemies and compete with our rivals, we need our first rate military to be supplemented with a first rate education system producing globally competitive high quality human resources.

My wife Sanja and I are a little sad to leave Singapore, which deserves it’s self designation as a “thinking society”. Where else could you have a full house at a seminar held in the National Library at 2:30 in the afternoon on a Saturday, on the topic ‘Arab Regimes and Political Islam’, delivered by a senior Professor from Georgetown University who has just taken over as the head of the Middle East Institute here?

Coming back to our apartment from the felicitation for Emeritus Professor Wang Gungwu with two bags full of fifteen new books on China and international affairs, only to read on the internet about the rising tide of violent confrontation on Sri Lankan campuses today, my train of thought takes its departure from Prof Wang’s observations when we first met.

It was the second festschrift for Prof Wang Gungwu, the first having honoured him on his 70th birthday, and this one taking place a decade later. Having moved from the Australian National University, of which he is Emeritus Professor, to accept the Vice Chancellorship of the University of Hong Kong for a decade, he returned home to chair the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy and head the East Asian Institute, both of the National University of Singapore.

Prof Wang is recognised worldwide as “one of the most influential scholars working on international relations, including topics such as empire, nation-state, nationalism, state ideology and the Chinese view of the world order”. The volume of essays in his honour launched today by Routledge (Taylor and Francis) is entitled “China and International Relations: The Chinese View and the Contribution of Wang Gungwu”.

Repeatedly described as a ‘sage’, a ‘guru’ and a ‘scholar-gentleman’, and called upon to say a few words, Prof Wang Gungwu, PhD (London), CBE, spoke without a note and with impeccable diction, opening with “what can I say about turning 80 except that I recommend it?” and moving with a conductor’s grace through the ages and the continents, tracing the evolution of human knowledge and the differentiation of the humanities and social sciences, locating the discipline of international relations within that evolution, arguing against the trend toward greater weight to quantitative rigour and making instead the case for a synthesis of the humanistic and social scientific approaches.

This great Asian scholar and historian of East Asia and past President of the Australian Academy of Humanities, spoke of West and East from the Graeco-Roman to China, without the slightest hierarchy or preference, occupying with natural ease a vantage point above such distinctions in the field of human knowledge, eschewing such banalities as ‘Western science’ vs. ‘Eastern values’, and refraining from the least resort to markers of cultural identity such as ritual references to great Asian minds.

Sanja and I went up to him and Madam Margaret Wang, not only to convey our respect tinged with awe, but also to inform him that we would be leaving far sooner than we had originally thought. Prof Wang had dropped by for the chat last year in the room of the Chairman of ISAS, at which I was invited to join as a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at his NUS think tank. He had reminisced of his many visits to Ceylon, the first as a student and the last, while the war was still on.

He stated with assurance that the University of Ceylon in 1951 the year of his first visit (as a University of Malaya undergrad), and most especially its department of English, had students of the most stellar quality, comparable to the best in the world, and that every visit since had been sadder and sadder, because standards in general had declined to a point beyond recognition.

He mentioned that several students of that generation had become an outstanding member of the university community of Singapore, and both he and Ambassador-at large Gopinath Pillai, ISAS Chairman, recollected the name Gamini Salgado. With a touch of pride I said that my father and ‘Galba’ Salgado were contemporaries in that Jennings-Ludowyke ‘moment’ of cosmopolitan civility.

So long as that first post-independence intellectual elite produced by University of Ceylon’s more prestigious departments were alive and productive (even beyond retirement age), the light of Reason still illumined our social discourse. That intellectual and professional elite was never sought to be reproduced and could not, by itself, socially reproduce itself.

Here is the most important distinction between Sri Lanka and the countries that have achieved take-off and are engaged in catching up with the West. Not only did that Class of the dawn of the ‘50s not reproduce itself; not only was it not upheld as a model and standard to be emulated if not replicated, there was a conscious policy process to abort any such socio-cultural reproduction.

More, the educational womb that bore that young elite which brought such distinction and dynamism to every field of endeavour in and outside of the country, was itself removed and replaced with one that would not and could not reproduce that stratum or anything like it. The first low-intensity skirmishes of the cultural Cold War were already breaking out on campus in the post independence years. These would become full-fledged ‘culture wars’, in which the casualty was the two-fold idea of a meritocratic, multiethnic nation and national identity.

The ‘Talibanisation’ of the collective behaviour of a stratum of Sri Lankan students is the product of the ‘madarassah-fication’ of the educational system by successive administrations. If many Sri Lankan students are behaving in a semi-barbaric fashion, and they indubitably are, it is because the state’s ideologically influenced educational policies and choices over decades, motivated by the socio-cultural ethos of levelling down instead of levelling up, have produced semi-barbarism and semi-barbarians.

Sri Lankan student behaviour has exhibited these characteristics from at least the mid 1970s, if not the latter half of the ‘60s. It just gets worse with every generation. When did the degeneration begin and who with? In both the schools and the universities, and a major part was played in the downward spiral by IMRA Iriyagolla, the Minister of Education of the Dudley Senanayake administration of ‘65-70 (regarded as the ‘golden age’ by Colombo’s pro-UNP liberals).

The excellent system of free education introduced by CWW Kannangara in 1944, and the fine network of Central schools, were aspects of the Sri Lankan welfare state and should have pre-empted the levelling downwards through ‘Standardisation’ introduced in the ‘70s. If at all, ‘standardisation’ should have been strictly limited in scale and scope, time-bound, phased out long ago and replaced by generous scholarships linked to family income, not locality, subject field or medium of instruction.

Trends towards ‘Talibanisation’ cannot be comprehended apart from one policy that should have, if at all, been phased in rather than instantly introduced (the changeover to Sinhala) and another that should have been phased out instead of being retained over the long term (‘standardisation’).

The products of standardisation became school heads, teachers, and bureaucrats, imparting their ideology to their charges and throughout the state apparatus; pushing certain policies and blocking or retarding certain others; reproducing themselves socially, generating something worse than a vicious cycle, namely a downward spiral with cumulative costs and consequences that remain to be estimated by history.

Students protest everywhere and often do so violently, but almost nowhere but in Sri Lanka do student radicals engage in ragging or the defence of raggers, and protest against anti-ragging disciplinary action.

There are Vice Chancellors who deserve to be the target of protest, but in Sri Lanka not only do radical students murder Vice Chancellors in their officers, they physically target the best of the VCs. Nowhere but in Sri Lanka would rebellious student activists attack someone like Prof Susirith Mendis, an authentic scholar, and intellectual with a strong Marxist background and heritage.

The son of one of the country’s most respected officials and intellectuals, he is the son-in-law of a still more respected intellectual, the University of Ceylon’s first First Class in English, a legendary product of that post-Independence generation and one of the very few Sri Lankans still alive who could give the kind of ex-tempore performance that Prof Wang Gungwu did today.

Nowhere but in Sri Lanka would student radicals protest against the kind of modernising reforms, upgrading, opening up and connectivity that Minister SB Dissanayake, an ex- campus student leader of the Communist party, is striving to implement. Resistance and rebellion are understandable and even to be welcomed if he were trying to impose fees in state universities, slash student stipends or cut back on university funding, but he is not.

His reforms would, if successful, begin to bring Sri Lanka back to the global mainstream of university education, which in turn would produce human resources of a quality that can communicate and compete in the 21st century world.

If he fails or is sabotaged, Sri Lanka will not make the turn-around needed for take-off. It will continue to produce sub-standard, uncompetitive human resources in an era where knowledge, information and connectivity are the most precious assets a country, a society and an economy can possess. In the meanwhile, the exodus of the English-speaking educated, the critical social ingredient for transnational connectivity and national competitiveness in a globalised world, goes on.

Excessive closeness between Beijing and Colombo is breaching comfort levels in New Delhi

By Namini Wijedasa

New Delhi is deeply worried about Beijing’s rapidly developing relationship with Colombo and is likely to raise this with Sri Lankan leaders when Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna visits at the end of November.

With Indo-Sino relationships under fresh strain during recent months — predominantly over China’s close alliance with Pakistan and apparent ‘meddling’ in Nepal — New Delhi is even more concerned about Chinese motives in Sri Lanka, diplomatic observers said. Much of this apprehension stems from the belief that Beijing is moving rapidly towards establishing a stronghold in a part of South Asia that India had traditionally dominated.

The relationship between China and Sri Lanka is deemed to be one of mutual benefit but there is undeniably a balance-of-power component that Colombo needs to take into account. Even Indian diplomats are now willing to confess — strictly confidentially — that the excessive closeness between Beijing and Colombo is breaching comfort levels in New Delhi. The reality is that there are deep disagreements between India and China on important questions.

“We don’t for a minute doubt the sovereign right of the Government of Sri Lanka to engage with foreign partners in any manner it deems fit,” a source from the Indian diplomatic corps told this newspaper.

“But we have only pointed out to the Government of Sri Lanka that given the history and closeness of our relationship and the geographical location in which we find ourselves... in taking decisions the Government of Sri Lanka will keep our interests in mind, and will do nothing that compromises the security of India.”

“There is surely a shared interest in keeping the region free of destabilisation,” he asserted. “Something in the neighbourhood that destabilises the region will cause concern.”

The key word is “destabilisation”. While India’s definition of how China might “destabilise” the region is not immediately clear, this one fear will be increasingly articulated to Colombo in future.

Post-war, both New Delhi and Beijing are dependent on development to heighten their presence in Sri Lanka. But their models are dramatically different. China moves much faster and has more flexible systems than India. It also funds massive projects of the scale India is yet to undertake. While China is already implementing many of the infrastructure ventures it is lending money for, India is still trailing. Even the coal power plant in Sampur is yet to take off.

New Delhi might claim also that it has to show more accountability than Beijing does but this is open to argument. What Colombo asks, Beijing delivers and quickly. The terms or pricing are not released but the locals seem happy, even if the projects generate no employment and much of the input — including equipment, construction machinery, materials, technical and managerial expertise — come from China even before repayment officially starts.

“We don’t do projects like this,” said the Indian diplomatic source earlier quoted. “India has very clearly said that as far as possible and to the extent possible local labour, skills and expertise will be used in the implementation of our projects. It’s only if we see that local expertise and technicians are not available that we will consider getting them from India. China follows this model of development all over Africa, too. It is packaged very attractively and marketed on the basis of ‘take-it-or-leave-it’.”

This source pointed out that there is relatively little Chinese equity investment here. Compare that with private foreign direct investment from India, he said. Bharti Airtel entered the market in March 2009 committing US$ 200 million over six years. “Today, just 18 months later, their investment is at US$ 196 million,” he said, adding also that some of the best Indian brand names and investment houses are in Sri Lanka.

He claimed Indian companies have created nearly 5000 jobs over the past few years. “These are all companies where Indian presence is minimal.... four or five people at managerial level,” he said. “We don’t see a whole lot of that from China. The Sri Lanka-India import-export ratio, meanwhile, is 1:5. With China, it’s 1:20.”

Still, New Delhi is also shackled by its political past with Colombo, much of it unpleasant. Sri Lankans remain deeply mistrustful and apprehensive of India, suspecting motives in her actions the way New Delhi suspects Beijing. All of Sri Lanka’s dealings with India are tempered by misgivings, wariness and uncertainty. Pressure by India on Colombo to sign the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement brought top-level Sri Lankan businessmen onto the streets.

They marched directly into Temple Trees, past the security cordon, to a meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the deal is yet to be signed. The irony was not lost.(Similarly, just one visit by Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao in September 2010 raised a hornet’s nest of questions about “what the Indians are doing here”. But numerous trips by various Chinese leaders are regularly greeted with great delight).

One of the main concerns over the CEPA is that thousands of Indian workers will flood the country, taking Sri Lankan jobs. Already nearly 8,000 Chinese workers are in Sri Lanka doing Sri Lankan jobs — unskilled or semi-skilled — but this doesn’t raise the same ire.

India trained and fostered the LTTE. India then ‘engineered’ the 13th Amendment. The unpleasant IPKF intervention followed. Because of its own involvement and large Tamil population, India had connections to Sri Lanka’s war that China never had.

Politicians in Chennai still interfere in domestic politics. A lot of Indian assistance to Sri Lanka, because of its own large Tamil population, is concentrated on the North and East. Also, New Delhi keeps making statements about political settlements and the fate of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

While it shared intelligence, crucial supplies and technical assistance with Sri Lanka during the final war, it did not — and does not stop talking — about internal matters. India maintains the position that, while the armed conflict is over, “there are always other conflicts that remain”. In short, India is an unpleasant package. China is none of that.

Nevertheless, India and Sri Lanka also have ties that are based not only geographical location but on culture and history. As much as there is acrimony on political grounds, there is affinity in many other areas

In coming months, Colombo will have to manage this balancing act delicately and with intelligence, say political observers. The reality that is Indo-Sino relations will not go away. In this equation, it is not Beijing’s interests or New Delhi’s we must worry about — it is ours.

Indian Lines of Credit from October 2004 to October 2010-10-30

-Agreement signed on October 2004 for purchase of petroleum products (without Government of India guarantee): US$ 150 million

-Agreement signed on July 2008 for upgrading of Southern railway corridor first phase: US$ 100 million

-Agreement signed on March 2008 for purchase of defence equipment/supplies: US$ 100 million
Agreement signed on March 2010 for upgrading of Southern railway corridor second phase: US$ 67.4 million

-Agreement proposed for rehabilitation of Northern railway lines (Omanthai-Pallai, Medawchchiya-Madhu, Madhu-Talaimannar and Pallai-KKS); construction of signalling and telecommunication system for northern railway lines; and supply of rolling stock: US$ 800 million

-Agreement proposed for construction of a jetty at Sampur and of transmission line from Sampur to Habarana as well as equity share of the Ceylon Electricity Board for setting up a joint venture for a coal power plant at Sampur in Sri Lanka with National Thermal Power Corporation of Sri Lanka: US$ 200 million

-Housing Project, grant for nearly 50,000 houses in former war affected areas: US$ 400 million

-Small Indian projects under consideration or being implemented between 2008 and October 2010. Total estimated grant under this is over US$ 20 million annually under the head “Aid to Sri Lanka”:

-Supply of fishing boats and equipment, etc, to fishermen in Vakarai, Jaffna and Eastern Province: SLR 109,781,257.28 (47,096,504 INR)

-Assistance in setting up 20 Nenasalas (e-libraries) in Eastern Province: SLR 16,999,950 (7,133,772 INR)

-Grant of 20 buses to Ceylon Congress Workers (CWC) in Central and Uva Provinces: SLR 35,133,000 (15,976,808 INR)

-Grant of 10 buses to Sri Lanka Railways to run rail bus service between Trincomalee and Batticaloa: SLR 71,949,350 (23,106,048 INR)

-Grant of 10 buses to Eastern Provincial Council: SLR 17,566,500 (7,634,289 INR)

-Project for setting up a Centre for English Language Training (CELT) at Peradeniya: US$ 136,950 (6,634,543 INR)

-Supply of medicine for IDPs in Northern and Eastern Provinces: SLR 15,575,845 (6,708,015 INR)

-Rain Water harvesting project- construction of structures at export processing zone, Katunayake: SLR 17,566,500 (7,634,289 INR)

-Project for Solar electrification of a village of 300 households, Central Province: SLR 13,000,000

-Computer training programme for plantation school teachers, project initiated and completed in 2008-09: INR 827,987

-Setting up of Vocational Training Authority (VTA) at Nagawillu, Puttalam: INR 26,200,000

-Supply of GI sheets for settling IDPs, Northern Province: US$ 2,712,715.29 (INR 132,847,149)

-Supply of GI sheets (second consignment) for settling IDPs, Northern Province: US$ 2,758,429.44 (INR 129,186,601)

-Supply of agricultural tools (20,000 packs) for resettlement of IDPs in North: SLR 45,460,000 (18,870,557 INR)

-Supply of 20,000 MT of cement for settling IDPs in North: US$ 1,750,000 (79,532,121 INR)

-Artificial limb fitment camp, Northern Province: 7,100,000 INR

-Supply of agricultural tools (50,000 packs) for resettlement of IDPs in North: SLR 109,398,400 (45,185,569 INR)

-Project for setting up a faculty of Siddha Medicine at Trincomalee campus of Eastern University: SLR 105,587,240 (43,273,459 INR)

-Project for development of Teaching Hospital at Jaffna: SLR 111,549,856 (45,717,154 INR)

-Grant of 55 buses to educational/social institutions, Eastern, Northern and Central Provinces: SLR 92,950,000 (38,094,262 INR)

-Project for supply of computers to schools in Eastern Province (under consideration): estimated cost SLR 173.3 million

-Construction of 150 bed base hospital at Dickoya, Hatton: Under implementation, cost not known

-Project for supply of equipment for air quality monitoring to Colombo and other big cities of Sri Lanka, (under consideration): estimated cost SLR 87.0 million

-Grant of Tractors and agricultural implements, Northern and Eastern Provinces (under consideration: estimated cost SLR 600 million

(Defence cooperation is not mentioned)

- courtesy: Lakbima News -

Arrest of Bharathi Dasan is an action by Govt against Mano Ganesan's political stand

by Dr.Vickramabahu Karunaratne

Not satisfied with having Sarath Fonseka and a huge number of Tamil political prisoners from the NE, the government has locked up Bharathi Dasan of the Democratic Peoples Front. The arrest of Bharathi Dasan at this juncture is clearly a political action of the government against Mano Ganesan’s political stand.

Bharathi contested as a candidate from Mano Ganesan’s party, the Democratic Peoples Front, in Nuwara Eliya district under UNF in the last parliamentary elections. Mano Ganesan, commenting on the arrest of DPF activist Bharathi Dasan, said that his brother Praba Ganesan who recently joined the Mahinda regime has formed a trade union in the up-country; treacherously claiming the name of Democratic Peoples Congress.

Obviously they have to clash with union leaders of the Democratic Peoples Front. Hence, those behind this new trade union consider Bharathi Dasan, an obstacle for them in the Nuwara Eliya district. It is difficult to build a pro government trade union, when the government is committed to cut down salaries and social welfare of the proletariat. Praba has no alternative but to use state power to attack the base of Mano Ganesan.

This arrest of Bharathi Dasan, I believe, is the political blow meted to Mano Ganesan’s party to break up their political stand. In spite of his criticism of the UNP and the political tactics of Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mano did not betray the Tamil people to the chauvinist regime. Hence such blows are inevitable. We have to understand the arrest in this political context.

So, it is one of those recent onslaughts faced by the opposition groups targeted by the government. Apparently Bharathi Dasan joined the DPF only in February this year. He was a senior member of late minister P. Chandrasekaran’s Up-Country Peoples Front until then. Prior to working with Chandrasekaran, he was a member of the CWC under minister Thondaman. During the period when he was with minister Chandrasekaran’s party, he contested under Mahinda’s UPFA ticket as a Nuwara Eliya candidate.

This was at the 2009 provincial council elections. Both the UPF and the CWC are partners in the government then and now. If Bharathi was a terrorist who planned to attack the Mahinda regime, then leaders of those parties mentioned above, should be arrested first.

Now all of a sudden police have arrested him claiming that he had been to Kilinochchi during 2001. Was he prohibited to visit those areas? If so, who helped him to get there? Was it Chandrasekaran or Thondaman? If to be in Kilinochchi in 2001, is considered a crime today then over a hundred thousand Tamils could be arrested and kept under detention. Is that the policy of the government?

Mano says “DPF is a democratic party which always respects the law of the land. We have faced many such onslaughts and false accusations in the past. We have overcome everything and are continuing our principled journey. We will respect the law and cooperate with the police, if necessary. But we will not give into intimidation and tolerate efforts to politically victimize us”.

The goverment is particularly disturbed about political leaders with trade union backing. Already sections of the LSSP, CP and the Vasu group have come out of the chauvinist coalition of Mahinda. On the other hand, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), though it released the fifth instalment of its $US2.6 billion loan to Lanka last month, it cautiously noted that the government’s performance was merely ’satisfactory’.

Furthermore, it called for further austerity measures to reduce the budget deficit. The IMF expects through the budget, for the government to demonstrate its continued commitment to the [IMF] program’s goal.

The Lankan government reiterated its intention to cut the budget deficit to 8 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product this year. Then it will be reduced to 6.8 percent and 5 percent over the next two years.

This cutting of the budget deficit will be at the expense of public sector jobs, conditions, services and price subsidies. Already, there has been a severe impact on working people. Prices for basic items have risen sharply. The government slashed the price subsidy on flour by two thirds and during the past five months, the price of bread has shot up drastically.

Also, the government which promised not to privatize, is moving on to privatize education, health, Electricity and postal services. In this background, the government is seriously working against the social democratic political tendency. While blatant attacks are made by the state, pro government political writers have begun to use the pen against the Left.

One such writer said that, strangely, there are people who are still labouring under the illusion that there is a ‘Left’, in the Marxian understanding of the term, in Lanka.

According to him we of the Left are either marginally relevant, or else dabblers in Marxist terminology and ideological preoccupations. To him the desperation wrought of crippled circumstances is self evident.

Reading this arrogant, half wit statements, I just could not stop laughing. If that is so, why waste time and pages of weekend papers? At least the latter could be used in the present market economy, for a “useful’ advertisement! The truth is different.

While Mahinda is using state power to crush and frighten those who are associated with the Left, Ranil the ‘liberal democrat’ in the opposition appears to be delighted, to be in the streets with us putting up posters against the growing dictatorship of Mahinda. From the way their beloved chauvinist regime is performing, it will not be long before we become heroes of the proletariat and the peasantry in the streets of Lanka.

Already, while students are rioting everyday, Mahinda’s chief minister Pilleyan spelled out the atrocities committed by the regime; and the pro government Tamil leader Siddharthan announced that the Tamil homeland is suffering under a vicious military power negating all civilian activities. Well, neither Marx nor Lenin created the Russian revolution. It was created by the gang that supported autocracy.

Not a single well-known Tamil in audience for Colombo lecture by Prof.G.L.Peiris

by Gamini Weerakoon

There’s a marked similarity in the mellifluous flow of words of American President Barack Obama and our own Prof. G. L. Peiris. Their oratory serves as a wonderful wrapping paper to cover the cracks beneath. In the case of Obama the cracks are his own creations but with our ‘professori’ the cracks are the makings of: you know who.

On Tuesday in an ornate room of the old Colombo Club, the Professor delivered the key note address of a workshop of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, Colombo and the Centre for Security Analysis Chennai on the same theme, ‘Conflict in Sri Lanka: Internal and External Consequences.’

Achievements

The Professor claimed: Though ending of long drawn serious conflicts like the near 30-year-conflict could have resulted in serious consequences over a wide geographical area the government had handled this extremely complex situation in a way that gave rise to minimal consequences. There has been no proliferation of arms to neighbouring countries, influx of refugees, active collaboration of terrorist groups in the region or a threat to sea lanes, while in 17 months 257,000 refugees have been settled and only 17,000 remained in welfare centers. Of the11,700 ex-combatants 5,700 have been rehabilitated and proceedings will be initiated against 1,400, the Professor claimed in a near hour long extempore oration.

What’s worrying Tamils?

This vintage GL oratory could have left many in the audience wondering: what have the Tamils to worry about? But to us something seemed missing. We looked around the hall but could not spot a single well known Sri Lankan Tamil academic or politician in the audience. We mingled with the audience after the speech with a cup of tea but apart from Tamils in the Chennai delegation led by Indian General (Red) Ragahavan, there seemed to be no Sri Lankan Tamil — not even a born again ex-terrorist now in ministerial ranks.

Maybe we would not have been able to spot one or two but even if they were there would it have mattered because if after 17 months, the Rajapaksa policies which claims to have done mightily for the Tamils, could not have attracted Tamil academicians in noticeable numbers?

The basic issue which has been not probed deeply is what the so called ‘ moderate Tamils’ now feel about this great ‘ humanitarian’ military victory. Our experience is that they politely avoid the issue for many reasons, the main one being —traces of fear and suspicion still lingering. There are a few that have come out in support of the government’s efforts but for 17 months, a poor number to give satisfaction. But the Rajapaksas and their supporters thump themselves vigorously on their backs claiming what great things they have done for Tamils and how magnanimous they have been.

Preaching to the converted and convinced is an exhilarating exercise but even the clever Professor’s claims of the Rajapaksa government’s astute handling of the diplomatic and postwar strategies will not stand to scrutiny. European Union’s allegation of violation of human rights by the government which resulted in Sri Lanka losing billions of dollars over the GSP+ concession and the decision by UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon to probe alleged war crimes of the Sri Lankan armed forces causing a head on collision with mighty Western nations which were our strong supporters and allies are illustrations of the bull in a China shop foreign policies adopted.

No solution

The main reason why the Western world looks at Sri Lanka with a jaundiced eye is the inability of the Rajapaksa government to find a solution to the main problem that plagues this country: solution to the Tamil problem. The All Party Conference was Mahinda Rajapaksa’s key to the resolution of the problem but after many years of painstaking work by Prof. Tissa Vitharana and all political parties, Rajapaksa has shelved it. Perhaps it is far too much a hot potato for the Sinhala south. Now he is betting on the Lessons Learnt Commission. As I mentioned earlier Tamils today fear they will never see a reasonable solution to the problems they face, as one and a half years after the war has ended it appears the majority community seem to believe they have conquered the Tamils and therefore their problems could be brushed aside.

A Tamil leader speaks out

Not many Tamils — not even political leaders speak out about the present situation. The evidence given by Dharmalingam Siddharthan, leader of the PLOTE (Peoples’ Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam) before the Lessons Learnt Committee gives some indication of what Tamils feel and what their aspirations today are. This evidence of this prominent Tamil leader who joined the democratic political mainstream well over a decade and a half ago received scant coverage both in the state media and the privately owned state media bootlicking the Rajapaksa clan. It gives an indication of the importance placed on Tamil opinion.

The following are excerpts of Dharmalingam Siddharthan’s evidence: Tamils today fear they will never see a reasonable solution to the problems they face, as after one and a half years after the war has ended it appears the majority community seem to believe they have conquered the Tamils and therefore their problems could be brushed aside. I see clearly there is a conquered mentality among the Tamil people.

There are many reasons for saying this. Today, we see state lands in the north and east being grabbed in the name of development in Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Mullaitivu, Murukkandy etc. and being allocated to big-time Sinhalese business people.

We do not oppose the entry of Sinhalese business people into the north, we are saddened that while the Tamil people who lost all but their lives during the war, are offered no help economically and are thereby in no position to compete with the financially affluent business people from the south of the country.

These people (from the south of the country) in addition have political support and the support of the armed forces. Lands are identified and have been demarcated for particular Sinhalese business persons.

Tamil people in general and my organisation in particular welcomes back into the north and east Sinhalese people who were displaced or perhaps I should say ethnically cleansed by the LTTE.

Unfortunately today we are witnessing hundreds of people who have never lived in these areas, suddenly descending and laying claim to lands in the north.

Siddharthan also said: When the war was brought to an end by the armed forces, a section of the Tamils breathed a sigh of relief while another section was saddened as they were extreme Tamil nationalists and LTTE supporters.

However all sections of the Tamils whether they be LTTE sympathisers or opposed to them, were fearful because the war came to an end without there being a reasonable solution, and all the sacrifices and dedication were in vain.

Today nearly one-and-a-half years later, there is still no sign of a political solution to the problems faced by the Tamil people.

Many Tamil people, Tamil groups, political parties and militant groups helped successive governments in its efforts believing that a political solution would be offered by the government of the day. Even Tamils who were in positions of power in the governments, such as Lakshman Kadirgamar who was largely responsible for procuring the help of the international community in the government’s war with the LTTE. He played a major role in getting the support of Western countries to ban the LTTE. He believed the problem had to be solved politically and not by military means.

Similarly other political parties like my own party the PLOTE, supported the successive governments because we believed in seeking a political solution to Tamil grievances within a united framework. The LTTE saw this as being traitorous to the cause of setting up a separate state and commenced killing large numbers of our cadres as well as cadres of those organisations which recognised a solution to the Tamil problems could be found within a united Sri Lanka.

Today thousands of widows and orphans belonging to parties which did not contribute to the LTTE beliefs languish below the poverty line. But government as well as international organisations seem to be hell bent on helping only LTTE cadres and their families with not a penny being spent to help uplift the families of Tamil militants who were killed because they strived towards achieving a political solution.

This situation must be corrected in the here and now.

These families must be helped to overcome the poverty into which they have been thrust by giving them a helping hand to restart their lives economically as well as to help them out of the traumatic times they have been, with trauma counselling. He also said that his organisation was deeply concerned about the sudden mushrooming of Buddhist temples in areas where no Buddhists live.

A good example of this is the land being allocated to construct a Buddhist temple in Mullaithivu (Vadduvahal Jnc.). This land was originally reserved for the construction of a co-operative society building.

I really cannot understand why a Buddhist temple is being constructed in an area where no Buddhist lives… unless there is a plan by the state to settle Buddhists in this area.

Many parents whose sons and daughters were conscripted by the LTTE are deeply concerned that while these innocents still languish in detention camps, top leaders and kidnappers are at large, many of them enjoying luxurious lifestyles. What I have mentioned are only a few examples of the injustices which have been heaped on the Tamil people of the north and east since the war ended. These are among the factors which are leading to the rising fears and suspicions which have been building during the past one and a half years.

These fears must be allayed and the Tamil community made to feel they are a part of this country. It is up to the Sinhalese people to make the Tamils understand they do not look on them as second class citizens, but are their equals in all respects. For this it becomes necessary to provide a political solution which can help the Tamil community to look after its own affairs in the regions. I am not talking of separation. I am emphasising the need for a devolution of power to the regions. Our party believes the 13th Amendment is a good starting point. It is a fact that there is a lack of trust between the Tamil-speaking community and the Sinhala community.

However it is the Sinhalese who are the majority in this country to convince the minorities especially those who have undergone the trauma and hardship of war that they are an integral part of this country. Therefore let us make a start by implementing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in its totality while continuing the search for a final solution within a stipulated time frame. - courtesy: The Sunday Leader -

Thou Shall not criticise the Rajapaksa Brothers and the Armed Forces

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

WikiLeaks’ revelations have inflamed all our noisy propagandists… They are relieved. If the Americans are allowed to do it, so are we. Indeed the Americans are not allowed and neither are we.” — Gideon Levy (Haaretz – 26.20.2010)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has asked Saudi Arabia to pardon Ms. Rizana, the Lankan maid convicted to death for ‘killing’ a child in her care, while she herself was still a minor. For the sake of the hapless Ms. Rizana and her sorrowing family, one hopes that the Saudi authorities do not respond to this international plea the Rajapaksa way.

Because, if the Saudis emulate the Rajapaksas, they will castigate the HRW for interfering in the internal affairs of their sovereign monarchy; the king will reprimand the HRW for insulting his legal system, while the King’s brother will thunder about diabolical ‘international conspiracies’ against the motherland.

In its latest statement on the Rizana case, the HRW opined, “Its time for Saudi Arabia to end its outlier status as one of the very few countries still executing people for crimes they are accused of committing as children.” If the Saudi Foreign Minister emulates that consummate political invertebrate, G.L. Peiris, he will accuse the HRW of harbouring a “most unattractive attitude… that is almost colonial, patronising and condescending.” (AFP – 19.10.2010).

And Ms. Rizana will die, a victim of the dangerous creed of absolute state-sovereignty, the fallacy that modern states have the right to omnipotence because they are infallible, as monarchs and popes were believed to be, once upon a time.

The Rajapaksas are votaries of the idea of an absolutist state. They believe that the state, as the embodiment of the ‘nation’, can do no wrong in the pursuit of ‘national’ interests. They abhor any limitations on their right to rule, especially the kind of international humanitarian intervention which is our only chance of saving Ms. Rizana. International law prohibits and dominant international opinion abhors the execution of people for crimes they committed as minors; it is humanitarian laws and norms such as these the Rajapaksas castigate and repudiate, in the name of absolute state-sovereignty.

In his recent address to the UN, President Rajapaksa proposed the exemption of ‘legally constituted states’ battling ‘non-state actors’ from international humanitarian laws (obviously unaware that perhaps the worst practitioner of terrorism in human history was not a ‘non-state actor’ but the ‘legally constituted state’ of Nazi Germany). The recent WikiLeaks disclosures demonstrate anew the danger inherent in this proposal. Gratuitous brutality and senseless cruelty are ubiquitous in war. Only stringent laws and constant vigilance and self-vigilance can minimise such crimes and misdeeds.

A policy of relentless introspection is particularly necessary in a ‘just war’, since blind faith in the eternal correctness of one’s own cause can become transliterated into a corrosive ‘ends justify means’ attitude, leading to moral myopia. A free and a critical press (unaffected by the ‘us vs. them’ virus) is a sine qua non for the success of such a policy aimed at preventing the gradual slide down the moral precipice. Whistle-blowers, who hold a mirror in front of their own nations, are thus essentials in times of war, especially for democracies.

The WikiLeaks disclosures detail how the coalition forces violated humanitarian laws and norms and behaved like terrorists, in their ‘war against terrorism’ (hardly surprising given the bloody histories of Western nations, especially Britain and America). The Rajapaksa administration and the Sinhala society are overjoyed to have incontrovertible evidence about Western war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this celebrative hype, two cardinal truths are forgotten.

Firstly, Western war crimes do not justify and cannot be used to justify, Lankan war crimes, just as the West cannot justify its own crimes by pointing fingers at the al Qaeda/Taliban. The point is not that everyone else is doing it; the point is that we should not have done it.

Secondly, a whistle-blower turns the light inwards and reveals the crimes not of the enemy, but of one’s own side. The man suspected of leaking information to WikLleaks is 22-year-old Pvt. Bradely Manning, an intelligence analyst in the US Army, tasked with going through classified information, i.e. information kept deliberately out of the public domain. “What he saw with his clearance level, it is believed, left him disillusioned with US foreign policy” (ABC – 26.7.2010). The equivalent of the WikiLeaks disclosures would be disclosures by Lankan servicemen, bureaucrats, journalists and ordinary citizens about the actions of the Lankan forces during the Eelam War and afterwards.

Lankan media should not only publish such disclosures in full; they should also seek to shed even more light on the darker chapters of the war. For instance, The Guardian appealed under the Freedom of Information Act for more details about the WikiLeaks incidents involving British troops. And the British Ministry of Defence, instead of threatening to hang The Guardian’s editor or storming the Guardian office, complied, releasing details about 21 incidents. Last week WikiLeaks head, Julian Assange, held a media conference in London, unimpeded and unmolested.

Members of the European Parliament are asking European leaders to challenge the US about WikiLeaks disclosures and to include the issue on the agenda of the November US-EU summit. Perhaps Tagore was right when he said, “While we find in Europe the evil giant’s fortress of nationalism, we also find Jack, the Giant Killer. The Giant Killer, the international mind – though small in size — is real. In India, even when we are loudest in our denunciation of Europe, it’s often her Giant’s Fortress we long to build with awe and worship. We insult Jack with ridicule and suspicion” (East and West). We should try to emulate the West when it is right, instead of using its crimes to justify our own crimes.

Just as the Tigers justified all in the name of national liberation, the Rajapaksas justified all in the name of patriotism and anti-terrorism. ‘Thou shall not criticise the Rajapaksa brothers and the armed forces’ was one of the maxims of the Fourth Eelam War. After all, the Rajapaksa myth of a humanitarian offensive with zero-civilian casualties could not have been maintained with a free and a critical media.

That is why the regime imposed a blanket censorship on local and foreign media, criminalising free reportage and decrying media freedom as an anti-patriotic vice alien to Sri Lanka. Post-war, we still censor and self-censor, as is evidenced by the non-coverage of LLRC testimonies critical of the Lankan side by most of the southern media.

The Rizana case and the WikiLeaks disclosures are timely reminders of the dangers inherent in the creed of absolute state-sovereignty. States must be sovereign, but within reason, subject to international laws and sensitive to international humanitarian concerns. Human solidarity is borderless; we have the right to identify with Palestinians under Israeli yoke and Iraqis and Afghans caught between brutal invaders and barbaric resistors, just as non-Lankans can solidarise with displaced Tamils or persecuted Rizana. And states are not infallible; they err.

Absolute state-sovereignty is as dangerous a creed as religious or market fundamentalism and as harmful to democracy as the terrorism of any non-state actor.

The last Sinhalese to run a business in Jaffna is back

by Dr.Kavan Ratnatunga

Anula Meier Radalage has the distinction of having been the last Sinhalese to run a business in Jaffna before the conflict with the LTTE ended in May 2009. Her guest book lists special envoys Erik Solheim and Yasushi Akashi, many ambassadors, heads of missions and other VIPs who had stayed at her place- Anouk Swiss Chalet.

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Spacious comfort: Margosa Guest House

In the Sunday Times of July 20, 2003, I wrote of my first trip in late May 2003 to Jaffna, when I stayed at her guest house in Urelu. Back in USA in July, little did I know that soon after, Anula would no longer be able to run her establishment. Her almost eleven-month enterprise in Jaffna came to a chilling end.

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Enterprising woman: Anula Radalage

Anula's full story is a book she hopes to publish some day, but here is one part of it. She had invested significantly in the venture in mid 2002, getting permission from the local LTTE office. However when she opened, the LTTE visited and told her that she as a Sinhalese, although she was now a Swiss citizen, did not have permission to run a guest house in Jaffna.

She then travelled to Killinochi, met LTTE leaders Thamilchelvam and Pulidevan and requested permission to run her business, which was declined. She then appealed to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) who told the LTTE that it was politically useful to have even one Sinhalese-run business in Jaffna. And so from September 2002 she operated under the protection of the Norwegian SLMM.

In early July 2003, SLMM lost favour with the LTTE for ruling against them on a disputed Kurankupanchan camp in government-held territory near Trincomalee. A few days later, Anula, returning after showing Kantharodai, to a close friend and daughter was stopped by an LTTE cadre and asked to identify herself. When she said she was the owner of the guest house at Urelu, she was coldly informed that he had orders to shoot her.

Lucky for her a UN vehicle stopped behind her, and she was able to escape. The former Tamil manager of her guest house had been killed the previous week for unknown reasons. The message was clear. She was forced to abandon the guest house and leave the country. That house is now occupied by the Human Rights Commission.

Seven years later, on October 15, 2010, Anula opened a new luxury Guest House "Margosa" in East Urelu (Tel 0773034532), about a mile from her former location. The large white house about 3/4 km east towards Chunnakam from the Punnalaikkadduvan Junction is just past the 9 km post on the Jaffna-Palali Road. Being exactly midway between Jaffna and Palali her place is well situated for both who fly in as well as drive. If you come in, like me by bus, then you can catch a trishaw or the 764 bus which can, however, take an hour. Being at the centre of the Jaffna peninsula it is close to many tourist sites.

Anula has leased this old ancestral manor, from a leading family in Jaffna. It has a central courtyard and she has converted five large rooms, each with two queen size beds and air conditioning into bedrooms. The large attached bathrooms have no roof over the solar heated hot water showers. It is a quiet, serene place for the whole family in the midst of a more than one acre plot, on which she hopes to grow organic fruits and vegetables.
Meals from her clean kitchen and pantry, at her small cafe "Olives" are the best of Jaffna cuisine including Vendai Kolumbo, Poriyals, Cools, Paal Appam, Pahasam,Thosai, Iddli, Uppam, Vaarai Prawns and Crab curry with Jaffna rice to name a few.

We journeyed to Jaffna having booked seats on the luxury "Bubble Bus" which cost Rs 1000 each way. The bus starts just after 8 p.m. from Wellawatte. I had expected a Volvo on which I had travelled in January, but what came was a Tata Leyland.

The ride was still bumpy in short sections but a lot better than I remember of January. The main annoyance was the loud film (Tamil subtitled in English) that they seemed to want to show on the TV in front, despite hardly anyone watching it.

The first rest stop was in Puttalam. The next was at Ikirigollawa in Medawachchiya. Although the bus is luxury, the toilet at the stops are ones you don't want to go into unless you really need to. Someone should solve this problem, even if with clean paying toilets at these stops.

At Omanthai the bus stopped again for a nominal security check. The expatriate Canadian Tamils who were travelling in the same bus, had however to get down for clearance. We reached Jaffna by 5:30 a.m., a nine-hour journey. The main drawback of travelling at night by public bus is that you miss seeing all the tourist stops on the A9 like Killinochi and Elephant Pass.

We wanted to visit Delft and see the wild ponies. It is a 32 km drive from Jaffna to the ferry terminal. When we asked at 9 a.m. at the Navy check point at the entrance to this road near Jaffna, we were told the ferry left at 10.30 a.m. and we had ample time to catch it.

However when we reached the ferry terminal at 10 , we were informed the ferry had already left at 9. There was clearly a lack of communication.

Hiring a boat privately cost Rs 6500, which was more cash than we had with us. We visited Nagadipa in a very stuffy and crowded ferry and returned to Jaffna. After lunch we visited the Jaffna Public Library and the Archaeology Museum. The Museum has some interesting artifacts, but is in urgent need of funds for restoration of the building.

Next day we reached the ferry terminal by 9. The ferry ticket costs only Rs 40 each way per person. This ferry was not for tourists but for the 4500 local residents of the Delft Island. It carried all of the food and fuel needed for residents.

There were a large number of drums with diesel on board. Since there was only one bus, two trishaws and a few tractors to provide transport on Delft, two of the passengers were taking their motorcycles across. We were told that they restrict tourists to under 10 per day. There were under 50 passengers. Being on open deck it is best to have a sun shade and rub sun screen lotion to prevent sunburn.

To tour Delft we hired a hand tractor (Rs.1000) with trailer which took us to see the wild ponies. We saw over 50 in small groups of about 10-15. The land was a coral reef, which had been also been used to make all the fences. We saw the Babob Tree and old Fort behind the hospital. The return trip leaving Delft at 2 p.m. was far more crowded, with probably more than the 200 passengers I was told could go on that boat according to the Navy.

With the excess load the return ride was however much smoother. For the return to Colombo we were asked to report at 7.30 p.m. to the bus stand opposite the post office. There were a large number of buses and we had to find the bus on which we had booked and insist on the seats we had reserved. The bus only left at 8.20 p.m. Tired out, we slept better on the return journey which was only interrupted at Omanthai where the security check required most to get off the bus with baggage and have it checked. Some of the more elderly passengers were allowed to remain in the bus. The bus reached Wellawatte at 5.30 a.m.

Anula says there are a minimum of 50 famous places of interest to see, and that it will take at least five days to see Jaffna properly. Her guest house is booked for some of the weekends for the rest of this year. Jaffna gets very crowded during the weekends with over a lakh of visitors. Visiting Jaffna during the week is a much better option to enjoy the 250 square kilometres of the peninsula

(This article is reproduced from the "Sunday Times " of October 31st 2010 where it appears under the heading " Starting over again in Jaffna")

Rifana Nafeek case is a wake-up call for Sri Lankan Govt

By Kishali Pinto Jayawardene

As people in Sri Lanka and beyond pray for the stay of execution of Rizana Nafeek convicted of killing an infant in Saudi Arabia while working as a housemaid in 2005, we can only be appalled at the cruelty of a world that permits such outrages. Rizana’s execution has been ordered even though the circumstances are unequivocally to the effect that this was an unintentional mistake by an untrained teenager who should never have been given the task of baby sitting in the first instance. Undoubtedly this case should serve as a wake-up call for the Sri Lankan government.

This is not all that the government should do

Caught in the iron grip of the Saudi Arabian legal system, the death sentence passed on her by a lower court in 2007 was appealed from to a higher court due to the speedy interventions of activists, rather than any interest displayed by the government at that time. This sentence has now been confirmed in appeal. The core of the court’s sentencing remains a confession obtained by Rizana but which she had retracted from later on the basis that it had been taken under duress.

President Rajapaksa has appealed to the King of Saudi Arabia to consider granting clemency. However laudable the presidential appeal may be, this cannot be all that the government should do or could do. It cannot be thought that a presidential appeal for clemency will absolve the government of its duty towards migrant workers like Rizana who bring in a great part of the foreign exchange gains for the government but are treated like as if they are mere fodder in the process. On previous occasions where we had witnessed pending executions of like nature, all that we heard were lukewarm expressions of concern that only served inadequately to mask the real disinterest shown by the government for the plight of these people.

For this is not the first time that executions of Sri Lankans have been announced in Saudi Arabia though Rizana’s case is marked for the immediate and horrified empathy that it evokes. In 2005 for example, three Sri Lankan migrant workers in Saudi Arabia were executed after being charged and found guilty of theft. One of those executed had been only given a sentence of fifteen years and his execution was, in any event, not in accordance with the domestic processes of justice in Saudi Arabia, even granted the fact that these processes are highly inadequate in themselves. Yet government ministers only said that compensation would be given to the family but that Sri Lankans must abide by the domestic laws of Saudi Arabia. Such statements are to shrug off the definitive responsibility that attaches to a government to look after the interests of its citizens when they work as migrant labour overseas.

Wholesale overhauling of employment law

Under the relevant statute which is the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment Act, No. 21 of 1985, the government is not required to adequately protect the migrant worker. The objectives of this law are governed more by profit motives rather than a desire to protect migrant workers or safeguard their interests. Given Rizana’s case and many others like it in the past ten years and more, it is important that this law is amended to impose specific standards for the protection and promotion of the welfare of migrant workers, their families, and overseas Sri Lankan migrant workers. The Bureau should be put under a duty to provide adequate and timely social, economic and legal services to migrant workers and to make employment contingent on their fair treatment.

Importantly, redress procedures relating to the complaints of migrant workers in reference to the terms or the conditions of employment must be strengthened. Currently it is only stated that the complaint will be investigated by an officer authorized by the Bureau. After the inquiry, the officer may make an award he/she deems necessary with regard to the violation. But numerous instances have been documented where such an investigating process has been weak and has resulted in no redress to the worker. An independent and non-partisan body (consisting also of representatives of trade unions and migrant worker bodies as recommended above) should examine such complaints rather than a government influenced body.

In addition, the appointment of officers of the Bureau in any foreign country in which Sri Lankans are migrant workers should be on requisite qualifications or experience. Politicised appointments have resulted in these persons being totally unable to safeguard migrant workers in receiving countries. These officers should be given resources to establish centres in receiving countries and should provide for legal and social help and advice.

Abusive working conditions

Meanwhile, ministerial authority in the appointments to the Board of Directors should be reduced. The appointments of representatives of foreign employment agencies should be strictly regulated and members of any government agencies involved in the implementation of the law or their relatives should be prohibited from engaging, directly or indirectly, in the business of recruiting migrant workers as defined by the law.

In the light of abusive and exploitative working conditions experienced by Sri Lankan migrant workers without any redress from their home country, the definition of trafficking in this law which is limited in its scope to the method of recruitment should be expanded. The importance of this expansion is made clear in the United Nations Trafficking Protocol, which in Article 3, defines trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of threat or the use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Above all Sri Lanka should adopt a government policy that restricts migrant workers to work in countries where their rights are protected. The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 which imposes a number of these prescriptions for Filipino migrant workers is an instructive case in point.

Going into a hellhole of labour migration

But do we have the courage to do all this and not merely thumb our noses at Western governments for (as is commonly and quite wearily alleged) resorting to post colonial imperialism in relation to human rights abuses? Recently, the Sri Lankan newspapers were chock-full of stories regarding a housemaid who was found to have had nails driven through her body on her return. As abruptly, interest in the story died and we were merely informed that the Saudi Arabian government may ban Sri Lankan maids arriving to work there.

Until these issues in regard to the protection of migrant workers are resolved, it may indeed be best if this ban is, in fact, implemented. But Sri Lankans should call for the ban and not Saudi Arabia. In the alternative, prayers for Rizana and for all hr sisters who would follow her into this hellhole of migrant work may indeed be the only salvation left. - courtesy: Sunday Times -

Jwala Kumari Shah: From Maoist Rebel to Member of Constituent Assembly

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“Each person must live their life as a model for others” ~ Rosa Parks,(February 4 1913- October 24 2005), African- American Civil Rights Activist

Jwala Kumari Shah is a Constituent Assembly member from the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

She has been an active fighter for 12 years while being with the Maoist. She spent several years underground fearing for her safety. She is married to a fellow party member and has three sons.

Constituent Assembly member from the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) Jwala Kumari Shah

It was a simple wedding, they exchanged flowers. The relatives and villagers were surprised as there were neither rings nor ceremony for their wedding. “We loved each other and decided to get married and we lead a happy and simple life” says Jwala Kumari Shah with a snowy smile.

I had the rare opportunity to spend sometime with her in Bangladesh.

She was one among 39 women participants of SANGAT XVth South Asian Feminist Capacity Building Course on Gender, Sustainable Livelihoods, Human Rights and Peace which was held in Rajendrapur, Bangladesh in September- October 2010.

She is friendly and polite with strong political views. She loves to be photographed alone and with her friends. She likes to wear the Nepali flag engraved on a Brass pin on left side of her coat.

The excerpts of the interview are as follows:

How did you join the Maoist?

I was born in 1981 and I started to participate in protest when I was in Class VIII. The students organized a protest against the killing of the parents of a fellow student in village called Bara. The village is nearly 70 kilometers away from the capital Kathmandu. I actively took part in this protest.

My parents were actively involved in politics and worked with the grassroots. They always talked about the sufferings of the oppressed people in the villages of Nepal. My brother was killed and my parents were tortured.

I asked my father whether I can join the Maoist, but he declined and asked me to read the books written by them. But later I joined them in 1998 when I was 17 year-old and fought against discrimination, torture, injustice and repression. 10 years of civil strife during which at least 15,000 people including 1,100 women were killed.

I have been part of the fierce fighting during the “Nepalese People’s War” in Nepal. I got injured many times, but survived when many of my fellow fighters were disabled or killed, but I had the courage to continue to fight. My name “Jwala” means fire. The fire has been burning inside me ever since I was a child.

What made you to become a politician?

Many of my fellow fighters have decided to participate in active politics. My parents have been actively involved in politics. I thought of serving the people through politics. I joined the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which was founded to protect the fundamental rights of the Nepalese people.

The tenure of the Constituent Assembly has already expired. How do you see the future?

We continue to work with the grassroots. We want to ensure the fundamental rights of the people by preparing a constitution for our country. We have been able to meet 80% of the tasks. We continue to raise our voices against the ethnic and religious discriminations. We are planning for land reforms by promoting “big thinking and simple living”. We need to establish political stability for sustainable peace in Nepal.

Are men and women treated equally in your country?

I am happy to note that the situation is improving. Women are moving forward with courage. In my party, 50% of the 375-member central committee is women. We demand for 33% of women in Nepal Parliament and government sector. I believe 50% members of the Parliament should be women. I hope we will be able to achieve it some day. Women in South Asia have to unite and fight for their rights endlessly. We need to be united and show solidarity.

How do you feel being with the women from nine different countries?

It’s a great opportunity for me to learn from them. I share my knowledge and experience with them as well. Every woman here is different and I like all of them. I will share the knowledge gained in Bangladesh with my colleagues in Nepal and I will continue to be part of the South Asian feminists, and spread the message of peace.

An attractive banner by SANGAT in the conference hall of Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee

View of another banner at the main entrance of Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee during a foggy afternoon

A warm welcome by renowned feminist and feminist scholar Kamla Bhasin

SANGAT banner at the SANGAT Bangladesh reception held to celebrate 12 Years of Our Love,Solidarity and Togetherness at Chayanot Bhabon in Dhaka

Another banner during the training

One among many banners by SANGAT

Yet another banner adds colour to the venue

Jwala Kumari Shah during a session

Another banner by SANGAT

The latest poster by SANGAT

The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) or (CPNM), is the largest party in the Constituent Assembly having won half of the constituency seats and about 30% of proportional representation seats. The Constituent Assembly declared a republic at its first meeting on May 28, 2008, abolishing the monarchy the research further states.

In the first Parliamentary elections of 1959, the entire 6 women candidates lost the election.

As a result of the compulsory provision of the 1990 Constitution that requires at least five percent women's candidature in the election for House of Representatives, the numbers of women candidates in the last three parliamentary elections held in 1991, 1994 and 1999 were gradually increased with a number of 81 (party candidate 73 and 8 independent), 86 (party candidate 74 and 12 independent) and 143 (party candidate 117 and 26 independent) respectively. But out of the total 205 seats only 6 (2.9 %,), 7 (3.4 %), and 12 (5.8 %) women were elected (only the party candidates) respectively in 1991, 1994 and 1999 according to a research.

Nepali women's representation in the legislative body (Legislature-Parliament), however, was dramatically increased to 32.8% through the Constituent Assembly (CA) Election held in 2008. In the election, 191 women leaders (33.2%) were elected out of 575 seats, and Cabinet nominated 6 women out of 26 seats, resulting to 197 women members (32.8%) in the Legislative parliament.

As a result, Nepal stands on the 14th position globally to send the women leaders in the legislature parliament. The reason behind the drastic change in the women's representation is due to the reservation of seats provided through the Interim Constitution of Nepal in 2007.

Courtesy: passionParade ~ Email: dushi.pillai@gmail.com

October 29, 2010

Sarath Fonseka is not a special case but just another convicted prisoner

by Edither G. Perera

A politician has said that the government has ignored the request for an exercise machine made by Sarath Fonseka. This news item appeared on 20.10.2010 in The Island. He may be considered a special case by the politicians. But the Prisons Department would consider him just another convicted prisoner.

Prior to 1957, there were two categories of convicted prisoners, the star class and the normal prisoner. Star class prisoners had separate clothing, shirts and slacks and a separate ward for food and location. However, after the SLFP won in 1956, the government thought it was unethical to differentiate between convicted prisoners and did away with the star classification.

Since then, several affluent and educated persons, including politicians, have been convicted. In the 1970s, when JVP leaders, Rohana Wijeweera, Lionel Bopage, Nimal Maharage, Nandana Marasinghe, Victor Ivan, and Viraj Fernando, were convicted by the Criminal Justice Commission, they were treated as normal prisoners.

Similarly, when people of the calibre of Bhagavandas Hirdramani, Chairman Hirdramani Group, Sathanandan, son-in-law of Sir Oliver Goonatillaka, former Governor General of Sri Lanka, Farook Salley, Managing Director Mount Lavinia hotel Thaha and Mukthar, reputed bookie owners, and Lord Mowjood, famous jewellery shop owner, were convicted by the Criminal Justice Commission for violation of foreign exchange regulations, there was absolutely no difference in treatment.

Both groups were deployed to trade parties and they had to work along with other prisoners, from 8.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m, with an interval for meals. Morning, noon and evening they went to the place where meals were served and obtained their food. Normal prisoners are located in wards. They have adequate exercise.

Only special prisoners e.g., prisoners condemned to death, those with long sentences and those who have escaped from custody, are located in cells in a special section.

They are confined to a cell, do not work in a trade party, meals are taken to the cells and they have no freedom of movement. These are the prisoners who are taken out daily for half an hour to provide them with an opportunity for exercise, so that their health is not affected. No other prisoner is given special facilities for exercise.

When the war against the Tigers was at its zenith, the Army Commanders Sarath Fonseka, was severely criticised, insulted and ridiculed to demoralise him. When Thoppigala was captured, Ranil Wickremesinghe said that Thoppigala was a jungle.

When Alimankada and Kilinochchi were captured, Ravi Karunanayake spoke of Pamankada and Medawachchiya. Lakshman Kiriella said that any idiot could fight in a war. Nevertheless, the most sordid comment and insult came from Mr. Mangala Samaraweera that the Commander of the Army is not fit to be even the Commander of the Salvation Army. All these comments were made in that august assembly, the parliament. Wide publicity was given in all newspapers and electronic media. Politicians have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, but only permanent interests.

The Prisons Dept. would not consider Sarath Fonseka a special prisoner. He is considered another convicted prisoner. Facilities granted to other convicted prisoners, according to the Prisons ordinance, should be granted to him as well.

Providing exercise machines to prisons is an exercise in futility. It will be more useful to install a gymnasium with exercise machines in the premises of parliament. It will assist in reducing the bulging waist-lines of certain politicians!

(Edither G. Perera is a retired Superintendent of Prisons)

'Public sentiment in Sri Lanka seems to be in favour of Fonseka’s release'

By Rick Westhead
South Asia Bureau, Toronto Star

COLOMBO— When Sarath Fonseka resigned as Sri Lanka’s top army general to run for president, supporters of President Mahinda Rajapaksa viewed the move as pure betrayal.

The president had helped Fonseka rise quickly through the ranks, choosing him as his top general ahead of more qualified candidates. It was shocking to many here when Fonseka on the stump alleged Rajapaksa’s government was guilty of widespread corruption, vote-rigging and nepotism.

SFTC1029.jpeg

Former army chief Sarath Fonseka (C) gestures while surrounded by prison officials as he enters the Colombo High Court in Colombo on Oct. 29, 2010. The supreme court on Oct. 29 dismissed a petitioned filed by Fonseka challenging the re-election of President Mahinda Rajapakse at January polls. ~ pic: courtesy: Getty Images/Ishara Kodikara via ~ Toronto Star

“Democracy will be restored,” Fonseka bellowed at one rally. “Your children will have a bright future.”

But in January, Rajapaksa coasted to an easy victory in Sri Lanka’s national election winning by a two-to-one margin over Fonseka.

Weeks later, Fonseka was arrested at a political meeting, court-martialed and jailed for allegedly pursuing politics while still in uniform. He was eventually sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Fonseka had also filed a petition to nullify Rajapaksa’s election alleging widespread intimidation, bribery and misconduct but Sri Lanka’s supreme court dismissed the request Friday.

Time has mellowed many here. Public sentiment in Sri Lanka now seems to be in favour of Fonseka’s release. Some say the 59-year-old, who survived an assassination attempt in 2006 by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber disguised as a pregnant woman, remains a war hero.

'Sri Lankan government remains afraid of Fonseka'

The Sri Lankan government, apparently afraid the former four-star general will foment a coup, views him differently.

In a new case that has served as front-page news for weeks, Fonseka has been charged with making a false statement to the anti-government Sunday Leader newspaper, arousing communal feelings and arousing anti-government sentiment. If convicted, he could face an additional 13 years behind bars.

Political analysts and journalists say the case signals that the Sri Lankan government remains afraid of Fonseka, his election failure notwithstanding.

The charge stems from an interview Fonseka gave the newspaper in December. He alleged the president’s brothers conspired to have Tamil Tiger rebels executed in the waning days of the country’s long civil war — even those LTTE leaders who were trying to surrender with a white flag.

“If they could lock the door on this guy and throw the key away, they would,” said Dayan Jayatilleka, a diplomat and political analyst who was once Sri Lanka’s envoy to the United Nations.

“The fear is that he is someone who has a propensity to start some kind of putsch or coup d’etat.”

After announcing his retirement, Fonseka won the endorsement of a coalition of opposition parties. They hoped the former general, a member of Sir Lanka’s Sinhalese majority who ran under the campaign slogan “Believable Change,” would appeal to Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese voters. The president’s Freedom Party, by contrast, draws its support entirely from the Sinhalese majority.

After he was court-martialed for using “traitorous” words and failing “to obey garrison or other orders,” Fonseka was stripped of his rank, medals and decorations.

The government is hinging its case against Fonseka on a story that appeared in the Sunday Leader in December.

In the story, headlined, “Gota Ordered Them To Be Shot,”

Fonseka was quoted saying he learned Basil Rajapaksa, a member of parliament and advisor to the president, had instructed defence secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, also the president’s brother, to tell a senior army brigadier “not to accommodate any LTTE leaders attempting surrender and that they must all be killed.”

Fonseka told the newspaper that the orders helped to explain how three senior LTTE leaders trapped in the war zone were killed on May 17, 2009, even as they negotiated with Norwegian diplomats to arrange their own surrender.

Fonseka’s allegations came at an awkward time for the country. Sri Lanka is under attack from a host of international human-rights organizations for its conduct during the final days of its civil war.

Earlier this year, the International Crisis Group released a report charging that the government was mostly responsible for the allegedly unnecessary deaths of some 10,000 civilians caught in the crossfire between soldiers and the LTTE. Fonseka’s statement added fuel to the fire.

“What Fonseka said was basically alleging war crimes by the government,” said Eswarapatham Saravanapavan, a Tamil politician and newspaper publisher.

“The international community hears him and says, ‘we are saying all these things are happening in Sri Lanka and here it is coming right out of the horse’s mouth.’ I think this is a guy with a lot of secrets no one in government wants out.”

The government is also using Fonseka’s interview to lash back at the Sunday Leader, one of few media outlets in Sri Lanka that has dared to challenge the government.

At least seven journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka since 2007, including the January 2009 murder of former Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickramatunga.

A government critic, Wickramatunga made international headlines when he predicted his own death in an editorial called “And Then They Came for Me.” The paper continues to feature Wickramatunga’s photo prominently and spotlight his still unsolved case. - courtesy: Toronto Star -

Why is there no elected council for the Northern Province?

by M.S.M. Ayub

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has reminded the country a long forgotten matter that is highly important in respect of the ethnic problem and national reconciliation. The TNA MP Mavai Senathirajah who is also the General Secretary of Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi known as the Federal Party has complained to the Supreme Court on Wednesday that the two Bills relating to the local authorities cannot become law since they had not been referred to the Northern Provincial Council, an almost forgotten entity.

The premier Tamil coalition has said the court that there was no evidence before parliament that the “Local Authorities (Special Provisions)” Bill and the “Local Authorities Elections (Amendment)” Bill had in fact been referred to the Provincial Councils for the expression of their views before it was placed on the Parliament Order Paper, as required by the Constitution.

The “Local Authorities (Special Provisions)” Bill seeks to amend the Municipal Councils Ordinance, the Urban Councils Ordinance and the Pradeshiya Sabha Act No. 15 of 1987 and the “Local Authorities Elections (Amendment)” Bill seeks to amend the “Local Authorities Elections Ordinance.”

Even though the Bills have been referred to some Provincial Councils they were not referred to the Northern Provincial Council as the members of the council have not been elected so far in an election, in spite of the fact that there is an administration of Provincial Council in that Province.

It is up to the Supreme Court now to interpret as to whether a Bill that requires to be referred to the Provincial Councils could be a law without being discussed in a particular Provincial Council as there is no elected Provincial Council in that Province. However, apart from the legal aspect of it, the issue raises a political question as to why there should not be a Provincial Council in the Northern Province, now that seventeen months have passed since the end of the war.

The elections in the Eastern Province, first for the Local Government bodies, were held eight months after the end of armed conflict in that Province. And leaders of the Government boasted before the international community on its policy of restoring democracy.

Soon after the results of the Eastern Provincial Council election that was held on May 10, 2008 were announced President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that the results of that election show “the people’s endorsement of the government’s policies of restoring democracy and normalcy to areas hitherto controlled by terrorists.” The then Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogllagama while addressing the diplomatic corps on May 22, 2008 said that “the successful conduct of elections in the Eastern province is a clear reflection of the genuine interest of the Government to create an environment, in which all communities and ethnicities could live in harmony and achieve economic prosperity.”It goes without saying that the government’s said policy has to be applied to the Northern Province as well.

Provincial Councils came into being with the highly controversial 13th Amendment to the Constitution which was a direct upshot of the equally controversial Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. These councils were especially meant for the Northern and Eastern Provinces and were instituted in the other seven provinces as a means to pacify the southern psyche that was inimical to the self rule in Tamil areas.

Ironically, the system was not in operative in the areas where it was meant for, almost from the very inception. The first Provincial Council elected in 1988 for the merged Northern and the Eastern Province could not last until it reached its full term, as it ceased to be exist following an amendment to the Provincial Councils Act in 1990 that took note of the threat of Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by the first Chief Minister of the council Annamalai Varadharaja Perumal.

The armed conflict prevented successive governments from holding Provincial Council elections in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces and the two provinces were de-merged in 2006 after a lawsuit by the JVP and the JHU. Now that the war is over and the resettlement of the people displaced by the war is almost completed, it would be difficult for the Government to find reasons to put off the Northern Provincial Council election any further.

The call for a political solution to the ethnic problem has not been totally shot down though it has considerably died down with the decimation of the LTTE, the main bargaining power of the Tamils. Tamil political parties are again accumulating their strengths, though slowly, in search of a political solution.

"'Mahinda Chinthanaya’ has moved to ‘Mahinda Hinsanaya’ and ‘Mahinda Vindanaya'"

By Chamitha Kuruppu

Reputed Economist and UNP Member of Parliament Dr. Harsha de Silva, while talking about the crony capitalism in the country, warns that the situation is only going to get worse within the new set up, where economic management has been completely concentrated among a very few people. Dr. de Silva, who is known for voicing his opposition to the economic policies of the Rajapaksa regime, reveals he was approached to support the Government during the 18th Amendment Bill and stresses he is not for sale and when the UNP establishes a government, he will have a key role to play in that government.

Following are excerpts:

Q: What do you have to say about the country’s economy?

A: This is a text book example of crony capitalism. We can clearly see the movement of wealth from poor to the rich. There are multiple examples for me to say this. The ‘Chinthanaya’ has ended. Now we have ‘Mahinda Vindana’ and ‘Mahinda Hinsana’. ‘Vindana’ is the crony capitalists who are now going to start to benefit. ‘Hinsana’ is the general public that will have to pay.

The last set of taxes enforced on food has still not been brought to Parliament. It was only gazetted. Nobody talks about it. The last couple of times the Government brought it to Parliament after the period had lapsed.

I have being arguing about this whole thing about duty reduction of vehicles. I am not against reducing duties, which were exorbitant. Tax policies must be fair and equitable. When people can’t afford to eat, taxing food is not equitable. It is regressive. But that is what is happening.

Rich people make billions on the stock market. There is no capital gains tax, but unfortunately people who buy a tin of salmon have to pay Rs. 85 as tax. From dhal to onions, everything is taxed. That is just one example of this whole ‘Hinsanaya, Vindanaya’ story.

Take the latest story about Shell Gas. The ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ said there would be no privatising. Now what are they going to do? They are going to nationalise the stake from Shell. There were newspaper reports quoting LAUGFS Chairman Wegapitiya saying he is fairly sure that he is going to get the Shell stake.

Wegapitiya sees an opportunity as a businessman. But didn’t the ‘Chinthana’ say there wasn’t going to be any privatisation? Who is going to benefit from this privatisation? Definitely, the people are not going to benefit from it. People will have to pay even greater taxes whereas a few people will benefit.

Look at the example of flyover bridges. Ravi Karunanayake questioned in Parliament why tenders were not called for flyover bridges in Dehiwala and Nugegoda. It is learnt that these flyover bridges were built at approximately twice what it would have cost if they used concrete. Furthermore, it would have lasted for 100 years if concrete was used.

The Dehiwela flyover, said to be the world’s most expensive flyover, already has a sign saying it is only for three-wheelers, motorcycles and cars. That money has been taken from the HSBC. It has to be paid at a highly inflated cost. Who pays for it? The people have to pay for it through enormous taxes on their food.

A total of 32 cents of a one minute mobile phone calls goes to the Government as taxes. Who made money off the fly-over bridges? I am not going to comment by naming people, but there is a fair amount of suspicion that the company which took the contract was in fact found guilty of overseas corruption.

In a report by Prof. A.D.V. de S. Indraratna, President of the Sri Lanka Economics Association, he points out an incident of a 70 kilometre road where a particular VIP asked for Rs. 1 million per kilometre. That is the kind of grand corruption that is taking place and on page 82 of that report he calculates the cost of corruption on the economy and estimates it to be 8.7 per cent of GDP for that particular year. If you look at a 50 billion dollar economy, you are talking of US$ 5 billion a year.

When a few people enjoy this type of ‘Vindanaya,’ the common man has to pay for all that. That is the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. Essentially, this is only going to get worse within this new set up, where economic management has been completely concentrated among a very few people.

For the first time in the world, we saw an election poster become a currency note. If you remember, the famous election poster of the President suddenly became the currency note before the election.

With the 18th Amendment, the need for independent members to be appointed to the Monetary Board in concurrence with the Constitution of the House has been done away with. Actually the 17th Amendment didn’t talk about the Monetary Board because the Monetary Law Act was changed in 2002. But there was a moral obligation on the part of the Government to include the Monetary Board at least nominally in the Parliamentary Council. I agree that entity has no teeth, but morally at least it was required that the Monetary Board have some ensembles of independence; it no longer exists.

The Central Bank has been totally politicised. Even in the case of the Central Bank, investing EPF funds – particularly trading in shares of banks – cannot be done, based on an opinion by K.C. Kamalasabayson, Attorney General of the time. When I bring this up, the Governor replies to the contrary, saying he can. And then people’s money is being used to purchase shares of various companies and banks under this dictatorial regime.

The story is ‘we do whatever we want to do – the means do not matter’. And in the process, certain people are going to get very, very rich and we see this happening now, whereas most people are subjected to unfair inequitable taxes.

Q: But aren’t all the numbers good, inflation 5.8%, development growth of 8% expected by the year and there is a boom in tourism. How can you say the economy is in bad shape?

A: I am not saying the economy is in bad shape. In fact, I am saying that the economy is in pretty good shape right now. IPS has done a study, Sarvi had shown these numbers, I have quoted these numbers on numerous occasions and many others have worked on this.The peace dividend is 2%. With the end of the conflict the additional two per cent was going to come anyway, the Government has nothing to do with it. We saw this even during the CFA, the minus negative growth turned to a positive four per cent immediately the next year. This is a spike.

There are three reasons for the current uptrend; one is private small time investments taking place. People building new, small tourist guest houses, refurbishing hotels, etc. Car duties have been brought down; there is large amount of import trade that is taking place; rubber prices are good, tea prices are good. But the Government has nothing to do with these things. It had happened due to various local changing conditions.

The second reason is that some of the jobs we lost last year are coming back. People are able to spend some money. There is a certain increase in private consumption expenditure. The third is fairly large projects where the Government is putting in money. These three are contributing towards this sudden surge in GDP.

The question however, is how sustainable this growth is going to be in the face of falling foreign direct investments. Yes, money is coming. Money is coming in to the stock market, but that is just portfolio money. That money can go as fast as it came. It is not only peculiar to Sri Lanka; there is evidence of this all over the world.

In addition, a lot of money comes in from the Tamil Diaspora simply for spending on the survival of hundreds of thousands of Tamil people who now need places to live in and food to eat. The Government in its manifesto promised financial assistance and various other things for these people.

Unfortunately they have not materialised,Then if you look at debt money, the loans that have been taken – we just raised a billion dollars, then brought 500 million dollars a few months back; we got money from people like Templeton just under a year ago at very high rates of interest. This is the merging market story. Here we have these areas where portfolio money and debt money can come in. And that is coming. That again is a phenomenon not necessarily positive because these are commercial loans.

The real indicator in my view is that in the first six months of this year after the war, Foreign Direct Investment fell by 17 per cent as against the first six months of last year during the war. My question is, why is that? Isn’t that the problem? Where is the confidence of putting your own money into Sri Lanka’s economy?

This implies the sustainability problem of the high growth. While I do not deny there is a hike in economic activity, the issue is its sustainability because of the other indicators that I explained.

Q: The Government just ended a 30-year war. How do you expect everything to be perfect in no time? Do you agree that it needs considerable time to recover?

A: In an economy, there are two kinds of models. Model one is a more acceptable one, where you put up the conditions creating an environment for investors to come in. This is the good governance model. There is law and order, media freedom, democratic governance, good institutions, less corruption and you create a predictable, well-governed structure which attracts the respect of investors, who will come. In this kind of a model the governance indicators are compared, countries are compared. We are not doing well at all in those rankings. We are way below well governed countries.

Then there is the other model; the Mushtaq Khan model, which talks of a simmering situation in which everything is happening, everyone wants to become powerful, grab opportunities and win. There are no clear demarcations on anything. Rule of law doesn’t apply, justice system doesn’t matter, bribery and corruption is high and media is muzzled. In this kind of a set-up too growth takes place, but the kinds of people who rise and make money are cronies. You see this in Africa, various parts of South America and even in some Asian countries.

Growth is growth. I agree. But at what expense are we getting this growth? Is this growth sustainable? For the forces that operate in this environment, rules don’t apply. I don’t like you so I get rid of you. You are blocking my tender so I kill you or put you in jail. I use power extra judicial to shut someone up who is critical of the Government and its policies. Do the means matter or not?

If you remove yourself from the emotions and analyse the situation, then you can explain what is going on here. You can explain why some people are minting money, including in the Colombo Stock market where rules don’t apply and insider trading is the name of the game and why people around powerful people are making money.
Now I think it is coming around to two months since the Government announced it would install surveillance software at the Colombo Stock Exchange. What has happened? Have they done it? They have not done it. Have they caught a single man for breaking the rules? No, they have not. This is the law of the jungle. In the law of the jungle, the powerful animals kill the animals that are weak.

Q: What needs to be done to curb such situations?

A: I think the people are still euphoric about the military victory. Even today in Parliament that is what the Government members are talking about. Almost 90 per cent of their speeches glorify the military victory, even though Sarath Fonseka is languishing in jail. But we have to move beyond the military victory.
We seem to believe that just because Prabhakaran is dead, Tamil people have no issues. That is the general consensus. Nobody talks about devolution of power or about the problems that existed prior to the war. War was a manifestation of the issues that were there. We need to be able to bring the two communities together. But today what are we talking about?

Recently Athuruliye Rathana Thera was talking in Parliament. I don’t know how a Buddhist priest speaks in such an angry manner. He was talking about the issue of Sinhalese people resettled in the north. True, there are Sinhalese people who were displaced. But he doesn’t talk about the hundreds of thousands of Tamil people who have been displaced from their places of existence. When we do that and without the legal structure, we do as we please because we want to be in power.

Since there is some kind of growth, you are not addressing the fundamental problems in our society. The Lessons Learnt Commission is a farce. The problem between the Tamil and the Sinhalese didn’t start in 2002, so what is the point in learning lessons only from 2002? This is an ‘aggressive, short term, power hungry, I don’t care, I have the guns so you better be subservient to me’ attitude. This may work in the short term. But I doubt that this may create the right conditions for sustainable growth.

Q: There are allegations that the UNP only criticises the Government and does not appreciate the positive things. Your comments?

A: This is a criticism people particularly level at me too. The opposition’s job is to be constructively critical. There are 161 Government members to praise their work. Let it be known that people have approached me before the 18th Amendment. But I am not for sale! I do my job.

I agreed that there is growth. But I constructively criticise this model, because I don’t think it is sustainable. Instead I offered an answer on what we need to do. The UNP is not a Sinhala Buddhist party. The UNP was formed as a secular party. We have all kinds of people from all kinds of religion representing our party. We have to look at the greater interest of all people.

I have been one of the most vocal critics of the Government’s economic policy for a number of years. But I have also said in and outside Parliament that I applaud the efforts by the Central Bank in the recent past to bring inflation down.

I want to academically prove that it was money printing that was causing runaway inflation. If you look at how the Central Bank reduced money printing, you will see that it was one of the main reasons of inflation to drop. What needs to be done to bring inflation down has been agreed on by all sides including the Government.

In the same way, I am critical of the exchange rate policy. We are pricing ourselves out of the market. We are no longer competitive. The rupee is appreciating and of course, on governance issues, we have lost the GSP+. While the Central Bank has done some good, I don’t think it is doing the right thing with regard to the exchange rates policy. Because sooner or later they will have to realise that by trying to control the Government’s debt repayment expenditure by letting the rupee appreciate, they are in fact hurting the stability of society through this process.

I am not critical of everything. I am looking at the facts and trying to find out what is right and what is wrong. If I want to glorify all that the Government is doing, I might as well go and join the Government.

Q: If you were approached, why didn’t you join the Government?

A: There is no say for anybody outside of a close circle in Government. Like Mangala Samaraweera said, there are three or four ministers and 100 doormats. Look at those people in Parliament. What power do they have? There are MPs who are many times powerful than ministers. There are certain officials who are equally powerful.

It is this romanticised thing about ‘join the Government, point out the deficiencies and correct them’. Unless you are part of that ‘group,’ you won’t have any power. And I absolutely have no desire to be part of that group. I believe that I am doing a greater service to this country by remaining in opposition and constructively criticising the Government.

Q: There are a number of large scale development projects taking place at the present. What are your views?

A: This is the problem. If you see what is happening for this whole ‘Vindanaya’ story, you see Sri Lanka is getting into unsustainable debt. We are getting into large debts and I am telling you in 2010 our entire tax income is not going to be sufficient to service our debt. How can you sustain it if you don’t have enough income to pay your loan payment?

Why are we taking more and more loans? Because the rulers want to do those projects. If you look at the five hubs that these people want to develop, the naval hub, the Colombo south port expansion, was done long before the ‘Chinthana’. Look at who is doing most of these projects. The Government of Sri Lanka is taking loans from banks at high rates getting into debt and doing these projects.

If you take all these harbours, it is the Government that is doing all of this. Look at aviation, shares of the Emirates guy have been bought. I won’t be surprised that they sell shares to cronies in the new regime. They are already saying that the catering operation might be divested. That’s another story. The Government has set up an airline company to run domestic flights and the Air Force is getting into that. That also the Government has to pay.

SriLankan Airlines is buying new planes; who’s going to pay for them? Mihin Air is going to buy another plane next month; who’s going to pay for it? We are getting loans to do that. Look at energy. Little by little they are pushing away the private operators and the Government is going for loans from China and building these projects.

If you take India for an example, it is a completely different model. Look at the number of private airlines flying the skies of India. I would have expected private operators to be flying in Sri Lanka now. Unfortunately it’s the Government that is doing it. The Government is getting bigger and giving jobs to its people, but at what cost? Can we sustain this?

You need to reduce the size of the Government, increase its efficiency and create the condition for solid, well-meaning private operators to invest in this country. I am warning you, if we go down this road we are going to create huge, bunched-up payments. In 2012 we have to pay the 500 million dollars in one go. Unless we can create the kind of dividends, the growth that is required to sustain these loans, we will have a problem.

Q: If UNP was in power, how would your regime differ from today’s context?

A: The UNP has learnt over the years. And we are not a party that is stuck in theories. We are the people who opened the economy in 1977. We want development in the household’s perspective.

What is the point of having 8.5 % growth when there is 35 per cent malnutrition in this country? What is the point in having 8.5% growth when some 40% of the people live on below two dollars a day? Today to be able to survive or be above the poverty level, you need to have Rs. 15,700 for a family of five. There has to be equitable growth.

To have equitable growth, people need to be able to participate in development growth and benefit from that growth. Therefore, our thinking is more on the lines of how we make the family unit better off. That doesn’t remove us from our original economy framework, but we will be global players.

We are not going to be crony capitalists trying to protect ourselves. We will try to link up with the rest of the world, not close this up. The market exists out there. We will create exchange rate policies, trade policies and investment policies that bring investors to this country.

Some of these people are mistaken by thinking that we grow our own food and we are self sufficient in x, y and z produce and therefore everything is fine. But it is not the case. What are we going to do with our rice? Can we even export our rice? So our policies will be more mindful in ensuring there is equity in the distribution of that growth.

Our primary focus would be on education. We want to develop Sri Lanka as a true hub. One main component in our programme would be the former of the two models that I explained before, where we will have rule of law, good governance, free media and democracy and create an environment that is conducive for private investors, both local and foreign.

Q: How do you see the Government’s move to acquire privatised State properties?

A: I honestly believe that the nationalised assets will start to get privatised once again. They are already talking about privatising parts of SriLankan Catering, petroleum, electricity, insurance and ITN. It will be interesting to see who the ultimate beneficiaries would be. That is a textbook example of crony capitalism that I explained earlier. That is the way this is going to be.

Q: What impact will that have on the economy?

A: That’s the interesting thing. As far as we are going to be happy with the approach of ‘the means don’t matter, only ends do,’ well I guess there is no impact. If people don’t have the power, nobody can rise up against the regime, critics will be dealt with, media shall be muzzled or bought, judiciary shall be broken.

That is the inherent danger in this whole game. The people could rise up at some point. When they are sick and tired and can no longer tolerate the situation, they will rise up. Democracy is dead in this country. They are saying you can’t even paste posters in this country, so what democracy are we talking about?

If you look at India, democracy is well rooted. Manmohan Singh is never going to say ‘I shall be Prime Minister for life’. There is freedom of information building in India, there is a free media. With a free press and thriving democracy, India will be the greatest county on earth in time to come. We still have a window of opportunity to do that and I hope that wise men will advice the powers that be that this march is not in anyone’s best interest.

Q: Why do you think there is an outflow of 19.6 billion in foreign investment in the Colombo Stock Exchange despite it being Asia’s best and hitting all-time highs?

A: The Colombo Stock Exchange is a funny place. In my view, rules are not being adhered to. It is a well-known secret that there is enormous amount of insider trading that is taking place. Even though several people have been criminally charged for manipulating stocks, no one has been sent to jail.

Very, very influential people who have been essentially in court being prosecuted have been allowed to compound their offenses for a mere few million rupees. Nobody talks about the surveillance software that was supposed to be installed two months ago. Why is that? If you are connected, if you know what is happening, becoming a multimillionaire overnight on the stock market is child’s play.

They say that I can move markets. It is an amazing compliment for anybody to be given. All nonsense! I can’t move markets! I can’t do that! It only shows that people are jittery. They themselves are not sure about the markets. Here we have me saying something that touches the nerve and they buckle and flee, because they themselves know that what I am saying has some truth in it. That is what it is.

I am not accusing any individual. We have companies that have questionable backgrounds. There are companies that have raised large amounts of money domestically and invested in overseas mineral companies. If these companies are so positive about the Sri Lankan story why do you want to invest overseas? Why not invest in Sri Lanka?

I am a Member of Parliament and I am doing my job. It is my duty. People may lose money, but I may say it for a lot of people to save more money. Today I got an abusive letter to my address in Parliament. If that is the level at which powerful people believe they can behave, I will warn them that they are sadly mistaken. You call me anything and send me a letter to my Parliament office thinking you can upset me, but I am no doormat.

I didn’t fall from the sky yesterday. I also know how to play the game. I know how the money market works; I know how some corrupt people work in this system. People sending me an abusive letter cannot scare me.

Now what is this all about? For talking the truth, trying to show this country there are two sides to every story. I will take necessary steps about this letter. I am not looking for a cheap way up; I am not looking for a shortcut. I will serve my term in the opposition. When we establish a government, which we will do, I will have a key important role to play in that government.

Q: Why do you think there aren’t significant foreign direct investments coming into the country?

A: To attract ‘good money,’ money that comes based on the confidence of that country, the confidence must be built. That is the good governance model that I explained earlier. I won’t be surprised if investment money speeds up the rate at which it is flowing in this chaotic set up also.

I think the Government needs to create the right conditions and open up. You can’t close the system and expect investments to come. For instance, they have opened domestic flying. But why is that foreign investments aren’t coming into this business? Because they can’t compete; the Air Force is running the operation.

Then look at airport expansion. You think private investors cannot be generated to expand the airport either in Colombo or wherever else. You can, but the Government won’t let them. Why? Because it is not in the interest of the regime to do that; it is in the interest of the regime to borrow.

All the things built by the Chinese Government in various parts of this country, where have you seen competitive tenders, where have you seen transparency? Until those basic structures are established, it’s going to be difficult to attract good money.

Q: The Appropriation Bill shows a 6.7% increase in Government expenditure and also an increase in foreign borrowing. How do you see this?

A: I have not gone through the bill in depth. But something I immediately noticed is that a significant amount of money has been allocated for the Ministry of Defence. I was looking whether part of that is going for the UDA, but the Appropriation Bill under the Ministry of Defence does not have UDA separately. We haven’t got the detailed documents yet, but from what I have seen it is under the Minister of Defence.

There is this large increase both in recurrent expenditure and capital expenditure. I don’t see why we need to increase both capital and recurrent expenditure. I see hardly any increase in education. I was expecting to see a doubling of the education and higher education budget. Let alone doubling, I see hardly any increase. So much time has passed since the end of the war. This Government has got its priorities messed up once again.

Q: Do you think the Government can have a 7% budget deficit as it promised to the IMF?

A: Every time the IMF was on mission in Sri Lanka, we have met them. We have had fairly intense and sometimes unfriendly professional discussions with them. What we told them was that the Government is not going to keep to the deficit target they promised at the beginning. But the IMF somehow seems to know even more than us. That is, when we accused the Government when they presented the budget; the morning before the Government presented the budget the IMF issued a statement about the budget.

Unlike in the past, the conditions imposed by the IMF are technical – such as the net foreign assets, the amount of money advanced by the Central Bank to the Government. These are typical technical targets that really become the responsibility of the Central Bank to stick to. The Central Bank has been sticking to those targets.

The deficit number is not really a hard and fast target. The IMF is willing to shift a little this way and that on this. What it is saying is even more than what is happening now, it is concerned about what may happen in the future, a quarter down the road, two quarters down the road. Somehow it seems to be very confident that these targets will be met. It is amenable to shifting the deficit target. The issue really is on the fiscal side.

While I find faults with the Central Bank for its irresponsible behaviour in the stock market, I do appreciate its very responsible behaviour in maintaining monetary targets to ensure they are in check and all other matters. It is true that inflation has increased to six per cent from what it was, but the truth is that the number is not a bad one. If they can keep it at that level, it is good. It is not an easy thing to do.

The real problem comes from the fiscal side, where it is the responsible of the Treasury. The expenditure reductions and allocations of money for various projects and programmes lie in the hands of P.B. Jayasundera and he will have to deal with those issues. From a country point of view in dealing with the IMF, things are much easier for the Government as a whole now than what it was in the previous set up.

Q: What are your views on the Government’s financial discipline?

A: Financial disciple is a challenge to the Government. It is ultimately the expenditure of the State and where that expenditure is made that will really make or break the sustainable development of this country. Depending on its expenditure pattern, the debt situation will evolve and sustainability of growth will also be determined by that expenditure.

It will also determine how much space the private sector will get to play in this. That will determine how widespread the dividends of growth are going to be. Both in a short term perspective of keeping the IMF money coming in and all that, to a long term sustainable growth, the challenge will be for the Government to not only be disciplined in its expenditure, but to prioritise that expenditure. - courtesy: The Financial Times -

People who oppose economic policies of govt are being threatened with elimination - Dr. Harsha de Silva MP

By Marianne David

In waging the economic war, people who oppose economic policies cannot be eliminated and nor can calls be made for their elimination, asserted UNP Chief Economist and MP Dr. Harsha de Silva.

Addressing the media yesterday, he pointed out that Sri Lanka was still a democracy and it was important to protect the rights of people to dissent: “The objective is to ensure that people have the right to be critical of the Government’s economic policies without being threatened.”

Drawing attention to a report by Capital Trust Research on Monday, which calls for the immediate elimination of disruptive elements, he said: “I am telling these people who are asking for the elimination of saboteurs, traitors and subversive elements who they say are disrupting the noble goal of this country’s Government to make Sri Lanka the financial capital of South Asia not to do this. There is no place for such nonsense to be written and transmitted as official documentation, in this particular case by a company called Capital Trust."

Calling on such parties to be professional when doing their duty without labelling those who are in opposition, Dr. de Silva called on the media to be supportive in the exercise to nip in the bud any person, organisation or group wanting to become violent.

“There is no place for violence anymore in this country. Nobody should be allowed to spread hatred and make such calls,” he added.

Noting that this was all he would do at this point, the MP said that if the people in question were unable to comprehend this, there would be consequences: “We will have to opt for other avenues; there are legal means and various other avenues.”

Emphasising that he had the right to criticise the Government’s economic policy and be constructively critical, he noted that it was the job of the Opposition: “The job of the Opposition is not to join with the Government and strengthen then hands of X or Y.”

“I have the right to be critical, being a citizen of this country, a Member of Parliament, a professional economist and development economist for almost 20 years and being in the visiting faculty of two of this country’s universities, an economist in a bank, an entrepreneur and having worked in many countries in this region.”

Alluding to his recent discussion with the President, he said: “As a matter of fact, I had a discussion with the President on the fact that I will continue to be critical of the Government’s economic policy and he was perfectly okay with it. Other people don’t need to get too excited and forget that this is still a democracy, to whatever extent. To use words like traitor, subversive elements, saboteurs and eliminate will not be tolerated.”

According to him, the UNP believes that the call for elimination is a reaction to what the party has been highlighting about “the end of the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ and the ‘Mahinda Vindana’ and ‘Mahinda Hinsana’ story”.

De Silva also revealed that while he had not received any personal threats, he was speaking “on behalf of the rights of everyone, that there should be space for criticism and dissension, particularly in economic policies, without being threatened”.

Stock market surveillance

UNP Chief Economist and MP Dr. Harsha de Silva called on the Government to act on the installation of surveillance software in the Colombo stock market to prevent manipulation.

“Two months ago the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said that it would install surveillance software in the Colombo stock market within one month. One month has passed but there is no discussion about it. I am asking the Government: ‘Where is it? Why are you not doing it?’” he said.

Pointing out that “99.5% of the people in the market are decent, honest, small time and medium scale investors,” he said however that there were “certain rogues”.

“To catch these rogues we need to have sophisticated software because these people are also sophisticated. I urge the Government to immediately act in this regard,” Dr. De Silva added. ~ courtesy: The Financial Times ~

October 28, 2010

Rajapaksa's big cover-up: Young lovers and naked women had better watch out

Sri Lanka's moral policing

from THE ECONOMIST

DAMAGE to Sri Lanka’s wondrous Sigiriya frescoes—5th-century depictions of lovely women with ample and mostly bare breasts—sent President Mahinda Rajapaksa clambering up to the rock fortress that houses them for an anxious look. Yet contemporary portraits of the barely-clad female form offend the eye of Mr Rajapaksa’s po-faced regime.

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More to the president’s liking ~ pic courtesy: The Economist

Since he was re-elected in a landslide in January, Mr Rajapaksa has sought to make good on a campaign promise to “create a society with good values and ethics”. In Colombo, this has meant police tearing down “indecent” posters and flyers. Citing a law against obscene publications, the officer who led that operation said he had ordered his men to remove any image of “women with their legs out”.

In a country whose textiles firms turn out thousands of racy bras and frilly knickers a year—including for Victoria’s Secret, an American apparel firm with longstanding ties to Sri Lanka—at least one lingerie company has stopped advertising. The crackdown will spread to other cities. But it has been delayed while Sri Lanka’s own vice-and-virtue squad launch another assault, on internet pornography.

Real-life lewdness is also out. In July police rounded up hundreds of red-faced couples caught holding hands, cuddling and kissing in public. In Kurunegala, a town near the centre of the island nation, they scoured hotel rooms for unmarried lovers. Similar crackdowns have been reported in many other places.

Prathiba Mahanama, a legal expert at the University of Colombo, says arresting consenting adult couples is illegal and suggests the victims could sue. But these efforts are popular. They are also backed by Sri Lanka’s powerful Buddhist clergy, whose support Mr Rajapaksa has carefully fostered. In March Sri Lanka denied a visa to Akon, a Senegalese-American singer, after he was pilloried by Buddhist monks for a pop video that showed women in bikinis dancing around a statue of the Buddha.

Victims of Mr Rajapaksa’s moral rage might wish to reach for a consolatory drink. But that is also frowned on. Advertising alcohol is banned to the extent that televised scenes that show drinking are pixellated. Oddly, parties flowing with free booze were a common feature of Mr Rajapaksa’s presidential campaign. - courtesy: The Economist -

Ensure image of Tamil Canadians is no longer tarnished by hurtful and false stereotypes - Canadian Parliamentarian

Recognition of the Tamil Canadian Community

Derek Lee, Member for Scarborough – Rouge River, rose in the House today, Oct 28th 2010 to recognize the many important contributions made by Tamil Canadians to this nation. This is a transcript of his words:

"Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak about the contributions made by the Tamil community to the fabric that makes up our multicultural nation.

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Derek Lee, M.P

This cultural community has forged roots across the country and has excelled in all areas of Canadian endeavour. Since the 1940s, when the first Tamils immigrated here, the community has grown to about a ¼ million. Canadian Tamils are teachers, entrepreneurs, bankers, doctors, researchers, lawyers, engineers, professors, athletes, corporate executives and other such occupations. Education is highly revered in the community and more than 5000 Tamil Canadian students are currently pursuing post secondary education in Ontario alone. Their businesses are part of the infrastructure of our communities and provide goods, services and jobs.

Recognizing the burdens imposed by a violent 30 year homeland conflict, it is time that this important community is recognized for its full contribution to our country and that steps be taken to ensure that the image of Tamil Canadians is no longer tarnished by hurtful and false stereotypes. Such negative stereotyping in our media or in political discourse is hurtful and unhelpful in our grand Canadian enterprise."

-30-

Contact: The Office of Derek Lee, M.P.: (613) 996-9682

Kankesanthurai to Kathirkamam (North to South)

By S. V. Kirubaharan in France

During our school holidays, we travelled extensively to all parts of Sri Lanka, making maximum use of my father’s first class railway warrant. We flew by then Air Ceylon between Palaly, Ratmalana and China Bay in Trincomalee

I can see how politicians in Ceylon and then Sri Lanka have become a dominant power within the last few decades. My father, then being an inspector of schools, received the first Prime Minister of Ceylon, when late D. S. Senanayake visited Kalmunai in the Eastern Province, on ctober 3, 1949. My father took the visiting prime minister on a procession inspecting the guard of honour by students in Kalmunai. Also he interpreted the PM’s speech from English to Tamil. Senanayake spoke neither Sinhalese nor Tamil. On that same day my eldest sister was born in the Kalmunai hospital, with the then record breaking weight of 12 pounds. The Prime Minister personally visited the hospital to see the new born baby and jokingly said to my mother “for a father with such a physique, 12 pounds of baby is not a big record.” My mother still relates this story.

We have travelled from Colombo to Matara by train and then by bus to Kathirkamam ( Kataragama). Also to up-country, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Chilaw, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Mannar and the whole of Jaffna peninsula, including the islands.

What surprises me from what we have seen and read is how little from the past exists now. For instance, we went to Kataragama in the ‘60s, ‘70s and lastly in 1987 — there is increasing evidence of a gradual write-off of a culture and religion. We saw this when we visited last in 2004, up-country and other parts that we had seen in the ‘60s. Trincomalee and Batticaloa have the same pathetic stories.

What does this mean and how have these places changed? In the world, places change with modern buildings, parks, industrialisation etc. But what we have seen in the above-mentioned areas has nothing to do with modernisation and upgrading standards.

In Kataragama, we always stayed at Ramakrishna Mission guest house, well maintained by a Swami — thousands of pilgrims were given lunch and dinner. There were many Saiva (Hindu) temples. Those managing them and the priests were Tamil. During those days Tamil songs were broadcast through loud speakers.

In the ‘60s when we wanted go to Sellak kathirgamam (Sella-Kataragama)’, we hired two bullock carts for a three mile journey through the jungles. On our way, I still remember, we saw a dead deer. The bullock cart men were Sinhalese but conversed with us in Tamil.

Whenever we travelled by car to Kataragama, one of our stops was Kalutara town where we could listen to good Tamil songs at high volume. This was due to the competition among the restaurants in the town. When we went last time to Kataragama, I was so sad to see the status of the temples. The government arbitrarily took over Ramakrishnan Mission in the ‘70s and now it is converted into a museum. Sad to say, presently there is no trace of Tamil existence of the past in Kataragama area – no more Tamil shops. I remember reading in a newspaper in the ‘80s, that a man who came on a pilgrimage from India was murdered in a hair dressing salon in Kataragama.

In the past, everywhere in up-country, there were Tamil-speaking people, including at the bottom of Adam’s Peak (Samanalakanda-Sivanolipatha malai) — it is not the same now. In fact, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims have claimed, connecting the footprint seen in the mountain (Adam’s Peak) to their religious leaders/gods.

In Kandy, next to Selva Pillayar (Vinayakar) Temple, there was a home known as ‘Tamil Home’, where bachelors from Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Jaffna could reside while working in Kandy. This home met a tragic end, attacked by rioters.

Since winning the war, the Rajapaksas and their people say we are all Sri Lankan and that there is no place for a specific community or ethnic-group. Everyone has the right to settle anywhere of their choice. If this is genuine, why can’t the Tamils be resettled back in Kataragama, up-country, Anuradhapura, Trincomalee and Ampara, Batticaloa and elsewhere where Tamils were living years back?

There are five renowned Hindu shrines (Easwarams) that existed for thousands of years in Sri Lanka. Thirukoneswaram (Trincomalee), Muneswaram (Chilaw), Thiruketheswaram (Pallavi-Mannar) and Thondeswaran – (Dondra in Galle also known as Devinuwara and Devundra) was destroyed by the Portuguese, foreign invaders. In its place a Vishnu temple was built according to Buddhist tradition. The fifth one, Naguleswaram is in Keerimalai in Kankesanthurai, where the colonisation process has just started and other Easwarams are gradually losing their identities.

Trincomalee tells another sad story. When we went there in the ‘60s and late ‘70s, I didn’t see any Sinhalese living in Trincomalee town. Of course we saw a few Sinhalese working in Fort Frederick where the Konneswaram temple is situated. When I went to these areas in 2004, I was in shock! Not only the town, even the agricultural village Thampalagama and other areas, are all populated with Sinhalese. Kanniya (hot-water-geysers) are now Sinhalese villages. All the temples have been destroyed and replaced with Buddhist statues.

Tamils lived peacefully in Negombo, Puttalam, Chilaw, Uddappu and other areas. Today what is the Tamil population in these areas?

Those days, the Christians, particularly Catholics went on pilgrimage to ‘Our Lady of Madhu’, especially during festival period. I had been to Madhu during off-festival time, when there is nobody other than laymen and a huge presence of flies and white butterflies. Thiruketheswaram in Pallavi is another place we visited. Tamil people were forcefully vacated from most of those areas. We had a bath at Naguleswaram temple in Keerimalai tank in 1984 taking the risk of being fired at from any direction.

Everywhere there are signs of cultural and religious genocide! The President should be open, fair and impartial in his commitment. If he wants to prove his fairness and equal treatment of citizens, he should courageously resettle the Tamils from Kataragama to Kankesanthurai (KKS). This could be a stepping stone for a united Sri Lanka. In conclusion, in ‘70s Jayewardene and Athulathmudali thought by allowing many of the Tamils to go abroad, militancy would be suppressed. That however proved counter-productive and today the strong Tamil diaspora all over the world is a threat to Rajapaksa and his government.

Presently, at least 500,000 – 600,000 Tamils are living in democratic and civilised countries, in which they are accepted as equal citizens with equal political rights. In other words, Sri Lankan politicians may be chasing Tamils from the island, but they have better status and equal rights in foreign countries and the Tamil language, culture and traditions are given better status than in Sri Lanka. This may be counter-productive for Sri Lanka into the future.

Today, Rajapaksas’ actions may be appreciated by short-sighted people — one day, the future generation from the South may find that the Rajapaksas’ were part of the most extreme blunders.

Very few academics from the South have written articles with theories and examples of equal treatment of Tamils. But in our experience many politicians — presidents, prime ministers and monarchies have fallen into to the ‘laws of motion’ of Sir Isaac Newton – “To every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction” and “everything which goes up has to come down” because of the ‘gravity’ of earth. Let us wait and see the future of the Rajapaksas and Sri Lanka.

Answer given by British Prime Minister to question on Sri Lanka War Crimes Tribunal

Following is the question raised by British MP Siobhain Mcdonagh on Sri Lanka and answer given by the Prime Minister David Cameron. Question and answer are excerpted from the Hansard

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Siobhain Mcdonagh

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): As a former PR man, does the Prime Minister agree that no matter how much Bell Pottinger tries to spin the Sri Lankan Government, the demands for an international independent war crimes tribunal intensify as more evidence of alleged assassination and civil rights abuses comes out?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady makes a fair point. We need to see an independent investigation of what happened. Everyone has read the papers and seen the TV footage, but we need an independent investigation to work out whether what she suggests is right.

Power sharing under Thirteenth Amendment better than Federalism or Zero Devolution

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Was the war worth fighting to a finish? Was it a good thing that a crushing defeat was imposed on the LTTE? Is Mahinda Rajapakse’s leadership preferable to that of the available alternative, Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe? Are the country and the bulk of its citizenry better off under Mahinda Rajapakse’s presidency than they were before it? Is the 13th amendment better than zero-devolution or federalism? My answer to all of the above has consistently been and remains an unambiguous ‘yes’. All other questions, however important, are supplementary and secondary.

The realm of Sri Lankan ideas has witnessed two recent and rather different interventions, which if synthesised, constitute a charter for a better future. One ideational intervention was by Sri Lanka’s new Cardinal, Malcolm Ranjith, whose intellect was commended in conversation with me, by Archbishop Silvano Tomassi, the Vatican’s respected top diplomat to the UN in Geneva, a PhD in Sociology from Fordham. A home grown whizz-kid in the oldest universalist institution and one of two Asians at the top levels of that global formation, proficient in ten languages, Bishop at 43, Archbishop at 53, the Vatican’s diplomat in Indonesia and Timor Leste at 57, and Cardinal on the cusp of 63, Malcolm Ranjith was picked out and promoted by two very different Pontiffs, the history making John Paul II (the only man Fidel seemed even slightly in awe of, according to award winning author-reporter Anna Guillermoprieto) and the master theologian, Benedict XVI. On the eve of becoming Cardinal, he delivered at my old high school, Aquinas, retrospective remarks on Sri Lanka’s discontents and recommendations for their prudential resolution.

A parallel intervention was by Prof GL Peiris, Rhodes Scholar and Visiting Fellow of All Souls (Oxford), Corpus Christi (Cambridge) and the University of London, in confident expositions at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London and the RK Mishra memorial lecture in Delhi. While the RK Mishra lecture was ‘thicker’ on public policy issues and dilemmas, Prof Peiris’ message at the IISS was on a continuum with those at the Asia Society, New York, and the Institute of International Affairs, Beijing: the secessionist-terrorist war had been the abiding obstacle to sustained high growth; with its overcoming, post war Sri Lanka is a land of opportunity and promise, deserving of time and space; there must be due appreciation of national specificities and sequencing, processes and priorities; the future of Sri Lanka will be decided by a broad consensus among its citizens and not dictated by unaccountable overseas pressure groups.

If the two perspectives of the Professor and the Cardinal, the former optimistic and the latter critically reflective, interface in “an atmosphere of mutual listening, give and take and harmony between these” (to borrow a phrase of the Cardinal’s) Sri Lanka may yet heal and proceed to perform with something of the promise it showed at Independence.

It is said, or should I say, alleged, that there is a perspective of turning Sri Lanka into an East Asia which entails trading off democracy or its expansion, in exchange for stability in the interests of development; and that this is a recipe not so much for East Asian prosperity but for Mussolini-like corporatism. I haven’t read anyone actually express the doctrine, so I must assume that the oppositional commentators are not simply hallucinating but either reading between the lines of the dominant discourse or plotting an inevitable trajectory of a presumed establishment endgame.

Having spent what has turned out to be a sabbatical year in East Asia and heard leaders list the policy paradigm and practices that enabled the region’s take-off into the stratosphere, I can only regard with grim humour the debate over whether or not Sri Lanka can, with “a little bit of authoritarianism” (to quote the late FDB) emulate East Asia.

Having watched the hubristic pursuit of the mirage of ‘dictatorship for development’ (almost exclusively by UNP administrations) run into geopolitical parameters and disintegrate in the sands of Sri Lankan social reality; having witnessed the irreducible democratic propensity and individualism of the Sri Lankan people (mainly the Sinhalese) eventually shrug off or burst through every effort at systemic straitjacketing, I tend not to lose much sleep over such delusions and anxieties.

The intellectual or theoretical argument has already been won and lost, with Nobel Prize winning economist and thinker (of South Asian provenance) Amartya Sen, empirically disproving the notion that development and democracy have a negative relationship and establishing instead that democracy has a directly salutary relationship with development.

Democracy assists development (providing feedback loops); development stimulates pressures for democratisation; underdevelopment or mal-development generates resistance to closed regimes.

A parallel debate is the devolution vs. development one, with some arguing that development not devolution is the panacea and prerequisite, others, the exact opposite. If there is a negative correlation between development and power-sharing, Brazil and India could not be among the world’s top performing economies nor Brazil the society in which poverty reduction goals have been most successfully met (endowing outgoing President Lula with an approval rating of 80%). If the counterargument is Sri Lanka’s small size, the answer is SWRD’s favourite model for ethnically diverse Ceylon: Switzerland.

The core issue is what degree of devolution will deliver the optimum combination of public goods: ending or preventing the repetition of the cycle of ethnic disaffection and restiveness, while ensuring strong centre which can enhance the centripetal, counteract the centrifugal and the irredentist, and safeguard Sri Lanka’s hard won territorial unity, integrity, sovereignty and security. Development will be crippled with an excess of devolution which weakens the strong state and its delivery potential, while an insufficiency of devolution will not accommodate and meliorate diverse ethnic identities to the point of permitting economic take-off and sustainability.

The name of the game is neither cosmopolitan shopping for models of devolution in a global supermarket, nor a mono-cultural monologue. As Prof Peiris said in his RK Mishra lecture, "there is both an external and an internal dimension". To a significant degree the dynamics will be determined neither by external pressure nor domestic insularity but by the inexorable dialectical interaction of internal–external realities.

It is important to avoid economic strategies that generate perceptions of the deliberate underdevelopment of the North, or a development model that may be perceived by the people of the area as top-down, outside-in, and the thin invasive edge of extractive exploitation or demographic/cultural incursion. Conversely there must be no room for an equivalent misperception of a North subsidised at the expense of the South or especially and excessively linked to external economies and power centres.

The answer is to design an economic strategy and model that does not foster Northern dependency on the South or its own North (across the waters) or the Western donors, but consciously fosters North-South economic integration on the basis of interlock and interdependence, not dependence. If all provinces of the country are tied up in mutual economic partnerships; if the Sinhalese and Tamils begin to see each other as economic partners; if the welfare of each community and province depends on the other; if all communities and provinces are stakeholders in the wellbeing of the other; if rising living standards are palpably the fruit of co-existence and cooperation, then post-war will be anchored in shared prosperity, then Sri Lanka, which has moved from war to post-war, will have made the transition from post-war to post–(ethnic) conflict, and from the absence of war to the preservation of the presence of peace. The conversation between Sinhala based and Tamil based democratic parties and leaders, must be a search for a Middle Path, eschewing antipodal alternatives.

October 27, 2010

Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds

By Arundhati Roy

I write this from Srinagar, Kashmir. This morning's papers say that I may be arrested on charges of sedition for what I have said at recent public meetings on Kashmir.

I said what millions of people here say every day.

I said what I, as well as other commentators have written and said for years.

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Arundhati Roy

Anybody who cares to read the transcripts of my speeches will see that they were fundamentally a call for justice.

I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state.

Yesterday I travelled to Shopian, the apple-town in South Kashmir which had remained closed for 47 days last year in protest against the brutal rape and murder of Asiya and Nilofer, the young women whose bodies were found in a shallow stream near their homes and whose murderers have still not been brought to justice.

I met Shakeel, who is Nilofer's husband and Asiya's brother. We sat in a circle of people crazed with grief and anger who had lost hope that they would ever get ‘insaf' — justice — from India, and now believed that Azadi — freedom — was their only hope. I met young stone pelters who had been shot through their eyes. I travelled with a young man who told me how three of his friends, teenagers in Anantnag district, had been taken into custody and had their finger-nails pulled out as punishment for throwing stones.

In the papers some have accused me of giving ‘hate-speeches,' of wanting India to break up. On the contrary, what I say comes from love and pride. It comes from not wanting people to be killed, raped, imprisoned or have their finger-nails pulled out in order to force them to say they are Indians. It comes from wanting to live in a society that is striving to be a just one.

Pity the nation that has to silence its writers for speaking their minds. Pity the nation that needs to jail those who ask for justice, while communal killers, mass murderers, corporate scamsters, looters, rapists, and those who prey on the poorest of the poor, roam free.

Arundhati Roy
October 26, 2010

[pic: courtesy of HindustanTimes]

March 2009 Article: Silence in India on the horrors of Sri Lanka war is inexcusable-Arundhati Roy

China campaigns against Burma war crimes inquiry

By Colum Lynch

The Chinese government has launched a high-octane diplomatic campaign during the past two months aimed at thwarting the Obama administration's plan to back an international probe into possible war crimes by Burma's military rulers.

Protest Against the millitary Leadar Gen. Than Shwe of Myanmar ~ in Colombo, Nov 2009 ~ VikalpaSL

The Chinese effort - which includes high-level lobbying of top U.N. officials and European and Asian governments - has taken the steam out of the U.S. initiative, which was designed to raise the political costs to Burma's military junta for failing to open its Nov. 7 elections to the country's political opposition.

A senior U.S. official was pessimistic about the current prospects for securing international support for a war crimes probe and made it clear that Washington had no immediate plans to introduce a proposal to establish one. "We have been and continue to consult with others," said the official, who requested anonymity because the source was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. "It's on the list of things that are good ideas that we want to discuss and explore."

Liu Yutong, a spokesman for the Chinese mission at the United Nations, did not respond to a request for comment.

Burma, which is also known as Myanmar, is widely considered to have one of the most appalling human rights records in the world. The ruling junta has detained more than 2,100 political prisoners, many of whom have endured torture, inadequate medical care and even death. The Burmese military has also imposed abuses on ethnic minorities, including the forced relocation of villages, forced labor and systematic human rights abuses, including rape.

"There is a pattern of gross and systematic violation of human rights which has been in place for many years and still continues," the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, wrote in a March report, saying such crimes could amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. "There is an indication that those human rights violations are the result of a state policy."

The United States outlined its plan to support Quintana's appeal for a war crimes inquiry against senior Burmese officials, including Burma's top military ruler Than Shwe, in August interviews with Foreign Policy magazine and The Washington Post. The decision reflected frustration that U.S. officials' effort to engage the regime had failed to produce democratic reforms or the release of political prisoners, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who serves under house detention.

At the time, a senior U.S. official said the United States anticipated the effort could take years, comparing it to the decades-long struggle to hold Khmer Rouge leaders accountable for mass killings in Cambodia in the 1970s. The most likely method for pursuing the creation of a commission of inquiry is through the passage of resolutions at the U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee, which is now in session, or the U.N. Human Rights Council, which will convene early next year.

Washington could also appeal to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to do it under his own authority - although Ban, who is seeking reelection, is unlikely to pursue the proposal without broader support for it in the Security Council.

But the United States has pursued a highly cautious diplomatic strategy, merely sounding out top U.N. officials and potential allies about their willingness to support the prosecution of top Burmese officials, but not offering a clear plan on how to do it, these officials said. So far, Washington has garnered little public support for the initiative from Asian and European governments or the U.N. leadership.

China, meanwhile, has forcefully urged European and Asian countries and the U.N. leadership to oppose the measure on the grounds that it could undermine Burma's fragile political transition, according to diplomats and human rights advocates. Just days after the United States signaled support for the war crimes commission, China's U.N. ambassador, Li Baodong, paid a confidential visit to Ban's chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, to make his opposition clear: The U.S. proposal, he said, was dangerous and counterproductive, and should not be allowed to proceed, three U.N.-based sources familiar with the exchange told The Post.

"What we are seeing is the Chinese practicing American-style diplomacy and the Americans practicing Asian-style diplomacy," said Tom Malinowski, the Washington-based director of advocacy for Human Rights Watch. "The Chinese are making it clear what they want, and they are using all the leverage at their disposal to get what they want. And the Americans are operating in this hyper-consensual, subtle, indirect way that we associate with Chinese diplomacy."

Malinowski said the problem is less about Chinese or Russian opposition, which was to be expected, so much as a failure of U.S. leadership. "One should recognize why the Chinese are against this: They recognize it would be a consequential measure," he said.

"If you allow Chinese opposition to deter you, then what you are saying is that you are only going to take steps on Burma that are inconsequential."

In the first major test of the U.S. strategy, the annual debate on human rights at the General Assembly, the Obama administration was the only country that explicitly called for consideration of a commission of inquiry - although Britain, the Czech Republic and Slovakia signaled support for holding human rights violators accountable for crimes.

COURTESY:WASHINGTON POST

Argentinean judge petitions Spain to try civil war crimes of Franco

Allegations of genocide under dictator's rule could be tried in Latin America if amnesty laws block investigations in Spain

BY Giles Tremlett

In a stark reversal of roles, an Argentine judge has taken a step towards opening the first comprehensive investigation into the human rights abuses of General Franco's dictatorship in Spain.

Judge Mara Servini has asked Spain to declare whether its own courts are investigating cases of torture, murder and disappearance of Franco's political opponents.

If amnesty laws prevent Spanish courts investigating the cases cited by Servini, which date from 1936 until the dictator's death in 1975, then she might declare her own court competent to investigate and try crimes allegedly committed by Franco's henchmen.

In a formal petition to Spain, Servini indicates that the court would investigate allegations of genocide, including tens of thousands of cases of "torture, assassination, forced disappearances and the stealing of children".

Her request mirrors those made over the past dozen years by Spanish courts which, using international law allowing human rights crimes to be investigated and tried elsewhere if a country cannot do so itself, have brought cases against several military regimes in Latin America.

The Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzn famously used this process to order the arrest of Chile's Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998. In that case the law lords ruled that the former dictator should be extradited to face trial in Spain, although Jack Straw, home secretary at the time, finally sent the general back to Chile on health grounds in 2000.

Garzn used the same principle of universal jurisdiction to prosecute the Argentine navy captain Adolfo Scilingo in Madrid in 2005. Scilingo was jailed for throwing drugged political prisoners out of aircraft into the sea.

Argentina later repealed its own amnesty laws and the country now tries dirty-war suspects.

The request by Servini comes after Spanish human rights campaigners took the case to Argentina, claiming domestic courts were effectively closed to them. They say a decision by the supreme court to try Garzn for allegedly distorting Spanish law as he tried to open an investigation in 2008 into Francoist crimes, proves that Spain is unable to try these crimes itself. Garzn is due to be tried in the coming months.

A Spanish amnesty law passed in 1977 covers crimes committed while carrying out political repression before 1976 by "authorities, civil servants and agents of public order".

The petition from Servini lists the cases of several people killed or "disappeared" by pro-Francoist death squads in the early days of the Spanish civil war in 1936 when General Franco helped lead a right-wing uprising against the government. It also includes the case of Silvia Carretero, arrested and allegedly tortured in 1975, and her husband Jos Luis Snchez Bravo, who was shot by a Francoist firing squad that year after being found guilty of killing a police officer.

In her petition, signed on 14 October, Severini asks Spain's government "to inform this court whether in your country there is an investigation into the existence of a systematic, widespread and deliberate plan designed to terrorise those Spaniards who supported representative government via their physical elmination, and of a plan of legalized disappearance of children whose identities were changed."

COURTESY:GUARDIAN

October 26, 2010

Funds and access problems hinder commencement of major livelihood support programmes for widows

by IRIN News

COLOMBO, 26 October 2010 (IRIN) - Tens of thousands of war widows cannot be reached due to a lack of funds, say officials, despite efforts to help them adjust to life after the conflict in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

There are 89,000 widows in the north and east, Mohamed Hizbullah, the deputy minister for child development and women’s affairs, told IRIN.

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Vijayamoorthy Inbany lost her husband in 2009 ~ pic: Udara Soysa/IRIN

“Where do we find money to restore livelihoods? My ministry does not have the needed funds to do this… Funds are our biggest problem to commence major support programmes for widows.”

He said the government was providing 800 women in the eastern town of Batticaloa with self-employment training. The programme would be expanded to nearby Kilinochchi by the end of the year, he added.

The UN Industrial Development Organization has put aside US$800,000 to fund microcredit and small business support to widows.

“There is a huge need for providing sustainable livelihoods for thousands of widows and we are doing our best,” said the agency’s national programme coordinator, Sarath Abeysundara.

Access problems

More than 17 months after the decades-long civil conflict was declared over, accessing all the widows is proving difficult.

One factor is the lack of comprehensive data on the numbers of widows, said Ivan Rasia, a senior officer with the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Vijayamoorthy Inbany, 40, lost her husband due to shelling in February 2009 in the northern district of Mullaitivu in the final months of fighting between the separatist group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the government.

“We are struggling to live each day. We have no jobs and no men to help us out. My daughter and I both live on government [bi-weekly food] assistance,” she said. Inbany says she does not have much hope for herself or her family. “In many ways, society does not accept widows and re-marriage is not even an option.”

Savithri Wijesekera, executive director of Colombo-based NGO Women in Need, said widows’ needs outstripped available services. “It is a challenge, especially in the case of Sri Lanka when two generations are simultaneously widowed.”

Even convincing people that women need special attention after a conflict has been hard for her organization, she added.

A recent World Food Programme food security assessment of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living with host families in the northern Jaffna District showed most of them depended on food rations.

The total IDP population in host families is almost 15,000 people; some 16 percent of the households are female-headed and 9 percent are widowed, according to local government officials.

The government has vowed to resettle all IDPs – now numbering fewer than 19,000 by its late October count – by the end of 2010.

More than 280,000 people fled fighting between government and LTTE forces who had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland for almost three decades. The conflict was declared officially over on 18 May 2009.

We can only hope Sri Lanka ceases to be a place from where people must flee

By Sachini Weerawardena

"There is no reason why anybody should leave Sri Lanka out of any fear. They have the freedom to live anywhere" - Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

Much has been written about Asylum seekers and the unsafe conditions in which they attempt to cross over to foreign lands at great personal risk. According to Article 1 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…" and an asylum seeker is a person waiting on his or her application to be recognized as a refugee.

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[Horror journey ... Sri Lankan asylum seekers on the water police boat at Merak / Pic: Gita Anggun Athika - courtesy: The Daily Telegraph]

History is full of instances in the world when people have been forced to seek refuge. The act of granting asylum by a nation state to a foreign national should be considered one of the greatest acts of kindness humanity has bestowed upon each other. It has offered protection and hope to those survivors who ultimately lived to tell their horrific stories to the world.

Daily Mirror recently carried a story where the Defence Secretary was quoted saying, “The Australian government has to be very strict on anybody to whom they are considering granting asylum. If they just stopped giving asylum, it would be much easier to stop this process." The article went on to state that the military had successfully restricted such boats from leaving Sri Lankan shores. People instead travel to other countries and attempt to seek asylum from there. So it would seem that some Sri Lankans are desperately trying to get out.

The question is however, why these governments remain “sympathetic to asylum seekers of Sri Lankan origin and whether the measures being taken to “stop this process” are addressing the right issues. Unfortunately it seems we have come to confuse the reasons as to why people leave and attempt to group asylum seekers together with those who leave voluntarily.

The system always has to deal with those who will seek to take advantage of it. Does that mean the process of granting asylum should stop? The fact so many are granted asylum has to mean something. However, the significance of the asylum seeker should not be ridiculed or confused with others who simply seek greener pastures.

Those who have the means and connections secure residence by way of education or employment. Some choose to return, others prefer to stay. But it is important to realize that people can and do have the freedom to choose. Whether those reasons are out of fear or circumstance or simply because they want a better life is between the individual and the immigration officials.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) categorizes an Economic Migrant as a person who “makes a conscious choice to leave their country of origin and can return there without a problem.” It would seem most Sri Lankans would fall in to this category if they are indeed attempting to find better economic conditions. But the case of the asylum seeker is real and we should not make the mistake of confusing the two.

We simply cannot have it both ways.

It will take a while before Sri Lanka recovers from the scars of a decade long war. Should the people have to watch their lives go by and wait for generations after them to live comfortable lives? With no hope of job training and no real educational qualifications, what can Sri Lanka offer to them than what is more attractive compared to living in a developed nation?

Ultimately, those who are successful in crossing over to developed nations will live better lives than they would have otherwise. Their children will have hope and a shot at life with no remnants of prejudice and hate. In time we can only hope Sri Lanka ceases to be a destination from where people must flee and all Sri Lankans can feel safe.

Perhaps the issue of granting asylum should be left to the immigration officials of those respective countries. Let them figure out the implications or the consequences. It cannot be easy, to wish to leave one’s homeland. It is even worse when an individual is forced to flee as a refugee out of fear for their lives. Simply because people go in search of greener pastures does not mean that the asylum seeker flees for the same reason. The fact that so many do should mean that there is still much work to be done from within Sri Lanka.

Ex-Chief Justice Sarath Silva asks President to do for Fonseka what Judiciary did for Mahinda earlier

By Kelum Bandara

Former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva who signed the public petition yesterday demanding the release of retired General Sarath Fonseka said even President Mahinda Rajapaksa would have been destined for something different if the judiciary had not upheld his human rights in the past.

Addressing a function to mark the signing of the petition, the former chief justice recalled that President Rajapaksa had lost his civic rights during the latter part of 1980 because of a court ruling on an election petition on the Kalawana by-election which was won by communist party member Sarath Muththutuwegama.

Mr. Silva said the Supreme Court restored the civic rights of Mr. Rajapaksa who was an MP at the time.

He also referred to three other court cases against Mr. Rajapaksa in which his fundamental rights were safeguarded.

“The judiciary acted to uphold his human rights at that time. We ask him to do the same for others today,” Mr. Silva said.

He said today the former army commander had been denied his human rights guaranteed to him under the Constitution, and he had been subjected to a plight even worse than that of a person who committed a horrendous murder.

He said that when considering the allegations against the former army commander, nobody had been caused any mental, physical or financial harm, besides there had been no financial loss to the government either.

“For any act to become a criminal offence, it should cause such harm to somebody,” he said.

He said that when considering the allegations against the former army commander, nobody had been caused any mental, physical or financial harm, besides there had been no financial loss to the government either.

“For any act to become a criminal offence, it should cause such harm to somebody,” he said.

Referring to the second General Court Martial ruling which sentenced Mr. Fonseka, he said four charges were brought against him.

“In this case, no fraud has taken place. Tender procedures have been followed and technical committee evaluations done. But, they asked Mr. Fonseka to disclose the connection between his son-in-law and the Hicorp Company. He ruled it out and he had been subjected to a plight even worse than that of a person who committed a horrendous murder.

According to the Companies’ Registrar, his son-in-law is not on the Board of Directors of the Company, nor is he a share holder. In this manner, a father will never be able to give his daughter in marriage to anyone because he is required to investigate the affairs of his son-in-law to be,” Mr. Silva said. - courtesy: Daily Mirror -

October 25, 2010

Flood of poor Mennonite refugees brought Public Safety minister Vic Toews' parents to Canada

By: Bruce Cheadle

OTTAWA — There’s a global recession and Canada’s economy is not immune.

Shiploads of strange, foreign refugees — economic migrants and oppressed minorities — have been landing on our shores, fleeing civil war, economic up heaval and famine.

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Vic Toews (right), with Treasury Board President Stockwell Day, says terrorists and human traffickers are behind the recent influx of Tamil refugee claimants

No one is certain how they can be as similated and there are concerns about criminals, subversives and agitators in their midst.

"If (their)... government is threaten ing to deport them... it is probably be cause they refuse to obey the laws of the country, and we should have full information regarding the facts," one mainstream advocacy group objects.

No, it is not 2010. The year is 1929. The migrants are Mennonites fleeing Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Russia and de­portation to certain starvation in Siber ia. Canada’s doors are slamming shut to refugees.

Among the massive Mennonite influx who helped fuel that public and political backlash were the Ukrainian refugee grandparents and parents of current Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

While the parallels are not exact, many of the arguments heard this week from Toews and others about putting a stop to the mass migration of Tamil refugees to Canada were offered dur ing the 1920s against other targets.

"We are very concerned that there are elements of the LTTE and the Tam il Tigers on board this vessel," Toews said in August, as a ship laden with al most 500 Tamils landed in B.C.

These "suspected human smugglers and terrorists did not come to Canada by accident," Toews said, but targeted Canada due to its history and reputation of accepting migrants.

"This particular situation we believe to be a part of a larger human smug gling and human trafficking enter prise. I don’t view this as an isolated, independent act."

Toews’ comments quickly made it on to the racist website Stormfront, where a commenter suggested that Canada’s government: "Send the ship and all the scum that is aboard it to the bottom of the ocean."

The Public Safety minister did not respond to an interview request on his family history, but would surely view such racial hatred and cold hearted absolutism with horror.

After all, the Ku Klux Klan of Kanada suggested in the late 1920s that Canada, faced with an influx of Ukrainian Men nonite refugees, "see that the slag and scum that refuse to become 100-per cent Canadian citizens is skimmed off and thrown away."

Toews’ mother Anne Peters arrived with her family as a five-year-old in 1924, among more than 5,000 refugees in the first big year of Russian immi gration after Mackenzie King’s Liber als opened Canada to eastern Europe’s fleeing Mennonites.

His father Victor’s family arrived in 1926 when Victor was eight, part of the single largest annual migration that topped 5,900 Mennonite refugees.

A year later, only 847 were allowed in and by 1930 — when the need for es cape from Russia was most desperate — Canada had closed the door.

"It’s a unique period of time, it’s a small window," Hans Werner, a pro fessor of Mennonite studies at the Uni versity of Winnipeg, says of the short period in the mid-1920s when Anne and Victor arrived in Canada.

"It was entirely legal. Not uncontro versial possibly, but certainly legal. They negotiated an arrangement."

Human smugglers, the current Pub lic Safety minister will be relieved to know, were not involved in his parents’ passage to Canada. It was the Canadian Pacific Railway and its steamships that extended credit for the refugee trav ellers under terms the impoverished refugees couldn’t possibly meet.

Every Canadian Mennonite child has grown up hearing about the "Reises chuld," or travel debt, to the CPR, said Ed Wiebe, the refugee program co-or dinator at the Mennonite Central Com mittee Canada in Winnipeg.

Two CPR ships were initially sent to Odessa on the Black Sea, each re turning in 1923 with more than 1,000 refugees aboard at $140 for each man, woman and child.

The first group of 121 Mennonite fam ilies arrived in Saskatchewan in July 1923, with the men immediately put to work on the harvest and all their wages going to their transportation debt.

More than 21,000 Mennonites came to Canada under these CPR contracts during the 1920s, piling up an accumu lated transport debt of more than $1.7 million. It wasn’t fully settled until 1946, when Mennonite groups paid off the last of the principal and the CPR — having benefited immeasurably from the cheap labour and agricultural com merce the settlers provided their rail way — wrote off about $1.5 million in accrued interest.

"You might say that one person’s smuggling is another person’s salva tion," says historian Werner.

Canada’s assistant deputy immigra tion minister at the time of the Men nonite influx, F.C. Blair, would prove instrumental a decade later in Can ada’s decision to turn away the SS St. Louis and her 900-plus Jewish refugees — memorably stating that other ships would likely follow and "the line must be drawn somewhere."

It’s been a recurring theme in Can ada’s history: Desperate migrants using any means at their disposal to make a stab at a new life for their families in this under-populated land.

Perhaps a generation or two hence, the child of one of the smuggled Tamil youngsters who arrived in the last year will rise to become Canada’s immigra tion or justice minister — a trajectory that all would hail as a sign of Canada’s inclusiveness and opportunity. - courtesy: Canadian Press - via: Winnipeg Free Press - pic: MarketwirePhoto-

History may not be kind to Jason Kenney as it was to Gustav Schroeder

by Guidy Mamann

Captain Gustav Schroeder was a very courageous and righteous German.

In 1939, he was the captain of the MS St. Louis when it set sail from Hamburg to the Americas with 937 refugees aboard, all but seven of whom were Jews fleeing death at the hands of the Nazis.

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Hon. Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety, and the Hon. Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and Treasury Board President Hon. Stockwell Day introduced new legislation aimed to prevent "human smuggling" on Oct 21, 2010

Schroeder was committed to finding his desperate passengers safe haven in any country that would accept them.
Intense negotiations with the Cuban government failed to get the refugees asylum on Cuban shores, although 29 passengers did manage to disembark there.

As for the Americans, they had immigration quotas which precluded the landing of the ship off of Florida’s shores. To complicate matters, the Jews had no return addresses which were required by the U.S. of all tourists.

When the ship was repelled by the United States, Canada’s Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie was petitioned to let them land in Canada. On June 9, he bowed to public and political pressure and denied them landing.

Schroeder and his Jewish passengers were sent back across the Atlantic towards Nazi Germany where death would have awaited all of them, including, I am sure, Schroeder himself.

Rather than returning to Germany, Schroeder docked at Antwerp, Belgium. There the British agreed to take 288 of the passengers. 224 were accepted by France, 214 by Belgium, and 181 by the Netherlands.

Although the Jewish passengers appeared to have reached safety, in 1940 Germany invaded Belgium and France and began rounding up their Jewish populations, including the survivors of the St. Louis.

Historians estimate that about 250 of the 937 St. Louis refugees later perished in the Holocaust.

Had it not been for Schroeder’s actions, all 937 could have ended up in Nazi concentration camps.

To me, the son-in-law of two Holocaust survivors, Schroeder is a hero.

Regrettably, I don’t think Immigration Minister Jason Kenney sees this historical figure in quite the same light.

Last week, in response to the August arrival of the Sun Sea and its 492 Tamil refugees off the shores of British Columbia, Kenney announced the tabling of a bill he is marketing as an “anti-smuggling” bill. In reality, the bill dubbed the “Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act” is more about punishing refugees simply for seeking our protection in a very public way.

Under our current legislation, a person who knowingly organizes ten or more persons to enter Canada without proper documentation -- like Schroeder -- faces a fine of $1,000,000 and life imprisonment.

Under the new bill, a judge will have to sentence such a person to jail for a minimum of five years if profit is found to be a motive or if people’s safety is found at stake.

As for the refugee claimants who arrive in groups designated by the minister as an “irregular arrival,” they and their children will be held in detention for at least one year after their arrival unless the minister agrees to shorten their internment.

They will also end up being separated for about nine years or more from the spouses and children they may have left behind. This is because:

- their refugee hearings can take one-two years to schedule

- they will now have to wait another five years before they can apply for permanent residence, and they will have to wait another one-two years while their applications for permanent residence are processed

There is no doubt that, although 80-90 per cent of Sri Lankan Tamils are accepted here as refugees, their circumstances are not as dire as their Jewish counterparts of the Nazi era who were rounded up and thrown into concentration camps.

Also, there is no doubt that modern day smugglers can be motivated by greed more than by the altruism demonstrated by Captain Schroeder. Nonetheless, the legislation proposed by Kenney makes little provision for the possibility of future genocides or allowances for heroism.

That is why this bill is so fundamentally flawed.

Kenney says that this is not the “the right way” for refugees to come to Canada. Interestingly, he never states exactly which is “the right way” for a person fleeing persecution to reach our shores in search of our protection.

History has been kind to Captain Gustav Schroeder. After the war, he was awarded Germany’s Order of Merit and, in 1993, he was posthumously named by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations.”

History will not be so kind to Kenney if these mean-spirited and ill-conceived measures are rushed into law under his watch.

(Guidy Mamann, J.D. practices law in Toronto at Mamann, Sandaluk and is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an immigration specialist. This article appeared in "Metro Canada" on October 25th under the heading "Ottawa could learn a lesson from a tragic story".)

A Texan Tamil's Jambu-stained words hurled at the Sri Lankan President

By Sebastian Rasalingam, Toronto

It is with deep pain and a sense of futility that I read the seemingly well-articulated "ataappali" of my fellow Tamil George Willy in Texas, directed at President Mahinda Rajapaksa on his visit to the US.

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President Mahinda Rajapaksa, First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Sri Lankan Ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Bandula Wijay, chairman of the organizing committee, Attorney George Willy, Sanjiv Arora and Consul General of India, Houston ~ pic: courtesy of indoamericannews

However, as an old man who grew up during the Donoughmore era, I am probably several decades older than Willy, and heard fine speeches from the silver tongues of the Ramanathans and Ponnambalams of an earlier era. I cringe with pain because we Tamils continue to play the same tune and propagate the same myths which we collectively believe.

Even some Sinhalese, the anglicized minority who read no Tamil, have begun to believe in our own grandiose speeches, where we nurse this beggar’s wound of Majority discrimination against the Tamil minority.

Here we have George Willy, with his non-Tamil name, telling us how important Thamil is to the Tamils, even though there is not a single Tamil quotation in his speech. We are told of red stains from the "Jambu" fruit ("perunaval" in Tamil), where as the perunaval only leaves a brown stain!

As Dr. Jane Russell, the British historian has noted, the Tamil politicians have exploited the Elara-Dutugamunu story even more than the Sinhalese. It was G. G. Ponnambalam who brought the Mahavamsa into modern politics in the 1930s, claiming that it was a false piece of propaganda, and in the next instant claiming that it was really a history of the Tamils, with the aboriginal Veddas taken to be Tamils, Vijaya transmuting into Vijayan, Kasyapa into Kasi-Appan and Parakaramabahu a 66% Dravidian. He went on to incite the Sinhalese in Navalapitiya for the first Sinhala-Tamil riot in 1939! George Willy is unwittingly or wittingly playing the old fiddle of G. G. Ponnambalam.

mp3 Audio of speech by George R. Willy

George Willy says, "Do not make the mistake that sparked the ‘58 riots." Most Tamils of today are too young to know the truth about 1956 and 1958. It was the Tamils and not the Sinhalese who made the mistake. By 1949 the Ilanakai Thail Arasu kadchi (ITAK -Tamil Sovereignty party) had already resolved in Maradana that the "invaders" must be driven out of "the traditional homelands" of the Tamils.

The Tamil-language publications of the ITAK 1952 election expressly said it. If the ITAK really wanted federalism, there was a large and powerful Kandyan group supporting it in 1948 and 1952. But the Tamils made the mistake of NOT going to the country for Federalism. Instead, federalism was talked about in English only in Colombo, to appease the Thiruchelvams, Milroy Pauls and other Karuvakaddu types. ITAK was just a false front for a more ambitious Arasu idea. This idea failed electorally in 1952, but they stoked the 1958 fire by taking advantage of the 1956 Language bill!

It was this same idea that reared in fully grown from in Vadukkoddai, Thimpu and Kilinochchi.

George Willy says, "Do not hold back Tamil youth who want to get into universities." It is amazing that the rich upper-caste Tamils could raise this much ire and fire about the less than 1% of the children who enter the school system and finally end up in University.

What about the school dropouts, and the unstated barriers against the Tamil children belonging to the socially disadvantaged castes to get a decent education?

How many of the Tamil university entrants are Vellalars or Rich Colombo Karaivars?

Why are there NO Tamil undergrads from the socially disadvantaged castes?

This iniquity has existed from the beginnings of Navalar’s times through Ramanathan’s attempts to include caste discrimination in the constitution. Even in the post-Vadukkoddai era, Shanmuganathan of the Communist Party had to lead a campaign in Mavattipuram regarding the ITAK’s attitude to schooling, Temple entry, and even the right to draw water from a well.

And yet George Willy says, "Do not make the Tamils feel as though they are second class citizens". He does not seem to know that the Tamils admit only of a ruling caste and the others are just subject castes?

Interestingly, the LTTE’s was not only a fight for Eelam but also a rejection of the leadership of the Thimpu-Tamils like the George Willys, Wakeley Pauls, Ponnambalams and their (s)ilk.

George Willy lives in America discovered by a Spaniard. Most of California and some southern states of USA are the "Traditional Homelands" of the Hispanics living in the US. But have the Hispanics any rights whatever in the US?

There are many more Hispanics in America than the possibly 10% Tamils now left in Sri Lanka. Ask what would happen in the USA if the Hispanics asked for a strip on the US flag, or what the Tamils had in Sri Lanka even in 1960.

Tamils have to be politically less naive and follow the subtle and successful politics of S. Thondaman who, without slogan, Sathyagraha or slaughter achieved every single political objective of his people through cooperation with the majority and working towards national unity.

Watch from about 6 minutes in. Speech by George R. Willy to President Mahinda Rajapaksa

Related: 'Your Excellency return us to paradise, return us to paradise'

If Sarath Fonseka can be treated this way then what could be the plight of ordinary Tamil or Sinhala persons?

by M.A. Sumanthiran

Hon. Deputy Chairman of Committees,

At the determinations of salaries for judges of superior court, when those salaries and allowance are being raised and right at the outset I wish to state that we agree with the motion for the determinations that have been placed before the house. The salaries of judges are an important component that ensures independence of the judiciary.

In any function in democracy independence of the judiciary is an important feature, and it is for that reason that even the rules of debate in this house, in terms of the standing order 78, has provided that the conduct of judges cannot be a subject matter of the debate except on a substantive motion. So the parliament which is supreme in the realm of law making has itself bound itself, provided fetters for itself, so that the other arm of the government namely the judiciary must be independent. But this standing order 78 is often misunderstood as can be seen; it’s only the conduct of judges, the conduct of the president that cannot be raised.

Judgments of courts do not fall under this standing order; Judgment of court can be criticized, not only within the confines of this house but also outside, because justice is not a cloistered virtue. It must suffer the scrutiny of men, it must stand the test that is applied to it, and so in any functioning democracy as I said, that is another feature that shows up the independence of the judiciary, The ability to subject judgments of court for fair scrutiny before the people, and today is an opportunity that we have to reflect upon the history or the performance of the independence of our judiciary. It’s an opportunity to evaluate how independent our judiciary has been.

That is not a matter that comes within the purview of conduct of any particular judge; it’s a judiciary as a whole. I agree with most of the government speakers as to how under the 1978 constitution, the independence of the judiciary was interfered with constantly by the Executive. It started with the promulgation with the constitution itself, Judges of the superior court were shut out, there could not even enter their chambers, and it a decided authority, in a decided case, Vishvalingam Vs. Liyanage – former chief justice Nevil Samarakone has hoped that such a dark day as what happened on that particular day will not happen in the future in this country, but that was not to be.

Very soon, houses of judges were stoned. Judges who have given judgment against the state on certain fundamental rights matters that came up before the supreme court was stoned, but that is not to say that this trend of the Executive interfering, threatening, seeking to subjugate, the supposedly independent arm of the government, that the judiciary ceases with the change of administration. No it doesn’t. We see that sad spectacle even today.

To this day, the Executive’s interference in the judiciary continues and that is there for all to see. Members of this house can trade allegations one against the other. Every time the main opposition UNP, points out to the government benches that the independence of the judiciary is been interfered with one sees the sad spectacle of government ministers and government members responding only with the history of what the UNP did.

What the UNP did is no justification for what happens today. What the UNP did is no yard stick by which one decides whether it’s right or wrong or to what degree the interference in the judiciary can be tolerated. If it was wrong for the UNP to have done that, it is wrong today for the UPFA to be doing the same thing. That is the test. By their own words they condemn themselves; by their own words when they respond and say “Well you did the same thing” they bring judgment on themselves, saying “We are doing the same thing. We are doing the unacceptable, we are doing what a democracy should not condone” and that is the Executive to be interfering with the judiciary.

Appointment of judges is an important aspect of the independence of the judiciary. I was sad to see the Hon. Susil Premajayantha justifying the 18th amendment that has taken away whatever independence that was brought in with the 17th amendment. The very fact that the Executive appoints without untrammeled powers, judges of the superior court itself is a severe blow to the independence of the judiciary. We have had this sad spectacle in this country, one were to look behind and evaluate under the Soulbury Constitution, there was a protective clause. Sec. 29(4) and 29(2), which prohibited any passage of legislation even in the legislature that conferred any benefit in one community that was not conferred on another community or subjected one community to some disability that the other community was not subjected to.

At the time the constitution was promulgated if anyone was to ask to give an example of what may have been in their minds, an easy example would have been given that the Sinhala language cannot be made the only official language. That could have been the example that could have been given under 29(2). But that very act was passed in 1956 and the judiciary could not do anything. There were legal challenges to that, at least two. That is the sad history of this country.

Not only that in 1972, when a new republican constitution was to be brought in, Mr. C. Sundaralingam, former member of this house, went before the supreme court to stop the promulgation of a new constitution the judgment that is reported says, “it’s too early, it has not happened yet. So you can’t challenge this”. As soon as the 1972 constitution, the first republican constitution was adopted by this house by the national state assembly then, Mr. Sundaralingam went back to the Supreme Court again and said ok now it has happened. He was told by the very same judges “now it is too late. Now that is the constitution under which we are selves derive the authority”.

Such a sad joke it was, when you seek to do it first you are told it’s too early, when you seek to do it just after, you are told it’s too late. In 1972 constitution, I agree entirely with what Hon. Susil Premajayantha said, the first several amendments were taking away the independence of the judiciary. Even the judiciary that functioned independently, their judgment was sought to be squashed by constitutional amendments utilizing the, as the Hon. Minister himself said, utilizing the Five fourth majority in this house.

But the situation is now no different. Using the majority, any majority beyond the 2/3s majority to achieve its own purposes and to stultify the judiciary form functioning independently is a negative step for any government. There was reference made to international law. When Mr. Sepala Ekanayaka highjacked the Alitalia Aircraft in Bangkok, this parliament hurriedly passed the air piracy act, and sought to make the Air piracy an offence retroactively. At the time when that was challenged that you can’t make the offence retroactive the argument was that this is already recognized, that the air piracy is already recognized as an offence by the international community of civilized nations and therefore it was an offence even though there is no enabling legislation that has been passed in this country.

When that was favorable, international law was self executing in this country. You didn’t even need an enabling Municipal law to have been passed by this legislature. Only to prescribe sentences subsequently it was said that an Act had to be passed, and that passed muster.

That is good law, but what has happened now?

Now there is so much worry about international law applying to this country. We boast and say that we are one of the senior members of the United Nations. We participate in the affairs of the United Nations most notably when a flotilla of boats was sent to Gaza strip and the State of Israel attacked it although white flags were raised in that ship, it was bombed. The UN investigation to that is led by our own ambassador Mr. Palitha Kohana.

We participate in that process to investigate into the conduct of another sovereign nation on the basis that we are a responsible member of the international community. That’s all well and good. That’s most welcome. But what is sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander as well. International law has developed over the years, and if we don’t keep in step with the international law or we don’t keep step with those developments, we will be left behind.

We will not be able to claim that we are a part of that international community of civilized nations. If we are to proudly call ourselves a member of the International community of civilized nations, we must behave in that civilized fashion. When there was a massacre that happened in Ruanda, and if a journalist from Ruanda reported that massacre, the question is not whether such a thing happened or somebody said that such a thing happened. If there is a great violation of human rights and somebody says that, the question is not did somebody say that such a thing happened, no, the question ought to be did such a thing happen? Somebody saying that a great violation of human rights occurred is not so important as to find out whether in fact such a great violation of human rights occurred or not.

And if unless we change our mindset to that civilized conduct we cannot continue to boast that we are part of the international community of civilized nations. Our own supreme court has functioned independently to a great extent. Even this morning the Supreme Court granted bail and was disgusted and said we are becoming a bail court because they were granting bail to somebody who was in remand for seven years. So they step in to that lacuna. And that’s most welcome.

But I said that they have function independently to a great extent. To the extent that the Executive permits them to function, and we see more and more such permission being denied to the judiciary. So it is not enough merely to increase the salary of judges, conducive and independent atmosphere must be created for the judges to function independently. Last May 282,000 people were intern in camps in and around Vavuniya. To this day no judicial order was given for their detention. To this day not even a detention order given administratively given by the secretary defense was issued in respect in any one of those 282,000 people. Where is the rule of law?

There is a reported case HE Mahinda Rajapakse Vs Kudhaheti. That says an arrest is when a person is stopped from moving from one place to another. That is an arrest. That was decided in favor of the person whose complaint of his freedom of movement, Mahinda Rajapakse at the Katunayaka Air port. But here are people who have been consigned in camps without any judicial order, without even an administrative detention order. Not for a day, not for a week, not for a month, but now over one and a half years. Several of them have now been “Released” but still there are about 30,000 remaining.

It is not the numbers. Even if it was an individual, where is the rule of Law? Not that people didn’t have recourse to courts. A case was filed in the supreme courts SCFR 457/09, on the 18th of June last year, to this day no order has been made with regard to leave to proceed, where is the independence of the judiciary? To this day no order has been made. Ordinarily an order either granting leave to proceed or refusing that is given in the very first day of support. It doesn’t take more than a day. But when it concerns Tamil civilians, who in numbers exceeding 250,000 in force detention camps, even the highest court has not made an order. Now we are for increasing the salary of judges, but the judges must also perform their duties properly. That is the reciprocal duty of these judges.

Another Application was filed by Hon. Marve Senadhirajaha in 2007, SCFR 646/07 with regard to access to his house, no order with regard to leave to proceed has been made even to this day.

Take the case of General Sarath Fonseka. It is not the individuals who matter, but the principle. Not one citizen of this country believes that he would have been prosecuted, whether before military turbulence or otherwise if he had retired and gone home without contesting the presidential election. Not one single person in this country believes that. So where is the system of justice?

And if that can be done to General Sarath Fonseka, the ordinary Tamil civilians in this country shudder what their plight might be before such a judicial system. If the commander of the Sri Lankan Army who is hailed to be the one who led the Army to victory against Tamil terrorists is dealt with in this fashion, what is the plight of ordinary Tamil people and I dare say ordinary Sinhala person in this country.

Independence of the judiciary is an absolute essential for any democracy because it is a judiciary that not only arbiters the disputes between two private persons, but in today’s world more and more it is the judiciary that arbiters the disputes between the state and the citizen and the judiciary is expected to play a neutral role in that matter. Particularly, when we have entrenched provisions in the constitution, that accord with the international law it is the duty of the court that has been vested with that kind of jurisdiction to exercise that power to the fullest, so that we can continue to say that we are proud to be a member of the international community of the civilized nations.

Thank you

(Text of Speech made by TNA national list MP M.A.Sumanthiran in Parliament during motion on increase of salaries for Judges)

Young religious visit their own suffering brothers and sisters in Northern Sri Lanka

by Rev.Fr.Lasantha de Abrew s.j.

Although I am no more involved in the North- South Dialogue Desk of the Jesuit Ministry, I keep my awareness alert to the suffering and pain of our own in the North in various ways to kindle the fire of my Priestly Life. Recently I had an opportunity to join the junior religious sisters of the Sister Formation Program, their Dean, Rev. Sr. Rubika A.C. and Sr. Cynthia P.H. one of the senior lecturers on their exposure program to the Northern Sri Lanka.

We had an opportunity to visit Sannar in the District Mannar where the people are living in temporary huts donated by the UNHCR. They were told that they would be resettled in their own land but it had been a wild dream as they are relocated in a jungle as their own land has been named a High Security Zone under the Sri Lankan Army. The sisters had a wonderful opportunity to visit the so called re-settled ones in Red Barna village in Vishwamadhu and Kallaru which had the disaster of Tsunami in 2004.

In Vishwamadhu, Red Barna village there were sixty five families and most of them are up country Tamils who sought peaceful living in these areas after the Post Election 1977 and 1983 ethnic riots engineered by the Politicians. The Vishwamadhu people are living in very horrible conditions. Some of the people got agitated when we were visiting them and when they told us of their helplessness. The kallaru people did not lose their houses which were built after the Tsunami, during the fierce war.

At the last phase of our journey to the North, we visited the Holy Family Sisters and the war victim orphans at Uruthirapuram and in Mankulam orphanage of the girls organized by the Good Shepherd Sisters. On the last day of our exposure, the young religious spent some time in silence at the Madhu Shrine reflecting on what they have heard, seen and felt. They begged the grace of God’s divine light to know what God is asking from them personally and collectively as young radical disciples of Jesus.

In all these places, the sisters had an ample opportunity to speak to the suffering persons, the war victims especially the women and children. They were enlightened by the priests and religious who were accompanying the suffering people in many quiet, unknown and in silent ways.

Some aspects which we need to pay attention had been highlighted.

· High military presence and the inherent insecurity among the people

The high military presence in these areas makes the resettled persons more tensed, uncomfortable and uneasy. The regular visits of the soldiers to their half built houses and temporary sheds, frequent arrests of the young males on various justified and unjustified charges, and inviting the children to the camps to watch films make them uneasy. With scars of war within they feel insecure. Their main query is that if something happens to whom are they to report. They need to make their living to restore what had been lost and destroyed.

· Development of roads and government offices could be seen but the resettlement of IDPs by rebuilding their destroyed houses is false and not the truth

There are visible signs of building roads, especially on the Mannar- Puneryn Road government buildings are coming up. Most of the IDPs who returned are living in huts some on their own land but others in jungles as their land had not been reallocated. The people are building with their own savings, on their gold, on the donations sent by relations in Diaspora or helped by the Church organizations through their parish structures. They were not compensated for all they lost and had been destroyed. The Government is very slow in granting permission to the NGOs and the INGOs on rebuilding, resettling and rehabilitation programs. It is heartwarming to see how these people are building their houses with hard toil as families. The parents and children are working till late evening to lay the foundations, building the walls etc with hard work. Some told us “We do not want the government to build houses for us but let them give us the compensation. We will build with the sweat of our brow.”

· Caring for the war victims

There are many war widows, most of them young ones and orphans. As the bread winners are no more, these war widows need to be channeled for self employment. Unemployment has led them to destitution and some to immoral manipulations and prostitution. Most of the war widows are eager for self-employment in rearing animals, sewing, making household food items, and whatever possible according to their talents. But with all these crying desires, there are no government sponsored self income generating ventures but the government bared the volunteer NGOs helping in such opportunities.

The war victim children are the most affected. The credit goes to the various Catholic women religious congregations sacrificing their resources and personnel to care for a few of these victims especially the orphans who have lost both the parents in their children’s homes. The facilities in these homes are commendable. We heard in some schools there are counseling sessions, in formal and informal ways. There is a crying need to attend to the traumatic experiences of these young children in a systematic and progressive way. Some teachers of the area noted, “They have lost interest in studies because of lack of concentration. The IDP camp life style, war experiences, physical and mental wounds, back into unstructured housing atmosphere and the easy availability of DVD shops, liquor, smoking even promoted by the soldiers could be the causes for such lack of interest. If so, what will happen to the Tamil Culture in the Wanni?….” The need for structures to promote studying after school hours, means to promote and protect the Tamil identity and the trauma counseling felt very acutely.

· Need for a political solution in the context of growing Symbolic violence

I shall innumerate this point through an incident of our exposure. As we were traveling by the A9 road, the soldiers would stop the bus and get into the bus without any consideration to the passengers. There were many Tamil passengers in the bus. All of them were carrying weapons. I could see the faces of the passengers. They were not happy and especially the Tamil persons were uneasy and uncomfortable.

This is unknowingly or knowingly exercising one’s symbolic power over the other, “The role and the uniform of the soldier” to intrude into the personal-private space of the other without consent. This is symbolic violence which is more subtle but very strong on the discriminated or the oppressed one. These are Sinhalese soldiers who enjoy their war victory as the underlying base and the others are the Tamils who had been crushed by the Sinhalese especially architected by the Sinhalese soldiers.

The symbolic violence affirms the unequal treatment to the other although they live together. The newly decorated bo-trees and Buddhist temples along the A9 road and other resettlement areas in and around the army camps, War victory monuments, government sponsored institutions of security forces coming up speedy and the other side of the road, their own destroyed school buildings and children are studying under trees and high military presence are some the catalysts of symbolic violence. Therefore the timely need of our nation is that we have a political solution to the inherent causes led for a brutal war on justice and affirmation of human dignity to all as earliest as possible.

October 24, 2010

Chinese projects in Sri Lanka and the Karadiyanaru explosion

by Namini Wijedasa

It is no secret that the People’s Republic of China has granted — and continues to offer — massive amounts of loan aid to Sri Lanka.

It is also no secret that China is financing all of Sri Lanka’s largest infrastructure projects including the Hambantota port, the Puttalam coal power plant, the reconstruction of Northern roads, the Mattala airport and the Colombo-Katunayake expressway.

But try finding out from the government the terms and conditions under which those ventures are funded and you tumble into a sea of avoidance, buck-passing, apparent ignorance and, ultimately, plain refusal to disclose the facts.

“Confidential”

The director general of the External Resources Department was consistently unavailable for two weeks. An External Affairs Ministry source said that, while they had basic facts about Chinese funded projects and their costs, they were not informed of the terms of repayment.

After chasing the information from pillar to post, LAKBIMAnEWS was finally advised to contact an official at the Central Bank’s economic research department. Accordingly, this newspaper asked the official what the repayment terms are on loans obtained from China; how long Sri Lanka had to repay the loans; and a breakdown of the assistance obtained from China.

The official said he could not release the information because it was “incomplete”. When asked to disclose what he had, he said the External Resources Department (ERD) has marked as “confidential” many of the China-Sri Lanka project agreements and that, consequently, the terms could not be revealed.

This information, which the government will not reveal, becomes important because of the overwhelming extent of Chinese involvement in Sri Lanka. The missing statistics are required to tabulate how much more indebted Sri Lankans would be once repayment of Chinese aid starts. The same figures are needed to evaluate whether the benefit from the projects the Chinese are implementing would outweigh the debt burden.

An examination of the agreements — puzzlingly deemed “confidential” by the ERD — would also help determine whether project costs have been inflated as is widely alleged. For instance, the estimated cost per kilometre of a railway line constructed by the Indians is 1.8 million USD while the Chinese are doing it for 4 million USD per kilometre.

The Chinese also quoted 42 million USD on signals for a 27 km stretch of rail from Matara to Beliatta raising the ire of trade unions who insisted that it was exorbitantly priced. When asked, railway authorities said the signalling component was dropped from the final project framework.

Good deal for China

In November 2009, Lanka Business Online reported the terms of just one China-funded project. LBO said China would provide 891 million USD in preferential buyer’s credit for the Puttalam coal power plant. It would be repayable in 20 years.

It remains unclear whether the projects could have been done cheaper or whether Sri Lanka is, indeed, getting the best deal from the Chinese.

Chinese assistance to Sri Lanka is divided into buyer’s credit, preferential buyer’s credit and concessional loans. These are offered via the Export-Import (Exim) Bank of China. The country also provides limited grant aid under the Chinese government’s economic and technical cooperation programme.

The website of the Exim Bank says that buyer’s credit is mainly extended to finance exports of Chinese products, technologies and services as well as overseas construction projects that can facilitate Chinese exports of equipment, construction machinery, materials, technical and managerial expertise, and labour services.

In addition to reported inflated cost and loan repayment in US dollars, therefore, Sri Lanka allows the import of Chinese labour, technology and material. “Even to lift a slab of stone from one point to another at Hambantota, Chinese labour was used,” said a local source, requesting anonymity. “These projects do not generate employment in Sri Lanka. If it’s a loan, shouldn’t we be getting more out of it?”

Sources from the Department of Immigration and Emigration revealed that 7,844 Chinese workers are in Sri Lanka on employment visa at present. The visa is usually granted for a year after which it may be extended on recommendation by the Ministry of Defence under whose purview the department falls.

Local construction companies not in the running

Asked whether local construction companies were offered the chance to bid for road projects handled by the Chinese (predominantly in the North), a director of the National Construction Association replied in the negative. But Sri Lankan firms do get the opportunity to bid on projects funded by the World Bank, IMF, ADB and Japan.

Commenting on quality of roads built by China, he said there was no issue as the local companies worked to the same specifications. While Sri Lankan enterprises could “definitely” have bid for the roads at lower cost, they could not have sourced funds for the projects. “The Exim Bank has deep pockets,” he commented, requesting anonymity. “Sri Lanka is also on the strategic radar zone of China to counter balance Indian influence in Sri Lanka.”

The Chinese do give some subcontracts to local companies but they mostly bring subcontractors from China, he continued. The terms, conditions and rates are offered by the Chinese are also “far less attractive”. Some companies have supplied small quantities of aggregates to the Chinese contractors.

“There are pros and cons (to Chinese involvement),” this director said. “You get the road network up to standard at a much higher cost but little local value addition. This is what is known as the ‘beggar country syndrome’. You take whatever deal you can get.”

Yes, beggars can’t be choosers. We know that Chinese assistance to Sri Lanka involves no ‘extraneous’ conditions related to human rights. China does not expect us to make sweeping macroeconomic changes. In fact, China expects nothing of us but the import their material, technology and labour and the meeting of their repayment conditions. China gets a stronghold in this part of the world and Sri Lanka gets her projects.

At what cost, however, remains a state-engineered mystery. It would help to have some clarity on the issue — for the sake of good governance, if nothing else. The secrecy veiling the bidding process and repayment terms only breeds suspicion.

What happened at Karadiyanaru?

The Government Analyst’s Department is yet to produce its report into the blast at Karadiyanaru on September 17. A confusing number of people died when three container loads of Chinese dynamite exploded inside the premises of the Karadiyanaru police station. While the number of deaths was initially reported at 60 (including two Chinese employees of the China Overseas Engineering Pvt. Ltd), it was later revised to between 20 and 25. Asked for an accurate figure last week, SP Prishantha Jayakody, police spokesman, said he couldn’t remember.

Jayakody said the Police Department was in the process of arranging compensation for the victims of the blast. No request for payment has been lodged with the Chinese company. Neither have legal proceedings been instituted against them. “We can’t say whose fault it was,” Jayakody pointed out.

Asked what had triggered the blast, the source from the Government Analyst’s Department ruled out sabotage and said the container that exploded contained the dynamite along with detonators and safety fuse. “It was probably an accident,” he said.

He added that the dynamite had been “a fairly old stock”. “The risk of old dynamite is very high,” he explained. “When you store this commercial explosive for a long period, it oozes and creates accidents. Most countries have stopped manufacturing and use of dynamite.”

A report is expected in a few days.

LAKBIMAnEWS interviewed an explosives expert who said on condition of anonymity that the first problem had been the storing of dynamite, gelignite, ammonia and detonators in the same container. But he said leaking from dynamite sticks cannot alone trigger a blast. Dynamite detonates as a result of pressure, heat and vibration.

“In other words, you can’t flick a cigarette and cause it to explode,” he explained. “If dynamite leaks, it will catch fire. If you drop a stick of dynamite on the ground and stamp on it, it will go out of shape. It will not explode without a detonation.”

His opinion was that the explosion may have been accidentally triggered via a detonator. The detonator could, for instance, have fallen on the ground after which some friction, pressure or vibration inadvertently caused it to go off.

Chinese Assistance from 1st January 2006 to date (information obtained from parliament)

- Technical guidance on maintenance of BMICH - Grant of US$ 0.06 million
- Assistance for South Asian Games - Grant of US$ 0.43 million
- Construction of few selected road infrastructure elements - Grant of US$ 10 million
- Project to upgrade facilities at BMICH - Grant of US$ 0.06 million
- Maintenance requirements at BMICH - Grant of US$ 7.2 million
- Construction of National Performing Arts Theatre - Interest free loan of US$ 10.8 million
- Refurbishment of Superior Courts Complex - Grant of US$ 0.02 million
- Puttalam Coal Power Project Phase I (34%) - Buyers Credit Loan of US$ 155 million
- Puttalam Coal Power Project Phase I (66%) - Preferential Buyer’s Credit Loan of US$ 300 million
- Supply of 100 Railway Passenger Carriages - Concessional Loan of US$ 27.08 million
- Supply of 15 Diesel Multiple Units - Concessional Loan of US$ 38.68 million
- Hambantota Port Development Project - Buyer’s Credit Loan of US$ 306.73 million
- Bunkering Facilities and Tank Farm Project at Hambantota - Buyer’s Credit Loan of US$ 65.1 million
- Colombo-Katunayake Expressway Project - Buyer’s Credit Loan US$ 248.2 million
- Puttalam Coal Power Project Phase II - Preferential Buyer’s Credit Loan of US$ 891 million
- Mattala Hambantota International Airport Project - Concessional Loan of US$ 190 million
- Supply of 13 Diesel Multiple Units to Sri Lanka Railways - Concessional Loan of US$ 100 million

The document tabled in parliament in response to a question posed by UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake did not contain the following:

- Road Projects in North amounting to US$ 570.3 million
- Purchase of six MA60 aircrafts amounting to US$105.4 million

- courtesy: LakbimaNews -

Torture of suspects in police custody flourishes in Sri Lanka

by Ranga Jayasuriya

"I was taken to the upstairs, where there were four police officers. I was ordered to strip naked. I felt shamed. I looked around. Then a cop shouted at me to strip or else will be beaten. I undressed out of fear......................

An officer tied my hands together and another tied my legs................ My hands were placed on the knees and an officer sent a metal pipe between my hands and legs. They fixed the two ends of the metal pole to two beds.

One cop grabbed my legs and rotated me while Constable Priyantha beat my toes with a club. The pain was immense and it ran up to the head. Cops kept on beating me. I shouted out of pain that I didn’t rob anything. I feared that they would kill me. I told that I had four children to feed. I felt like my hands being dismembered. I could not take beating any longer. So I said I stole and gave it to my elder sister who pawned it at a Bank in Nivithigala. That’s what they wanted me to tell; no matter I was innocent. ".. - Horanekarage Lalith Abeysuriya (31), labourer, Wattehena, Niwithigala.

The above method is, rather miss- fittingly, called ‘Dharmachakra,’ a foremost symbol named after a Buddhist religious tradition. The victim, whose hands and legs are bound is hanged on a pole and rotated like Dharmachakra while his torturers beat the hapless victim. This method is frequently employed to extract information from suspected JVP insurgents by the government military during the reign of terror in 1989.

Two decades since the end of leftist insurgency and the supposed dawn of peace, the torture method hadn’t outlived its use. Now police use it on suspects in police custody.

Sri Lankans live with the daily prospect of torture; but the indifference, if not ignorance of the majority of population is only fostering a culture of impunity.

Indifference of the majority public could amount to condoning a culture of police torture and its continued use as a tool of interrogation — in breach of country’s obligations to the Convention Against Torture and constitutional guarantees enshrined in the very constitution against the use of torture.

A Lakbimanews investigation into torture led us into several dozens of well documented cases of torture by police. But, that could very well be the tip of the iceberg.

Perpetrators have been brought to book in any of the cases investigated by the Lakbimanews and documented below. The sluggish government response and the well justified fear of reprisals by the police explain why many victims of torture don’t wish to come out.

Confessions

Police officers, though, in private cite a rationale for torturing suspects. That suspects don’t spit out their crimes, until they are beaten is the misplaced logic of the torture.

Police officers admit, in private, the regular use of torture as a tool to extract confessions from suspects. And the torture is condoned as long as it does not trigger a public uproar.

In a separate note, that again explains the lack of professionalism and training on the part of the police.

A professional police force does not beat suspects up to extract confessions; instead it directs investigations by collecting forensic and other evidence in order to piece together a plausible case for the indictment of suspects.

But, inside police sources say Sri Lankan police, more often than not opt to beat suspects to cough up confessions in a hurry to wind up inquiries.

Number of resolved criminal cases would be taken into account in the promotions of police officers, but their culpability in acts of torture stands to be a major handicap for the very fact that many such incidents are hushed up by the police themselves.

Torture, therefore is a short cut to many things.

Is torture a tool to extract confessions of guilt? The answer is vague. Victims of torture tell whatever their tortures want to hear in order to stop further agony. Torture victims own up crimes, which they have never committed in order to escape further torture.

One of the most notable incidents was that of Colombo Dock Yard worker, Gerald Perara who was tortured by the then Crime OIC and seven officers of Wattala police in order to extract a confession on his guilt in a murder. On the following day, only after torturing the victim for a whole night, his torturers realized that he had been arrested on a mistaken identity.

Gerald Perera was later released, but was later killed by the same cops in order to cover up the charges of torture after the victim filed a fundamental rights petition against the police.

Gerald Perara’s murder shocked the Sri Lankan society momentarily, before every thing return to normalcy.

And the police continue to pick wrong suspects and torture them to extract confessions.

Stolen Jewellery

Lalith Abeysuriya, the victim quoted at the outset of this report was subjected to extensive torture by the police to make him extract a confession from him. He did exactly what cops wanted him to do in order to escape excruciating pain. He admitted a theft of jewellery.

But, when his tortures untied him and brought him down from Darmachakra, the poor man didn’t have to show up his loot.

On the following day, he was tortured again by the police to extract the same confession of his guilt and to find out the whereabouts of the stolen jewellery.

“I was hanged in the same way like the previous day and was beaten on the toes. I felt I would die. I pleaded for mercy and asked the police officers how I could produce something which I didn’t steal.

I told the cops that I have four children and they would avenge my death, if I am killed by the police.

Then, Constable Priyantha (his principle torturer) quipped: “paligannath uba ithuruwela inna epaya” (You have to be alive to take revenge from us?)

Torture ended only after the victim passed out.

Impunity enjoyed by the police is far- reaching and leaves little room for redress of grievances of torture victims. Once arrested, suspect is at the mercy of the police.

Seeking legal redress could only aggravate the plight.

A lawyer contracted by Abeysuriya’s family visited the torture victim who is kept in the police cell.

After the departure of the lawyer, police officers resumed torturing the victim.

Constable Priyantha threatened: “Umba kerum karayath genalla thiyanne. Umbata yanna wenne petitiye thamay” (You have brought in influential people. You will go in a coffin.)

Abeysuriya was later tortured by the OIC and several cops; one hit him on the face with a club and he passed out.

He was later shown to a doctor at Wathupitawala hospital. His torturers who had already threatened him against disclosing to the doctor of his ordeal at the hands of police were present throughout the medical examination.

Out of fear, Abeysuriya didn’t complain to the doctor about torture he was subjected by the police.

Following day, he was produced before the court where the lawyer appearing on his behalf, informed the Magistrate that his client had been tortured in police custody and was in need of medical attention.

Abeysuriya was granted bail by the Magistrate who ordered him to be examined by a Judicial Medical Officer (JMO). He alleged that he had been threatened by the police against disclosing his ordeal.

After his release, he has gone into hiding, fearing repercussions by his torturers who are still serving in Nivithigala Police.

Like many other victims of torture, justice is yet to be delivered to Abeysuriya.

That it is mainly the most vulnerable groups of the society that were the regular victims of inhuman treatment by the law enforcing agencies could cloud the influential segments of society from the magnitude of torture.

Police, more often than not become a bully to the poor and the powerless.

Hewawasam Sarukkalige Rathnasiri Fernando (50) of No: 07 D, Warapitiya, Darga Town was kicked and punched and cut with a knife by a group of policemen attached to Welippena police station after he refused to sell them toddy on August 9, this year.

Cops were drunk and deriving a sadistic pleasure torturing the old victim, witnesses alleged. The victim was admitted to Waththewa government hospital and was later transferred to Nagoda Hospital.

While at the hospital, two prison officers arrived and took him to Kalutara prison where he was kept until August 17 without informing him under what charges he was held.

On 17 August, he was charged with the obstruction of duty of police officers and possession of 40 drams of illicit liquor, both charges as alleged by Rathnasiri were fabricated by the police to prevent the disclosure of the information of torture.

Rathnasiri submitted to the magistrate that he had been tortured by the police and that he had received medical treatment. The Magistrate ordered Rathnasiri be examined by a Judicial Medical Officer and released him on bail.

Rathnasiri has sought justice from the IGP, the National Human Rights Commission and the National Police Commission; the latter is now defunct.

Two months after the incident, Rathnasiri’s torturers are still serving in the police.

Sri Lanka police is by no means the most disciplined institution, but, indifference, which sometimes amounts to connivance of officials who are entrusted with the security and physical wellbeing of suspects, further aggravates the dilemma of torture victims.

Sometimes, Judicial Medical Officers become accessories of torture.

The Medical Council of Sri Lanka, in the case of, Mullankandage Amitha Priyanthi vs. Dr. W.R. Piyasoma, (Case No. PPC 53) has delineated the duty of a Judicial Medical Officer.

The Medical Council stated in its determination that it is the responsibility of the JMO to have carefully examined the patient and to ascertain as to how far the patient was affected by the injury caused by the Police... and as to whether the injuries that he has sustained require medical attention in a hospital and therefore he should be admitted for such treatment.”

Ethical guidelines

But, such ethical guidelines are observed in breach. Sometimes, JMOs are culpable of fostering a culture of impunity through their negligence.

Henayaka Arachchilage Parakrama Karunaratne (28) of No. 34, Badiwewa, Ma Oya, Jayanthipura, Polonnaruwa was strapped to a tree and beaten with wooden poles by a group of police officers of Maha Oya police post led by Sergeant Senaratna on April 26 this year, when the victim went to file a complain about a gambling spot operating near his residence. Sergeant Senaratna allegedly ordered to torture the victim as the owner of the gambling spot was a relation of Senartna.

The victim was later taken to Polonnaruwa Hospital where the doctor didn’t pay attention to Parakrama’s complaint that he was tortured by the police. The victim alleged that the doctor on the request of his torturers decided that the victim didn’t need medical attention despite open swollen wounds of the victim inflicted by torture. Parackama was taken back to the police cell of Kaduruwela police. However, due to his injuries, the HQI of the police station ordered him to be admitted to Polonaruwa Hospital.

Fabricating charges against victims of torture is increasingly becoming the modus operandi of the police in order to dissuade victims from pressing charges against the perpetrators of torture.

After Parakrama was admitted to the hospital, the police pressed charges of obstruction of duty against him. He was presented to the Polonnaruwa Magistrate to whom he disclosed his ordeal. Parakarama was later released on bail and was examined by a Judicial Medical Officer.

The Superintendent of Police, Polonnaruwa repeatedly turned down the complaint regarding the torture of Parakrama until the Magistrate ordered the torture victim to be examined by a JMO.

All that suggests the connivance at all ranks of police to hush up charges. It is a system of “you scratch my back and I scratch yours”. That system keeps torturers away from legal scrutiny.

There is a subculture within police which fosters a culture of impunity by defending perpetrators of torture and dissuading victims, through use of threat, seeking justice. Needless to say that whistle blowing is an alien word for Sri Lankan police.

Human Rights Commission

Parakrama has made a complaint to the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission (HRC) under the No. HRC/AP/221/2101/ (E). Since then, he had not heard from the Human Rights Commission.

On 30 April 2010, Karasinghe Arachchilage Kumarasinghe Appuhamy of Wijeriya, Kilonna was tortured by the officials of Kolonna police who charged him with illegally obtaining electricity. Appuhamy was admitted to Kolonna hospital after he vomited and fainted. After being informed that the victim had been tortured, the doctor of the hospital directed him to the District Medical Officer (DMO).

Appuhamy alleged that the DMO ignored the request of the victim for treatment and that after a private conversation with one of his torturers, the DMO ordered that the victim be taken back to the police cell, where he was tortured again.

Appuhamy had complained to the National Human Rights Commission against officials of Kolonna police and the DMO.

In a culture of impunity, bribes could fuel police torture. The service of police is available for those who could afford, and wish to teach a lesson or two to their personal rivals.

Valisadeera Lalith Nishantha de Silva of Samagi Mawatha, Makuluwa, and Galle was taken to Poddala police and beaten up after his mother-in-law lodged a complaint over a family dispute. In a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission, the victim has alleged that the estranged family members of his wife’s side had bribed the OIC of the Poddala police to torture him and fabricate charges against him.

The victim was treated in Karapitiya hospital for six days for the complication of beatings he received at the hands of the police.

In another incident, Koronchilage Sujith Aruna Shantha, (17), student of Sangattikulama Junior School was taken to Anamaduwa police on June 4, 2010 after a scuffle between him and a student of a well- to- do family in the village.

Aruna Shantha was beaten with a metal pipe by two policemen in front of the father of the victim.

On following day, when Aruna Shantha’s father met the family of the student with whom his son quarreled, student’s mother replied that, “ We got the police to punch your son properly.”

Aruna Shantha was produced before the Acting Magistrate of Puttalam and was charged with assault.

He was remanded by the Magistrate and was sent to Negambo prison where he was tortured by a jailer guard allegedly on the instructions of an associate of the influential family, whose son had a scuffle with Aruna Shantha.

Complications of torture

Aruna Shantha was later granted bail by the Magistrate. On his release, he fell sick due to complications of torture and was admitted to Puttalam Hospital from where he was transferred to Kurunegala Hospital.

He had complained to the National Human Rights Commission, IGP, the National Police Commission and National Child Protection Authority.

However, his torturers, Police Constable Chandratilake and Ratnayake are still serving at Anamaduwa Police.

Sri Lanka is a signatory to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. A law against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment was passed in 1994. Sri Lanka has also ratified the Optional Protocol of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which allows its citizens to file complaints with the Human Rights Committee. Article 126 of the Constitution also provides that any person whose right against torture is violated may petition the Supreme Court under its fundamental rights jurisdiction.

However, the conduct of police and culture of impunity make a mockery of Sri Lanka’s international obligations and constitutional requirements. Equally distressing is the dysfunctional Human Rights Commission which human rights activists allege that prefer to hush up complaints than to investigate them. - courtesy: Lakbima News -

Why are the AI, HRW and ICG reluctant to appear before Sri Lanka's LLRC?

by Kalana Senaratne

The past record of Sri Lanka’s commissions of inquiry has been so poor that ‘failure’ seems to be the predominant ‘home-grown’ quality of those commissions. Hence, there is naturally a great degree of skepticism shown when a government announces the establishment of a new commission (‘yet another commission’), even the establishment of the ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC).

All governments (including the present one) are responsible for this state of affairs. These were some of the critical views expressed by this writer elsewhere (and by others), when the LLRC was established. The presumption that the LLRC or other commissions are bound to fail (given the past record of commissions) is, it is admitted, a rebuttable presumption; so, the LLRC and the government can always prove their critics wrong.

Yet, the LLRC process has begun. Even though the government may be disingenuous, the members of the LLRC have so far shown that they are not. A number of groups and individuals (respected former public servants and diplomats, senior journalists etc.) have appeared before the LLRC and made very useful submissions. Some civilians who were directly affected during the last stages of the war have come forward and stated their version of what happened; about how they were held as part of a ‘human shield’ by the LTTE, but also about how the government forces carried out certain attacks. It’s within this context that an invitation to appear before the LLRC was extended to Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Crisis Group (ICG). Having raised some important issues in their joint letter, these organizations have proceeded to reject the invitation; stating that they would be pleased to appear if a "genuine and credible process" is established featuring, inter alia, "truly independent commission members."

Two important issues arise here. Firstly, why would any organization seriously and genuinely concerned about human rights protection reject such an invitation and opportunity? Secondly, what do these groups mean by "truly independent", and do organizations which are not ‘truly independent’ have a legitimate right to reject such an invitation citing the alleged lack of independence of the body before which they have been invited to appear?

Reluctance to appear before the LLRC: why?

AI, HRW and the ICG seem to have believed that by accepting the LLRC’s invitation, the LLRC process would gain greater legitimacy. But why should these organizations overly worry about that? Those heading these organizations should have been mature enough to know that mere cooperation does not necessarily make the LLRC process legitimate or acceptable; which depends ultimately, not on the status of those who appear(ed) before the LLRC, but more on the final outcome; i.e. on the final recommendations and findings of the LLRC and how they would be implemented by the government. Take the case of the Udalagama Commission of Inquiry. The mere involvement of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) did not mean that the Udalagama Commission was legitimate or successful, because it ultimately failed and ended abruptly. So no one can today point out that the Udalagama Commission was legitimate or successful very simply because the IIGEP was part of that process.

Hence, what this reluctance to appear before the LLRC suggests is that these organizations are not entirely confident of defending its position before the LLRC; which casts a lot of doubt on the veracity and credibility of the accusations leveled by them regarding alleged war-crimes committed especially by the Government forces, during the final stages of the war. Since those who were held as a ‘human shield’ by the LTTE have now come forward and stated their views of what they think happened during the final stages of the war, these organizations should have come before the LLRC and perhaps corroborated such allegations. Why then, if not for the above, reason, did these organizations reject such an excellent opportunity?

Being ‘truly independent’

Legitimacy also depends on the independence of the members of the commission. This is undoubtedly true. But it is only ‘truly independent’ groups which could legitimately raise this argument and thereby decline an invitation to appear before the LLRC.

Firstly, AI, HRW and the ICG accuse two members of the LLRC (including its chairman) of prejudice, since they had previously defended governmental action. In doing so, these organizations go on to state that there is no member who is known for taking "independent political positions." But these organizations seem to be unaware of the fact that one member of the LLRC (a member of the prestigious International Law Commission) was even accused some time ago by certain nationalist groups (which are part of the government today) for being a signatory to a report of experts which assisted the APRC process. And apart from that, by labeling all those who had been involved in governmental activity as persons not holding ‘independent political positions’, are these organizations trying to say that all those in the non-governmental sector hold ‘independent political positions’?

More importantly, what is it to be "truly independent", as required by AI, HRW and the ICG?

For instance, since these groups accuse that some members have defended the Government during the final stages of the war, are these groups then suggesting that the LLRC should consist of those who think that the Government forces did commit war-crimes? Do these groups then want something in the nature of the Goldstone Fact-Finding Mission, which was initially set up by the Human Rights Council to investigate alleged war crimes committed by Israel, during the Gaza-bombings? Because in that case, prior to their appointment, ALL of the members (4) had publicly stated that in their view, Israel had committed, or was in the process of committing, war crimes, and that they were shocked to the core. So while I do understand the concerns raised by AI, HRW and ICG concerning the importance of ‘independence’, they would need to clarify whether they want those who directly accused the Government of having committed war-crimes in the LLRC. If such members were present, would these organizations have appeared before the LLRC?

Or does Amnesty International (AI), for instance, want a ‘Lord Hoffman’ within the LLRC? I am referring here to the first House of Lords (UK) judgment of November 1998 in the case of Senator Pinochet, where AI intervened to ensure that Pinochet was not entitled to claim immunity for crimes against humanity (especially torture). Two judges held that Pinochet was entitled to claim immunity, but three held he was not so entitled. Lord Hoffman, interestingly, belonged to this latter group of three. But after the judgment was delivered, it was revealed that Lord Hoffman was a director/chairperson of Amnesty International Charity Limited which undertook aspects of Amnesty International Ltd (AIL) and had even helped in fund raising appeals for AI. So, the entire order of November 1998 was set aside and a re-hearing took place; since a judicial committee of the House of Lords held that Lord Hoffman should not have sat on the case, since there was the appearance of bias. So, does AI, or the rest, want members within the LLRC who have some interest in their organizational activities? Is that the yardstick with which these groups measure ‘independence’?

Or would these organizations which are unwilling to cooperate due to the alleged lack of independence shown by the LLRC’s chairman (due to his involvement in the Udalagama Commission-IIGEP process) also express dissatisfaction concerning the UNSG’s Panel of Experts?

Kate Allen, director of AI (UK), has reportedly stated that the UNSG-Panel was "an important first step" but "falls short of what is actually needed" (i.e. an international investigation). But surely, if the LLRC Chairman can be accused of ‘bias’, then AI should also accuse the Chairman of the UNSG-Panel of possible ‘bias’; because both of them were involved in the same Udalagama Commission-IIGEP process.

The argument raised here is certainly not that commissions should consist of members who are not independent. But rather, the argument is that the very organizations which are not ‘truly independent’ (and so accused by so many international observers) have no moral right to reject invitations to appear before commissions under the pretext that that commission consists of members who are not independent. After all, the LLRC is not a judicial body or a court of law, and it had only asked these organizations to appear before it and make submissions (as many others have already done) and explain more fully the accusations they have leveled against the armed forces and the LTTE. And if these organizations are to appear only before ‘truly independent’ commissions, they would need to cite when and where in this world such ‘truly independent’ commissions were ever established, where none of the members even remotely appeared to be biased or prejudiced.

Conclusion

This writer certainly appreciates the work done by organizations such as AI and HRW around the world (which is certainly not a popular sentiment that many share in Sri Lanka!). The reports of these groups which contain accusations leveled at a number of governments (including Western governments, which is why the West is so peeved by these groups at times) and non-state actors, if credible, will continue to play a most important role in raising awareness of the human rights violations and other atrocities that such state and non-state actors commit.

But certainly, these organizations also need to be somewhat self-critical and accept their own limitations and prejudices, for they are not the most perfect paragons of virtue they often consider themselves to be. Therefore, very serious and genuine concerns arise due to the reluctance shown by AI, HRW and the ICG to appear before the LLRC. This inability or unwillingness to appear before the LLRC shows that these organizations fear of being exposed under pressure, which should not be the case if they are confident of their version of the story, and their sources.

It’s becoming clearer by the day then, that the overarching purpose of these organizations is to denounce and defame those who gave the political and military leadership to a country which defeated one of the most brutal terrorist organizations in the world. It is also clear that they too are being ‘political’ and ‘selective’ in handling human rights issues around the world. These organizations should have acted far more responsibly to refute these accusations.

Amidst all that, one also noticed the rather sad and ironic spectacle of Kate Allen urging the British Foreign Secretary William Hague to demand an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, during his meeting with Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, Prof. GL Peiris.

Mr. William Hague will surely feel very uncomfortable, since his Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has stated that the Iraqi invasion was illegal and still, after British troops had been accused of so many crimes (which deserved an international investigation) their main response was to establish a ‘Lessons Learned Commission’ (chaired by Sir John Chilcot) that simply looks into "the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned."

(Kalana Senaratne is a postgraduate research student at the Law Faculty of the University of Hong Kong)

October 23, 2010

Children born in southern Sri Lanka "but people call them refugees"

by Charles Haviland
BBC News

Nails are being hammered and beams secured in Silavatturai. SJM Shajahan, a good-natured man in his 40s, watches and helps the men at work.

Fishing is big business nearby and Mr Shajahan, a boat mechanic, is having his engine repair shop rebuilt on the very spot where it used to be 20 years ago.

He has returned home after years in exile, and still has traumatic memories of being expelled by the LTTE.

YC1023A.jpg

Yaseen's children were born in southern Sri Lanka "but people call them refugees"

Fleeing in terror

"Two men with guns arrived by motorbike and ordered me and everyone else to leave," he recalls.

"Notices went up ordering us Muslims to get out within 24 hours. They said: If you don't leave, we will shoot all of you tomorrow. We were scared. We all had to flee in boats, through the sea. It was horrible."

Mr Shajahan says the flight of Muslims in 1990 was like the flight from the tsunami in 2004.

It does not take much for him to break down, almost weeping. That happens when I ask him about his life in exile.

There was no work for him in southern Sri Lanka and he was forced to find employment in Saudi Arabia, where he stayed for 20 years.

Now he is back but the site of his old house is completely swallowed up by a Sri Lankan naval base.

He and others say this junction used to be a bustling town. Today, with so many old dwellings gone, that is difficult to believe.

About 100,000 Muslims were ordered out of northern Sri Lanka by the LTTE in 1990. They accused the Muslims as a group of collaborating with the Sri Lankan army.

Rebuilding mosques

The vast majority of the Muslims have remained in internal exile for two decades. Some, yearning for home, have come back to places like Jaffna in the far north and here, to the Mannar district.

A couple of miles from Silavatturai, a mosque has been rebuilt. We are there on a Friday, and men and boys at midday prayers tell us about 20 mosques were destroyed in the area.

Schools, too, were ruined, as were houses - like that of Mahroof Mashfee Shareef.

Mr Shareef was 14 when he fled with his family.

"This was our main hall - that was the office room - and there were two bedrooms," he says as we pick our way among what is now just a pile of rubble in which trees have grown.

He says he cannot explain in words the shock he felt on returning after 20 years and finding it destroyed.

This was the first part of northern Sri Lanka retaken by the government from the LTTE in 2007 after an ill-fated ceasefire, but Mr Shareef's house was clearly destroyed earlier. He does not know how.

He and his brother have rented a small shop to run as a hardware business. Mr Shareef has been leading a comfortable enough life in the south for years but he strongly wants to resettle in the north.

"I think now people are coming and it's going to develop," he says. "I decided that I can do a business here, specially hardware, because there is a lot of construction taking place.

"Even if I don't have any business I would have come here because this is my motherland."

But Mr Shareef has yet to persuade his wife, who teaches in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo and comes from the south, to move here.

OJM1023.jpg

The returnees can only reclaim land on a case-by-case basis

Obstacles

For these people, displaced for so long, return is still a voluntary and not really an organised process.

Mirak Raheem of the think tank Centre for Policy Alternatives says they have had to struggle to get government permission to return and to get access to food rations in the north, rations to which displaced people and returnees are entitled.

"It's been a gradual process and so the returnees have faced quite a number of obstacles," he says.

These include the attempt to regain their old livelihoods, something which also involves local government and community leaders and, according to Mr Raheem, continues to be a challenge.

He says returnees can only reclaim their land on a case-by-case basis; some may find it occupied by Tamils who never left the area - others, by the military.

And even though many people are getting government grants to help them build shelters or homes, basic questions of amenities and infrastructure have not yet been addressed.

Return and reconciliation

In Silavatturai we meet an elderly mother, 69-year-old Siththi Fathima, and her son, Yaseen, and his children - a family in limbo.

So far they have only built a temporary shelter which, she says, is inadequate.

"If someone just puts his hand on our house it will fall," she says. "There are scorpions and snakes, elephants all around."

But her son could not bear living as a displaced person any longer.

"Our children were born in the south but still people call them refugees," he says. "That really hurts us.

"But we stayed there because we didn't have any other option. Now the problems are over so we've come back to settle in our own land."

The problems are not all over. But in this region there does seem to be hope for inter-ethnic relations.

The Sri Lankan Tamil writer DBS Jeyaraj has remarked on the expelled Muslims' "lack of visible bitterness with Tamils... They do not blame the ordinary Tamil for [their predicament]".

There is no bitterness discernible among the Muslims in Silavatturai.

Conversely, Mr Shajahan says that when he and others returned, their old Tamil friends remaining in the area hugged and embraced them like brothers. - courtesy: BBC News -

The Anatomy of an E-mail: Response by Dr.Nihal Jayawickrama

Two weeks ago, Dr Dayan Jayatilleka alleged that I had drafted a constitutional amendment in the 1970s in an abortive attempt to enable Mrs Bandaranaike to extend her term of office. Last week, in an article in which he transported himself into a fairy tale world of "heroines" and "knights", the mythical kingdom of "Camelot", and the legendary "Lancelot" and "Galahad", he distanced himself from this allegation by claiming that it was in fact made by an unidentified person in an email received by him. The email apparently read as follows:

"Re. Mrs Bandaranaike, I remember well the party conference of the SLFP during my time, when she with Anura and others decided to get approval for her to move against the United Front regime and kick out the left . . . I told her then, that if she breaks the United Front she will be in the political wilderness, and argued that the United Front was the only way for her to secure a reasonable majority at the next election . . . Then she concocted an idea to extend her term of office by two years and got Nihal Jayawickrama to amend the Constitution, and he brought this document to my house and asked me to comment The poor chap did not realize that I would oppose such a move. I went to the Janavegaya office and told the editor to announce that the SLFP was planning a constitutional coup, and send copies of the constitution to JR, NM and the Governor General. This move was abandoned. She went for election, and you know the rest."

Fundamental flaws in the tale

Unfortunately for Dr Jayatilleka, there are fundamental flaws in the tale contained in this email. First, the break-up of the United Front occurred in mid-1975. The next parliamentary election was not due until two years later in mid-1977. With the Constitution permitting the National State Assembly to continue until mid-1977, what was the need for a constitutional amendment to achieve that same result? Second, is it likely that, at the moment when the LSSP and CP members crossed the floor to join the Opposition and she lost her parliamentary two-third majority, the first thought that entered the Prime Minister’s mind was to introduce legislation that would have required a two-third majority to enact? Third, the reference to the "Governor General" to whom the editor of the Janavegaya was asked to send "copies of the constitution" raises a further question because that office was abolished in 1972.

Perhaps the must fundamental question is: How do you extend a Prime Minister’s term of office by a constitutional amendment? A Prime Minister has no fixed term of office. Mrs Bandaranaike could remain Prime Minister only for as long as she enjoyed the confidence of the National State Assembly. If it is claimed that what was contemplated was the extension of the life of the National State Assembly, how could that have ensured that Mrs Bandaranaike would continue to be the Prime Minister, when defeat by a simple majority of one on a confidence motion was all that was required to oust her from office, as happened in December 1964? After 32 years of presidential rule, one tends to forget, as the unidentified email writer appears to have, that the term of office of a Prime Minister could not have been extended by constitutional amendment.

Dinner-table conversation

Dr Jayatilleka seeks to corroborate the anonymous email writer’s allegation by reference to a dinner-table conversation between his father and me which he claims to remember, but which I have no recollection of. In reply to his father’s query concerning a planned extension of the life of parliament, I am alleged to have said that "the Army Commander, General Sepala Attygalle, when sounded out had told the Prime Minister that he could not guarantee the loyalty of the army in such a scenario". I can state categorically that in the seven years that I served the Government of Mrs Bandaranaike, on no occasion, in any forum, have I heard a service commander being asked by the Prime Minister or any other Minister whether or not he could guarantee the loyalty of the military forces. Such a situation never arose; not even at the height of the JVP insurgency of 1971. I wonder whether this politically conscious young son of a veteran journalist was confusing a dinner table exchange of political gossip that might have taken place at another later time, in another political context? After all, the conversation is said to have been about a "planned extension of the life of parliament", an event that actually occurred in 1982 under a different political dispensation.

Kitchen cabinets

Finally, Dr Jayatilleka seeks support for his theory that there was a "significant or meaningful" attempt to extend the Prime Minister’s term of office, by reference to Mr T. B. Subasinghe’s letter of resignation from the Cabinet in which he warned of "extra-constitutional centres of power", to Dr N. M. Perera’s reference to an "invisible government", and to Dr Colvin R. de Silva’s analysis of "hidden power structures". As a trained political scientist (which I am not), Dr Jayatilleka must surely know that these are all expressions of legitimate frustration by cabinet ministers who believed that they were being excluded from the crucial levels of decision-making. Indeed, there were references at the time by critics of the Government to the existence of a "kitchen cabinet". By no stretch of one’s imagination could these be construed to imply the nightmare in Dr Jayatilleka’s Unconscious that the Prime Minister was intending to introduce a constitutional amendment to extend her term of office by two years.

I attach no credence to then Opposition Leader, Mr J. R Jayewardene’s alleged claim that Mrs Bandaranaike was seeking an extension of her term of office. It was a notorious fact that the clever strategist that he was, Mr Jayewardene often "created" situations in order to evoke a political response favourable to him. His claim, which had no basis in fact, that he was about to be arrested, rallied thousands to his residence, and on a later occasion to Katunayake airport as well. His extremely successful nationwide satyagraha campaign was fuelled by his claim, again unfounded, that the country was on the verge of being transformed into a dictatorship.

A ludicrous suggestion

I wish to reiterate (and would challenge anyone to prove otherwise) that I did not prepare a draft bill to amend the Constitution to extend either the term of office of the Prime Minister or the life of the National State Assembly. I was not requested by anyone to do so, nor, to my knowledge, did anyone else prepare such a draft bill. Following the resignation of LSSP and CP members from the government parliamentary group, and the further defection of persons such as Mr T. B. Subasinghe from the SLFP, the government’s parliamentary majority was so slender that there were fears that it might not be possible even to have an extension of the state of emergency approved. To have suggested a constitutional amendment at such a time would have been ludicrous, if not eccentric.

The anonymous email writer claims that I "brought this document" to his house and asked him to comment. If I had drafted a constitutional amendment for the Prime Minister, why would I have taken it to someone else’s house and asked him to comment, unless that other person was either the Minister of Justice or the Legal Draftsman? Obviously that other person was neither, since he is described by Dr Jayatilleka as "a player in the ‘70s power-bloc". I did not fraternise with such persons, and I certainly did not visit them in their homes. This is absolute fantasy.

The 1970-77 Government’s record

In prose loaded with alliterative language, Dr Jayatilleka has attempted to draw me out to defend the record of the 1970-77 Government. For added measure, he has included such inaccurate statements as "a regime that jailed Fred de Silva, the Deputy Editor of the Daily News". (In this era, when individuals are imprisoned on orders of military officers, one again tends to forget that there was a time – not only in Camelot – when justice was administered exclusively by judges). I do not propose to humour him in this regard for two reasons.

Firstly, I was not a cabinet minister responsible for formulating policy. I have never been a member of the SLFP or of any other political party. To describe me as "the most prominent and pro-active high functionary" of that time, and to hold me accountable for the record of that government, is to pretend not to know how governments function. I was a practising lawyer who was invited by the Prime Minister to head the Ministry of Justice for the specific purpose of introducing a programme of legal and judicial reform which, as she reminded me, I had often complained was long overdue. I performed that task to the best of my ability. The Court of Appeal Act of 1971 and the two Administration of Justice Laws of 1973 and 1975 bear testimony to that. Of course, the Insurgency of 1971 was not on the original agenda, and arrangements relating to the accommodation of persons taken in combat as well as those who surrendered, followed by the investigation, trial, release and rehabilitation of over 20,000 young idealistic men and women, became an unwelcome preoccupation. I take pride in the fact that not one person in any of the detention camps that were hurriedly opened, especially on university campuses, died in custody.

Secondly, it is a matter of record that I have recognized that some of the regressive developments of the decades that followed could be attributed to acts and omissions of the 1970-77 administration. These include the failure to recognize the legitimate rights of the Tamil-speaking community when the new constitution was being drafted; the erosion of the constitutional settlement upon which independence was granted in 1948 (which included such elements as an independent public service commission and protection against discriminatory legislation); the abolition of the judicial review of legislation; the subjection of permanent secretaries to "the direction and control" of ministers; and the standardization policy in respect of university admissions that contributed to the growth of youth militancy in the north. I have spoken publicly, and written and published, on these matters on numerous occasions. Even while in office, I emphasized the tyranny of the two-third majority, as well as the futility of seeking to resolve the ethnic problem through detention orders. I have asserted my view that the Vaddukkodai Resolution was the logical response to the 1972 Constitution.

The Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry

I am surprised at Dr Jayatilleka’s attempt to legitimize the infamous Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry of 1978. Perhaps he was too young at the time to understand that that was a political device created by President Jayewardene to "eliminate" (in the sense of removing from mainstream politics) his two principal political opponents, Mrs Bandaranaike and Mr Felix R Dias Bandaranaike. Not having been a politician, I have often wondered why I was chosen to be the first "victim". Perhaps it was the desire of a few of my learned friends to remove me from the legal arena. Or was it to punish me for declining to "co-operate" in the exercise? Whatever the motivation, I was provided with a unique opportunity to place on record, on oath, my performance in public office, and to be cross-examined on it for six weeks. A spin was placed on parts that were reported in the state controlled press. The commission’s report paid little or no regard to evidence.

I would, therefore, recommend to Dr Jayatilleka that he read the monumental opening and concluding addresses of my counsel, Mr. S. Nadesan Q.C., who appeared with Mr J. C. T. Kotelawela and Mr Faisz Mustapha. He would learn a great deal about the Government of 1970-77 which he is now seeking to denigrate.

The Special Presidential Commission was not a judicial body, Three judges handpicked by the executive assembled at the former Queen’s Club to perform an executive task. It was the first occasion when sitting judges participated in what they knew to be a blatantly political exercise. It was also the single act of political meanness that destroyed altogether the unwritten concordat that had existed until then between Government and Opposition - a vital element in the proper functioning of a democratic system. It was perhaps poetic justice that one commissioner was found guilty by the Supreme Court of a corrupt act, while another reportedly spirited away the commission’s refrigerator, carpets and curtains.

Attack on integrity

Dr Jayatilleka has challenged me to quote a single line written by him in defence of the Eighteenth Amendment. If I did so, he would stop writing to this newspaper. I have no desire to abort his journalistic career or any other career he seeks to pursue. At the same time, I wish that he would not distort what I have written. I referred to the "indefensible Eighteenth Amendment", not the "indefensible Rajapakse regime", as he asserts in the penultimate paragraph of his article. This is but one example of the flippancy with which he has sought to attack my integrity.

Prevailing realities in the noble search for reconciliation

by Dr M.A. Mohamed Saleem

Sri Lankan conflict that spanned over three decades causing several thousands dead, massive disruption of social order, and destruction to economic capacities and infrastructure may take many years to rebuild. Sri Lanka has been a peaceful country, and adopted majority-based democracy for governance. What did not happen is that the majority community fell short of acknowledging that they had a responsibility to protect and assist the minority communities. Equally, the minority communities failed to demonstrate that they too have responsibilities to protect the nation’s integrity and sovereignty.

Government’s failure to foresee people’s discontent manifested in various forms and attempts to take corrective measures ultimately led some groups towards armed insurgency. Violence with impunity has become a common currency in Sri Lanka today even to deal with trivial differences. Suspicion and distrust between and among the different communities are displayed openly, and the perception of the "other"- the Sinhalese of the Tamils, the Tamils of the Sinhalese, the Tamils and Sinhalese of the Muslims is fed on hate and insensitivities for varying beliefs. Thus, each ethnic group promoted its own ethnic identity instead of working towards a common identity as Sri Lankans. It is in this complex socio-political and charged environment that we are now searching for reconciliation.

Reality of reconciliation: We have no alternative but create an environment to heal wounds and mobilize people from every corner under a single vision of rebuilding our country, Sri Lanka, that will truly belong to all its citizens. It is to assist this country on a new track of peace and prosperity that the Lessons Learnt and Rehabilitation Commission (LLRC) has been constituted. Knowledge of where and how mistakes were made are helpful to guard against repeating them but it will not be effective unless there is genuine remorse for the mistakes committed and willingness to avoid new mistakes. Given the different lenses through which each community perceives the present situation in the country, arriving at a common platform for reconciliation is a major challenge. From their own perspectives people ask - for what and with whom should they reconcile?

* Do we have to reconcile with those who propagated a system that deprived us from being equal citizens with equal rights and opportunities or do we have to reconcile with those who promised to deliver us into another land of our own and deceived us?

* Do we have to reconcile with those who planted explosives in the bus that left no trace of our families or do we have to reconcile with those who caused suffering and wished our doom by attacking banks, airports, power stations, refineries etc?

* Do we have to reconcile with the ones who squeezed us with fire power into a narrow land strip, and thereafter inhumanly contained us in makeshift detention pens?

* Do we have to reconcile with those who chased us out (even without a milk pack for infants clinging on us in fright) from our homes we had built over several decades of co-existence and reduced us to paupers overnight?

* Do we have to reconcile with those who desecrated places of worship and killed those who stood in prayer?

* Do we have to reconcile with those who did not reciprocate goodwill, and instead, massacred our unarmed policemen who willingly surrendered?

* Do we have to reconcile with those who pulled out our religious leaders off their vehicle and guillotined heads off in broad daylight?

These questions keep cropping up as one passes through village after village and, what question is asked depends on which part of the country one is in.

Challenges: Reconciliation starts with forgiveness and it has to emerge from the individuals. Therefore, only people at the grassroots will have the discretion to overcome their distrust and fear of co-existing with the ‘enemies’ by acknowledging claims of the other side and move forward from the divided past to redesign a shared relationships for the future. Unfortunately, what is happing on the ground today does not give confidence that this country is really serious about reconciliation. Lessons we may learn from the past may be important but, equally, emerging new issues may nullify the search to regain trust and confidence for renegotiating values of co-existence among the different communities:

* Socio-political recognition: There are a number of war victims in every village who would have lived a normal life had there been peace. Now they are maimed, traumatized, widowed, and orphaned, and the traditional sympathy and support to them through extended family ties have diminished. There is resentment against the ‘perpetrators’ from everyone connected to these victims for their plight.

* Lost livelihood and economic opportunities: People deprived of livelihood due to damaged institutions and economic infrastructures including essential irrigation schemes, mined farmlands or land grab, inaccessibility to farmlands or markets continue to suffer as a result of intense security checks. Still there are a lot of restrictions on recruitment for jobs, and war victims in the Northern and Eastern provinces complain of outsiders – meaning people from the southern provinces - who are given free access (by the government) to areas which, in the past, had provided livelihood largely to the local people.

* Brain drain: Large number of skilled and trained workers and professionals fled the country. There is a shortage of skilled people in many fields and it will significantly impair implementation of post-conflict development plans. Particularly the Northern and Eastern Provincial administration has to be satisfied with the less competent workers and/or is made to accept the officers thrust upon from outside (the provinces) to implement plans and this is causing a lot of discomfort and frustration.

* Governance deficit: There is unease about a growing ‘impunity’ culture by which laws are selectively applied and law enforcement authorities are no longer viewed as the protectors of the civilian population

* Structural support: The war-victims in the resettlement villages feel that they need a voice (though any village institution) and an authority to make a choice (through planning and implementation) of their own village programmes. People in the resettlement villages feel helpless to express their aspirations for rebuilding lives.

Emerging threats for reconciliation

a) Accountability: Lack of accountability and control mechanisms will lead to further abuses of state resources for personal gain and perpetuation of power. Continued culture of giving priority to prestigious instead of essential projects raises concerns whether the government will ever commit or take responsibility for a fairer system of sharing resources.

b) Suppression of Dissent: The common man is shocked and lives in panic on account of the suppression of press freedom. Intimidation, violence and even murder are increasing in order to curb dissent. The current situation in the country is such that any agency (local or foreign) can be closed abruptly or a public servant can be tied to a tree for not showing up for duty. Also, charges can be framed against anyone, and conviction fast tracked.

c) Alienation renewed: - Triumphalism has increased among the majority Sinhala community but, the Tamils take it as a show of Sinhala superiority over the Tamil community. Thus, Sinhala-Tamil divide remains wide and deep. Some say that a political solution to the ethnic conflict is no more on the government’s agenda. Even with the mega projects that are underway to kick-start the economy in the Northern Province, the Tamils are disappointed and feel sidelined in local job recruitments while it is alleged that foreign and Sinhala contractors are given preferential contractual terms.

d) Monuments & Human dignity: - In the recent past, many "victory monuments" have come up at various locations in the northern and eastern provinces: placing of Buddha statues in places predominantly inhabited by other communities has become common. Such actions cannot create the space for reconciliation. Also, acts such as bulldozing cemeteries in the north does not augur well to heal wounds, and such actions are not expected in a country like Sri Lanka where people are still largely guided by spiritual tenets.

Common basis: There is overwhelming gratitude in this country for blotting out terrorism but, early enthusiasm to forget the past and get on with life is waning under the strain of new issues. What can be the common basis for reconciliation? Can there be a set of fair rules and justice systems that everyone can trust when applied across all social behaviors and for sharing of economic, political and social endowments in the country? Can these be achieved within the existing constitution or should we look out for something else?

Appearing before the LLRC the Mahatma Gandhi Centre submitted that the goal of reconciliation can only be achieved when people are allowed to start the process. Formation of People’s Councils in every village, based purely on development interests sans party affiliations under the collective supervision of village elders and religious leaders was suggested as a common platform for reconciliation to take root.

It is only in such common platforms social justice and community values of mutual respect can be restored, and changes can occur from hatred to forgiveness which is the basis for true reconciliation. Sri Lanka needs a new structure for the spirit of reconciliation to take root and prosper. In the words of Eckhart Tolle "If structures of human mind remain unchanged we will always end up re-creating fundamentally the same world, the same evils, same dysfunction".

The closest Sri Lanka came to national security state

by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Let us not be evasive. There is a model of the National Security State that is not that which is described by the Washington Post earlier this year in its stunning expose Top Secret America (or by more radical critics of the US). It is the earlier and far nastier Latin American model, from which the term originated. That National Security State was the norm in Latin America from the mid 1960s through to the mid 1980s. It emerged in Brazil after the 1964 coup and saw the conversion of much of Latin America into ‘torture states’.

As the one who actually introduced the term ‘National Security State’ from the Latin American discourse into the Sri Lankan through the pages of the Lanka Guardian, I must draw attention to the fact that in Latin America, that was the designation given to a state form which was the result of a military coup d’état or a military-civilian junta and the violent suppression or suspension of representative party politics, the multiparty system and the electoral process. That has most certainly not taken place in Sri Lanka and therefore the model certainly does not apply to Sri Lanka today.

I’d argue (as I did then) that the closest the country came to a National Security state was in the post Referendum Jayewardene years when Lalith Athulathmudali was Minister of National Security, with an earlier ‘close encounter’ in the 1970s. I recall the 1972 essay by the iconic Andre Gunder Frank in the Monthly Review (New York), edited at the time by the legendary Paul Sweezy, in which he designates Sri Lanka of that time as "semi-fascist" (and mentions discussing the subject with Dr SA Wickremesinghe, the founder of the country’s socialist movement, leader of the Communist party and its dissident faction, at Prof Visakha Kumari Jayewardene’s residence).

Be it the hypertrophy of security apparatuses and ubiquity of a garrison state mentality or any other negative tendency, no remedial reply lies in the denigration of patriotism, the de-prioritisation of the mainstream and the adoption instead, of the marginal. Patriotism is not a ‘Sinhala middle class’ phenomenon, either in composition or character. This is nothing but a devaluation of the socially and electorally all-important peasantry/ rural voter in the Sinhala heartland. The overwhelming majority of youngsters who gave their lives and limbs in the struggle against secessionist terrorism were from Sinhala peasant backgrounds.

Patriotism or nationalism cannot be reduced to a single class or stratum. Some social phenomena are beyond such compartmentalisation and caricature. Patriotism is a deep and broad cross-class or trans-class phenomenon. Only the naively unthinking could assume that patriotism dissipates in the face of economic crisis. In many places it just becomes more virulent, even violent, if there is no moderate or progressive patriotic/nationalist party that the masses can identify with. No serious political party in a democracy can base itself primarily upon, or allow itself to be identified overly with marginal causes and marginalised segments which can alienate it from the Sinhala heartland. The mobilisation of the marginal is the primary task of social movements in the non-party political space.

Unless one wishes to remain permanently in a Samasamajist or at best, Kinnock-Kerry cul de sac, the task of an enlightened political project is not to turn its back on the patriotic mainstream but to identify with it and re-work it from within, interpreting it in a broad inclusive pluralist spirit, linking it up (‘articulating’ it) with a modernist and progressive transformational programme.

It is sad but perhaps unsurprising to note the increasingly raucous anti-China prejudices of the discourse of some segments of oppositional opinion, at a time that no progressive leader in the Third World would do so. Most are hurrying to avail themselves of China as a countervailing factor and encouraging its rise as a move towards a multi-polar world. Last week, the UNP’s ‘ rump faction’ represented by leader Wickremesinghe and spokesperson Samaraweera complained of China’s ‘clout’ in Colombo, while some commentators have criticised the idea of benefiting from the shift of industries from China’s coastal zones which are now high wage areas.

The UNP’s slogan comes as no surprise, as it is standard fare for the UNP Right: Sir John Kotelawela’s anti-China stance at Bandung in 1955 isolated him from the Afro-Asian ethos, earned him the nickname ‘Bandung Booruwa’, and contributed to the UNP’s defeat in ’56, while the UNP of the ’60s yelled hysterically about Chinese spies posing as tourists, taking photographs of Trincomalee harbour (which didn’t help the party avoid a crash to electoral defeat).

As for positioning Sri Lanka to benefit from a shift of certain industries from China’s prosperous coastal periphery, I prefer to heed the advice of Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s 53 year old Finance Minister who outclassed Larry Summers and Dominic Strauss Kahn on Fareed Zakaria’s show. Several weeks ago, he advocated just that as the coming developmental opportunity for Asia.

Not that this should be at the expense of another great opportunity for economic growth, namely the hub and spokes regional economic and trade model utilising India’s take-off (as recommended by Pakistan’s former Finance Minister and former Vice-President of the World Bank, Javed Berki). Luckily Sri Lanka is positioned to do both; to be at the interface of India’s and China’s parallel and simultaneous economic miracles. Let us hope we don’t miss out, yet again.

Why are we not outraged about child rape in Sri Lanka?

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

"Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban…. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it…” — George Orwell (Proposed Preface to Animal Farm)

Every day, three children are raped in Sri Lanka….. Why aren’t we outraged?

The incarceration of Gen. Fonseka, the 18th Amendment or the Rajapaksa dynastic project are contentious political issues; not so child rape. Child rape is an abomination which everyone of us, irrespective of our politics or lack of it, can and must condemn, unequivocally and in unison. One child raped is one child too many; the daily rape of three children is a menace which must be eradicated from Lanka soil.

And, yet, silence reigns, two weeks after the Sunday Times report appeared (3.10.2010). Silence on the part of the government and the opposition, religious leaders and self-appointed guardians of traditional morality.

Silence in the Parliament and outside. And a societal silence as reprehensible as it is astounding. Has indifference become a coarse habit which inures us to the most heinous of crimes and most barbarous of outrages, as long as we are not the victims?

There is nothing singular about our collective indifference to the proliferation of child rape. In the recent past, we reacted with equal indifference to media revelations about unacceptably high levels of child malnutrition and child poverty and debilitating educational standards.

A country which is seriously concerned about its future cannot ignore a steady erosion in the safety, health, education and general wellbeing of a substantial percentage of its children. Yet there is no outcry, political or public, no parliamentary debates or public perorations, no crisis plans or emergency action programmes about any of these issues. We are learning to coexist with horrors and abominations, so long as they do not touch us personally.

Addressing the Istanbul Conference on Freedom of Speech, Noam Chomsky opined that ‘even more fundamental than the right to free expression is the right to think.’ What happens when a populace willingly abdicates its right to think, because it considers thinking burdensome and, perhaps, dangerous?

What happens when a populace embraces indifference as a way of life outside of one’s private sphere?

Did our gradual descent into moral indifference begin in the North, when we unquestioningly accepted the outrageous lie of zero-civilian casualties? We cling to that anesthetising myth even now, single-mindedly ignoring such dribbles of truth, as the statement by an Indian doctor, who treated civilian Tamils in the last weeks of the war, about ‘massive casualties among civilians’ (around 30,000; Hindustan Times – 1.6.2010).

Motivated by that same stupefying yearning for ignorance, we drew veils of concealment over testimonies by civilian Tamils at the LLRC hearings. Such as the testimony of Ratnasingham Easwary, who escaped from Tiger clutches on May 10, 2009 via the lagoon. When her boat was intercepted by the Navy, “we called out that we were civilians and asked them not to shoot at us. Yet minutes later eight shells were directed towards our boats from the Navy ships. Of the 20 who travelled in our boat eight were killed” (Groundviews).

The survivors were rescued by the Navy; subsequently Ms. Ratnasingham’s brother-in-law was taken away by the Navy; his fate is still unknown. In answer to a question, the witness reiterated that there were no arms in the boat and there were no Tiger boats close-by; they were all civilians and shouted so to the Navy many times, she said. Civilians died, and some avoidably. But we will continue to cling to our happy illusions, lest we are lured to think and to question our indifference.

More than a year after the victorious end of the Eelam War, defence remains the topmost budgetary priority of the Rajapaksas. A defence budget at a stratospheric Rs.215 billion cannot but gobble up the peace dividend (the health budget at Rs.6.2 billion is about 3% of the defence budget while education and higher education budget at Rs.24.7 billion is around 12% of the defence budget).

Defence remains the cardinal consideration of the Rajapaksas, over and above economic or social development, even in peace time.

The LTTE is incapable of regrouping and rearming, Minister G.L. Peiris recently assured the world. If so, why spend an unacceptably high 20% of total government expenditure on defence? Wouldn’t it make sense to channel some of this money into fulfilling health, educational, housing and employment needs of the North and East?

The North needs a Marshall Plan but is getting military camps and cantonments instead. Obviously the Rajapaksa objective is not consensual peace-building but forceful pacification. This is further confirmed by the regime’s disinclination to do its constitutional duty by fully implementing the 13th Amendment.

As Minister Peiris said in response to Indian insistence on a political solution, “It is impossible to talk of exact time frame for implementing the 13th Amendment, it is a great mistake to do because if you talk of a timeframe and then you are not able to complete the process, it is bound to be conjecture, speculative, then there is erosion of credibility” (ANI – 16.10.2010). Obviously a political solution is not on, though a desperate Delhi may continue with the charade, to save face and to appease Tamil Nadu.

As the Tamil witnesses at the LLRC hearings indicated, the demise of the Tigers has not killed the desire for self-rule (naturally, as the Tigers were born due to a dearth and not a surfeit of self-rule): “When the people of Kilinochchi gave evidence they said that the armed conflict was the result of the of the feelings of those who were affected by ethnic conflict…. Since both sides have experienced losses…the people stressed that finding a permanent political solution for the Tamil people was imperative to prevent future generations from taking up arms….” (ibid).

The ethnic problem is a living reality but any Tamil who demands a political solution will be deemed an enemy. In the Sinhala supremacist eyes of the Rajapaksas, there is no difference between Tamil nationalism and Tiger fascism. Tamils will be able to gain a place in post-war Sri Lanka, only at the cost of submission to Sinhala supremacism and Rajapaksa dominance. If the Tamils behave, they can be free, safe and perhaps even successful, by the grace of the Rajapaksas; if they become ‘demanding’ they will be labelled as Tigers and treated accordingly.

Indifference and impunity are mutually-sustaining cancers which cannot be isolated politically or geographically; eventually the South too will be consumed by these twin ills. The proposed barricading of the country would be aimed at guaranteeing the Rajapaksa right to impunity (according to the official narrative, national interests and Rajapaksa interests are identical). But the prime guarantor of Rajapaksa impunity will be our own habit of indifference. After all, what cannot be done to and on behalf of a society which remains unmoved by the rape of its children, three a day?

Amid Sri Lanka’s boom, life for Tamils remains bleak

by Rick Westhead
Toronto Star, South Asia Bureau

TRINCOMALEE, SRI LANKA—The weathered wooden bench that serves as an open-air confessional booth at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church doesn’t enjoy much down time nowadays.

It’s not that more people are seeking forgiveness in this seaside chapel. Rather, parishioners have been flocking here just for the chance to sit with Father Cryton Outschoorn, to listen to his soothing assurance that their lives, clouded for so many years by fear and violence, are getting better.

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Father Cryton Outschoorn, a priest at Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. He says some residents are still frightened a year after the end of the country's civil war.

“It seems like forever people here have been asking, ‘what can happen to us next?’ so it’s not easy to give condolences,” the 35-year-old priest said one recent morning. “Life still isn’t easy in Sri Lanka but it is better than it was. I remind them that for years they have been praying for peace and now they finally have that. It’s an answer to prayer.”

Outschoorn’s reminder notwithstanding, some Sri Lankans are struggling to be optimistic in the wake of the country’s civil war, a venomous stretch of history that lasted from 1975 until May of last year, splintering society and leaving an estimated 70,000 dead.

On one hand, news coming out of this island nation off India’s southern coast seems to be remarkably positive.

The government says foreign money is pouring into Sri Lanka now that suicide bombers and landmines are history. Economic growth is pegged at 8 per cent, unemployment is decreasing, inflation is in check, and a new International Monetary Fund-approved tax regime will bolster tax revenues.

“They have a once-in-a-generation-type story,” says Koshy Mathai, an American who is the IMF’s representative in Colombo.

Yet in many pockets of this palm-fringed nation, weary residents interviewed by the dozen tell a different tale. The prices of food, cooking oil and gas are at all-time highs, they say, and the government is failing to follow through on a promise to give provincial councils more power over local administration. Sri Lankan Pesident Mahinda Rajapaksa promises to repair roads and bridges and broken spirits, yet some say development remains largely limited to the western and southern regions of Sri Lanka, benefiting the country’s Sinhalese majority.

But conditions in Sri Lanka’s northern province, the Tamil heartland, remain bleak and still mostly undocumented because local journalists self-censor their news coverage and access for the foreign press is still tightly restricted.

That is where the bulk of the 492 refugee claimants who landed in Vancouver aboard the Sun Sea call home.

Jehan Perera, the executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka in Colombo, recently visited Jaffna province and saw how the government has resettled some Tamil families after their release from IDP camps. Close to 300,000 people were forced out of their homes in the final days of fighting between rebels and soldiers and the government now says just 20,000 remain in its so-called “welfare centres.”

Perera said he travelled up Sri Lanka’s A-9 Highway, cut off a side road and drove for many kilometres before he reached a settlement.

“They were basically living in huts with no electricity, no toilets, no hopes for jobs,” Perera said. “At night when it was pitch black, they talked about how poisonous snakes would come into their huts. For someone to say all these refugees in Canada should be returned here to be resettled like that, I just think, ‘can’t you give these people a break?’”

But a visitor to Sri Lanka doesn’t need to journey to the remote north to get a sense for how social issues still simmer.

A Colombo newspaper called Virakesari reported this month that police officials were demanding local Tamil residents register with their office, said Mano Ganesan, a Tamil politician. “It shows that mindset of mistrust by is still there more than a year after the war,” he said.

The report in Virakesari came only a few days after masked intruders burst into the offices of Siyatha, a TV and radio news broadcaster also based in the Sri Lankan capital. The media company upset government officials last year when it supported the failed presidential bid of former Sri Lankan general Sarath Fonseka. The intruders rampaged in the company’s offices for 15 minutes, assaulted staff and set fires. Yet in a high-security section of the city that still has a string of police checkpoints, the intruders inexplicably vanished afterwards.

“Either Colombo is not safe, despite the near hysterical hype on security and the ubiquitous presence of gun-toting servicemen; or the attack on Siyatha was carried out with the knowledge (if not at the behest) of powers-that-be,” the Asian Tribune newspaper wrote in an editorial about the break-in.

Other human-rights advocates point out The Economist magazine is routinely confiscated by customs agents when it dedicates coverage to current events here. And it has resolutely refused to cooperate with a UN commission studying atrocities committed in the final days of the war.

Perera said the absence of media freedom is only one of several reasons he’s anxious about Sri Lanka’s future.

Sri Lanka’s parliament last month passed an amendment to its constitution to remove presidential term limits, opening the door for Rajapaksa to run for a third term. The amendment also gives the president unfettered ability to both appoint and sack Supreme Court judges, members of the human rights and electoral commissions, and the country’s police chief.

“The separation of powers and checks and balances are all breaking down,” Perera said.

At the same time, there are growing concerns over the lack of progress toward a political resolution with the country’s Tamil minority. Instead of salving wounds, some critics say the government is exacerbating them.

In Jaffna, a city of bullet-scarred and dilapidated buildings in Sri Lanka’s north that was the de facto capital of The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the cold-blooded separatist group that paralyzed the country’s progress for so many years, Sri Lanka’s military has bulldozed L.T.T.E. cemeteries and erected a monument to the country’s fallen soldiers.

Neil Buhne, a Canadian and the Chief of the United Nations mission here, said the 1 million residents of Sri Lanka’s northern province Jaffna remain emotionally fragile and wondered why the government didn’t instead erect something to commemorate the country’s collective losses.

“They’ve gone through hell,” Buhne said. “The bulldozing of cemeteries and building a war memorial to soldiers is not a confidence-building measure. They don’t need to do it.”

In the eastern cities of Trincomalee and Batticaloa, cities that were hard hit by the tsunami in December 2004, Sri Lanka’s war continues to claim victims. The main hospital in Batticaloa, for instance, is admitting a record number of battered women.

“We have at least 10 new cases a day and many have husbands who are turning to alcohol or drugs because they can’t cope with feelings of isolation and loneliness after the war,” said Jayatheepa Pathasri, a mental-health care worker.

Pathasri herself is a casualty of Sri Lanka’s conflict.

Fourteen months ago—more than a month after the war’s official conclusion—the 26-year-old’s husband, a taxi cab driver, walked out of their home and looked back over his shoulder, hollering he’d see his wife and son later that night after work. He never came home.

“His brother was L.T.T.E. but not him,” said Pathasri, wearing a mustard-coloured sari with her hair pulled back neatly and held by a brown pin. “I think the government soldiers took him, but there are lots of stories like this.”

Even though Pathasri said some residents are struggling to cope following the end of the civil war, other locals insist they’re anxious to move on and rebuild, something they literally couldn’t afford to do for years. In L.T.T.E.-controlled swaths of the country, even renovating a modest home would bring a visit from L.T.T.E. brass demanding a contribution to the cause.

“If you had money to fix the bullet holes in your house, they figured you had money to help the cause,” a restaurant owner in Batticaloa said with a sigh.

But now, there are tangible signs of optimism in Sri Lanka’s beleaguered east, which until 2006 was controlled by the rebel group.

Travellers who brave the jarring nine-hour train ride from Colombo see roads lined with cement bags and sheets of steel. Repairs to the road linking Batticaloa and Trincomalee should be completed in months, cutting the driving time to two hours from the current eight.

Businesses, meantime, like the Indian cellphone company Airtel are gradually moving into the east and helping spur the local economy.

In a riverfront hotel in Batticaloa on a recent evening, executives with Unilever held a celebratory party for 20 local distributors.

The consumer-goods giant sells about $500,000 worth of products in the city each month, said Basil Fernando, a Unilever territory manager. When he arrived here two years ago, monthly sales were about $280,000.

As his customers munched on chicken wings and sipped arak, a local spirit made from fermented coconuts, a young woman wearing a green dress and ankle bangles danced to traditional Tamil music. Signboards taped on the walls promoted Unilever’s 10 rupee Astra margarine — you don’t need to put it in a cooler” — and its new Lux soap brand, which Fernando was sure would be a fast seller. “It’s an expensive party but it’s worth it,” he said, smiling. “The market is booming.”

There is similarly positive news further north up the coast in Trincomalee, a city of 350,000 where cement and flour factories and a flurry of fishing trawlers are the largest local employers.

While soldiers still patrol city streets, locals say they are relieved to be rid of the military checkpoints that until recently dotted the roads like 10-yard lines on a football field. Local fishermen are now allowed to take their boats out at night, something that was impossible to do during the war.

The military also seems to be trying to repair its image with locals. In coming weeks, a new reality TV show will debut in Sri Lanka that will be styled after America’s Got Talent. Members of the military will compete against one another in competitions of dancing, singing and juggling. The show’s underlying message: soldiers are people, too.

As a young woman in a pink sari and a yellow reflective vest swept garbage from a stretch of beach in Trincomalee, Thussi Ponnampala, the 28-year-old manager of a small 10-room seaside guest house here that charges 1,500 rupees ($13.50 Canadian) a night showed a visitor his vision of an expanded hotel with an all-day barbecue pit and surf shop.

“How long are we going to have fighting? There’s no future in that,” he said.

In 1990, Ponnampala said his father was stopped by Sri Lankan soldiers at a checkpoint.

“He wasn’t doing anything wrong but because he didn’t have money to pay off the soldier he was shot in the head,” Ponnampala said matter-of-factly. “But it’s all politics and we can either keep worrying about that and living in the past or move on. I choose to move on.”

Others seem to be willing to following suit.

While Sri Lanka’s northern province will contribute a mere 3.3 per cent to the country’s GDP this year, according to government estimates, money is beginning to flow into the region. The U.S. government is investing in a plant near Jaffna to make high-end blue jeans for customers such as Levi’s and J.C. Penney. New restaurants and hotels opening along the A9 are mostly owned by local Tamils, according to an August report in Time magazine.

India is promising $800 million in low-interest loans to help redevelop the north and east and is building 50,000 new homes in the once war-hobbled zone — nearly one-third of the 160,000 new homes the U.N. says are required.

China, similarly, is also vying for the affection of Sri Lanka’s government and has promised $500 million to build new seaports, a power grid, and a new highway in the east.

Despite the increased foreign investment and the steady flow of “good news” stories that salt the front-pages of Sri Lanka’s several English newspapers, some Sri Lankans say they worry that Rajapaksa’s government show no signs of being willing to loosen its grip on power.

In the east, for instance, a civilian government elected by locals is now in place, headed by a 34-year-old former child soldier named Pillayan, who was an L.T.T.E. before bolting to join the government. Yet the government has also established a governor in the east, a former military general, who can veto any legislation passed by Pillayan’s elected officials.

In 2008, the governor nixed a new law that would have introduced motor vehicle licensing fees, a venture that could have raised as much as 1 billion rupees ($100 million) a year for the province, said Dr. K. Vigneswaran, a former member of Sri Lanka’s parliament who is now an adviser to Pillayan. More recently, the governor killed an effort to pass a bill that would have allowed the provincial government to formally collect contributions from the Sri Lankan diaspora.

“They want us tied down,” Vigneswaran said in an interview. “They don’t want the north or the east princes to be financially sound.”

In Trincomalee, like other areas of the north and east, there are concerns now that the government is colonizing the region with Singhalese migrants from the south by offering them inducements to accept good jobs and cheap land. Recently, the federal government offered 50 prime beachfront plots in Trincomalee to be developed into new hotels. The plots were virtually free, Vigneswaran said, yet no Tamils bid for them, even after he attended a December meeting in Vienna with a group of Tamil expats and pleaded with them to invest.

“They asked what promises we could offer that the government wouldn’t take their money,” Vigneswaran said. “I said, ‘well what promises did the L.T.T.E. give you when you were giving them money?’ They didn’t answer. And they didn’t invest.”

As dusk settled on Trincomalee, a group of teenagers jumped on a small blue and white boat used by divers to catch clown fish from a nearby reef. Ponnampala, with a head of thick curly black hair and a wide smile, navigated his way past a herd of cows lazing on the beach and grinned and waved at a Russian air force pilot who was staying at his small guest house.

“I think our country has had enough of the fighting,” Ponnampala said. “We know that the government doesn’t believe in us. The sad thing is some people here don’t believe in themselves either. But with no war now anything is possible. We have to hold that close.” - courtesy: Toronto Star -

October 22, 2010

A one-eyed view of Sri Lanka

by Antony Loewenstein

A Western journalist visits the Sudanese capital Khartoum to interview President Omar al-Bashir. The reporter, after calling him "controversial" due to his "bloody" record in fighting terrorism, gives the leader a platform to explain his views and tactics. The only other voice featured in the piece is a commentator who backs the government wholeheartedly. The fact that Bashir has been charged in 2010 by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Darfur is glossed over in the story.

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President Mahinda Rajapaksa

This piece would be rightly called propaganda, the lack of enquiry revealing an inability to understand the reasons Bashir wanted to speak to a Westerner. Bashir is undoubtedly a legitimate person to interview but the skill is painting an entire picture of the people suffering under his rule, not least the minorities and those in Darfur.

Sadly, The Australian's Rowan Callick was easily seduced by the allure of an exclusive chat with Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and this week published a number of articles from his lightning visit. His trip was "not paid for by the Sri Lanka government or by anybody in any way associated with Sri Lanka", Callick told me but it appears he engaged with nobody other than officials while in the country.

Amazingly, Callick didn't even mention that Gotabaya has consistently said that no civilians were killed by the Sri Lankan government in the final phases of its brutal war against the Tamil Tigers despite every major human rights group in the world detailing a litany of war crimes against the top echelons of the Colombo regime. Up to 40,000 Tamil civilians were murdered, according to former UN official in Colombo, Gordon Weiss. Britain is now calling for a fully independent war crimes investigation into the serious allegations.

Callick published a story that claimed Sri Lanka was again safe for all its citizens and Australia should "get tough" on Tamil asylum seekers. Singapore based terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, a Sinhalese like Sri Lanka's leadership, claimed without evidence that "70 per cent of Tamils granted asylum in Australia and Canada had returned to Sri Lanka for a visit."

The article concluded with this curious paragraph:

"The government has invited opinion leaders of that Diaspora to visit Sri Lanka as it emerges from the war, and to visit centres of past conflict. Those who had gone, including some from Australia, had 'returned pleased.'"

In other words, Callick was happy to be shown around parts of Sri Lanka the government wanted him to see.

This fit perfectly with the regime's enthusiasm to restore its battered image. In the UK, public relations firm Bell Pottinger has been hired to "counter the Tamil Diaspora campaign work" and white-wash alleged crimes committed by the Rajapaksa authorities.

I asked Callick by email about his trip and he said that he was "briefly in Colombo" to "interview the country's second most powerful figure… His views [Gotabaya] are clearly of considerable interest." The Murdoch journalist told me that his paper "has covered a range of views on Sri Lanka issues" over time and this is certainly true.

Despite the newspaper featuring stories over the last years about the Sri Lankan government's Israeli-style blitzkrieg on the Tamil population, this is utterly irrelevant to the impression this week's stories have falsely created in the public mind. Letters to The Australian in the last days show readers are outraged that 70 per cent of Tamil refugees granted protection are supposedly returning to Sri Lanka within a year of arriving here. Yet there is no documented evidence that this is true.

Callick's full-page feature of his time with Gotabaya merely added insult to injury. Titled, "Brothers who tamed the Tigers", the article again only featured two voices, Gotabaya and Gunaratna. Claims about protecting civilians were accepted without challenge. No mention of the extensive reports by Human Rights Watch, the UN and Amnesty International that found alleged crimes against humanity by the Sri Lankan forces towards both Tamil civilians and the Tamil Tigers (who also stand accused of committing war crimes). Callick accepted Gotabaya's claims without hesitation or challenge.

Callick followed up his series of stories with a more balanced piece the next day but this also barely mentioned Sri Lanka's slide into authoritarianism.

The International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International recently declined an offer from Colombo to appear before a sham commission to investigate any alleged abuses during the country's war with the Tamil Tigers. The letter to the commission read in part:

"While we would welcome the opportunity to appear before a genuine, credible effort to pursue accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, the LLRC [Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission] falls far short of such an effort. It not only fails to meet basic international standards for independent and impartial inquiries, but it is proceeding against a backdrop of government failure to address impunity and continuing human rights abuses.

Our three organizations believe that the persistence of these and other destructive trends indicates that currently Sri Lanka's government and justice system cannot or will not uphold the rule of law and respect basic rights."

Sri Lanka's External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris called the refusal of the groups reminiscent of an "attitude that is almost colonial, patronizing and condescending".

Colombo is following the Israeli model, dismissive of international opinion towards its crimes and excesses and relying on the largesse, military backing and diplomatic cover of a handful of major powers.

Another fundamental flaw with the Callick articles was his reliance on Rohan Gunaratna, the ubiquitous terrorism expert. The Singapore-based analyst's disturbing ability to blur academic studies and political opinions has been challenged for years but the mainstream media continues seeking his views. Gunaratna's understanding of Asia's Islamist threat has often be inaccurate and excessive and his use of unsourced and unproven intelligence leaves open the possibility of distortions. A number of terrorism experts told me that very few, if any, serious terrorism experts take his claims seriously.

I asked Callick about his use of Gunaratna and the questions around his credibility. He responded that his "views are often interesting and well informed. That he has a close connection to governments does not necessarily undermine those elements."

It would be like solely using a former Israeli intelligence officer and expecting him to speak frankly and honestly about the role of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. His former association would cloud his view unavoidably.

The Australian has used Gunaratna as its only source on Sri Lanka and Tamil refugee issues for months. He is always guaranteed to issue apocalyptic predictions of doom about the prospects of a re-formed Tamil Tigers in Australia and Canada despite no evidence to back the claims.

Gunaratna told me via email that he had "no financial relationship whatsoever" with the Sri Lankan intelligence services or the Sri Lankan government. He railed against "disinformation produced by the LTTE front and sympathetic organisations overseas including in Australia". The implication was that any allegation of government-led war crimes by Tamils was suspect by definition despite the overwhelming eyewitness testimony of Sri Lanka forces firing on hospitals and civilian areas during the war.

He acknowledged that there was, like in Iraq and Afghanistan, "civilian deaths and injuries" and encouraged an "investigation… No life is cheap. It is a son or a daughter, a mother or a father, brother or a sister of someone."

When challenged on Colombo's holding of 11,500 former Tamil Tigers suspects in detention – condemned by Human Rights Watch as a prison without international monitoring or investigation – Gunaratna denied that Sri Lanka was holding Tamils "without access to international bodies. It is a lie spread by the LTTE and its supporters and sympathisers. There are 11,500 LTTE terrorists in custody. They are undergoing rehabilitation before they are released."

This is the same logic deployed by America and Israel with its illegal holding of countless prisoners without trial or judicial process. Terrorists are simply called terrorists because a government says so.

Gunaratna told me that he had "personally interviewed several thousand detainees" – a claim that stretches credibility – and praised the Sri Lankan "rehabilitation program as one of the best terrorist rehabilitation programs in the world… [that] should be emulated by other governments."

Despite no independent monitoring to assess the claim, he said that authorities "treat detainees with respect, promote moderation, toleration and co-existence and given a second chance to start a life."

Such unbelievable claims are by the man who is often the main source of expertise in The Australian's coverage of Sri Lanka.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author who sits on the advisory council of the British-based Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.

- courtesy: http://www.abc.net.au -

Brothers who tamed the Tigers

WARS can still be won, even against formidable terrorist organisations.

And Sri Lanka shows how. That is the core message of the country's security supremo, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a rare interview with The Australian:

by Rowan Callick

His office is in the Defence Ministry - his brother, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, holds the title of Defence Minister - a British colonial era building bristling with armed soldiers, alongside a highly fortified military base on a prime location on Colombo's beautiful sandy foreshore.

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President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa

The war may be over, with the leaders of the Tamil Tigers almost all killed following the final assault in May last year, but Rajapaksa is understandably taking no chances having narrowly survived a suicide bombing four years ago in downtown Colombo thanks to his armoured vehicle.

Singapore-based terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna described the Defence Secretary - a 20-year army veteran and former lieutenant-colonel, brought back by his brother from a successful information technology career in California to mastermind the defeat of the Tamil Tigers - as the second most powerful man in Sri Lanka.

"If not for him," Gunaratna says, "Sri Lanka would never have won the war", which lasted 26 years, during which time more than 70,000 people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

Rajapaksa is inevitably a figure of some controversy at home and overseas, characterised - with his brother - as behaving brutally as the war was brought to its bloody conclusion.

The army commander who triumphed with the brothers, General Sarath Fonseka, fell out with them after the war, stood for president in January and was convincingly defeated, with 40 per cent of the vote against Mahinda Rajapaksa's 57.8 per cent.

Last month, Fonseka was sentenced to three years' jail for corruption over military procurements. Sri Lanka's Daily Mirror editorialised on Friday that the "cacophony created by the hostility between the president and the former army commander . . . is killing the optimism generated by the epic war victory".

This noise is loud in Colombo right now. But the wider world - especially Western countries exhausted by their military commitments and losses in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere - is interested in lessons that can be learned when wars are won.

Sri Lanka now joins a tiny list of countries whose governments have succeeded against determined guerilla opponents waging long-standing campaigns. The victory in Malaysia against the 12-year communist insurgency, ended in 1960, is the only comparable case in Asia.

Rajapaksa emphasises this was "a large scale terrorist war" in which the Tigers, who fought to establish a separate state in the north and east, at one time controlled a third of the country. It was the first terrorist group to have its own naval and air wings as well as army. But its leadership is gone.

Today, the long pent-up economic potential of Sri Lanka - which before the war was the Singapore of South Asia - is at last being realised in a boom, including tourism, up 44 per cent this year on the same period in 2009. The five-star hotels in Colombo are full of business people from across the world. Economic growth is running at almost 8 per cent.

Rajapaksa and his brother are members of a formidable political dynasty. Their uncle and father were MPs from 1936, and at the last election eight members of the family were returned to the parliament. The president was the youngest MP when first elected in 1970.

Rajapaksa says the reasons for the failure of eight governments comprising both main parties to conclude the civil war through five presidencies, were legion: military, political, diplomatic, social.

"We had a very professional military, with very committed officers. We had won all the major battles, but were unable to finish the war. Some might think it a silly thing to say, but a key factor in our victory was my being the brother of the president. I was able to present him with the whole picture."

They can work together intimately, without a crack of light between them. And Rajapaksa knows the military and the intelligence services intimately. Many of the emerging top officers have served under him.

The first reason for failure was that the military lacked the numbers needed to hold areas it had won. Naturally, says Rajapaksa, any other defence secretary would have aroused suspicion when he asked for the tripling of troop numbers, as he did.

But being his brother, the president "didn't have anything to worry about on my account". Rajapaksa wasn't about to start a coup.

"I can very well remember telling him about the tripling. He said, 'if that's what you need to finish this, that's what we'll do'."

Gunaratna says that Rajapaksa is also the most honest defence secretary of the war period. Funding was not diverted elsewhere.

No new military units were established. But the resources were raised significantly. "So we could also fight on a wider front."

The Tigers, he says, "always tried to inflict many casualties, then withdraw. They knew that when the military moved on, they could come back, it was never ending. Now, we could hold the ground."

All the services co-operated. The navy did jungle fighting, the air force protected supply routes. "We raised nearly 150 battalions," he says: all volunteers, no conscription. "We had a lot of casualties during this period," the final four-year stage of the war with almost 6000 troops killed and 20,000 injured. "But we always replenished the forces."

An achievement, in a country the size of Tasmania and with the population of Australia.

It was a big economic stretch, especially at the end when the global financial crisis had hit. Sri Lanka had to buy arms and ammunition on credit.

Gunaratna says that during the two-year run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China - which had provided 85 per cent of Sri Lanka's military supplies - had halted the transportation of munitions, as a security precaution. Thus, much of it had to be sourced at this time from Pakistan instead.

Previously, as the war dragged on, recruitment had become a problem. But Rajapaksa says his brother's single-minded leadership helped attract more young men to the military. "He said we wouldn't stop half-way this time."

Many rounds of talks and ceasefires had failed over the years, most disappointingly those brokered by Norway in 2002.

The second decisive factor in winning, Rajapaksa says, was working closely with India. Ultimately, he says, it wasn't crucial how the US or China or Europe responded to events in Sri Lanka.

"Any other country, we could ignore." But India, which has 16 million Tamils, always retained a capacity to influence the outcome.

The president flew to New Delhi and explained frankly the country's plight. The countries then set up a crucial contact group. On Sri Lanka's side there was Rajapaksa and the president's chief of staff and top adviser. On India's side, the national security adviser and foreign and defence secretaries.

They met frequently, in Colombo and Delhi. India knew everything. There were no surprises.

Besides the centrality of India, intelligence co-operation from Australia and the US was vital, says Gunaratna, with Operation Halophyte a "key operation". This involved the Australian Federal Police charging three Tamils resident in Australia with terrorism, although the charges were later downgraded to supporting a proscribed organisation.

The final key factor in winning the war, Rajapaksa says, was to plan a humanitarian operation in parallel with the military one.

"Civilians would get caught in between. We considered how to supply food and medicine, and evacuate them if needed. How to look after displaced people, to resettle them, to de-mine districts."

No-fire zones were announced, to which civilians were told they could safely retreat though just how safe these were to prove remains contested. Gunaratna says that Tigers moved into some, and took civilians hostage.

A humanitarian committee was established at the start of the final military drive, involving UN organisations and key ambassadors, non-government organisations, and government heads.

"We couldn't get this 100 per cent right. But if we hadn't attended to it, the situation would have been much, much worse."

Now, he says, in the north, the Tamil heartland, of 300,000 people involved in the conflict, 90 per cent have been resettled, and 70 per cent of the area de-mined.

The military skills that won the war, he says, are now being redeployed for other purposes. For instance, the navy is working on re-establishing long neglected centuries-old canals built by the Dutch in Colombo, which would help prevent flooding.

The navy is also helping, including by training young people, to rehabilitate the fishing industry. The air force is doing civilian transport work.

Is Sri Lanka now completely safe? People in Colombo - hit most severely by suicide bombing and other attacks during the war - appear to believe so.

"But remember, Rajapaksa says, "this war went on for 30 years, and people were recruited from a very young age, they were brainwashed. Obviously we have to work gradually to tackle the remaining issues."

Gunaratna says that Sri Lanka has developed a rehabilitation program for such people, with 3000 fighters already released.

Rajapaksa says the Tigers are "no longer capable of military operations, but elements remain, including overseas, that are trying to regroup, and we have to be very vigilant. Now we need to bring stability and economic growth."

To solve the underlying problems that drove the civil war, "we have to develop the country, to improve living standards. We want everybody to live peacefully as Sri Lankans, not as Singhalese or Tamils or Muslims."

Considerable effort is being made to develop the naval capacity to intercept any arms and munitions. "They are not being made here, so anyone who wants to cause trouble has to bring them by sea."

That will also help Sri Lanka protect shipping that passes around the country, heading between Europe and the Middle East, and East Asia. China, which acquired considerable leverage in Sri Lanka during the war, is building a $1 billion port at Hambantota on the southern tip of the country, whose facilities it can use for its own fast-growing navy.

Rajapaksa says China and India are "old friends" of the country. "Whatever their own differences, both have been very helpful to us over the years."

Their help in building Sri Lanka's economy will now become especially important, he says.

Sri Lanka has long had free education and health, and with 84 per cent literacy, Rajapaksa says it is time to build further, including hi-tech.

He is disappointed with the extent of criticism from Western countries during the war, but says that was inevitable given that Tiger cadres had become a force abroad.

But gradually that is changing as Tamils overseas begin to express support for rebuilding the country, he says.

- courtesy: The Australian -

Related: A one-eyed view of Sri Lanka ~ by Antony Loewenstein

Canada’s proposed anti-smuggling legislation violates refugee rights – Amnesty International

Proposed new legislation aimed at tackling human smuggling falls far short of Canada’s international human rights and refugee protection obligations and will result in serious violations of the rights of refugees and migrants, said Amnesty International in response to the tabling in Parliament of Bill C-49, the Preventing Human Smugglers from Abusing Canada’s Immigration System Act, on October 21st.

The Bill severely restricts a number of essential rights of refugees and migrants if they arrive “irregularly” in Canada as part of a group that the government designates to be a “human smuggling event.” In effect, their rights are violated solely on the basis of how they have travelled to Canada and how many others have traveled with them. The restrictions include harsh powers of detention without timely review, denial of access to appeal processes, and serious limitations on freedom of movement and family unity.

This discriminatory treatment, with respect to such a range of important rights, contravenes the well-established right to be free from discrimination, enshrined in several treaties binding on Canada, including the 1951 Refugee Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The proposal not only violates rights, it ignores the reality that many refugees, who have a well-founded fear of persecution, turn to smugglers for assistance in reaching a country of safety such as Canada, because of desperation and a lack of other options.

“Particularly outrageous is the proposal that all refugees arriving with a group that the government decides to designate as a human smuggling event would face mandatory detention for up to one year, with very little opportunity for review. This constitutes a serious violation of Canada’s international and constitutional obligation not to subject individuals to arbitrary detention. As well, using detention to penalize refugees for irregular entry into a country very clearly contravenes Canada’s obligations under Article 31 (2) of the Refugee Convention,” stated Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada’s English Branch.

Neve added that, “detention of refugee claimants should always be a measure of last resort and must be for reasons clearly recognized in international law, such as demonstrated concerns about security or an inability to confirm an individual’s identity. Punishing refugee claimants through automatic detention based solely on the mode of transport and the number of fellow travelers is impermissible. Detention should never be used as a means of deterring other refugees from seeking safety.”

If an individual does arrive in an irregular group that is designated by the Minister, under the Bill their right to apply for permanent or temporary residency in Canada would be restricted for five years. This would make it virtually impossible for the individual to travel anywhere outside of Canada during that time. The Refugee Convention requires States to provide refugees lawfully staying in their territory with travel documents so that they may travel outside the country, unless compelling reasons of national security or public order otherwise require. That is not possible without a permanent or temporary resident’s permit.

The Bill will also lead to violations of the right to family life, which is protected in both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Individuals who arrive as part of a designated “human smuggling event” will not be able to apply for family reunification for five years, even though their claim for refugee status in Canada is accepted by the Immigration and Refugee Board. “Keeping families apart for such lengthy periods violates rights, is mean-spirited and impedes the ability of newcomers to integrate and begin new lives in Canada,” said Béatrice Vaugrante, Director General of Amnesty International Canada’s francophone branch. “Such an approach is in nobody’s interests. Nobody wins.”

Individuals arriving in Canada in this way will also be denied equal access to justice. Unlike other refugee claimants, they will not be allowed to appeal a negative refugee decision to the Immigration and Refugee Board’s Refugee Appeal Division. “An appeal is a fundamental safeguard in refugee decision-making, where a person’s life and liberty may be at stake. To withhold the opportunity to appeal solely on the basis of how an individual has arrived in Canada is punitive and discriminatory,” said Béatrice Vaugrante.

Amnesty International agrees that countries should take action to discourage human smuggling that is dangerous, exploitative and involves criminal elements. Smugglers often abuse the rights of the individuals to whom they provide passage. Measures to tackle smuggling must, however, ensure that the rights of refugees and migrants relying on smugglers are protected. “Bill C-49 does not get it right in drawing the line between tackling crime and upholding rights. It goes after smugglers, in large part, by punishing the individuals who turn to them – in desperation – for assistance,” said Alex Neve. “Those provisions of the Bill that are discriminatory and will lead to human rights violations must be withdrawn.”

Full Text of Amnesty International Canada Press Release

Human Rights Watch, Crisis Group and Amnesty Should Have Used The LLRC as a Forum

By M.S.M. Ayub

Three International Non-governmental Organizations (INGOs), namely the London-based Amnesty International (AI), the Brussels-based International Crisis group (ICG) and the New York-based Human rights Watch (HRW) had earlier this month rejected an invitation by the Lessons Learnt and reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to testify before it.

The INGOs have in their joint letter to the LLRC on October 14 cited many serious matters to justify their refusal to be present before the Commission. Their reasons include the inadequate mandate of the Commission, its lack of independence, the lack of witness protection and the failure of past commissions.

Responding to the three INGOs, LLRC secretary SB Atugoda had written to them saying that the independence and impartiality of the Commission must be judged by the performance of the Commission and not on the basis of pre-conceived notions.

The refusal by these powerful international bodies that are working in the field of human rights is definitely a setback for the Sri Lankan government, as these INGOs are in a way supposed to be opinion makers among the international community. However, their action this time would not be left without questions being asked.

The letter sent by the three rights groups contains matters that the government should take serious note of. If these organizations are so insignificant that their refusal to appear before the LLRC could be treated with contempt the LLRC would not have extended an invitation to them. Therefore the government and the LLRC are burdened with the responsibility of disproving the perception of these groups that the Commission is equipped with an inadequate mandate, lack of independence and lack of witness protection.

However, the past commission failures cited by the three INGOs were an irrefutable fact. Starting from the “missing persons commission” appointed by President Premadasa to the Commission on Mutur killings appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the human rights field and from the Round Table Conference convened by President JR Jayewardene in 1984 to the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) appointed by President Rajapaksa in 2006 in the political field, all commissions and committees have been an utter flop, wasting millions of rupees of public funds.

The rights groups also have cited in their letter the past acts and comments by the members of the Commission, in their official capacity, which is a serious indictment against the LLRC process. This was exactly what the Sri Lankan government did when the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed a panel to advice him on the Sri Lankan human rights situation.

Government leaders too can shoot back with the same ammunition, since some heads of these three INGOs had been cynical of the LLRC even before it was officially announced. Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW in a statement on May 7 eight days prior to the appointment of the LLRC said that “the Sri Lankan government's suggestion that a newly announced commission will provide accountability for laws-of-war violations during the armed conflict with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is yet another attempt to deflect an independent international investigation”… Every time the international community raises the issue of accountability, Sri Lanka establishes a commission that takes a long time to achieve nothing."

It is not clear as to how fair it is to conclude that the Commission to be appointed in a week would be a flawed process, even if the prediction would be proven correct later.

The very letter by the rights groups has said that the Commission has “allowed government officials to repeat unchallenged what they have been saying without a basis for months that the government strictly followed a “zero civilian casualty policy.

The contention cannot be contested by the proceedings of the Commission so far. However, the evidence given by the relatives of LTTE leaders which were highly unfavourable to the Government too went unchallenged.

The best case in point was the evidence given by the wife of Elilan -- the LTTE leader in the Trincomalee district who was accused of triggering the final war at Mavilaru. She told the LLRC that the whereabouts of many high ranking LTTE leaders who surrendered to the security forces were not known. Her statement had not been challenged so far at the LLRC.

However, if the three INGOs are of the view that “Commission has allowed government officials to repeat unchallenged what they have been saying without basis” one may prefer to question them as to why they should not challenge those officials at the very same forum. They seem to fear that their presence would lend legitimacy to the Commission and thus vindicate it.

October 20, 2010

Higher Rationale for Commission on " Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation"

by National Peace Council

The National Peace Council recently took the opportunity to make its submissions before the Presidential Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation. This Commission was appointed in May 2010 to look into the reasons why the Ceasefire Agreement and peace process failed, to prevent the recurrence of conflicts as had occurred and address issues of compensation to those who were victims. The Commission was appointed in the context of the international call for an independent international commission to investigate the allegations of human rights violations and war crimes committed in the closing stages of the war.

As a national organization that engages in awareness creation and advocacy regarding the need for a political solution to the ethnic conflict, we appreciate the opportunity we had to express our views and have them entered into an official record. We recognize that the Commission's mandate gives emphasis to the period of the Ceasefire Agreement and its breakdown and most of the media attention has been focused on issues surrounding that aspect of its mandate. From hindsight the wisdom of entering into the Ceasefire Agreement can be and is being questioned. But during that time the country was in the mood for peace and the then government entered into the Ceasefire Agreement no doubt in good faith.

We are also aware of the controversy surrounding the Commission's mandate and issues of independence due to their appointment by the President. Three international organizations, namely Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group which have taken a keen interest in Sri Lanka's conflict and human rights situation, have declined an invitation by the Commission to testify before it on those grounds. The concern has also been expressed that the Commission's findings regarding the Ceasefire Agreement and its breakdown will be used for narrow and partisan political purposes.

The Commission hearings in different parts of the country, and particularly in the North and East, have been a valuable source of information about the period under consideration with many people giving forthright testimony. The National Peace Council is of the view that findings pertaining to the breakdown of the ceasefire and peace process would be largely of academic interest as they concern problems that no longer exist. In our view the higher purpose and the more important issues to be addressed by the Commission would be to identify modes of just and speedy restitution to victims of the war and to foster the contours of a political solution that are conducive to inter-ethnic justice and reconciliation.

ICG, HRW and AI prefer to voice allegations from afar, than subjecting their assertions to scrutiny by the LLRC

The Ministry of External Affairs responding to the rejection by the ICG, AI and HRW to an invitation extended to these organizations by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to make representation before the Commission has said, "it leaves room to believe that these Organizations would by far prefer to voice allegations from distant parts of the world, rather than jeopardize their claims to credibility by subjecting their assertions to scrutiny under the transparent and legally sound process afforded by the LLRC".

The statement notes that "the Government having been encouraged by the international community, established the LLRC on the 15th May this year as a domestic process in pursuing an agenda of restorative justice, to address the human and emotional repercussions of the decades-long conflict and thereby lay the foundations for continued reconciliation, a step welcomed both nationally and internationally".

Pointing out that "the joint letter contains a series of unsubstantiated allegations against the GoSL on a wide range of issues, including matters unrelated to the purview of the Commission", the Ministry statement observes that "the unusual decision of the three Organisations to release the joint letter to the public, is demonstrative of a broader targeted agenda against the GoSL."

Full Statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs is as follows;

STATEMENT BY THE MINISTRY OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS ON THE JOINT LETTER BY INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

The attention of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) is drawn to the joint letter addressed by the International Crisis Group (ICG), Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 14 October 2010, to the Secretary of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

It is observed that the joint letter contains a series of unsubstantiated allegations against the GoSL on a wide range of issues, including matters unrelated to the purview of the Commission. This, as well as the unusual decision of the three Organisations to release the joint letter to the public, is demonstrative of a broader targeted agenda against the GoSL.

It is a matter of record that the GoSL, having been encouraged by the international community, established the LLRC on the 15th May this year as a domestic process in pursuing an agenda of restorative justice, to address the human and emotional repercussions of the decades-long conflict and thereby lay the foundations for continued reconciliation. This step was welcomed both nationally and internationally.

The LLRC began work in August this year. The Terms of Reference of the Commission which have been made public, have been so drawn up as to afford the Commission the amplitude necessary to address all related issues. In order to be as accessible as possible to those wishing to testify, the Commission is holding hearings not only in the capital city of Colombo, but also in locations within the formerly conflict-affected areas. The testimony of civilians from all parts of the country, who have demonstrated their confidence in the process by appearing before the Commission, has raised critical issues that have been the subject of an interim communication to the Government by the LLRC. The Government has already considered the concrete steps required to address these issues contained in the interim recommendations of the LLRC, and given appropriate directions for the implementation of those recommendations to several agencies of the Government as a matter of priority.

With regard to the claims by ICG, HRW and AI that due to the lack of witness protection ‘no organization or individual can disclose confidential information to the Commission”, the reality on the ground is that since the Commission began its work, civilians including displaced persons, widows and members of civil society have recounted their experiences before the Commission. If there were any fear to testify, such a strong public participation in the work of the Commission, especially in the North and in the East of the country, would not have materialized.

The matter of the State of Emergency is also extraneous to the work of the LLRC. Sri Lanka faced for nearly three decades the extreme menace of terror and the very nature of that situation, required specific laws to cope with the attendant exigencies. With the end of that situation, the Government substantially repealed provisions of the Emergency Regulations. Moreover, Article 14(1)(a) of the Constitution of Sri Lanka guarantees the freedom of speech and expression, including publication. There are therefore no grounds for the sweeping unwarranted assertion of the existence of “laws that criminalize political speech”. On the contrary, the Government has taken steps to remove the offence of criminal defamation from the Penal Code.

The three Organizations have taken as well the unacceptable step of publicly discrediting the individual Commissioners, on the grounds that they have previously served as public officials. It must be noted that there are several examples from all over the world, including at the present moment, of former officials having been entrusted the responsibility of serving on Commissions. The Commissioners appointed by the President of Sri Lanka have been selected on the basis of their proven experience, competence and integrity. It is indeed unacceptable therefore that these respected individuals have been personally targeted.

The comment that previous Commissions have not fulfilled expectations, is a claim best left to the people of Sri Lanka, to determine. The tradition of unbroken democratic commitment to democratic governance spanning now over 79 years, provides the people the wherewithal and the political maturity, to apply their judgement. It is in this context that the three Organizations involved could have better contributed, by following the internationally recognized principle and practice of co-operating with national institutions and domestic mechanisms and processes, in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Today, with the end of the conflict situation in Sri Lanka, security and stability has been restored throughout the country. Recently in Parliamentary and Presidential elections held for the first time in many years without the menace of terror, the Government received a resounding mandate from the people. The Government is now embarked on a programme aimed at reconstruction and rehabilitation of the conflict-affected areas, along with equitable long-term development in all parts of the country. The internally displaced have been resettled, all former child combatants have resumed schooling and have rejoined their families, ex-combatants have recommenced life as productive citizens and Provincial Council elections have been held in the East of the country. Similar elections will shortly take place in the North. All of this would create the necessary space for the democratic Tamil political leadership that the separatist terrorist group tried so hard to stifle, to flourish once more.

Given the above, the development of the joint letter of 14th October by the ICG, AI and HRW to the Commission, leaves room to believe that these Organizations would by far prefer to voice allegations from distant parts of the world, rather than jeopardize their claims to credibility by subjecting their assertions to scrutiny under the transparent and legally sound process afforded by the LLRC.

Ministry of External Affairs
Colombo

20 October 2010.

Kailasapathy was responsible for critical re-thinking about early Tamil History and Society

by Kesavan Veluthat

IT was by the turn of the last century that the corpus of literature in Tamil known popularly as “Sangam literature” was brought to light from near oblivion. The hitherto accepted canons of Tamil literature were upturned, at least in Tamil Nadu, although Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) continued to cherish the old canon of Saivite literature. That proved to be the beginning of a new chapter in the understanding of the history and culture of early South India. A veritable revolution, it claimed a place for Tamil along with other classical languages such as Sanskrit, Greek and Latin.

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K. KAILASAPATHY

One of the effects of this momentous event, however, was the unabashed glorification of the past of southern India, with every one of the constituents with which nationalist writers make the “classical” identified there. In the process, history became less about the past than about the present; and evidence became a nuisance, a liability. Interpreting texts within their context became unheard of. If a historian here wrote with some semblance of methodological rigour or a literary critic there showed some sense of comparative literature, they were treated as so many traitors and they were met not exactly with academic criticism.

It is against this background of near jingoism that one has to place the work of Kanagasabapathy Kailasapathy. The revolution brought about by the discovery of Sangam literature was matched only by the kind of unorthodox and critical thinking that he inaugurated in the analysis of this early literature and the society studied on its basis. Perhaps the Ceylonese origin of Kailasapathy, as well as of other scholars who have contributed immensely to the study of early South Indian history, such as Kathigesu Sivathamby or Sudarshan Seneviratne and the editor of this volume, is significant, because they are heirs to a tradition that did not quite idolise Sangam literature.

What Kailasapathy did was somewhat unorthodox. When his book Tamil Heroic Poetry was published in 1968, what it contained was nerve-chilling for the champions of the Glory that was Tamilakam. He opened his book with the somewhat shocking statement that “The title Cankam Poetry is a misnomer”. He went on to show that early Tamil literature would make better sense when analysed within the framework of what is described as heroic poetry, using the techniques of studying oral literature.

Taking the cue from the monumental work of H.M. and N.K. Chadwick, The Growth of Literature, and following the results of the analyses of Teutonic, Greek, Icelandic, Slavonic, Sanskrit, Sumerian, and African oral poetry, Kailasapathy demonstrated that early Tamil poetry was basically oral in character. He also applied the results of Milman Parry's analysis of Homeric epics, which had attained the status of a “universal theory” for studying heroic poetry.

The research of the Chadwicks and Parry converged and helped Kailasapathy to understand the bards and the bardic traditions of early times and their social functions as well as the spirit of the age that produced these texts. The conclusions of Kailasapathy were too much for the Tamil pride of South India and, not surprisingly, Kailasapathy's book was practically blacked out in South India for several years. The world of scholarship lost him when he was just 49 years old.

The book under review is a collection of essays commemorating Professor Kailasapathy on his 25th death anniversary. Put together by Professor Karthigesu Indrapala, one of the associates of Kailasapathy, it contains five essays by renowned scholars apart from a brief biographical sketch and a chapter, in edited form, from Kailasapathy's classic, Tamil Heroic Poetry. A veritable ‘who is who' of early South Indian historiography in the contemporary period, the list of authors lining up to salute the memory of Kailasapathy contains names to reckon with.

The Introduction by the editor, which follows a very personal but informative biographical sketch of Kailasapathy, presents a succinct summary of the state of current knowledge about early historical southern India, bringing in all the important work available on the subject. A corrective to the conventional picture of a glorious past for early historical Tamilakam is available now, occasional attempts to hark back on the old celebratory exercises notwithstanding. Following this brilliant overview, the collection begins with an edited version of the first Chapter of Kailasapathy's Tamil Heroic Poetry.

While it is admirable that a piece of Kailasapathy's own writing on early Tamil literature is included in the volume, a question or two can be raised about the particular piece. It is only a survey of the corpus of the literature of the early Tamils, which does not actually represent the path-breaking work of Kailasapathy. Any other chapter from the book could have given the reader a flavour of what the great pioneer really did, especially the third (“Bards and Bardic Tradition”), the fourth (“Technique of Oral Verse-making”) or the sixth (“The World of the Heroes”). There is no justification for deleting the discussion on Tolkappaiam and the section on Purapporul Venpamalai from what is included.

K. Rajan's essay on “Damili Graffiti and Cave Records: the Brahmi Records from Tamil Nadu” is a detailed study of inscriptions from Tamil Nadu in what is known as the Tamil Brahmi or Cave Script. Besides presenting the evidence in its fullness, Rajan also uses inscribed potsherds, placed in the right stratigraphical context, which is a considerable strength of the essay. However, one may not be able to go all the way with the author in his conclusions. For instance, his critiquing of notions of a prestate society in Tamil Nadu during the early historical period, the Mauryan or North Indian origin of the script, the heavy Prakrit content of the records and so on needs further proof, particularly in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary. It smacks of a kind of enthusiasm to show a Tamil origin of the script, something which runs contrary to the spirit that Kailasapathy stood for.

Y. Subbarayalu's paper, “Visaki and Kuviran: Historical Implications of Names in the Tamil Brahmi Inscriptions”, presents the other side of the medal. It has to be read along with his earlier essay on the pottery inscriptions of Tamil Nadu appearing in the festschrift to Iravatham Mahadevan, the doyen of early Tamil epigraphy. Uncompromising attention to detail, systematic analysis, a dispassionate approach to the problem and a professional thoroughness inform this essay, like all other writings of Subbarayalu. According to him, a significant implication of his conclusions on the identity of the persons whose names figure in the inscriptions is that “Prakrit-speaking merchants were mainly instrumental in the beginning in introducing the Brahmi script into the Tamil country”. “This must have happened soon after the Brahmi script in its full form was available in the Magadha region during the Mauryan rule, early in the third century BCE.”

Subbarayalu also makes an extremely important point regarding the mediation of merchants in the spread of the knowledge about writing – a point that has implications going beyond the scope of the problem at hand.

K. Indrapala deals with the problem of the emergence of the Tamil identity. Indrapala argues for the existence of a Tamil identity that he distinguishes from ethnic, political or religious identity. The Tamil self is constituted in contradistinction with its “other”, the moli-peyar-desam (“areas where other languages were spoken”). Even though an ethnic group identified as speakers of Tamil is not available, a clearly recognisable Tamil-speaking region, Tamil-kuru nallulagam (“the good world where Tamil is spoken”), is referred to in the documents from the early historical period.

This world, to be sure, was home for different ethnic groups, political units and people with different religious persuasions; but that did not stand in the way of the consolidation of a Tamil identity. Cutting across such differences and going beyond clan and tribal barriers, a larger group for whom the Tamil language had become a marker of identity was emerging in the early historical period – one more reason to treat it as a phase representing an epochal transformation.

In a competent overview of the emerging perspectives on the social formation of early historical Tamilakam, R. Champakalakshmi not only examines the recent work on different aspects of the problem but also integrates the results of the studies and presents a cogent picture of the processes that were at work in early South India. Characteristically modest in her claim (she says: “No claims are made here to reinterpretations and analysis which provide tremendously important and new insights into the Tamil society of the period”), she nonetheless stresses the need to introduce alternative perspectives to understand the transformation of Tamil society from proto-historic to the early historic and thence to the early medieval period. This she does by highlighting the problems of dealing with the sources and the methodological advances made in recent studies of early societies, and in assessing the significance of the re-reading of the sources together with a historical geographical approach.

One of the ways in which Tamil enthusiasts argued for the greatness of Tamil civilisation was by denying any Sanskritic or Indo-Aryan influence on things Dravidian. V. Sivsamy's essay “Brahmanas and Yagas: Spread of Vedic Ideas” is a significant corrective to this. He presents unimpeachable evidence of the presence of Vedic ideas and practices in Tamil Nadu. Although M.G.S. Narayanan had brought out the Vedic-Sastraic-Puranic elements in early Tamil literature more than three decades ago, this essay is crucial as it is presented in the context of a realistic appreciation of society and culture in Tamil Nadu, a tribute to the memory of Kailasapathy who did much towards that end.

There are four appendices at the end of the book: translations of the Pattinappalai and a song from Purananuru, texts and translations of three Tamil-Brahmi cave records, P.T. Srinivasa Iyengar's translation of the legend of the Sangam and a note on Vanavarmapan and Devanampriya. They are all relevant, although one may not be able to go all the way with the arguments equating Vanavarmapan of the Tamil songs with Asokan Devanampiya.

There is also a select bibliography of recent writings. It would have been helpful, and appropriate, if a detailed bibliography of the writings of Kailasapathy was given.

The editor has done very well in paying a fitting tribute to the memory of a pioneer, one who was responsible for a considerable rethinking about the nature of early Tamil history and society. - courtesy: Frontline -

Pope Benedict elevates Sri Lankan Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith as Cardinal

By Commodore Shemal Fernando, RSP, USP, MSc

"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour" are the words that sprang from the heart of Mary, our Heavenly Mother, at a time when she experienced her special election by God for a unique mission. It is with these same words giving expression to the immense sense of gratitude to God that His Grace the Most Rev. Dr. Malcolm Ranjith assumed the pivotal role of the Chief Shepherd of Colombo in August last year

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Rev. Dr. Malcolm Ranjith

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has now elevated His Grace the Archbishop to the dignity of a Cardinal – the highest rank in the Roman Catholic Church for a Priest. At a solemn ceremony to be held in St. Peter’s Basilica which is officially referred to as ‘Consistory for the Creation of Cardinals’, the Holy Father will bestow on the Archbishop the biretta, that is the Cardinal’s red hat as well as his "title" or titular Church which is found in Rome along with the Cardinal’s ring.

His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm who is 62, will become part of the ‘College of Cardinals’ whose very crimson colour vestments symbolize the commitment to serving the Gospel "to the spilling of blood", as recited in the Latin formula which they will swear. The prime duty of the 120 Cardinals under the age of 80 will be to take part at Conclaves that ‘Elect the Pope’. In ecclesiastical heraldry, Cardinals surmount their ‘Coat of Arms’ with a scarlet galero with thirty tassels which is an ancient symbol of their office.

The portrait of Cardinal Malcolm in the Ministry of the God Almighty is one immensely blessed and decorated with many firsts unparallel in the history. He has had a fast rise in the church hierarchy. He was ordained a Priest at 27 by Pope Paul VI in Rome, consecrated a Bishop at 43 by Pope John Paul II, elevated an Archbishop at 53 by Pope John Paul II and now made a Cardinal at 62 by Pope Benedict XVI. Known as a tireless servant of truth, justice and freedom, he has won love, respect and admiration of Catholics all over the world.

Cardinal Malcolm is a warm and sincere friend gifted with enough charisma to enthuse others. He is a lucid and popular teacher of Holy Scripture; a brilliant though self-effacing intellectual; a preacher par excellence; a benefactor of countless projects; a sparkling companion... but above all, a missionary fired with apostolic zeal to proclaim Christ as the Redeemer of the World.

His Eminence Malcolm has mastered ten languages - Italian, German, French, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Spanish, English, Sinhala and Tamil. His ability to converse and understand the problems of the Catholic Church spread throughout the world and his commitment and dedication in the execution of the enormous responsibilities of the Universal Church has made him one of the most influential voices in the world.

Many Sri Lankans who have worked with him say he "never says no" to any request, even in extreme difficult situations. They describe him as having a way with words and a manner of conveying them laced with affection that puts people at ease, even though their problem may not have been solved for whatever reasons. He has once said that "love for the liturgy and love for the poor… have been the compass of his life as a priest." His admirers say his "bright face is always lit up with a smile."

Cardinal Malcolm has always promoted inter-faith dialogue in Sri Lanka as he believes that same can eliminate potential causes of tensions and disagreements between the religious and ethnic groups that make up the country. He once said that dialogue is vital and fundamental and as Catholics we must celebrate the richness of the Word of God incarnate in our lives, families and communities.

Metropolitan Archbishop of Colombo

On June 16, 2009 Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Colombo. In a letter to then Archbishop Malcolm, Pope Benedict said that "I wish to express my sincere thanks for the fidelity, the commitment and competence with which you exercised that office" and also expressed that "we have reason to be encouraged by the good you will be able to perform among the peoples of your land.'

Cardinal Malcolm was among the 34 Metropolitan Archbishops across the world and the first Sri Lankan to receive his pallium from Pope Benedict on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29, 2009. He was greeted with warmth and solemnity upon his arrival in Sri Lanka on July 31, 2009 and took formal canonical possession of the Metropolitan See of Colombo with an Eucharistic Celebration on August 5, 2009.

First Sri Lankan Secretary of Congregation

On December 10, 2005 His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI appointed then Archbishop Malcolm as the Secretary of the Holy Father’s powerful Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He is the first and only Sri Lankan to be bestowed with such a unique honour of directly assisting the Holy Father as the Secretary of a Congregation in the Vatican City.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is one of the key Congregations of the Roman Curia and attends to everything pertaining to the Apostolic See concerning the regulation and promotion of the sacred liturgy, primarily of the sacraments, without prejudice to the competence of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith.

First Sri Lankan Papal Nuncio

He is the first Sri Lankan to be appointed a Papal Nuncio. He served in Jakarta as the Holy Father’s Apostolic Ambassador to Indonesia and East Timor from April 29, 2004 until his return to Rome. The Catholic Church in Indonesia consists of 17,000 islands and spreads to 37 Dioceses and has one of the biggest Catholic populations amongst the countries in Asia. Upon his appointment as the Papal Nuncio, he was also raised to the rank of Titular Archbishop of Umbriatico.

During his tenure he succeeded in enhancing mutual relations between the Vatican State and Indonesia to greater heights. He won the admiration of the church hierarchy for the pivotal role he played in assisting the establishment of cordial relations between the local Churches and Governments.

First Sri Lankan Adjunct Secretary

He is also the first Sri Lankan Bishop to be appointed to the Holy See. On October 1, 2001, he was made the Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples along with the appointment of the President of the Pontifical Mission Societies by Pope John Paul II. It is the Holy Father’s ministry for the coordination of the missionary efforts of the Church and involves overview and growth of the local Churches in the missionary countries.

This Ministry coordinates over 1100 Archdioceses, Dioceses, Apostolic Vicarates and Apostolic Prefectures as well as Sui Juris Missions. The Adjunct Secretary is the World President as well as the International President of the Pontifical Mission Societies, which are the instruments of the Pope for enhancing support through prayer and contributions for the mission of the Church.

First Bishop of Ratnapura

He was also the first shepherd to be appointed by the Holy See to the newly carved Diocese of Ratnapura. He took office as the Bishop of Ratnapura on November 2, 1995. His appointment was hailed as a welcome spark to kindle the fire of missionary zeal in the hearts of the clergy and laity in his diocese. It was evident from the unprecedented numbers of well wishers of all religions that thronged to welcome him. The unflagging zeal and leadership displayed by him in guiding the flock of Ratnapura perhaps paved him the way to the Holy See.

Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo

On June 17, 1991 he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Colombo and Titular Bishop of Cabarsussi. He received his Episcopal consecration on August 31, 1991 from Archbishop Nicholas Marcus Fernando. He served as the Vicar General in charge of Parochial Apostolate and Lay Apostolate from 1991 to 1995. His peers elected him the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka as well. He won the admiration of the entire nation for efficient execution of his role as the Chairman of the Organizing Committee for the Beatification of Ven. Joseph Vaz and the visit of Pope John Paul II to Sri Lanka in January 1995.

Priesthood and Missionary Work

On June 29, 1975 he was ordained to the priesthood by Pope Paul VI in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. He then pursued post graduate studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome from where he obtained a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture in 1978. He also attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he undertook scriptural research and obtained a Special Certificate in Biblical Studies.

On his return from Rome, he was appointed Assistant Parish Priest of Pamunugama in 1978 and his dynamism and enthusiasm of the certainly had its impact on the villages of Kepungoda and Dungalapitiya. He literally shook that sleepy, backward fishing villages with its rocky beaches and was instrumental in supplying electricity, building houses and modernising the area.

His missionary odyssey then took him through the parishes of Payagala and Kalutara where he blazed a trail of total commitment to uplift the poverty stricken fisher folk and built a vibrant Christian community. "Seth Sarana", the Archdiocesan Centre for Poor Relief is his brain child and remains a lasting monument to his commitment to alleviate the sufferings of the poor.

In 1983, Fr. Malcolm was named the National Director of Pontifical Mission Societies and under his enthusiastic direction a new and urgent sense of mission was created among the clergy and the people. He revived the Society of the Holy Childhood to inspire a spirit of missionary zeal in children. As Diocesan Co-ordinator for Human Development he introduced bold initiatives in areas such as housing, fisheries and various self employment projects.

Birth and Early Life

Born on November 15, 1947 as the only son of Don William and Mary Winifreeda and baptised in Polgahawela, he had his education at De La Salle College, Mutwal. He entered St. Aloysius’ Seminary in Borella in 1965. From 1966 to 1970, he pursued studies in theology and philosophy at the National Seminary in Kandy. During the regency, Bro. Malcolm served SEDEC in the district of Ratnapura building homes for the needy. He was thereafter sent to Rome for priestly studies and graduated from the Pontifical Urbanian University with a Baccalaureate in Theology.

(The writer is a freelance journalist whose by-line appears in English newspapers and magazines regularly. This article is adapted from a tribute to then Archbishop Malcolm published in 1997)

The man who served under nine Prime Ministers of Ceylon/Sri Lanka

BWTC1020A.jpgfrom dbsjeyaraj.com

An Interview with Bradman Weerakoon by Marianne David

Deshamanya Bradman Weerakoon turns 80 today (Oct 20th). He really needs no introduction, having done Sri Lanka proud on many occasions in his many capacities and served the nation to the fullest of his ability in public service for half a century.

Bradman as he is generally known has served under nine Prime ministers of Ceylon/Sri Lanka namely Sir John Kotelawela,SWRD Bandaranaike,Dudley Senanayake,Sirima Bandaranaike,JR Jayewardena,Ranasingha Premadasa,DB Wijetunge and Ranil Wickremasinghe. [click here to read in full ~ on dbsjeyaraj.com]

"Tamilnet" site is best witness to the separatist project being lost

Dr. Susantha Goonatilleke

Tamilnet, the Internet organ of the now defeated LTTE is still banned in Sri Lanka. To access it, one has to go through proxy servers, that is, one needs to put "Tamilnet.com" in a web page like "http://proxify.com/". It would have been prudent to have blocked the site when we were at war but blocking the site now is self defeating.

This site today is the best witness to the separatist project being lost. In contrast to the time when it was edited by Taraki as the core mouthpiece of the LTTE whereby its racist claims and glorification of Prabakaran was pushed, it is now only a platform for whining and complaining. All Sri Lankans should now read it.

A few days old headline in Tamilnet is "Colombo takes control of historic Kanniyaa hot wells in Trincomalee". And behind this lies many an interesting tale. The Tamilnet refers to the Government Agent taking control of the site as an archaeological protected one and declaring that a huge billboard saying that it was built by Ravana be removed.

The hot wells referred to are part of the regular local tourist trail. During the CFA to bathe here, the LTTE were issuing tickets with its snarling Tiger emblem. There was no Ravana bill board then. There was also no Ramayana fiction being pushed by the tourist authority.
I was at the Kanniyaa site a few weeks ago and saw the offending billboard which had been put up only a few weeks previously.

The reason was that the archaeology authorities had been digging into the area and were excavating the base of a dagaba when a local Tamil resident had suddenly claimed that it was her private property and overnight had also come the Ravana/Ramayana billboard.

The direct and indirect aim of these two actions was to clearly prevent further excavation which would have revealed one more example of the truth that the Eastern Province was full of ancient Sinhalese sites.

In fact, the other site on the Trincomalee tourist trail is the kovil on the so-called Swami Rock which is actually a recent structure of the 1950s whose concrete floor has prevented the structures below being excavated.

These structures as the Portuguese documented in the 17th century were Sinhalese Buddhist ones - remains of the Gokanna Vihara. Mute remains of the latter in the form of fragments of Buddha statues are still found behind the Police Station in the Trincomalee Fort which hardly any tourists visit. A couple of decades ago a padanaghara was found nearby.

During the period of LTTE control, the traditional homeland fiction falsified the true history of the North and East. As the war has ended, many Sinhalese sites are now being discovered in the Northern and Eastern Provinces as for examples complexes in the Mullativu jungle and surprisingly dagabas in Delft Island.

The most atrocious LTTE distortion was actually done by Jaffna university-based archaeologists in closely collaborating with Peter Schalk, the Swedish LTTE propagandist with whose Uppsala University Jaffna University had a close cooperation.

Peter Schalk is now banned from Sri Lanka but his efforts have gone on. The result was an invention of a total untenable "Tamil Buddhism" restricted to Jaffna and unconnected with the Buddhist remains in the rest of the country.

The most blatant results of such inventions are some publications of Jaffna University as well as the relabelling of artefacts in the Jaffna Museum as belonging to an exclusive Jaffna based "Tamil Buddhism". These Museum artefacts were discovered primarily through a joint expedition of the Royal Asiatic Society RAS in 1917 led by Prof Paul Peiris and C Rasanayagam, the author of "Jaffna Kingdom".

There were Sinhalese inscriptions among the finds and there was no doubt in the article published by the RAS of the finds being similar to those in the rest of the country. The Archaeology Department following up on this preliminary foray started excavations in the 1960s, especially in Kandarodai (Kadurugoda Vihara of the Nam Potha) and unearthed several other artefacts which were also housed in the Jaffna Museum.

In 2005, the labels at the Museum were all changed to LTTE ideology to depict an exclusive "Tamil Buddhism" in Jaffna. This is in spite of a large amount of literature on the Buddhist history in Jaffna being connected to the rest of the island.

Recently on a visit to Jaffna, its Museum employees confided that they were persuaded to falsify the labels by two staff members of the Jaffna University. The museum comes under the Archaeology Department and this unauthorised change was both an act of cultural vandalism as well as an attempt to push LTTE propaganda. Such University staff members should not be considered academics in that they falsify facts and should not be allowed to do any excavations.

Tamilnet is today concentrating not on the past glories of the LTTE but strangely on archaeology attempting to present false history. They have recently published inscriptions claimed to be from the south of Sri Lanka which nobody in the Archaeology Department had seen. There is internal evidence that much of these false publications in the Tamilnet comes from Jaffna University personnel writing anonymously.

The names of these Jaffna University fiction writers are known and the Archaeology Department should not allow them any excavation rights. We can neither afford fiction at taxpayers’ expense nor fictional archaeology that could rekindle the LTTE.

The top secret world created by govt in response to terrorist attacks

By Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka

“I think Sri Lanka is an easy target for human rights groups. It is easy to criticize Sri Lanka as it is a democracy and it is easy to criticize America.” - Prof Stephen P Cohen, Senior Fellow, Brookings (The Island, Oct 18, 2010)

Even if one concedes that Amnesty International, the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch may, between them, have a point or two in their criticism of Sri Lanka and the LLRC, surely the best way to have established such a point would have been to accept the latter’s invitation and participate to the fullest possible extent in the LLRC space in the glare of the global media?

The churlish collective boycott proves the prejudice that the human rights aristocracy of the global North has towards our country, its institutions and its citizens. The presence of President Rajapaksa next to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, leader of the world’s most populous democracy, at the closing of the Commonwealth Games, is Asia’s answer.

‘A Hidden World Growing beyond Control’ is the headline. “The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks ...has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work”.

Surely this is a description of the National Security State being erected by the repressive, Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist Rajapaksa regime, right? Wrong. It is a description of contemporary USA in the time of probably the most liberal and educated leader in the world, Barack Obama. And it ain’t from a radical blog. It is from the Washington Post’s stunning expose ‘Top Secret America’, earlier this year (June-July).

“These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.

Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programmes related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations... 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings - about 17 million square feet of space.”

Now my article is meant neither as a critique of the USA nor a defence of a National Security state, here, there or anywhere, but an effort to give readers some context and perspective. It is the best possible advertisement for American democracy that such a feature could be carried in the Washington Post unhindered.

As for President Obama, he wasn’t responsible for the process that set this ballooning of national security in motion. That honour goes to Osama Bin Laden and George Bush, or (going by Wikileaks) perhaps Zbigniew Brzezinski and those who decided to arm Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan six months before the Soviet troops got there, precisely in order to sucker them in. The point is though that even the most democratic and liberal societies and states respond to terrorist attacks in certain ways and once those responses are set in motion, even the most enlightened, sophisticated and progressive leaders cannot roll them back or stop their growth.

How much easier should it be to understand the phenomenon or its rougher equivalent in a Third World society battered by a Thirty Years War? Expecting the dismantling or non-proliferation of security mechanisms and practices in such a historical context is akin to expecting reduced security in a household after a kidnapped and abused child has been brought back home battered and traumatised to her family by the law enforcement authorities. Over protectiveness is not the rationale or best practice but it is an understandable human reaction and should be comprehensible as a social one.

It takes time and changing tides for these responses and attendant inflammations to subside. Despite the breakthrough Obama victory, Woodward’s book, Obama’s Wars irrefutably demonstrates that America – at the levels of the state policy and social consciousness - has not and cannot so easily exit the cycle that commenced with 9/11.

Though Sri Lanka has won its war, killed its Osama Bin Laden and eliminated its Al Qaeda-cum-Taliban, convalescence and the return to normalcy will take time. That normalcy will certainly entail a higher premium on safety, security and pre-emption than before the war. In one sense, there can be no complete restoration of an insecure status quo ante. The tragedy of the long war is that we can never go home again.

October 19, 2010

Sri Lankas powerful leader should seize time by the forelock

THTC1019A.jpgThe presence of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was in New Delhi as chief guest at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, gave Prime Minister Manmohan Singh another opportunity to flag the need for a political settlement of the Tamil question and urge the Sri Lankan leader to act decisively in this regard.

The resettlement and rehabilitation of Tamils displaced during the war remains an important issue, and the Sri Lankan government did well by attending to this task with the urgency it demanded at the end of the military operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

But more than 16 months after that historic military victory, this is not the most difficult challenge before the Sri Lankan government. During this period, President Rajapaksa has won a second term in office. The ruling coalition, which he leads, has also been re-elected; after a few crossovers from the opposition benches, it enjoys a two-thirds support in Parliament.

Indeed, Mr. Rajapaksa has already made use of the coalition's parliamentary domination to remove the constitutional two-term bar for a President. As any substantial political package addressing the aspirations of the Tamil and Muslim minorities is likely to require constitutional amendments, the present Parliament offers the best chance in nearly three decades to provide for genuine ethnic reconciliation.

It is true that the political leadership of the Tamil community, such as it is today, is divided on the specifics. However, like most conflict resolution experts, it seems agreed that the best way to resolve the Tamil question is through substantial devolution of power to the Tamil region, going beyond the 13th Amendment, within the framework of a united Sri Lanka.

President Rajapaksa is absolutely correct in holding that any political solution to the conflict must be home-grown. He has projected the recently set up Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission as the vehicle for building a consensus among all stakeholders. But the terms of reference of this commission, set up to inquire into events from 2002 until the final stages of the military operations against the LTTE, may be too narrow to form the basis for a solution to a conflict whose roots go back more than five decades. Further, the findings of the All Parties Representative Conference are yet to be made public.

All this has given rise to an impression of drift. President Rajapaksa must be aware of these concerns as he gets ready to begin his second presidential term next month. Here is an unprecedented opportunity to turn the page, once and for all, on the country's ethnic dispute. Sri Lanka's powerful leader should seize time by the forelock.

(Text of Editorial appearing in "The Hindu" of October 18th, 2010)

Hague must insist on independent investigation into war crimes when he meets his Sri Lankan counterpart, says Amnesty

by Amnesty International UK

(18, Oct, 2010) Amnesty International today urged the Foreign Secretary William Hague to demand an independent international investigation into alleged war crime abuses in Sri Lanka when he meets his Sri Lankan counterpart, Professor GL Peiris, tomorrow.

In the months since last year’s conflict between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, numerous allegations of war crimes have surfaced – and so far none has been properly investigated.

Eyewitness accounts of the last months of war paint a grim picture of deprivation of food, water and medical care; fear, injury and loss of life experienced by civilians trapped in the fighting.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said:

“It is time for a full and independent spotlight to be shone onto the horrors of what happened during the conflict and William Hague needs to stress that when he meets the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister tomorrow.

“He must tell Professor GL Peiris that given the magnitude of the crimes that have been committed by both sides of the conflict only a full independent international investigation into the alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka will satisfy the global community.

“At present those alleged to be responsible remain at large and at little threat of being brought to justice – that cannot be allowed to continue.”

Although two bodies – the Sri Lankan Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), and the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s Panel of Experts – have been set up to look into the claims, Amnesty International has huge reservations about the effectiveness of both.

Kate Allen explained:

“Given the Sri Lankan Government’s track record on dealing with human rights abuses, their decision in May to establish the LLRC was suspect at best.

“Historically, Sri Lanka’s internal enquiries into human rights abuses have not been adequately empowered or resourced to ensure real accountability and there is no reason to believe that this commission will be any more effective than its predecessors.

“Hundreds of children were among the civilians killed and maimed during the final stages of the conflict in 2009

“While Ban Ki Moon’s appointment of a Panel of Experts to advise him on accountability issues in Sri Lanka is an important first step it falls short of what is actually needed.

“In order that victims’ families get the justice they deserve Amnesty International has called on the United Nations to establish an independent investigation to document the full extent of crimes allegedly committed during the conflict.”

In addition, Amnesty International continues to have concerns for the well being of tens of thousands of displaced people who remain in makeshift camps, and the more than 7,000 Tamil Tiger suspects, who are being held incommunicado in what the state refers to as “rehabilitation camps”.

October 18, 2010

'Your Excellency return us to paradise, return us to paradise'

Full text of speech delivered by Houston-based Attorney George R. Willy, during a recent event in Houston, Texas, USA, welcoming President Mahinda Rajapaksa:

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President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) at the event

Your Excellency, Mrs. Rajapaksa, Hon Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Sheila thank you for making this, really appreciate this and Consul General Arora, Consul thank you for making this.

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George R. Willy

mp3 Audio of speech by George R. Willy ~ pic: grwpc.com

Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome Your Excellency to this great city. If you can ignore the oak trees and the mockingbirds you could easily mistake this for Sri Lanka.

It is in Sri Lanka that I was born, and my mother and the parents of my wife Shanthi, our grand fathers and grand mothers are all buried under the sacred soil of my motherland. I grew up Your Excellency, in Jaffna and moved to Colombo when I was only 10 years old. My wife is from Badulla, grew up in Diyatalawa where her dad was a well a respected captain in the army.

I have smelt the sweetness of Magosa trees in Jaffna and taste of the Red Jumbu fruits that left red stains on my white shirt as I walked to school in Colombo. I know the allure of Jack fruits ripening on the trees as crows begin to break them open.

I have seen the bright colour of pandals during Wesak and shamelessly ate food at Dansala meant for the poor. And I have heard the chanting of Kovils and inhaled the smell of jasmine and Joss sticks. I’ve heard the bell of All Saint’s church as I assisted Father Herath during Mass.

But since I left Sri Lanka in 1975 there has been such pain, such sorrow and such agony. The mighty Mahaweli Ganga that usually brings its sacred waters to the paddy fields spat out blood. Both the Sinhalese and Tamils. From up here in the United States I have watched the land of my forefathers descend from paradise deep into hell. No one can say with certainty who is to blame but the time for blaming is long gone.

Your Excellency, your power be descended from Dutugemunu and my people from Elara. Remember how Dutugemunu fought Elara on his Elephant Kandula and killed Elara. Dutugemunu of course is still remembered for uniting Sri Lanka for the first time. But he is also remembered for something else. After defeating and killing Elara he built a monument for Elara out of respect for his worthy opponent. He ordered all the citizens of the land to stop, dismount and pay respect to Elara. In so doing he not only showed what a great noble man he was. But also proved to be a great politician. He knew that He had to rule the Tamil people too after the defeat of Elara.

Your Excellency, faith and fortune and your great political skills have placed you at a unique point in history.

Children years to come, will read in their history books, that a great leader, a great warrior by the name of Mahinda Rajapaksa finally defeated the rebellion after nearly 25 years when several before him failed. They may even say that you are Dutugamunu of the 21 century. But if you want to wear Gemunu’s mantle, Your Excellency, you will have to build a monument too. That monument does not have to be a Dagoba or a building. It will have to be new policy backed by laws with teeth to enforce.

Do not make the mistake that started 58 riots. Do not hold back Tamils who want to get into Universities. Do not make the Tamils feel like they are second class citizens. Respect their religion, and respect their language. There is something about the Tamil people you need to know Your Excellency. To them their language is God. There are only few cultures in the world which has such devotion to the language.

You were trained as a lawyer and in your early career you were a formidable defender of human rights.

Now you have the popularity, you have the power of a hero, like Julius Caeser, returning to Rome from his conquests. No one can deny what you ask. Ask the parliament to pass some entrenched clauses; you and I read in law school. Then we have had to study the Soulbury Constitution. If you need my help I will give it free like many in this audience would. The Tamil people are naked and hungry looking for you to assure them that there is a place for them.

Make sure they have one. You killed one Prabhakaran but do not let another grow. You cannot prevent another one with swords and guns. You can only do that with your heart and wisdom. Compassion, truth and justice, you learnt from Buddha are the only weapons you will need. According to Dhamma Pada, Buddha said that hatred does not cease by hatred at any time. Hatred cease by love. This is an old rule. That's what the Buddha said.

Your Excellency, as you leave this fair city and return to Sri Lanka, promise me that a 10 year boy walking to school tomorrow in his white shirt will have no other red stain than from the Jumbu fruits. The morning crow will not open anything other than the jackfruit. That there will be nothing else hanging from the Magosa trees, than the fruits I smelt.

Your Excellency return us to paradise, return us to paradise. Thank You

Watch from about 6 minutes in. Speech by George R. Willy to President Mahinda Rajapaksa

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click on image for larger pic~ Sanjiv Arora, left, Consul General of India Houston, Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Sri Lankan Ambassador to the U.S., First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Dr. Bandula Wijay, chairman of the organizing committee, Rukshan Wijeratne, master of ceremonies and Attorney George Willy ~ pic: courtesy of indoamericannews

Related article: A Texan Tamil's Jambu-stained words hurled at the Sri Lankan President

Lankan constitution and democratic rights

S. G. Punchihewa

"Questioning the law and speaking the truth cause fear of death in our country. There is a large number of institutions of law, and also there are commissions, orders and circulars in abundance. But only justice is scarce. Rather than disappearing corruption, the person who exposes it disappears. Anybody may get injured without an attacker. Any body may disappear without an abductor. Three media institutions were set on fire. The police still investigate and a box matches would be taken into custody."

How powerful is the president?

In 1990s, when the UNP was in power, there were protest campaigns against disappearances and killings. One such incident was that suddenly Richard Soysa, a writer and an human rights activist, disappeared. Later his dead body was found washed ashore at Moratuwa. The protests were prohibited under Emergency Regulations. regardless of prohibition there were meetings and seminars. Among many protesters there were two persons who shouted: “What happened to Richard Soysa?” This question was asked from the then President. The two persons who asked it along with many others were none other than Mahinda Rajapaksha and one of our Friends, Prageeth Eknekligoda. Now it is dramatic irony to ask a similar question, “What happened to Prageeth?” from the present President Rajapaksha.

By the 18th Amendment to the constitution, the limitation regarding the term of office has been removed. Now, if elected he can continue permanently (6 year terms). The elections under the 18th Amendment are to be held not under an independent commission but under the full powers of the President. Because he appoints the members of the commission. The commission conducts the elections. Services of the police are essential to conduct elections. Police chief is appointed by him. Government servants carry on almost all the election duties. But the members of the Public Service Commission are appointed by President himself. Can anyone expect a free and fair election, which never was and never will be.

He appoints the Chief Justice and the Judge of the supreme court, the Attorney General. The power to appoint Ministers is vested in him. Thereby he appointed himself as Minister of Defence and the Minister of Finance. He spends large amounts of money on elections. He decides on which dates elections would be held. The last Provincial Council elections were held separately, not all the election on one day.

Now here are some powers vested in the constitution:

70 (1): The President may, from time to time, by proclamation summon, prorogue and dissolve the Parliament.

70 (1a) provides that the President shall not thereafter dissolve the Parliament until the expiration of a period of one year from the date of such general election.

31 (3) A (a) (1): The President may, at anytime after the expiration of four years from commencement of his current term of office, call upon an election for a further term.

Suppose while exercising all these powers he may abuse power, violate law, make an error, there is no legal remedy for the people, because he has immunity öf the article (35) of the constitution.

The media is under his control. Both state media and private media. State media are directly under his influence, and the private media are in line with government propaganda in fear of loosing their property. Media propaganda, banners, billboards and other devices are used to create an inflated image of the president in the minds of the people. The image of a great ruler is exhibited every day.

When he goes to address a people’s gathering, suddenly he sees a poor woman with a child in her arms. This great man takes this child and raise him up and tease him and have a couple of words with the mother. Media persons are ready to televise this event and from next day onwards. This drama is shown repeatedly.

When people protest against violation of rights, that is dealt with as a threat to “national Security” under ER and PTA. It has always been defined in the language of those who hold power. They are the nationals. Their security is national security. Those who condone this system are ones with those who derive power from it.

There are twelve Parliamentary Committees and two such committees were:
Committee on Public Enterprises
Committee on Public Accounts.

These committees can supervise government expenditures. It was the tradition, to appoint the chairperson to the commettee from the opposition for the checks and balances. Now the ministers are appointed. So any abuse may be revealed.

Parliament had the supervision powers. Those powers are exercised and maintained through the committees, discussions, meetings, questions and debating. Now debates are full of political and personal mud slinging. Questions are ridiculed.

The Nature of Freedom we have

What is the situation in our Country. We have freedom to feed on our won flesh. How to keep our bodies? It is the diseases sustained by the Ministry of health.

What we should think is, what the rulers think. What is the nature if education we gain. It is a course of training for slavery. Law is only some letters in print. Judicial decision is a set of words pronounced by legal robots. Patriotism has become the wrath of racists. What is the outcome of the political practice. It is like a cesspool gathered since independence. Now they are all out at stealing our souls, which is our last treasure.

What is the nature of freedom we live through in the country? Those who have guns can fire freely. Anybody who reveals the culprits will be killed in broad day light. What will do the police thereafter, they hunt for information to prove that the killing has been done by an unidentified person. The court gives a decision that there is no proof of the death of the dead man.

What is the duty of the citizen? It is to forget about what is happening and to believe anything the state media say.

There are the questions that one should not ask:

Who killed so and so?
Who directs the squads of abductors?
Who possess the guns to kill?
How can killings, assaults, fires occur within a high security zone?

Questioning the law and speaking the truth cause fear of death in our country. There is a large number of institutions of law, and also there are commissions, orders and circulars in abundance. But only justice is scarce. Rather than disappearing corruption, the person who exposes it disappears. Anybody may get injured without an attacker. Any body may disappear without an abductor. Three media institutions were set on fire. The police still investigate and a box matches would be taken into custody.

Victory (as they say) in the North is repression in disguise to the whole country. If you speak up about this situation, it will be discredited either as foreign conspiracy or the voice of the tigers. There are only two groups of people in the country. President defines them thus: ”one group is who loves the country and the others are traitors”. To be a lover of the country, either you have to be humble or remain silent. This is the worst of times in which greed for power has become the law of the land. Therefore it will be a dreadful dream to develop sanity from North to South. Only people’s action can change this situation.

This is the oath President hat taken at the commencement of his term of office. He will take the same oath in November for the second term.

I, ... do solemnly declare and affirm: That I will faithfully perform the duties and discharge the functions of the office of .... In accordance with the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the law, and that I will be faithful to the Republic of Sri Lanka and that I will to the best of my ability uphold and defend the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Although it is the text, it means differently. The real meaning may be derived by what he has done so far. Except waging war, what he has said is not done, what he has done is against the law.

I, ... do solemnly declare and affirm: That I will not perform the duties and discharge the Presidency.

I do not act in accordance with the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the law, and that I will not be faithful to the Republic of Sri Lanka but I will, to the best of my ability, be faithful to my family.

I will uphold Lawlessness and violate law and defend the rights of robbers.
I promise to continue what I have done so far.

Before coming to power he said that he would abolish the system of Executive Presidency. Instead of doing that, he amassed much more power and became an all powerful president.

Only people’s action can change the situation. May it happen!

(S.G. Punchihewa is a well known writer, poet and human rights activist in Sri Lanka. He was appointed to the National Human Rights Commission by President Rajapaksha in 2005 by a executive order, Mr Punchihewa refused to accept the appointment on the ground that it should have been come through the constitutional council. Today he stands as a one of the few voices who dare to dissent publicly in Sri Lanka. This is the text of one of his recent speeches.)

What Gen. Fonseka requires is justice not pardon - Rt. Revd. Duleep de Chickera

A Statement by the Rt. Revd. Duleep de Chickera, the Bishop of Colombo

Having just returned to the country from travel overseas I wish to express my disapproval and disappointment with the recent sentence and imprisonment of Gen. Sarath Fonseka.

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Today it is evident to many citizens that Gen. Fonseka has been denied the opportunity of a fair trial as well as the due process of law and it is this breach of the law that needs to be rectified. Consequently what Gen. Fonseka needs is not pardon but justice.

Such a recourse to justice through an impartial legal process is imperative not because Gen. Fonseka is a former Army Commander or because of his military prowess; he is entitled to this right as a citizen of the Country. If he is thereafter found to be guilty he must be dealt with under the same impartial legal process and the people will be required to accept such a judgment.

However serious the Gen. Fonseka issue may be, it should not be viewed in isolation. It is just one high profile case of what has happened to less prominent and forgotten persons who having been deprived access to the due process of law, languish in prison and detention centres. They too require immediate justice.

A growing culture of arbitrary rewards and punishments has brought us all to a critical cross road in the political history of our beloved Country. The Government is fast losing credibility as the authority chosen by the people to safeguard the rights of its citizens and ensure justice for all. The opposition; in disarray and obsessed with its own power struggles is unable to make a difference on behalf of the people. These trends reached a tragic climax when the 18th amendment was enacted by Parliament.

Consequently, to call for justice for Gen. Fonseka requires a call for justice for all. Such a stance will eventually restore the integrity of our Nation.

With Peace and Blessings to all.

"Go Ahead,Loot,Get Up and Scoot": Commonwealth theme song for India

by P.Sainath

The Commonwealth Games over, we can now return to those of everyday Indian life. For all the protests, though, there was nothing in the corruption that marked the Games that does not permeate every town and city, all the time. Just that, in these Games, it got concentrated in one very high-profile event, under constant public and media gaze. Much of the agonising — over what was routine corruption — was occasioned by “what the world will think of us.” For ‘world' read Western world. We care little about what Tuvalu or Tonga or Papua New Guinea think of us.

The corruption — or its public manifestation — hurt us because it messed with our self-image and our need to be accepted as special by the Western elite, in every way, even at sports. After all, we are knocking at the door of the G-8. Else, there were no surprises in the corruption. Shocking, yes. Surprising, no. Dirty contracts handed out to sleazy builders? That's business as usual in Mumbai, any day in the past three decades. Most of the city's 36 MLAs are builders or contractors, which is its own comment.

Shoddy construction? Footbridges that collapse? We figured out how flimsy were the buildings in Gujarat's cities after the 2000 quake. Yet we continue to build huge high-rises in high seismic zones — because there's money in that. It was logical for the authorities to say of the collapsed footbridge in Delhi that — it was meant for ordinary citizens, not athletes. (Read: It's okay if ordinary citizens fall off it.)

Kickbacks for the boys? Conflict of interest? You're more likely to win the lottery than find the citizen surprised by these. Appropriation of the resources of the public, particularly of poor people? Well, Maharashtra shows you how. You can grab adivasi land — inalienable in law — for your private city and hill station. The Revenue Minister will “regularise” these violations for you. Contrast this with the daily struggle of people in Mumbai's slums for ‘regularisation.' Their massive contribution to the city's economy counts for nothing.

Shady banking and money transfer practices? The Enforcement Directorate has traced slush accounts involving IPL-linked entities to perhaps a dozen countries. Overpricing for car hire, for catering, for other services — all staples of Indian life. And speaking of contracts and food, it's begun with the ICDS.

Watch how midday meals, too, will steadily move from the hands of SHGs to those of private corporations in the name of “pre-mix” packages. Even as India falls to rank 67 (out of 84 nations) in IFPRI's Global Hunger Index of 2010. A rank driven by high levels of underweight children. As the GHI report tells us: “India is home to 42 per cent of the world's underweight children and 31 per cent of its stunted children.”

Lying about objectives? Like saying the Games residential area would later become university hostels? When in fact several hostels were emptied during the Games (partly because of the water crisis the event entailed). And when the flats are being organised for sale, with prices already in crores. Well, low-cost housing was the excuse used during the 1982 Asiad. And we know who lives in Khelgaon now.

There are those who see the Games as a ‘Triumph' of the Private Sector and a Public Sector failure. Facts count for little in matters of Faith. Who messed up the Metro Line? Public Sector. Who built the crumbling village? DDA. In truth: that sector of the Delhi Metro which did not get completed in time for the Games was the only line (probably the most profitable) that was privatised. And the giant private corporation failed to deliver.

The Games village was not built by the DDA, but by a private entity. In any case, it's simple: every single private scam and racket of our time is introduced through government, in the name of the poor.

Displacement of people in and around The Games areas? Find a city, town, urban periphery or rural region where this is not an everyday fact of life. At any given moment, millions of footloose migrant labourers wander across the country, quite unsure about where the next meal comes from. Throwing out construction labourers when our work — their labour — was done in Delhi? Tens of thousands of migrant labourers, whether the Oriyas from Ganjam in Surat, or the migrants in Tirupur (owed backwages for months), or millions of others, experience this all the time. Contrast this attitude with this week's good news — the anxiety and joy over the rescue of the Chilean miners, also in a society also beset by problems.

A cheering elite, telling us how wonderful we are and how we have “showcased Indian talent for the ‘World'?” You can find that in most Indian newspapers or channels any day, any time. “India has showcased for the world,” declaimed one television anchor, “that we can and have and always will in the future organise and run world class events.” Let alone not looking beyond the world of the White and the western, what millions of Indians, including those thousands adversely affected by The Games, think, bothers us not a whit.

Another TV channel ran a programme on “What makes Indians world-beaters?” This, about India's win over an Australian cricket team that has lost Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Glen McGrath and Matthew Hayden. Interestingly, all the panellists gently dissented from the proposition that we could call ourselves world-beaters. That in no way fazed the anchor, though.

Bad conditions? Athletes attending state and district level sporting meets have slept in disused railway wagons, and worse. These Games, anyway, were more about commerce and elite ego than about the athletes or their performance. The fine showing of some athletes came despite their organisers and sports bodies, not because of them. Now, they return to the bondage of bodies driven by profit, corruption and greed.

It's another matter we should never have organised this ‘mega-event.' In all cities holding such events over the past four decades — a tiny elite has made billions. The city has gone bankrupt — and ordinary people then pay the bills. Los Angeles is a good example. The ‘City' (i.e. Big Business) made huge profits. Residents paid the price for years afterwards. As did people in Montreal. As will those in London after the next Olympics there. Imagine, instead, if we had spent our billions on having playgrounds in all our schools? That way, you would really widen the sporting gene pool.

The point simply, is this: The Commonwealth Games were no showcase, but a mirror of India 2010. If they showcased anything, they showcased Indian crony, casino capitalism at its most vigorous. To build such a society and then expect The Games won't reflect its warts and sores is high optimism. But never in our history have an elite been so in love with themselves, so soaked in narcissism; so anxious about what ‘the World' thinks. So contemptuous of what our own people think, about anything. (Though the Commonwealth wouldn't exist without them. Indians account for over 55 per cent of all people in the Commonwealth.)

There is one anomaly, though, where the Games do not typify the Indian model. The Minister of Sports, shortcomings aside, is a person of integrity (as was his outspoken predecessor). He tried cleaning up various sporting bodies and was humiliated for it. He tried curbing the number of years a person could head a sporting body. Some, in their seventies, have been around decades (a couple in their eighties, too). That bombed, as well.

On the other hand, the OC was about Organised Cronyism. Many of the tactics by which sporting bodies are run originate in Maharashtra. Sporting-politicians from there have headed more associations than they can count. Everything from kho kho and kabbadi, to wrestling and cricket. In some senses, the Games reflect the national expansion of the Maharashtra model. It's the way this state runs its cooperatives, their banks, its education. The Games, like Maharashtra, were a snapshot of primitive accumulation at work.

Meanwhile, may we suggest a modest alternative to Rahman's theme song: Jeeyo, Utho, Badho, Jeeto (Live, Get up and ready, march forward, win)? It didn't click too well, compelling the maestro to return to his ‘Jai Ho' from Slumdog Millionaire at the opening ceremony.

There is some irony in that. That film outraged the same Indian elite and India Shining crowd. Leading Bollywood personalities spoke and blogged on how it had upset them. Yet the song found greater acceptance. It won an Oscar — showcasing us to the ‘world' — and that overrode disquiet about the film. Fact is: Jeeyo, Utho, Badho, Jeeto didn't quite grab us. So how about: Jaao, Loot- oh, Utho, Bagho? (Go ahead, loot, get up and scoot). - courtesy: The Hindu -

October 17, 2010

Tamil MP's tell Mahinda: "Trust us, we will work with you"-Prof. G.L. Peiris

by S. Venkat Narayan

Sri Lankan Minister for External Affairs Gamini Lakshman Peiris says the Tamils at home and abroad are responding favourably to the sincere efforts President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government has been making to improve their lot since the so-called Eelam War IV ended 17 months ago.

In an exclusive interview to this writer in New Delhi on Thursday, October 14, he said: “The Tamils' response has been good. They are coming on board.”

Mr. Peiris further declared: “India is the pivot of our foreign policy. India has helped us in our darkest hour.” He was apparently referring to the crucial help India rendered to the island nation during the Eelam War IV that ended in May last year.

“There is close rapport between the political leaders of our two countries,” Mr. Peiris pointed out. He recalled that his predecessor Lakshman Kadirgamar used to say that relations between India and Sri Lanka were “so ancient that they are lost in the mist of time,” and yet so strong.

Explaining the reasons behind the Tamils' change of stance in recent months, he said Mr. Rajapaksa had met Tamil National Alliance (TNA) chief R. Sampanthan and TNA MPs twice, and invited their suggestions for totally transforming the north-east from a devastated war zone into a zone of peace and prosperity.

Mr. Peiris quoted the Tamil MPs as telling Mr. Rajapaksa: “Trust us. We will work with you.”

The President's next meeting with Mr. Sampanthan would take place shortly. The TNA leader had been in Chennai for a long time for medical reasons. He returned to Colombo only a couple of days ago.

The Minister said that, in the past, plans were imposed on the Tamils from above. The absence of a two-thirds majority in Parliament had made it impossible for successive governments during the past 25 years to undertake any worthwhile schemes or devolution packages for the north-east.

But, said Mr. Peiris, Mr. Rajapaksa's re-election for a second term in January and a near two-third majority for the ruling combine in the April parliamentary election had brought about a dramatic change in the island's political scenario.

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission was holding sittings in Colombo, Jaffna and elsewhere. It had already submitted an interim report. Of the 2,97,000 Tamils of the Northern Province internally displaced due to the civil war, only 20,000 remained to be resettled and rehabilitated in their native places.

Tamil-speaking girls were now bread-winners in many families in the North, he noted.

Mr. Peiris, a Rhodes Scholar with PhDs from Oxford and Colombo Universities, said: “We are resuscitating the political process in the North. Local government elections have been held in Jaffna and Vavuniya. They will be held in the remaining districts as well. We hope to conduct provincial council polls in the North as soon as possible.”

As for the nearly one-million-strong Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, the Minister said: “Gotabaya Rajapaksa and I are working on this. We want to engage our Tamil brethren living overseas in our efforts to transform the civil war-ravaged north-east”. (Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa is Defence Secretary and Mr. Rajapaksa's brother).

Mr. Peiris said: “We tell them: You have to recognise that the ground situation has changed fundamentally since the war ended. They realise this too, and their response has been good.”

Judging by a Sri Lankan airline's passenger manifest, a large number of Tamils who fled to the West from their villages in the north-east due to the civil war were now flying to Colombo with their wives and children and going to their native places to see for themselves what had been happening since the bloody civil war ended.

And, said the Minister, they were reasonably impressed with what they saw with their own eyes. They now wanted to invest at home, and hoped to return to their homeland in the not-too-distant future.

“At the end of the day, wherever you may live for years and decades, you long to return to your homeland to live in peace and tranquility.”

Mr. Peiris added: “The Tamil diaspora is no longer a monolith. We can engage a substantial segment of the diaspora to change things around.”

Since the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was defeated and its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran physically eliminated in May 2009, there was durable peace all across the island. There was a mood of optimism. The anxiety and tension that pervaded for nearly three decades was gone, and people were looking to the future with hope, said the Minister.

There was an unprecedented degree of political stability. This was encouraging foreign companies, including those from India, to invest in a big way in a variety of projects in Sri Lanka, the Minister explained.

Investment in infrastructure
“We are putting a multifaceted strategy in place. We are investing hugely in infrastructure projects, like building ports, harbours, a new international airport, agricultural and skill development schemes,” he said.

Mr. Peiris pointed out that it took Sri Lanka 12 years to raise the per capita income to $1,000. After becoming President five years ago, Mr. Rajapaksa undertook a massive transformation at the grassroots level, and succeeded in doubling the per capita income to $2,000. “Now, so much economic activity is going on that we are hoping to double the per capita income to $4,000 by 2015.”

Thanks to the resounding faith Sri Lankans had imposed in Mr. Rajapaksa by electing him to a second term and giving his ruling alliance a near two-third majority in Parliament, and thanks to the recent 18th Amendment, it was now possible to undertake meaningful and long-term plans that would make Sri Lanka a model state of progress and cultural integration, Mr. Peiris opined.

Concluding his 45-minute conversation with this writer at the ITC Maurya, Mr. Peiris said: “The people's confidence in the President is the most conspicuous feature of life in Sri Lanka today. The people are saying, ‘We don't want history to repeat itself as a tragedy. We want a job done. Do it now, and do it well'.”

India has given nearly a billion dollars to Sri Lanka as grants and assistance to help rebuild the infrastructure ravaged during the three-decades of civil war, and to build 50,000 homes for war-displaced Tamils in the Northern Province. Several dozens of Indian companies have so far invested nearly half a billion dollars in several projects across the island. Many more are planning to invest in several sectors of the economy, like tourism, and hotels. - courtesy: The Hindu -

Who are the ‘enemies’ in the "economic war" of post-war Sri Lanka?

By Kalana Senaratne

The victory Sri Lanka achieved in its war against the LTTE was a significant one. People belonging to all ethnic and religious communities in all parts of the country had to undergo a great degree of suffering, not only during the last stages of the war, but for decades, due to the ruthless terrorist menace. That war came to an end last year, bringing along an end also to much of the suffering caused as an inevitable consequence of war.

The end of the war in May 2009, however, seems to have given rise to a different kind of ‘war’ in this post-war phase of Sri Lanka’s history. While we are constantly reminded of the war that ended in May 2009, we are also reminded of the ‘wars’ which need to be waged in the future, or a ‘war’ which has been initiated already. The most prominent and significant one of them being the ‘economic war’ or the ‘development war’ (the other ‘wars’ being the ‘war on drugs’, the ‘war against the underworld’, etc.).

‘War’ here is largely a metaphor, a figure of speech; denoting perhaps the positive aspects of the Government’s policy against the LTTE - the determination to end peoples’ suffering and carnage, having clear and firm goals to be achieved, a firm and unwavering policy, a strong and dedicated leadership, rapid implementation of policies, solid purpose, etc. When politicians refer to the ‘economic war’ these days (as they often do), these are some of the aspects they want us to think about. Given that economic development is of absolute necessity, promoting economic development in such a manner is much appreciated. But there are a number of questions that arise when politicians talk of ‘wars’, a number of questions that we, as citizens, would need to ask in all seriousness. Wars are ugly affairs, however necessary they are considered to be. And it is the ugly side of this economic war that often escapes our attention and that which needs to be addressed and avoided.

The serious question that arises here with regard to the much proclaimed economic war is: who are its ‘enemies’? Who are the ‘enemies’ that the government thinks it needs to fight in this economic war? Would the government consider those critical of its economic policies to be its enemies in this economic war? And if so, how would their criticisms be met in the future, how would they be addressed, or how would they be ‘dealt with’? Just like during any other war? How would constructive criticism be interpreted and understood by the regime during the time of an economic war? Are such views inimical to economic and development progress, do such views stand in the way of swift development? How would such views be addressed, or during times of war, would the government think it necessary to listen to the voices of its critics? Would a government engaged in such a war stop to give thought to the real economic aspirations of the people based on their own social and cultural needs? Are ‘independent institutions’ a threat to governmental activity and policy promotion during an economic war? Is the ‘environment’ an enemy of economic progress, or those who raise environmental concerns? What then of sustainable development? Is the ‘protection and promotion of human rights’ considered an enemy or an adversary in such times? Is ‘democracy’ an enemy or a threat that needs to be defeated and destroyed to achieve ultimate economic progress?

It needs to be remembered that these are not military threats. A war that is fought with arms and ammunition, against an armed military group, can be won. A military group can be defeated by killing its members, by total annihilation if necessary. But in an economic war, one’s adversary is not necessarily armed; there are no armed military groups. There are only people, unarmed people, and various groups and organizations representing and promoting the interests and concerns of the people. If so, any government which is conducting an economic war would need to engage with the people, their rights and freedoms, their concerns. This is why Sri Lankan politicians should not consider ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’, etc. to be its enemies or enemies of the State. If there is a serious clash between competing norms, such a clash needs to be handled with care, with civility. If not, it would only result in the exacerbation of innumerable political, social and other problems within the State. Approaching any problem with a ‘war mentality’, as the government seems to be doing now, is therefore dangerous.

Religious teachers have on a number of occasions warned us of the dangers of such attitudes and such forms of economic progress. Ven. Bikkhu Bodhi, highlighting the Buddhist approach to economic development, pointed out many years ago that “like moths heading towards a flame our leaders and policy planners still seem drawn towards economic growth as the master solution to the weighty social problems pressing so heavily on their hands.” It was further stated that “the principle that should guide social activity is the rule of cooperation and harmony”, which should be animated by “ethical motivation.” Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith seems to have pointed out recently, in the process of critiquing Western-oriented development policies, the market system and the materialist outlook, that Sri Lanka’s younger generation “should not be led up the path of greed and moral promiscuity in the chase for an economic miracle. Sri Lanka should move on towards a process of national inner empowerment…” He had also stated: “It is a fallacy to think that a little bit of dictatorship is necessary for true progress, what someone calls a benign dictatorship. It must be stated categorically that democracy and dictatorship are not compatible at all.” Therefore it would be wrong for the government to imagine that economic development is the panacea for all problems and because of that, economic development should be achieved at any cost.

Importantly, there is another question: do ‘economic wars’ ever end? Or, is there an end to economic progress and development, once the process begins? There are a number of factors which suggest that it would not. An economic war waged in order to satisfy man’s materialistic desires never ends, since there is no end to human desires. Those politicians who stand to gain by big business deals which are easily drawn up during the time of an economic war would never want that war to end (just like arms dealers, during times of armed conflict). So too is the case with those investors who are mindful of profit, and unmindful of ethical and social considerations. One is certainly being immature in imagining that a country would achieve supreme economic development one fine day, and on that day, it will be able to stop its development activity, take a break, and think about human rights, democracy, and greater social and ethnic cooperation. (Space constraints do not allow these issues to be discussed in detail here)

The government needs to approach the topic of ‘economic development’ in a more balanced and rational manner; since ‘economic development’ whilst being necessary, should be conducted in the correct way. It is therefore hoped that the government gives serious thought, inter alia, to the importance of the peaceful resolution of disputes and clashes that are bound to arise during the long (and unending?) phase of this economic war, for it is clear that there are a number of ‘enemies’ it would need to confront in the future.

[Kalana Senaratne is a post-graduate research student based at the Law Faculty of the University of Hong Kong]

The police attack on the university student’s demonstration and on journalists

The police attack on the university student’s demonstration and on journalists who had gone there to report-it is an anti-democratic act

Statement by Free Media Movement

The Free Media Movement considers the attack on the university students demonstrating in front of the Ministry of Higher Education and journalists who were reporting the incident as dastardly act and denounces it.

As reported, university students who held a demonstration demanding the immediate release of six fellow university students in custody in Word Place in front of the Ministry of Education, had entered the Ministry premises declaring that they would stay on until the release of their fellow students. At the moment police dispersed the students by attacking them with water canon and continued attacking the students chasing after them. Several students had been taken into custody.

The police brutally attacked a group of students who had gone to Viharamahadevi Park to avoid the attack. The journalists were directly caught up in the attack in the Viharamahadevi Park while reporting the police attack on the students. Journalist Bingun Menaka Gamage of Lankadeepa, Sandaruwan Yatikinda of Neth FM, Daily Mirror photographer Pradeep Dilrukshana, Rivira’s Photographer Chamila Karunaratne were directly came under the attack. Despite identifying themselves as journalists by producing their media identity cards, police officers had attacked them , abusing them in filth. They attacked the journalist with belts and kicked them.

Another Television journalist had avoided the scene. Following day, the journalists who were attacked had lodged four separate complaints at the Cinnamon grand police station. (CIB i 82-129, CIB i 84-130, CIB i 86-131, CIB ii 386-78)

It is a democratic right to hold demonstrations demanding rights and journalists’ have a democratic right to reporting them. Not only violating their rights but also brutally attacking them is a heinous crime. This is a grave attack on freedom of media. Free Media Movement strongly urge the Minister of Defense, Secretary of Defense, IGP and other officials to take legal action against the police officers responsible for the attack. And also urges the masses who upheld democratic norms to rally against continuous anti-democratic incidents of this nature, violating human rights.

Seeta Rangani
Secretary Free Media

Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission replies to AI, HRW and ICG

"The independence and impartiality of the [Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation] Commission in all fairness must be judged by the performance of the Commission and not on the basis of pre-conceived notions.

This is what the Commission has said in a response to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group which turned down the invitation to appear before it.

Here is the full text of the letter issued in Colombo:

Ms. Louise Arbour
President and CEO
International Crisis Group

Mr. Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch

Mr. Salil Shetty
Secretary General
Amnesty International

Dear Sirs/ Madam

I am writing with reference to your letter dated October 14, 2010.

The Commission has directed me to inform you as follows.

The Commission notes that the invitation it had extended to you in good faith in a spirit of constructive dialogue regarding issues of common concerns coming within the purview of its Mandate, has not been appreciated by your organizations.

The Commission regrets that you have resorted to casting aspersions on the integrity on the Commission and the Commissioners in your endeavour to explain your inability or your unwillingness to constructively respond to a good faith invitation by the Commission. The independence and impartiality of the Commission, in all fairness must be judged by the performance of the Commission and not on the basis of pre-conceived notions. The Commission notes with greater regret, the indirect aspersions you have cast on hundreds of fellow citizens who were the victims of this conflict and several responsible civil society organizations of our country, who have already made representations before the Commission.

Despite your ill-founded misgivings about the outcome of the Commission’s work, the Commission will strongly safeguard its independence and will continue to work towards fulfilling its mandate by addressing important issues raised by witnesses, including matters relating to International Humanitarian Law, reconciliation, governance and other related issues.

The Commission remains open to receiving views from all concerned, including yourselves should you change your mind. However, it would not be interested in continuing with correspondence of this nature which does not advance the work of the Commission.

Since you have released your letter addressed to the Commission to the media, this communication too is being released to the media.

Yours faithfully,
S.B. Atugoda
Secretary to the Commission

October 16, 2010

"LTTE engaging in overseas activities only" Sri Lanka Minister of External Affairs says

Interview with Geeta Moha, NewsXLive

"There is no danger of LTTE regrouping, rearming and starting a war again, that is simply not possible. But other activities they are engaging in overseas," says Sri Lanka Minister of External Affairs, Mr. Gamini Lakshman Peiris.

"Trying to influence foreign governments, preventing investments, discouraging tourists, cutting off access to Sri Lankan goods in foreign markets, that kind of thing is happening," the minister adds.

The trouble with Sri Lankan political and civil society

by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Everyone’s an amateur psychologist. That’s the trouble with Sri Lankan political and civil society. Instead of listening to or reading what someone says and treating it on its merits, the name of the game is to speculate on what motivated him. What’s s/he after? Who is he with now? Thus it is that gossip substitutes for analysis.

The upshot of the personalised normative reactions of Sri Lankan society, i.e. reacting to who is saying it rather than what is said, deprives us of learning anything of value that the writer or speaker may have to offer.

So, it goes something like this. If you are critical of Ranil Wickremesinghe you are either a supporter of Mahinda Rajapaksa who is trying to disrupt the unity of the UNP or you are a clandestine opponent of Mahinda Rajapaksa who disregards his wishes and interests with regard to the leadership of the Opposition.

What if one is a supporter of Mahinda Rajapaksa but also a supporter of a healthy democracy which presupposes a viable opposition? What if what one is saying about the UNP has nothing to with Mahinda Rajapaksa at all? Not bloody likely, you’d say, but what if it can be proved? Keep reading.

If one asserts that Sri Lankan democracy is not dead, and the country is neither totalitarian nor a dictatorship but that Sri Lankan democracy has always been unevenly developing and subject to contractions and expansions, the automatic response is that the writer or exponent of this view is attempting to whitewash the Rajapaksa rule. But again, what if the Rajapaksas do not enter the picture? Why not examine or debate the point rather than speculate about motives?

To provide one final example, if one advocates architecture for Sri Lankan foreign policy which is designed for sovereignty and security and laden in favour of Eurasia and the ‘East’, one is echoing President Rajapaksa’s predilections and prejudices with a view to currying favour. Once again, what if it is demonstrably NOT about Mahinda Rajapaksa?

Let’s test out my proposition. When was the following written, who by and how accurate is it?

“If things remain unchanged, the UNP is going to lose, and lose big, at the forthcoming parliamen tary elections. Take cricket, for example. If we didn’t make changes at the top, that is to say the captaincy, the coach and the Board, Sri Lanka could not have pulled out of the nose dive it got into during the last World Cup. But we did make those changes — not early enough to avoid humiliation at the World Cup, but soon after, and here we are, back in the big league and close to the top. And let us always recall that the cricket captain we had no choice but to replace (belatedly, it should have been done in ‘97) is one who led us to a historic victory in 1996; once a very popular leader and always a fine cricketer.

“By contrast Ranil Wickremesinghe has scored a hat-trick in reverse. He had led his party to consecutive defeats at three (of the four) levels of the political structure: local authority, provincial councils, presidential. And it’s three out of four only because elections have not yet been held for the remain ing level! Nothing short of reshuffling the leadership helped restore our cricket for tunes. Nothing short of that will work in re storing the UNP’s political-electoral fortunes either. But the pay-off is big. Once the change is made, once the surgery is over and done, recovery time is pretty short and the take-off is almost vertical, because the potential has been lying within, locked up.

“Even the re placed captain performs better, carrying less freight, playing his natural game. It worked for our cricket, it’ll work for our Opposition. Nothing — and I mean nothing — else will, because nothing else can.” (‘Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Game’ Weekend Express, Saturday, March 11 – Sunday March 12, 2000, P6)

Now that was published in March 2000, and written by me. I’m still saying the same thing.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was merely a cabinet minister at the time, years away from the opposition leadership or the prime ministership, let alone the presidency. Ok, so was it for or against the president of the day? Who knows? I had been critical of CBK for years, but supported her at the December ’99 presidential and year 2000 parliamentary elections. From what she told S.B. Dissanayake and Mangala Samaraweera at the airport before emplaning for London after surviving the Tiger suicide bomber, she very much wanted Ranil to remain as UNP leader.

That had nothing to do with me, so I called it as I saw it, as I tend to do. What is important is whether what I wrote has stood the test of time and is evidence of accuracy in analysis. What is even more important is that the struggle to dislodge Ranil from the UNP leadership has been on for at least a decade (in my case, from 1997).

Next up is Sri Lanka’s democracy. Consider this text:

“What are the special features and distinguishing characteristics of democracy in Sri Lanka? I would list the following: its unevenness, its dual embattlement, its co-existence with the archaic, its zero-sum nature, its nexus with the unitary state, and finally its resilience. Lankan democracy has been an uneven democracy. Its unevenness is manifest in two senses.

Firstly if one takes a decades-long view, there has been a spasmodic rhythm in our democracy. There have been periods of high democracy and low democracy. The pattern is one of expansion and contraction of democracy. And even this expansion and contraction itself has not proceeded in any regular cycle.

“The heartbeat of our democracy has been arrhythmic. The unevenness of Lanka’s democracy has been present in a second sense too. At any given time an overhead satellite photograph so to speak of Lankan democracy would reveal its uneven distribution and exercise.” (‘Sri Lanka’s Uneven Democracy’ Kandy News, March 4, 1998) Now this surely is a defence of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Mussolini-esque totalitarianism! Hang on a minute — this piece by me was published in 1998, when Mahinda was an obscure minister whose portfolio I cannot recall.

Ok, so then it was probably a justification of whoever was president at the time. The problem with that explanation is that in 1998, CBK was the president and I was strongly opposed to her ‘union of regions package’. So, my political scientific conclusion with regard to Sri Lankan democracy has remained consistent and must be examined today on its own merits.

A final example from the field of foreign policy: “ In the East, that is from Russia to China through India, there is an equally powerful mood against separatist terrorism… The Chinese leadership chose the 50th anniversary of the setting up of the Peoples Republic last October to officially prioritise this threat and designate it as that of ‘ethnic splittism’… A strong Eurasian ‘heartland’ thrust, arcing from Moscow through Ankara, Tehran, Delhi and Beijing can be conceived of and operationally undertaken in the form of shuttle diplomacy and summitry.”

Both Western and Eurasian thrusts can be complimentary ‘arches’ in a single foreign policy architecture for Sri Lanka… The central pillar of our foreign policy architecture must be the relationship with India, not in contrite genuflection to anyone as a regional hegemon or because we are in anyone’s backyard but because we have certain common strategic interests.” (‘Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy Vacuum’, Weekend Express, March 18, 2000 pp.6-7)

This is obviously a pandering to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s turn to the East and embrace of China, and written to secure an ambassadorial posting (once again). Well, actually, it is my column ‘Reflections’ in the Weekend Express of a decade ago. Was it perhaps to secure a DPL posting from the then president and foreign minister?

If so, it could hardly have carried the caption that it did, namely ‘Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy Vacuum’, a stricture hardly designed to flatter either President CBK or Minister Kadirgamar. This was published years before LK’s re-orientation towards China and even before his rapprochement with the JVP (which may have been a domestic driver of that shift).

A postscript if I may. The no confidence motion against the External Affairs Minister proved instead to be a massive vote of confidence in him. As expected, the affair proved pathetic, with the UNP unable to mobilise either its own ranks or those of the Opposition overall. Prof Peiris provided documentary proof of Wickremesinghe’s ‘behind the lines’ perfidy, echoing the LTTE propaganda during the war, and paralleling the Diaspora campaign afterwards with regard to economic pressures and cutbacks.

One of the more amusing aspects of the debate was the media spokesman of the UNP’s Ranilist ‘rump faction’ lecturing the Professor and former Rhodes Scholar on the importance of ‘the highest professionalism’ in the conduct of our external relations, unmindful that the sole professional — and highest educational — qualification he can lay claim to is in dress design!

More designing than discerning, he also attempted to negate my role in the UN Human Rights Council special session vote of May 2009 (which went considerably better than the no-confidence vote did for his side), even transferring merit across the Atlantic ocean. The Economist which Karl Marx described as ‘the most intelligent defender of capitalism’ chose instead to write: “…Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Geneva, who warded off the threatened UN war-crimes probe in May…” (‘Behind the Rajapaksa Brothers’ Smiles’, The Economist, August 6, 2009).

Opposition cannot resist the Rajapaksa juggernaut by trying to be more ‘patriotic’ than the Rajapaksas

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

"So in the body politic, as in the body personal, non-resistance to the milder indulgences paves the way for non-resistance to the deadlier.” — Milton Meyer, They Thought They Were Free

The Rajapaksas are leading Sri Lanka into the abyss of tyranny gradually, measure by insidious measure. Hitler raved about peace; the LTTE had a spokesman for human rights.

The Rajapaksas are creating a labyrinth of laws, rules and practices which would enable them to control the populace, prevent any revitalisation of the opposition, subvert basic rights and vitiate democratic institutions, behind an innocuous façade, and with the minimum of fuss.

Take the latest proposal to create a ‘New National Intelligence Service’, centralising all intelligence gathering activities (i.e. spying on actual and potential opponents of the regime, within and outside Sri Lanka) under the Defence Ministry. A cabinet paper is ready and a parliamentary act will follow. The new agency is bound to enhance immeasurably the ruling family’s capacity to legally intrude into the political and private lives of any citizen. These intrusions could vary from mail interceptions and telephone tapping to cyber policing and eavesdropping on private conversations, under guise of safeguarding national security.

Other repressive measures limiting or negating basic rights are bound to follow, in the form of parliamentary acts or constitutional amendments. Their ultimate purpose would be to enable the Rajapaksas to steal elections repeatedly and maintain stability in between elections, without needing to resort to large-scale repression.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, like Velupillai Pirapaharan, is adept at saying something and doing its opposite; he promises and does the obverse. This, for instance, was how he dealt with the APRC, various investigations into human rights violations, the 17th Amendment and the 18th Amendment. Therefore, resisting the Rajapaksas’ march towards tyranny would be preconditioned on developing a ‘will to doubt’, an ability and willingness to distrust even the most solemn Rajapaksa pledge.

The Rajapaksas cannot be trusted to go against their parochial interests. Thus the President’s pledge not to replace the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) with a special authority under the Ministry of Defence should not be believed. The Rajapaksas desperately need to take Colombo away from the UNP. But they are intelligent enough to realise that this cannot be done electorally, except via a rigging operation of scandalously massive proportions. The proposal to turn the CMC into a special authority was aimed at squaring this particularly circle. However, the UNP, faced with the loss of its last bastion, reacted with unaccustomed vigour; there was some international concern too, as evidenced by the President’s subsequent complaint that the French ambassador asked him about the fate of the CMC.

Now the Rajapaksas have backtracked, just as they did with the 18th Amendment, to deceive and disarm the opposition. Once the UNP returns to its customary slumbering mode, the Rajapaksas can rush a bill (perhaps it is being drafted currently) replacing the CMC with a Defence Ministry controlled authority, on some pretext, such as dengue-eradication or flood-control (the Rajapaksas justified moving against a pro-Gen. Fonseka poster campaign claiming that it is causing environmental pollution in Colombo!).

The Rajapaksas excel at the de facto (like their patrons, the Chinese; Beijing, having allowed the wife of the Nobel prize-winning dissident to visit him with the news, promptly placed her under unofficial house-arrest). Many of the fatwas imposed in and on the North are both informal and extra-legal. For instance, in his perceptive and thought provoking submissions to the LLRC, veteran editor Manik de Silva mentions that two foreign interns at the Sunday Island were denied permission to visit the North, despite the absence of any formal ban. This is not a phenomenon limited to the former war-zone. According to last week’s Sunday Leader, outsiders cannot visit Ranajayapura, a housing estate built with pubic money for servicemen in Anuradhapura, without Defence Ministry permission.

A sudden headlong plunge into despotism may have alarmed even a nation with such a penchant for obliviousness as Sri Lanka. The Rajapaksas have removed that danger by ensuring that our descent from democracy is reassuringly gradual, a process managed and presented with such deviousness that it seems banal rather than alarming. In the past, the regime proposed such tyrannical measures as mandatory registration of all citizens with the Defence Ministry, cyber policing and a media regulatory authority. In the coming months many of these repressive measures may reappear on the political stage, mantled in patriotic rhetoric, justified as national security necessities, even though their real purpose would be to ensure the stability and longevity of Rajapaksa rule by impeding the creation of any counter-power.

An enemy should not be attacked where he is virtually impregnable. The opposition cannot resist the Rajapaksa juggernaut by trying to be more ‘patriotic’ than the Rajapaksas, as the JVP/DNA is trying to do. The regime has successfully monopolised the ‘patriotic’ space, having redefined patriotism as the acceptance of the sovereign right of the Rajapaksas to violate any norm and maltreat any citizen they deem inimical to the ‘nation’. Therefore what is needed is not a more ‘patriotic’ opposition but an opposition characterised by ‘tolerance and breadth of sympathy’, an opposition compassionate towards the poor and the powerless and inclusive towards the minorities.

The opposition needs to attract and energise those groups which are excluded by the very nature of the Rajapaksa project (the minorities, the urban poor) by fighting for their rights, instead of becoming born-again patriots, to win the rural poor/southern middle classes before the economy really bites.

The ‘bacillus like ideology’ which girds the Rajapaksa project, is intolerant not just of dissent but even of simple old-fashioned decency, when expressed towards the ‘wrong’ person or group. The Rajapaksa list of those ‘unworthy’ of generosity and compassion includes civilian Tamils (according to a minister, 165,755 are still in camps) and Gen. Sarath Fonseka and his family. And Colombo’s urban poor targeted for eviction; rural poverty (the picturesque little hut with lofty mountains or a bubbling brook as the backdrop) can be glorified by those who do not have to live it; but no such glorification is possible with the urban-slum.

The Minister of Culture has ordered the police to arrest ‘misbehaving’ couples at Galle Fort; a vice chancellor has reportedly ordered virginity tests on students; amidst this surfeit of morality (which we deem traditional Sinhala-Buddhist but is actually Victorian), The Sunday Times’ report that three children are raped daily in our virtuous Sri Lanka caused hardly a stir, perhaps because most of them belong to the Indian Tamil community.

Instead of trying to be more nationalist than the Rajapaksas, the opposition needs to focus on persecuted or marginalised individuals and communities and defend their rights, as a necessary first step in building a democratic counter-power to the regime. Wooing the Sinhala middle-class still intoxicated with patriotic euphoria can wait until economic woes dent the southern consensus in favour of the Rajapaksas.

The Central Bank in its current reincarnation as Orwell’s Ministry of Plenty (where statistics are not forgery but fantasy) may paint the Lankan economic condition in roseate hues. But happy statistics cannot endlessly dupe increasingly unhappy masses struggling with rising prices and deteriorating living conditions.

Inter-dynastic rivalry between ascendant and declining dynasties

By Dr.Dayan Jayatilleka

Opposition to dynastic rule is laudable but not when it comes from a member or faithful serf of a deposed or earlier dynasty, whose only problem is with which dynasty rules rather than the phenomenon of dynastic rule itself.

How much of what passes for opposition to dynastic rule today is inter-dynastic rivalry, between ascendant and declining dynasties; those on the inside and those deposed or in decline? How much of current politics represents a bloc of dynasties in decline or stagnation, in embittered opposition to what they perceive as a more dynamic, ascendant or newly emergent dynasty?

What is still less credible is when criticism of the contemporary is used to glorify a dynastic past and mask its crimes and follies. What is the historical truth? Does the Bandaranaike reign of the ‘70s represent a fairer, nobler age, in stark and welcome contrast to the present day, or should it be seen as the progenitor and forerunner of our present discontents; in many senses responsible for that which is negative in the present and in certain respects far worse? Are the negative features and practices of the present day, clearly distinct and distinguishable from that past or on a continuum with it and at times a throwback?

Was there any significant or meaningful attempt to extend the tenure of the then incumbent?

Minister T.B. Ilangaratne broached the possibility publicly while a senior parliamentarian from the Kandy district suggested that as Mrs Bandaranaike (in point of fact, Sri Lanka) had been elected Chairperson of the Non-Aligned Movement representing two thirds of humanity (the absurd phrase was “Lokaye thunen dekaka naikawa”), her term of office should be extended to cover those three years! Opposition Leader Jayewardena warned that in such an event he would not only conduct a massive nationwide Satyagraha campaign but would also call upon the Armed Forces to disobey illegal orders from an unconstitutional government.

Cabinet Minister TB Subasinghe, a man of unimpeachable integrity, resigned and in his letter which he made public he warned the country of the existence of “extra-constitutional centres of power” at the top. Dr NM Perera denounced an “invisible government”, while Dr Colvin R de Silva’s parliamentary speech, published as a pamphlet captioned ‘Sirima’s Blitzkrieg: Who Won?’ analysed the anatomy, growth and political economy of the hidden power structures, dating from 1971. On almost all major issues of vital civic concern, the negatives germinated or grew under that political dispensation and at least one of these areas, Sri Lanka is significantly better off than it was then.

1. The ethnic issue: Tamil separatists lost their deposits at the 1970 elections, but separatism became the sole platform of the TULF which carried the North and part of the East in ‘77. Logically then, the seismic shift occurred during the Bandaranaike administration. The Constitution making process of ‘72 ignored the moderate (non-federal) six point platform presented in Mr Chelvanayagam’s letter to the PM, which was not even accorded the courtesy of a reply. The new Constitution abolished the Soulbury safeguards for minorities, entrenched Sinhala as the sole official language, conferred pre-eminence on Buddhism (as DS Senanayake had declined to), and made explicit the unitary character of the state (which the Soulbury Constitution remained silent on). The Tamil New Tigers (TNT) with Velupillai Prabhakaran was formed in ‘72. Eight unarmed persons died in the Police action at the IATR conference in Jaffna in ‘74. Prabhakaran founded the successor organisation to the TNT, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in ‘76. The Bandaranaike administration sowed the dragon’s teeth and it took Mahinda Rajapaksa to slay the marauding dragon, with all the corollaries and consequences that entailed. By the time it ended, Sri Lanka had lost 35 years and a hundred thousand lives with many more maimed.

2. Political prisoners: The UF government used the post-April 1971 situation to incarcerate political critics including those who were active opponents of the JVP or had nothing to do with it. This cannot be excused by the ‘fog of war’ because some unjust incarcerations lasted for years. Those locked up included SWRD Bandaranaike’s cousin and founder of the Bosath Bandaranaike Party, SD Bandaranaike, UF parliamentarian and youth leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Maoist leader N Sanmugathasan (Wijeweera’s a bitter foe, who had never wielded a weapon in his life)! Dozens of Tamil youth were imprisoned under Emergency for years, for the crime of hoisting black flags against the promulgation of the ‘72 Constitution. These travesties of justice were Sri Lanka’s pioneering episodes of victimising political foes and critics by jailing them.

3. The ruination of higher education and plummeting of standards: The policies of district wise and media-wise standardisation in university entrance were not only an instant trigger of Tamil youth militancy and violence, but (together with the straitjacketing into a ‘single university’) wrecked Sri Lanka’s excellent university system and led to a downward spiral of standards in all sectors, from which the country has not yet pulled out because these policies have become structural and have entrenched social constituencies. We shall permanently lag behind the rest of Asia as a consequence.

4. The hyper-politicisation of the bureaucracy and partisan control of the state: Our country was ahead of most in Asia in the early 1950s not least because we had an independent and well qualified public service. That was dismantled under Sirimavo Bandaranaike rule. Following the bloody and bloodily suppressed youth uprising of the late 1980s, a Youth Commission was appointed by the then President to investigate the grievances that led to the revolt. The Report of the Commission concluded that the partisan politicisation of the public sector and recruitment to jobs was one of the main causative factors, tracing this to 1972 when the new Constitution abolished the independent Public Services Commission. The subordination of the state officials to government politicians and stooges was buttressed by the appointment of District Political Authorities and the misnamed Janatha (People’s) Committees.

5. Human Rights & Impunity: Emergency rule was kept in place for six years, though the insurgency was crushed in six weeks. The ‘tyre pyre’ was invented under Bandaranaike rule. Extra-judicial executions on a large scale, as evidenced in bodies with tied hands floating down rivers, were first seen in Sri Lanka in 1971. (A JVP suspect named Kamalabandu was dismembered with an electric saw). At the time, the quality British press named and quoted a top army officer commanding a district as saying “we have learned the lessons of Malaya and Vietnam. I have told my men, no prisoners”. As those who perpetrated this policy with impunity moved up the ladder, these practices were witnessed during the wars fought in North and South. The Government promptly deported Lord Avebury of Amnesty International. The ‘72 Constitution incorporated the draconian Pubic Security Ordinance into our basic law. My fellow ‘fresher’ Weerasooriya was shot dead by the Police on Peradeniya campus in November ‘76. A glance through the documents of the Civil Rights Movement issued in the Sirima-Felix years would prove my point.

6. Nepotism & family/clan based oligarchy: The term ‘family-bandyism’ was ubiquitous in the discourse of that time, and one of the UNP’s winning cards was the book of cartoons which depicted a ramified family tree of Bandaranaikes and Ratwattes ensconced in positions of power and influence. The state owned most of everything and the Bandaranaikes owned the state. (A successor Bandaranaike administration, that of Chandrika, had herself as President, her mother as Prime Minister and uncle as Deputy Minister of Defence, with brother Anura as a Minister after the demise of the matriarch).

7. Media freedom, democratic space, authoritarianism: The Bandaranaike regime dissolved local authorities island-wide, delayed the holding of the KKS by-election, appropriated Lake House, never broad-based its ownership (vesting the shares in the Public Trustee who happened to be a trustworthy clan member), jailed Fred de Silva the Deputy Editor of the Daily News, sacked Mervyn the only editor who gave state-run Lake House some credibility and independence (having earlier banned him from writing to the foreign press because The Economist had illustrated his contribution with an unflattering photograph of the PM!), sealed the SUN/Dawasa press, censored the Daily Mirror so heavily that its editorials often appeared blank, and shut down for a time the press of the Communist allies of the government, the ATHTHA.

The funeral of much loved ex-Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake was not relayed real-time by radio but broadcast delayed —once the SLBC boss (Ridgeway Tillekeratne) had cleared the incoming reportage. Contrast that with the proliferation and pluralism of the print, electronic and digital media under the ‘indefensible’ Rajapaksa regime; a factor that cannot but provide considerably greater democratic space structurally, than under Bandaranaike rule.

Gamini Fonseka directed a widely popular movie called Sagarayak Meda depicting that kinder, gentler age. Authoritarianism isn’t a bolt of lightning; it is a process (of ‘authoritarianisation’). In an important sense, JR Jayewardena’s 1978 Constitution (and its latest amendment) made de jure, the de facto concentration and centralisation of power which commenced under Mrs Bandaranaike, and took it to the next level.

Militarizing post -war SriLanka while Rajapaksaizing the military

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“If people are frightened that their security is threatened, they will gravitate towards strong leaders”. Noam Chomski (Imperial Ambitions)

The war is over. But defence expenditure keeps on increasing. According to media reports, the defence allocation for 2011 will be Rs.214 billion as compared to Rs.201 billion for 2010, an increase of Rs.13 billion. Logically, such a massive hike in the defence budget should not and need not be.

After all, the Tigers have been conclusively defeated and Vellupillai Pirapaharan and all top Tiger leaders (apart from the Tiger top-rungers turned Rajapaksa protégés, KP and Daya Master) are dead. The victory over the LTTE is so conclusive, the government wants the world to learn from and emulate Sri Lanka.

Yet, defence expenditure is increasing, despite peace, and despite an impending financial crisis and a burgeoning debt burden. In plain language we are borrowing money, nationally and internationally, to spend more on defence, despite the victorious ending of the war.

This seems an inexplicable anomaly, until one considers that Sri Lanka is undergoing not one but two radical transformations – from a flawed democracy to not just to a familial oligarchy but also a National Security State. Post-war, Sri Lanka is experiencing a galloping militarization in the North and a creeping militarization in the South.

In the North, temporary military camps are being made permanent while new camps and military cantonments are being set up. At an Army Day ceremony held at the Sri Maha Bodhiya to bless the Army Flags, the Army Commander spoke of a plan to station at least one army division and one STF camp in each district.

According to the Army Commander this ‘new security arrangement’ is a brainchild of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary and Presidential sibling. If implemented, this plan will accelerate significantly the Rajapaksa efforts to militarise post-war Sri Lanka with a Rajapaksaized military.

The regime is arguing that a large (and a permanent) military presence in the North is necessary to prevent a Tiger re-emergence. But why militarise the South in peace time?

On the one hand, the regime is inviting foreign investors and tourists, claiming that the terrorist threat is over; Sri Lanka even wants to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games. On the other hand moves are afoot to garrison the entire country, indubitably at great expense. The contradiction is an illusive one and vanishes the moment the new developments are considered in the context of Sri Lanka’s transformation into a family oligarchy and a ‘National Security State’.

As in the North, in the South too, the army will be used to suppress democratic dissent caused by political and economic issues. The South is peaceful currently, but not remain so, if economic pain becomes unbearable (this may explain why the first camps will be set up in Hambantota). With the Armed Forces cast in the role of keeper of internal peace, both in the North and in the South, the increase in post-war defence expenditure post-war becomes explicable.

Even as the country is being militarised the military is being Rajapaksaized. The Rajapaksa siblings control the defence establishment and thus the armed forces. The Armed Forces are accorded a key position in the Rajapakse Sri Lanka; they are the mainstay of the Ruling Family, its chief defender and are honoured as such. But this ‘veneration’ of the Military as an institution will not prevent any individual serviceman, be he of the highest or the lowest rank, from being hounded and punished, if he is perceived as being disloyal to the Rajapaksas.

So the Viru Dana Gee Sara III, a musical extravaganza, was held with much pomp and pageantry, under the patronage of the Rajapaksa sibling, while the war-winning Army Commander was incarcerated in a meagre cell without a bed or a chair. Only those servicemen who are loyal to the Ruling Family will be considered ‘viruvo’ (heroes); and any ‘hero’ who turns anti-Rajapaksa will cease being a ‘hero’ and turn ‘traitor’ and will be punished mercilessly as such. Thus Sarath Fonseka who opposed the Rajapaksas is in jail and Major General Shavendra Silva who did not is in New York as Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN.

The signal could not be clearer – those servicemen who are loyal to the Ruling Family will be rewarded while those who oppose the Ruling Family will be punished. The attitude to the Rajapaksas rather than the service record or any other criterion is the key to deciding whether a serviceman is a hero who will be rewarded or a traitor who will be punished.

Philip Giraldi (former CIA agent and counter-terrorism expert turned anti-war political commentator) identifies three preconditions for the creation of a ‘National Security State’: a narrative which explains and justifies the idea of a ‘national security state’; a system of laws and regulations which accords the right of impunity to that state; and a high-tech system of surveillance which enables that state to monitor and control its citizens.

The narrative creates a new ‘national security consensus’; the legal changes enables the regime to repress those who are outside this ‘consensus’, with impunity; the spying permits the state to keep tabs on potential opponents of this ‘consensus’. All three preconditions are present in Sri Lanka, some in embryonic form.

The narrative justifying the de-democratisation of the Lankan state is almost complete. Two arguments are being used to justify the departure from democracy: one is the ‘need’ to safeguard independence, national sovereignty and territorial integrity, from Tiger separatists and their Lankan and international allies; the second is the ‘need’ to achieve rapid economic development.

This narrative enables the Rajapaksas to demonise its democratic opponents as either ‘anti-national’ or ‘anti-developmental’; both are deemed anti-patriotic and deserving of the harshest of treatment. Thus Gen. Fonseka is being punished for being ‘anti-national’ while those Colombo poor who oppose their eviction from their traditional localities will be castigated as ‘anti-developmental’.

Soon after the new government was sworn in, Presidential Sibling and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa spelled out why ‘national security’ has to remain the priority, post-war. He opined that even in peace time the main task would be to “thwart a fresh attempt by separatists operating abroad to throw a lifeline to the LTTE (backed by) a section of the international community….bent on reviving the LTTE and giving it recognition… Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that the next six years would be of crucial importance to the country as the first government elected in a post-LTTE era had to tackle a separatist threat in a different manner. ‘They may not have artillery pieces in their arsenal and their strategy will be different, but let me tell you their goal will be the same,’ he warned” (The Island – 17.4.2010).

So the war continues, post-war. And the Shade of the Tiger would be pursued with the same relentless ruthlessness and obsessive determination as the living Tiger was: “Suppressing the separatist movement and tackling its propaganda apparatus should be a major part of Sri Lanka’s strategy against the LTTE….. The new government should go all out against any local element promoting separatist sentiments regardless of political consequences…the country could not afford to make way for terrorists” (ibid). Implicit is the contention that only the Rajapaksas can identify threats to national security correctly and combat them vigorously. Thus the continuation of Familial Rule is perceived and depicted as a sine qua non for the protection of national interests. As the Defence Secretary warned, challenging Rajapaksa rule, however democratically, can be akin to endangering national unity,: “Opposition political parties or constituent partners of the ruling coalition should not be allowed to engage in divisive politics” (ibid).

Post-election, the Rajapaksas are moving fast to set up the constitutional and legal framework necessary for a ‘National Security State’. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in his interview mentioned the need for “new laws to meet security requirements”. The 18th Amendment removed presidential term-limits, immeasurably enhanced the powers of the presidency by turning Independent Commissions into presidential appendages and transgressed the principle of separation of powers even further by empowering the President to attend the parliament regularly (recently President Rajapaksa chaired the Parliamentary Committee on the Ministry of Highways).

According to the theory of preventive counter-terrorism, an ‘excess of democracy’ (‘too many’ human rights, ‘too much’ media freedom and judicial independence) is harmful to national interests and needs to be curtailed. The PTA and the Emergency are in place. In his interview the Defence Secretary “expressed concern that a section of officialdom could help the separatist cause by trying to appease foreign governments and some funding agencies”.

This is a clear warning to the bureaucracy about the dangers inherent in being insufficiently obedient and loyal to the Rajapaksas. He also emphasised the “pivotal importance of the judiciary, particularly the Attorney General’s Department, in supporting the government’s efforts to suppress terrorism” and hinted that rulers will have to intervene if the courts prioritised legal considerations over political ones: “the political establishment would have to take into consideration the security aspects of even on-going judicial proceedings as part of their overall measures to sustain maximum possible pressure on the separatist movement”.

The third precondition for the creation of a ‘National Security State’, an efficient and technologically up-to-date spy system, is on the verge of coming into being. According to media reports a ‘New National Intelligence Service’, centralising all intelligence gathering activities (i.e. spying on actual and potential opponents of the regime, within and outside Sri Lanka) under the Defence Ministry is to be created. A cabinet paper is already in place and a parliamentary act will soon follow. The new agency is bound to enhance immeasurably the Ruling Family’s capacity to legally intrude into the political and private lives of any citizen.

Rajapaksa Sri Lanka is a confluence of a Family Oligarchy and a National Security State. The purpose of the ‘National Security State’ would be to ensure the stability and the longevity of Rajapaksa Rule. The Armed Forces, a growing behemoth, will be tasked with protecting the Ruling Family and defeating any challenges (including democratic ones) to its power, its new role as a Praetorian Guard justified by a narrative which equates the nation with the Ruling Family and national interests with Familial interests.

Defending the indefensible: Rejoinder to Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama

by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

The subtitle of Dr Nihal Jayawickrama’s reply to me is “a response to Dr Dayan Jayatilleka’s spurious allegation”. Speaking of which, Dr Jayawickrama commences his piece with one, saying “Dr Dayan Jayatilaka continues his defence of the indefensible Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution”

This is easily settled. If Dr Jayawickrama can quote a single line authored by me which is “a defence” or endorsement of the 18th amendment (as distinct from a counter-critique of the hysterical and hopelessness-inducing wail that democracy died from it) I shall stop writing to this newspaper. Far from “continuing” to defend the amendment, I had placed on the record my support of Kalana Senaratne’s soberly pondered critique.

Dr Jayawickrama’s opening is of a piece with the rest of the article, the thrust of which is a falsification of Sri Lanka’s contemporary political history and truly a defence of the (truly) indefensible. He makes basically three points, one smallish, the other medium sized and the third, quite large in terms of historical import. Firstly, that that he had nothing do with any effort to extend the life of Mrs Bandaranaike’s tenure in office, secondly, that no such effort was made or contemplated, and thirdly, that Sri Lanka’s current situation is a Dark Age in contradistinction to the Camelot of ’70-’77 in which he was a Lancelot or Galahad.

What was the basis of the tangential and (admittedly thinly) veiled reference I made to him? While observing journalistic etiquette by not naming my source, I shall however reproduce below, the email I received (dated Sept 28, 2010) from the person who was a player in the ’70s power-bloc. The added emphasis on the operative sentences is mine:

“Re. Mrs. Bandaranaike, I remember well the party conference of the SLFP during my time, when she with Anura and others decided to get approval for her to move against the United Front regime and kick out the left. ...... I told her then, that if she breaks the United Front she will be in the political wilderness, and argued that the United Front was the only way for her to secure a reasonable majority at the next election. .. Then she concocted an idea to extend her term of office by two years and got Nihal Jayawickrema to amend the Constitution, and he brought this document to my house and asked me to comment. The poor chap did not realize that I would oppose such a move. I went to the Janavegaya office and told the editor to announce that the SLFP was planning a constitutional coup, and send copies of the constitution to JR, N.M. and the Governor General. This move was abandoned. She went for election, and you know the rest.”

This first hand information from a credible source provided the prompting for my remark. If my source was lying blatantly I am happy to accept Dr Jayawickrama’s protestation of innocence. I might add that I vividly recall a dinner conversation (either at the Intercontinental or the Capri) between Dr Jayawickrama and my parents during which he said in reply to my father’s query concerning a planned extension of the life of parliament (Mervyn had been sacked from Lake House by Mrs Bandaranaike), that when sounded out the Army Commander Gen Sepala Attygalle had told the PM that he could not guarantee the loyalty of the Army in such a scenario. (Dr Jayawickrama did not incriminate himself).

Was there any significant or meaningful attempt to extend the life of parliament? Dr Jayawickrama says no—but this came up on public platforms, both government and opposition. Minister Ilangaratne apart, a prominent parliamentarian from the Kandy district suggested that as Mrs Bandaranaike (in point of fact, Sri Lanka) had been elected Chairperson of the Non-Aligned Movement representing two thirds of humanity (the absurd phrase was “Lokaye thunen dekaka naikawa”), her term of office should be extended to cover those three years! Opposition Leader Jayewardene warned that in such an event he would not only conduct a massive nationwide Satyagraha campaign but would also call upon the Armed Forces to disobey illegal orders from an unconstitutional government. (I believe that was the context in which Gen Attygalle was called in and gave the reply he did, or he could have been Mr Jayewardene’s source that something more serious than ‘kite-flying’ was afoot).

This is given credence, despite Dr Jayawickrama’s spin, by the letter of resignation of Cabinet Minister TB Subasinghe, a man of unimpeachable integrity. In that letter which he made public he warned the country of the existence of “extra-constitutional centres of power”. Dr NM Perera denounced an “invisible government”, while Dr Colvin R de Silva’s parliamentary speech, published as a pamphlet captioned ‘Sirima’s Blitzkrieg: Who Won?’ analysed the anatomy, growth and political economy of the hidden power structures, dating from 1971. Since Dr Jayawickrama’s immediate boss figured prominently in these critiques.

Does the Bandaranaike government of the 1970s, in which Dr Jayawickrama was perhaps the most prominent and pro-active ‘high functionary’, stand in marked and welcome contrast to the present day, or should it be seen as the progenitor and forerunner of our present discontents; in many senses responsible for that which is negative in the contemporary scene and in certain respects rather worse? Are the negative features and practices of the present day, clearly distinct and distinguishable from that past or on a continuum with it and at times a throwback?

On almost all major issues of vital civic concern, the abiding negatives – the ‘worst practices’--germinated in, grew under or resulted from the political dispensation which Dr Jayawickrama served and the record of which he still defends. In at least one of these areas, Sri Lanka is significantly better off than it was then.

1. The ethnic issue: Tamil separatists lost their deposits at the 1970 elections, but separatism became the sole platform of the TULF which carried the North and part of the East in ’77. Logically then, the seismic shift occurred during the Bandaranaike administration. The Constitution making process of ’72 ignored the moderate (non-federal) six point platform presented in Mr Chelvanayagam’s letter to the PM, which was not even accorded the courtesy of a reply. The new Constitution abolished the Soulbury safeguards for minorities, entrenched Sinhala as the sole official language, conferred pre-eminence on Buddhism (as DS Senanayake had declined to), and made explicit the unitary character of the state (which the Soulbury Constitution remained silent on). The Tamil New Tigers (TNT) formed in ’72. Eight unarmed persons died in the Police action at the IATR conference in Jaffna in ’74. Prabhakaran founded the successor organisation to the TNT, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in ’76. Dr Jayawickrama’s favourite administration sowed the dragon’s teeth and it took Mahinda Rajapakse to slay the marauding dragon, with all the corollaries and consequences that entailed. By the time it ended Sri Lanka had lost almost thirty five years and perhaps a hundred thousand lives (including those of more popular leaders of greater achievement than Dr Jayawickrama’s political pin-ups) with many more maimed.

2. Political prisoners: The UF government used the post-April 1971 situation to incarcerate political critics including those who were active opponents of the JVP or had nothing to do with it. This cannot be excused by the ‘fog of war’ because some unjust incarcerations lasted for years. Those locked up included SWRD Bandaranaike’s cousin and founder of the Bosath Bandaranaike Party, SD Bandaranaike, UF parliamentarian and youth leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Maoist leader N Sanmugathasan (Wijeweera’s a bitter foe, who had never wielded a weapon in his life)! Dozens of Tamil youth were imprisoned under Emergency for years, for the crime of hoisting black flags against the promulgation of the ’72 Constitution. As the high profile, high flying Perm Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, Nihal Jayawickrama cannot exculpate himself from these travesties of justice on his watch, which were Sri Lanka’s pioneering episodes of victimising political foes and critics by jailing them.

3. The ruination of higher education and plummeting of standards: The policies of district wise and media-wise standardisation in university entrance were an instant trigger of Tamil youth militancy and violence. This scheme (and the straitjacketing into a ‘single university’) wrecked Sri Lanka’s excellent university system and led to a downward spiral of standards in all sectors, from which the country has not yet pulled out because these policies have become structural and have entrenched social constituencies. We shall permanently lag behind the rest of Asia as a consequence.

4. The hyper-politicisation of the bureaucracy and partisan control of the state: Our country was ahead of most of Asia in the early 1950s not least because we had an independent and well qualified public service. That was dismantled under Bandaranaike rule. Following the bloody and bloodily suppressed youth uprising of the late 1980s, a Youth Commission was appointed by the then President to investigate the grievances that led to the revolt. The Commission’s report concluded that the partisan politicisation of the public sector and job recruitment was one of the main causative factors, sourced in the ’72 Constitution’s abolition of the independent Public Services Commission. The subordination of the state officials to government politicians and henchmen was buttressed by the appointment of District Political Authorities and the Janatha (People’s) Committees.

5. Human Rights & Impunity: Emergency rule was kept in place for six years, though the insurgency was crushed in six weeks. The ‘tyre pyre’ was invented under Bandaranaike rule. Extra-judicial executions on a large scale, as evidenced in bodies with tied hands floating down rivers, were first seen in Sri Lanka in 1971. At the time, the quality British press named and quoted a top army officer commanding a district as saying “we have learned the lessons of Malaya and Vietnam. I have told my men, no prisoners”. As those who perpetrated this policy with impunity moved up the ladder, these practices were witnessed during the wars fought in North and South. The ’72 Constitution incorporated the draconian Pubic Security Ordinance into our basic law. My fellow freshman Weerasooriya was shot dead by the Police on Peradeniya campus in November ’76. A glance through the documents of the Civil Rights Movement issued in those years would prove my point. Dr Jayawickrama’s heroine was the Mother of All Repression and Impunity.

6. Nepotism & family/clan based oligarchy: The term ‘family-bandyism’ was ubiquitous in the discourse of that time, and one of the UNP’s winning cards was the book of cartoons which depicted a ramified family tree of Bandaranaikes and Ratwattes ensconced in positions of power and influence. The state owned most of everything and the Bandaranaikes owned much of the state. (A successor Bandaranaike administration, that of Chandrika, had herself as President, her mother as Prime Minister and uncle as Deputy Minister of Defence, with brother Anura as a Minister after the passing of the matriarch).

7. Media freedom, democratic space, authoritarianism: The regime that Dr Jayawickrama served, dissolved local authorities island-wide, delayed the holding of the KKS by-election, appropriated Lake House, never broad-based its ownership (vesting the shares in the Public Trustee who happened to be a trustworthy clan member), jailed Fred de Silva the Deputy Editor of the Daily News, sacked Mervyn the only editor who gave state-run Lake House some credibility and independence (having earlier banned him from writing to the foreign press because The Economist had illustrated his contribution with an unflattering photograph of the PM!), sealed the SUN/Dawasa press, censored the Daily Mirror so heavily that its editorials often appeared blank, and shut down for a time the press of the Communist allies of the government, the ATHTHA. The funeral of much loved ex-Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake was not relayed real-time by radio but broadcast delayed --once the SLBC boss (Ridgeway Tillekeratne) had cleared the incoming reportage. Contrast that with the proliferation and pluralism of the print, electronic and digital media under the ‘indefensible’ Rajapakse regime; a factor that cannot but provide considerably greater democratic space structurally, than under Bandaranaike rule.

Dr Jayawickrama supports (or opposes the opposition to) an ‘independent international inquiry’ into ‘war crimes’ allegations against Sri Lanka, but in 1971, his Minister promptly deported Lord Avebury of Amnesty International. He coyly refers to ‘civic disabilities’ being imposed upon him and assumes an air of martyrdom, but fails to mention that it was by a Presidential Commission of Inquiry which found him and his bosses guilty of the abuse of power. Whatever one thinks of the penalty imposed, there would be many in the judiciary, the A-G’s Department and the legal profession in general who recall exactly what that meant. Gamini Fonseka directed a widely popular movie called Sagarayak Meda about that age (and depicted in it, some of these noble characters). One may safely conclude that Dr. Jayawickrama’s piously pontifical platitudes and punctilious standards on human rights, humanitarian law, accountability and good governance were the product of a late conversion.

October 15, 2010

Rapprochement necessary between the Govt and TNA

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

(Continued from last week)

The decision taken by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)to oppose the 18th Amendment to the Constitution on a matter of principle placed the party in an unenviable position of antagonising the Mahinda Rajapaksa government.

PTNA416TW15.jpg

The task of spearheading the Parliamentary opposition against the amendment should have been rightfully that of the United National Party (UNP). The hopelessly divided UNP abdicated its responsibility by opting to walk out of Parliament and engage in extra-parliamentary protest demonstrations.

[click to read in full ~ in dbsjeyaraj.com]

NY Judge Asks: Are Tamil Tigers A Threat To US?

by Associated Press

More than three years after federal agents locked up a Sri Lankan immigrant they say was the top U.S. representative of the Tamil Tigers, his fate may hinge on a complex question: Was the rebel group a terrorist threat to Americans?

Federal prosecutors who charged Karunakaran Kandasamy with supporting terrorism say the answer is yes. And they say he should get a stiff sentence approaching 20 years for raising money for the separatist group, which fought a 25-year war with the Sri Lankan government.

But a judge recently expressed his doubts.

The case against the jailed Kandasamy doesn't neatly fit the definition of "a more obvious or garden variety terrorism case, where ... our security interests are compromised and the safety of our citizenry is in jeopardy," U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie said earlier this month at Kandasamy's scheduled sentencing, which was postponed.

"Do we simply wave the red flag of terrorism and impose the maximum sentence?"

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Knox argued the Tamil Tigers had earned a State Department designation as a terrorist organization in part by putting U.S. citizens living in Sri Lanka in harm's way. He also said the group's supporters in the United States extorted cash from Sri Lankan immigrants.

The Tamil Tigers pioneered and perfected technology for suicide bombings, Knox said. That technology "was borrowed and copied and sold on some occasions to other terrorist organizations — organizations like al-Qaida, that directly target the United States, organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah and other in the region," he said.

Internal documents show the Tamil Tigers considered other terror groups as fellow freedom fighters, and had a policy of "sharing black market arms shipments and explosive shipments, the financial system, bank accounts," he said.

The judge put off sentencing after Kandasamy — who has battled a spinal problem and other serious ailments since his arrest — asked for mercy.

"I love this country and its soil," the 54-year-old former cab driver said through an interpreter. "I'm sick and I'm afraid I'll never live to be free with my family again."

No new sentencing date was set. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn declined to comment on Friday.

Kandasamy's case has inched forward as events his native country took a historic turn.

Last year, the Tamil Tigers admitted defeat in their 25-year war with the Sri Lankan government. The clash killed more than 70,000 people, including reclusive rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

The rebels, who once controlled a de facto state in the island nation's north, had been fighting since 1983 for a separate state for minority Tamils after decades of oppression by the Sinhalese majority. Responsible for hundreds of suicide attacks — including the 1991 assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi — the Tamil Tigers were shunned internationally and branded terrorists by the U.S., European Union and India.

Federal authorities in New York had sought to cut off support for the group by arresting sympathizers in their East Coast immigrant communities in 2006 and 2007 on charges of conspiring to provide material aid to a terrorist organization.

Some were accused of helping to buy explosives, missiles, anti-aircraft guns and other weapons, and with trying to bribe U.S. officials to remove the group from the terrorism list. Others, including Kandasamy, were tied to a covert campaign to raise and launder millions of dollars through a charity front organization.

Kandasamy and other defendants have pleaded guilty to terrorism charges, with some receiving sentences of 25 years.

Defense attorney Charles Ross has argued that his client's punishment should be less than five years. A 20-year term, he said, would be "an almost knee-jerk maximum sentence" that ignores the complexities of Sri Lanka's civil strife.

At the recent hearing, Kandasamy told the judge he fled Sri Lanka "because the Singhelese were killing my people and I was afraid got my life and the lives of my family."

Once Kandasamy received political asylum, his lawyer said, his main goal was to make enough money to start bringing his loved ones to the United States. He also raised money for a Tamil charity, focusing on humanitarian causes.

"He was not primarily concerned with arming a terrorist organization," Ross said. "He was primarily concerned, your honor, with helping his people."

Prosecutors counter that Kandasamy and others were well aware that their fundraising was fueling violence. They say there's evidence that he helped raise millions of dollars for the Tamil Tigers, and that he went to Sri Lanka to meet with rebel commanders.

"There are two sides to this war, no question about it," Knox said. "But (Kandasamy) is not blameless." - courtesy: AP -

Pro-poor growth and Economic growth in Sri Lanka - A critical analysis

(“International Day for the Eradication of Poverty” falls on 17th October and it has been observed every year since 1993. The theme for 2010 is ‘From Poverty to Decent Work: bridging the gap. This article talks about current status of poverty reduction/eradication strategies and related development programmes/ issues in Sri Lanka)

By Vidya Abhayagunawardena

After the nearly three decade war in the North and East which ended in 2009, Tsunami in 2004, two insurgencies in the South (1971 & 1988), other internal economic disturbances and global economic recessions/turbulence, Sri Lanka is now experiencing healthy and impressive economic growth rate.

It is posed as an emerging economy in the Asian Region. The latest report of the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) of Sri Lanka has revealed that the island nation has recorded in the second quarter of 2010 economic growth rate at 8.5 per cent, the highest ever quarterly GDP growth since 2002. This is welcome news for the post war Sri Lanka.

With the healthy economic growth rate in the country we need to focus on whether it has helped in reduction of the poverty level. In other words where do the poor figure in the impressive economic growth? Pro-Poor Growth (PPG) facilitated by economic growth always helps to reduce poverty in any economy and this is fundamental towards the goal for eradication of poverty. Economic growth helps not only in reduction/eradication of poverty but also in creating jobs, changing in consumption inequality, reducing inflation rate, increasing per income capita, reducing balance of payment, increasing foreign reserves etc.. Till recently (except for some short periods) Sri Lanka had slow economic growth rate and as a result the goal of poverty reduction was hindered.

General overview of poverty

Global wealth in the new millennium has increased the inequalities rather than helped in the reduction of poverty. According to the UNDP, in 2005 the richest 500 people in the world earned more than the poorest 416 million.
To describe poverty there are some terms. Income or consumption poverty, human (under) development, social exclusion, ill being, (lack of) capability and functioning, vulnerability, livelihood unsustainability, lack of basic needs, relative deprivation as such. In the 1990 further development of poverty concept, the idea of well being came to act as a metaphor for absence of poverty, associated emphasis on how poor people themselves view their situation. At the same time, inspired by Amartya Sen, UNDP developed the idea of Human Development; the denial of opportunities and choices, to lead a long healthy creative life and to enjoy a decent standard of living, freedom, dignity, self-esteem, and respect of others.

Without a sufficient social security net in most of the developing countries we can see many consequences of persistence poverty including children out of school, insufficient food, social exclusion, youth unrest and violence, drug abuse etc.. Studies have revealed that today’s global poverty exists mainly in war- torn and post–conflict countries. The definition of PPG focuses on accelerating the rate of income growth of the poor and thus the rate of poverty reduction (Ravallion and Chen 2003; Ravallion 2004; DFID 2004). Further, empirical evidence suggest that growth is the primary driver of the rate of PPG, but changes in inequality can either enhance or reduce the PPG.

So accelerating the rate of PPG will require not only faster growth, but also efforts to enhance the capabilities of poor house holds to take advantage of the opportunities growth generate. With its focus on accelerating the rate of poverty reduction, this definition is consistent with the international community’s commitment to the first Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of reducing by half the proportion of people living on less than a $1 a day from 1990 to 2015. “Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger” constitutes the first MDG and to achieve the set targets in 2015.

Poverty and current poverty reduction strategies in Sri Lanka

The current population in Sri Lanka is little over twenty million and the last population survey was done in 1999 by DCS. Rural population accounts for over seventeen million and out of this over thirteen million people are approximately rural poor according to Rural poverty portal, 2008. According to DCS, in 2010 August Sri Lanka’s Official Poverty Line (OPL) is at Rs.3111 (OPL- The person living in the households whose real per capita monthly total consumption expenditure is below Rs.3111 in the year 2010 considered are poor.) and poverty incidence is strongly associated with family the household size.

Within the larger households, especially those with children are more likely to be poor. DCS survey on “Household Income & Expenditure 2006/7” revealed that poverty is highly associated with employment of household heads. Poverty incidence is largest among household headed by person with elementary occupation (unskilled workers) agricultural workers and fishermen. Since opening the economy in 1978 “Janasaviya” and “Samurdhi” were the main poverty reduction/alleviation programmes carried out by successive governments. “Samurdhi” is still continuing with the present government and “Mahinda Chinthanaya (MC) – A New Sri Lanka” has given it a prominence place. “Samurdhi” mission says “Contribute towards poverty minimize and stable national development, by identifying the potential families through people’s participation based development”.

In MC page 21 & 22 says, “No poor family will be left out from the Samurdhi benefit, increase the benefit to a minimum of Rs.1000 for all families, families with children under age of 3 will receive an additional allowance of Rs. 1500, Samurdhi family entitled to receive a loan of Rs. 100,000 with the interest rate of 6% with guarantee of government, a “nutrition pack” for expectant mothers of Samurdhi families, families with disabled children, those benefits will be assured without regard to the economic status of such families”. Today there are 1.6 million “Samurdhi” beneficiaries in Sri Lanka.

Uneven economic growth in the past has left many provinces (except the Western Province) lagging behind. High growth rate is only in the Western province and it accounts for 50% contribution to GDP and this reflects uneven distribution of employment and income, according to the World Bank recently published report on “Connecting people to prosperity in Sri Lanka”. According to DCS survey in 2006/7 it says, ‘Western Province the most urbanized province in Sri Lanka shows the highest average household size for poor among districts. The largest average household size for poor household is reported from Colombo district compared to other districts’.

We can argue further and look at remedial measures to reduce unequal income distribution within districts, provinces? As MC economic policies work towards development of the country through people led economic development with bottom up approach rather top bottom approach, the on going infrastructure development projects will assist in linking every province with economic activities? Increasing infrastructure investment in the country can accelerate both agricultural and non agricultural earnings for poor households? Ongoing development projects results/outcomes will trickling down throughout the economy?

As 2010 ‘International day for the Eradication of Poverty’ theme is set out as “From poverty to decent work: bridging the gap” Can Sri Lanka be able to bridge the gap? If the ongoing development projects are taking place in an unorganized, ad hoc manner and also without taken into consideration of environment, culture, peoples needs, scarcity of resources, sustainability of the project/s then the expected results will be less than expected.

Women and Children

Women and children are the most vulnerable groups in term of poverty in many country in the world today and the same scenario is true of Sri Lanka. Access to basic needs such as food, shelter, health and education are the most scarce goods and services for them in terms of their availability. In Sri Lanka women represents over 55% of the population and they contribute much to the GDP. But still the majority of women live below the poverty line. This is especially visible in the plantation sector, North and East provinces and parts of the rural sector. In the plantation sector, women and children are the most vulnerable.

Women receive low daily wages, less education and poor health facilities

There is high rate of domestic violence and alcoholism and malnutrition among children is high. The Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs has revealed that, in late September 2010, there are 89,000 war widows in the North and East, aged below 40, most of them with minimum three children. But none of them have any form of income. Not only war widows, there are women, who got permanently or partially disabled, mentally traumatized due to the war. In postwar economy, a country like Sri Lanka will need to address multifaceted socioeconomic issues in respect of women effected by the war.

Sri Lanka needs a holistic approach to empower women. It needs laws for women such as equal pay in all sectors, projects specially designed for women on microfinancing and training in non-traditional employment. This will lead to women’s empowerment economically, socially and will enable them to be independent and lead their own lives. This will also discourage women seek the employment in the Middle East as house maids. With the inspection of “Samurdhi” programme it has set up its own “Samurdhi Bank” to support and uplift Samurdhi beneficiaries. To what extend do banks and the other financial establishments support rural women? In Bangladesh the “Grameen Bank” was introduced to increase microcredit programs was to reduce poverty among rural women.

Among the plantation and rural sectors undernutrition levels in children are high. The Ministry of Health and Medical Research Institute (MRI) has published a report on “Nutrition & Food Security Assessment in Sri Lanka 2009” in collaboration with UNICEF and World Food Programme (WFP) in 2010. According to report statistics are, height for age- estate sector 46.8%, rural sector 17.4; weight for age –estate sector 37.9%, rural sector 20.8%.

This is not welcome news for the economy and needs immediate action to be taken by the relevant authorities to curb the under nutrition among children. Sri Lanka is in a good position compared to other countries with regard to school education and this is because of schooling is mandatory for children, and child labour is illegal. Otherwise this scenario could have been worse. As Amartya Sen says, “Women’s literacy and employment levels are the best predictions of both child survival and fertility rate reduction”.

Rural agriculture and Estate sector

Support for rural agriculture farmers and estate sector (specially tea plantation) workers to overcome poverty is very important in Sri Lanka as majority of population depend on these sectors for their livelihood. Plantation sector workers directly support to bring foreign income to the country. Unfortunately high poverty rate can be visible in rural agriculture and plantation sectors in Sri Lanka. Poverty levels tend to be very responsive to agricultural growth. Rural agriculture (mainly paddy and vegetable farmers) is faced with many challenges and obstacles with high cost of fertilizer and other inputs, unable to sell crops at profit, low cost imports of agricultural products from other countries, natural disasters. There should be a mechanism to make them economically independent and not depend on subsides for eradication of poverty in the rural agriculture.

Chinese proverb say that “Give a man fish a every day and feed him for his life time or teach him to how to catch fish and leave him with it”. This can apply for Sri Lankan farmers too. Concern parties can provide and support in them with low rate loans, markets accesses opportunities in locally and abroad, insurance protection for crops, strengthening property rights for land, expanding technology availability and with how to use mobile technology to expand businesses (local know how and with global connection), continues consultation in business development are much needed. Aiming to make the agricultural sector more productive, efforts should be made to involve them in non agricultural activities mainly through vocational training programs. This could help in uplifting farmer livelihoods and eradicating poverty in rural agriculture and estate sector.

Broader Approach

“Development as Freedoms”, 1999, as Amartya Sen writes: ‘Development can be seen as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy’. To make this a reality in Sri Lanka, political will, institutions with good governance can play a leading role in rural economic development and alleviating poverty. Transparency and accountability should always be there with those institutes. The policy and decision makers in the country need special care and attention when they develop policy framework. “Dilemmas of Development – Fifty years of Economic Change in Sri Lanka”: edited by W.D. Lakshman,1997. It says, ‘Working out of a policy framework, intelligently and selectively, combining various measures to promote economic growth and social justice simultaneously, remains the challenge before Sri Lanka’s policy makers’ (page 222).

There is the need to pay special attention when the private sector becomes an “Engine of growth in the economy”. Better results can be achieved through Private Public Partnerships (PPP). With the private sector investment and involvement projects should look at the extent to which poor will be benefited. Otherwise some of them know “how to dig the gold in the bottom of the pyramid” where poor get poor more. Increasing the participation of poor households in growth should be there in development projects and programmes.

Rural sector is faced with problems of inadequate infrastructure, skill labour, stagnant agriculture, access to credit, technology know how. Protecting and supporting small and medium enterprises (SMEs) much important to economy. Through SMEs can be create many job opportunities for rural youth and this is critical factor for faster recovery for post war Sri Lanka’s economy. Tourism sector is booming in the economy now. To what extent will the poor benefit or in other words is there a Pro-Poor Tourism? This is particular with conflict affected areas of North and East and poverty level is very high and also with high unemployment rate.

Will tourism related smaller scale business get a boost? Eco-tourism will bring economic opportunities and advantages to rural people? How many employment opportunities will be generated for rural youth? Would the infrastructure related to tourism be upgraded and managed accordingly, cleaning up the garbage? Would there be programs and mechanism for children, women and youth preventing from any social wrong doing or behavior? Overall can tourism accelerate PPG in Sri Lanka?

Not only Goals, Values and Norms too…

There are eight MDGs set out by the UN including, End poverty and hunger, Universal education, Gender equality, Child health, Maternal health, Combat HIV/AIDS, Environmental sustainability and Global partnership. Developing world is currently engaged in an economic war and a rat race to achieve the set goals by 2015. There could be unexpected social consequences on account of it. Sri Lanka in its quest to achieve these goals by 2015 should not forget cultural values and norms, multi ethnic and cultural diversities. Sri Lanka is lucky to have few indigenous communities, certain cultural activities of different ethnic groups, family values and norms. For coming generations Sri Lanka should protect and preserve those but not make any room or avenue to deplete them in the sake of economic development.

When to celebrate “Make poverty history in Sri Lanka”?

After 1978, successive Sri Lanka’s governments were carrying out various poverty reduction and alleviation programs but none of governments have managed to follow sustained national policy on poverty alleviation. According to UNDP Human Development Index, Sri Lanka is ranked in 2009 at 102. To get into first thirty country category Sri Lanka has to do a lot work and this is going to be a gigantic task.

“Mahinda Chinthana New Vision for Sri Lanka” economic policies with its continues economic growth rate, country could see its golden line saying, Sri Lanka’s poverty is coming down and sooner the economy could ensure that no one is below the poverty line. Sooner than later (MDGs targets to be achieved in 2015) Sri Lankans could celebrate economic growth as “multi faceted” just like the island nation succeeded in becoming a role model in the programme on “Make Poverty History”. Then only Sri Lanka can carry the tag line called “Emerging Wonder of Asia” or beyond that “Wonder of Asia”.

October 14, 2010

VOA News: Sri Lankans Detained in Thailand Face Deportation

by Ron Corben

Thai authorities have arrested more than 100 Sri Lankan Tamils this week because of fears they might be taken illegally to destinations such as Canada and Australia. Those arrested are being held in an immigration detention center and face court proceedings for immigration violations.

South Asian diplomatic sources say Thai authorities made the arrests because of a growing number of Sri Lankan Tamils arriving on tourist visas. Of the 130 arrested this week, more than 60 are women and children and many have lived in Thailand up to three years.

Human rights groups many have applied to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for asylum.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi says the arrests were part of normal efforts to enforce immigration laws and prevent people smuggling.

"As you know the Thai authorities have been working closely with the authorities of other friendly countries on the issue of human trafficking and the arrests made were a law enforcement effort to address this issue," Thani said. "So everything was carried out with a view to enforce immigration laws."

Thani says each detainee's visa status will be assessed following their court appearances. Most face charges of overstaying their visas.

Human rights groups criticized the Thai government and UNHCR over the arrests. Sunai Pasuk, a representative for Human Rights Watch in Thailand, says the Tamils should not be deported back to Sri Lanka.

"The Thai government shows no respect in their international commitment to protect asylum seekers. So this may end up being another sad case of people who deserve to be put under international protection but end up being deported by the Thai state to the place where they will be in danger," says Sunai Pusak.

Benjamin Zawacki, a researcher with Amnesty International, called on the UNHCR to show its support for detainees who have applied for asylum.

"The Thais have given no indication that these people have definitely been involved with the LTTE [the Sri Lankan rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] or smuggling or trafficking," Zawacki said. "So it's clear at this point that UNHCR needs to support its own protection mandate in voicing support for these people."

In August, Canadian authorities detained a Thai-registered ship with almost 500 Tamil asylum seekers on board. Officials in Canada were concerned that some on board had links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which many countries consider a terrorist group. The Sri Lankan army crushed the Tamil Tiger forces last year after several decades of fighting for independence.

Australia also has seen a rising number of Tamil asylum seekers trying to arrive by boat.

South Asian diplomatic sources say those detained could not afford the thousands of dollars that smugglers charge to take them to Canada or Australia. - courtesy: Voice Of America -

Sri Lanka Catholic Bishops "hiding behind chauvinistic forces" and refer "huge human tragedy caused by ex-candidate Fonseka" as "valuable services"

Solidarity group criticizes Lankan bishops’ appeal

Sri Lanka’s Christian Solidarity Movement has criticized a call by Sri Lankan bishops for the release of jailed ex-presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka, saying that the appeal fails to recognize “the breakdown of the rule of law” in the nation.

SFCBCSLTC107.jpg

pic courtesy of: Archdiocese of Colombo

“This is one of the best examples of the crackdown on political opponents and dissenters by the government,” Ruki Fernando of the Christian Solidarity Movement told ENInews.

Fernando expressed concern however about the tenor of the church statement, saying it “failed to recognise political victimisation and the glaring example of breakdown of the rule of law and crackdown on dissent” happening now on the Indian Ocean island.

He said the statement “hides behind populist and chauvinistic forces by referring to [Fonseka's] ‘valuable services’”. Fernando noted that when he was the top military leader the “services” had included, “the killings of tens of thousands of Tamils, the journalists he attacked and the huge human tragedy he caused”.

Nearly 100 000 people, including thousands of civilians died in the protracted ethnic conflict that culminated in massive causalities in the final battles in May 2009. - courtesy: cathnewsasia.com -

Realted: 'Release Sarath Fonseka in recognition of his valuable service to the nation'- Catholic Bishops

Full text: Amnesty, HRW & ICG joint letter declining invitation of Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)

The full text of the joint letter follows.

LLRCTC1013.jpg

S.M. Samarakoon
Secretary
Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation

Dear Mr. Samarakoon,

Thank you for inviting Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group to appear before Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). As the invitation notes, we all closely follow developments in Sri Lanka, and we remain committed to helping the Sri Lankan people find a just and peaceful way forward from the decades of civil war and violence they have suffered.

Unfortunately, we are compelled to decline the Commission’s invitation. While we would welcome the opportunity to appear before a genuine, credible effort to pursue accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, the LLRC falls far short of such an effort. It not only fails to meet basic international standards for independent and impartial inquiries, but it is proceeding against a backdrop of government failure to address impunity and continuing human rights abuses.

Our three organizations believe that the persistence of these and other destructive trends indicates that currently Sri Lanka’s government and justice system cannot or will not uphold the rule of law and respect basic rights. As you will be aware, we have highlighted our concerns in a number of reports. Of particular relevance are Crisis Group’s May 2010 report War Crimes in Sri Lanka and its June 2009 report Sri Lanka’s Judiciary: Politicised Courts, Compromised Rights; Human Rights Watch’s February 2010 report Legal Limbo: The Uncertain Fate of Detained LTTE Suspects in Sri Lanka and its February 2009 report War on the Displaced: Sri Lankan Army and LTTE Abuses against Civilians in the Vanni; and Amnesty International’s June 2009 report Twenty Years of Make Believe: Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry and its August 2009 Unlock the Camps in Sri Lanka: Safety and Dignity for the Displaced Now. These and other relevant publications are included in the attached list and are available on our websites www.crisisgroup.org, www.hrw.org, and www.amnesty.org. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has made no progress since the end of the war in addressing our concerns detailed in these reports.

In addition to these broader failings of the government, we believe that the LLRC is deeply flawed in structure and practice. Of particular concern are the following:

Inadequate mandate

Nothing in the LLRC’s mandate requires it to investigate the many credible allegations that both the government security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) committed serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the civil war, especially in the final months, including summary executions, torture, attacks on civilians and civilian objects, and other war crimes. The need to investigate them thoroughly and impartially is especially urgent given the government’s efforts to promote its methods of warfare abroad as being protective of the civilian population, when the facts demonstrate otherwise.

Nor has the LLRC shown any genuine interest in investigating such allegations. Instead, it has allowed government officials to repeat unchallenged what they have been saying without basis for months: that the government strictly followed a “zero civilian casualty policy”. Indeed, during the testimony of Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa on 17 August 2010, the primary intervention of the Commission chairman, C.R. de Silva, was to prompt the secretary to provide the Commission with a 14 February 2009 letter from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) thanking the Navy for assisting in a medical evacuation. While highlighting that one letter, the chairman and his colleagues failed to ask the defence secretary about any of the ICRC’s numerous public statements between January and the end of May 2009 raising concerns about excessive civilian casualties, violations of international humanitarian law and insufficient humanitarian access.

The Commission also has not required officials to explain the government’s public misrepresentations during the war. Particularly disturbing are the government’s repeated claims that there were under 100,000 civilians left in the Vanni at the beginning of 2009 when officials later conceded there were some 300,000, and that Sri Lankan forces were not using heavy weapons in civilian areas when the military eventually admitted they were.

Lack of independence

A fundamental requirement for any commission of this type is that its members are independent. The membership of the LLRC is far from that. To start, both the chairman C.R. de Silva and member H.M.G.S. Palihakkara were senior government representatives during the final year of the war. They publicly defended the conduct of the government and military against allegations of war crimes. Indeed during two widely reported incidents – the shelling of the first “no-fire zone” declared by the government in late January and the shelling of Puthukkudiyiruppu (PTK) hospital in February – H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, then Sri Lanka’s representative to the UN, told CNN that government forces had confirmed that even though the LTTE was firing out from the “no-fire zone”, the government was not returning fire; and that the military had confirmed they knew the coordinates of PTK hospital and they had not fired on it.(1)

Beyond his public defense of government conduct during the war, there is also evidence that as attorney general, C.R. de Silva actively undermined the independence of the 2006-2009 Presidential Commission of Inquiry that was tasked with investigating allegations of serious human rights violations by the security forces. Mr. de Silva’s conflicts of interest were repeatedly criticized by the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), which had been invited by the President to oversee the Commission’s work. The members of the IIGEP resigned in April 2008 and cited Mr. de Silva’s conflicts of interest as a major reason for doing so. Most other members of the LLRC have some history of working for the Sri Lankan government. None is known for taking independent political positions, and many have publicly declared their allegiance to the President and government.(2)

Lack of witness protection

Equally worrying is the absence of any provisions for the protection of witnesses who may wish to testify before the Commission. Sri Lanka has never had a functioning witness protection system, nor has the Commission established any ad hoc procedures for witness protection. The lack of witness protection is particularly crippling in the current atmosphere in Sri Lanka in which government officials label as “traitors” persons making allegations that government forces might have committed violations of international law. Only a brave few have testified before the LLRC about war crimes in the north despite that threat. Moreover, even though the war is over, the country is still operating under a state of emergency, with laws that criminalize political speech and where there is no meaningful investigation of attacks on government critics. This clearly undermines the Commission’s ability to conduct credible investigations of alleged violations of international or national law. Until effective protection of witnesses can be guaranteed, no organization or individual can responsibly disclose confidential information to the Commission.

Past commission failures

Our decision to decline the LLRC’s invitation to testify also stems from Sri Lanka’s long history of failed and politicized commissions of inquiry. Amnesty International’s report, Twenty Years of Make-Believe: Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry, documents the failure of successive Sri Lankan governments to provide accountability for violations, including enforced disappearances, unlawful killings, and torture. The most recent instance is the work of the 2006-2009 Commission of Inquiry into 16 cases of serious human rights violations by both the government security forces and the LTTE. Even with broad international support and technical assistance from the IIGEP, the Commission investigated only a handful of cases, failed to protect witnesses from harassment by security personnel, and produced no evidence that led to more effective police investigations. The final report of this Commission is said to have been given to President Rajapaksa and remains unpublished.

Today Sri Lanka has no credible domestic mechanisms able to respond effectively to serious human rights violations. The Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission lacks independence and has itself acknowledged its lack of capacity to deal with investigations into enforced disappearances. At the international level, Sri Lanka has 5,749 outstanding cases being reviewed by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, several hundred of which have been reported since the beginning of 2006.

In the current context of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, even an independent and fully empowered commission would face grave difficulties in pursuing accountability or contributing to lasting reconciliation. Even though the war is over, a state of emergency continues to be in place. Anti-terrorism laws and emergency regulations grant extraordinary and arbitrary powers to the military and police and continue to be used to target critics of the government. Tamils in the north are living under a heavy military presence.

Impunity remains the order of the day: there have been no prosecutions in any of Sri Lanka’s well-documented cases of human rights violations from 2005 onwards, and media personnel and human rights activists continue to report harassment and threats by persons linked to the government. In addition, the recent passage of the 18th Amendment further empowers the presidency and effectively removes any remaining independence of commissions on human rights, elections, the judiciary and other issues. Without positive change in these areas, it is hard to see how even the best-intentioned commission of inquiry could make any meaningful contribution to accountability and reconciliation.

Should a genuine and credible process eventually be established – featuring truly independent commission members, effective powers of witness protection, and a mandate to explore the full range of alleged violations of national and international law; and backed up by government action to end impunity and ensure that police and courts launch effective and impartial prosecutions – we all would be pleased to appear.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Arbour
President and CEO
International Crisis Group

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch

Salil Shetty
Secretary General
Amnesty International

Crisis Group Refuses to Appear Before Flawed Commission

ICGTC1014A.jpgNew York/London/Brussels | 14 Oct 2010

In a joint letter, the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have declined the invitation of Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to appear before it. The Sri Lankan government is promoting the Commission as an independent mechanism for reconciliation and restorative justice after its decades-long civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), yet the Commission fails to meet basic standards and is fatally flawed in structure and practice.

Critically, there is no requirement that the Commission investigate the many credible allegations that both the government security forces and the LTTE committed war crimes during the final months of conflict last year, as detailed in Crisis Group's May 2010 report War Crimes in Sri Lanka.

In its two months of hearings to date, the Commission's members, many of them retired senior government employees, have made no attempt to question the government's version of events and have instead offered current officials a platform for continued misrepresentations of the facts.

These failings are reinforced by the absence of any provisions for the protection of witnesses to alleged crimes - a particularly crippling factor given that government officials have labeled as "traitors" Sri Lankans who have made claims or provided evidence of violations of international humanitarian law by government forces.

Appearing before Sri Lanka's LLRC under current circumstances could put witnesses at risk and lend legitimacy to a process that is neither a credible investigation nor an adequate or genuine process to address the decades of violence that Sri Lankans from all regions and communities have suffered. The growing authoritarianism of the government since the end of the war - exhibited most recently by the removal of presidential term limits and any remaining independence of commissions on human rights, police and elections - would make it difficult for even the best-intentioned commission of inquiry to make a meaningful contribution to political reconciliation or accountability now.

Crisis Group continues to call for an independent international inquiry as the only credible means to examine allegations of war crimes by government forces and the LTTE and urges the government of Sri Lanka to cooperate fully with the panel of experts appointed to advise the United Nations Secretary-General on issues of post-war accountability in Sri Lanka.

Amnesty demands Sri Lanka war crimes probe

AITC1014.jpgSri Lanka: International inquiry needed to address alleged war crimes

Amnesty International has declined an invitation to appear before Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and calls again for an international inquiry into the evidence of war crimes and other abuses during the civil war.

In a joint letter released today, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group announced that they would not appear before the Commission, saying it did not meet international standards for independent and impartial inquiries.

“Amnesty International would welcome the opportunity to appear before a credible commission of inquiry aimed at securing accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka”, said Madhu Malhotra, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Asia-Pacific. “We believe effective domestic inquiries are essential to human rights protection and accountability. But the LLRC falls far short of what is required”.

Like its predecessors, the LLRC exists against a backdrop of continuing government failure to address accountability and continuing human rights abuses. Amnesty International documented Sri Lanka’s long history of impunity and the failed Presidential Commission of Inquiry in its 2009 report Twenty Years of Make-believe; Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry.

“The LLRC’s mandate, its composition, its procedures, and the human rights environment in which it is operating all conspire to make a safe and satisfactory outcome for victims of human rights violations and their families extremely unlikely”, said Madhu Malhotra. “Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the lack of any provisions for witness protection and the fact that former officials who have publicly defended the Sri Lankan government against allegations of war crimes serve on the commission”.

Amnesty International has received numerous credible reports from witnesses that both the government security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) committed serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the armed conflict, particularly in the final months of the war. Some of their testimony was included in Amnesty International’s 2009 briefing “Unlock the Camps; Safety and Dignity For The Displaced Now”. But the LLRC’s mandate does not requires it to investigate these allegations, which include summary executions, torture, attacks on civilians and civilian objects, and other war crimes.

“The hundreds of civilians who sought to testify before the LLRC in Killinochchi in September did so without guarantees of protection or any real hope of justice. Their willingness to come forward shows the need of Sri Lanka’s war survivors for news about what happened to missing relatives and for justice”, said Madhu Malhotra.

“If the Sri Lankan government is serious about accountability and reconciliation, it must be serious about truth and justice for these people. Any credible commission must be given adequate scope and resources to allow for individuals to receive a fair hearing and sufficient authority to ensure redress. It must also treat all witnesses in a safe and humane fashion.”

Amnesty International remains committed to contribute to any genuine effort in Sri Lanka to find a just way forward from the decades of civil war and human rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch: "There is little to be gained by appearing before a fundamentally flawed commission"

HRWTC1014.jpg(New York, October 14, 2010) – Three leading international organizations will not accept an invitation to testify before a Sri Lankan government commission because it lacks the ability to advance accountability for war crimes, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, and Amnesty International said in a joint letter to Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission that was released today.

The three organizations said that they would welcome an opportunity to appear before a genuine, credible effort to pursue political reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka, but that the Commission does not meet minimum international standards for commissions of inquiry.

“There is little to be gained by appearing before such a fundamentally flawed commission,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Accountability for war crimes in Sri Lanka demands an independent international investigation.”

The Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, established the Commission in May 2010. His action was an apparent attempt to deflect calls for an international investigation into alleged laws-of-war violations during the final months of the quarter-century-long armed conflict between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which ended in May 2009.

The Commission suffers from an inadequate mandate, a lack of independence, and little credibility to advance accountability, the groups said in their letter. The Commission’s mandate, which focuses on the breakdown of the 2002 ceasefire between the government and the LTTE, does not explicitly require it to investigate alleged war crimes during the conflict, nor has the Commission shown any apparent interest in investigating such allegations in its hearings to date.

The Commission also lacks independence, as its members include people who were senior government officials during the final years of the war and who were outspoken in defense of the government’s wartime conduct. Other members worked for the Sri Lankan government in the past.

The organizations’ letter also cited the absence of any provisions to protect witnesses who may wish to testify. The lack of witness protection is particularly crippling in the current environment in Sri Lanka, in which government officials contend that anyone who alleges that government forces might have committed abuses are “traitors.”

Moreover, despite the end of the conflict, the country is still operating under a state of emergency that criminalizes political speech and under which there has been no meaningful investigation of attacks on government critics. This undermines the Commission’s ability to conduct credible investigations of alleged violations of international or national law, the organizations said.

“Thousands of civilians were killed in the last few months of the war as a result of grave violations of international law by both government and LTTE forces,” Roth said. “This Commission is nothing more than a cynical attempt by Sri Lanka to avoid a serious inquiry that would bring genuine accountability.”

Memo of Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma reveals Commonwealth has abandoned human rights commitment

By Julian Borger

The Commonwealth has abandoned its commitment to defending human rights, according to a leaked document obtained by the Guardian in which the secretary general tells his staff it is not their job to speak out against abuses by the 54 member states.

David Cameron and the foreign secretary, William Hague, have both said they will put new emphasis on the Commonwealth in Britain's foreign policy. But the organisation's London-based institutions, the secretariat and the charitable foundation, are both in turmoil, riven by disputes over their purpose and direction, and internal wrangles over the treatment of staff.

Coming soon after the well-publicised shortcomings in India's preparations for the Commonwealth Games, the latest revelations about dysfunction within the secretariat and foundation are likely to add to questions over what the Commonwealth is for. The most threatening internal rupture is over human rights. Staff at the secretariat were furious when the secretary general, Kamalesh Sharma, remained silent over a series of abuses by member states in recent years.

For example, when the Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh, threatened to behead homosexuals in 2008; when government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels were accused of widespread atrocities at the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka last year; and when a Malawi court in May sentenced a gay couple to jail for being homosexual, the secretary general ignored calls from secretariat staff urging him to express concern at least.

"All those cases were all about the values the Commonwealth is supposed to stand for and we failed," said one staff member. "I feel we could become moribund."

In response to complaints from employees, the secretary general's office told his staff that the institution had no obligation to pronounce on the issue.

"The secretariat … has no explicitly defined mandate to speak publicly on human rights," Sharma's office told senior staff. "The expectation is that the secretary general will exercise his good offices as appropriate for the complaint and not that he will pronounce on them."

Human rights activists said the comments represented a reversal of the Commonwealth's tradition of speaking out over gross abuses, such as apartheid. They said the secretary general was contradicting a key policy document adopted by Commonwealth heads of state in 1995 that calls for the "immediate public expression by the secretary general of the Commonwealth's collective disapproval of any such infringement" of democratic values and fundamental human rights.

Purna Sen, the head of the secretariat's human rights unit, said yesterday: "We have been accused of being over-cautious. Our work below the radar is extremely important but we need to explore more fully where we can make public statements. Public comments need not be condemnations, but we need to defend our values."

Others question whether quiet diplomacy by the secretariat has been effective, as states have little to fear from the Commonwealth.

Danny Sriskandarajah, director of the Royal Commonwealth Society, said: "I recognise the Commonwealth often works behind the scenes, but without public achievements on its values it will lose credibility."

He added: "Many of the Commonwealth institutions were created in the 1960s and have structures and hierarchies that now seem outdated. It needs to modernise its institutions if it wants to be fit for purpose in the 21st century."

The Commonwealth Foundation, a charitable trust aimed at promoting co-operation between professional bodies in the member states, has also been split since a decision last year to cut direct funding for HIV and Aids prevention programmes by more than half.

The internal dispute came to a boil last October when the woman in charge of the programmes, Anisha Rajapakse, was suspended, escorted out of the foundation and then summarily dismissed, on the basis of allegations by an intern.

According to the foundation, the intern alleged that Rajapakse had tried to persuade her to forge a letter purported to come from a civil society group complaining about the cut in funding.

However, the intern, Elizabeth Pimentel, wrote to the foundation's board of governors in August distancing herself from the allegations.

In her letter, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, Pimentel said her name had been "wrongly connected" with the disciplinary action against Rajapakse, and that she had not wanted remarks she made to the management "to be construed as a complaint at any point".

She added: "My discussions have been misinterpreted and used out of context."

Rajapakse and Pimentel both refused to comment on the dispute, which is due to go before an employment tribunal in December.

Two other members of the foundation's 20-strong staff have started grievance procedures against its director, Mark Collins. A secretariat staff member said: "There is a climate of fear at the Foundation. Everyone is afraid of doing something the director does not like because of what happened to Anisha."

Collins said it was an "undesirable situation" to be the focus of so many staff complaints at the same time but denied that there was any systemic problem at the foundation.

He said Pimentel had not formally withdrawn her original allegation against Rajapakse. "At the time, she felt that an investigation was justified," he said, suggesting Pimentel had since become "fearful" over the impending employment tribunal. - courtesy: The Guardian -

October 13, 2010

Reconciliation process to unite a divided people necessary

by Harim Peiris

The Mahinda Chinthanaya is not just an election manifesto in the old tradition of such documents, the “Chinthanaya” seeks to be much more, it holds the promise of being to Sri Lanka what the “little red book” was to Mao’s China, the guidebook to public policy if not to quite to life.

Clearly it is in the interest of President Mahinda Rajapaksa that the Chinthanya which bears his name, was his election platform and public mandate be implemented during his term of governance. As President Rajapaksa approaches the commencement of his second term next month, the value of his own commitment to the Chinthanaya would be no doubt be apparent.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has publicly told the whole world that he believes that post war reconciliation is a crucial issue for Sri Lanka. Unfortunately that message doesn’t seem to have quite sunk in to the Sri Lankan domestic audience. However here is what he told the whole world at the United Nations 65th General Assembly sessions on 23rd September 2010.

“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 fulfil 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 ….. 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”. (President Rajapaksa at the UN / General Assembly 65th Sessions)

Sri Lankas recent history of the past three decades has been violent and conflict ridden. Three decades of violent conflict has resulted in a deeply divided and polarized society. We may have united the nation geographically but remain polarized ethno socially.

In response to a simplistic and blanket denial of the alienation of the Tamil people from the Sri Lankan State, the response should be to look at the public security assessment and measures.

It is not possible to simultaneously argue the need to maintain emergency law, wartime levels of defence expenditure, troop deployment at war time levels and a network of security installations in the North, not found anywhere else in the country and still maintain that the Tamil people are not alienated from the Sri Lankan State.

While a military campaign has successfully united a divided land, what is now required is a heart and minds campaign, a reconciliation process that seeks to unite a divided people.

In many quarters, especially internationally and including in the diplomatic community and the Tamil Diaspora, there is a tendency to dismiss the Rajapaksa regime and the UPFA government as being either unwilling or uninterested in post conflict reconciliation. The Chinthanaya is significantly more modest in its embrace of solutions, as per the recommendations of Tissa Vitharana’s APRC proposals. On the immediate humanitarian and rehabilitation needs as well, what is envisaged while not stingy is certainly no Marshall Plan.

The current status of the war affected population of the North is a particularly pitiful state, which can be of no credit to anyone. At least implementing the Mahinda Chinthanaya’s modest promises in this regard would make some movement towards improving their lot.

The last farewell to my wife: An Eulogy to Kwa Geok Choo (1920-2010)

By Lee Kuan Yew

Ancient peoples developed and ritualised mourning practices to express the shared grief of family and friends, and together show not fear or distaste for death, but respect for the dead one; and to give comfort to the living who will miss the deceased.

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Kwa Geok Choo arrived for a dinner with her husband in 2006. (pic courtesy of: Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)

I recall the ritual mourning when my maternal grandmother died some 75 years ago. For five nights the family would gather to sing her praises and wail and mourn at her departure, led by a practiced professional mourner.

Such rituals are no longer observed. My family’s sorrow is to be expressed in personal tributes to the matriarch of our family.

In October 2003 when she had her first stroke, we had a strong intimation of our mortality.

My wife and I have been together since 1947 for more than three quarters of our lives. My grief at her passing cannot be expressed in words. But today, when recounting our lives together, I would like to celebrate her life.

In our quiet moments, we would revisit our lives and times together. We had been most fortunate. At critical turning points in our lives, fortune favoured us.

As a young man with an interrupted education at Raffles College, and no steady job or profession, her parents did not look upon me as a desirable son-in-law. But she had faith in me.

We had committed ourselves to each other. I decided to leave for England in September 1946 to read law, leaving her to return to Raffles College to try to win one of the two Queen’s Scholarships awarded yearly. We knew that only one Singaporean would be awarded. I had the resources, and sailed for England, and hoped that she would join me after winning the Queen’s Scholarship.

If she did not win it, she would have to wait for me for three years.

In June the next year, 1947, she did win it. But the British colonial office could not get her a place in Cambridge.

Through Chief Clerk of Fitzwilliam, I discovered that my Censor at Fitzwilliam, W S Thatcher, was a good friend of the Mistress of Girton, Miss Butler.

He gave me a letter of introduction to the Mistress. She received me and I assured her that Choo would most likely take a “First”, because she was the better student when we both were at Raffles College.

I had come up late by oneterm to Cambridge, yet passed my first year qualifying examination with a class 1. She studied Choo’s academic record and decided to admit her in October that same year, 1947.

We have kept each other company ever since. We married privately in December 1947 at Stratford-upon-Avon. At Cambridge, we both put in our best efforts. She took a first in two years in Law Tripos II. I took a double first, and a starred first for the finals, but in three years.

We did not disappoint our tutors. Our Cambridge Firsts gave us a good start in life. Returning to Singapore, we both were taken on as legal assistants in Laycock & Ong, a thriving law firm in Malacca Street. Then we married officially a second time that September 1950 to please our parents and friends. She practised conveyancing and draftsmanship, I did litigation.

In February 1952, our first son Hsien Loong was born. She took maternity leave for a year.

That February, I was asked by John Laycock, the Senior Partner, to take up the case of the Postal and Telecommunications Uniformed Staff Union, the postmen’s union.

They were negotiating with the government for better terms and conditions of service. Negotiations were deadlocked and they decided to go on strike. It was a battle for public support. I was able to put across the reasonableness of their case through the press and radio. After a fortnight, they won concessions from the government. Choo, who was at home on maternity leave, pencilled through my draft statements, making them simple and clear.

Over the years, she influenced my writing style. Now I write in short sentences, in the active voice. We gradually influenced each other’s ways and habits as we adjusted and accommodated each other.

We knew that we could not stay starry-eyed lovers all our lives; that life was an on-going challenge with new problems to resolve and manage.

We had two more children, Wei Ling in 1955 and Hsien Yang in 1957. She brought them up to be well-behaved, polite, considerate and never to throw their weight as the prime minister’s children.

As a lawyer, she earned enough, to free me from worries about the future of our children.

She saw the price I paid for not having mastered Mandarin when I was young. We decided to send all three children to Chinese kindergarten and schools.

She made sure they learned English and Malay well at home. Her nurturing has equipped them for life in a multi-lingual region.

We never argued over the upbringing of our children, nor over financial matters. Our earnings and assets were jointly held. We were each other’s confidant.

She had simple pleasures. We would walk around the Istana gardens in the evening, and I hit golf balls to relax.

Later, when we had grandchildren, she would take them to feed the fish and the swans in the Istana ponds. Then we would swim. She was interested in her surroundings, for instance, that many bird varieties were pushed out by mynahs and crows eating up the insects and vegetation.

She discovered the curator of the gardens had cleared wild grasses and swing fogged for mosquitoes, killing off insects they fed on. She stopped this and the bird varieties returned. She surrounded the swimming pool with free flowering scented flowers and derived great pleasure smelling them as she swam.

She knew each flower by its popular and botanical names. She had an enormous capacity for words.

She had majored in English literature at Raffles College and was a voracious reader, from Jane Austen to JRR Tolkien, from Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian Wars to Virgil’s Aeneid, to The Oxford Companion to Food, and Seafood of Southeast Asia, to Roadside Trees of Malaya, and Birds of Singapore.

She helped me draft the Constitution of the PAP. For the inaugural meeting at Victoria Memorial Hall on 4 November 1954, she gathered the wives of the founder members to sew rosettes for those who were going on stage.

In my first election for Tanjong Pagar, our home in Oxley Road, became the HQ to assign cars provided by my supporters to ferry voters to the polling booth.

She warned me that I could not trust my new found associates, the leftwing trade unionists led by Lim Chin Siong. She was furious that he never sent their high school student helpers to canvass for me in Tanjong Pagar, yet demanded the use of cars provided by my supporters to ferry my Tanjong Pagar voters.

She had an uncanny ability to read the character of a person. She would sometimes warn me to be careful of certain persons; often, she turned out to be right.

When we were about to join Malaysia, she told me that we would not succeed because the UMNO Malay leaders had such different lifestyles and because their politics were communally-based, on race and religion.

I replied that we had to make it work as there was no better choice. But she was right.

We were asked to leave Malaysia before two years.

When separation was imminent, Eddie Barker, as Law Minister, drew up the draft legislation for the separation. But he did not include an undertaking by the Federation Government to guarantee the observance of the two water agreements between the PUB and the Johor state government. I asked Choo to include this. She drafted the undertaking as part of the constitutional amendment of the Federation of Malaysia Constitution itself.

She was precise and meticulous in her choice of words. The amendment statute was annexed to the Separation Agreement, which we then registered with the United Nations.

The then Commonwealth Secretary Arthur Bottomley said that if other federations were to separate, he hoped they would do it as professionally as Singapore and Malaysia.

It was a compliment to Eddie’s and Choo’s professional skills. Each time Malaysian Malay leaders threatened to cut off our water supply, I was reassured that this clear and solemn international undertaking by the Malaysian government in its Constitution will get us a ruling by the UNSC (United Nations Security Council).

After her first stroke, she lost her left field of vision. This slowed down her reading. She learned to cope, reading with the help of a ruler. She swam every evening and kept fit. She continued to travel with me, and stayed active despite the stroke. She stayed in touch with her family and old friends.

She listened to her collection of CDs, mostly classical, plus some golden oldies. She jocularly divided her life into “before stroke” and “after stroke”, like BC and AD.

She was friendly and considerate to all associated with her. She would banter with her WSOs (woman security officers) and correct their English grammar and pronunciation in a friendly and cheerful way. Her former WSOs visited her when she was at NNI. I thank them all.

Her second stroke on 12 May 2008 was more disabling. I encouraged and cheered her on, helped by a magnificent team of doctors, surgeons, therapists and nurses.

Her nurses, WSOs and maids all grew fond of her because she was warm and considerate. When she coughed, she would take her small pillow to cover her mouth because she worried for them and did not want to infect them.

Her mind remained clear but her voice became weaker. When I kissed her on her cheek, she told me not to come too close to her in case I caught her pneumonia.

I assured her that the doctors did not think that was likely because I was active.

When given some peaches in hospital, she asked the maid to take one home for my lunch. I was at the centre of her life.

On 24 June 2008, a CT scan revealed another bleed again on the right side of her brain. There was not much more that medicine or surgery could do except to keep her comfortable.

I brought her home on 3 July 2008. The doctors expected her to last a few weeks. She lived till 2nd October, 2 years and 3 months.

She remained lucid. They gave time for me and my children to come to terms with the inevitable. In the final few months, her faculties declined. She could not speak but her cognition remained.

She looked forward to have me talk to her every evening.

Her last wish she shared with me was to enjoin our children to have our ashes placed together, as we were in life.

The last two years of her life were the most difficult. She was bedridden after small successive strokes; she could not speak but she was still cognisant.

Every night she would wait for me to sit by her to tell her of my day’s activities and to read her favourite poems. Then she would sleep.

I have precious memories of our 63 years together. Without her, I would be a different man, with a different life. She devoted herself to me and our children.

She was always there when I needed her. She has lived a life full of warmth and meaning.

I should find solace at her 89 years of her life well lived. But at this moment of the final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow and grief.

(This eulogy by Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was delivered at the funeral service of his wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo at a private ceremony at Mandai Cremetorium on Oct 6th)

October 12, 2010

Sri Lanka: No footprints on the sands of time

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The overall situation in Sri Lanka at the present time is not something anyone truly concerned about the land described once as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean can be proud of or be happy about.

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The decadent political culture deteriorates gradually. The corruption, nepotism,crime, sycophancy,the rise of the mediocracy coupled with the decline in democracy and rule of law are all issues that compel those who feel and those who think to cry out for the beloved country. [click to read in full on ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

Asai Rasiah: Power of a painter and his paintings

By Marisa de Silva

Soft spoken and mild mannered, Asai Rasiah, the elderly art master, greets us warmly as we enter his humble home in the heart of Jaffna. Showing us the many paintings hanging on the walls, he leads us to his garden for an informal chat about Asai Rasiah, the artist. His eyes though, tell a whole other story…a story that remains etched in our hearts, long after we have left him.

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“When society is going through a particularly bad time, it’s essentially the responsibility of an artist to show them the way through his art. An artist must highlight and bring to light the trials and injustices faced by the common man on a day-to-day basis. As the saying goes, ‘a picture speaks a thousand words,’ so an artist must allow his/her art to speak for itself,” says Asai Rasiah.

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“As long as I can remember, I would be sketching in class,” he says. After his O/L’s, he applied to the College of Art and Crafts in Colombo, and when he was in his third year there took part in t he All Ceylon Painting Competition, organized by Cold Stores Ltd. Even though he had won the competition officially, he had to forfeit his win as he had misunderstood the instructions. However, his winning entry was published in a calendar later that year.
Having left his alma mater – Velany Central College, in 1971, he got his first break as an art teacher in Kayts, during which time, he also attended Teacher Training College. Then came the appointment as Art Master at Royal College, Colombo, from 1975-83. It was during this time that his world came crashing down.

Mr. Rasiah remembers the ‘83 riots with a heavy heart. “Initially, I wasn’t aware of what was taking place, so I started off to college as usual. On my way there, I saw a body burning inside a car in Thimbirigasyaya. The next thing I recall was being in the Principal’s room, crying. Luckily my wife and daughter were in Jaffna.

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The college gave me refuge for four days and the hostellers even gave me their sheets to sleep on. After four days, the Police arrived and took me to the Thurstan College premises, where a temporary camp had been set up.

Luckily for me, one of my co-teachers at Thurstan, Mr. Piyathilaka, offered me his staff quarters to live in whilst I was there. This way, I at least had a toilet and room to myself, instead of having to share the grounds with 2000-3000 other people and use barrels as toilets.”

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“The Sinhalese family I was boarded with in Colombo, came to look for me. They helped send me off by ship to Kankesanthurai (KKS). Having travelled for four days on an India-bound ship, once we arrived at KKS, my trousers were almost falling off me, as we’d had almost nothing to eat throughout our journey there.

“My whole family had given me up for dead. My mother who had been waiting up for me without any sleep, for 14 days, had passed away out of anxiety and exhaustion, the day before I returned home,” he recollected tearfully.

“She was the real creative genius in the family. She was a seamstress and could literally take apart a pair of shorts and make a block out of it. She was also very good at intricate embroidery,” he recalls.

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Too affected psychologically by his mother's death to take up art again, he turned to farming. Later, he tried photography, but soon gave that up, for lack of interest. He was also offered an appointment as Visiting Lecturer at the University of Jaffna, but turned this down too.

Subsequently, he decided to return to art, experimented with different mediums - oils, pastels, charcoal, water colours, and began using a palette knife instead of a brush to paint. His use of many colours is to give character and depth to his subjects, he adds. David Paynter, A.C.G.S. Amarasekara, Stanley Abeysinghe, J.D.A. Perera, Picasso, Rembrandt and Van Gogh are those he mentions as major influences.

“My art has been, and continues to be influenced, both, by my personal experiences and circumstances and the happenings around me,” he says. Some of his paintings depict poignant scenes from the tsunami, the destruction of the war and its aftermath, portraits and landscapes. One particularly powerful painting is a portrayal of how women who have lost their children/spouses to the war, are left to bear the burden of dealing with their grief and fending for their families.

His paintings carry powerful social messages - widows, killings, poverty, caste problems, displacement etc. all figure in his work. “My painting styles have constantly evolved. I would paint in a certain style at one point in my life, and then move on to a different style altogether,” he explains.

“Even now when I teach, I only teach the very basics, as I strongly believe that thereafter an artist must find his/her own way. I don’t think it’s fair or right, to impose a style/technique on a student. Each individual student must, in time, discover it for themselves.”

He has held annual exhibitions at the National Art Gallery in Colombo, and also held one-man shows at Achchuveli in 1985, and at the University of Jaffna, in 1998, where he exhibited 60 paintings. Some of his paintings are still on sale at the Platé Art Gallery in Colombo. Mr. Rasiah has also been a Designer/Panel Artist at the Philatelic Bureau in Colombo and has designed 10 stamps. He now gives art classes at his home, free of charge, and lectures at the University of Jaffna.

The current education system and art syllabus, he says should include more input on spirituality, as all beings are the same, and people need to be made more aware of the sacredness of life.And despite suffering from spondylosis now he still paints. “I’m able to express my emotions much more freely via my art, than I would be able to otherwise, and I also gain a strong sense of spiritual satisfaction via my art. Even when we’ve gone through rough times financially, I continued to paint.

I mostly painted for my personal satisfaction, and not for commercial purposes. My friends often ask me if I still paint. I reply promptly ‘Yes, of course. If not, I’d probably die.'”

Rhyme, Reason, & Realism in Tamil Politics

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

"In Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, the Congo, Iran, Nicaragua, and Sri Lanka, the CIA armed and encouraged ethnic minorities to rise up and fight." - John Stockwell, former CIA Station Chief in Angola in 1976(The Secret Wars of the CIA, October 1987)

As far as Tamil politics go, intrinsically and as a sub-set of Sri Lankan politics, the touchstone is not the 18th but the 13th amendment. More: the dominant trend throughout the political history of Tamil nationalism has been an absence of rationality and realism. Has the TNA failed the tests of both pragmatism and principle?

A striking exception was Mr S Thondaman, a master of pragmatism and principled co-existence. He however, was not quite a Tamil nationalist politician but a Tamil working class leader who took up Tamil nationalist causes on occasion and whose rooted working class base precluded him from emplaning on the prolonged flight of fancy of Tamil bourgeois, petty bourgeois and deracinated Diaspora-driven politics.

If I may anticipate the counter-argument that Sinhala politics or Sri Lankan politics as a whole lacks and has always lacked either pragmatism or principle, let me pre-emptively counter with a reminder of the (Hegelian) philosophical categories of the Rational and the Real.

Dominant Sinhala politics may not always be rational but has been based on a firm mastery of the Real-Concrete, i.e. the possession of power which is guaranteed by demographic reality; a demographic reality which also provides the capacity to limit, survive and roll back external intervention as evidenced by the years 1987-90. In short, the Sinhala political leaders have always operated within certain core principles of power-politics.

How can the TNA (or any parliamentarian belonging to it) be described as principled when it has yet to criticise any of Prabhakaran’s fascist acts including the murder of Dr Neelan Tiruchelvam or its own fellow-travelling with the LTTE?

How can it be considered principled when it has yet to uphold unconditionally, the principle of co-existing and accepting a solution within a single, united, indivisible Sri Lanka? In Spain and Turkey, to name just two states, such a party would have found itself proscribed.

How is the TNA describable as pragmatic when it has failed to accept as the base line of any settlement, the 13th amendment which was the maximum possible obtainable for the Tamils by India in conditions that are hardly likely to return or be replicable?

I experienced two ‘epiphanies’, in the years 1986-88 which resulted in a paradigm shift in my political outlook. The second was when I arrived in the (then merged) North-East with the EPRLF leadership and the Provincial Council was set up. The Eelam Left, propelled by Tamil ultranationalist pressures from below, swiftly moved to a position of seeking to confront the state, entrench a foreign troop presence and carve up the island, despite a hard-fought reform -- the 13th amendment and the PCs, in defence of which Vijaya Kumaratunga and 117 members of the SLMP had sacrificed their lives -- remaining untested.

Among the lessons I learnt from that epiphany is that if given half a chance to reform the state and stay within it and a third of a chance to secure external support and secede, most varieties of Tamil nationalism, Right or Left, will opt for the latter, and therefore must not be permitted the possibility or capacity to do so.

If the selection of Mr Rudrakumaran as the ‘Prime Minister’ of a provisional government of Tamil Eelam or whatever, and the pickets in US and UK cities calling for boycott of Sri Lanka tell us anything, it is that we have real enemies out there, working to dismember the country. While the debate on Sri Lanka’s internal political dynamics must go on, clarity is needed on the existential threats it faces as a nation-state.

Rhyme rather than reason has ruled Tamil politics. What is truly scary is that the ‘rational actor model’, which presupposes the ability to grasp political realities and exercise restraint, doesn’t seem applicable to the constellation of Tamil nationalist politics and political consciousness. If it were, would the Tamil leaders have quit the Ceylon National Congress hoping that the advance of territorial representation and universal franchise could be stalled or rolled back and their levels of representation in an earlier phase of colonialism could be restored or approximated?

Would the Tamil leaders have thought that 50:50 was feasible and that democratic Ceylon would accept that the minorities would be allowed to punch way above their electoral and demographic weight?

Would they have seriously believed (and continue to believe) that a fully federal system a la Canada, which is not enjoyed by 70 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu (India’s is a quasi-federalism with a strong Centre), was a feasible goal for Ceylon/Sri Lankan Tamils who were a tiny fraction of that number?

Would Tamil politicians have assumed- as they still do—that it is possible to push one inch beyond that which a flight of Mirage 2000s and 70,000 Indian troops could secure, namely the 13th amendment?

Would Vardarajah Perumal have threatened the Sri Lankan state with an UDI?

Would Prabhakaran have turned his guns on the Indian peacekeepers and murdered Nehru’s grandson?

Would Tamil civil society have expected India to forgive and forget and intervene to save Prabhakaran from the Sri Lankan armed forces in 2009 as it had done in 1987 and been repaid by savage assassination of India’s Jack Kennedy?

Would the TULF/TNA have rejected Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s political packages of 1995, 1997 and 2000? Would the LTTE have boycotted the 2003 Tokyo summit and recoiled from the 2002 Oslo understandings?

Would the Tamil polity expect something more than the Provisional IRA and Northern Ireland’s Catholic minority agreed to in the Good Friday agreement (no federalism; devolution within a unitary state)?

Would the TNA today reject the 13th amendment as an insufficient base line for negotiations?

Would the former Chief Minister of the NEPC, now based in Sri Lanka, tell the press earlier this month that "The 13th amendment is not a good law; it prevents proper devolution and leads to more centralization". (Sunday Lakbimanews, Oct 3, 2010)?

Neelan Tiruchelvam was the epitome of Reason in Sri Lankan politics, albeit a trifle utopian in his idealism. He was murdered by the Tigers. The congenital weakness of both rationality and realism in Tamil politics means that there is no guarantee that rational realists like Devananda will be elected to lead the strategically vital Northern Provincial Council.

When deliberating on the vital issue of the post-war architecture of the State, Sri Lanka must not permit an institutional space which can be used as a base for any territorial unit to challenge the centre, still less breakaway. Nor must there be a structural space which can be used as a base for external actors who can be leveraged for such purposes.

A state cannot count on the goodwill of existing political actors. It cannot count on good intentions. It must look at capability. There must be no institutional capability or capacity for a re-play of what happened with Perumal’s North East Provincial Council. Even if one were to factor in intention, how is one to conclude that those Tamil parties which still do not recognise the 13th amendment as adequate or the start-line for talks do not have the intention of going beyond it if elected to office in the Northern Provincial Council?

Furthermore, how are we to be sure that a moderate Tamil party with good intentions will not be pushed or tempted by ethnic nationalist pressures from the grassroots and competition from its rivals, into converting the Provincial Council into a separatist platform? It cannot be forgotten that Tamil Nadu is next door, with its sizeable pocket of hostility to Sri Lanka. It can exert a pull on the Northern PC.

This means that the issue of devolution and autonomy must be looked at in terms of strategy and security. There must be no possibility for an internal actor or an external actor, or any combination, to try a Kosovo or Southern Sudan on us.

This is also why the faddish phrase ‘internal self-determination’ cannot be treated with, still less accepted. As the Kosovo and Southern Sudan prove, what is ‘internal’ today can become ‘external’ self-determination tomorrow.

However, that also means that the institutional arrangements must be adequate enough to keep our relations with India on an even keel, and also to prevent a feeling among the Tamil people that their backs are to the wall and they have no political space.

Does ethnic autonomy prevent secession or facilitate it? Is it a safeguard against it or a stepping stone to it?

Even when it does not act as a platform, does it act as a preventive, or does it not?

The evidence swings every which way, and it is arguable that in certain cases the remedy is more autonomy, in certain others it is less, and in still others the status quo is best.

Take Aceh and the Punjab for an optimistic reading and Kosovo or Kashmir for a pessimistic perspective. My ‘analytical judgement’ (to borrow a phrase from Adorno and Horkheimer’s critical revaluation of the Enlightenment) veers between ambivalence and agnosticism.

One standard Southern answer is small unit devolution. Both as Prime Minister and President, Premadasa was more inclined to make the district councils or Pradesheeya Sabhas the principal unit of devolution, an idea picked up and (pragmatically) put down by President Rajapaksa. This notion is in keeping with the EU doctrine of subsidiarity i.e. the idea that maximum power should go to the lowest possible unit and it is only those powers that it could not effectively wield that should be held at higher levels of the state structure. The problem is, can an ethno-regional nationalism or sub-nationalism be contained by a district sized receptacle?

The solution must surely correspond to the size of the problem; there must be an approximate fit. Therefore the Provincial Councils must stay unless we want a permanently alienated and restive North, and worse still, a less than friendly Delhi. Tamil Nadu state assembly elections are due next April-May. Colombo needs India, including South India, as a secure rear area and a strategic partner.

India's decision to invite President Rajapaksa to attend the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony criticised

By Saroj Pathirana

Activists have criticised India's decision to invite Sri Lanka's president to attend the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony in Delhi.

Sri Lanka's government said President Mahinda Rajapaksa would be the guest of honour at Thursday's event.

The move has angered rights groups and the Tamil diaspora who are critical of Sri Lanka's human rights record.

The Commonwealth Secretariat says the decision to invite Mr Rajapaksa to be chief guest was made by India.

India's invitation is seen by analysts as an attempt to counter increased Chinese influence in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan government is accused of violating international law in its war against the Tamil Tigers (LTTE).

The UN secretary general has appointed a special panel to advise him on "accountability issues" regarding the alleged war crimes committed by both government troops and the LTTE.

Rejecting war crimes accusations, the Sri Lankan government says it has appointed a in inquiry panel of its own.

Yolanda Foster of Amnesty International told BBC News that "impunity remains the order of the day" in Sri Lanka despite repeated promises to deliver on accountability.

"Commonwealth countries including India should be at the forefront of supporting an international inquiry into the allegations of violations of international law during the conflict," she said.

India supported the Sri Lankan government's war against the Tamil Tigers and has so far made no comment on the alleged human rights violations.

Delhi has, however, stressed the need for a "meaningful" political settlement of Tamil grievances and the need to resettle the displaced as effectively as possible.

The invitation comes just days after the Commonwealth rejected claims it was advising staff to ignore one of its major founding principals - to protect human rights.

A spokesman for the Commonwealth Secretariat told BBC News that it had nothing to do with the invitation to President Rajapaksa.

Despite its size, the Commonwealth has faced frequent criticism on its track record on protecting human rights.

The Tamil diaspora would like to see Commonwealth members exert pressure on the Sri Lankan government, as they say Britain did in the cases of Zimbabwe and Pakistan.

"The then Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague told the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) conference in the UK that just because a country has general elections does not necessarily mean that it is following democratic principles," Suren Surendiran, of the GTF, told BBC News.

Sri Lanka is becoming a less democratic country, he said, especially after the latest constitutional amendment that removed the term limits for a sitting president.

"We expect the current foreign secretary to acknowledge that and act accordingly."

Sri Lanka is competing with Australia to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Mr Rajapaksa's home town, Hambantota.

Mr Rajapaksa's government lost out in its attempt to host the 2014 Games amid criticism of its human rights record. - courtesy: BBC News -

Thailand arrests Tamils waiting to hear status of UNHCR for refugee (asylum) status - Sydney Morning Herald

Thai immigration authorities, 'fearing human smuggling gangs were preparing to traffic Sri Lankan Tamils to Canada and Australia, arrested 130 Tamils in a sweep of residences in Bangkok.'

According to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald, quoting diplomatic sources - the arrested, "are all people who have applied to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) for refugee (asylum) status and they have been waiting (in Thailand) until their applications have been determined."

Full report in Sydney Morning Herald by Ron Corben as follows:

The raids took place earlier this week and followed joint intelligence operations with Australian and Canadian authorities, sources said.

Media reports said the raids followed pressure by Canadian authorities amid fears the refugees were readying to travel to Canada aboard a smuggling ship.

In August, a ship identified as the MV Sun Sea had brought 492 Tamil asylum seekers to Canada after another vessel, the Ocean Lady, transported 76 Tamils to the British Columbia coast.

The Canadian Government has adopted a harder line towards asylum seekers after the MV Sun Sea arrived in Canada.

Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, during the recent election campaign, said her government would adopt a tougher policy to deter boat people coming to Australia.

But diplomatic sources say those arrested had been living in Thailand up to four years after overstaying tourist visas.

The refugees are due to appear before a Thai court Wednesday to face fines of 500 baht ($A18) a day for each day they had overstayed their tourist visas or a jail term until the fines are met. In both cases the Tamils are expected to be deported back to Sri Lanka.

The senior diplomat said the refugees, whom he met at the immigration detention centre, denied being linked to any plans to be smuggled to Canada or Australia as boat people.

They are all people who have applied to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) for refugee (asylum) status and they have been waiting (in Thailand) until their applications have been determined, the senior diplomat said.

So most of them have overstayed their visas and that is why they have been arrested, the diplomat told AAP, requesting anonymity.

There was enough intelligence to suggest there were large groups of Sri Lankan Tamils hanging around (Bangkok). What the police did was they raided the places they were staying and arrested the whole lot, he said.

But only to find they have been staying here for a long time and not actually waiting to board a ship, he said.

The asylum seekers told the diplomat they had taken the legitimate route and had not been looking to jeopardise efforts at being granted asylum.

They also told him they could not afford the smugglers fees that for Australia amounted to around $US20,000 ($A20,381) and for Canada as much as $US40,000 ($A40,762). He said such people make their journey to Thailand intending to stay a short while before being smuggled out their final destination.

AAP attempted to contact the UNHCR, but a spokesman was not available for comment.

But Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticised the Thai authorities. HRW representative in Thailand, Sunai Pasuk, said the rights group was concerned that Thai authorities were readying to send the Tamils back to Sri Lanka without proper screening.

Western governments were critical of the Sri Lankan Army's tough measures to end decades long fighting with claims of thousands of Tamils killed in the final push in May last year to end the conflict.

Mr Pasuk said the people remained at risk upon their return to Sri Lanka. Sadly, the record of the Thai government on (screening asylum seekers) on that front is very poor, he told AAP.

The Thai government shows no respect in their international commitment to protest asylum seekers, he said.

So this may end up being another sad case of people who deserve to be put under international protection but end up being deported by the Thai state to the place where they will be in danger, he said. - courtesy: Sydney Morning Herald -

Pradeep Ratnayake and Ensemble perform at the European Parliament

Sri Lankan sitar virtuoso Pradeep Ratnayake and ensemble performed at the European Parliament in Brussels last week to an audience which included MEPs, Parliamentary staff and officials from European Institutions and EU member states.

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This performance considered as the first by a Sri Lankan artist in the European Parliament, was held at the Yehudi Menuhin Auditorium in the presence of Dr. Libor Rouček, Vice-President of the European Parliament. The event was hosted by the Sri Lanka Embassy in Brussels in collaboration with MEP Nirj Deva and the Friends of Sri Lanka group of the European Parliament.

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the EU Ravinatha Aryasinha observed that those present in the audience in one way or another engages with Sri Lanka on a regular basis, and that this was appreciated. Particularly as Sri Lanka charted its course with renewed vigour in a post conflict context and was seeking to make rapid strides in bringing reconciliation and economic prosperity to its people, Sri Lanka looked forward to their continued support.

Vice-President, Dr. Rouček appreciated Pradeep and ensemble who were in Brussels to perform at the Palais des Beaux Arts (BOZAR) in connection with the 8th ASEM summit, also agreeing to perform at the European Parliament. Dr. Rouček said Pradeep’s work “represents a perfect example for today, a mix of old and new, tradition and modernity, influences from different cultures. It also represents what globalization should be. That means keeping to the roots but also enriching those roots and enriching them sometimes with foreign influences.”

MEP Nirj Deva said “it is very unusual for us to have such a well known artist, Sitar player from Sri Lanka perform in this Parliament, and I think it is only fitting that we give him our closest attention.”

The hour long concert by Pradeep and ensemble which began with a classical raga, moved onto an exhibition of his talents at fusion, featuring Sri Lankan drums, South Indian Ghatam and the western base guitar.

The concert was followed by an opportunity for the participants to taste tea from different regions of Sri Lanka. A Sri Lankan spices, travel and tourism display was also held at the European Parliament associated with this event.

[Full Text of Press Release - Embassy of Sri Lanka, Brussels]

October 11, 2010

Voice of America Editorial: The end of Sri Lanka's conflict has brought impressive dividends

Sri Lanka's Future Holds Promise

VOA News Editorial, Oct 9, 2010

Sri Lanka's future holds promise. So said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake. In May 2009, the Sri Lankan government achieved a milestone few though possible, by defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, ending nearly 3 decades of conflict that had cost tens of thousands of lives.

The end of Sri Lanka's conflict has brought impressive dividends, said Assistant Secretary Blake. The country's stock market has risen 150 percent in the last 15 months, the highest performing stock market in Asia. But economic dividends will not by themselves heal the wounds of war and secure lasting peace and prosperity for Sri Lanka. "A range of humanitarian, political and other steps," said Assistance Secretary Blake, "must be taken to ensure the Tamils of Sri Lanka a future of hope, opportunity and dignity."

On the humanitarian front, most of the 300,000 Tamils who had been displaced by the fighting in the North have been permitted to leave temporary camps and begin to reestablish their lives. The U.S. has been a leader in providing $89 million in food and other humanitarian aid for internally displaced persons. Additional U.S. assistance for demining has made it possible for many of them to return to their villages and homes.

The U.S. has also provided $25 million to encourage new private sector partnerships and agricultural development to provide livelihoods for people in the North of Sri Lanka. It will now be important for the government to organize local and provincial council elections as soon as possible so that a new, freely elected leadership can emerge in the North for the first time in almost thirty years.

Finally, the U.S. welcomes the establishment of a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which has held public hearings in Colombo, and in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. This commission was established to hear the concerns of the people of Sri Lanka and to provide recommendations to Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The U.S. has expressed its hope that the commission will probe violations of international humanitarian law, identify those responsible, and make appropriate recommendations.

Having defeated one of the most murderous terrorist groups in the world, the government of Sri Lanka now has an unprecedented opportunity to build a tolerant, multi-ethnic democracy in Sri Lanka. [courtesy: VOA News]

Sri Lanka North crying out for more private investment

by IRIN News

KILINOCHCHI, 12 October 2010 (IRIN) - More private investment, especially in agriculture, is urgently needed in Sri Lanka’s former conflict zone in the north to lift the local population out of dependence, say experts.

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Housing grants for returning IDPs are being used instead to set up businesses like this one in the south of Kilinochchi - pic: Amantha Perera/IRIN

"Private investments are very important to wean away the people from over 25 years of dependence on relief and welfare handouts from the government, NGOs, donors, et al, and steer them towards self-sustenance,” Muttikrishna Saravananthan, lead researcher at the Point Pedro Institute of Development [ http://pointpedro.org/ ] based in the northern city of Jaffna, told IRIN. “If not, the Vanni will remain a perpetual basket case.”

Tens of thousands of people displaced during the decades-long civil war that ended in May 2009 have returned to Vanni District, northern Sri Lanka, an area formerly under control of the now-defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. But more than a year on, private investment has been slow to follow suit.

Finance for most of the local economy in Vanni comes from the public sector or donors. “Public administration, defence, and transfer payments from NGOs and bilateral and multilateral donors account for over 80 percent of the local economy. The agriculture, industry and service sectors account for less than 20 percent,” said Saravananthan.

Returning civilians received US$225 from the UN, through the government, to help build semi-permanent shelters until more permanent housing is established. But some of that money had been used for other things.

“I used the money to start this [fruit stand] because there was nothing else to do,” Thangavel Gowrinathan, a young fruit vendor from Darmapuram in the far-north district of Kilinochchi. He said if he used the all of the grant to set up a shelter, he and his family of three could starve - if assistance provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) and other donors ended.

Government and relief agencies have targeted agricultural and industrial revitalization as key to sparking the region’s economy.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said it was a “race against time” to ready the agriculture sector in Vanni for harvest after the monsoon rains end, typically in October. While most of the paddy land has been demined, planting has not begun due to lack of seeds and equipment.

As a result, officials are setting lower targets for the upcoming harvest.

“We will be using around 48,000 acres [80 percent of total acreage] for cultivation this season [in Kilinochchi District],” said district official, Roopavathi Ketheeswaran.

Given Vanni’s low population density - 70 people per square kilometre - and the dependence on agriculture for food and livelihoods, agriculture can help kick-start the regional economy, Sarvananthan said.

The little private investment there is, favours industry, he added. Several garment factories are set to open in the districts of Jaffna and Vavuniya. Ketheswaran said initial plans have been drafted to open a garment factory with private sector funding in Kilinochchi.

While the return to Vanni of more than 200,000 people fleeing fighting since December 2009 has brought with it rapid improvements to the road network, poor telecommunications and intermittent power supplies in the region are driving away potential investors, Saravananthan said.

Commonwealth is losing its reputation as a standard-bearer for human rights

by Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah

The allegations in Saturday's (October 9) edition of the London-based Guardian newspaper that the Commonwealth secretariat has abandoned its commitment to defend human rights could not have come at a worse time. [Titled “Commonwealth has abandoned human rights commitment – leaked memo” it says: “Leaked document obtained by the Guardian shows staff told by secretary general it is not their job to speak out against abuses.”] Bad press around the Delhi games had already led to questions about what the Commonwealth is for these days, and this news potentially undermines the very thing that sets the association apart.

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[Dr. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, pic: courtesy thercs.org]

If the Commonwealth is to survive in the 21st century, it needs to show that it stands for something more than its ties to the old empire. The obvious choice, reaffirmed most recently when leaders met late last year, is a commitment to “fundamental values and principles” around human rights and democracy.

Putting these lofty ideals into practice may be difficult given the diversity of the association — which covers Australia to Zambia — but if its leadership is not seen as a credible custodian of these values then the rest of the Commonwealth project will suffer.

Unlike most other multilateral groupings, the Commonwealth is rooted in a long history and buttressed by unrivalled civil society and business networks. There is no Royal OECD Society or G20 Parliamentary Association. This gives the Commonwealth a huge advantage.

But it also means that its institutions have a harder time carving out a role for themselves. With a total budget less than one per cent of the Department for International Development's, and fewer staff than Cornwall council's fire and rescue service, the secretariat is unlikely to find too many areas in which it will be uniquely placed to add real value. It could be a convenor, bringing together diverse experiences and expertise from around the world, but without an over-arching purpose it risks descending into a series of expensive talkshops.

The Commonwealth's role as a custodian and champion of values, therefore, is its unique selling point and the area where it has been strongest in previous decades.

No other body boasts a global membership of countries that have voluntarily signed up to such strong ideals. Nor does any other have a mechanism for self-regulation like the Commonwealth's ministerial action group, which has the power to suspend, and ultimately expel, recalcitrant members.

The Commonwealth played a lead role in the global campaign to end apartheid in South Africa, with the secretary general often taking a view that was unpopular with member states, notably Britain. And it pioneered independent international election-observer missions, many of which criticised practices in member states.

But the organisation has been woefully quiet in these areas in recent times. The Gambian president has threatened journalists and human rights activists without any criticism from the secretariat and it took almost three years after the coup for Fiji to be finally suspended late last year. Though we are told that work is being done behind the scenes, public silence hurts the association's credibility.

Just as the world is crying out for a credible moral authority, the Commonwealth has become shy and retiring. The fact that the association is governed by consensus is a unique strength, giving all its members an equal stake and preventing the kind of politicised deadlock that so often cripples the U.N. security council. But in recent years the consensus ideal has become an obsession, locking the Commonwealth into being as conservative as its most conservative member, many of which are reluctant to sanction criticism due to their own less-than-perfect records.

By contrast, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees campaigns tirelessly on international protection; and just last month the European commission warned France over its treatment of the Roma.

The problem for the Commonwealth is as much philosophical as political. The fear of being branded neo-imperialist seems to have made it reluctant to push too hard on human rights. Yet, given that its members have freely subscribed to these ideals, holding them to account on their promises is hardly imposing western liberalism.

If the Commonwealth is to recover from its recent battering, it must make good on its promise of being an association that holds to its values. This means lending a helping hand where appropriate but also pointing a finger where there are serious shortcomings.

The founding fathers had visionary ideals. Nehru had hoped that the modern Commonwealth would bring “a touch of healing” to the world. Today, it's the Commonwealth that needs an urgent dose of courage and ambition.

(Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah is director of the Royal Commonwealth Society.)

October 10, 2010

The Inspiring Influence of India on Sri Lanka

By D.C.R.A. Goonetilleke

When we refer to the interaction of India and Sri Lanka in whatever field, we assume that India and Sri Lanka are two separate countries, but there was a time in the distant past when India and Sri Lanka were a single land mass. Even today after the land mass has split, the distance between India and Sri Lanka is only 22 miles. That is the full distance of the Palk Strait.

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at Gangarama ~ pic by: indi.ca

In earlier ages when transport and communications between countries and contacts were minimal, the only significant foreign impact on Sri Lanka was that of India. Of course, everybody knows that the greatest gift to Sri Lanka from India, is Buddhism. The religion, which originated in India but was superseded there by Hinduism and Islam, was brought across to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C. by Rev. Mahinda, the son of Emperor Asoka of India, who founded the order of monks here. He was followed by his sister Sanghamitta Theri, who founded the order of Buddhist nuns here. The arrival of Rev. Mahinda in the 3rd century B.C. is recorded in the Mahavamsa, the Great Chronicle, and substantiated by a rock inscription after his passing away, found in Amparai.

Buddhism is the fountainhead of Sinhalese literature.

Pali texts brought by Rev. Mahinda were translated to Sinhalese and designated the Hela Atuva. These texts were translated back into Pali by Rev. Buddhagosha, who came from India in the 5th century. The Sinhala texts were destroyed and Pali became the official language of Buddhism. The earliest extant prose works of importance in Sinhalese date from the 13th century and were pietistic – the Amavatura of Gurulugomi, the Butsarana of Vidyachakravarti. Of special significance for the development of the short story were Dharmasena Thera’s 13th-century Saddharma Ratnavaliya and Saddharmalankaraya (1398-1410) by Dharmakirthi Thera II, based on earlier Pali texts.

It has been observed that the Saddharma Ratnavaliya and the Saddharmalankaraya combine an ever present moral and religious didacticism with a surprisingly rich, earthy yet subtle vein of psychological exploration dealing with emotional impulses and social pressures that govern daily life. The Jataka tales (stories of the past lives of the Buddha) which were recorded in the 14th century and were popularized by monks who used these to illustrate their sermons, form a part of a popular oral tradition. These contained the rudiments of fiction which influenced the rise of Sinhalese fiction as from the late 19th century, as well as stimulated later literary works.

The Sinhalese during the long years before the impact of Western literary criticism were indebted exclusively to India, to Sanskrit in particular, for literary touchstones – for ideas as to what constitutes literature, for ideas as to how to appreciate and evaluate literature. The touchstones include alankara (embellishment, decoration), shailya (style), reethi (rules, standards), guna (inherent quality), vakrokti (indirection, obliqueness), rasa, auchitya (suitability, appropriateness) and dvani (denotation and connotation). In the 9th century, King Sena’s Siyabaslakara was more or less a translation of Dandin’s earlier Sanskrit work Kavyadarsha which discussed general issues and poetic figures.

Sri Lanka also inherited literary forms from India. Sanskrit drama was, probably, read but was never performed and did not provide a stimulus to local playwrights. On the other hand, Kalidasa’s Mega Dutha or Cloud Messenger inspired a whole host of Sinhalese sandesa or message poems such as the Mayura Sandesaya (the Peacock Messenger Poem) and the Tisara Sandesaya (the Swan Messenger Poem). It is interesting to note that among the Sigiri Graffiti is a Sanskrit sloka written by a visitor from India called Vajira Varman, responding to the frescoes.

It is interesting to note that Sanskrit was not only a seminal influence on the arts in Sri Lanka but that Sri Lanka made a contribution to Sanskrit literature itself by means of a poem named the Janaki harana which has for its subject the story of the Ramayana. Manuscripts of the poem found in the 1950s in Malabar proved that the poet of the Janaki harana was indeed named Kumaradasa. He was not a king but a scion of the Sinhalese royal family, the son of a prince named Manita.

Tamil literature in Sri Lanka lay in the shadow of South India for a very long time, and a distinctively Sri Lankan kind of Tamil literature was unable to emerge until the 17th century. As purist scholars on both sides of the Palk Strait endeavoured to follow a South Indian and Sanskrit tradition, the first Sri Lankan Tamil literary works were written in a religious spirit, the spirit of Hinduism which was another great gift from India. These were confined to commentaries on the ancient classics, tedious and conventional. The first spark occurred in the late 19th century as a consequence of religious zeal and conflict. Christian missionaries sought to proselytize by preaching in the native language, and they enlisted traditional poetic forms to express Christian themes. On the other hand, to combat the inroads of missionaries, Hindu poets created works which explicated and exalted their own religion. This literature too was of a didactic sort.

The South Indian film and dance forms like Bharata Natyam, Kathak and Kathakali continue to exert a potent influence on Tamil mass entertainment and art in Sri Lanka, but the winds of change in Sri Lanka in the 1950s made a deep impact on Tamil writing – fiction, poetry and drama – and brought about a Tamil literature that broke free from South Indian literature and assumed a distinctively Sri Lankan identity. Tamil writing became irrevocably secular and popular in character. Nevertheless the South Indian influence was a catalyst. It should also be observed that dance forms like Bharata Natyam, Kathak and Kathakali have interested Sinhalese performers and audiences.

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Rabindranath Tagore

In the 20th century, among the Indian individuals who exerted an influence on Sri Lankan culture, the greatest was Rabindranath Tagore. He is the only Indian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, a hallmark of world recognition, and the creator of the song in Bengali which was adopted as the national anthem. In his Bengali essays, Tagore stresses that the Bengali word for literature, “sahitya”, derives from “sahit” and etymologically means together or intimacy.

Tagore was not chauvinistic. He emphasized that an India, bereft of Western contact, would have been wanting in an essential element in her quest for fulfilment. Like Jawaharlal Nehru in The Discovery of India, Tagore believed that the greatest blessing of British rule was that it enabled the heterogeneous country that was India to rise in a single voice, the Indian voice. Tagore expresses his view of freedom:

Where the mind is free,
and the head is held high,
where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up
into fragments by narrow domestic walls.

Tagore seems to me the quintessential Indian.

As commonly in ex-colonies, the presence of the colonial ‘masters’ had a suffocating effect on the creative energies of the local inhabitants in Sri Lanka and the emergence of Sri Lankan English literature flows from the growth of nationalist currents. This growth was stimulated by the freedom struggle in India and by certain remarkable Indians who were active in that period. In the 1930s and early 1940s, the Kandy Lake poets were inspired by Indian poets such as Tagore and Sarojini Naidu. R.K. Narayan’s success in the West is likely to have stimulated Jinadasa Vijayatunga. D.F. Karaka was a household word in Sri Lanka at that time; his fiction and non-fiction would have acted as a stimulus to local writing. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike attended a performance of Tagore’s Saapmochan which Tagore himself staged in Colombo during a visit to Sri Lanka in 1934, and Bandaranaike wrote in his review (which included a quotation from Sarojini Naidu’s poetry):

India has as good a reason to be proud of Tagore as of Gandhi; for he has made an original contribution to art which can stand the test of comparison with anything of the kind the West has evolved.

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Ediriwira Sarachchandra

Ediriwira Sarachchandra (1914-1996), a remarkable bilingual, became the pre-eminent man of letters in Sinhala as well as the leading novelist in English. Some of his formative influences were Indian. When he was a schoolboy at St. Thomas’s College in the 1920s and early 1930s, he came into contact with Tagore, a collection of whose short stories was a prescribed text at the College. The mysticism of Gitanjali made a deep impact on Sarachchandra.

He read of Tagore, and of Santiniketan, the institution Tagore had founded in Bengal, where the life led by the teachers and students accorded with Tagore’s credo of ‘high thinking and plain living’ and seemed to Sarachchandra ideal. When Sarachchandra was a student at University College, Colombo, he saw at the Regal Theatre a performance of the same Tagore dance drama which Bandaranaike did, and recorded his experience:
During the ballet we saw the great poet Rabindranath Tagore seated on stage, keeping time with his foot to the rhythm of the music, and savouring the pleasure given by his creation. In his long robe and black headgear, with white hair flowing on either side of his face and a beard that covered his chest, he was an impressive individual with an aura of majesty about him. To see him in the flesh was happiness of a sort I had never hoped for.

Shortly afterwards, Sarachchandra witnessed Uday Shankar dance, with his troupe, at the same theatre. Sarachchandra became enchanted by Bengali music and dance, which he identified as a part of his cultural heritage, and desired to go to Santiniketan to study it. He succeeded in doing so. When he returned to Ceylon from India in 1940, he was a transformed man. He gave up Western dress for the Indian kurta. He was employed for a while as a Sinhala teacher at S. Thomas’ College. The young westernized students there found him amusing and nicknamed him ‘Tagore’, which Sarachchandra considered a compliment.

Wilmot Perera was inspired by Tagore’s Santiniketan and his association with Tagore himself to found Sri Palee in Horana as a school for music, dance, the fine arts and allied subjects. Perera felt the British system of education in Sri Lanka at that time did not suit Sri Lankans and he favoured traditional learning. He modelled Sri Palee on Santiniketan and followed Tagore’s system as practised there. In fact, Sri Palee was launched by Tagore himself in 1934. In the past 20 years, translators into Sinhala have shown a remarkable interest in Indian literature, both the literature in English and the literature in the vernacular languages.

Bobby Boteju believes that one should know the literatures of neighbouring countries before one ventures further afield. He has devoted himself to translating Indian short stories and translated over one thousand of these. He was the first to introduce R.K. Narayan to the Sinhala reading public by translating Malgudi Days in 1991. He has translated stories by C. Rajagopalachari, the first Governor General of India after Independence, and stories by Asokamitran, originally written in Tamil; stories by Premchand, originally written in Hindi; stories by Takazi Sivasankar Pillai, originally written in Malayalam; stories by Tagore, originally written in Bengali; and stories by numerous other writers.

Translations into Sinhala from the Indian vernacular languages have been usually done via English renderings, but Chinta Lakshmi Sinharachchi has translated Indian vernacular literatures directly from the original languages, Bengali, Hindi and Urdu. She has translated Tagore’s Gora from the Bengali, Premchand’s Godani from the Hindi, Chattopadyaya’s Aranayak from the Bengali, the original texts of Satyajith Ray’s trilogy, Apparajitho, Pather Panchali and Apu Sansar. Among the Indian writers in English, R.K. Narayan has been a favourite among translators into Sinhala: W.A. Abeysinghe has translated Swami and Friends; Kulasena Fonseka The Painter of Signs; Milroy Dharmaratne The Dark Room.

All the translations from Indian literature have been well received by the Sinhala reading public, probably, because of their relevance, given the similarities and links between the Indian environment/culture and the Sri Lankan. It is perhaps too early to think in terms of their impact on creative writing in Sinhala. But there are already signs of influence.

During the Kandy period, the phase before British rule in Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese kings brought wives from South India. As a consequence, Carnatic music entered Sri Lanka. In more recent times, earlier Sinhala drama such as the nadagam and nurti use Carnatic music.

Marris College of Music, later named after its founder as the Bhathkande College of Music, at Lucknow has been, and still is, the Mecca for oriental musicians from Sri Lanka. Sunil Shantha, Lionel Edirisinghe and V.S. Wijeratne, all studied there. On his return, Sunil Shantha became the first popular artist in Sinhala music. Amaradeva, who was Sunil Shantha’s violinist, took off from where Sunil Shantha left. He adopted a North Indian style and infused an increased musical content into his songs. Before Sunil Shantha, Sinhala music as practised by Sedris Master and Rupasinghe Master was based on Raghadhari music.

The music of popular Sinhala films was often provided by Indians such as Naushad or copied from India by Sri Lankan singers such as H.R. Jothipala. Sri Lankan popular Sinhala films were, and still are, influenced by South Indian cinema/Bollywood. Indian teledramas dubbed in Sinhala and Hindi songs are popular fare on local television channels.

George Keyt is undoubtedly Sri Lanka’s most famous painter. The dominant influences on his art were Hindu mythology and literature. Keyt’s sensuous, stylized art, in turn, had a great impact on younger painters.

The profound influence of India on Sri Lanka in the field of culture has been underpinned by political and economic links. The Sri Lankan Independence movement drew inspiration to a certain extent from the Indian Independence movement. There was cooperation between the Indian National Congress and the Ceylon National Congress. Delegates from Ceylon such as S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike addressed sessions there, while delegates from India such as Gandhi and Nehru addressed sessions here. It was mainly as a consequence of the militant freedom struggle in India that the less militant Sri Lanka won its independence.

In the sphere of economics, India is currently Sri Lanka’s biggest trading partner. In addition to normal trade, there is a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries. India is one of the major investors in Sri Lanka.
The interaction of India and Sri Lanka in every sphere – cultural, economic, political – is now more intense than ever before, while at the same time both countries are more open to influences from other countries as well. Perhaps Mahatma Gandhi has suggested the final wisdom in this context:

“I do not want my house to be walled and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible, but I refuse to be blown off my feet by any one of them.”

The enigmatic relationship of Anoma and Sarath Fonseka

by Namini Wijedasa

The wives of some army officers might be forgiven for expressing surprise at the anguish Anoma Fonseka today shows over the government’s treatment of her husband, Sarath.
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Anoma Fonseka ~ pic courtesy: Reuters

They remember the former army commander to have been cavalier towards her and say there was a time Anoma wanted to live abroad as long as she could, just to be away from him. It was an open secret in the military that Sarath Fonseka liked women.

He was dominating and domineering. And even while in military detention, he would berate his wife if she was late visiting.

“If any other wife was subjected to the harassment Sarath put Anoma through, she would have left him,” confided an army source. “I have never seen this man talking to her with affection or respect. I think she will be the happiest to see him locked away.”

For someone not having been inside the Fonseka marriage or associated closely with them, it is difficult to gauge how much of this is true and how much is malicious slander. There is so much of both going around that the boundaries have blurred.

For her part, Anoma would have none of it. She has already been seen crying on numerous occasions, apparently deeply affected by her husband’s fate. She left Welikada prison on October 1, pitifully bunching Fonseka’s national suit against her chest. At her mother’s funeral in June, she clung on to her husband while he sympathised stiffly with her. She has protested, remonstrated and pleaded — though not with the government — on her husband’s behalf.

Having campaigned for him during his unsuccessful bid for presidency, she now keeps his politics alive. Anoma has become the voice of the incarcerated Fonseka.

An enigma

This reporter recently met Anoma in the meeting room of the large Queen’s Road residence she has taken on rent. (A friend told me it was advertised last year at Rs. 150,000 a month). She was late for her appointment.

Her assistant explained at the time that Anoma’s days were as busy as they were stressful. She spoke with her daughters by telephone in the dead of the night; she visited her husband at breakfast, lunch and dinner (while he was still in military custody); she bathed their dogs; she participated in political meetings; she strategized with other allies; she ran errands.

Dressed in a white kurta and make-up free, Anoma looked drawn and tired when she arrived but was polite, gracious and quick with her smile. She started out by confessing she hates politics and I soon found myself thinking that she was one hard code to decipher.

Anoma repeatedly emphasised her loathing of politics but is clearly — and willingly — delving deeper into it. As others who have met her also analysed, she is evolving as a politician but has not quite found her feet. She cannot, for instance, be spied weeping in public for the rest of her days. They agree that Anoma would be someone to watch in the coming months.

“She is complex,” said one of these sources, requesting anonymity. “I’m not sure what the real deal is. She comes across as the reluctant debutante who is not completely reluctant. There might possibly be a huge change in her though I do not know how much of it would be for her husband’s sake and how much for her own.”

“I remember watching her on the first day that the Supreme Court heard her husband’s fundamental rights petition,” this source continued. “She was listening intently and then she came right out and spoke to the media. Either she was briefed or had figured it out on her own.”

For her husband’s sake

For Anoma, it is simple. She says she will do whatever she is asked to... in her husband’s name.

Asked if she harboured ambitions to be a political leader, Anoma replied: “I don’t have that and I don’t want to do that. But I keep telling everybody that if they need me to do something for my husband, I will do it. I don’t want to be a minister or prime minister, neither president. I don’t like those positions. But I have to do something because of my husband.”

So she would contest the presidency for her husband’s sake? “Yes, exactly,” she replied. Still, she did not see herself entering parliament after her husband’s imprisonment because she did not contest the parliamentary election, nor is she on the national list of any party.

The only way she could take Fonseka’s place (by citing precedents such as Ratnasiri Wickremenayake who stayed in parliament despite not being on any list) is for Tiran Alles or Anura Kumara Dissanayake to resign. And there is so far not a hum from either.

Throughout the interview, Anoma spoke so glowingly of Sarath Fonseka that you would think she worshipped the ground he walked on. The only time she expressed anything even remotely unflattering was when she admitted, upon prodding, that her husband is not perfect.

“He’s a little bit tough, I know that,” she agreed. But asked whether he was revengeful — as is widely claimed — she said: “Not revengeful but if there is something wrong he goes against that. Sometimes if he couldn’t understand, I can tell him, ‘this is the way you have to treat them’.”

Another time, while discussing her life as a housewife, she said her husband was a ‘typical Sri Lankan man’. He preferred her to do the housework without outside help. “He didn’t want anybody else inside the house,” she recalled. “You get a lot of male workers in the army. We didn’t want them doing anything inside the house because we have two daughters. I did everything till he became army commander. Even after that, I made his tea but the cooking was done by an army cook. I selected the items.”

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Anoma Fonseka with Apsara and Anoma ~ pic courtesy: lw.lk

Good mother, happy childhood

Anoma was evidently a good mother to their two girls — 27-year-old Apsara and 23-year-old Aparna — and does not hesitate to say so. A bank executive who is reading for her MBA, Apsara is the wife of Danuna Tillekeratne who has an arrest warrant hanging over his head. She does not visit Sri Lanka but Aparna, who is in her final year at university, was here for the summer holidays and is expected again in December.

“They have done a very bad thing to my daughter and my son-in-law,” Anoma said of Danuna’s indictment. “All the things are false. What to do? This is the way of our country. We can fight but I don’t want to involve my daughters here in that part."

Anoma said, however, that both children are campaigning abroad for their father using their contacts in the US State Department and international organisations. “They can’t do those things here,” she pointed out. “I’m so proud of them, actually.”

Her own stable childhood must have influenced the upbringing of her own children. Anoma’s father is from Ratnapura and her mother from Meerigama but the family shifted to Colombo in 1958, a year after she was born. They lived at Baseline Road and she attended Gothami Balika Vidyalaya. She is the youngest in a close-knit family of three daughters and two sons.

Indeed, Anoma is often seen in public with two sisters who resemble her closely. She sleeps at night, not in the Fonseka residence at Bokundara, but at a sister’s house. Fonseka’s meals while in detention were cooked by her sister’s household help. Anoma says she too is a good cook. Her mother was methodical and made sure domestic chores were divided among the children. This helped later in life.

Dismissing talk of her husband being a womaniser, Anoma said briefly that she was 100 per cent confident about her husband. “We had a seven year love affair and married in 1979,” she noted. “I can understand him and he can understand me.”

Anoma is a trained preschool teacher, having qualified after the birth of her younger daughter. She worked for twelve years at Visakha Vidyalaya nursery. Later, Anoma and Fonseka decided that both children should pursue higher studies abroad. “Because this country had no future... both of us thought it was better for them to stay there (USA) and do their higher studies,” she said.

Then, while Anoma was vacationing in the US, Danuna (who was then Apsara’s boyfriend) suggested that she apply for the Green Card. She lodged her papers in 2000 on the closing day and got her Green Card in 2003. She worked intermittently as a preschool teacher in the US from 2003 to 2006 and returned when Fonseka was promoted as army commander. As with any army commander’s wife, Anoma headed the Seva Vanitha Unit and the Ranaviru Seva Authority. She resigned from both in 2009.

What now?

Anoma says that the Fonseka family ‘suffered a lot’ during the war. “I thought as soon as the war finished we will also have some good times but it changed,” she observed. “What to do? I don’t mind that. I feel very sorry about my family and my husband. They had thought some day law and order will come to this country.”

When Fonseka went into politics, Anoma knew the field was dirty. Why did she not discourage him? Detractors would say she had little choice. Anoma says her husband told her that he wanted to ‘change things’. “He cleaned up the army and it became number one in the world,” she maintained. “Now, there was the country. I felt he could do it. I thought it would be better to help him because he has a very good heart and clear view.”

Both those who like and dislike her say she is an effective public speaker. “Because I was a teacher, I can talk very well,” she, too, admitted. As a Sri Lankan politician, that would be 50 per cent of the battle won. And whatever she may prattle about a lack of ambition, it is evident that she will only march forward from this point.

Anoma says she would one day go to parliament if the opposition asks her to. She also claims she has no skeletons in her closet that the government can exploit to sink her. And, yes, she cries. But, no, it’s not a sign of weakness. “Every woman has tears, we can’t stop that,” she smiles. “But after the tears end, every woman has a very brave and strong heart which I also have. Now I am so strong. I don’t care about others. I will try my best to save my husband.”

Will her husband come out soon? “Everything is in the president’s hands,” Anoma said. She has checked Fonseka’s horoscope. “These days, there are some problems,” she revealed. “Not years, but months. If I believe that, I have hope.”

Anoma insists quietly that she can handle Fonseka’s incarceration. “I don’t want to bend my knees in front of other people,” she shoots, with a streak of defiance. “If they are good, honest people, I will bend. But I know how they are and who they are.”

Some of what Anoma says — about her husband, herself, her children and their policies — sounds too good to be true. “We are very genuine people, everybody knows my husband... he’s very genuine and never tells lies,” she asserted. Critics would advise a pinch of salt here.

Rosy picture notwithstanding, the question now is how far will Anoma go? And where will she end up. She took to politics after being told there was a vacuum in her husband’s political campaign. And depending on what kind of ‘victimised political wife’ she chooses to be, Anoma may or may not be a force for the government to contend with. - courtesy: LakbimaNews -

If Sarath Fonseka dies in prison he will not only be a military hero but also a political martyr

by R.M.B Senanayake

The President keeps insisting that the family of Sarath Fonseka must ask for a pardon and his release. But that would be an admission of guilt. But he does not think he is guilty nor do many other people who have rallied around his cause. Does the law demand confession? Doesn’t he have a right to act according to his conscience?

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Sarath Fonseka

The US Government as well as liberal opinion wanted Sarath Fonseka to be tried by the civilian courts which are bound to follow the Criminal Procedure Code and due processes of law in a transparent manner. But the President did not heed this call and instead charged him before military tribunals. But he has been proved guilty and there is no further case for insisting that he must accept his guilt and seek a pardon. Those who are sentenced after a court hearing do not have to re-affirm their guilt. The right to confess or not is available for all those who are charged before courts. So is it reasonable to ask that Sarath Fonseka should accept his guilt and seek a pardon personally when he does not consider himself guilty of the charges on which he was found guilty by the military court?

According to St. Francis De Sales, judgments of men are rash. "Oh, how displeasing are rash judgments to God! The judgments of the children of men are rash, because they are not the Judges one of another, and therefore usurp to themselves the office of our Lord. They are rash, because the principal malice of sin depends on the intent of the heart, which is an impenetrable secret to us. They are not only rash, but also impertinent, because everyone has enough to do to judge himself without taking upon him to judge his neighbour".

Our politics is rife with revenge, mismanagement, corruption, greed and an almost blatant disregard for the truth. Everyone knows this. Everyone has always known it. No one has ever cared enough to do anything about it because we are all cowards and do not want to stand for what is right. Our collective conscience is dead.

History may not look kindly upon the way Sarath Fonseka has been treated.

Whoever is willing to lay down his life for a cause displays an impressive level of dedication, and certainly an attitude that our politicians can never appreciate- something which is alien to them going by how they jump from one political party to another for very selfish and pecuniary reasons betraying the voters who voted for them. A martyr loses his life in defence of his beliefs and his conscience. If he dies in prison Sarath Fonseka would prove himself to be not only a war hero but also a martyr. If we admire the selflessness of a war hero who takes charge and fearlessly leads his troops to victory , we must admire even more his stand for his conscience and for his convictions- something that is unusual in our morally bankrupt nation.

To quote Chester Himes "It is now a dark and dismal time in the history of our country. A man who fought and won a victory is not only being dispossessed but insulted and degraded. Will our people be coerced into accepting what they consider is unfair and unjust? It is self-evident to all who have eyes to see that an evil shadow has fallen across our once fair land.

Silencing Sri Lanka's anti-Govt voice

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

In Sri Lanka this year it has well and truly been a case of the mighty falling, as the man that led the military to victory against the Tamil Tigers found himself placed in detention swiftly after losing his bid to oust Mahinda Rajapaksa in the presidential election in January.

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Buddhist monks have been calling on the President Mahinda Rajapaksa to release Mr Fonseka

Ten days ago it got worse for the former general Sarath Fonseka as he began a 30 month jail sentence in one of Colombo’s most notorious prisons for using nepotism in purchasing military supplies.

And this week the authorities declared that he has lost his parliamentary seat.

The opposition disputes the legality of that ruling and is resuming protests in his favour.

Prison officials say that Sarath Fonseka is afforded some extra security in the Welikada jail, which also holds suspected Tamil Tiger militants.

In the past few days senior ministers have been heavily hinting that he might get a presidential pardon, but only if he himself pleads for one.

His wife says he would not do that as he is not guilty of anything.

Some of the opposition parties which fielded him as their candidate in January have resumed campaigns to get him freed.

But the street demonstrations often have difficulty attracting large crowds, despite Mr Fonseka’s undoubted popularity among many people.

He is not a figure that many human rights groups, whether local or foreign, want to espouse; his own reputation from the war years is too controversial for that.

At the same time, his absence from the political scene, including, now, from parliament, has more or less silenced the most outspoken and witheringly anti-government political voice in Sri Lanka.

That is in a context where the opposition is largely weak and divided, and has recently seen many of its own numbers enticed to defect to the government side for voting purposes.

Should any pardon be granted, there would still be big question marks about Sarath Fonseka's future as there is still a series of charges pending against him.

The government has been especially angry ever since Mr Fonseka was quoted as implying that the defence secretary might have been a party to war crimes. - courtesy: Sandeshaya -

October 09, 2010

The burial of democracy - A response to Dr Dayan Jayatilaka’s spurious allegation

by Dr.Nihal Jayawickrama

In an article published in a Sunday newspaper, and in a recycled version published on a popular website, Dr Dayan Jayatilaka continues his defence of the indefensible Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. That piece of secret legislation not only did immense damage to the personal credibility and integrity of those who participated in its unseemly swift passage through the law-making process, but also to the institutional integrity of democratic governance in this country. In an attempt to divert attention from that fact, Dr Jayatilaka now asks when it was that democracy began to die in Sri Lanka.

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Dr Dayan Jayatilaka

Both the original and the recycled versions of his article contain the following paragraph:

Perhaps we were closer to the burial of democracy and its replacement by dictatorship at the fag-end of the SLFP administration of 1970-77, when there was kite flying from public platforms about prolonging Mrs Bandaranaike’s incumbency, and the whizz-kid of a Secretary to a relevant Ministry who is today a British-based born-again proselytiser for International Humanitarian Law and R2P, actually drafted an amendment to the Constitution which would make for extension of the term of office.

Unnamed alleged draftsmen

Dr Jayatilaka has not identified by name the Permanent Secretary who, he alleges, drafted an amendment to the Constitution that would have extended Mrs Bandaranaike’s term of office. While I am not so presumptious as to consider myself as having been a "whizz-kid", the reference to the former Secretary is clearly to me.

While the reference to me as being "British-based" is not strictly accurate, I fail to see its relevance, considering that Dr Jayatilaka himself is writing from Singapore. Ever since I was stripped of my civic rights at the age of 42, by a powerful parliament at the instigation of a powerful government, I have necessarily had to live and work in foreign countries, especially since I had a young family to support. That experience has enabled me to view from a broader, more universal, perspective events as they unfold here in Sri Lanka.

Dr Jayatilaka’s reference to me as a "born-again" proselytiser for International Humanitarian Law and The Responsibility to Protect is, of course, wholly baseless. I learnt of the importance of protecting human rights as a young student at home, under the influence of a judge whose judgments reflect the importance he attached to what was then a relatively new, emerging, concept in international law.

My own commitment to the cause is one that has continued through my professional life as a lawyer, as a government official, as a law professor, as an academic writer, and in my work in the international field. There was no necessity for me to be born again.

Spurious allegation

As spurious as the allegation that I drafted any such amendment to the Constitution, would be a claim that any such amendment was ever drafted by anyone else. Mr Ratnasiri Wickramanayake who was the Minister of Justice in the months preceding the general election would, I am sure, have been as amused as I was when I read Dr Jayatilaka’s assertion. With a steadily decreasing slender majority in the NSA, a constitutional amendment was the last thing in anyone’s mind.

It is true that as election year drew near, one cabinet minister did briefly indulge in what might have appeared to some as "kite flying" about the possibility of the election being postponed. Mrs Bandaranaike’s immediate response was to instruct other senior cabinet ministers, including Mr Ilangaratne, to immediately refute from political platforms that any such course of action was being contemplated. Indeed, all the steps that were taken at the time, including the revocation of emergency regulations followed by the withdrawal of the state of emergency, were directed towards the holding of a fair and peaceful general election.

A newspaper article in which I advocated electing the prime minister (or president) for a fixed term separately from constituency representatives, but at the same general election, evoked no response at the time. Knowing the minister as I did, I had no doubt (as I am sure Dr Jayatilaka’s father, the late Mervyn de Silva knew only too well) that he was probably indulging in his usual "mischief" designed to disrupt the then burgeoning opposition parties.

The seven-year legislature

The members of Ceylon’s House of Representatives elected in May 1970 for a five year term did begin a new five year term in May 1972 when they were deemed to be the first members of the newly created National State Assembly (NSA) of the Republic of Sri Lanka. It was Mrs Bandaranaike who insisted that the term of the first NSA should be limited to a shorter period than the originally prescribed six years. It would, of course, have been better if a general election had been held in 1972 for the first NSA, but the cost of second general election within two years and the JVP insurgency of 1971 were both factors that militated against such a course of action. I know that Mrs Bandaranaike seriously considered dissolving the NSA in 1975, but the political crisis that led to the break-up of the United Front in that year and the impending Non-Aligned Conference of Heads of State and of Governments scheduled for 1976 obviously led the Prime Minister to defer that decision.

The JVP insurgency

To suggest that Mrs Bandaranaike, at any stage, desired to prolong the life of her government is to distort contemporary history. In April 1971, in the wake of the continuing destruction to life and property caused by the JVP insurgency, when the Army Commander, General Attygalle, reported to her that his men could no longer protect the capital city due to sheer exhaustion, and requested her to seek reinforcements from India, her reply was that she would resign her office and dissolve parliament rather than seek foreign assistance to fight against the youth of her country. I was present on that long night of April 12th when she made this statement, and I know that she meant it.

Free and fair election

On nomination day in 1977, when a UNP candidate was declared elected uncontested in one constituency, no minister, not even the Prime Minister, was willing to ask the Commissioner of Elections why that had happened. It was suggested that I should speak with Mr Felix Dias Abeysinghe, but I declined to do so. The general election of July 1977 was conducted by the Commissioner of Elections without any interference whatsoever from the Government.

That was the political culture of the time. It was so different from what it is today. Dr Jayatilaka should refrain from seeking to view past events through the dysfunctional, distorted, prism of contemporary Sri Lankan politics.

"If my husband continues to remain in prison I will take over political mantle in his name" - Anoma Fonseka

An Interview with Frederica Jansz

In an emotionally wracked interview with The Sunday Leader Anoma Fonseka, wife of the imprisoned former Army Chief and decorated war hero Sarath Fonseka bared her feelings and the terrific trauma she is undergoing as her husband she says remains a political prisoner. A victim of revenge, vengeance and hate.

Sri Lanka former army chief Sarath Fonseka and his wife Anoma prepare for a photo shoot in Colombo, November 27, 2009.Reuters pic

Q: In hindsight do you now regret your husband Sarath Fonseka having decided to enter politics?

Anoma: I used to hate politics. I really hated it. But he (Sarath Fonseka) wanted to enact a significant and meaningful change in this country. So I finally relented and backed him. I helped him and stood by him despite my previous reservations. I don’t regret this decision.

Q: But don’t you think he lost the enviable reputation he enjoyed as a war veteran and commander when he entered politics and suffered a loss at the presidential election?

Anoma: I know that happened. But now the people know him. Earlier they knew him as a war hero. But now, since he entered politics and since he has been unfairly treated and imprisoned, he is today not only a martyr but a political hero also. The Rajapaksas took revenge on him for his decision to enter politics. But that revenge has actually turned in his favour. And today he is not only a war hero but a political hero as well.

Q: Describe to me your emotions at this moment in time? Your husband is confined to a 12 ft x 8 ft prison cell. He is without his basic needs. He is not in the best of health. What do you feel?

Anoma: As a woman and his wife I feel so very, very sad. I cannot put into words my emotions at this moment in time. Even as I speak, there are tears in my eyes. He didn’t do anything wrong. They (the government) is doing this to him because he dared to contest the last presidential election. As a result the Rajapaksas not only made up false stories against him they brought completely fabricated charges against him. There is no law and order in this country. They (the Rajapaksas) have taken everything into their hands and vilified my husband in the most despicable way possible,

Q: How did the General describe to you his first reaction when he saw the prison cell allotted to him?

Anoma: He told me he had tried to sleep that first night on a mat and pillow. When my face began to crumble – he quickly tried to reassure me saying “don’t worry – I have slept under trees during the height of combat and had ticks crawl all over my body. I am used to worse. I have done my best by my country – made supreme sacrifices — I have done nothing wrong – so, I can endure this. I will see this through.”

Q: What sentiments has the General expressed to you in relation to seeking his release by appealing to President Mahinda Rajapaksa?

Anoma: He told me not to seek a pardon by apologizing. This is the way he is. He is an extraordinary person. He said if we had done something wrong then by all means we will apologise. But we haven’t done anything wrong so why should we apologise? He has sent word to my daughters too not to seek an apology. He however did say if I can do anything from a legal point to secure his release to then go ahead.

Q: In the event he is released will you and your husband agree to leave Sri Lanka never to return?

Anoma: No never! He loves his country very much. That is why he entered politics. He always advised my daughters too to come back telling them they were the recipients of free education in this country and that they must return and give back what they benefited from.

Q: Do you believe that the President’s hands are also bound in that he was compelled to endorse the court marshal verdicts having appointed the benches to sit?

Anoma: I believe the constitution allows for the president to do anything. After all he has executive powers. He is No. 1. He can with one stroke of a pen overturn the sentences decided on by the military courts.

Q: What are the implications of your husband losing his parliamentary seat?

Anoma: I can’t answer that question. We have so many parties we have to discuss that with. They also have to seek the advice of my husband as he is leader of the DNA. A collective decision will be made thereafter.

Q: Do you intend to take over the mantle of politics in his name?

Anoma: In the event he continues to remain in prison then yes, I will come forward. I will do so to keep his name alive. If they ask me I will accept.

Q: Did Ranil Wickremesinghe consult with the General before he wrote to the President seeking his release?

Anoma: Not before but he did tell him afterwards. My husband did say anybody can write to the President. However to my knowledge, Wickremesinghe showed him the letter he had sent to the President after it had been sent to Rajapaksa and tabled in parliament.

Q: But Wickremesinghe was quoted in the press Friday saying otherwise. Are you then saying that Ranil Wickremesinghe is lying?

Anoma: I don’t wish to comment.

Q: Do you think Ranil Wickremesinghe is conspiring with the President to work against your husband?

Anoma: I can’t answer that too. Politics is difficult to understand – and games are always played.

Q: It has been speculated that Ranil Wickremesinghe used your husband as a Guinea Pig when he agreed that Fonseka would be the Common Candidate at the last presidential election. Because he knew he could not win and neither could your husband against President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s wave of popularity. Do you believe this?

Anoma: I can’t answer that question.

Q: Why have you now chosen to form the Peoples Movement For Democracy? What exactly is the objective of the movement?

Anoma: Like I said earlier we have no law and order in our country. This is the first time such a thing has happened to me. Tomorrow it can happen to another woman. We don’t have democracy in our country this is why they are playing these games with everybody. Today it is me, tomorrow it can be another woman. It is a fact the government is powerful. But, the people can be more powerful. If we can all unite we can do it.

Q: What has been the reaction of your two daughters since their father was moved to Welikada?

Anoma: They have their fathers blood. I am so proud of that. They are not like girls. My husband always advised them to do only what is right. We never had lies or deceit in our home. Sarath himself is a very good example of this. He set a good example for my daughters and as a result they are very strong. They will take his fight to the world. - courtesy: thesundayleader.lk -

Sarath Fonseka is the victim of act of political persecution and personal vengeance

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“….let us recognise it for what it is essentially: a revenge.” — Camus (Resistance, Rebellion And Death)

The incarceration of Sarath Fonseka should concern not only those who admired Army Commander Fonseka or voted for Candidate Fonseka, but also those who did not.

The incarceration of Sarath Fonseka matters not because he was the war-winning army commander or he is an opposition leader, but because he is the victim of an act of political persecution and personal vengeance.

The incarceration of Sarath Fonseka is the business of all of us, because none of us can be safe in a country which victimises citizens for making political choices abhorrent to rulers.

The Defence Secretary asked where Gen. Fonseka’s current defenders were when he was fighting the Tigers. At least some of them would have been critiquing him for his scant regard for human rights and democratic freedoms, his Sinhala supremacism and his occasional interference in matters political in defence of the Rajapaksas.

And for those who critiqued Army Commander Fonseka for his words and deeds inconsonant with human rights and democratic freedoms, ignoring the plight of Prisoner No. 0/22032 is a non-option. Because, as Thomas Paine said, “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach himself” (Dissertations Of First Principles Of Government).

The law must prevail. But law had very little to do with the Fonseka incarceration. Gen. Fonseka was not tried in a court of law which considered him innocent until proven guilty and placed the onus of proof on the prosecution. He was tried in a military tribunal, by judges handpicked by the men who had ordered his arrest and had pronounced him guilty before the trial began.

His judges were serving military officers whose careers and post-retirement prospects depended on the Rajapaksa brothers. Given that post-presidential election, several top soldiers were arrested and others sent on compulsory retirement for their connections with Gen. Fonseka, only an irrepressibly quixotic officer would have dared to displease his political masters. Can a military tribunal operating under such insalubrious conditions be anything other than a mere appendage of the political authorities and an instrument of their vengeance?

Would Gen. Fonseka have been accused of meddling in politics whilst in uniform, had he meddled in pro-UPFA politics? Assuredly not; quite a few senior officials backed candidate Rajapaksa, on television, in uniform and they were not charged with meddling in politics.

Would Gen. Fonseka have been accused of procedural irregularities, had he continued to back the Rajapaksas or stayed neutral? Assuredly not; he could have broken any rule or law, so long he did not break the first of the Rajapaksa Commandments: Thou shalt not be disloyal to us.

The Air Force Commander who did not break that cardinal commandment but broke heaven knows how many laws by building a chalet in a national reserve (which is a global heritage) is still as free as a bird, still commanding the air force and still in possession of his illegal hideaway. And Mervyn Silva who tied a public official to a tree, publicly, is free and a deputy minister.

Anything is permissible for the supporters of the ruling family, while its opponents may lose everything, including their freedom and their lives.

The incarceration of Sarath Fonseka should be opposed irrespective of whether or not one admired Army Commander Fonseka or voted for candidate Fonseka (I did neither) because he was not convicted in a fair trial, but victimised by a witch-hunt. His incarceration is an act of conscious, premeditated injustice, aimed simultaneously at slaking the thirst for revenge of his persecutors and sending an unmistakable warning to the opposition.

If the war-winning army commander, the darling of the Sinhala right can fall so, anyone can, if they commit the unforgivable sin of challenging the Rajapaksas’ right to rule, from whatever political standpoint.

The consent of the Sinhala majority to the transformation of Sri Lanka from a flawed albeit vibrant democracy to a family oligarchy, in return for the defeat of the LTTE and the restoration of Sinhala supremacism: this quid pro quo is the fundament of the Rajapaksa project.

The Rajapaksas understood that familial rule required an ideological justification which can equate the interests of the ruling family with the interests of the Sinhalese. They took upon themselves the mantle of ‘saviours’ and ‘protectors’ of the ‘nation’, giving a patriotic gloss to their dynastic project.

Since the victory over the Tigers provided substance to their claims, the Rajapaksas need to monopolise the glory of winning the war. They can afford to admit an indefinable mass (‘patriots’, ‘war heroes’ etc.) into the Pantheon of Saviours but there is no space in that hollowed precinct for any specific individual, who not only competes for a share of the glory but also wants to use it for a contending political project. As a rival claimant to the glory of winning the war, Gen. Fonseka became both a political threat and a personal enemy to the Rajapaksas.

He had to be stopped and stopped in a manner which would give pause to other would-be-troublemakers. Incarcerating Gen. Fonseka not as a political prisoner but as a felon, is a measure of the diabolical ingenuity of the Rajapaksas. The Fonseka incarceration is yet another sign of these anti-democratic times.

At a ceremony to bless the army flags, the Army Commander talked about a ‘new security arrangement’ (hatched by the Defence Secretary) to locate at least one army division and one STF camp in each district. This will accelerate significantly the Rajapaksa efforts to militarise post-war Sri Lanka, while politicising (i.e. Rajapaksasing) the military.

The Rajapaksas invite foreign investors and tourists, claiming that the terrorist threat is over, even as they garrison the country. The seeming contradiction is no contradiction because the army will be used to suppress democratic dissent (especially when unbearable economic pain makes the docile South restive).

In another significant move, the police have been asked to stop a planned poster campaign over the Fonseka issue, because the posters may ‘provoke people against the government’. In a democracy, any self-respecting opposition should provoke the people into opposing the government, peacefully and legally. Clearly, the only opposition the Rajapaksas can tolerate is a moribund one and they will crackdown hard on any sign of life in the opposition.

Had other Tiger leaders and Tamil society intervened when Velupillai Pirapaharan had his deputy Mahattaya arrested and killed, the LTTE’s march towards barbarism and Pirapaharan’s self-deification could have been impeded. Army Commander Fonseka misused the military law to persecute Gen. Parakrama Pannipitiya who led the successful Eastern offensive; he was eventually jailed on a trumped-up charge of treasure hunting, to the sound of (Sinhala) silence.

Gen. Fonseka would not have thought that someday the Rajapaksas (who permitted him to have his unjust way with Gen. Pannipitiya) would mount an even more vicious witch-hunt against him. No man can be an island unto himself. The persecution of one citizen endangers the rights and freedoms of all citizens, including, someday, the perpetrators.

My father is not like other people who will apologise to save their necks

By Apsara Fonseka

We will be appealing to the courts in the legal manner.

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Apsara Fonseka

We do not plan to appeal for a pardon without knowing exactly what we are supposed to appeal for.

If the President wants my father to apologise, we first need to know what we are supposed to apologise for since we do not see a reason for that.

My father is not like other people who will apologise just to get his neck saved. He will always stand up for what is right.

The international campaign for his release is going well. Expatriates in countries abroad have become really disheartened with what the government is doing to my father.

I’ve gotten calls from people who actually voted for Mahinda Rajapaksa saying it was the biggest mistake they did. The people are planning many rallies. You will get to hear of them in the future. So far, there have been rallies in Italy, France, Japan, Australia etc.

Several different organisations and government officials have contacted us and have voiced their concern. I believe that they will take measures in their own way to help us.

People know what is going on. They are not children and they are not stupid. They understand what’s happening. Justice will be served in the right manner one of these days.

North-Eastern Provincial Council and Chief Minister Varatharajapperumal

by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

The LTTE opposed the 13th amendment. However, the LTTE could not stop the formation of provincial councils...The provincial council was formed and Varatharaja Perumal was appointed chief minister. Everything changed when he declared the North and East as an independent state in November 1989... This declaration paved the way for the then government to abolish the provincial council.” - Vinyagamoorthy Muralidaran, ‘Karuna’, the Nation on Sunday, Sept 12, 2010

Second thoughts within the State and society regarding devolution (and the degree of devolution) to the Northern Provincial Council stem from the collective memory of the political adventurism and brinkmanship of Varatharaja Perumal and the North Eastern Provincial Council (NEPC). That NEPC was dissolved 20 years ago. Despite having two decades to reflect self-critically, the former chief minister placed his position on the record last Sunday: “The 13th amendment is not a good law; it prevents proper devolution and leads to more centralization”. (Sunday Lakbimanews, Oct 3, 2010) This is also the TNA’s stance. Perumal expresses this in the post-war moment in which the Tamil parties will be lucky if they are able to defend and preserve the 13th amendment.

The North-East Provincial Council (NEPC) was set up in November 1988. What is of paramount importance is that which occurred the very next month, on 17 December 1988: the EPRLF led NEPC issued its first Policy Declaration upon assuming office. Note the date. It was two days later on 19 December that Ranasinghe Premadasa was elected President of Sri Lanka. The wording of the maiden Policy Declaration proves that Varatharaja Perumal, the Chief Minister of the Council, was not engaging in a defensive reaction to any behavior on the part of the Sri Lankan government (Premadasa had not even won the Presidential election) but was intent from the outset on a provocative political agenda which attempted to go well beyond the powers granted to Provincial Councils through the 13th amendment to the 1978 constitution.

The opening policy statement of the NEPC presented to the Provincial Assembly on 17 December 1988 read as follows:

“The Provincial Government is of the view that the devolved powers offered under the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution hardly satisfy the aspirations of the Tamil speaking people of the North-East Province. Hence it will commence negotiations with the Central Government and the Government of India with a view to working out a satisfactory package of devolution.”

What were the context and the implications of this statement?

1) It showed no ‘clarity of vision’, no appreciation of the prevailing balance of forces, a grasp of which was imperative for survival and success. The combination of an aggressive, invasive diplomacy on the part of the Third World’s most powerful state, the strongest ally the Tamil cause had and was likely to for some time, could not push beyond the 13th amendment-and that too required a two-thirds majority on the part of its local ally the UNP. There was no way to go further than this.

2) The 13th Amendment itself narrowly squeaked past the Supreme Court. Nothing with augmented powers could have got through at that stage of the evolution of Southern consciousness, which in turn had to be taken as a given if the strategy were to be one of structural reform rather than rupture.

3) The attempt to stretch the contours of the State was fuelling or at the very least was being instrumentalised by a serious Southern insurrection and therefore, expecting more-and faster as well-was tantamount to asking the mainstream democratic political forces occupying the centre-space, to commit hara-kiri.

In such a context, to publicly express, dissatisfaction at the sufficiency of the devolution contained in the 13th amendment and furthermore to threaten to reopen discussions on the subject not only with Colombo (referred to as ‘the Central Government’ in a country which did not have a federal system) but also with the Government of India, betrays an attitude that was far from positive, constructive and open minded. More importantly, it implied that a confrontation was inevitable between the NEPC parties and any Sri Lankan Government whatsoever. It just happened to take place on Premadasa’s watch.

The points in that Opening Policy statement of December 17th 1988, were buttressed by the First Status Report issued a few weeks later by the Varatharaja Perumal administration, which while escalating its expressions of dissatisfaction, put forward two documents: a draft to replace the 13th amendment and another draft to replace the Provincial Councils Law of 1987!

It is vital to recall the political backdrop against which all this was taking place and the context in which the ‘tardiness’ on the devolution front that the NEPC was complaining of arose. R Premadasa won the presidential election on 19 December. When he took his oaths on 2 January 1988 he faced a raging insurgency.

Premadasa had to focus on a Parliamentary election that was to be held in February, which meant not only concerning himself with winning an election over a strong opposition, but also on how to handle the firestorm of violence that the JVP was directing against candidates and organizers of the UNP. One could hardly imagine a fuller plate. Yet, he did make time for Varatharaja Perumal and moved as expeditiously as was possible to have the essential administrative infrastructure set up. I was present at the meeting.

All this had to be pushed through a state apparatus which not only contained a fair share of personnel hostile to the Provincial Councils (PCs) and sympathetic to the SLFP (which, was widely expected to win the parliamentary election), but was also ducking JVP bullets at the time!

None of this was of any concern to Perumal and the NEPC which demonstrated a combination of tunnel vision and arrogance that was truly self-destructive. Dissatisfied with the progress on the devolution front made during this period i.e. between the presidential and parliamentary elections held in an unprecedented context of system- threatening violence, and ill-disposed towards the 13th Amendment and the PCs from the very outset (as revealed by the initial Policy Statement of Dec 17th, ‘88, the Status Report and the draft laws) Perumal continued to escalate. In March 1989 the joint NEPC/EPRLF leadership visited India, where they went public with their request to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to use pressure on the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) for ‘a more advanced form of devolution’.

This act commenced the stage of the political confrontation between the NEPC and Colombo (which provided the opening for the LTTE to exploit). There was exactly one year between the EPRLF’s Delhi trip and the Unilateral Declaration of Independence

by the NEPC; one year in which the NEPC was like a runaway locomotive headed inexorably for a crash.

Perumal’s NEPC embarked upon forced conscription. That single measure caused a meltdown of whatever support the NEPC had among the Tamil people. Thus in the second half of 1989, the NEPC was hated by both the majority of the majority Sinhalese and the majority of the minority Tamils. It was quite an achievement!

Premadasa summoned an All Parties Conference (APC) in mid September 1989. There were 90 delegates from 22 political parties. The APC was the last chance for the NEPC to have saved itself. It was an opportunity for constructive engagement. It was also the proper platform to press its case for more effective devolution. If it could make its case stick, the All Party Conference was the place to be, to make alliances which would support this cause. Indeed the Southern Provincial Councils contained many SLMP leaders of the newly emergent Provincial Opposition and even UNP Chief Ministers who were dissatisfied with the way in which the bureaucracy was impeding, even hamstringing devolution.

These were potential allies-only if, however, one’s agenda was of constructive, moderate reforms and improvements. This was clearly not the stance of the NEPC and Chief Minister Perumal. On 19 September 1989, after the opening of the All Party Conference, the EPRLF delegate and chief spokesman made a statement threatening a “Tamil resistance war” against the Colombo government.

The escalation continued. The NEPC/EPRLF put forward in December 1989 a wish list referred to by them as the 19 Point Charter. It followed this up with a resolution on 1 March 1990. These demands were presented as conditions sine qua non for the rescinding of the UDI-and presented the Sri Lankan state with an ultimatum of a year for compliance. The resolution was moved in Council by chief minister Varatharaja Perumal.

Just as the contents of a ransom note provide at the least some inkling as to the motivations and felt grievances of a kidnapper, so too does the list of demands presented by the NEPC at the moment of their Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) in March of 1990, reveal the true motivations of Perumal’s political behavior.

The key passages were those referring to the Sri Lankan armed forces: “Bases of the three forces [were] to be limited to the following places in the North-East: a) Palali Army Camp b) Karainagar Naval Base c) Thalladi Army Camp d) Vavuniya Joseph Camp c) Trincomalee Naval Base f) Trincomalee Air Force Base g) Ampara Kondaivedduvan Army Camp.

All other bases other than those mentioned above [were] to be dismantled. The Army should be removed from Fort Frederick in Trincomalee where the Koneswar Temple is situated. This area should be declared a sacred area for Hindus and it should be brought under the administration of the North-East Provincial Government. Similarly the Army and the prison should be removed from the Jaffna Fort and the Kayts Sea Fort and these forts should be declared as museums where rare articles of value should be exhibited to the public. The administration of the forts should also come under the North-East Provincial Government.” (Points 7 and 10 of the 1 March 1990 Resolution of the NEPC)

Do the demands presented by Varatharaja Perumal give credence to the revisionist version of a sincere, eager, reformism, thwarted by the duplicitous Premadasa administration? If so the list of demands on the ultimatum should amount, in the main, to that of the implementation of promises made but observed in the breach, perhaps with a layer of further guarantees added on to prevent renewed backsliding. Is that the picture that emerges? Rather, is it one of a slide into or unveiling of a separatist paradigm despite a reformist option being in place?

I had strongly counseled both the Indian policy makers and the EPRLF leader Pathmanabha against the appointment of Varatharaja Perumal as Chief Minister. In an interview given to Kendall Hopman and published in the Sunday Times Plus (p.9) as early as 20th November 1988 - the very month the NEPC was set up— I broke publicly from the line of ‘permanent merger of the North and East/no referendum’ and was quoted as saying “I think the Referendum is a good idea”.

Within months I followed this up with my open letter (of resignation) to Perumal and Pathmanabha which also appeared in the English and Sinhala language mainstream press in the first quarter of 1989. In these instances I presented pragmatic alternatives to the continued IPKF presence, the permanent merger and the NEPC’s opposition to a referendum.

However, Perumal long conspired to create a quagmire for and entrench the IPKF presence, hoping for a confrontation between it and the Sri Lankan armed forces. His game-plan was to trigger a ‘Cyprusization’ of the island or a Bangladesh scenario. The reaction from NEPC/EPRLF to my constructive suggestions was coldly hostile, implicitly confrontational and not devoid of veiled threats.

As Karuna points out, Tamil politics and the Tamil polity have had to pay the price of Perumal’s folly. Postwar Sri Lanka can never leave room structurally, for a repetition of Perumal’s challenge to and blackmail of the State, or space for the temptation of soliciting external support for similar adventurism.

Video: Interview with R.I.T. Alles, founder principal of D.S. Senanayake College, Colombo 7

by K. Thirukumaran

D.S. Senanayake College named after the first Prime Minister, renowned as what best of public edcuation and ethnic harmony could bring to post independent Sri Lanka. The school newly founded in 1967 with students of all ethnicity attending, became a 'crown jewel' and as the model destiny for Sri Lanka's public education during the tenure of the founder Principal R.I.T. Alles.

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R.I.T. Alles

In a recent interview, founder principal of D.S. Senanayake College, Colombo 7, R.I.T. Alles recalls memories of building and nurturing a harmoniuos educational environment:

An interview given by Mr. R.I.T. Alles for the annual Black & Gold dinner dance in Melbourne, Organized by Black & Gold of Victoria (D.S.S.C OBA Australia). Following this interview Alles Sir flew down to Melbourne to be with us for this dinner dance. (09.11.2010)

In the following article, Bogoda Premaratne, a Retired Sri Lanka Minsitry of Education official pays tribue to Mr. R.I.T. Alles marking his 75th birth Anniversary on October 3, 2007:

I have been asked by Mr. R.I.T. Alles to accept the first copy of his autobiography, R.I.T. Alles my life on the October 03, his 75th birth anniversary. Nostalgic memories come to my mind with the acceptance of his generous invitation.

In January 1967, I had a request from the Education Ministry to nominate a young teacher of mine to begin a new school at Gregory’s Road and build it up on the lines of Royal College of which I was the Principal.

This request was a daunting challenge because it came from a “No nonsense and no questions to be asked”, man, the then Education Minister I.M.R.A. Iriyagolla.

As the proposed school was going to be a primary school at the outset, naturally I scouted for one in my fold of trained teachers. Alles was one of four teachers who came to my aid, voluntarily to teach Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology in the O/L classes for the first time in the Swabasha at Royal College in 1965.

Mathematics was allocated to Alles and in 1965 and 1966. He was one of the four teachers who produced in a near 100% Distinctions and Credits in their respective subjects.

Alles during these years was instrumental in bringing to Royal the plums De Zoysa Challenge,and the Hermal Loos Challenge trophies in cadetting, the John Tarbet trophy in Athletics and the under 16 Cricket championship. In community work, Alles stood out as the much accepted Secretary of the Teachers Guild whose members acknowledged him as one who promoted the welfare activities of its members.

With these attributes of academic achievements both in and out of school and his personal relations with the members of the tutorial staff, I had no hesitation whatsoever to nominate Alles at the age of 34 to be the Founder Principal of DS Senanayake College.

R.I.T.A. (R.I.T. Alles) as I always endearingly refer to him never let me down from the very first day he took up the onerous task from the 10th of February 1967. I enjoyed reflected glory and plaudits for nominating him. In my heart he became my pride.

D.S. Senanayake school was started in Colombo on a site referred to as “Kooombi Kelle”. With all the arduous tasks ahead of him he never let me, the Maths students of the G.C.E. O/L classes and the Cadets, down. He made it a point to have afternoon classes for the Maths students who were sitting for the G.C.E. O/L examination in December,and also continued with the practices for the Cadets who were getting ready to go to Camp in April.

Such were the sacrifices R.I.T.A. made and the Maths Students and the Cadets of Royal reciprocated with love in clearing the viper infested jungle in Gregory’s Road. On my part I supplied him with every bit of stationery and even sacrificed my watcher, Danny for his security, which I did relish.

One thing that gladdened my heart most about with Alles’s style of professional approach to educational discipline and management was the quality of his interpersonal relationships that he maintained with the parents, teachers and foremost with the students of the school.

His school, for the most part came up out of the good-will of the parents. He had no old boys to help, at that time. For the first time I heard a Principal who could address all his students as “putha” and “puthala”.

There really was no need for Alles to have written his life story on perishable paper; for the quality of his character as teacher and educator that he has indelibly inscribed deep within the hearts and minds of so many young people, will be passed on from generation to generation without his knowing it, and even their knowing it. This is a psychological truth of which teachers and even parents are unfortunately not aware of.

I wish Alles many more years of benevolent service to our fellowmen.

October 08, 2010

Turbulent politics of the Tamil National Alliance

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Chartering a pragmatic political course based on principle may appear to be a paradoxical venture to many. In the knitty-gritty world of practical politics being principled and pragmatic would sound like a contradiction in terms.

Recent events however indicate that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is attempting to adopt a pragmatic approach based on principle.

This bid to blend principle with pragmatism and evolve a harmonised political approach has not been without perils and pitfalls. Politics of the TNA in recent times has been turbulent as the party tried to strike a middle between principled and pragmatic courses of action. [click here to read in full on ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

October 07, 2010

UNP blunders in bringing no confidence motion against Prof. G. L. Peiris

By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, MP

The motion brought by the United National Party against the Minister of External Affairs seemed a heaven sent opportunity for the government to clarify a number of issues regarding the External Relations of this country over the last few years. In particular it made clear the erosion of what might be termed the international agenda of the principal opposition, a factor of great importance since, though the most dangerous threat facing this country, that of terrorism within our shores, has been defeated, the external threat still looms.

In Sri Lanka itself terrorist excesses were easy to identify, though this does not take away from the enormous effort needed to overcome them, and the singular contribution of our armed forces. Abroad however we were never quite sure from where blows would fall. Some of these came from terrorist supporters, a few of them still sadly incorrigible. However we can now hope that many are willing to work together with government to improve the lot of the Tamils who suffered in the 1980s from the racist excesses of the Jayewardene government, and then the worse enslavement of the Prabhakaran totalitarianism.

We also had to suffer the criticism of those foreigners, well-meaning ones as well as insidious purveyors of self-interest, who confused the Tigers and the Tamils. And then, worst of all, we had to struggle against the relentless belittling of the elected government by the opposition and its agents, a programme that at least some elements in the United National Party wish to revive, as seen by this motion.

That programme contributed a lot to the reversals this country had to suffer. Recently, in Brussels, talking to an official with some degree of responsibility for European Union diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka, I was astonished that he declared that the Leader of the Opposition was a democrat, and seemed to contrast this with the President. Since the man had just told me that he had graduated in history from Oxford University, and even begun research work there, I was horrified. A historian who had no sense of evidence, an Oxford graduate who had not been taught to check his references, a diplomat who took gullibility to culpable excess, is not someone who should be making judgments that will affect so many poor workers.

But he claimed that Mr Wickremesinghe presented himself as a democrat. This was of a piece with an anecdote related to me on the same visit, that the British EU Commissioner a couple of years back had lectured a member of the Sri Lankan Cabinet on the folly of this country in not retaining Mr Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister. Democracy obviously was not important to this character – and his subsequent writings have confirmed this view – in comparison with having someone who spoke the same language, of elitist occidental self-interest.

In effect then what happened to the government of President Rajapaksa, as soon as it was first constituted in 2005, was that it faced a situation in which some elements in the West gave full credence to the arguments of an opposition that played up to them relentlessly. Some evidence of this has been provided in Parliament already, but we must also keep in mind the relentless whirl of the social life engaged in by the current stars of the opposition in Colombo. Thus while those elements in the United National Party that seek reform are more concerned with developing the appeal of the party in the country at large, their elders and betters are securing political power and authority for themselves by winning and dining the gullible.

I was first made aware of this when, in 2007, when I got first involved in the pursuit of peace, I found that the strongest opposition to our efforts to free the Tamil people from the yoke of terrorism came, not from the TNA, but from a trio of diplomats in Colombo who spared no efforts to denigrate the government, one of them even using his National Day to deliver a sermon. Thankfully his successor recently delivered a speech that combined intelligence with humility in a manner that encourages us to work together with his country, instead of bracing ourselves for attacks.

Fortunately, those one might term the opposition groupies have almost all now left our shores, and we have representatives who do not feel any need to challenge the democratic will of our people. Sadly the influence of their predecessors dies hard, and we had to suffer from this with regard to GSP+ as well as the efforts of a few to convict us for war crimes. They found sustenance for this view initially in the pronouncements of the former Chief of Staff who, when he thought violence would prove popular, took credit in a speech at Ambalangoda for war crimes that seem to have been a figment of his imagination. A changing of that tune later on added fuel to the fire, which was being stoked by a Leader of the Opposition who wanted to pile pressures on the government, and believed that a military solution, to put it crudely would be his own personal salvation.

The Ministry of External Affairs had a difficult time dealing with these pressures, many of which were applied first several years ago. Despite the intensity of the pressures from 2006 to 2009, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs managed to convince enough countries worldwide of the positive nature of the polices government was pursuing, as witnessed most obviously in the diplomatic triumph in Geneva that Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka and Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe were able to achieve in May 2009.

There are no such threats against us now, which is a tribute to the manner in which the present Minister has been able to consolidate the work of his predecessor. I should also note in this regard the excellent work of career Foreign Service personnel, the ambassador in Brussels and the Deputy High Commissioner in London, to mention those I have worked with personally, in developing positive views of this country in the last few months. We have in effect moved on now to a situation where we will be able to talk of a forward looking Foreign Policy, rather than one that has to react to the threats imposed by the opposition and the other foreign forces I mentioned.

In this regard we should note too the importance of the President’s decision to return to our Non-Aligned roots, to work together with all countries, instead of seeing ourselves as dependent simply on one set of interests. Our excellent relations with India and with China and with Japan, the solid ties with the Islamic world, exemplified by the support extended to us by Pakistan and Iran and Egypt and Turkey, the Chairmanship of the G 15 group which was offered to us a year and more ago through Ambassador Jayatilleka in Geneva, our developing ties with the ASEAN countries, our recognition of the importance of South America and Africa, which we paid insufficient attention to in the past because of our tendency to look only in one direction, all these are factors that previous administrations could not even conceive of.

Clearly now our external relations are in good hands, with a Minister with a sterling intellectual reputation to add to the conviviality he shares with his predecessors. We had that also in the days of the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, but now we also have guidance from a President who will work together in full confidence with his Minister to fulfil a vision such as this country has been without for several decades.

With such reasons for confidence, it was strange that the UNP should have decided to focus on this issue. The impression their conduct left was that they were trying to stir up the old coalitions again. But this time round the main Tamil opposition party made clear its refusal to play this disastrous game, by sitting out the debate. What I would consider the more modern elements in the UNP also stayed aloof.

All this will contribute to what the UNP used to consider the only elements of the international community worth considering to realise that putting their eggs in a UNP basket will be counter-productive. The elected representatives of the majority of the people of the North, and a fair proportion of those in the East, have understood this and the message will get across too to those members of the diaspora who are concerned with the Tamils but who will have no truck with terrorism. In that light, the government has reason to thank the UNP for yet another foolhardy exercise.

'Sarath Fonseka': The Grand Plaything of Sri Lanka's Politicians

By Kalana Senaratne

“This is the way the world ends,
Not with a bang, but a whimper.” (TS Eliot)

Sarath Fonseka’s emergence as a politician was of immense political benefit to a number of politicians and political parties in Sri Lanka; not necessarily for good reasons though. ‘Sarath Fonseka’ was, for those who stood to benefit from his (imagined) success in politics, a mere political plaything. This is something that many, including Sarath Fonseka, ought to have realized a long time ago.

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Anoma Fonseka, the wife of Sri Lanka's jailed former army chief Sarath Fonseka, offers flowers during a prayer session organised for Fonseka by his supporters in Kandy, Oct 7th - pic: courtesy: Reuters

The above point is raised not with the slightest intention of justifying the horrendous ‘fate’ that has befallen Sarath Fonseka today. While this writer was no supporter of Sarath Fonseka’s Presidential ambitions, Fonseka’s swift and sudden arrest, detention and imprisonment showed the callousness with which the present regime could act if it truly wanted to end a political career of a political opponent, a perceived political threat. In that respect, the imprisonment of Fonseka is truly a most unfortunate and disturbing development (even though much that has happened in this regard, since January 2010, and even much that could happen in the future, has and will not be surprising).

Yet, the point here is that Sarath Fonseka was, and is, an interesting plaything of the politicians and there is much to be gained politically, especially if he remains in prison. For the drowning JVP, ‘Fonseka’ is the last straw that it can clutch at. More significantly, Sarath Fonseka’s arrest and imprisonment has been of immeasurable political value to Ranil Wickremasinghe and the UNP.

For Ranil Wickremasinghe in particular, ‘Sarath Fonseka’ was an object that had to be handled carefully, on all occasions. There was a time when Ranil Wickremasinghe believed that Fonseka could emerge victorious (or did he think it was not possible, and was that why he so readily endorsed Fonseka as the ‘common candidate’?); and Fonseka’s victory would have saved the UNP, saved Ranil and saved a depleted Opposition. Today, (as The Island editorial quite correctly pointed out), it is Ranil who has emerged as a possible ‘saviour’ of Sarath Fonseka.

But more importantly, the entire episode of Fonseka being imprisoned and Ranil having to lead the fight as the leader of the Opposition (a fact which Ranil does not forget to stress these days) helps him divert attention from the problems he is facing within the party. It is not just the diversion of attention that is crucial here. It is the opportunity he gets to act as the Leader of the Opposition that is more important. And he uses this opportunity in the best manner possible, to drive home the message that he is the leader and no one else; in case anyone had any doubts about it.

It is also for this reason that Ranil, having rejected the 18th Amendment, rushed back to nominate TNA MP, MA Sumanthiran as his nominee to the Parliamentary Council set up under the 18th Amendment. Before the local press, Ranil tried to come up with a politically bizarre and comical argument to the effect that he was trying to make the 18th Amendment unworkable, just like the 17th Amendment. But then, one always noticed that Ranil’s real motive was different.

It was to show that he is still in control of the Opposition, that he was indeed the leader of the Opposition, and because he was the leader of Opposition, he was nominating Sumanthiran – since the leader of the Opposition is required to do so, under the 18th Amendment. Having avoided the debate on the 18th Amendment, Ranil seems to have suddenly realized that it is not the 18th Amendment which is the problem, but not acting as the leader of the Opposition as per the provisions of the 18th Amendment that would be the problem.

All of this is quite apparent, and is not a mystery. This is why witnessing the mere presence of Ranil Wickremasinghe in any one of the protest campaigns carried out in defence of Fonseka evokes in one a sudden guffaw; uncontrollable at times, but saddening, none the less. He is here, there and everywhere nowadays, as he needs to act as a leader of the Opposition.

However, there are more serious matters that the opposition and all these politicians would need to face in the future. They should very well know that all this chest-beating could come a cropper sooner or later. A more mature understanding of the whole process and what is to come next in this Fonseka episode seems to be conveniently forgotten; for it needs to be remembered that a Presidential pardon could be of little value, if there is no guarantee that Fonseka would not end up in prison again.

There are a number of cases which have begun already; one being the ‘White-flag’ case, wherein Fonseka appears to be charged on three counts under the Criminal Procedure Code and the Emergency Regulations (sec. 28 and 29). Under these circumstances, the demand for Fonseka’s release should not be based solely on the punishment meted out by the court martial. Given these facts, it is rather unfortunate to note the rather immature, emotive and politically motivated plea made by Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thero. If 100 monks are ready to go to prison to save Sarath Fonseka, how many more would be needed to save him if he is imprisoned again? Such pleas just add more humor to what should not be a humorous matter.

The possibility of Sarath Fonseka being imprisoned by the civil courts on a future date should not be written off so easily. At least, the government seems to be acting in a way that shows that it is confident of Fonseka going in again, or that more years will be added to his current term in prison. Members of the government keep stressing the fact that a Presidential pardon could be expected only if the plea is seen to be coming from the correct channels (i.e. through the family members of Fonseka). But why should the government, or President Rajapaksa, show any willingness to pardon Fonseka, after having done so much to ensure that he is convicted and jailed? Surely, this would show that all is not over yet. Surely Ranil would know this too.

One important reason why this fact of ‘imprisonment’ should not be taken lightly is due to the implications that arise when a Member of Parliament is imprisoned. The imprisonment of Fonseka means that sooner or later, one would need to asses whether or not Fonseka would be able to enter Parliament through an election as per the provisions contained in Chapter XIV, Article 89, of the Constitution, and if he is able to, when that could happen. That is why the imprisonment of Fonseka means so many things to so many people.

For the current administration, it is a sure way of ensuring that he does not pose a threat of any sort, even on the issue of war-crimes in the future. For the likes of Ranil, this ensures that the man, even if released, would not easily return to Parliament for quite some time. Hence, pardoning Fonseka is certainly not in the interest of President Rajapaksa or Ranil Wickremasinghe. But they still don’t lose much, if on a later date, the civil courts imprison him once again. Therefore, the fate of Fonseka’s political career seems to be somewhat clear, and all what the politicians are engaged in seems to be a mere political act.

Given all this, Sarath Fonseka is stranded. Under these circumstances, one wonders where his erstwhile supporters are, one being former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva. One cannot forget the way in which Sarath N. Silva defended Fonseka, quoting so eloquently, inter alia, the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to assert that Fonseka’s fundamental civil and political rights were violated. But much could have been done by the Opposition to exert some pressure, had there been no doubt on Sri Lanka’s status concerning the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. Sarath Fonseka, having exhausted all the domestic remedies available to him (as required under the Protocol) could have approached the Human Rights Committee to obtain its views if he had felt that his fundamental rights had been violated. These views could have been used by the Fonseka campaign internationally, which would have undoubtedly been of some persuasive value (even though they would not have any legally binding effect).

But then, this is not possible, since it is former CJ Sarath N. Silva who held, in the Singarasa judgment in 2006 that Sri Lanka’s accession to the ICCPR Optional Protocol was inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution, and that the accession does not have any legal effect within the State. Therefore, at a time when one would have just expected Sarath N. Silva to step forward and try to rescue his ‘friend’, Sarath N Silva goes missing. Unfortunately, he too seems to have played the political game and ditched Fonseka (on a related note, it is also no wonder as to what the fate of the ICCPR Optional Protocol would be under these circumstances, and quite ironically, the government seems to have been ‘saved’ by Sarath N. Silva’s judgment).

Is this then the end of Sarath Fonseka’s political career and who are his political friends? When would he come out, or could he? Is his release of any genuine concern to those politicians leading the Fonseka-campaign today? Whether all this would matter much, one does not know. For, who was Sarath Fonseka to them but a mere plaything with which they could play little political games whenever the necessity arose? That was perhaps why the man who was one day branded unfit to lead even a Salvation Army according to some, was suddenly good enough to lead the country the next day.

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

'Release Sarath Fonseka in recognition of his valuable service to the nation'- Catholic Bishops

" Release Sarath Fonseka in recognition of his valuable service to the nation even at the cost of nearly losing his life "

The Catholic Bishops' Conference in Sri Lanka in a Statement issued today,06th Oct, has appealed to His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa to " consider releasing Mr. Sarath Fonseka in recognition of his valuable service to the nation even at the cost of nearly losing his life. We are mindful of the distinct service he has rendered to the nation and the sufferings he endured in accomplishing his duties "

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pic courtesy of: Archdiocese of Colombo

Full Text of Statement:

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka (CBCSL) wishes to express its deep concern with regard to the person of Mr. Sarath Fonseka and the situation that has arisen as a result of his imprisonment.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka is mindful of the distinct service he has rendered to the nation and the sufferings he endured in accomplishing his duties as the former Head of the Armed Forces. Hence, we wish to appeal to His Excellency the President, Honourable Mahinda Rajapaksa to consider releasing Mr. Sarath Fonseka in recognition of his valuable service to the nation even at the cost of nearly losing his life.

SIGNED BY -

Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith
President,
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka

Bishop Norbert M. Andradi OMI
Secretary General – CBCSL
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka

Ex-army chief Fonseka loses seat as MP

from BBC News

Sri Lanka's former military commander has lost his parliamentary seat after a military court sentenced him to jail for 30 months, authorities say.

The former four-star general, Sarath Fonseka, who led the war against the Tamil Tigers, was recently convicted of corruption in arms procurement.

But the opposition has questioned the legality of the military court and whether he should lose his seat.

They say they will appeal against the verdict. Mr Fonseka denied the charges.

An assistant commissioner of elections told BBC Sinhala that he had received a letter from a top parliamentary official informing him that Mr Fonseka was no longer an MP. The commissioner was asked to name a replacement from the former general's party in accordance with electoral rules.

But addressing parliament, leader of the opposition Ranil Wickramasinghe questioned why the Speaker had not informed the house of the decision, despite having promised to do so.

Mr Fonseka's Democratic National Alliance (DNA) argues the military court is not a proper court established under the constitution.

"We have already written to the elections commissioner saying that the ruling of a court martial - which is not a proper court - does not apply to his parliamentary seat," Tiran Alles, a DNA MP, told the BBC.

Mr Fonseka fell out with President Mahinda Rajapaksa over who should get the credit for last year's military victory over the Tamil Tigers.

He lost the presidential election to Mr Rajapaksa in January but was elected to parliament in April. - courtesy: bbc.coc.uk -

October 06, 2010

Prashanth Sellathurai: Son of Sri Lanka born parents wins Gold medal for Australia at CWG

Prashanth Sellathurai (DOB 1, Oct 1986) is an Australian gymnast; his parents migrated to Australia in 1983 from Sri Lanka. He was part of the Australian Men's Gymnast team which won first Gold medal in Commonwealth Games 2010 in New Delhi, which was sealed by his performance on the rings, sources said.

Writing on the “cherished first-ever Commonwealth Games team gold medal victory for the Australian team”, Yahoo! Xtra Sports said: “World No.3 pommel horse specialist Prasanth Sellathurai closed out the triumph with a fine score of 14.9 while the English (256.75) struggled on the pommel horse.”

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Prashanth Sellathurai in action on the pommel horse at the World Gymnastics Championships at the O2 Arena in London in Oct 2009. Source: AP

Anchor of the Australian Team ~ Sellathurai at Commonwealth Game Gymnastics Day One

Report in The Australian:

Australian men's gymnastics team win first ever Commonwealth gold

By Margie McDonald, in Delhi From: The Australian

THE Australian men's gymnastics team claimed its first ever Commonwealth gold medal overnight with a win in the team's event at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex.

The team of Joshua Jefferis, Prashanth Sellathurai, Samuel Offord, Luke Wiwatowski and Thomas Pichler are now part of the sport's folklore becoming only the third nation to win this event after Canada has claimed it four times and England twice.

The Australians also turned silver from Melbourne four years ago into gold in Delhi.

"This is great for gymnastics history and a great way to start the Games,’’ Jefferis said.

It also became Australia's fourth gold medal of the opening day of competition and its first away from traditional stronghold, the swimming pool.

But it marked a magnificent first day for the Aussies since only eight medals were on offer across three sports – and Australia claimed gold in two of them.

The men's gymnastics team event comprises each athlete having to perform in the horizontal bars, floor, pommel, rings, vault and parallel bars with scores totalled to decide the placings.

England claimed silver and Canada bronze behind the proud Australians, who had to push on despite the pre-Games loss of champion gymnast Philippe Rizzo to injury.

"All this hard work has paid off. I'm so stoked,’’ Pichler said. [courtesy: The Australian]

Doha 08 F: Prashanth Sellathurai (AUS), Pommel, 1st

Sri Lanka’s Eighteenth Amendment: A Charter for Dictatorship

By Rohini Hensman

Sri Lanka’s claim to be a democracy has been tenuous for years, but the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution by parliament on 8 September 2010 dealt it a fatal blow. It changed Sri Lanka into a de facto dictatorship like Zimbabwe and Myanmar, where it is abundantly clear that elections alone cannot unseat Mugabe or Than Shwe.

Background

The constitution of 1978, enacted by a government headed by J.R.Jayawardene of the United National Party (UNP), created an Executive President who wielded almost absolute power. As Jayawardene (who became the first occupant of the post) boasted, he had the power to do anything other than change a man into a woman or vice versa. The dire consequences of this enormous concentration of power became evident very soon, with assaults and murders of trade unionists and the sacking of tens of thousands of striking workers, a rigged and violent referendum in 1982, and escalating attacks on Tamils, culminating in the massacres of 1983. Like the 1972 Constitution, the 1978 Constitution affirmed Sinhala as the only official language and the special place of Buddhism.

The systematic violation of human rights and destruction of democratic space resulted in a civil war waged by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the North and East, and a Sinhalese insurgency of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in the rest of the country. Under Jayawardene and his successor, Ranasinghe Premadasa, tens of thousands of both Tamils and Sinhalese were tortured and killed by the state. Presidential immunity meant that they could not be prosecuted for any of the ghastly crimes committed during their regimes so long as they were in power. The only provision that saved this dispensation from being an out-and-out dictatorship was the limitation of the presidency to two six-year terms. In other words, at the end of twelve years, the president would be out of power and susceptible to prosecution for crimes committed while in power.

The Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 was followed by the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, under pressure from India. This declared that Tamil ‘shall also be an official language’ of Sri Lanka, with English being a link language. It established Provincial Councils in all the provinces, and provided for the merger of two or three adjoining provinces to form a single administrative unit. This provided constitutional validity to the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces which had been agreed in the Indo-Lanka Accord, with the proviso that a referendum in the Eastern Province would be held within a year. Various powers were devolved to the provincial councils in the Provincial Council List, and a parliamentary bill on any subject in the list had to be referred to all the provincial councils for their agreement before it could be passed.

The Thirteenth Amendment fell between two stools. It hardly needs to be said that it failed to satisfy the demand of the LTTE for a separate state. But both Tamil and Sinhalese moderates noted that the exact division of powers between the centre and provinces was not made clear, there was no subject over which the provincial councils could exercise exclusive jurisdiction, and even the devolved powers could arbitrarily be controlled, reduced or abolished by the centre acting at the behest of the president. For Sinhala nationalists, on the contrary, the amendment gave too much power to the merged Northeastern Province, aiding and abetting Tamil separatists.

The UNP was ousted from power in the parliamentary elections of August 1994, with a narrow victory for the People’s Alliance, which included the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL) and a few others. This was followed by the landslide victory of Chandrika Kumaratunga in the presidential election in November. Kumaratunga’s platform was one of peace with justice for Tamils and a restoration of democracy. In pursuance of the first objective, a ceasefire with the LTTE was declared in January 1995, and peace talks were begun. In pursuance of both, various democratic rights and liberties like freedom of expression and trade union rights were restored in the parts of the country under government rule, and a process aimed at enacting a new constitution inaugurating greater devolution to the provincial councils was initiated.

The peace process ended and war resumed in April 1995, when the LTTE broke the ceasefire by attacking the Sri Lanka Navy. However, efforts to bring about constitutional change continued. The 1995 proposals were unprecedented in their recognition of Tamil grievances and aspirations, and were welcomed by both Tamil moderates and Sinhalese progressives. For example, they deleted articles in the constitution that entrenched the unitary character of the state, abolished the concurrent list that created ambiguity in the division of powers between the centre and provinces, and emphasised the plural character of Sri Lanka.

Sinhala nationalists were predictably unhappy with the draft. Under pressure from them, some of the progressive features were left out, while regressive features were either introduced or taken over from the 1978 constitution by the time the proposals were introduced in parliament in 1997. The LTTE rejected the proposals out of hand, and in 1999 murdered Tamil politician and lawyer Neelan Tiruchelvam, who had worked on drafting it. In 2005, it succeeded in killing Lakshman Kadirgamar, the other Tamil politician and lawyer who had backed the draft constitution.

Discussions continued, and by 2000, after Kumaratunga had survived an LTTE assassination attempt with the loss of an eye and had begun her second term as president in 1999, the proposals included abolition of the executive presidency. A problem faced by the Kumaratunga administration was that the proposals, being a substantive change in the constitution, were required by the 1978 Constitution to be passed by a two-thirds majority in parliament as well as a majority in a referendum, which meant that the support of the largest opposition party, the UNP, was critical. The promise of such support was held out, but it never materialised. When the draft was presented to parliament in 2000, shortly before parliamentary elections were due, the UNP led by Ranil Wickremesinghe howled it down rather than presenting any coherent amendments or arguments against it. Thus an attempt to abolish the executive presidency came to nothing despite strong popular support for it.

However, in a rare moment of consensus the Seventeenth Amendment, which curtailed the powers of the executive president substantially, was passed unanimously in 2001. This amendment, drafted by the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) and championed by the JVP which had abandoned armed struggle and entered parliament, provided for the appointment of an independent Constitutional Council of ten people, in which the majority of members would be ‘persons of eminence and integrity who have distinguished themselves in public life and who are not members of any political party’ and would include at least three persons representing the interests of minority communities.

No person could be appointed to or removed from the following Commissions except on a recommendation of the Council: the Election Commission, Public Services Commission, National Police Commission, Human Rights Commission, Finance Commission, Delimitation Commission, and Permanent Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption. Further, no person could be appointed to the following offices without the approval of the Council: the Chief Justice and judges of the Supreme Court, President and judges of the Court of Appeal, members of the Judicial Services Commission other than the chairman, Attorney-General, Auditor-General, Inspector-General of Police, Ombudsman and Secretary-General of Parliament.

The powers, functions and duties of the Election Commission included prohibiting the use of state property to promote or prevent the elction of any candidate, party or independent group, and the power to appoint a Competent Authority to take over the management of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Authority and Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (state TV) should they contravene its guidelines. Thus the president’s sweeping powers to control all these posts and functions was withdrawn during Kumaratunga’s presidency, although she proved incapable of abolishing the executive presidency itself as she had promised in her 1999 manifesto.

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s First Term

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s manifesto for the presidential elections of November 2005, ‘Mahinda Chinthanaya’, also promised to abolish the executive presidency. Thus his election as president can be understood as a mandate from the electorate to carry out this constitutional change. In May 2006, an All-Party Representative Committee (APRC) was constituted with the task of preparing proposals for a new constitution, and a panel of sixteen experts was appointed to assist it. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), at that time seen as the parliamentary voice of the LTTE, was not included. The proposals were supposed to constitute a political solution to the ethnic conflict as well as strengthen democracy in a more general sense. The panel was unable to come to a consensus, but by December a multi-ethnic majority of eleven members presented a report that was widely hailed by progressives of all communities as being a major step forward.

Subsequently, Chairman of the APRC Tissa Vitharana of the LSSP produced an amalgam of the two reports which relied heavily on the Majority Report, and each chapter of the proposals was discussed with a view to arriving at a consensus. It soon became evident, however, that President Rajapaksa and his party, the SLFP, were determined to sabotage the process, producing nonsensical and reactionary proposals that were guaranteed to be rejected by progressives of all communities. The UNP too failed to come up with any constructive suggestions, and instead dropped out of the committee.

A final report prepared by the Chairman on the basis of discussions in 128 meetings was presented to the president in 2009. The draft included the abolition of the executive presidency and substantial devolution of power to provincial councils, but did not see the light of day until July 2010, when two members of the APRC, R.Yogarajan and M.Nizam Kariapper, released it to the public.

Rajapaksa’s lack of interest in proposals for a more democratic constitution was underscored by his attitude to the Seventeenth Amendment. The three-year terms of members of the Constitutional Council expired in 2005, but he failed to appoint people to fill the vacancies as required by the 17th Amendment. Consequently the Council ceased to function, and new appointments to the various posts and commissions that were supposed to be carried out with its recommendation or approval were carried out unilaterally by the president instead.

The OPA protested in the strongest possible terms, pointing out that one of the most obnoxious misuses of presidential power ‘is the practice of appointing or promoting relatives, friends, business associates and even those with strong criminal connections to positions of authority and fiscal responsibility. Another is the undervaluing and disposal of the Country’s assets to cronies and rogue businessmen. The third is the collection of enormous bribes connected with the award of major tenders of various kinds, including arms and other military purchases. Misemploying government resources, including the media, to distort electoral processes is a fourth substantial domain of malfeasance.

The resulting lack of anything resembling good governance has had a destructive effect in every sphere of national life.’ They complained, ‘It is deplorable that the President prefers not to honour the very Constitution that he promised to uphold when he took his oath of office… The continued violation of the 17th Amendment has destroyed all semblance of democracy, good governance and respect for the Rule of Law. It is time that President Rajapakse reflects on his actions and those of his government, and their long-term effect on the national institutions of this country. He needs to pull us back forthwith from the brink over which we are poised to descend precipitously into lawless dictatorship.’

The regime’s failure to engage constructively with the APRC process helped to strengthen the LTTE, since its refusal to carry out or even contribute to a process of political reform would have convinced Tamils in LTTE-held territory that they had nothing to hope for and a great deal to fear if they fell into government hands.

This allowed the LTTE to take around 300,000 Tamil civilians hostage in 2009, which, given the regime’s determination to wipe out the LTTE at any cost, resulted in massive civilian casualties at the end of the war. In a sense the Vanni Tamils were proved right in their distrust of the government, because they were detained en masse after the end of the war in internment camps, a procedure that could arguably be characterised as a crime against humanity according to the definition of the International Criminal Court, since it involved ‘severe deprivation of physical liberty’ and ‘severe deprivation of fundamental rights’ of a civilian population for months on end.

The end of the war two years before presidential elections were due allowed ample time for President Rajapaksa to withdraw war-time curbs on democratic rights, demilitarise, carry out a public debate on the APRC proposals, amend them as required, and abolish the executive presidency as he had promised. Instead, he plunged into preparations for a presidential election, in the expectation that post-war euphoria amongst the majority of Sinhalese would give him a huge majority over his main rival, Wickremesinghe.

To his consternation, army general and war hero Sarath Fonseka announced his retirement from the army and candidacy in the presidential election, supported by most of the opposition parties as the common candidate of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA). The regime went into overdrive to defeat him, using state resources and media to campaign for the incumbent and circulate rumours that Fonseka was a tyrant, a traitor, and ineligible to stand for election, assaulting, killing or forcibly disappearing journalists who failed to fall in line, and attacking – in some cases with lethal force – opposition election rallies.

After the election was held on 26 January 2010, the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), a civil society group, confirmed that many Internally Displaced Persons were deprived of their franchise while people who had died or left the country remained on the voting lists, and that counting agents of opposition candidates were chased away from the counting centres while unauthorised persons were allowed to enter.

The results, instead of initially being announced at the counting centres as usual, were announced only after being centralised; demands by CaFFE that carbon copies of the results at each counting centre be submitted for inspection were refused, giving rise to suspicions of fraud in the counting process. In a despairing address to the public when announcing the election results, Election Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake complained that his guidelines to the state media had been ignored, many state institutions had operated in a manner not befitting state organisations, his team of presiding officers and assistant election commissioners had been harassed in several areas, and under the circumstances he could not ensure the safety of even a single ballot box.

Despite these irregularities, Fonseka polled 4.17 million votes against Rajapaksa’s 6 million. Shortly afterwards, he was arrested and threatened with court martial and possible execution. While in remand, he won a seat in the parliamentary elections of April 2010 and was able to attend and participate in sittings. Although the serious charges meriting a death sentence were dropped for lack of evidence, a military court appointed by Rajapaksa convicted him of meddling in politics while in uniform and of relatively trivial corruption charges, stripped him of his rank, medals, pension and parliamentary seat, and sentenced him to three years in jail.

According to Fonseka’s daughter Apsara, the defence lawyers were not allowed to present their statements, call their witnesses, or even be present at his trials, and the Asian Human Rights Commission compared them to Stalin’s Moscow trials. The irregularity of the proceedings and vindictiveness of the punishment, given both rampant corruption and political dabbling by many others in the armed forces, make it obvious that Fonseka’s real crime was standing for election against Rajapaksa. The coalition headed by Rajapaksa, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), won the 2010 parliamentary elections, but fell short of the two-thirds majority required to carry out constitutional change.

Who is to Blame?

This is the context in which the Eighteenth Amendment was rushed through as an urgent bill. The bill sought to bring about two changes to the constitution: nullify the Seventeenth Amendment by replacing the Constitutional Council with a toothless Parliamentary Council, and abolish the two-term limit on the presidency.

This would allow the president to appoint people to all the positions and posts mentioned in the 17th amendment constitutionally, and ensure that he could remain president for life (with lifelong immunity) by manipulating elections and making nonsense of the independence of the judiciary. Why was it so urgent?

Owing to a convoluted constitutional amendment introduced by Jayawardene, Rajapaksa would not even begin his second term until November 2010, so what was the urgency to decide that he could stand for a third term?

There seem to have been three compulsions. One, his waning popularity would mean that the longer he waited, the more difficult it would become to pass such an amendment.

Two, rushing the amendment through parliament without a public debate would forestall objections. (It all took place within ten days; petitioners at the Supreme Court, who argued that as an amendment which affected both fundamental rights and powers devolved to the provincial councils it should have been subjected to a referendum and sent to the provincial councils for prior approval, were given the text of the amendment only after their plea began; the Supreme Court itself was given the text only the previous day, despite which it ruled (contrary to earlier rulings) that a two-thirds majority in parliament was sufficient; and MPs were given the text only after the debate began, one day before their votes were to be cast.)

The third probable reason is that Jayawardene is reported to have contemplated such an amendment towards the end of his second term, but by then, Premadasa was waiting in the wings to replace him, and would not agree to it. So this could well be a move on Rajapaksa’s part to pre-empt bids by other members of his party – or even his family – to replace him. In the process, of course, his 2005 election pledge to abolish the executive presidency was thrown to the winds.

There is no doubt that the primary responsibility for this travesty of democracy lies with Rajapaksa and his party. But they lacked a two-thirds majority, and could not have pushed through the amendment without many accomplices. As a member of Jayawardene’s and Premadasa’s governments, opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe participated in the horrors they perpetrated, including the anti-Tamil pogroms of 1983 and the torture and extrajudicial killings of Sinhalese in the late 1980s.

As leader of the opposition, he sabotaged the constitutional proposal of 2000 (which would have made the 18th Amendment impossible if it had gone through), and played a negative role in the APRC process. He has been criticised for being absent at the debate on the 18th Amendment instead of arguing and voting against it, but what could he possibly have said that would not have sounded hypocritical?

The UNP’s failure to stand for anything but a desire for power has meant a steady haemorrhage of defectors to the ruling alliance where the real power lies, and they helped to push the amendment through.

Then there was the LTTE. Prabhakaran’s stubborn refusal to consider anything other than an exclusively Tamil totalitarian state in the areas it controlled detached the issue of justice for Tamils from the goal of democracy for all, where it rightfully belonged. This blocked attempts to push through a democratic solution to the civil war and abolish the executive presidency in the decade from 1994 onwards, when Sinhala nationalism was in abeyance. And the return to war and terrorist attacks helped to stoke Sinhala nationalist sentiments and legitimise the ruthless drive to exterminate the LTTE as well as the anti-democratic measures taken before and after the end of the war.

Other accomplices included the Supreme Court judges who allowed the amendment to be rushed through, politicians from minority parties who voted for it, and politicians from the Socialist Alliance who also voted for it, despite the fact that the Politburo and Central Committee of the LSSP (led by Tissa Vitharana) and Democratic Left Front (DLF, led by Vasudeva Nanayakkara) had decided to abstain.

One is reminded of Stanley Kramer’s 1961 film ‘Judgment at Nuremberg’, which tells the story of the trial of four German judges guilty of complicity with the Nazi regime. One of them, Ernst Janning, was once a champion of justice, yet played a major role in turning the German legal system into an instrument of Nazism. How could these eminent and apparently decent men have been complicit in the ghastly atrocities committed by the Nazi regime?

The mystery is solved only when Janning makes a statement, showing how actions which at first seemed trivial and innocuous – like swearing an oath of allegiance to the Nazis – led to deeper and deeper entanglement with the regime. Even when the full horror of Hitler’s agenda became clear to them, they justified staying at their posts with the argument that they were trying to prevent matters from getting even worse. Of course, that turned out to be a delusion. What really could have prevented matters from getting worse would have been clear opposition to the fascist transformation of the state and society, but that was the course they did not take.

Are the majority of Sinhalese people complicit in turning Sri Lanka into a dictatorship?

Two days before the amendment was passed, liberal commentator and peace activist Jehan Perera asked community leaders in various parts of the country what they thought of it, and they replied that they did not know enough about it to have an opinion. He also got the impression that they were afraid of voicing opposition. This account rings true. If judges of the Supreme Court and parliamentarians did not get the text of the amendment until the last minute, how could ordinary people in the provinces know what it contained?

And if they had seen war hero Sarath Fonseka incarcerated and threatened with death for opposing the regime, wouldn’t they fear that the same or worse could happen to them?

In both 1999 and 2005, the Sinhalese majority voted massively for presidential candidates who promised to abolish the executive presidency. In 2010, a large part of the 4.17 million votes for Fonseka were cast in the fear that if Rajapaksa came to power, he would become a dictator: a fear that proved only too well-founded. Millions more did not vote for either of the main contenders, believing that Fonseka could turn out to be as bad as Rajapaksa. They either cast their votes for candidates who could not hope to win or abstained, resulting in an abnormally low voter turnout. If protest votes and abstentions are added up, they come to a substantial majority who were opposed to dictatorship.

Seeds of Hope

Sri Lanka may now be a dictatorship, but it does not follow that the aspiration for democracy among its people is dead. There was a chorus of protest against the 18th Amendment and the manner in which it was being passed from the Civil Rights Movement, Organisation of Professional Associations, Bar Association and law students, Centre for Policy Alternatives, National Peace Council, eminent academics and intellectuals, religious leaders, trade unionists, media persons, and many other concerned citizens.

In parliament, it was opposed by the DNA (now reduced to the JVP, Sarath Fonseka and two others) and the TNA, despite the vulnerable position of both; thanks to first-time TNA MP M.A.Sumanthiran’s well-argued and eloquent speech in parliament, objections to the 18th Amendment were actually voiced in the debate and went on record. The leader of the New Left Front, Vikramabahu Karunaratne, called on people to wear black in protest against the amendment.

Nineteen LSSP and DLF Poliburo and Central Committee members condemned the decision of the executive committee of the Socialist Alliance to vote in favour of the18th amendment ignoring their decision not to participate in the voting, and called upon all progressive forces to oppose the 18th Amendment and fight against the establishment of an authoritarian state by united action with all who stood against this menace.

Whether these protests die down or grow, making use of the remaining democratic space before it is shut down, depends on many things.

It is an irony that the only parties defending democracy in parliament were the JVP and TNA, which have both espoused decidedly undemocratic politics in the past. In the circumstances, all freedom-loving people have good reason to be grateful to them.

The JVP has distanced itself from armed struggle, which is a positive development, but unless its leaders and Sarath Fonseka abandon their Sinhala nationalism, they will not be able to carry forward the struggle for democracy.

On the other side, the TNA has distanced itself from the goal of Tamil Eelam, which is a major step forward, but unless it also abandons its residual Tamil nationalism, its capacity to fight for democracy will be limited.

Finally, the capacity of dissident leftists of the LSSP and DLF to act as a rallying point for all those opposing the descent into authoritarianism would depend on their ability to distance themselves from elements in their own parties who are wedded to the very forces that are driving the country into totalitarianism. There is potential for a powerful democracy movement. Only time will tell whether it will materialise.

There has been both contraction and expansion of democratic space in Sri Lanka

by Dayan Jayatilleka

The recent Asia Society question and answer session with External Affairs minister GL Peiris, was describes by veteran journalist Thalif Deen, head of the IPS New York bureau as a “lively interaction”.

Prof Peiris addressed the prestigious Asia Society, New York last month as the UN General Assembly sessions took place. The questions were civil, cordial but wide-ranging and penetrating, posed by the moderator and Executive Vice President of the Society, the youthful Prof Jamie Metzel. These are the very questions that are widely discussed in the Sri Lankan media and in society in general: issues of the concentration and centralisation of power, the 18th amendment, the abolition of term limits, the growing presence and the space occupied by members of the Rajapakse family, and so on. These matters are already out in the open, as befits a democracy.

The speech and the more important Q&A session are available on the Asia Society website. With his quiet self-confidence and sheer ability, Professor Peiris’ response to the smooth interrogation was deft and donnish in turn. Having watched that performance on the Asia Society’s website, I await the parliamentary No Confidence motion on the Minister, for its educational as well as entertainment value. My personal favourite moment of the interview was when Prof Metzel slipped a punch, saying that “anyone who reads a newspaper” knows about the allegations against Sri Lanka’s conduct in the last stages of the war, and that therefore Sri Lanka should open its doors to the UN Panel. Prof Peiris permitted himself a smile and a twinkle, while punching back with words to the effect that “anyone who reads the newpapers knows that far more powerful states stand accused of far more serious things, but there is no call for equivalent measures and mechanisms”.

The Asia Society discussion is reflected in the democracy debate that continues in the Lankan media, with its participants oblivious to the irony that any claims of dictatorship are belied by the very debate. Based as I am in East Asia, I could not help but notice the recent political crisis and its denouement in Thailand, and am also able to observe comparatively, the range of the debate in the media in this part of the world and that which is ongoing in Sri Lanka.

In one sense there has been a contraction in democratic space, but in another there has been an expansion or re-opening: I refer to (a) the post-war elections in the former conflict zones and (b) the proliferation of the mass media outlets which make for structural pluralism in sharp contradistinction to the state’s media oligopoly of the 1970s.

To assert that the contraction of democratic space is not episodic, conjunctural and reversible – as I argue – but that it is instead not only structural, but worse, systemic; that quantitative erosion has been transformed into a qualitative degeneration into dictatorship, is to abdicate the defence and utilisation of the democratic space that exists, and exists precisely because people have spilled their blood for it as they did when they braved the JVP’s bullets, bombs and daggers to vote at elections in 1988-89.

In the last years of his life Leon Trotsky was engaged in a fascinating debate with two prominent followers within the Trotskyist movement. James Burnham and Max Schatman, the ‘ultras’ of his movement argued that under Stalin a counterrevolution had occurred which had turned the USSR into a state-capitalist dictatorship. Trotsky counter-argued that the USSR was a degenerated workers state but a workers state nonetheless, with collective forms of property. What it therefore needed was not a deep-going social revolution, but a more limited political one. He also argued for the unconditional defence of the USSR against the impending external (Nazi) aggression which would uproot the gains of the historic victory of 1917.

Decades later a similar differentiation was observable in a renewed debate within the global Left on the USSR. The pro-Soviet Communist parties adopted a stance of uncritical defence; the Maoists shrilly asserted that capitalism had been restored in the USSR which had become more dangerous than the USA; Fidel Castro and Che Guevara solidarized with and tilted to the USSR but held that its political line and certain practices were profoundly in error. A few years ago, Fidel wryly observed that had the Russians taken the line advocated by the Cubans, they could have won the Cold War.

My argument is analogous: Sri Lanka remains fundamentally a democracy, with whatever deficits and distortions, deformations and/or degenerations -- themselves attributable in significant measure to the depletion incurred in a thirty years war.

Not every ‘hegemonic project’ is one of tyranny or dictatorship, still less fascism! A hegemonic project has to exhaust itself, play itself out either due to its intrinsic contradictions or a drastic change in its external conditions. So long as the people feel a sense of external or centrifugal threat and the alternative seems complicit with or inadequate to deal with such threats, the project will neither be exhausted nor superseded.

Trotsky also attributed the character of the Stalinist regime to its isolation in a largely peasant society, deriving from the failure to break through to Western Europe. He had a point. It is empirically observable that isolation, external hostility and pressure emanating from sources seen as unsympathetic to the majority of the populace, only results in ‘target hardening’, i.e. hardening on the part of states and regimes which perceive themselves targeted. More: such pressures prove counter-productive in so far as they tend to rally popular support for hardliners and hard-line policies, discrediting dissent and ‘divisiveness’.

What Sri Lanka requires for ‘course correction’ and ‘democracy deficit’ reduction is far less drastic than what many critics think. In Edgar Allen Poe’s The Purloined Letter, the missing missive was hidden in plain sight on the mantelpiece which is why it was missed by so many, who sought it high and low. The same is true of the situation of Sri Lankan democracy today.

October 04, 2010

Reconciliation is A process that goes beyond forgiving, forgetting or repenting

by J.V.Thambar

The long drawn conflict was addressed by Government, religious bodies and NGOs towards rendering humanitarian services and respect for human rights alongside peace negotiations. At the end of the conflict last year, these efforts need to be transformed to a larger process of reconciliation and its underpinnings for continuation of the logical process.

Simply stated, reconciliation is a process of restoring parties to a conflict through the previous situation. It goes beyond forgetting, forgiving, or repentance to new and stronger relationships within affected parties perhaps with new information and insights that invariably developed in reconciliation. There is a need for overall reconciliation which could be one of the most valuable and important ‘Lessons Learnt’ for an acceptable, lasting and fulfilling way forward.

Reconciliation is not a new concept or discovery. From the dawn of mankind, reconciliation has been a community experience in settling disputes and conflicts among tribes, races and groups through discussion, compromise and agreement ending in reconciliation over previous events and to prevent recurrence. Thus, it has been found that all other ways sooner or later, end ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ (MAD)

Major religions

In our country, mediation and dialogue have been a hallowed silent tradition in local decision-making at various levels of local authorities (Gamsabhawa) eccliastical process which have been adopted in civil disputes, inter-organizational settlements, employer-employee relationships and eventually being recognized by law.

The model among the Buddhist clergy is indeed exemplary where differences in views are addressed by rounds of discussions and eventually a compromise is accepted and they depart in peace.

Reconciliation is a cardinal concept and principle in all major religions but with one goal namely, reconciling man with a Supreme Being and with each other.

However, reconciliation cannot be forced but allowed to flower in their own pace perhaps with encouragement. To quote an adoption from Shakespeare; “Reconciliation is like mercy. It blesses both, the giver and receiver.” It is self-fulfilling and self-sustaining. Moreover, it blesses both as well as those who observed silently and are inspired to join in and practice on their own.

If we reflect on the past, reconciliation has been well established in items of national disasters, the major Tsunami of 2004 and local disasters.

Another more recent national experience was at the end of the conflict in April/May 2009 when thousands of IDPs were liberated in the North and cared for in hastily elected and provisioned welfare camps. However, small groups of volunteers, NGOs and religious groups organized relief and visited the camps for distribution establishing goodwill and rapport within all communities. Another similar response was the offer from the South to repair major railway stations destroyed in the North and helping in rehousing.

At other times, the emergence of basic community feeling is seen in sports, religious, cultural festivals and national events. In the area of sports, which has no barrier except excellence, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has recently recognized the contribution of Muralitharan and the distinction he brought to the country by his prowess in cricket.

He could thus be an icon in sports for reconciliation. There could similarly be icons in other areas. In cultural activities too e.g. music, drama and dance, there could be vast avenues for inter-mingling and building relationships.

Cultural festivals

The wealth of religious and cultural festivals throughout the year in various districts offer numerous occasions for visits by all communities to the festivals and participate in the cultural activities, mela and pola that accompanies them. It is a strange but happy coincidence that in many cities and towns, places of worship of different religions are sited close to each other. A supreme example is the city of Kandy. Further, a noteworthy observation is that often the festivals of different religions fall on the same day or close to each other.

Malaysia, which has a multi-cultural community has developed a community practice of an ‘open-house’ to friends and relations during religious festivals and offer them hospitality. This has been described as “community core of common religious values.”

In larger national events, such as New Year festivals, Independence Day celebrations and even humble sowing and harvesting festivals, it would be well, wherever possible for other communities to be invited for participation.

Post-World War I

Reconciliation is flexible and has been found applicable not only within a country but also between nations and internationally. In Post-World War I, the defeated nations were subject to recovery of war reparations to the victors for which national assets, factories had to be broken-up causing much bitterness to the defeated.

In contrast, after World War II, the prevailing mood was towards reconstruction and reconciliation through the operation of the Marshal Plan wherein both victors and vanquished benefitted, in speedy reconstruction, rehabilitation and promotion of reconciliation.

The prevailing spirit of reconciliation spread its wings beyond the combatants. Reconciliation was extended towards millions of victims of the Holocaust and those who perished in prisoners’ camps, concentration camps and crematoria.

In the East, at the San Francisco Peace Treaty, defeated Japan was confronted with a host of demands for reparations. At this conference, the stirring speech and espousal of Buddhism in his speech; “hatred does not cease by hatred but by loving-kindness” changed the mood of the conference and earned Sri Lanka the eternal gratitude of the Japanese nation.

Eventually, the spirit of reconciliation spread to victims of war and prisoners who fell under the Japanese invasion in the East and were afforded redress and compensation over time.

World forum

At the end of Apartheid, when Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk came together on the first ever reconciliation, the process was raised to new heights in the world forum.

The outstanding values in turning from revenge and recrimination to peace and progress captured the hearts and minds universally and both Mandela and De Klerk were awarded jointly the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Following on the experience, procedures of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions were developed in dealing with past crimes in a just, fair and rational manner.

The model was followed with some adoption by no less than 20 other nations globally and their experiences researched in the standard text 'Unspeakable Trusth 2001' by Priscilla Hayner and subsequently by other international NGOs.

Reconciliation has been successfully applied in several country situations e.g. Northern Ireland Peace Process, Timor Leste, Philippines, and approaches being made in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Indeed, from the emerging incessant intra and inter-national conflicts of the 19th and 20th Centuries, the 21st Century maybe hailed as a Century of Reconciliation where the tired, tested and challenging process of reconciliation is being applied with increasing success. In the same strain of the above experiences, Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission could consider establishing a National Council for peace, reconciliation and unity in diversity, drawing on the numerous on-going experiences in the country.

USA - Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery Program - Persons born in Sri Lanka eligible to apply

The online registration for DV-2012 DV Lottery begins noon, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) (GMT -4), Tuesday, October 5, 2010, and ends noon, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) (GMT -4), Wednesday, November 3, 2010.

The Congressionally mandated Diversity Immigrant Visa Program makes available 50,000 diversity visas (DV) annually, drawn from random selection among all entries to persons who meet strict eligibility requirements from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.

For DV-2012, natives of the following countries1 are not eligible to apply because the countries sent a total of more than 50,000 immigrants to the United States in the previous five years:

BRAZIL, CANADA, CHINA (mainland-born), COLOMBIA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, ECUADOR, EL SALVADOR, GUATEMALA, HAITI, INDIA, JAMAICA, MEXICO, PAKISTAN, PERU, PHILIPPINES, POLAND, SOUTH KOREA, UNITED KINGDOM (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and VIETNAM.
Persons born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, and Taiwan are eligible.

For DV-2012, no countries have been added or removed from the previous year’s list of eligible countries.
The Department of State implemented the electronic registration system beginning with DV-2005 in order to make the DV process more efficient and secure. The Department utilizes special technology and other means to identify those who commit fraud for the purposes of illegal immigration or those who submit multiple entries.

Fot Full Details & instructions visit: http://www.dvlottery.state.gov/

Sarath Fonseka: Doomed in a vicious feast of a President

by Thrishantha Nanayakkara

On Feb. 3 2010, I wrote here about how Sri Lanka stepped into post-war peace over one of the most violent presidential elections ever recorded. However, I never thought post-war peace and new rule of law would grow up to be strong enough to make the united opposition presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka end up in jail.

Sarath Fonseka, the four-star general who survived two suicide bomb attacks from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, apparently made clear political mistakes during the presidential election. First, he stressed the importance of political reconciliation among former enemies in the war. Second, he openly said 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 ever happened, as foreign media reported. He affirmed that if such a thing had happened, it must have been due to some non-military authority giving orders to do so. While trying to make the point that Sri Lankan civilization is built on moral values of forgiveness, compassion, and loving, kindness, he gave a clear boost to Rajapakse’s campaign, based on patriotism and euphoria of a military victory over Tamil Tigers.

Sarath Fonseka lost the presidential election, and Mahinda Rajapakse started his way of enjoying the victory. On Feb. 8 2010, a battalion of army personnel was sent to arrest Sarath Fonseka. The commanding officer of this battalion had apparent conflict of interest because he had been an officer punished by General Fonseka for wrongdoing. Eyewitnesses reported that the scene of the arrest was a very bitter one, where the once-decorated army commander had been dragged along the floor by the neck. Mahinda Rajapakse, as the commander-in-chief of the three forces, appointed a panel of military judges to hear two court martial cases. Apparent irregularities in this process were challenged several times, and the composition of judges had to be changed several times. General Fonseka, who was suffering from severe internal injuries due to the suicide bomb attacks on him, was kept in a cell without adequate ventilation. Doctors had made it mandatory for him to breathe fresh air and exercise regularly.

Somehow his personal doctor was given the opportunity to see him, and his health situation was brought under control. This courageous man won a parliamentary seat from Colombo district while in custody. Though several breath-taking political maneuvers kept him from attending the parliamentary sessions, the voice of the united opposition won his fundamental rights as a people’s representative. Though I do not endorse economic policies of the party who gave political leadership to General Fonseka, I respect his battle to win respect for fundamental human rights, which he believed to be the basis to build a peaceful society free from frequent armed uprisings.

The military court found a window of opportunity on Aug. 13 2010, when Sarath Fonseka’s defense lawyers were on vacation. The court assembled and convicted General Fonseka for engaging in politics while in uniform. Witnesses included a government minister who had recently crossed over to the ruling side. President Mahinda Rajapakse, as the commander-in-chief wasted no time to sign the judgment. Retired General Sarath Fonseka was stripped of all medals of honor, military ranks, and faced a dishonorable discharge of duties. State media was quick to harp on the great victory for President Rajapakse through a fair process of judiciary. However, state media did not question why one of the president’s sons, a Navy officer, was not given the same punishment for getting on the political stage to support his father’s campaign while in uniform. Pardon my ignorance of law applicable to the first family.

In the meantime, a second court martial gave its verdict that Sarath Fonseka is guilty of financial misconduct because he had authorized to purchase several items from a company in which his son-in-law had some interest. Again, President Rajapakse wasted no time to sign the sentence that sends this decorated army commander for rigorous imprisonment for 30 months in the notorious Walikada prison. 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 took the last privilege Sarath Fonseka had—the status as a member in the parliament—and made him a convicted criminal with compulsory rigorous laborious duties in prison premises.

FASSKTC105.jpg

Civilized world, I wrote this article because I knew you would get to hear this story from various other sources and jump into generalized conclusions about Sri Lankans. One might even say Sri Lankans must be barbarians to send a man who is suffering from severe internal injuries due to two suicide bomb attacks while in duty to defend a country to rigorous imprisonment. Please note that the majority Sri Lankans do not belong to that category. Even after a bitter war with LTTE, most of them supported Sarath Fonseka’s reconciliation agenda. However, here we are, doomed in a vicious feast of a president. The world at large can play their role to do justice to this victimized majority. Please do your part in the most peaceful and democratic way you can think of contributing. We do not need too many Aung Saan Suu Kyi type tragedies, do we? [Courtesy: The Harvard Crimson]

Thrishantha Nanayakkara was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study from 2008-2009, co-sponsored by the Harvard Committee on Human Rights. He is on the faculty of King’s College, London.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa defends govt position on Sarath Fonseka issue

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa says those politicians now shedding crocodile tears for incarcerated Sarath Fonseka never uttered a word in support of him during the Eelam war IV.

Defence Secretary Rajapaksa says none of them appreciated the former Army Commander’s role in the war until he quit a 40-year career to take on President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January 26 presidential election.

Responding to Opposition criticism that the war hero was being unfairly treated for challenging President Rajapaksa, the Defence Secretary said that the defeated presidential candidate’s new friends had conveniently forgotten the circumstances under which Fonseka entered politics.

In a brief interview with The Island yesterday, the Defence Secretary alleged that the Opposition was using the issue as a political tool to undermine post-war political stability.

An irate Rajapaksa said that the Opposition had carried out an extremely harmful presidential election campaign by accusing the Army of war crimes. He asked whether anything could have been more damaging and irresponsible than accusing him of having ordered that surrendering LTTE cadres be shot on the Vanni east. He challenged the UNP and the JVP to reveal their position on a statement attributed to Fonseka in a front-page Sunday Leader interview on December 13, 2009.

Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that those who were making a public display of Fonseka’s trouble had ignored the launch of an UN inquiry on the basis of Fonseka’s unfounded allegations. He said Fonseka’s imprisonment had nothing to do with his politics. The UN action had targeted the country’s political and military leaderships, and ongoing reconciliation efforts could be jeopardised, he said, urging the public to beware of ‘bankrupt politicians seeking cheap political gain’.

Responding to a query, the Defence Secretary recalled how those now siding with Fonseka had tried to disrupt the war against the LTTE by defeating the UPFA’s budget in 2007 and 2008. According to him, nothing could be as regrettable as one of the architects of Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE throwing his weight behind a set of ‘calculating politicians bent on capturing political power at any cost’.

Commenting on criticism on the former Army Chief being subject to Court Martial jurisdiction, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that many officers, including Major General Parakrama Pannipitiya had been court martialled for alleged violation of tender procedures during Fonseka’s command.

That action effectively denied Pannipitiya, who had led the campaign in the East an opportunity to command the Army, the Defence Secretary said adding that there had been many instances of officers being sent out of the army on flimsy grounds according to Fonseka’s whims and fancies.

The primary reason for the war victory was nothing but President Rajapaksa’s readiness to double the strength of the Army and increase the strength of other services and police, the Defence Secretary said stressing that had Fonseka shared the credit for war victory with the military leadership, the country could have avoided an unfortunate situation.

Rajapaksa said that the JVP had strongly opposed the creation of the post of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) for Fonseka. The then JVP MP Lal Kantha had told Parliament that the government was being foolish as this could lead to a military dictatorship, he said. Today, the JVP was saying something entirely different, he said. - courtesy: The Island -

UNP changes stance on a political solution based on fedaralism

by M.Y.M. Ayub

The BBC’s Sinhala service, Sandesaya quoted United National Party (UNP) General Secretary Tissa Attanayake on September 26 as saying that there was no need for a federal political solution in Sri Lanka.

This might have disappointed many Tamils especially politically conscious ones who have been demanding more devolution than what had already implemented, for the past several decades.

Attanayake had further said that “the need of the hour is to 'sort out day to day issues' of the Tamil community in the north and east instead of a political solution for the national question. He, however, with a clever wordplay had said the UNP would not support any move to amend or abolish the 13 Amendment that paved the way for the establishment of the Provincial Councils.

"The 13 Amendment is a part of the Sri Lanka constitution. We will continue to support it. But the need of the hour is to provide Tamil people with build up in their normal life," he had said.

Speaking with the BBC in London, Attanayake had added that there was no need for a political solution as the times have changed after the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers.

The main Opposition party is faced nowadays with multiple problems in relation to its leadership which have originated from a lack of strategy with the party to halt repeated election defeats that have resulted in an exodus of party’s bigwigs to the Government ranks, since even before Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power.

In such a scenario BBC questioning the party’s General Secretary about federalism might have been deemed by its leaders as if one attempting to light the cigar while the other’s beard is on fire, as the Sinhala saying goes.

Political solution and federalism are issues seemingly fairly remote to the conscience of the leaders of the two main parties and are tricky ones for the UNP to handle, in the light of the ruling UPFA exploiting the Sinhalese sentiments in full throttle.

Attanayake might have feared that the UPFA leaders would use his comments to attack his party, had he said something confirming his party’s stance on federalism that has not shifted since 2003.

It is public knowledge that the UNP/ UNF government came to an agreement with the LTTE at the third round of peace talks held in the Norwegian capital Oslo in November 2002 that "both parties have decided to explore a political solution founded on internal self-determination based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka". The UNP since then never announced that it had deviated from that stance.

Attanayake’s remarks on federal solution seem to be an attempt to assimilate with the Sinhalese sentiments that have sharpened against any form of devolution of power after the humiliating decimation of the LTTE.

However, the State media after Attanayake’s interview with the BBC attempted to portray that the main Opposition party has betrayed its policy on an important issue.

However, it was not only the UNP that had accepted federalism as the solution for the Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem. When the UNP/ UNF government and the LTTE agreed upon the federal model, the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga who was also the leader of the SLFP/PA welcomed the agreement, stating that she had already presented a draft federal Constitution in the Parliament on August 3, 2000.

She was referring to the document she personally presented in the Parliament with proposals to convert the country into a “Union of Regions” in place of a unitary state and to abolish the Executive Presidency. The document was torn off and set on fire by the UNP within the house itself, creating pandemonium throughout the day.

The SLFP was promoting the idea of “Union of Regions” since mid 1995 when it put forward the famous “package”, a set of proposals with a view to solve the ethnic problem which the LTTE ideologue Anton Balasingham, later in 2003, while at a function to declare open the LTTE courts complex in Kilinochchi, said that the rebels could have accepted.

Interestingly, the SLFP along with the JVP, by implication, had endorsed the outcomes of the UNF government’s peace talks with the LTTE at another occasion, though they were highly critical of the process. The major Opposition parties including the SLFP and the JVP that called the UNF-LTTE ceasefire agreement and the peace talks illegal, issued a statement on April 30, 2003 expressing their deep concern over the withdrawal of the LTTE from the peace talks in the previous week.

However, both main political parties, UNP and the SLFP now have washed hands of the federal idea. Therefore, it was not only the UNP but also the other parties have been shifting stance on this issues. The LTTE had abandoned the agreement with the UNF government towards the end of 2003.

NFF leader and Minister Wimal Weerawansa is, in a way, far more logical than Attanayake has been, in respect of a political solution to the ethnic problem and devolution of power. Both rule out the need for a political solution claiming that the times have changed after the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers, while Attanayake is still for the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and Weerawansa is against it. If there were no need for a political solution there was also no point of maintaining nine provincial councils set up under the 13th Amendment, exerting pressure on the public coffers.

Both seem to be of the view that the Tamil militancy had sprung up in a vacuum and it was an effect without a cause. However President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been suggesting occasionally something beyond the military activities against the Tamil militancy, which later turned to be brutal terrorism.

At the UN General Assembly in 2007 he said that “our goal remains a negotiated and honourable end to this unfortunate conflict. I must say that the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) is working successfully towards it.” However, the APRC met with a tragic end rather than meeting an honourable end. Then he said at the 2008 UNGA that “our Government has always been ready to address the causes of these issues and effectively implement political and constitutional solutions to meet the aspirations and rights of all communities.”

This is what he had to say at the 2010 UNGA.

“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…..“To this end, earlier this year, a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission has been established, giving full expression to the principles of accountability.”

However, Tamil political parties seem to be skeptical of any serious Constitutional changed that would heal the wounds, possibly in view of their past experience with regard to the vacillation of policies of the two main political parties. It is now up to the two main parties to rebuild the trust among wounded people, by deeds, not by words.

How China and India Displaced the West in Sri Lanka

By Amantha Perera

As a Sri Lankan military offensive destroyed the last remnants of the Tamil Tiger separatist insurgency in May of last year to end a quarter century of bloody civil war the country faced a problem at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva:

The European Union (EU) was trying to move a resolution critical of Sri Lanka, and calling for an investigation into rights violations during the offensive. Sri Lanka's representative at the Council, Dayan Jayatilleka reached out for support from two friendly nations, India and China. The result was that instead of a resolution censuring Sri Lanka, 29 members in the 47 member Council adopted a resolution commending the government. Only 12 voted against it, and six abstained.

"We did not totally rely on the support of India and China, but their support did have a ripple effect" that neutralized the EU resolution, Jayatilleka who is currently a visiting lecturer at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore told TIME.

Support from China and India was critical during the bloody final three years of the conflict, as the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa faced increasing criticism from Western nations on the conduct of a military campaign that was gaining the upper hand over the Tigers. China was also one of Sri Lanka's main arms suppliers.

"Without their help, I don't think we could have ended the conflict," Jayatilleka said. China, together with Russia, ran interference for Sri Lanka at the U.N. Security Council, and according to another Sri Lankan diplomat, former Additional Foreign Secretary Nanda Godage, they also warned Western powers against any unilateral action in Sri Lanka.

More than a year after the conclusion of the war, the support of the two Asian powerhouses has not waned, with India and China having become two of Sri Lanka's major donors. India has committed $800 million in low-interest loans to assist the redevelopment of the war-ravaged north and east, and has undertaken to fund the construction of 50,000 new houses in the former conflict-zone — almost a third of the 160,000 new houses the U.N. estimates are needed.

Indian companies have been among the first to line up to take advantage of Sri Lanka's expected postwar economic boom. "The situation between 2006 and 2009 held us back, we need get back on the horse here," Raymond Bickson, CEO of Taj Hotels, India told TIME. The Taj group is exploring the possibilities of acquiring a hotel property just outside Colombo's international airport and undertaking a 100 room redevelopment project.

The Chinese have not been far behind with at least $500 million in assistance to develop infrastructure, ports, the power grid in the south and the construction of highways in the east. The assistance has come during a time when Western powers continue to call for international investigations into the final phase of the war. On August 15, the EU suspended a concessionary tariff applied to Sri Lanka, which had made Europe the single largest market for the country's exports, on the grounds Sri Lanka was allegedly contravening human rights conventions. But on the same day that the EU suspension came into effect, President Rajapaksa was opening the $ 350 million port at Hambantota, which was mostly financed by China.

India has long been the pre-eminent player in Sri Lankan affairs, having had thousands of its own troops deployed there to help fight the Tigers between 1987 and 1990. India lost 1,200 personnel in that counterinsurgency effort, and a Tamil Tigers suicide bomber assassinated then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May of 1991. China's growing role is a relatively new development.

Both Jayatilleka and Godage feel that when pressure by the Western block mounted, Sri Lanka simply revitalised strong ties with the two giants dating back to the 1950's. Jayatilleka told TIME that Sri Lanka acknowledged the growing global importance of the two but never forgot that they were Asian powers.

"In Asia there is an understanding that the state should be powerful enough to withstand (internal threats)," he said.

Godage told TIME that Sri Lanka has so far adroitly juggled the two regional powers, whose relationship is often tenuous. "We continue to cultivate the closest relationship with China while keeping India happy."

The diplomatic juggling act could also potentially lure critical Western powers into once again backing the Rajapaksa government. "The Americans would want to counter Chinese influence," Godage told TIME.

A recent meeting between Rajapaksa and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on the sidelines of last month's UN General Assembly sessions could be the first signs the icy relations are thawing. Norway's previous role in Sri Lanka was as the facilitator of the disastrous 2002 peace accord between the Tigers and then Sri Lankan government. Rajapaksa scrapped the accord in 2008 before the Army launched into the final strongholds of the Tigers. "Having them (Norway) in our corner will to an extent neutralise western hostility," the former diplomat said. - courtesy: The Time Magazine -