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February 28, 2011

Intrusion of Indian fishermen in SL waters is a "Fishy sort of tale"

by V.Sudarshan

Every night the radar systems in Sri Lanka pick up the presence of Indian trawlers off its coastline. Sometimes our boats go as far south as Trincomalee. To cluster around the Sri Lankan coastline in places like Point Pedro, Kankesanthurai, Delft Island, Thalaimannar, our boats have first to cross the international boundary.

Sri Lanka takes satellite pictures of these trawlers dotting their territorial waters. On the radar screen shots the boats looks like countless stars twinkling in the dark night sky. Every day they count the number of boats they have a visual confirmation of. In the case of some trawlers they also manage to take down registration numbers. On some days the intrusions detected by the Sri Lankans are minimal.

On January 27 and 28 they managed, for instance to detect only 10 Indian boats. Our fishermen must have taken a well-deserved break from their exertions. On February 19, for instance, they detected as many as 700. It must be quite a sight to see that many boats speckling the waters and not flying the tricolour.

Every day the defence attaché in Colombo is given the day’s list of sea incursions. Everyday, I am told, the Deputy High Commission in Chennai faxes the same list to the Director Fisheries, Tamil Nadu, whose office no doubt maintains records of ownership. From January 1 this year till the date of writing this the approximate number of Indian boats that were sighted in Sri Lankan waters was 6,466. Of which the Sri Lankans managed to take down the registration numbers of 547. Don’t ask me what happens when the fisheries department gets the Sri Lankan list. It probably dutifully gets filed in the dustbin.

Usually the matter ends there. But on some other days the farce is stretched beyond credible limits. The other day, for instance, we saw the ridiculous sight of the DMK patriarch’s daughter Kanimozhi being "arrested" by police who report to her father after she participated in a protest on behalf of the fisherfolk from Tamil Nadu. Some days prior to that, BJP’s Sushma Swaraj made a visit to Pushpavanam so she could be part of a political photo opportunity. Actor Vijay also made a fire and brimstone speech against Sri Lanka there. Now the BJP has an unenviably poor presence in Tamil Nadu, yet it senses the opportunity ahead of the assembly elections. In the days ahead, more politicians will gravitate towards that shoreline.

By the last count, Tamil Nadu’s fishing community is about 7,00,000 strong in 591 fishing villages strung along the coastline of 1,076 km stretching from Pulicat, north of Chennai, down to Kanyakumari. They set out to ply their trade in almost 60,000 craft. Even during the Eelam war, according to Sri Lankan estimates, as much as a quarter of these boats were regularly detected in their waters.

Even though there are no signboards out there it is not as if our fishermen do not know when they are in Sri Lankan waters. At the shortest point between our two countries it is 18 nautical miles. That can be covered in three hours. With a Global Positioning System that each of our fishing vessels ought to have, it is impossible to wander off course. Even mobile phones come with GPS these days. What our fishermen have been known to do in those waters is not exactly confined to fishing.

A partial list of seizures in the past reveals that following have been plentiful in the Palk Straits: Petrol, diesel, mini lorries, Tata Sumos, Traveras, auto rickshaws, gas cylinders, tipper lorries, TVS 50 mopeds, Hero Honda motorcycles, Eicher vans, beedi bundles, rice, currency, batteries, jeeps, watches, ready made dresses, Tamil and English movie CDs, soap, provisions, condensed milk, mobile phones, computer spares, milk, cameras, flasks, tractors, medical supplies, dried sea cucumber, fishing equipment and, in one interesting instance, local arrack. I am not even listing the other perennials during the war: detonators, ball bearings, gelatin sticks, AK 56s, TNT (explosive), Yamaha outboard motor, LTTE uniform material, steel pipes, chemicals to produce cyanide, GPS systems, sulphuric acid, credit cards, mobile cards, aluminium ingots (to make ammunition)

It was a regular supply chain. Of course now that the war is over the traffic on non-lethal items could well have picked up. During the war Sri Lankan fishermen were dissuaded from fishing in their own waters because of the camouflage potential they offered to LTTE fighters.

Now that the threat of LTTE has vanished, Sri Lankan fishermen venture out to sea to reclaim their livelihood. Should we be surprised if they assert their rights over their own territorial waters?

Courtesy: Express Buzz

President Rajapaksa's love for the children of Sri Lanka

by Bandula Jayasekara

President Mahinda Rajapaksa starts his day very early. All his days are very busy and his meetings and other engagements go on till late. But, there is one thing that has caught my attention and touched me immensely. That is his love for children.

One day after a meeting in the cabinet room, ministers and other officials were invited to lunch by the President in his traditional hospitable style. They all went in and waited but the host was missing. I decided to look for him as he was nowhere to be seen. My search inside the whole building drew a blank and stepped out to make inquiries from the security personnel. There I saw him, surrounded by scores of little children. He had scooted away to meet a group of school children who had come to see him while the VIPS were awaiting him.

Children usually wait for the President under the araliya trees in blossom. At a glance, I saw about 200 children with their teachers and parents from schools near and far. He was seated among children clad in white.

They proudly posed for a picture with the President in the middle. The President always has trouble when he is photographed with children. He keeps telling his little visitors to look at the camera and not at him and reminds those who stand behind him that they would not be seen in the picture. But they often do not hear what he says; they fall over themselves touch or tug at his arms. Once the photograph is taken, they swiftly encircle their smiling guest. Children fire questions at him one after the other and he asks them about their studies and hobbies. He takes them around his garden proudly showing them vegetable plots to get them interested in horticulture. The feedback is quite encouraging; most children emulate the President’s example when they return home.

Children and their teachers make use of the opportunity to relate their problems and hardships to the President, who listens to them attentively. Letters are given to the President and he reads them carefully to see what he could do to help them. Appeals are then passed on with minutes to presidential aides for further action. He gifts school books worth about Rs. 60,000 to the children present.

Once he attends to one group of children, he repeats the process with another school present. All this happens while the VIPs are waiting for him inside. They must be thinking the President is attending to some urgent official matter. But, for the President children come first—always. His fatherly association with the children becomes manifest when the time comes for him to leave them. The kids do not like to let him go. They want to hold him and worship him. He does his best to prevent them, but in vain.

The President has no escape. Children wouldn’t let him through. Finally, he has to break free and run laughing all the way to join the elderly guests waiting for him. I wouldn’t know how many children he has met during the last five years and how many children he would meet in the coming years and how he finds the time for his little visitors. But, meetings with kids are high in his agenda. He meets them like a prayer. And he is determined to continue with these meetings despite official calls thereby making an impact on the future generation of our country, giving them wonderful memories to carry home, of a time spent with the head of state.

I wonder how many other world leaders would find time for children like President Rajapaksa.

I haven’t written this piece because I am the Director General of the President’s Media Division. I decided to pen it because I was moved by what I saw during the last two months. It is true that he is the President of the country, but when he meets the children of this land, I do not see him in the shades of a politician but of a caring father and dear friend.

(The writer a former editor of the "Daily News, Consul-General in Toronto and deputy permanent representative to the UN in New York is currently Director-General of the President's media division)

February 27, 2011

Non-violent direct action campaign begins in Jaffna-50th Anniversary of 1961 Tamil Satyagraha-2

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The Throne Speech outlining the policies and plans of the new Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Government of Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike was delivered on August 12th 1960.

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In a move that pleased the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) known in English as the Federal Party (FP) a Tamil translation was read out simultaneously . The tone and content of the Throne speech was a disappointment to the party as it did not make any reference to matters pertaining to the setting up of district councils and implementation of Tamil language in the administrative and judicial spheres. [Click to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

Accountability for Violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in Counterinsurgency: The Case of Sri Lanka

This Live Seminar examined mechanisms and strategies to promote accountability for IHL violations committed during counterinsurgencies, focusing on the case of Sri Lanka. Against the backdrop of domestic and international efforts to address IHL violations committed during the counterinsurgency in Sri Lanka, this Live Seminar addressed the following questions:

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What aspects, if any, of counterinsurgency doctrine have the potential to affect adherence to IHL principles?

What accountability mechanisms—judicial or otherwise—exist regarding IHL violations committed during non-international armed conflicts?

What accountability mechanisms are currently being implemented, and what potential mechanisms are under consideration?

What legal and political challenges arise in the context of multiple, simultaneous accountability mechanisms aimed at addressing the same counterinsurgency situation?

What role, if any, should humanitarian actors play in promoting adherence to international norms in counterinsurgency situations?

These questions will be examined by reference to the situation in Sri Lanka.

Presentation Transcript

Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) Harvard University
Accountability for Violations of IHL in Counterinsurgency:

The Case of Sri Lanka
February 24, 2011

Mr. Claude BruderleinDirector
Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard University

Ms. Naz Modirzadeh
Associate Director
Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard University

Panelists

Jon Lee Anderson
The New Yorker

Ambassador Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona
Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations

Sam Zarifi
Amnesty International

Alan Keenan
International Crisis Group

Jon Lee Anderson began contributing to The New Yorker in 1998 and became a staff writer in 1999. He has reported frequently from Iraq and has covered the conflicts in Afghanistan, Angola, and Lebanon. He recently authored an article titled “Death of the Tiger: Sri Lanka’s brutal victory over its Tamil insurgents.”

Anderson is the author of several books, including “The Lion’s Grave: Dispatches From Afghanistan,” “Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life,” “Guerrillas: Journeys in the Insurgent World,” and, most recently, “The Fall of Baghdad.” He is the co-author, with Scott Anderson, of “War Zones: Voices from the World’s Killing Grounds,” and “Inside the League.”

Born in California, Anderson was raised and educated in South Korea, Colombia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Liberia, England, and the United States. He currently lives in Dorset, England.

Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona served as the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka until his appointment as Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. Prior to this he served as the Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) established by the Government of Sri Lanka.

Dr. Palitha Kohona received his secondary education in Sri Lanka at St. Thomas College, Mt. Lavinia. He proceeded to obtain a LL.B (Hons) at the University of Sri Lanka and a LL.M from the Australian National University. He obtained a Doctorate from Cambridge University, UK, for the thesis – ‘The Regulation of International Economic Relations through Law’, subsequently published by Kluwer, Netherlands. He is also an Attorney-at-Law, Supreme Court of Sri Lanka.

Dr. Kohona was a member of the Sri Lanka delegation to the UN General Assembly in 2006 and 2008. He has led official level delegations to a range of countries on bilateral matters. During his tenure as the Secretary-General of the Government Peace Secretariat (2006), he participated in several rounds of peace negotiations with the LTTE in Geneva and led the delegation to talks in Oslo. From 1995-2006 He served as the Chief of the Treaty Section, Department of Legal Affairs of the UN.

Sam Zarifi is Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Director. Prior to joining AI in 2008, he was with Human Rights Watch for eight years, where he served as the Asia Deputy Director and later as the Washington Advocate, covering the Middle East, Africa and Asia. He has conducted research missions focusing on conflict situations in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, and Nepal, and has worked on conflict conditions in a number of Asian countries, including India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

He was born and raised in Iran. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Juris Doctor degree from Cornell University, and an LL.M. in International Law from NYU School of Law. He practiced law as a corporate litigator in Los Angeles before serving as Senior Research Fellow at the International Law faculty of Erasmus University Rotterdam, where he was co-editor (with Prof. Menno Kamminga) of Liability of Multinational Corporations under International Law (Kluwer 2000) and several articles on corporate responsibility.

Why the LLRC Falls Short

States should recognize that “retributive” justice and “restorative” justice (i.e. criminal justice and truth-seeking mechanisms) do not exclude, but supplement each other.

Amnesty International has analysed the practice with respect to criminal prosecutions and amnesty of the 40 truth commissions established around the world between 1974 and2010. It concludes that:

“Retributive” justice and “restorative” justice (i.e. criminal justice and truth-seeking mechanisms) do not exclude, but supplement each other.

The establishment of truth commissions (commissions of inquiry tasked with the investigation of patterns of past crimes) has sometimes been suggested as an alternative to the investigation and prosecution of crimes under international law before national courts.

Although an effective truth commission can go a long way to satisfying a state’s obligation to respect, protect and promote the victims’ right to truth, there is no alternative to investigation and prosecution of crimes under international law.

The practice of truth commissions strongly supports the prosecution of crimes under international law. The practice of the majority of truth commissions is firmly in favour of investigations and prosecutions of all crimes under international law: more than half of the truth commissions with relevant practice recommended and/or actively contributed to the prosecution of all crimes under international law.

Sam Zarifi
Crimes under International Law/ICC

Some points about potentially applicable crimes under international law:

-genocide: when acts are “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

-crimes against humanity are “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.” They can include acts such as:

• murder
• extermination
• forcible transfer of population
• imprisonment
• torture
• rape
• other forms of sexual violence
• persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity
• enforced disappearance of persons
• other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering,or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health

--war crimes are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in armed conflicts. War crimes are committed in the context of armed conflict. Some war crimes are specifically linked to internal armed conflict – such as civil war – and others are linked to international armed conflict. But most war crimes can occur in both situations.

War crimes in internal armed conflicts (such as in Sri Lanka) include acts such as

• violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds;
• mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
• outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
• taking of hostages;
• conscripting and enlisting children under the age of fifteen years
International law also lists other criminal acts, such:
• intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population or civilian objects;
• intentionally directing attacks against personnel, installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance or peacekeeping mission;
• killing or wounding a combatant who, having laid down his arms or having no further means of defence, has surrendered..

Under international law, such acts can be war crimes even if they are not committed as part of a systematic or widespread attack on civilians, but if they are only rare or sporadic. However, according to the Rome Statute, “the [ICC] shall have jurisdiction in respect of war crimes in particular when committed as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes”.

Sam Zarifi
Command Responsibility

Command responsibility applies to

(1) Military officers OR civilian officials with direct authority (such as a civilian commander in chief) who knew or should have known about atrocities committed by a subordinate and failed to take action, plus, in some restrictive readings,

(2) Civilian officials with direct authority but not in the military chain of command who directly ordered an atrocity (the Rome Statute reached a political compromise to avoid responsibility of civilian officials who didn’t have direct knowledge).

An individual found to have command responsibility for the crime committed by a subordinate is deemed equally culpable as the subordinate; that is, if the officer stood by while the subordinate committed murder, the officer is also guilty of murder.

Sam Zarifi
Universal Jurisdiction

Universal jurisdiction is the ability of a State’s domestic judicial system to investigate and prosecute certain crimes, even if they were not committed on its territory, by one of its nationals, or against one of its nationals (i.e. a crime beyond other bases of jurisdiction, such as territoriality or active/passive personality).

Applies to a number of crimes under international law including war crimes, torture, crimes against humanity, genocide, piracy, hijacking, acts of terrorism, and attacks on UN personnel.

Universal jurisdiction is obligatory under a number of international treaties, including:
the Geneva Conventions and the 1984 Convention against Torture, to both of which Sri Lanka is a state party.

Amnesty International’s Publications

AI's report on failure of ad hoc commissions of inquiry in SL ("Twenty Years of Make Believe"): http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA37/005/2009/en/c41db308-7612-4ca7-946d-03ad209aa900/asa370052009eng.pdf

AI's position regarding the LLRC in Sri Lanka: http://amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/international-inquiry-needed-address-alleged-war-crimes-sri-lanka-2010-10-14 AI's analysis of universal jurisdiction practice: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/IOR53/015/2010/en/ba497b37-79b6-40d5-b81f-745631bc2ed9/ior530152010en.html

AI's report on experience of Truth and Reconciliation commissions around the world: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/POL30/004/2010/en/1f74d7de-f82d-4942-8b3a-a5f8f7858d77/pol300042010en.pdf

Alan Keenan is the Senior Analyst and Sri Lanka Project Director for the International Crisis Group, based in London. Prior to joining the Crisis Group, he was a Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania’s Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict and was from 2003-5 a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Peace and Conflict Studies at Bryn Mawr College, where he taught courses on human rights, conflict, democratization, and transitional justice.

Before coming to Bryn Mawr, Alan spent much of the previous four years in Sri Lanka as a Visiting Fellow at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo. In addition to his academic research, Alan has also worked as a consultant for the Programme on Human Rights and Conflict at the Law and Society Trust in Colombo and with the International Centre for Transitional Justice in New York.

Alan received his PhD in political theory from the Johns Hopkins University, and has taught political, legal, and social theory at the Universities of California at Berkeley and at Santa Cruz, and in the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies at Harvard University. He is the author ofDemocracy in Question: Democratic Openness in a Time of Political Closure (Stanford Univ. Press, 2003), as well as articles on both political theory and on Sri Lankan politics in various academic journals and edited volumes.

His academic work has focused on the activities of local and international NGOs in the context of Sri Lanka’s quarter century civil war. He is currently working on a manuscript entitled “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: The Politics of Human Rights and Peacebuilding in Sri Lanka.”
The Politics of domestic and international accountability options

1. The need for an international investigation

2. The domestic option – the “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC)3. Sri Lanka’s long history of failed commissions and impunity

4. Beyond ‘war crimes’ – the need for a broader framework for international advocacy on accountability in Sri Lanka5. Truth and reconciliation6. The Secretary General’s panel of experts7. Repudiating the ‘Sri Lanka Option’: beyond the critique of double-standards

For more information on the Humanitarian Law and Policy Forum, please visit:
http://ihlforum.ning.com

or
http://twitter.com/hpcr

or contact:
ihlforum@hpcr.org

Click to hear Audio only version of Seminar

For more materials on this Live Seminar, see its resource page at the International Humanitarian Law Research Initiative Portal.

February 26, 2011

Lanka @ 63: The ‘Military business model’ of post-war economic development

by Darini Rajasingham Senanayake

On 4 February, Sri Lanka celebrated its 63rd birthday. After nearly three decades of armed conflict, it is now one of Southasia’s calmest and fastest-growing countries. Its social indicators, apart from the northeast zone, remain the best in the region, and its strategic location is inviting investments from both Asian giants, China and India. Its stock markets are booming, its growth rate bouncing at around eight percent, and tourists are back to enjoy sun, sand and sea. Along with big sister India, Lanka is the only other country in the South Asian region with unbroken if rather tattered democracy since independence from the British Raj in 1948, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently congratulated the government of Sri Lanka when it released a Standby Agreement (SBA) loan tranche despite the high ratio of public debt to GDP.

As many economists know, however, stock-market booms do not necessarily correlate with socio-economic peace, equity and justice. On Independence Day, the main opposition United National Party (UNP) marched in protest against authoritarianism, attacks on and disappearances of media personnel and human-rights defenders, and the incarceration of former General Sarath Fonseka, the chief architect in the victory against the LTTE. Major Tamil political parties too boycotted the celebrations, as they have done for decades, in protest of the government’s failure to share power, particularly with minority communities. The opposition’s protest march was attacked by mobs, reportedly backed by the Minister of Public Relations, as police stood by in the highly militarized city that was recently wired with close circuit TV cameras to ensure regime security.

One of the most striking developments in post-war Lanka is its paradoxical militarisation of the government, economy and the society. Even though it has been two years since the end of the war, Emergency Rule remains in place and the defence sector, including the budget, has not been down-sized, right-sized or restructured for peacetime operations; but rather, has been on a constant rise. The army constitutes over 210,000 personnel in a country with less than 20 million people; nonetheless, the army, in addition to the significant navy, air force and National Defence Forces, continue recruiting. The current budget allocates 20 percent of GDP for defence expenditures – far more than most other South Asian neighbours. Colombo insists that Lanka is a safe tourist destination, and asks foreign governments to lift travel warnings; but it still maintains Emergency Regulations (ER), keeps up counterterrorism rhetoric with the assistance of dubious ‘terrorism’ experts, and buys expensive surveillance equipment such as CCTV cameras.

The Defence Ministry has taken under its wing offices responsible for urban development; land reclamation, development and construction; waterways; and the registration of NGOs. While civilian administrators and their expertise are increasingly marginalised, former or serving military officers are being appointed to key central, local government and foreign-service positions. The government has also been investing heavily in expensive technologies of surveillance such as closed circuit television security cameras and is biometric identity cards. Meanwhile civilian administrators and expertise is increasingly marginalized, to the detriment of knowledge-based, people-centered economic development policy making.

One can now see the post-conflict economy following the former Indonesian model of military business. Under Suharto, the Indonesian military was given corporate representation in the government. Each military branch had its own foundation, which operated businesses in finance management, the travel industry, agri-business, manufacturing and resource extraction. Similar patterns are evident now in Lanka, where the air force is operating flights to Jaffna, and military elites are being placed on the board of an elite (and controversial) golf club, called Water’s Edge.

Post-war militarisation is also indexed in seemingly harmless images of army personnel selling vegetables to bring down escalating food prices. In the navy, personnel are taking tourists on dolphin-sighting tours off the southern coast, and other armed-services personnel are engaged in additional commercial operations. Recently, the minister of higher education, S B Dissanayake, announced that the army would give undergraduates ‘soft-skills training’ in response to student protests against deteriorating conditions in universities.

“Military Inc.” a book about the business interests of the military in Pakistan., authored by Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, a former Director of Research at the Pakistan Navy, may also help contextualize Sri Lanka’s post-war military business development trajectory, also in the context of growing economic and security cooperation between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, indexed in the recent visits of Pakistani President, Asif Ali Zardari and Chief of Armed Forces, General Kayani to Lanka. President Rajapakse and his brothers had earlier visited Pakistan. At the same time, “Pakistan week”, which featured food, fashion, arts, Sufi music and Pakistan’s rich culture and history was also celebrated recently in Colombo, inaugurated by Sri Lanka’s first lady and the Pakistani Ambassador on February 20, 2011.

Sub-titled “Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy” Dr. Siddiqa’s book analyzed a taboo subject - the range and depth of the Pakistan military's business interests. Dr. Siddiqa coined the term MILBUS (military business), to describe a military's business operations and activities. She defines 'Milbus' as 'military capital’ used for the personal benefit of the military fraternity'. She estimates that the military's private business empire was worth as much as £10 billion in 2005. Retired and serving officers own 12 million acres of public land in a country (where poverty is extreme among landless peasants), and run secretive business conglomerates, and manufacture everything from cement to cornflakes. Ms. Siddiqa also notes that these economic interests of the military have been a major factor in the ambitions of the Generals who have ruled the country for more than half of its 60-year history. Pakistan has a history of military rule, extensive military interests in business, along with multiple ethno-religious conflicts that have compounded the country’s poverty and conflict trap, now further complicated by the U.S led “war on terror”.

Mission creep

Militarisation is often accompanied and legitimated by the assumption that the country’s civil society and business community are unpatriotic, incompetent or corrupt, or all three and what is needed is a benevolent dictatorship or the military – or both for a country’s development. This logic, that the military can do a better job at tasks performed by civil society or the business community, is clearly dangerous; in the past, it has been used to legitimate military coups and/or military rule. Sri Lanka experienced just such a coup attempt in 1962. Moreover military businesses thrive thanks to invisible state subsidies in the form of free land, the use of military assets, and loans to bail them out when they run into trouble, as Dr. Siddiqa has noted. They run on state subsidies and are not economically rational, especially in the context of already high public debt.

That democracy can sometimes be inefficient and tedious is no reason to dismantle it. During its 63 years of independence, Sri Lanka has weathered two armed conflicts: the first in the south, against the Marxist-Maoist JVP; the second in the north, against the LTTE. Both conflicts contributed to dramatically transforming civil-military relations and the quality of democracy. Sri Lanka might have won its ‘war on terror’ for now, but the root causes that escalated into the 25-year conflict have yet to be addressed. Neither has the process of comprehensive post-war settlement or reconciliation begun. In fact, the much-hyped growth rate and development trajectory might be widening the gap between rich and poor, and thereby deepening the roots of social conflict.

In the current context, Sri Lankans might not tend to discuss militarisation, because they are indeed grateful for the sacrifices that the military made to defeat the LTTE. However, militarisation, poses the real danger of military mission and mandate creep. Almost two years after the end of war, in the context of the failure to repeal Emergency Regulations (ER) it is clear that it is ironically the political leadership of the country that is steering the post-conflict militarization and transformation of civil-military relations, in a manner detrimental to democratic institutions and traditions. This might be politically expedient and lucrative for the regime in the short term, but the primary purpose of a well-trained military is to fight external threats to a country. The blurring of civil-military roles will dilute this focus. Especially when coupled with emergency rule, it will concentrate and centralise power in the presidency; it will also confer a level of impunity to the police and armed forces, encouraging them to disregard civilians’ basic rights.

Already, the detrimental effects of militarisation can be seen in Lanka. In the name of ‘city development’ and gentrification, the military has been used to displace poor people in urban areas. Examples include building a New Port City in Colombo for a Formula One race track, building super malls and five-star hotels. Along the A-9 road to Jaffna, the military runs tea shops, competing with recently returned impoverished internally displaced peoples (IDP). In the war-ravaged north and east, it has acquired extensive public and private lands under the banner of providing ‘security’ and is setting up large farms to grow vegetables and fruits in the Mannar District. The ramifications of this however, have left Tamil and Muslim farmers landless, as some of their lands, now occupied by the military, have been ear-marked for business ventures, including a coal-fired power plant, tourism projects and agro industries.

Lanka seems to be following the Pakistan model were military business and national development policy process is closely linked. Dr. Siddiqa coined the term MILBUS (military business), to describe a military's business operations and activities and defined 'Milbus' as 'military capital’ used for the personal benefit of the military fraternity'. In Sri Lanka at this time key civil administration posts, including that of Provincial Governor remain in the hand of the military, particularly in the north east and the revolving door between high military office and private security business is increasingly lucrative. At the lower end, military business competes with small-scale business and vegetable traders and farmers, who meanwhile complain that they are being put out of business because they cannot compete with the military which is subsidized. It is increasingly clear there is need for structural adjustment and down sizing of the defense sector and budget. While down-sizing a military presents challenges since not all may join lucrative UN peace keeping operations overseas, using Navy personnel to farm in Uswettakyawa, however successful and bountiful the produce may be, is a waste of the time of highly trained military cadre and tax payers’ monies and is not economically rational.

Security trap

Despite a heavy concentration of military personnel (40,000 army, 10,000 police), the security situation in Jaffna, the cultural heartland of the Sri Lankan Tamil community, has been deteriorating. Recent weeks saw a series of killings, forcing the former Jaffna district MP of the Tamil National Alliance, M K Shivajilingam, to suspect the armed forces’ complicity. ‘How can killings take place without their knowledge?’ he asked. ‘We feel someone is organising and overseeing these incidents to keep the people of Jaffna in a climate of fear.’

The large military presence in Jaffna contributed to the besieged population’s sense of insecurity. It is well known that in Jaffna former LTTE leaders are working with military intelligence. Minister Douglas Devananda, a leading ally of the government and one whose paramilitary cadre were also implicated in the killings, has declared that the killings are not simply the result of random criminal activity. The largest bank robbery in Colombo was traced to army deserters, of which there are 50,000 in number and security personnel have been implicated in timber theft on public and private lands and moterways.

The question is: has or how soon will militarization reach the tipping point and become counter-productive in the absence of human and social security particularly in the northeast? Post-conflict, rather than reaching out to the Tamil-speaking communities and making recovery and reconstruction a priority, the government, after initially denying access, has now sub-contracted reconstruction work to international donors and UN agencies. The Indian Government, which is facing its fare share of corruption scandle over construction delays particularly with regard to the Commonwealth Games and the Ardash project is to construct housing for the internally displaced in the north. Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka government keeps on spending billions on wasteful tamashas such as Bollywood awards nights; the Independence Day Dayata Kirulla Exhibition; and paying an international advertising and public-relations firms, Bell Pottinger, to burnish the government’s tarnished post-war image. The government is also bidding to host the Commonwealth Games in 2018 in Hambantota, which could cost the state coffers as much as USD 10 billion. SLR 400 million has already been spent to formulate the bid. There are plans to build a Golf course too in Hambantota.

One should not forget that the lack of transparency and delays in aid operations after the 2004 tsunami meant that disaster victims were kept homeless for years and this contributed to the return of conflict. The government should, therefore, focus on coordinating, monitoring and evaluating authorities to ensure that recovery projects are completed in the specified time. Although Colombo claims to steer a ‘middle path’ between the socialist closed-market economy and the neoliberal paradigm that increases inequality and conflict, what we see is a highly unequal, militarised and skewed neoliberal development model.While select sectors of the economy – the security business, tourism and gambling are benefiting many other sectors are de-developed and impoverished by the current development model and paradigm. Finally, populist nationalism glosses the sell off and or mis-appropriation of public lands, assets and natural resources. Meanwhile a tourism-centric development policy is benefiting members of the ruling family, related crony capitalists and segments of the security establishment.

Juggernaut

In the past decade, a culture of militarisation has developed in the South Asia region due to a number of internal and external factors, particularly as a result of the US led global ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan and Pakistan. China’s rise, and-expanding military budget and ‘string of pearls’ strategy in the Indian Ocean, has, no doubt, fuelled the process. Militarisation in Lanka has only been further legitimised with Asia becoming wealthier and emerging as a global economic centre. The central problem is that militarisation is being used to safeguard a skewed economic development model beneficial to the Rajapakse regime and its cronies. A new military elite loyal to the defence secretary and the president’s brother is also being nurtured, lending them access to administrative jobs, state lands and business opportunities.

Policy planning is afoot for big-budget infrastructure projects to turn Lanka into a development ‘hub’ in areas of maritime capability, aviation, commerce and trade, power and energy, and knowledge. Sri Lanka, with the help of the IMF and foreign donors, plans to spend around USD 1.5 to 2 billion a year on road-and-rail development, power production, port facilities, and water and sanitation. But how sustainable these projects are and who would benefit from them is questionable. Lanka is currently dotted with half-built, unused and abandoned ‘infrastructure’-development projects constructed without adequate research and understanding of peoples’ development needs and priorities, and without consultation and coordination with communities for which they were built.

Violence in Jaffna despite the heavy military presence shows the limits of the military paradigm for security and sustainable peace. Already there is evidence of that we may be reaching the tipping point of militarization. A military juggernaut once set in motion might not be easily reigned in, while often those who set it in motion also suffer the consequences. Sustainable security can only be achieved by deepening democracy and embracing inclusive development. Otherwise, the regime’s dream of turning Lanka into the ‘wonder of Asia’ could morph into an Asian nightmare. Lanka is not Egypt or Tunisia, but sooner or later militarisation will be challenged as people come to notice that the traditions of democracy are gradually being eroded to create a national-security state and a ruling dynasty.

Last week, the Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya delivering a keynote address at a workshop organized by the Engineering Department of the University of Moratuwa in a five star hotel in Colombo on "Strategic Dimensions of Cyber Warfare", noted that cyber warfare is an emerging threat to the entire world. Although the physical war waged for 30 years had ended in Lanka, it was noted that warfare does not come to an end by eliminating terrorists from Lanka as the 'cyber war' or the war on the information highway continues. He did not mention Egypt, Tunisia and Libya where cyber activism has helped topple military dictatorships. Is the Colombo regime ‘fighting windmills’?

Increasingly Sri Lanka’s welfare state democracy that once placed the island at the top of the social development index in the developing world despite low per capita income is being replaced by a militarized neo-liberal developmental state, cloaked in nationalist rhetoric that has little to do with the spirit or practice of the teachings of the Buddha or ahimsa. Sri Lanka still has the best social indicators – health, literacy, education – in the region. This is due to its immediate post-colonial investment in social infrastructure and the welfare state, not in the defence sector.

Now that the war is over, Lanka needs to once again lead the way in Southasia. It has to demilitarise and reinvest in human security and social development, particularly in education, and enable power-share among the island’s diverse ethno-religious communities.

Is dual citizenship being discontinued for all to avoid war crimes chages for some?

by Ranga Jayasuriya

Some key positions of this government have been filled by dual citizens. Gotabaya Rajapaksa - the powerful Defence Secretary is a dual citizen of Sri Lanka and the USA. Basil Rajapaksa - Investment Development Minister has a US Green Card in addition to his Sri Lankan citizenship. Sarath Fonseka, the now incarcerated former army commander is also a Green Card holder. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations also holds his Australian citizenship in addition to his Sri Lankan citizenship

The government directive stopping dual citizenship is not retrospective - hence it would not affect the citizenship status of those who have already obtained dual citizenship. But it effectively deprives thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of expatriate Sri Lankans of their Sri Lankan citizenship.

And, there are other explanations, as advanced by diaspora Tamils on the discontinuance of the applications for dual citizenship.

A reader commented on a popular website - Transcurrents

The news coming out of Sri Lanka says that the Sri Lankan government has stopped considering applications for dual citizenship. Will it retroactively cancel the dual citizenship; in which event Palitha Kohona will be only a Sri Lankan citizen and then he will be beyond the jurisdiction of International Criminal Court. Sri Lanka has not recognized the ICC.”

“What a smart ostrich style move to protect its own.”Expatriate Sri Lankans obtain citizenship of their host countries for practical reasons. With the citizenship of the host country, come other opportunities which are exclusive to the citizens such as educational opportunities, better career prospects, security clearance and voting rights, etc.

Yet, many have opted to keep their Sri Lankan citizenship, more so for their emotional attachment with their motherland. Now that the process for dual citizenship is put on hold, Sri Lankans who obtain foreign citizenship would naturally be forced to renounce their Sri Lankan citizenship.

The Controller of Immigration and Emigration, W.A.C. Perera, stresses that the discontinuance is temporary. He said that the system (of granting dual citizenship) is in need of improvement and hence, the accepting of applications is temporary. But he does not know when the new system will come into effect, nor could he say what the proposed procedural requirements would be like.

“I have to make a presentation (on the new system) to the His Excellency the President. Only if he approves the proposals that I can speak to the media,” Perera told Lakbimanews when asked to comment on the new system. He denied that the decision is politically motivated. “There is no intention of denying citizenship to anyone,” he added.
Until the recent government directive, dual citizenship was granted under five main categories: 1.Professional category; 2.Wealth category; 3.Fixed Deposit category; 4.Senior Citizen category; 5.The category of Non-Resident Foreign Currency (NRFC), Resident Foreign Currency (RFC) or Special Foreign Investment Deposit Accounts.

Perera says existing categories could be amended but he declines to elaborate, saying proposals have to be first approved by the President before they are made public. Expatriate Sri Lankans who would be affected by the government’s directive are perturbed by the arbitrary nature of the decision. “The recent decision is arbitrary and an absolute insult to the intelligence of expatriates who came through to help the government during every crisis experienced in the country,” says Anjalika Silva, an expatriate Sri Lankan and a naturalized US citizen. “Not only will this decision anger the expatriate community, it will also result in loss of cooperation from expats when called upon to help their homeland which happens frequently at every turn including financing wasteful projects,” she adds.

Moolah for cash strapped economy

Two years back, this government launched a much hyped residential visa programme to woo retired foreign citizens to the island. The programme which aimed to make Sri Lanka a dream home for foreign senior citizens, was expected to bring foreign remittance to the cash strapped local economy.

According to the programme, each visa applicant was required to deposit US$15,000 in a Fixed Deposit account with a local bank and make a monthly remittance of US$1500 for the principle applicant and US$750 for each dependent for their upkeep. The programme which was launched at the height of the war fell short of its expectations due to obvious reasons.

Yet, Sri Lankan workers abroad remitted money to the national coffers to the tune of US$3 billion.

Also, time and again, the government has wooed expatriate Sri Lankans to invest and share their expertise for the development of the motherland. Recently, the President called upon the expats to counter anti-government propaganda propagated by the LTTE front organizations in the West.

There are one million expatriate Sri Lankans, of which 100,000 are professionals. That is in addition to nearly a million strong Tamil diapora

In addition, every year, approximately 7,000 Sri Lankan students go abroad for higher education and many of them opt to stay in greener pastures after obtaining their degrees.

“Students decide to stay in the West due to better prospects, but that does not mean they have forgotten their motherland,” says, Anuradha Kohona, a Sri Lankan student at the Swinburne University of Technology, Australia.

But this suspension (of the acceptance of dual citizenship applications) would sever that relationship, he warns. “We hold on to our Sri Lankan identity, very dearly,” he says.

Kohona, who is awaiting his Australian citizenship, however adds that if he cannot retain his Sri Lankan citizenship, he would have to be content with the Australian citizenship. “After all, with an Australian passport it is easier to travel,” he quips.

DUAL CITIZENSHIP AXED

The government last week discontinued the acceptance of dual Citizenship applications. Also, the processing of the applications which have already been approved and due for payment were discontinued. The Department of Immigration and Emigration which announced the government's directive on its official website described that the discontinuation was 'temporary.'

Yet, that the government's announcement, which is arbitrary, if not callous, has put on hold the citizenship claims by many expatriate Sri Lankans

The latest government directive means that Sri Lankan nationals who obtain citizenship in a foreign country would be deprived of the means to continue with their Sri Lankan citizenship, which hitherto was allowed through the provision of the dual citizenship.

Under usual circumstances, a Sri Lankan citizen who obtains citizenship of a second country is considered as having renounced his or her Sri Lankan citizenship.

That's where the provision of the dual citizenship comes in. Accordingly, an individual could retain his Sri Lankan citizenship when he is acquiring citizenship in a foreign country, or could resume citizenship at a latter stage after losing it when obtaining citizenship in a foreign country.

Under the previous regulations, an individual was required to pay a fee of Rs.200,000 for the principle applicant and Rs.50,000 each, for the spouse and children under 18 years of age in order to obtain dual citizenship.

Many expatriate Sri Lankans have used this facility to retain their Sri Lankan citizenship.

Who can apply for Dual Citizenship in Sri Lanka?

1. An ex-Sri Lankan holding citizenship in a foreign country
2. A Sri Lankan qualified to receive citizenship in a foreign country and who may contribute to the socio-economic development of Sri Lanka can apply for dual citizenship.
Countries where Sri Lankan Dual Citizenship is accepted are -
Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, United States of America, Canada.

Can the family members of the main applicant apply too?

Yes. The main applicant’s spouse and unmarried children below 18 years of age may also apply for Sri Lankan Dual Citizenship with the main applicant. Additional fee per member will be charged.

Additional Compulsory Documents Required under Each Category

Professional Category

To be considered for the Professional Category the Applicant must possess a Degree or Post Graduate Qualifications from a recognized institute.

Wealth Category

To be considered for the Wealth Category the Applicant must possess an immovable property or properties in Sri Lanka valued at not less than LKR 2.5 million

Fixed Deposit Category

To be considered for this category the Applicant must maintain a Fixed Deposit of not less than LKR 2.5 million for a minimum period of one year.

Senior Citizen Category

To be considered under this category the Applicant must be over 55 years of age at the time of application.

NRFC / RFC / SFIDA Category

If the applicant is willing to invest in a Non-Resident Foreign Currency (NRFC), Resident Foreign Currency (RFC) or Special Foreign Investment Deposit Account (SFIDA), he/she can apply for dual citizenship.

Minimum Deposit Requirement / Retention Period
US$25,000 or equivalent in any other designated foreign currency / 03 years
US$25,000 or equivalent in any other designated foreign currency / 05 years
US$50,000 or equivalent in any other designated foreign currency / 03 years

Source: Department of Immigration and Emigration

~ courtesy: Lakbima News ~

Why The Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (TNA) could not expel Amparai district MP Piyasena

By Ruana Rajepakse

For the past eighteen years parliamentary political parties have had a zero success rate in expelling from their parties Members of Parliament who cross over or fail to obey the party whip when voting in Parliament.

In most of these cases the issue has been procedural irregularity, which means that it is open to the political party concerned to initiate a fresh inquiry, but that has not happened. However, that may be about to change.

PTNA416TC227.jpg

MP Piyasena on the campaign trail in 2010

The most recent case is that of Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) MP Perumpulli Hewage Piyasena who was elected to Parliament from the Digamadulla District at the 2010 general election. The ITAK moved to expel him after he broke party discipline and voted with the Government on the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Under the proportional representation system, expulsion from the party generally means losing one’s seat and being replaced by another candidate of the same party, as the PR system is supposed to maintain the parliamentary balance of power that was produced at the last election, until the next election.

However this has not happened, apparently due to a long line of decisions by the Supreme Court to which an expelled parliamentarian may turn to for relief under Article 99(13) of the Constitution.

According to Article 99(13)(a) of the Constitution, when a Member of Parliament ceases to be a member of the political party or independent group on whose nomination paper he was elected, his seat shall fall vacant one month after he ceases to be a member of such party or group. The resulting vacancy is filled by the candidate of the same party or group who secured the next highest number of preference votes or, if the list is exhausted, by a member of the same party or group nominated by the party secretary or group leader.

However, a proviso to Article 99(13) lays down one exception to the above rule, namely that if an MP who is expelled by his party or group challenges the validity of his expulsion in the Supreme Court within one month of the expulsion, his seat will fall vacant only if and when the Supreme Court holds the expulsion to be valid.

Much therefore turns on the legal meaning of ‘valid’ in this context. Should the Court look only at the question of whether procedural fairness was followed or is it empowered to look into the merits of the case? Judicial opinions have differed on this issue.

One of the earliest cases arose over the expulsion of Gamini Dissanayake, Lalith Athulathmudali and a number of other dissident UNP MPs who had signed a notice of resolution to impeach President Premadasa.

These MPs had not taken up their grievances within the party before making this move. In fact two of their number had given an affirmative show of hands in an internal party vote of confidence in the President after having signed the impeachment notice, but before it became known. When the Speaker of Parliament who had initially entertained the notice expressed some reluctance to take it further, the dissident MPs, anticipating expulsion, sought an injunction from the District Court which was refused.

Before they could take their case to the Court of Appeal the UNP Working Committee passed a resolution expelling them which was thereafter endorsed by the party’s National Executive Committee. The basis of the disciplinary charge was that the dissidents had not first aired their grievances to the party leadership before going public.

Exercising their right under Article 99(13), the dissidents petitioned the Supreme Court, pleading that the Working Committee had no authority to expel them and also that there had been a breach of the principles of natural justice in that they had not been given a hearing. It was also argued that MPs are entitled to act according to their own judgment and conscience.

The three-judge Bench was agreed on the following points: In terms of the UNP party constitution the Working Committee had the required authority to discipline the petitioners; Sri Lanka’s Constitution "confers primacy to the political party as against the individual MP"; the exercise of the fundamental rights of free speech and expression of the petitioners as MPs was subordinate to the requirements of party discipline; the right to freedom of association enjoyed by the petitioners in joining a political party meant that they accepted reciprocal obligations placing limitations on their freedom of speech; and dissenting opinions should have been the subject of internal discussion before being aired outside.

However, the Court also held that, subject to the above requirements, an MP was not ‘a mere cog in the party machine’ and was entitled to sign a notice of resolution for impeachment which was a parliamentary proceeding.

To the best of this writer’s knowledge, this judgment marked the first and only time that an expulsion has been upheld by any court.

In 1993, MP Tilak Karunaratne was charge-sheeted and expelled from the SLFP for making a statement critical of the party to a newspaper. He had been sent a show cause letter by the party Central Committee and afforded the opportunity of being heard, but had declined, alleging that the Central Committee was not properly constituted due to the failure of the party to hold internal elections for several years. He took his case to the Supreme Court where Justices Dheeraratne and Wijetunga held that the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 99(13) was an original jurisdiction (as distinct from a procedural review of a decision already made) and some consideration of the merits of the case was required.

As in the previous case, it was recognized that the exercise of a person’s freedom of association to join a political party necessarily meant the acceptance of certain constraints on his freedom of speech. However, unlike in the case of the UNP dissidents, Karunaratne had, ‘taken every possible step’ within party forums to agitate his grievance before going public. Hence his conduct was justified and his expulsion invalid.

However Justice Ramanathan, dissenting, was of the view that consideration of the validity of a decision did not empower the Court to examine the merits of the decision. Noting that the petitioner was offered a hearing of which he declined to avail himself, he held the expulsion to be justified.

Both the above cases were cited by the Supreme Court in the case of Sarath Amunugama and others v. Karu Jayasuriya, Chairman of UNP and others [2000]. The facts of this case bore a similarity to the Gamini Dissanayake case, in that Amunugama and five others who filed parallel cases, had been expelled from the UNP during the presidential election campaign of 1999 when it transpired that they had met President Chandrika Kumaratunga who was campaigning for her second term and assured her of victory in the election.

The General Secretary of the party had written to Amunugama calling for an explanation of his conduct but the latter had replied by asking under what provision of the UNP constitution he was being charged and also asking for further time to reply.

The three judge Bench headed by the then acting Chief Justice Amerasinghe unanimously held that the expulsions were invalid due to lack of procedural propriety. In that situation it was open to the party to hold a fresh inquiry following the principles of natural justice by giving the alleged offenders a fair hearing. However that does not appear to have happened.

The complexity of today’s party affiliations, with various parties contesting as alliances with a collective name different from their party name, has also made expulsion difficult, as highlighted in the case of Basheer Segu Dawood v. Ferial Ashraff and others, [2002]. The petitioner was a member of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) which, together with another party, formed an alliance known as the National Unity Alliance (NUA). At the parliamentary elections of 2000 the petitioner apparently failed to secure enough preference votes to get elected by vote, but was nominated as a National List MP for the NUA.

Subsequently the leadership of the NUA expelled him and informed this fact to the Secretary-General of Parliament. Segu Dawood challenged his expulsion in the Supreme Court. The Bench comprising Justices Amerasinghe, Wadugodapitiya and Gunasekera J held that as the MP was a member of the SLMC and not NUA, he could not be expelled by the NUA.

This decision is a reminder of the legal problems caused by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which introduced the preference vote and the "National List". The latter is a reservation of 29 parliamentary seats to be allocated among the political parties after a general election in proportion to the number of seats they secure at the election, but parties have the option of selecting either from this list or from amongst candidates who failed to secure seats at the polls.

The highest level of judicial intervention in party matters was probably the case of Ameer Ali v. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress [reported 2006]. In that case the SLMC made a proper mess of the expulsion procedure regarding three of its MPs who had joined the Government (the SLMC at that time being in Opposition along with the UNP), and moved to withdraw the expulsion notices while the petitioners’ applications were pending before the Supreme Court.

The five judge Bench presided over by Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva instead chose to give judgment quashing the expulsions. In the course of its judgment the Court made this very broad statement: "The Court may not determine an expulsion to be valid unless there are overwhelming reasons warranting such decision and … such a decision will be competent only in the most exceptional circumstances and in furtherance of the public good…"

Whereas Article 99 of the Constitution empowers the Court to determine whether an expulsion was "valid", the judgment in the Ameer Ali case seems to change that into the power to determine whether the expulsion was for the "public good", thus taking the Court perilously close to the political arena.

In the context of the above decisions, the recent judgment referred to at the beginning of this article, namely Piyasena v. Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi and four others [S.C. Application Special (Expulsion) No.3/2010] has stuck to fairly narrow ground.

The General Secretary of ITAK, Mavai S. Senathirajah, sent MP Piyasena a letter dated 28 November 2010 referring to disciplinary proceedings that had been initiated against him and stated that the "Disciplinary Committee of the ITAK that met today (28.11.2010) has unanimously recommended that you be expelled from the party membership forthwith. Accordingly, you are hereby expelled from the membership of the political party, Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK)."

Counsel for ITAK accused the expelled MP of having suppressed material facts from the Court including the fact that at the time of receiving nomination from ITAK the MP had signed a declaration that read as follows:

"I also state that should there arise an instance where I speak, act or do any other act of commission or omission against the collective decision of the Parliamentary Group of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi at any time, I will forthwith cease to be a member of Parliament and will communicate my resignation as an MP to the Secretary General of Parliament and to the General Secretary, Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi. I do hereby authorize the General Secretary, Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi to use this document itself as my letter of resignation in the event of the Parliamentary Group determining that I have violated the collective decision of the Parliamentary Group as stipulated above."

Evidence was also led regarding the subsequent conduct of the MP, but the Court comprising Justices Saleem Marsoof, K. Sripavan and Suresh Chandra were in agreement that the relevant question was whether the expulsion was valid at the time it was made.

This question of validity centered on two factors, namely whether the MP was a member of ITAK and, if so, who was the proper authority empowered to expel him from the party.

Despite a feeble attempt to deny actual membership of ITAK, the Court was satisfied on the evidence that the MP was a member of that party which, in his own words, he had joined "just over four and a half years ago".

However on the second question of who was the proper authority to dismiss the MP from the party, the Court found that according to Article 8 of ITAK’s own constitution, it was the "Central Committee" that was empowered to take "disciplinary action against, and expulsion of, members for irregularities, disobedience and lack of loyalty." A person aggrieved by a decision of the Central Committee could submit a "complaint of objection" to the General Working Committee who could review the decision.

However in this case the decision to expel the MP had been made by the "Disciplinary Committee" of the party which was one of several subordinate bodies that could be appointed by the Central Committee. The Court was of the opinion that in order for there to be a valid expulsion the Central Committee should have formally ratified the recommendation of the Disciplinary Committee. In fact, thereafter, such a case could even have been reviewed by the General Working Committee.

Hence, the Court determined that for the purposes of Article 99(13)(a) of the Constitution, the purported expulsion of the Petitioner was invalid.

This writer reliably understands that the ITAK intends taking note of the judgment and holding a fresh inquiry.

Don't continue to scratch a wound that Sri Lanka is desperately trying to heal

by Palitha Kohona

(Text of a recent speech at Harvard University,USA by Ambassador Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, New York )

At the outset I would like to state very clearly that what happened in Sri Lanka cannot be characterized as a simple case of countering an insurgency. There was a group, proscribed by most of the democratic world as a terrorist organization, which controlled territory, and uniquely, deployed naval and air assets. The violence, began not in 1983 as popularly perceived, but in the mid 1970s. Alfred Duraiyappa, the elected Major of Jaffna, was assassinated in 1975 by Prabhakaran himself. The proscription has been extended recently by the EU and the US.

Terrorism, as we all know, is a crime condemned internationally and punishable under domestic law. Sri Lanka as a sovereign state, with the overwhelming endorsement of its population, used its security forces to counter and defeat this terrorist organization. And that also, after trying over and over again to negotiate an end to the conflict.

It is also to be remembered that for a period of over 27 years this terrorist group, the LTTE, recruited over 5,700 children as armed combatants, according to the UNICEF, and in the view of some, close to three times that number. It also had the reputation for having invented the suicide vest and for having successfully deployed over 236 suicide bombing missions. It regularly blasted civilians going to work, children going to school, and massacred worshippers at temples and mosques.

It had a reputation for collecting funds using its agents scattered throughout the West, employing intimidation and threats to finance its activities.

It is also the organization that ethnically cleansed the Northern Province of Sri Lanka of all other ethnic groups and brutally eliminated almost all moderate Tamil leaders.

In the final stages of conflict, this organization herded, and I use this expression deliberately, approximately 300,000 civilians and used them as a human shield. It is under these circumstances that the Government of Sri Lanka employed its military to counter the vicious threat posed by the terrorist LTTE. The Government adopted a policy of zero civilian casualties. It is important to remember that most of the Tamils in Sri Lanka do not live in the North. These civilians were taken against their will and they escaped as soon as the Security Forces broke through. We have seen their escape on television screens. The allegation of thousands of civilian deaths cannot be substantiated. You just need to do the math.

Now turning our attention to allegations of violations of international humanitarian law in the process of defeating this terrorist organization which so deliberately and callously used the thousands of civilians as a human shield and as a bargaining chip, and ignored calls by many, including the Secretary-General of the UN, to let these civilians go. So far, these allegations remain in the realm of simple allegations. It is interesting that the rump LTTE, its well-wishers, and the Tamil Net have been working overtime propagating these stories, many of which are fanciful, and far removed from fact but which have been sadly picked up by liberal thinkers in the West.

Organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Crisis Group have all picked up these stories. The State Department report refers to these allegations but takes care to characterize them as "allegations". It was Goebbels who said that even a lie, repeated often enough, will gain credence as the truth.

As a sovereign state, Sri Lanka had the responsibility, in the first instance, to protect the vast majority of the population from terrorism and, also, to investigate allegations of infractions of global standards, that can be substantiated, to investigate them. The primary responsibility is for the state itself to deal with any infractions. The allegations must not only be made for the benefit of international entities and global headlines or simply be fanciful, but also be brought to the attention of the national authorities.

A proper procedure must be observed. Sri Lanka has a mature legal system and any violations of domestic law can be handled by the Courts. A petition for Habeas Corpus or a writ application is available to an aggrieved entity. Those who made these allegations have not taken the trouble to invoke the domestic judicial processes or the Courts. It is also interesting that those who make these allegations have not thought it fit to invoke the Fundamental Rights provisions of the Constitution, which have been invoked in other instances by many people. Torture is a serious crime in Sri Lanka and the legislation incorporates international standards.

Sri Lanka, for its part, has also established a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to examine all aspects of the conflict, which could include allegations of violations of IHL. This Commission has borrowed extensively from the South African and British experience. The emphasis is on restorative justice. The State has taken upon itself the responsibility of compensating the victims. Anyone with evidence of any violations has been invited to come before the Commission. Hundreds of people have done so. The AG’s Department has a special unit in place to investigate any matters referred to it.

When the LLRC invited Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the ICG to present any evidence in their possession to the Commission, they jointly decided not to do so. This makes their claims and allegations more than a little suspect.

In summary, where there are local remedies to deal with violations that can be proved, the enthusiasm to simply clamour for international interventions is simply disingenuous and not consistent with international law and practice. This is simply an attempt to draw international attention, score propaganda points, rather than an effort to remedy a wrong.

Instead of continuing to smear the good name of the Government of Sri Lanka internationally, while forgetting the criminal reign of the LTTE which lasted over 27 years, it may be of help, if the critics and the aggrieved resorted to the remedies so readily available under the domestic legal system.

It is important for us to remember that there is no such enthusiasm among the people of Sri Lanka to continue to delve into these allegations. The yearning is for peace and to move forward. All the communities of the island join in this one aspiration.

It would be far better to permit Sri Lanka go get on with the task of healing and reconciling rather than continuing to scratch a wound that is so desperately trying to heal.

Colombo cannot be made "Garden City of Asia" without gardens

by Gamini Weerakoon

A recent report of the Economist Intelligence Unit of the 168-year-old Economist magazine would have rudely shattered the dreams of those visionaries of making Sri Lanka the ‘Asian Miracle’ with its capital, Colombo, as the ‘Garden City of Asia’. After conducting a global survey on basic criteria essential for good living, the Economic Intelligence Unit declared that Colombo was among the ‘Worst Ten Livable Cities’ in the world’. The other cities conferred this dishonour are: Dakar (Senegal), Douala (Cameroon), Lagos (Nigeria), Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Harare (Zimbabwe), Karachi (Pakistan), Tehran (Iran) and Algiers (Algeria).

The world walks by as the sun sets in the west. Pic by Brett Davies

The other day we were being told that our capital would once again be the ‘Garden City of Asia’ with the construction of Chinese Shangri-La’s in the Galle Face environs along with other tourist attractions. Being a citizen of Colombo and its environs for long years we certainly wish that our city ranks as a Garden City of Asia but all of us should not be carried away by the euphoria and tourism blurbs of propagandists, determined to please their masters, ignoring stark realities.

The horrendous dump

One such example is seen on entering Colombo from the northern point of the ‘city’ alongside the majestic Kelani River. A huge mountain of stinking garbage materialises on the banks of the river assailing the nostrils of one and all. It has been there for a near decade and considering the feeble efforts of our city fathers, leading politicos and environmentalists, it will be there for quite some time. We cannot expect visiting journalists to have their olfactory senses numbed and sight blinded to go along with the projected paradisiacal scenarios such as the Garden of Eden, Shangri-La-a or the Garden City of Asia with the mountain of rotten garbage at the entrance to paradise.

Why the vigour and enthusiasm displayed for conducting all forms of elections, international conferences like SAARC and now international sporting events cannot be devoted to eliminating this garbage pile — the garbage dump for the entire Colombo city — defies an answer. Many attempts down the years have been made to clear this horrendous dump by the Colombo Municipal Council and others but apparently not with much success.

Greater Colombo

Most Sri Lankans think of Colombo as being the area of the municipal limits of the Colombo Municipal Council extending from Colombo North to Wellawatte. Today, a greater Colombo has come into being extending from Negombo, including Colombo city and the municipalities of Sri Jayewardenepura, Maharagama, Dehiwela-Mt.Lavinia, Moratuwa, Panadura and Kalutara. This is certainly not a Garden City but a sprawling slum of city blocks, tourist hotels, industries, middle class homes with shacks and shanties dominating and with people living by railway lines have their sitting rooms on railway tracks! That indicates the extent of town planning that has gone into the capital of Sri Lanka.

In this age of instant solutions we have to keep reminding ourselves there are certain problems that defy the well intentioned brain storming of quick-fixers. An elementary lesson to be learnt is that Rome or any other great city was not built in a day. Our colonial conquerors planned out the urban centres they established — of course for their own benefit. Since the British left this country in 1948 the population of this country has burgeoned from around 7 million to 20 million.

And the volume of garbage of the citizenry increased exponentially but this factor has been ignored by our leaders whose solutions have ranged from sparkling oratory to absolute lies. A critical point — as scientists say — has been reached on disposal of garbage and the problem is about to explode. International metropolises have been built over the centuries in stages by engineers, architects and those of similar disciplines alongside town planners. But town planning in Sri Lanka has taken a back seat for decades.

Quick Fixes

It certainly wasn’t the fault of town planners who carried on their functions but the know-it-all politicians carrying out their own harebrained solutions that has landed the country in this sorry mess.

The Defence Ministry we note has moved into various branches of town planning and efforts have been made even at clearing the Bloemendhal Road dump even though we have not come across reports of much success.

This reminds us of a story related to us by the late Ben Fonseka, a pioneer Sri Lankan foreign officer who ended his career as the Foreign Secretary. A Senior US Ambassador had been told by a US Commander of the Mediterranean Fleet that on his retirement he was seeking an appointment as an American Ambassador. The Ambassador had informed the Commander that he on retirement would be seeking appointment as a Commander of one of the US Fleets spread out through the world oceans!

Military no panacea

The military after winning the war is moving into many civilian areas such as cultivation and marketing of vegetables, whale watching, road building and civilian air transport, construction and now town planning. In certain instances the military moving in can result in opening up of bottle-necks in the processes and bring success which civilian authorities have failed to achieve. But military entry into civilian processes cannot ensure long term success.

The collapse of military strongmen in Africa and the Middle East — Hosni Mubarak, Ben Ali, Col. Muammar Gaddafi — now spreading out to neighbouring regions illustrates the point we are making. These comments are not meant to undermine the success of the military elsewhere and even here where they have done their job of defeating armed terrorism. But the line separating military functions from those that are essentially civilian has to come into play at some stage.

Beyond Colombo

The problems of town planning are causing havoc in most parts of the country. We will mention only a few such as the spread of housing construction into the Coconut Triangle where coconut plantations are being felled and land parceled out in to small blocks of ten perches or so for housing construction.

Indeed the pressure for land by the middle class is great but this cannot be done in an ad hoc manner. Vast housing estates have to be planned out where common amenities are provided including transport to work and schools.

Colombo is turning out to be ‘One of the ten worst livable cities’ from the Garden City of Asia. Our stupidity lies in not following established lines of town planning by other countries including the vileness of our politicians.

Colombo cannot be a Garden City without any gardens whatever our grandiose dreams may be. There hasn’t been one noteworthy public park opened since Independence. ~ courtesy: The Sunday Leader ~

Tyrants and Their Families: Gaddafis and Rajapaksas.

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Muammar is leader of the revolution until the end of time…. When they (the protestors) are caught they will beg for mercy, but we will not be merciful.” — Muammar Gaddafi (Address to the Nation – 22.2.2011)

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January 18, 2011, Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa, eldest son of President Rajapaksa (‘The Universally-Renowned Lord of the Three-Sinhala Lands’), met Muammar Gaddafi (‘Eternal Brother Leader of the Revolution’ and ‘King of Kings’). The picturesquely attired Gaddafi embraced young Rajapaksa, who vas heading a ‘parliamentary delegation’ consisting solely of UPFA representatives: Sajin Vaas Gunawardena, Duminda Silva, Lohan Ratwatte and Thirantha Basnayake. Rajapaksa fils reminded Gaddafi that he owes Sri Lanka the honour of a reciprocal-visit, as Rajapaksa pere has visited Libya, twice.

Since then the democracy contagion has infected Libya and ‘Brother Leader’ is busy launching a blood-bath to save himself. Appearing on state television, he called the protesting Libyan youth ‘drug-infested mice’ and threatened to ‘cleanse Libya, house by house’. 48 hours previously, his son and putative heir, Saif al-Islam, also came on TV, declaring his father will fight to the last man, woman and bullet to prevent an Egyptian/Tunisian outcome in Libya.

The Egyptian and Libyan Revolutions provide a rare window into the inner-workings of despotic-political dynasties in the Third World. These insights are of immense relevance to us, as President Rajapaksa works indefatigably to tighten his grip on power and entrench his own dynasty. In Sri Lanka, the process is being fast-forwarded; unlike his brother-despots, Rajapaksa came to power not as a young man but on his 60th Birthday, and must work faster to implant Familial Rule and Dynastic succession. Thus the indecent haste with which the First Son is being promoted; for instance, Namal Rajapaksa, though a mere junior-parliamentarian (and no cricketer), presented the ‘Man of the Match’ award at the first Cricket World Cup game in Sri Lanka — held in a stadium named after his Presidential-father, in the family-fief of Hambantota.

Tyrants are vainglorious. They collect titles. They also amass wealth. Having a world to lose, they fear political demise; so do their families. This fear is a key catalyst in the creation of a state-form which has mushroomed in the Third World in the last four decades: familiocracy – a republic manipulated and distorted into a de facto monarchy, where presidential father is succeeded by presidential son. When tyranny is conjoined with dynastic-succession, the family becomes the final and the most obtuse rampart of the ruler.

Thus in Egypt President Mubarak’s son Gamal “…pushed his father to hold on to power even after his top generals and the prime minister were urging an exit…. The defiant tone of the President’s speech on Thursday…was largely his son’s work.” (The New York Times – 13.2.2011). Gaddafi’s sons were notoriously fractious, fighting over spoils of power; but faced with a popular rebellion they have set aside personal differences and liberal pretensions, rallying as one round their Ruler-father.

The West’s main concern in the Third World is not political or social liberalism but economic liberalism (thus the liberal West’s foremost Middle Eastern ally is the politico-social antediluvian Saudi Arabia). From anti-communism to anti-terrorism, Western leaders never lacked arguments to justify their modus vivendi with accommodative familiocracies. Gamal Mubarak and Saif Gaddafi were welcomed in the West as reformers (Saif Gaddafi’s doctoral thesis at the London School of Economics was on creating ‘just and democratic global governing institutions’). But as a Gaddafi-opponent said, “It’s all just a game. Saif cannot do anything without his dad’s blessing. They have a great relationship” (Time – 5.4.2010). Today the ‘liberal’ Saif is the main defender of the Gaddafi-tyranny.

Naturally. Tyrants and their families have too much to lose. The longer they are in power, the less they want to leave. Corruption is a disease common to most politicians but tyrants see no distinction between national and personal wealth. According to a 2006 Wikileaks cable, “All of the Qaddafi children and favourites are supposed to have income streams from the National Oil Company and oil service subsidiaries”.

Meanwhile 33% of Libyan people live below the poverty line, despite the country’s vast mineral wealth. Tyranny is inimical to socio-economic development; tyrants don’t enrich their countries; they enrich their families. But they are excellent showmen and stuntmen.

“Shop owners around the Mahinda Rajapaksa Cricket Stadium in Sooriyaweva have been told by the police to put on sale large king coconuts, bananas and full-grown vegetables to create a good impression among foreign visitors…..the police has advised them also to dress the children in ‘lama sariya’…or other national outfits when they take them on the roads while the matches are played” (The Sunday Times – 20.2.2011).

Last month Sri Lanka imported her first stretch-limousines, even as food-prices soared and nearly 50% of the children in the Eastern Province were diagnosed as malnourished. Colombo police stations are demolishing their walls, because Sri Lanka is safe, while the Emergency and the PTA remain in force, even during election times.

Tunisia and Egypt mark the moment the banner of democracy and human rights was appropriated by the peoples of the Third World. Until then, it was possible to dismiss democracy and human rights as colonial legacies and Western imports. No more. The Arab revolutions demonstrate that the desire for democracy is a universal one, stemming from man’s natural inclination to escape the permanent political adolescence imposed on him by autocratic-rule and become adult-citizens.

The 21st Century will thus be defined by the Third-World wide contestation between despotic rulers (often nursing dynastic-projects) and their people, with the West playing the role of uneasy spectator. The West’s preoccupation with terrorism has made it abandon the banner of political freedom even in its own heartland. The Open Society is putting-up its shutters, corroded into political-agoraphobia by fears of terrorism, immigration and Islam.

The Rajapaksas, as new entrants to the Third World tyrants club, have cause for alarm. The key role played by new information technologies in enabling Arab uprisings has convinced tyrants that they need to control cyberspace, if they are to maintain their control of geographical and political spaces. For instance, the Chinese Politburo has reportedly decided that “efforts to criticise and control microblogs must be sharply increased…” (New York Review of Books – 20.2.2011).

The Lankan Army Commander is already talking of the need for ‘cyber soldiers’ to wage a ‘cyber war’ against ‘pro-LTTE and anti-Sri Lankan elements’; he mentioned, as an example of cyber-foes, Wikileaks, which became a catalyst of the Tunisian Revolution via its leaked cables.

The upcoming local government poll is the first post-18th Amendment election. Already the insidious effects of that anti-democratic constitutional-change are visible, not just in the high levels of violence and malpractices but also in the anti-vertebrae decision by the Elections Commissioner to unilaterally postpone polling in 56 councils, sans even a court order.

As per plan; after all the transformation of independent commissions into appendages of a presidency without term-limits via the 18th Amendment was intended to turn the Elections Commissioner (and other officials) into presidential stooges. Such a transformation is vital in instituting an electoral system in which many parties compete but only the ruling party wins, enabling decades of Rajapaksa-rule, Father and Son.

Parallels between the Gaddafis of Libya and the Rajapaksas of Medamulana

By Mangala Samaraweera, M.P.

It is with great alarm that the peace loving people of the civilised world witness the despotic regime of Muammar Gaddafi killing his own people, using heavy weapons and even fighter aircraft to bomb civilian targets in a desperate attempt to retain power. Looking at the brutal suppression of peaceful civilian protests in Libya by its megalomaniac leader and his sons we cannot but draw parallels to the dynastic path the Rajapaksa regime has taken here at home.

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For the last 42 years Gaddafi has ruled Libya with an iron fist, destroying all forms of opposition, stifling dissent, silencing free speech and paving the way for his sons to take over once he is no more. During this time he and his family amassed billions of dollars and siphoned the country’s oil wealth. Oil rich Libya with its population of just six million is run by a handful of family members and cronies loyal to the first family. Gaddafi’s sons Saif, Mutassim and Hannibal hold key positions in government and the military running the country as if it were their personal fiefdom.

Only the blind or those who refuse to see, in my opinion, cannot draw the obvious parallels between the Gaddafis of Libya and the Rajapaksas of Medamulana. Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has often been pictured on the world stage with his arm around his best pal, Muammar Gaddafi has imposed single family rule in Sri Lanka and through the passing of legislation such as the 18th Amendment ensured that Sri Lanka is well on the path to dictatorship by the removal of term limits for the all powerful executive presidency.

Col. Gaddafi also disabled every democratic institution in Libya to ensure his political survival and while many might not be able to put all the pieces together right now, history will record how Mahinda Rajapaksa and his kith and kin single-handedly brought Asia’s oldest democracy to its knees and introduced her citizens to the insidious evils of an increasingly fascist political regime.

Whether it is the government, military, civil or the diplomatic service it is apparent that the Rajapaksa regime is playing according to the Gaddafi playbook, and the rules upheld by all autocratic regimes world over, now being systematically deposed in the Middle East region, with revolution spreading throughout the globe, from Zimbabwe to Iran. The Libyan President now under siege also packed all positions of power with incompetent, uneducated and corrupt stooges whose sole qualification to hold these positions was their loyalty to the first family.

Saif Gaddafi, the heir apparent to the throne of Libya appeared on state television a few days ago to threaten his countrymen with bloodshed if they try to topple his father’s regime. Desperate people who are only demanding that the four decade old oligarchy be ended have been threatened with arrest, torture and ‘rivers of blood’ if they dare to dream of freedom. Saif like all cronies of a tyrant stated that it is only the Gaddafi family that can deliver on the promise of development. He warned that foreign investors will leave Libya if the ruling family is thrown out. That Libya will fall to ‘imperialist’ forces and descend into anarchy.

Anyone who is playing close attention to the Rajapaksa rhetoric in Sri Lanka will recognise the chilling familiarity of Saif Gaddafi’s words. We are told that we should look the other way at the blatant corruption that is happening in the name of development. We are to turn a blind eye while the nation’s wealth is being amassed by a single family. We are told it is in the name of development that the Rajapaksa family has its members running the economy, military, and parliament. It is in the name of stability that democracy is being destroyed, our freedom of speech revoked and dissent quashed.

These are the same lies propagated by all dictators, whether they reign over an ancient country beside the Nile, or a military junta in Buddhist Burma holding a true democratic leader under house arrest since 1989 – or in fact a moustached politician from the deep south of a South Asian island and his siblings who are systematically turning the lights out in Asia’s oldest democracy.

All these dictators not only wish to rule till they die but dream of passing on their kingdoms to their offspring, making a mockery of the people’s will to elect their own leaders. Eighty two year old Hosni Mubarak dreamt that he could pass on power to his son Gamal, while Gaddafi still harbours dreams of making his son Saif, leader of Libya after him, even while protestors wrest control of the country’s cities and march towards Tripoli.

Mahinda Rajapaksa is no exception to this rule. Not only do his family tentacles spread over every arm of governance and state, but he foists his grinning visage upon Sri Lankans on every street corner, the faces of his sons are adorned on lampposts in the town of Hambantota, and his heir apparent, First Son Namal sporting his rock-star hairdo is a presenter at Cricket World Cup ceremonies. Sri Lanka is the Rajapaksas and for the Rajapaksas. They believe their rule is immortal, their power ever-lasting.

Vanity is one of the best ways to spot a despotic ruler. Hosni Mubarak who ruled Egypt for over 30 years, before being ushered out by a peoples’ revolt, thought he was a new age pharaoh destined to rule for life. Gaddafi in neighbouring Libya called himself the “King of Kings,” a title he bestowed upon himself to satisfy his bloated ego. Their narcissistic megalomania knows no bounds. Here too, the Rajapaksas are not to be outdone. Mahinda Rajapaksa is a self-proclaimed ‘Maha Raja’, Sri Lanka Raja Wansha Vibhushana Dharmadveepa Chakravarthi and Thiri Sinhalaatheeswara. This is a common disease among self obsessed tyrants who need constant reassurances over their own claims of greatness.

The fundamental principle of the current Rajapaksa regime’s foreign policy has been to ally our country with the worst tyrants in the world. In order to see who Sri Lanka has made friends with in recent years in the international sphere, one has to only look for the worst human rights violators, despotic and corrupt tyrants. The “Mad Dog of Africa” Gaddafi, Than Shwe, the military dictator of Burma and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the autocratic president of Iran are all Mahinda Rajapaksa’s close personal friends. Today the people of Sri Lanka are haunted by the image of Gaddafi placing his arm around Rajapaksa while both observed a military parade in Tripoli recently, not only signalling the similarities of these two leaders but also warning Sri Lankans of things to come.

It was only last month that our Foreign Ministry proudly released pictures of MP Namal Rajapaksa, the heir to the ruling dynasty warmly embracing the Libyan tyrant. Last year our government laid out a red carpet welcome to the Burmese military leader who had brutally crushed an uprising in his country in 2006, killing and torturing hundreds of Buddhist priests. This is a regime which the whole world recognises as one of the worst bastions of tyranny, imprisoning democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi for 20 years.

Also recent revelations indicated that our government has been carrying out illegal arms deals with the Dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, considered one of the worst tyrants of all time, one who starves his own people. The old idiom “birds of a feather flock together” is the best way to describe the Medamulana diplomacy that has made Sri Lanka an ally of the worst human rights violators and a pariah amongst the civilised nations of the world.

Amidst the death and destruction that is now engulfing Libya there is a message of hope which can inspire us. Despite unprecedented violence unleashed by a desperate government and the somewhat poor odds of success, the people of Libya have proven that dictators also have their day of reckoning. They may rule for decades using fear to suppress the masses but every human being has a breaking point, when they say to themselves it is better to die fighting for freedom rather than live forever upon their knees. When that day comes, when the masses realise that they deserve better than the occasional crumbs thrown at them by tin pot dictators, then surely the days of tyranny will be numbered.

The moral force of people who have rejected tyranny will be too powerful to quell even by tanks and aircraft as we are now witnessing in Libya. Let this be a lesson to our own leaders who are currently intoxicated by their seemingly limitless power and hope to rule through fear and intimidation forever, eventually passing down the right to rule to their children. Their day of reckoning may be sooner than they think.

Sri Lankan Muslims: between ethno-nationalism and the global ummah

by DENNIS B. MCGILVRAY

ABSTRACT. Sri Lanka's Sunni Muslims or “Moors”, who make up eight percent of the population, are the country's third largest ethnic group, after the Buddhist Sinhalese (seventy-four per cent) and the Hindu Tamils (eighteen per cent). Although the armed LTTE (Tamil Tiger) rebel movement was defeated militarily by government forces in May 2009, the island's Muslims still face the long-standing external threats of ethno-linguistic Tamil nationalism and pro-Sinhala Buddhist government land and resettlement policies.

In addition, during the past decade a sharp internal conflict has arisen within the Sri Lankan Muslim community between locally popular Sufi sheiks and the followers of hostile Islamic reformist movements energised by ideas and resources from the global ummah, or world community of Muslims. This simultaneous combination of “external” ethno-nationalist rivalries and “internal” Islamic doctrinal conflict has placed Sri Lanka's Muslims in a double bind: how to defend against Tamil and Sinhalese ethnic hegemonies while not appearing to embrace an Islamist or jihadist agenda. This article first traces the historical development of Sri Lankan Muslim identity in the context of twentieth-century Sri Lankan nationalism and the south Indian Dravidian movement, then examines the recent anti-Sufi violence that threatens to divide the Sri Lankan Muslim community today.

Introduction

In May 2009, the armed forces of the Sri Lankan government overran the last bastions of the guerrilla rebels, the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), and reasserted complete military control over the north-eastern quarter of the island for the first time in twenty-five years. This region is home to a significant portion of Sri Lanka's two Tamil-speaking minority groups, the Hindu Tamils and the Tamil-speaking Muslims, the latter of whom are sometimes referred to by the colonial term “Moors” (from Portuguese mouro, or Moroccan). As a cultural anthropologist, I have conducted fieldwork among the Tamils and the Muslims in the east-coast agricultural town of Akkaraipattu for more than three decades (McGilvray 2008). The Eastern Province of the island is politically volatile, with a population that is roughly one-third Tamil Saivite Hindu, one-third Sunni Muslim and one-third Sinhalese Theravada Buddhist. The Muslims are the least-known of these three ethnic groups, yet they will play a key role in any long-term solution to Sri Lanka's ethnic turmoil.

I will first summarise how the Muslims fit into Sri Lanka's ethnic jigsaw puzzle, and how historically they have been connected by transnational networks of trade and religious pilgrimage with south India and the larger Indian Ocean world. My ultimate goal is to describe the current tensions within the Sri Lankan Muslim community, as they cope simultaneously with the potential island-wide threat of ethno-nationalist violence from the Tamils and the Sinhalese, and experience internal religious tensions from global Islamic reformist ideologies that are opposed to localised Sufi mysticism and traditional forms of devotional piety. Several recent outbreaks of violence between established Sufi groups and militant Islamic reformists have attracted media attention, exposing a theological rift within the Muslim community that could be interpreted – and exploited – as jihadism by rival Tamil or Sinhala ethno-nationalists. This conflict exposes the Muslims to critical scrutiny by the other ethnic communities and further complicates the Muslims' balancing act: they are caught between the forces of Sri Lankan ethno-nationalism and religious influences from the global pan-Islamic ummah.

Geography, demography and ethnic heraldry

Muslims are Sri Lanka's smallest significant minority: they make up eight per cent of the total population, so are overshadowed by the Tamils (eighteen per cent, including the Upcountry Tamil tea plantation workers) and by the dominant Sinhalese Buddhist majority (seventy-four per cent).1 Muslims live everywhere in the island, but their largest concentration (roughly two thirds) is in the predominantly Sinhalese urban centres of the south-western coast (Colombo, Galle and Matara) and in the Kandyan hill towns, where they are often shopkeepers and businesspeople. The remaining one-third of the Muslims live on the Tamil-speaking east coast, where they are paddy farmers and fishermen in villages and towns interspersed among the Tamil Hindus (see Figure 1). This region formed part of Tamil Eelam,2 the proposed ethnic homeland claimed by the LTTE guerrillas, even though in some coastal districts of the Eastern Province the Muslims are the largest of the three ethnic groups in the local population. The uneven distribution of the Muslim population of Sri Lanka, their contrasting (urban vs. rural) ecologies and subsistence patterns, and the resulting disparities in socioeconomic status and occupations among them, have hindered the growth of a coherent Muslim political bloc at the national level (McGilvray and Raheem 2007).

On the Sri Lankan national flag, the Muslims are represented by a vertical green (Islamic) stripe, and the Tamils by a parallel orange (Hindu) stripe, while the Sinhalese majority (the “people of the lion”) are represented by a regal sword-wielding lion and four leaves from the sacred Bo tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment (see Figure 2). Perhaps unintentionally, the Sri Lankan flag visually illustrates the country's underlying problem of ethnic rivalry and compartmentalisation. A royal red and gold panel spanning two thirds of the flag portrays the legendary lion ancestor (sinha) of the Sinhalese people, their distinctive religion (Theravada Buddhism) and their sword-wielding pre-colonial political sovereignty over many parts of the island. A smaller, separate bloc of space on the left side of the flag contains two bands of colour (green and orange) representing the minority Muslims and Tamils, while the Sinhalese lion brandishes his royal sword in their direction.3 Graphically, the flag design would suggest equivalence and close alignment between the Muslims and the Tamils, which is far from the political truth today despite the fact that both groups speak Tamil. In fact, the “national flag” is a virtual schematic of the island's ethnic divisions and a clear proclamation of Sinhalese Buddhist domination of the Sri Lankan state. It has no unifying pan-Lankan symbols of national identity or citizenship; only a set of three compartmentalised ethnic totems, two of which are small and religiously generic (Muslim and Hindu) and one of which is large and ethnically specific (Buddhist Sinhalese).

The national flag of Sri Lanka.

On the right, the golden yellow Sinhalese lion emblem and leaves of the Buddhist Bo tree on a field of red. On the left, vertical bands of (Muslim) green and (Hindu) orange representing the Muslim and Tamil minorities.

Origins and cultural affinities of the Muslims

The Sri Lankan Muslims, like the coastal Muslims of south India, are mixed-race descendants of Arab and Persian sea-faring merchants who have long traversed the Indian Ocean between the Middle East and south-east Asia. With the advent of Islam in the Arabian peninsula in the first half of the seventh century, and the subsequent conquest of Persia, trade across the Indian Ocean was dominated from the eighth century onward by Arab Muslim merchants from ports on the Red Sea and the Gulf. Unlike the Persian and Turkic invasions of north India that gave rise to major states and empires, the Muslim impact upon the coasts of south India and Sri Lanka was predominantly Arabic in culture and mercantile in motivation, part of the same sea-borne trading networks that brought Islam to insular south-east Asia (Wink 1990). The medieval Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms of Kerala and Sri Lanka allowed Arab merchants – many of whom acquired local wives by whom they fathered Indo-Muslim progeny – to establish a dominant economic position in port settlements such as Calicut and Colombo (Arasaratnam 1964; Dale 1980; Kiribamune 1986). Not long after Vasco da Gama's 1498 naval crusade against the well-established “Moors” of Calicut, the Portuguese encountered Muslim traders in Sri Lanka who spoke Tamil and who enjoyed ongoing commercial links with the Muslims of the Malabar and Coromandel coasts of south India under the suzerainty of the local Sinhalese kings of Kotte (Ameer Ali 1980; Abeyasinghe 1986; Indrapala 1986). Commercial, cultural and even migrational links between Muslim towns in southern India and Sri Lankan Moorish settlements are attested in the historical traditions of Beruwela, Kalpitiya, Jaffna and other coastal settlements where Sri Lankan Muslims have lived for centuries (Casie Chitty 1834: 254 ff.; Denham 1912: 234; Ameer Ali 1981; Shukri 1986; McGilvray 1998; Hussein 2007).

Like the coastal Muslims of south India and the Muslims of south-east Asia, the Sri Lankan “Moors” are Sunni Muslims of the Shaf'i legal school, a shared legacy of their earliest south Arabian forefathers (Fanselow 1989; Fakhri 2008). To varying degrees, the Sri Lankan Muslims also follow matrilineal and matrilocal family patterns, the legacy of a “Kerala connection” that has shaped Tamil Hindu social structure in Sri Lanka as well. On the eastern coast of the island, the Muslims share with their Tamil neighbours a strongly rooted tradition of transmitting most family property, including houses and paddy lands, to daughters by means of dowry bestowed at marriage (Raghavan 1971: 199–217; McGilvray 1989, 2008; McGilvray and Lawrence 2010). Historic intermarriage with matrilineal Hindu Tamils seems to explain this unusual pattern, which is found in varying degrees among coastal Muslims in south India as well (McGilvray 1998). Throughout Sri Lanka, the language of the Muslim home is predominantly Tamil, although in urban areas in the south-western part of the island Sinhala is beginning to be the preferred language of some Muslim youths as well as the medium of instruction in at least one newly founded Muslim Arabic College (Tanweer Academy, in Thihariya).

Regional networks of trade and pilgrimage

The established routes of maritime trade eastward across the Indian Ocean, as well as the westward flow of Muslim pilgrims to Mecca for the Hajj, has maintained a longstanding set of links between Sri Lanka and the Arab world. The conspicuous role of migrant Muslim seyyids (patrilineal descendants of the Prophet, termed maulanas in Sri Lanka), from the Hadramawt region of Yemen in trans-Indian Ocean saintly genealogies, has been elucidated by Engseng Ho in his book The Graves of Tarim (2006) as well as by previous authors (see Freitag and Clarence-Smith 1997). The legendary origin of one local Muslim saint in the east-coast town of Akkaraipattu was that he had miraculously floated ashore ‘on a plank’ directly from Yemen, and it now appears that such stories reflect a significant Sri Lankan heritage of Islamic influence from that part of the Muslim world (McGilvray 2008). Muslim pilgrims and travellers to Adam's Peak in the central highlands of Sri Lanka, where Adam's footprint is preserved after his fall from the Garden of Eden, are widely attested by pre-colonial authors such as Ibn Battuta (Gibb 1986).

Perhaps the most important historical factors shaping the everyday culture of the Sri Lankan Muslims are the economic and religious links between the island and the various Muslim trading centres on the adjacent Malabar and Coromandel coasts of south India: ports such as Cochin, Kayalpattinam and Kilakkarai. It is from these south Indian coastal towns that travelling Muslim missionaries revitalised the practising of Islam in nineteenth-century British colonial Ceylon, following several centuries of Portuguese and Dutch censorship and repression (Ahmed Lebbai 1963; Shu'ayb Alim 1993). Famous madrasas (Muslim seminaries) in Kilakkarai, a Muslim port near Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu, continued to attract Sri Lankan Muslim students until the Tamil ethnic conflict disrupted travel to south India in recent decades. Printing presses and influential teachers in Kilakkarai helped to keep the tradition of Arabic-Tamil literature and writing alive well into the twentieth century, but the Islamic curriculum in Kilakkarai conforms to the modified north Indian derived dars-i-nizami syllabus of the major madrasa in Vellore, the Baqiyyat-i-Salihat. As Tschacher (2006) points out, this situates the contemporary madrasa curriculum in Tamil Nadu (and, by extension, in Sri Lanka as a whole) within a larger north Indian Islamic tradition.

The largest south Indian shrine attracting Sri Lankan Muslim pilgrims has always been the dargah (tomb shrine) of the Sufi saint Shahul Hameed at Nagoor on the Tamil Nadu coast, directly north of Sri Lanka. When the Muslim Marakkayar sea traders who patronised this sixteenth-century shrine opened commercial outposts in Sri Lanka, Penang and Singapore during the British era, their maritime saint of Nagoor travelled along with them. ‘Branch office’ dargahs for the Nagoor saint are still found in these locations today, including a thriving Beach Mosque shrine in the Sri Lankan east-coast settlement of Kalmunaikkudy that miraculously escaped damage in the December 2004 tsunami. This popular tradition of Sufi saint veneration constitutes a common religious substratum in many Sri Lankan Muslim communities today – as it does in neighbouring South India, where madrasas often retain historical allegiances to specific Sufi orders (More 2006; Tschacher 2006: 218–9). Tschacher also reports that the deep sectarian rifts associated with rival schools (maslaks) of Sunni Islamic teaching in north India – such as Deobandi reformism vs. Barelvi devotionalism – are scarcely recognised or understood in Tamil Muslim towns such as Kilakkarai, a condition I have found to be true in Sri Lankan Muslim communities as well.

Twentieth-century Muslim identity politics in Sri Lanka

Under the British colonial regime in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Sri Lankan Muslim elites energetically constructed a “racial” identity as Arab descendants: Sonahar (in Tamil), or “Moors” (in English). This was a response to the prevailing British colonial model for categorising and representing indigenous Ceylonese by “race” in the census and on the appointed Legislative Council (Nissan and Stirrat 1990; Rogers 1995). The Moors of Ceylon could then be seen as a (Semitic) Arab racial group comparable to the (Aryan) Sinhalese, the (Dravidian) Tamils and the (European) mixed-race Burghers (McGilvray 1982, 2007). The Tamil political elite actively opposed this effort by the Moors to differentiate themselves from the Tamil community, presumably because it would lessen their prevailing subordination and clientship to the high-caste Tamils in some parts of the island. The late-nineteenth-century debate about whether the Moors were “Arabs” or actually Muslim Tamils was ignited by a scholarly article written by the leading Tamil statesman of the day, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, who wished to keep the Moors within the Tamil fold (Ramanathan 1888). However, when a bloody outbreak of anti-Muslim violence by Sinhalese mobs occurred in 1915, Ramanathan conspicuously defended the Sinhalese rioters, and this was seen by the Muslims as evidence of Tamil hypocrisy about “Tamil-speaking” linguistic solidarity.

The political schism between Tamils and Moors continued to widen during the mid twentieth century, and as Sri Lanka was approaching independence in 1948 the Muslim leadership itself was divided into rival camps over the strategic question of their collective identity. Two organisations supported by rival gem-trading families, the Ceylon Moors Association and the Ceylon Muslim League, each vied for members under competing labels. Ultimately, in the post-independence period, the community strategically rebranded itself as generic “Muslims”, thus amalgamating the Moors and the tiny Malay ethnic minority under a unifying religious label that invokes the ummah, the brotherhood of all Muslims. Doubtless the spread of pan-Islamic ideology in the twentieth century encouraged and validated this move in religious terms, but its pragmatic political significance was to distance the Muslim community from the Sri Lankan Tamil nationalist movement and its characteristic Dravidian linguistic chauvinism. Being identified as Muslims, rather than Moors, placed them in a religious category beyond the Sinhala–Tamil ethnic and linguistic binary; meanwhile, their political leaders remained available for political alliances with all parties, especially the Sinhala-dominated UNP and SLFP. It should also be noted that the leader of the Ceylon Muslim League, Tuan Burhanudeen Jayah, was a Sri Lankan Malay whose ethnic community had earlier been excluded from membership of some of the leading Colombo Moorish mosques.

Today the Muslims are the only Sri Lankan ethnic group bearing a religious rather than a linguistic, ethnic or racial name, as reflected also in the name of the largest Muslim political party – the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (founded in 1981).4 Yet despite this mid-century change of identity, there were Muslims who still preferred the historical and ethnic distinctiveness of being a Sonahar or a Moor. A pamphlet circulated in 1950 proclaimed: ‘A person is without self-respect if he has no pride of race … Muslims are Muslims religiously. [But] when he wants to show his race he is an Arabi, an Ajami, a Pathan, a Moplah, a Memon, a Pushti …’ (Mohammed 1950). Institutions such as the Moors' Islamic Cultural Home, founded in Colombo in 1944 and still in existence today, attest to the continuity of ethnic/racial identity among the Muslims of Sri Lanka. Although accustomed now to being called Muslims, they retain a group identity that is distinctively Sri Lankan.

Since independence in 1948, Muslim leaders have used their political ethnicity as “Muslims” to reject overtures from the Tamils on behalf of pan-Dravidian nationalism. This has deeply embittered many Tamils, who accuse the Muslims of turning their backs on the heritage of their mother tongue, which is still primarily Tamil. In truth, there has always been, and still remains, a deep reservoir of Tamil literary and linguistic affinity among the Muslims, who until well into the twentieth century read newspapers and wrote literature in so-called “Arabic-Tamil” or Arwi, a system of orthography that used the Arabic alphabet to represent Tamil sentences phonetically (Uwise 1986; Tschacher 2006). In the Tamil-speaking eastern and northern regions of the island, the local tradition of Muslim writing in Tamil remains quite vibrant, and the popularity of Tamil cinema is shared by both Muslims and Tamils (Nuhman 2007).

The comparison with Muslims in twentieth-century south India is instructive. Between the 1920s and 1940s, the Tamil-speaking Muslims in Tamil Nadu were actively recruited into the pan-Dravidian campaign as fellow “non-Brahmins”, and the leader of the Self-Respect Movement, E. V. Ramasamy, even praised the conversion of Dalits (untouchable castes) to Islam (More 1997; Fakhri 2008). Although Tamil Nadu Muslims supported the creation of a national homeland for Muslims in 1947, virtually none of them migrated to Pakistan at Partition. In Tamil Nadu it is accepted that an indigenous Tamil-speaking person who follows Islam is a “Muslim Tamil”. However, in Sri Lanka this pan-Tamil linguistic identity holds only for the Hindu and Christian Tamils, not for the Tamil-speaking Muslims. This is the cumulative result of a hegemonic high caste (largely Jaffna Vellalar) Tamil political elite and a century of political rivalry and schism between the two communities.

Twin ethno-nationalist threats: Tamil and Sinhalese

The Muslim vs. Tamil divide was further enflamed in recent decades by ghastly LTTE guerrilla massacres of Muslims at prayer, and by the massive LTTE ethnic cleansing of Muslims from the northern Jaffna peninsula in 1990. The Sri Lankan government and its pro-Sinhala nationalist allies have benefited from this anti-Muslim violence, which has helped to ensure that Tamil nationalists and Muslims do not unite under a separatist banner in the north and east, where the two communities have so much in common, both culturally and economically (McGilvray 1997). The perennial challenge of Muslim politics in Sri Lanka is that two thirds of all Muslims live and work in Sinhala-majority parts of the island, where Muslim businesspeople and professionals are aware of the potential for Sinhala animosity. However, the acute locus of Tamil–Muslim tensions has been in the farming and fishing settlements of the north and east. As a colleague and I have argued in a recent assessment of Sri Lankan Muslim political trends (McGilvray and Raheem 2007), a peaceful settlement of Tamil–Muslim tensions in the north-eastern geographical zone (i.e. the erstwhile ‘Tamil Eelam’) would demand a more regionally tailored form of Muslim nationalism and ethnicity that acknowledges a common Tamil-speaking heritage, and a shared agricultural and fishing-based livelihood, in both communities.

In addition to Tamil–Muslim rivalries, there remains a thinly submerged antipathy toward Muslims on the part of the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community, who in 1915 erupted in an island-wide pogrom against Muslim merchants that required military suppression by British troops (Roberts 1994). Some segments of the Buddhist clergy have played a well-documented role in the more extreme forms of Sinhalese nationalist politics (Tambiah 1986, 1992; De Votta 2004), culminating today in the Jatika Hela Urumaya (JHU, or National Heritage Party) representing the most xenophobic wing of the Sri Lankan Buddhist monkhood. In their eyes, the Muslims are opportunistic, late-arriving foreigners whose Middle Eastern religion, unlike India-centric Hinduism, is totally alien to the island.5 At Daftar Jailani, a Muslim pilgrimage centre located in a Sinhalese district in the heart of the Kandyan hills, there have been efforts by the Buddhist clergy – assisted by the government Archaeology Department – to restrict the expansion of Muslim activities on the grounds that it is an ancient Buddhist heritage site (Aboosally 2002; McGilvray 2004). There continue to be intermittent anti-Muslim riots in Sinhalese towns today, and there are recent signs of governmentally approved efforts to block the expansion of Muslim farming areas and new housing settlements in the eastern coastal region (International Crisis Group 2008). Currently a court case is being fought over whether Muslim tsunami victims can be permitted to occupy a new housing colony built by a foreign NGO in the vicinity of the sacred Buddhist dagoba (stupa) at Deegavapi, in Ampara District.

Influences from the global Muslim ummah

Large numbers of Sri Lankan Muslims – both men and women – are now employed on labour contracts in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the Gulf Emirates. The increased prosperity of Sri Lankan Muslims has also led to higher numbers of pilgrims making the Hajj. These factors, plus the expansion of global electronic media (including the internet, email and digital television), have given many Sri Lankan Muslims a heightened awareness of ‘Muslim issues’ around the world, from Kosovo to Kuala Lumpur, and thus a greater sense of membership in the global community of all Muslims (the ummah). A self-conscious turn toward Islamic dress (hijab), especially among younger and more urban Muslim women, is one highly visible reflection of this phenomenon; there has also been a modest growth in the adoption of male Islamic clothing, such as the Arabian-style thobe (thawb), and the cultivation of beards. Muslim girls' school uniforms are now designed to include a face covering (niqab) that can be folded down when girls are walking between home and school, while boys' Western-style school uniforms include a Muslim cap. However, among Muslim women of an older generation, and especially in traditional settings, the sari is still worn in customary Muslim fashion – with the end of the garment covering the head (and, when necessary, part of the face) in a gesture known as mukkaadu.

The wholesale demolition and reconstruction of historic older-style mosques in accordance with imported models of Islamic architecture is another highly visible mark of pan-Islamic influence. For example, the new, brightly painted ‘gingerbread’ mosques with multiple minarets and ornate Arabian-inspired rooflines are quite different from the simpler whitewashed mosques with shady verandahs and dark teak-pillared prayer halls that I saw when I first started my fieldwork in Akkaraipattu in the 1970s.

Within Sri Lanka, there are a number of familiar and well-organised Islamic revitalisation movements with strong roots in the south Asian subcontinent. All-male, bearded, white-robed, door-to-door missionary teams from the Tablighi Jamaat are a familiar sight in Muslim neighbourhoods, urging lapsed Muslims to resume their daily prayers. Evening and weekend study groups organised by the Jamaat-i-Islami are aimed at a more educated middle-class Muslim audience who desire a deeper and more detailed understanding of the Quran and Hadiths.6 Increasingly, one also finds independent mosques loosely labelled ‘towheed’ (tawhid, the unity and alterity of Allah) congregations that are widely alleged to receive funding from missionary “Salafist” or “Wahhabi” organisations abroad. Today, Sri Lankan Muslims seeking to maintain their ancestral religious traditions feel obliged to identify themselves as sunnattu jamaat, meaning “customary or standard” Muslims. As the professionalisation of the Islamic clergy has increased steadily through higher levels of seminary training, the regional and national councils of the Ulama have exerted greater theological control, including the issuance of fatwas (legal interpretations) to scold or excommunicate particular heterodox Sufi sheikhs for their alleged pantheism or deviant interpretations of Islamic theology.

Muslim reformism in Sri Lanka has yet to produce an indigenous movement such as the KNM mujahid organisation in contemporary Kerala, which promotes both the conservative purification of the faith and a progressive agenda of social and educational modernisation (Osella and Osella 2008). The primary targets of Sri Lankan reformist groups are the older traditions and institutions of Sri Lankan popular Islam, such as vow-making at the tombs of historic Sufi sheikhs and Maulana seyyids, and the celebration of the annual saints' festivals (kandooris) that women and children still attend and enjoy. These festivals may feature public exhibitions of ecstatic, self-mortifying Sufi devotional practice (zikr) by Bawa faqirs of the Rifai order, unchanged in over half a century (Spittel 1933: 312–21; McGilvray 2004, 2008). When any of these events attracts an audience of non-Muslims, especially Hindus, it is taken as further evidence that something ‘non-Islamic’ must be going on.

Muslim response to ethno-nationalist pressures
Since the beginning of the armed Tamil rebellion in the 1980s, the Sri Lankan Muslims have become more regionally divided and yet also more politically mobilised. The most obvious symptom of this was the founding in 1981 of the island's first effective Muslim political party (the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, or SLMC) under pressure from east-coast Muslims seeking protection from Tamil guerrilla violence and extortion. Up until this point, the Muslim leadership was largely drawn from the Colombo and south-western urban elites, reflecting the political interests of Muslim businessmen and professional stakeholders. The post-independence strategy of Muslim politicians was to join with the two major Sinhalese ethnic parties that had dominated the government since the 1950s, the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Unlike Tamil nationalist spokesmen, who were often portrayed as recalcitrant and uncooperative, some Muslim politicians were willing to join any national ticket that would have them, and occasionally they would even cross the aisle in parliament when it suited their purposes. They assiduously avoided formulating an adversarial ethnic agenda, preferring to trade political favours for government patronage that would benefit their local Muslim (and other) constituents. The overall political stance of the Muslim leadership could be described as defensive, pragmatic and accommodationist, seeking to protect their Muslim constituents from both Sinhalese and Tamil threats while at the same time forging political alliances that produced tangible patronage benefits (jobs, schools, development projects) at the local level.

Therefore, the emergence of the SLMC as a party explicitly promoting the interests of the Muslim community as a whole was a major break with the past, and one that had the potential of posing a “Muslim nationalist” threat to the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The founder of the SLMC was the late M. H. M. Ashroff, a politician with a strong voter base in the Muslim stronghold of Kalmunai in eastern Ampara District where the LTTE posed a mortal danger to many Muslim farmers and shopkeepers. Despite some successes as a nation-wide party, since Ashroff's death in 2000 the SLMC has perennially suffered schisms and opportunistic defections; it has proven nearly impossible to forge a single “Muslim agenda” that can unify a Muslim electorate spread so widely across the island, from urban centres to rural hinterlands (McGilvray and Raheem 2007). Although the original party manifesto pledged a platform based on “Islamic principles”, this phrasing was primarily intended to convey honesty and incorruptibility rather than to suggest the vision of an Islamic state. In practice, the role of religion in the SLMC has proven to be quite pragmatic and down to earth, as shown in its efforts to cultivate ties with local mosque committees to increase voter mobilisation. It is true that during SLMC election campaigns Muslim ritual invocations and prayers have tended to intensify, and in its efforts to strengthen its Islamic credentials the party has opposed certain amendments to Sri Lanka's Muslim personal law to the detriment of women's rights (Zackariya and Shanmugaratnam 1997: 40–1). However, in terms of Islamic religious issues, the SLMC's positions typically seek to preserve the status quo without demanding the radical changes that would appeal to ultra-conservative or ultra-progressive Muslims.

The key policy issues for the SLMC have to do with guaranteeing the livelihood and security concerns of Muslim farmers and fishermen in the north-eastern war zone (International Crisis Group 2007, 2008), while safeguarding the needs of Muslims living in close proximity to their Sinhalese majority neighbours in the dense urban areas of the island's south-west. The Muslim urban elites on the Colombo side of the island typically seek to control the party and to moderate its policies, while the threatened Muslim farmers and activist Muslim students in the east have at times been tempted to demarcate their own separate Muslim homeland or sub-provincial unit, modelled on the idea of an autonomous Tamil Eelam for the Tamil minority (McGilvray and Raheem 2007: 26–8). Following the ceasefire agreement of 2002, the SLMC tried to secure an official Muslim seat for the party at the ensuing peace talks, and when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck the island in 2004 the SLMC sought to intervene on behalf of the devastated Muslim communities along the eastern and southern coasts. In both instances, the Sinhalese and the Tamil ethno-nationalists largely ignored the demands of the Muslims represented by the SLMC leadership (McGilvray 2006; McGilvray and Raheem 2007: 43–5).7

Religious conflict: Sufi controversies in eastern Sri Lanka

A completely different, and more surprising, development in recent decades has been the unexpected resilience and resurgence of popular Muslim Sufi mysticism in many different forms, ranging from the continuing public performances of the Bawa faqirs, to a variety of middle-class urban Sufi groups in Colombo and the Kandyan hill country, to the devoted followers of controversial new Sufi sheikhs in the large Muslim agricultural towns of the eastern coastal region. A possible explanation for this trend is that the polarising harshness of pan-Islamic reformist teaching that reaches Sri Lanka from the larger ummah tends to generate its own counter-reaction. By forcing Muslims to re-examine their taken-for-granted beliefs and traditional local practices, so-called “fundamentalist” preaching may lead some Muslims to deliberately pursue a mystical path and to seek the spiritual guidance of a Sufi sheikh. Whatever its sociological or theological cause, the rise of controversial charismatic Sufi sheikhs in eastern Sri Lanka has recently precipitated unprecedented religious conflict among Sri Lankan Muslims, who are otherwise quite uniform in their orthodox Sunni forms of worship. Although the beginnings of militant opposition to Sufi teachers in the eastern towns of Kattankudy and Maruthamunai can be traced back to the 1980s, the violence there has escalated sharply since 2004, resulting in the destruction and desecration of several saintly tombs and shrines, and forcing one Sufi leader to flee for his safety. A more recent 2009 clash in the south-western Muslim coastal town of Beruwala reflects similar religious tensions between a popular Sufi sheikh and a nearby towheed reformist congregation.8 Whereas popular forms of Sri Lankan Sufism had been conducted for generations without attracting much notice from the majority community or the national press, when these acts of mob violence within the Muslim community erupted so visibly it quickly became headline news and aroused public anxieties about the possibility of Islamic militancy and jihadism. Framed in the context of the global ‘war on terrorism’, and viewed against the recent history of LTTE suicide bombings, the Muslim community suddenly faced a public relations problem.

In Kattankudy, a densely populated Muslim town near Batticaloa with historic commercial ties to south India, a controversial Sufi leader named Rauf Maulavi had already established his own mosque adjacent to the ziyaram (tomb-shrine) of his father several decades previously and developed a well-funded organisation (All-Ceylon Islamic Spiritual Movement) to disseminate his books and newsletters in Tamil. Accompanied by the local businessmen who followed him, Rauf travelled to India and the Middle East – including Baghdad, where the tomb of south Asia's most widely venerated Sufi saint, Abdul Qadir Gilani, is located. Because he espoused the allegedly ‘pantheistic’ doctrines of the twelfth-century Sufi philosopher Ibn Arabi (Wahdat ul Wujud, or ‘Unity of Being’), his teaching was condemned by fundamentalist clergy as a violation of towheed, the radical unity of God, and he was declared an apostate (murtad) in a fatwa issued by the Sri Lankan Muslim clergy (All Ceylon Jamiyatul Ulama) in 1979. Despite ostracism and periodic attacks on his property, Rauf successfully defied the fatwa for decades, backed up by his own muscular and well-financed group of local followers, and ultimately the decree was rescinded. However, he was driven from Kattankudy by mob violence in late 2006, and his location as of this writing is not certain.

The headquarters shrine of a second Sufi leader, the late Sheikh Abdullah Payilvan, was also attacked in December 2006 at the same time that Rauf was driven out in a convulsion of mob violence sparked by the burial of Payilvan's body in a private tomb at his shrine in Kattankudy. The followers of Payilvan belong to a new Sufi order he founded called Thareekatul Mufliheen, and they actively distribute a wide array of Payilvan's published books and recorded songs on their website (http://www.mufliheen.com). Payilvan, like Rauf, had been declared an apostate for his pantheistic theology, and his corpse was barred from burial within Kattankudy (a totally Muslim town) by conservative Muslims, whom the Payilvan group loosely identifies as “Wahhabis”. Rumours also circulated that Payilvan's followers had filled his tomb with honey, an idolatrous gesture anathema to Islamic reformist sensibilities. As a result, mobs said to have been encouraged by members of the local Muslim clergy, by mosque federation leaders and by the Centre for Islamic Guidance (a towheed organisation) tore down a part of the Mufliheen headquarters shrine, removed Payilvan's corpse from his tomb and took it to a hidden location, where it was reportedly burned and secretly reburied. Even Sri Lankan Muslims with no sympathy for Payilvan's Sufi doctrines have found this desecration and cremation of his body to be appalling, with its symbolic implication that Payilvan was in fact a Hindu. The website maintained by the Thareekatul Mufliheen includes an archive of over twenty years of legal appeals and diligent civil rights injunctions lodged on behalf of Payilvan, along with photos of the 2006 violence. His followers remain determined to rebuild his shrine and spread his teachings.

Alternative Sufi strategy in Akkaraipattu

In contrast to the Muslim religious outbreaks in Kattankudy, my research in the town of Akkaraipattu, located only forty miles further south, has revealed relatively few signs of such anti-Sufi militancy. In fact, when I visited in June 2008, I heard quite a bit of outrage over the burning of Payilvan's body, simply on the grounds of Islamic respect for the dead. Perhaps because of a difference in spiritual leaderships styles, Sufi leaders and their ideas seem to be accepted, or at least tolerated, in contemporary Akkaraipattu as part of a more diverse and differentiated Muslim political milieu (Klem, unpublished). The example of a new Sufi leader named Makkattar Vappa (“Father Makkattar”) is a case in point.

Makkattar is a former primary school art teacher who still does some sketches and drawings himself. He tells the miraculous story of being chosen, quite unexpectedly, to succeed the leader of a Sufi order originating in Androth Island (Lakshadweep Archipelago, a Union Territory of India) off the west coast of Kerala. The previous leader (kalifa) founded the order based on the hybrid authority he possessed as a member of four distinct Sufi spiritual lineages – Qadiri, Chishti, Rifai and Naqshbandi – but Makkattar does not emphasise the branding of his particular kind of mysticism. He is related on his mother's side to a local saint of Yemeni Hadrami descent who is buried in one of the two oldest mosques in town, and this is a source of personal pride. His followers, both in Akkaraipattu and Colombo, include men, women and entire families for whom he offers a combination of pastoral advice and spontaneous philosophical wisdom, depending on the situation and the audience assembled to hear his words. A widower, he lives in his late wife's matrilocal dowry house surrounded for many hours of the day by his male followers and initiated disciples (murids), many of whom appear to be under the age of thirty. Unlike the controversial Sufi sheikhs in Kattankudy, both of whom developed large-scale organisations to propagate their teachings in the print and digital media in the face of conservative Muslim opposition, Makkattar works at a direct interpersonal level as a pastoral counsellor, impromptu philosopher and dispenser of curative amulets.

The fact that he has avoided disseminating his Sufi teachings in print (or by means of a website) has probably helped him to avoid the wrath of the Islamic reformists, whom he privately labels as “Wahhabis and Salafis”. However, he does things that hard-line fundamentalists would certainly condemn, such as privately giving amulets and protective blessings to women who seek his advice and guidance. He has also erected his own mosque (named in memory of the heretical tenth-century Persian Sufi martyr al-Hallaj, who was executed in Baghdad) as well as a seaside mausoleum and meditation centre that shelters the twin graves of his deceased wife and mother. Again, this is not something most contemporary Muslim reformists would condone. The courtyard of his house in Akkaraipattu is typically filled with a mellow group of younger male murids, and his mobile phone is in constant use. As a technological extension of traditional Muslim healing practices, he sometimes recites a curative Islamic incantation to a remote patient who presses his own phone in contact with the injured part of his body.

When I asked him about the possible threat posed by anti-Sufi groups, Makkattar reminded me that one of his former primary school students – and loyal spiritual followers – is a local member of parliament and of the prime minister's cabinet. Local-level politics has been alleged to be a motive in the Kattankudy religious violence: Sufi sheikhs have the potential to influence the behaviour of a significant bloc of voters. In Akkaraipattu, Makkattar is aligned with the popular local MP, who has delivered significant patronage to his constituents, most notably a new municipal water system. However, on a personal level Makkattar has maintained a modest level of consumption, and his lifestyle is in no way extravagant. He is fully aware of the unfortunate events in Kattankudy, and he appears content to maintain a relatively low public profile. Because he is an unobtrusively pastoral Sufi sheikh, his work and teachings have not triggered the violent, and troublingly mediagenic, reaction seen in Kattankudy.

Muslim ethnicity and Sri Lankan nationalism

Unlike the Muslims of north India and Pakistan – a region ruled for centuries by the Mughals and other Turkic/Persianate Muslim dynasties – the “Moors” of Sri Lanka have no heritage of pre-colonial dominion over any part of the island. In the contemporary era, with only eight per cent of the population, they are clearly destined to remain a small Muslim minority within a non-Muslim nation. However, the sociological term “Muslim” must be understood to function in contemporary Sri Lankan discourse as the label for a distinctive Tamil-speaking ethnic group with specific centres of population and local cultural traditions. The Sri Lankan “Muslims” are an ethnic group newly relabelled in the twentieth century, although the older ethnic-racial identities of Sonahar and Moor, as well as the small Malay community, are still acknowledged today.

For the first three decades following Ceylon's independence in 1948, Muslim political leaders had sought to emphasise a “Ceylonese or Sri Lankan” collective identity as native co-citizens of the island nation, a strategy shown by their pragmatic participation within the two Sinhala majority political parties (UNP and SLFP). Two major factors altered this pattern in the late twentieth century. The first was the polarising pressure of growing Sinhala and Tamil ethno-nationalisms, leading to a decisive Muslim break with the Tamil secessionist movements of the 1980s and 1990s and a historic distancing from Sinhala-centred politics-as-usual by the creation of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress party in 1981. Both developments can be traced to the impact of the LTTE guerrilla war for an independent Tamil Eelam, which further alienated the Muslims from the Tamils but also gave them a grievance against the Sinhala majority governments for failing to protect their lives and property in the north and east.

The second – and rather confounding – factor affecting the Sri Lankan Muslims in recent decades has been the religious and cultural influence of global Islamic movements and religious ideologies that have provoked contention and clashes within the Sri Lankan Muslim community itself. The shift toward stronger outward expressions of Muslim religious identity – things like the female hijab, beards, the Tablighi Jamaat missionary campaigns, the boom in new mosque construction – has made the Sri Lankan Muslims both more ‘visible’ and more ‘different’ in the eyes of the general public. Senior Sri Lankan historians have celebrated the Muslims for their ability to assimilate unobtrusively into Sinhalese society from late medieval and early colonial times up to the present day (de Silva 1986; Dewaraja 1994), but the current trend toward Middle Eastern styles of dress and architecture now draws greater attention to the Muslims as a conspicuous social ‘other’ in the public sphere.

The growth of popular Sufism over recent decades was the least anticipated result of pan-Islamic influences in Sri Lanka. While this Sufi renaissance represents an expansion and diversification of religious expression, the local religious conflicts that have arisen between heterodox Sufi groups and zealous orthodox Islamic reformers, especially in the Eastern Province town of Kattankudy, have given the Sri Lankan Muslim community practical reasons to be alarmed. A connection has even been alleged with shadowy Muslim militant groups defending against Tamil guerrilla attacks in the eastern region (International Crisis Group 2007). Whenever the media disseminate news items about “Islamic extremists” attacking Sufi mosques and shrines, there is a temptation to insert the concept of jihad (Islamic holy war) into the story. The portrayal of Sri Lankan Muslims as jihadi extremists could be publicly damaging to the community, and so the spate of religious violence is a source of obvious concern. In 2008 there was also some minor debate on Sri Lankan Muslim websites as to whether saluting the Sri Lankan flag (with its anthropomorphic representation of the lion) and singing the Sri Lankan national anthem (with its pledge to “worship” the motherland) could be interpreted as un-Islamic practices forbidden to observant Muslims. Again, because this sort of fringe theological debate could pose a threat to the island-wide image of Sri Lankan Muslims as loyal citizens, the issue quickly faded from Sri Lankan Muslim internet discussions. Some liberal Muslim pundits humourously compared it to fatwas issued in Cairo and Kuala Lumpur warning Muslims against enrolling in yoga classes.

Conclusion

The Sri Lankan Muslim community has long been caught between the forces of militant Tamil ethno-nationalism and state-sanctioned Sinhalese ethnic encroachment, but it has been careful not to respond with any alarming signs of Muslim ethno-nationalism or Islamist extremism. Today's fragmented and factionalised Muslim political establishment is testimony to how difficult it is to unite the dispersed Sri Lankan Muslims around a focused national Muslim agenda, and the recent spate of anti-Sufi militancy – encouraged (and reportedly funded) by external Islamic organisations in the global ummah– has further clouded the Muslim political horizon. Ironically, the devotional and ecumenical Sufi tradition is far more likely to elicit the sympathy of Hindu Tamils and Buddhist Sinhalese than the perceived puritanical rigidities of Muslim reformism. I am thinking, for example, of the Khidr mosque and Sufi tombs at the Hindu-Buddhist Kataragama pilgrimage centre in the southern jungles of the island, where popular Bawa faqir performances attract a mixed Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese audience.

The recent anti-Sufi violence has tarnished the public image of the Muslim community, and yet there appears to be little likelihood that these or other Sufi movements will disappear. Through a combination of civil rights litigation, electronic and website mobilisation, private financial support from wealthy devotees, and personal, charismatic leadership, the Sufis in Sri Lanka are determined to persevere against their fundamentalist opponents. This internal religious friction, responding to ideologies and interests in the global ummah, will further complicate matters as the Muslim community continues to face the external political threats of Sinhalese and Tamil ethno-nationalism, especially in the north-eastern region of the island.

Notes
1 The Sri Lankan Muslims form a somewhat larger share of the population than Muslims in other Theravada Buddhist nations: Myanmar (four per cent), Thailand (five per cent) and Cambodia (five per cent).

2 The word Eelam is an older Tamil name for the island of Sri Lanka.

3 The gesture of the sword in the lion's hand could be read either as a warning or as a salute to the Muslims and Tamils, but either way it proclaims Sinhala ethnic sovereignty. Admittedly, reversing the direction of the lion and directing its raised tail toward the minorities would create even greater problems.

4 It is important to keep in mind that not all Muslims vote for the SLMC. The party commands the greatest voter loyalty in the Eastern Province, where its founder, M. H. M. Ashroff, was based. In the western and southern regions of the island, the main Sinhalese parties (UNP and SLFP) frequently nominate Muslim candidates and attract Muslim voters.

5 The Sinhala Buddhist nationalists are also hostile to Christianity, but the fact that many high-status Sinhalese and Tamils converted for practical reasons during the colonial era makes their religion seem somewhat more home-grown.

6 Unlike in Pakistan and Bangladesh, where the Jamaat-i-Islami is an organised political party, in Sri Lanka it is engaged only in Islamic education and charitable works.

7 I am reliably informed that the current leader of the SLMC, a west-coast politician with family roots in Kandy and wealthy in-laws in Colombo, purchased several copies of my book about Tamil and Muslim culture on the east coast (McGilvray 2008), perhaps hoping that a grasp of local ethnography would be useful in a future election.

8 A Sri Lankan newspaper account of the Beruwala incident is available at the following website: http://sundaytimes.lk/090802/News/news_18.html.

References

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Courtesy: Nations and Nationalism ~ Journal of the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism

Sri Lankan Foreign Service: Beating the “Deer Skin” at Home?

By Bandu de Silva

It looks as if all Pundits have spoken their mind on the recent performance of the Foreign Service and there is nothing more left to be said. But as an old Foreign Service hand, now watching the claims and counter-claims by present generation of our Ambassadors over their respective achievements in Geneva, New York and elsewhere in sheer amusement, I get the impression that Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is being reduced by these few Pundits to a view that nothing mattered other than what happened in Geneva or New York. That is against what another vocal former Sri Lankan diplomat, K. Godage has been saying repeatedly that “our major foreign policy challenge is right here, just 30 miles across from our shores on the other side of the Palk Straits”

We see the problem right now. This week as I write two eminent Editors of the island’s two leading Daily newspapers have devoted their learned Editorials to the brewing problem over daily intrusion by Indian fishermen to Sri Lankan fishing grounds off Jaffna peninsula and its foreign policy implications. On the other hand, I find in the article published in The Island under the name of Foreign Minister G.L.Peiris, a somewhat different emphasis.

There is neither mention of Geneva or New York in the Minister’s article, but a concentration on bilateral situations, and in general global situations, the promotion of trade and investment, and in respect of the local scenario related to foreign policy issues, advances being made on the local situation in respect of detainees in IDP camps, and speedy implication of recommendations of the LLRC. These measures indubitably contribute to influence the international climate towards Sri Lanka. One may even consider the Foreign Minister’s article a subtle rejoinder to those who have tried to emphasise the Geneva/New York as the epi - centres where foreign policy issues are concentrated and the issues raised there.

The claims and counter claims over the role of Geneva and New York, and of the respective role each Ambassador played, are best left to be analysed by the future generations. That is what I would say as one trained in the [empirical] discipline of a historian, where we learnt that things should be allowed to lie till the actors are no longer on the scene. That is the time needed for a dispassionate assessments in a truly historical perspective. Against that background, what former Ambassador Sarala Fernando has said about Geneva situation at the time she left, and what Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka sid in countering it and the support lent by Prof.Rajiva Wijesinghe in favour of the latter’s contention are simply waste of time which is not going to help the brewing situation before the Sri Lankan government right now.

If they are relevant for the purpose of planning future strategy that is best done in private conclave than in public. This is an area where the Foreign Office /Government could make use of the experience of immediately retired diplomats as our neigbouring country, India, does but that sort of idea is never acceptable here. So there may be a point in the critique that the Foreign Office bureaucracy at a given time is closing its ranks and this could be seen as part of the problem which gives rise to open discussions like what we are seeing now.

One could not be blamed if one looked at these claims and counter claims simply as ego-boosting situations before the public; and in the case of those still holding office, a kind of acting as well before the powers that are, to demonstrate (should I say defend?) how important their personal role had been. In all these claims one cannot fail to recognise the ‘ego’ factor; or one might even say, ‘survivival ’ factor. The retired Ambassador cannot be accused of the latter unless she too is expecting some kind of reward. What seems to be highlighted in this debate then is the personal factor, and not the circumstances which brought about that. that might be an old way of looking at situations and persons like Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe seem to be on the side of the personal equation.

Speaking of reward for service rendered, that is a common thing today when it comes to diplomatic appointments, it is the military service, but not other consideration that seems to be of importance for selection. For any analyst in the diplomatic scene anywhere, that is a pointer to the importance attached to military service in this country today. That is what one saw under the dictatorial regime under Suharto in Indonesia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and under military regimes in Bangladesh, just to pick up a few examples in our own region.

The military officers are seen as the savior of the country in Sri Lanka now despite a former Army Commander being incrassated now for other reasons. But it was not so earlier. That points to the ascendancy of the role of the armed services in this country as I told an International Conference on Asian Studies held by the Royal Asiatic Society/ Open University of Sri Lanka in a paper presented last year. Armed services were once considered a despised profession even in the U.S. before men like General Abram and a few others brought the armed services to the top even above the civilians. The popular concept of the soldier In Sri Lanka in the popular ‘Kolam’ plays around my hometown and at Ambalangoda, a soldier, as I well remember, was presented by a ‘Kolam’ mask which looks despicable even to look at, was no different to that of the concept in the U.S. earlier, and later in the ‘Hunuvataye Kathawa’, a play adopted from the ‘Chalk Circle.”

The result in Sri Lanka today is to reward the officers with diplomatic appointments. That is also a twin recognition that diplomatic service, especially, the higher posts are seen as plum positions in public service – a service now lost its true significance and come to mean “Diplomatic [Reward] Service, ” and on the other hand, the rise of the officer class. “Why only, the ‘starch-uniformmed officer class’? Why not for the average soldier wearing muddied boots toiling in the mosquito-infested bunkers who did the actual fighting making the greater sacrifices? One may ask.

There is also no longer any evaluation if any civilians, either from the trained cadre of professional diplomats, or other competent persons in civilian life who are capable of meeting the obligations of the responsibilities attached to a diplomatic post. One can see the contrast in former State Secretary, Henry Kissinger’s statement about the career service. The consideration in Sri Lanka now is not the present or future requirements of the land but a recognition of what one did in the past in the battle field or in an air-conditioned operations room in Colmbo! Some of the candidates may be what in America they called ‘spit-shined and polished boots’ or ‘starched khakis; ’ or as General Collins called some of his Service colleagues ” Mother-fuckers” (quoted by Prof. Andrew V Bacevich in “New American Miltarism”). Some in Sri Lanka were even utter failures in the battle field as the former Army Commander General Gerry de Silva wrote in a learned paper which I quoted last year at the international Conference last year.

Today, one can be catapulted from a highly controversial role from the battle field giving lessons to troops how to direct mortar fire – this is no exaggeration, hundreds of the public were made privy to a Video film presented to a packed public audience sometime back by one of them - to the chamber of the UN Security Council or its basement consultation rooms or elsewhere! So, it is the battle field performance and even non-performance in some cases, which is the applied criteria for diplomatic rewards. And the country complains that the professional diplomats are not doing their job to defend the government!

The government may have a point in appointing all Service personnel as Ambassadors to world Capitals. They can answer the critics over any charges of war atrocities as they were the ones really familiar with situations in the battle field far better than the professional diplomats who are largely used to writing long reports and making good speeches. Not so always! There may be points one could learn from this other discipline, like my learning how to approach political reporting under a Major General I worked with . That was when I was the adviser to a Major General who was the head of the mission. being a senior middle range Foreign service officer nearing Counsellor rank at that time . He even demonstrated to me how to write political reports in military style!

He showed me that his Report was like a battle field plan: scouting, strategy planning, frontal attack, flank attack in support, withdrawal in face of stiff opposition. The last point, he said, was the most important. That was his defence if the Report was challenged in the Foreign office! He was not just a Sandhurst trained army officer but also a Barrister from one of the prestigious Inns in London. The gentleman was the Sri Lanka’s first Army Commander, Major General Anton Mutucoomaru, one of the finest gentlemen I ever met and a human being to the core. I even wondered if he could have ever engaged himself in active service in war/battle! But such men are very rare!

One must not forget the role of females also in promoting their respective husbands in military service to heads of mission posts. I remember once, one of these ladies seeing me wearing a pair of shoes with spit/spin polish, asked me what shoes they were and where I purchased them. The pair was about 20 years old even then, and is still giving me good service at 35 years. I told her they were ‘K’ shoes well known in the old days in the colony. The next thing I knew was the husband being appointed as head of mission to the country where ‘K’ shoes were manufactured!

Let us ask some more serious questions. What is the message we give to the world when we send out serving/ retired Generals and other Officers as heads of mission and other rankers where civilians may seem more appropriate? Isn’t the message that we are a country run by Generals, like former Suharto’s regime in Indonesia, or even Saddam Hussein’s in Iraq, though it is not actually so in Sri Lanka. But that provides grist to the mill of the Diaspora. They have the work cut out for them. They would ask, as a group of them posited against me on the Zurich television once, ”Look, who is representing the country? Doesn’t that prove our point? “ And that will go down far better than thousand of reams of government propaganda denying such a situation in the country - I mean the ascendancy of the armed services over the civilian administration.

The present situation of diplomatic appointments to many world Capitals is then enough to prove the point that we are a highly militarized country, not only with proof of a military budget far exceeding what the country can afford, but also with reported 60,000 soldiers breathing down the necks of Tamil citizens in the North as the TULF leader, Ananda Sagari, a moderate Tamil politician wrote this week. This is no plea that the country should not be prepared to meet its security concerns. I am strongly of the view that it cannot moderate its security arrangements right now.

Let’s move on! The task now is to handle the situation in Geneva during the coming days but our lieutenants (diplomats) are fighting among themselves to the amusement of the adversaries, even exposing the weaknesses on our side. To quote a phrase from the late President R. Premadasa which he often used in my hearing “ Mama me udu-gan bala oruva pedagena yanakota mage habal karayo eka eka habl walin gahagannawa.” (when I am rowing my boat up stream my oarsmen are fighting among themselves). How true! Sure! One would have expected some constraint on the part of the polemists!

Coming to Kalana Senaratne who wrote on the subject of Foreign Service’s role a few days back, his title killed my enthusiasm to read it. However, reading it on, I found it was not about the title but something different. It was a critique all round of the type I have engaged in here. He should have avoided the title and the concluding sentence. But I suppose he also wanted to join the bandwagon to bash the Foreign Service, which is a popular theme of the uninitiated as well as the Professorials.

In more recent times, only Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadiragamar recognized the importance of the professional Foreign Service and helped to build it up. After him it was ruined again vey recently. Later, under the former Minister one heard we were back in the Hamidian era when institutional mechanism that Prof. Rajiv Wijesinghe wrote about was thrown out of the window, and senior diplomats were seen quarrelling for ministerial favours as the media reported.

Way back, one reads in the then Indian High Commissioner, J.N.Dixit’s book, “Assignment Colombo” that he virtually avoided the Foreign Office and dealt directly with the President. At individual level, Mr Dixit wrote, he recognized only two officers in the Sri Lankan Foreign Office, namely, Secretary W.T. Jayasinghe, whom he called a correct Civil Servant, and Director of Asia, the late Jayanath Rajapaksa as a very capable officer. That is what Prof. Wijesinghe would have recognized as “individual out-put.” On the other hand, a very senior Indian Foreign Service officer who is still my family friend whom I had known from salad days, told me during one of his very important visits to Paris that his government did not trust the Foreign Minister Hamid! That was confidential to me but that was well known.

Now we learn that out of 39 months in office the recent former Minister was out of the country 36 times! One cannot complain if that brought results. From the point of statistics, I thought it was bad in the time of the first Foreign Minister A. C.S. Hamid who visited Paris alone where I was first Charge’ and later Ambassador at least once a month, for reasons I knew not as head of the mission! It was only on one occasion that a need arose for me to meet him and that was when I was Charge, when I arranged for him to meet the French Foreign Minister, Guirengo, a former French career officer, over garment quotas for Sri Lanka in the EEC (now E/U) and later invited him to dinner in my house. He was ever thankful for that and had been telling my friends about it for a long time.

One thing must be said in favour of Mr.Hamid. He did not trouble me expecting attendance from me or asking me to meet him at the airport which he knew could not be expected of me, perhaps, remembering that he sat at my feet as a younger M.P. to listen to my lecture series on China delivered to a group of close friends in the room of my friend Sirisena Cooray, who was later the Colombo Mayor and a Cabinet Minister. That was also, perhaps, my undoing later, the cause of a period of tumultuous relationship between us when he became Foreign Minister.

We have now a Foreign Minister in whom the country could place confidence because of his academic brilliance. But foreign policy making is not all that. The Minister has to be receptive and should have a strong motivated team to support him as Ranjan Wijeratne built up, and I knew of, during his short term and Lakshman Kadiragamar did later to a finesse, as acknowledged all round.

In 1983 after the July riots, the international situation was very bad for Sri Lanka. So was the bi-lateral situation with India which saw a near invasion of the island by India. As such, the country had to handle two problems at the same time. President J.R.Jayewardene looked for “his” senior professional diplomats at that stage. I myself was picked up from hibernation –one may even call it the “Gulag” after nearly three years in exile and sent to Paris and to cover Switzerland, Spain and the Vatican.

The narration of this unsavoury past events is only to show how we moved away even then from essential to parochial after a period of building up of a fine tuned institutional mechanism at the Foreign Office under Prime Minister Mrs. Bandaranaike. Mr. S. W.R.D. Bandaranaike did not live long enough though he himself wanted to build up a strong mechanism.

It is the need for a fine mechanism at the Foreign Office that Prof. Rajiv Wijesinghe has finally stressed in his article in defence of Dayan Jayatilleka’s role in Geneva? True! As it is who is responsible for emasculating this institution which under Prime Minister Mrs. Bandaranaike saw its performing best earning plaudits round the world? One may say that the situation changed after the 1980s and Sri Lanka’s foreign policy had to meet serious challenges arising from the LTTE insurgency and the way the government responded to it. The Diaspora was active then too but not to the extent it is today and the world opinion had not firmed up against Sri Lanka as it was later.

What are we doing today? Only paying lip service as Prof. Rajiv Wijesinghe has done in spotting the problem? Is that enough? Now one cannot blame the professional service because there is no such thing except in name and a set of demoralized officers hanging there. A few raw newcomers are pushed up as Ambassadors. I am not saying this from a point of superiority. It took me 30 years training/experience to rise to the position of being selected as an Ambassador and that to the important post in Paris with other concurrent accreditations. Today you reach that position in one thirds of that time or less when in the old days one did not even qualify to be a Senior First Secretary. Something must be wrong in the recruitment/ training policy that the Foreign Ministry now does not have the full capacity to send out mature career diplomats as heads of mission. Or else, either there must be a qualitative improvement today; or there were qualitative shortcomings in the old guard. One thing must be said.

Judging from the performance of some of the non-professional heads of mission sent out today, the foreign establishment has become cumbersome, costly, and inefficient. That is what I heard from Australian friends, mostly old journalists and professionals when I went their two years back and met many of them and Sri Lankans at a dinner offered to Sri Lankan cricketers. Many of the professional diplomats of ten year standing have proved to be far more effective in recent times than others.

The professional service cannot be blamed for the omissions and commissions every one speaks of. The issue must be addressed to non-professionals as well who constitute a wide segment of the Foreign Service at the head of mission level and other level.

Kalana Senaratne touched on important points. Palihakkara too did so when he said the governance and foreign policy are closely -, and I would say inseparably - twined. They are the policies of the government that diplomats are asked to defend. If the problems which are right here are not removed how could the diplomats defend them? This week, a news item highlighted that the Human Rights Commission had not been functioning for several years and new members are just been appointed when another round of diplomatic battle is about to be faced in Geneva. What more evidence was needed to give to the world that there was no human rights violations in the country when there was reluctance even to appoint the Commission? I recall Dr.Radhika Commaraswamy telling the President at the time of her departure to the UN to fill the post she was vacating without delay. But did it happen? My memory is blank on that. I shall not touch on other areas Kalana Senaratne has listed as this essay will become unwieldy.

I recall, when there were human rights violations in the 1980s when actually human rights awareness record was almost nil, I worked along with the Late Mr.H.W.Jayewardene, P.C., to set up the Human Rights Centre in Colombo to impart H/R education to the ranks of Police and Armed Services and a general awareness all round. We did not run away from responsibility. We worked with international organizations to obtain their support which was appreciated and willingly extended . That was part of the job assigned to me by Mr.Jayewardene. What are we doing today except beating the ‘deer skin’ (‘muva-hama’) at home (the Foreign Service) as the local adage goes? Surely, on the lines of Kalana Senaratne ’s article, we ought to engage in some soul searching without blaming everything to the Foreign Service.

There is another point in Kalana Senaratne’s article which deserves attention. That is over Prof. Wijesinghe’s remark that “… to ensure maximum impact [at the UNHRC in Geneva], they will need to involve Dayan [Jayatilleka] again in their deliberations, as well as their activities, though that should not be too difficult since he is now resident in Paris as our Ambassador.”

When I saw Dr.Dayan Jayatilleaka’s name being mentioned for the Paris post I had a hunch that he was being brought closer with a purpose. The bi-lateral scene that Paris itself may not a very attractive field for an articulate person like Dr.Jayatilleka except that UNESCO provides an international platform, albeit the intellectually inspiring environment around. That is provided that Dayan Jayatilleka succeeds in converting the French government as an ally to influence the E/U. and others.

UNESCO is another kettle of fish. With my nose trained to smell diplomatic rats I thought exactly in terms that Prof. Wijesinghe has spoken about a fitting role for Jayatilleka in Geneva while being in Paris. He could be drawn into the Sri Lankan team but the problem is he may not want to play second fiddle and would want to play his “provocative engagement.” I would hesitate to use the derogative term “megaphone diplomacy” one hears at times. As a former ‘trouble –shooter’ myself in that area, I can empathize with Dayan Jayatilleka’s choice of strategy but there are occasions when to use it and when not to. I remember the days of the Indian diplomat Krishna Menon who was one of India’s very forceful diplomats but one often heard the negative effects of his eloquence in international enclaves and in Western circles.

Kalana Senaratne hesitates to endorse Prof. Wijesinghe’s argument, because, as he pronounces, Ambassador Jayatilleka is not a ‘solution’ today. His point is that solutions need to come from Sri Lanka in the form of a significant improvement of human rights protection and the activities of the HR Commission, the passing of necessary legislation, the implementation of certain human rights action plans, etc. (issues on which Prof. Wijesinghe is better able to answer as he is working on those areas back home). None could disagree.

That is more important as he says, than involving a diplomat based elsewhere to do what other diplomats are supposed to do (unless of course a precedent has been set). This is also quite opposed to the practice followed in the Foreign Office when W.T.Jayasinghe, a very correct Civil Servant was in charge when he would not permit another Ambassador even to participate in a ceremonial occasion like the Tea Centenary celebrations held in London for which the then Minister of Plantations had extended an invitations. Such were the age-old Civil Service norms observed then. But those times are now over. I think team work is good when we are dealing with serious issues.

The significant point arising from Kalana Senaratne’s observation is that decisions on foreign policy matters and the manner of managing them should not depend on personal factors but should flow from a centrally managed policy mechanism. It was the lack of such a mechanism that Prof.Rajiv Wijesinghe was complaining about. While one can concede the absence of it, one should also ask the question how long the country is going to meet its foreign policy compulsions today based on the efficacy of selected individuals rather than evolving an institutional mechanism to guide policy. One recalls Shirley Amerasinghe’s contribution but no one talks about the support that the Legal Adviser Chris Pinto and the Foreign Service officer, the late Karen Breckenridge rendered. They were not men after the plaudits.

But if stories that outsiders are now running the foreign office is correct as the media is reporting, then God save this country!

'Cast a VOTE for a WOMAN' - Seeking Increased representation of women through upcoming local polls

By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

We will destroy the idiocy
Of denigrating womanhood!”
~ Mahakavi Subramaniya Bharathiyaar, (11 December 1882 ~11 September 1921), (Tamil Poet, Reformer and Freedom Fighter who supported the women and their rights)

"Vote for a Woman", a national campaign to get more women in politics, recently brought Women candidates of UPFA,UNP,TNA and Independent group gathered under one roof:

Sri Lanka’s current population is 21.3 million. The total population consists of 52% of women.

Women’s representation in elected political bodies in Sri Lanka is abysmally low. It is 5.8% in parliament, 4.1% in provincial Councils, and only 1.8% in Local Government. It is the lowest in South Asia. Sri Lanka is the only country in the region without a quota for women in Local Councils according to Women and Media Collective.

Nominations for women by the major political parties have remained almost stagnant in the last 50 years. Many women leaders at the community level are marginalized and overlooked, when it comes to nominations for elections.

Women’s organizations have used many strategies to increase representation in the last 10 to 15 years including through supporting independent women’s lists and advocacy for a legal quota for women.

“Major political parties must be made accountable to give more nominations to women, while at the same time public awareness has to be raised about the problem of under representation of women at local level. United National Party (UNP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) were the most responsive while the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress said that it was against the religion to have women in politics. But, we have got more than 6,000 signatures in a petition from the public from the Trincomalee District, supporting women entering into politics, and we even got a letter from the Islamic cleric attesting that women can enter politics to prove a point to the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.

It is noted that the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has put forward a significant number of women. It is a healthy move. During the last local elections 3% ~ 4% of women were nominated, and this year the percentage has increased to 12%, which is quite impressive, but there is a lot more work to be done.

Sri Lanka has very commendable human development indicators for women, which include high literacy rates and exceptional educational achievements. However, despite almost 70 years of female franchise and the election of the world’s first woman Prime Minister, the country lags far behind most of the developing world with regard to women’s representation in political institutions at local, provincial and national level. All of these women faced a lot of hardships in the nomination race and a large number of them were rejected, Therefore, we ask the women population of the country to cast at least one of their preferences for a woman” said Kumudini Samuel, Director of Women and Media Collective.

The political representation of women is strategically intended to: ~~

~ Improve good governance at the local level through the observance of selected Local Government bodies.

~ Promote interaction between local government members and community groups to improve governance at local level.

~ Increase representation of women in political institutions and decision making processes.

Women candidates from Badulla, Galle, Kurunegala, Moneragala and Trincomalee districts were brought under one roof by the Women and Media Collective to share their experience while running the race for nominations to contest in the upcoming local government polls in Sri Lanka.

“I have contested and won with the Tamil National Alliance last time. I have stepped out of my office and been on the street to monitor a concrete road being built. I was the first person to how the community that a woman can be out on the field and do better job. I was refused to be nominated this time due to male chauvinism!” shared Bhavani Krishnamoorthy from Trincomalee district.

The Women and Media Collective in partnership with the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Empowerment as well as six other national and local level women’s groups Sarvodaya Women's Movement (Galle), Uva Wellassa Farmer Women's Organisation (Monaragala), Viluthu (Trincomalee), Women's Development Centre (Badulla), Women's Resource Centre ( Kurunegala) seeks to increase the percentage of nominations and votes for women in the upcoming Local Government elections.

Women and Media Collective alongwith Women’s Development Centre ~ Badulla, Sarvodaya Women’s Movement ~ Galle, Women’s Resource Centre ~ Kurunegala, Uva Wellassa Farmer Women’s Organisation ~ Monaragala and Vizhuthu ~ Trincomalee prepared a list 0f 181 names of women from 5 districts and the list was given to the political parties.

It is noted that 72 women successfully got their nominations from this list. Approximately 195 local level party leaders from mainstream political parties in all five districts and 48 national level party leaders were met by the WMC to ensure that an equal amount of women are also in the decision making process in the country.

In 2006 local government elections, two women from Galle district, four women from Trincomalee district, two from Kurunegala district, one woman from Monaragala district and five women from Badulla district won the seats.

It remains as a challenge to get more women into politics

Banners for women contesting in the upcoming local government elections

A few women's organisations have been working since 1990s to get more women in politics

Women interested in active politics share their experience and views

Women’s organizations have been demanding for 30% quota for women at least at the local level

The race for women to get into politics is made tougher

~ passionParade ~ Email: dushi.pillai@gmail.com ~ twitter.com/dushiyanthini

February 24, 2011

Marriage, education and job prospects for female former rebels who fought with LTTE are bleak

by IRIN News

KILINOCHCHI, 23 February 2011 (IRIN) - Former female combatants in northern Sri Lanka face a tough time returning to civilian life, with fewer marriage, education and job prospects due to stigma, say aid workers and activists.

"Former female child soldiers are just not being perceived positively by society," said Thaya Thiagarajah, a senior official with the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India, noting how cultural and social barriers are the biggest barriers to their smooth reintegration.

IRINTC224.jpg

Widow of a former Tamil Tiger rebel fighter who is also a former combatant

Marriage prospects for female former rebels who fought with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are bleak, said Selvanayagam Selvantha, a local aid worker with the same church, located in the former conflict zone.

"Tamil society is very traditional. Parents do not want their sons to marry women ex-fighters," he added, noting how important marriage is to being accepted in the community.

Stigma will be the biggest hurdle in reintegrating female fighters, said women's rights activist Sunila Abeysekara, based in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo.

"Women cadres are seen as women who [value] marriage [less because they] took up arms," she added. As a result, most female ex-combatants are "struggling to find normalcy" due to the weight of such judgment and suspicion.

She estimated there were about 3,000 female former rebels, but could not say how many were single.

"LTTE [was] a violent organization; many in society had suffered because of LTTE. Now LTTE is not there, society is free to express themselves against people who have been linked with LTTE. This problem is common for both men and women [ex-fighters]," Abeysekara said.

But it is women who are criticized most harshly, she noted.

Tamil Tiger separatist rebels waged a decades-long war - declared over in May 2009 - that displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians in northern Sri Lanka.

Female ex-combatants face social stonewalling even at the earliest stages of their return to civilian life, according to Clive Jackniek, a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration senior programme manager with the International Organization for Migration.

"The biggest challenge I faced after returning home was the lack of employment, educational and future options to live a good life," said Jeya Kamalrajan, 18, who fought with the Tamil Tigers from 2007 to 2009.

"People do not want to hire me because they see me as a bad woman who joined the Tigers... I do not have a lot of plans - I want to live a decent life forgetting everything that happened in my past," she said.

Nalini*, 19, from Mullaitivu District, told IRIN she feared the Tamil Tiger "label" would be "stuck" with her for ever.

"I really want to move on - but I am not sure how to in this cultural setting because people distrust me for something I am not."

*Not her real name

February 23, 2011

Cremated LTTE chief's mother's ashes desecrated

by Krishan Francis
Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- The ashes of the mother of Sri Lanka's former rebel leader have been desecrated hours after her body was cremated, a relative said Wednesday.

Kanagalingam Sivajilingam said the incident took place Tuesday night, shortly after slain rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran's mother was cremated in his native village of Valvettithurai

Sivajilingam said relatives who visited the cremation site Wednesday to collect the ashes found them scattered and three dead dogs with bullet wounds lying nearby.

"This a barbaric act. I won't say who did it, but everybody knows who they are," Sivajilingam said.

Killing and dumping dogs, which are considered lowly and unclean, is an expression of contempt for the dead person.

Prabhakaran led the Tamil Tiger rebels during a quarter-century civil war that ended with their defeat and his death in May 2009. The rebels were seeking a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils, claiming discrimination from majority Sinhalese.

Prabhakaran's parents were not involved in politics but were arrested by the military days after the war ended.

After the death of Prabhakaran's father in detention last year, his mother Parvathi was released and spent her last year in hospitals under Sivajilingam's care.

The military, which has a large presence in the Tamil-majority north, has been accused of destroying monuments and rebel graves in an attempt to eliminate every trace of the rebels ~ courtesy: The Washington Post ~

Tractors donated by India for Sri Lanka's North diverted to South charges TNA

By Kelum Bandara

The government had transferred 200 tractors to two state institutions out of a total of 500 tractors donated by India for the use of war affected farmers in the North, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) charged in Parliament yesterday.

The Subject Minister denying the allegations said that the tractors were being used for the preparation of lands for coconut cultivations in these areas.

TNA National List MP M.A.Sumanthiran said that 100 tractors had been given to the Coconut Development Board and another 100 to the State Cashew Corporation.

Mr. Sumanthiran said that another 100 tractors had been arranged to be sent to the south without giving to farmers.

The government has given only 38 tractors to agricultural organizations in Jaffna and another 38 to some such organizations in Mullaitivu, he said. However, he did not detail what happened to the remaining 124 tractors.

The TNA MP asked why the government had done so to a donation made by a friendly neighour for the benefit of ordinary farmers in the North where around 10,000 tractors were destroyed due to the war. While thanking India for offering to build 50,000 housing units for the people in the North, he said that the project was yet to take off the ground despite the foundation stone being laid some time ago for the pilot project of constructing 1000 housing units, during the visit of Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.

He said that this was a pledge made more than a year ago.

"If they take such a long time to identify the first batch of 1000 beneficiaries, how long will they take to identify 50,000 beneficiaries? Is that 50,000 years?” he asked.

Coconut Development Minister Jagath Pushpakumara replied that the 100 tractors taken over by the Coconut Development Board were being used for the preparation of lands for coconut cultivations in these areas. “We release these tractors for farmers at a concessionary rate to be used in preparation of lands. We have taken numerous steps to improve coconut production in the North. We will improve the conditions at nurseries there. As the subject minister, I visited Palai, Atchchuveli and Karainagar to seek the possibility of reviving the coconut industry, he said. ~ courtesy: Daily Mirror ~

In Pictures & Video: UK Minister Alistair Burt in Colombo & Jaffna, announces contribution to relief efforts

Minister Alistair Burt, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minister for South Asia, arrived in Sri Lanka on 21 February, 2011 for an official two-day visit.

UKSLTP223.jpg

During his two-day visit to Sri Lanka, Minister Alistair Burt, FCO Minister for South Asia, announced that the UK will contribute a further £100,000 (approximately Rs.18 million) to flood relief efforts in the island.

Commenting on the announcement, the Minister said: "The recent flooding in Sri Lanka has caused great hardship to the communities affected, particularly those still recovering from conflict. I am pleased that the UK is able to offer financial assistance to help communities rebuild their livelihoods."

Earlier in the visit, the Minister announced a UK contribution of £3 million (approximately Rs.540 million) to demining work in Sri Lanka.

Alistair BurtForeign Office Minister, in conversation with pupils at the British Council, Colombo

At a demining site in Veemankamam

Minister Alistair Burt chats with Adam Jasinski, Sri Lanka Country Manager of UK demining agency, the HALO Trust, at a demining site in Veemankamam, Jaffna, during the Minister's visit to the Jaffna District.

Visiting a demining site

Minister Alistair Burt visited a demining site in Veemankamam, Jaffna, being cleared by the UK demining agency, the HALO Trust.

Visiting a demining site

The Minister is briefed before visting a demining site being cleared by the UK demining agency, the HALO Trust, in Veemankamam, Jaffna. Also in the picture is John Rankin, British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka.

A short briefing on demining work in Sri Lanka

Minister Burt and his team were given a briefing by Adam Jasinski, Country Manager for the HALO Trust before visiting a demining site in Tellipalai.

At the Tellipalai Divisional Secretariat

Minister Burt examines a model of the Jaffna district during his visit to the Tellipalai Divisional Secretariat. Also in the photo is British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, John Rankin.

Meeting resettled families in Viththakapuram, Tellipalai

The Minister met a resettled community at Viththakapuram, in Tellipalai, Jaffna.

Meeting a resettled community

The Minister met a resettled community at Viththakapuram, in Tellipalai, Jaffna.

Meeting resettled families in Tellipalai

Minister Alistair Burt met resettled families in the Tellipalai area in Jaffna.

Resettled families at Tellipalai

The Minister met a group of resettled families at Tellipalai, Jaffna.

Courtesy call on the Bishop of Jaffna

FCO Minister Alistair Burt and the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, John Rankin, called on the Bishop of Jaffna, Rt. Rev. Dr. Thomas Savundranayagam, during the Minister's visit to Jaffna.

Meeting the Bishop of Jaffna

Minister Alistair Burt met the Bishop of Jaffna, Rt. Rev. Dr. Thomas Savundranayagam, at the Bishop's House, during his visit to Jaffna.

Meeting with the Jaffna governor

FCO Minister Alistair Burt met the Jaffna Governor, Major Gen. G A Chandrasiri at the Jaffna Library.

Meeting the Jaffna Governor

Minister Burt met the Jaffna Governor, Major Gen. G A Chandrasiri during his visit to the Jaffna peninsula.

Launching the vernacular websites

Minister Burt launched the Sinhala and Tamil lanugage websites of the British High Commission in Colombo. Also in the photo is British High Commissioner to Colombo, John Rankin.

~ Pictures courtesy of: UK in Sri Lanka ~ British High Commission, Colombo, Sri Lanka ~

February 22, 2011

Indian intelligence is maintaining links with Rudrakumaran and Global Tamil Forum

by Upul Joseph Fernando

The Hindu’ newspaper of India recently reported that the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs has sent alert messages to Indian security officials that the LTTE cadres in Tamil Nadu are conspiring to carry out attacks targeting VVIPs during the Indian assembly election season, that is ,at the forthcoming Tamil Nadu State elections it is likely that the LTTE cadres are targeting Indian Prime Minister (PM) Manmohan Singh

n December 2010 too, ‘The Hindu’ newspaper stated that the LTTE cadres who are hidden in Tamil Nadu are making efforts to assassinate Manmohan Singh, the Indian P M. ‘The Hindu’ also reported in February 2011 that the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi is another assassination target of the LTTE. Yet , the Tamil Nadu Director General of Police, Letika Saran has denied LTTE presence in Tamil Nadu. He has dismissed as baseless the charges that the Tamil Tiger cadres can during Tamil Nadu State elections attack top political leaders. The Tamil Nadu opposition party however claims , as the popularity of Karuananidhi and his Congress Alliance are on the wane, they are using the media to publish reports in order to earn the sympathy of the Tamil Nadu voters while at the same time levelling accusations that Karunanidhi and his Congress Alliance helped Sri Lanka (SL) Govt. to destroy the Tamil Tigers.

In May 2009 , Karunanidhi won in Tamil Nadu at the Indian General elections by supporting the Tamil Tigers. It was Karunanidhi who launched protest demonstrations in Tamil Nadu against the SL Govt. Although he and his Congress Alliance did nothing to halt the war in SL, they nevertheless painted a different picture by portraying themselves to the Tamil Nadu people as having done their utmost towards stopping the war in SL.

During that election, at the inception, Jayalalitha was against the Tamil Tigers while Karunanidhi on the other hand was the first to commence protests and demonstrations in Tamil Nadu in support of the Tamil Tigers. Subsequently Jayalalitha changed her stance and became vehemently ‘pro Tamil Tiger’ even more than Karunanidhi.

But the Tamil Nadu people voted for Karunanidhi entertaining the belief that he was honestly attempting to stop the SL war . At the General elections , the candidates of Karunanidhi who contested under the Alliance jointly with the Congress who won more seats in Tamil Nadu. But now the cat is out of the bag ; the people have realized that Karunanidhi had led them up the garden path

The relationship of Karunanidhi and his daughter with the SL President Mahinda Rajapaksa have also come to light . Hence, it is not possible for Karunanidhi to revert to his pro Tamil Tiger stance any more. The only option now available to Karunanidhi and his Congress Alliance is to seek and win the sympathy of the Tamil people by using the media to make announcements that the Tamil Tigers are targeting him and his Congress Alliance members for attacks , whereby Jayalalitha and her Alliance will invariably be saddled with the incrimination that they are murderers for supporting the Tamil tigers.

The intelligence unit of India is maintaining links with the Tamil Tiger Diaspora leader Rudrakumaran, who is resident in America . Likewise the unit has contacts with the Global Tamil Forum which heads the Tamil Tiger Diaspora in Britain. The movements of the Tamil Diaspora leader Nediyawan who is in Norway are also monitored via the Norway intelligence unit. There were rumours afloat in the recent past that the Global Tamil Forum in Britain tried to approach Rahul Gandhi

At all events , it is learnt that the Indian intelligence unit has extracted an assurance from the Tamil Tiger Diaspora that no terrorist activity shall be resorted to within Tamil Nadu or India. Moreover , if the Tamil Tiger Diaspora engages in terrorist activities in India that will militate against the Diaspora for , that will mark the end of the Tamil Tiger Diaspora in Europe including America . These countries certainly will not allow the Tamil Tiger Diaspora to use them as a base to attack India. Rudrakumaran and the Tamil Tiger Diaspora may have notified the Indian intelligence unit that if they do indulge in terrorist activities , it will be the SL Govt. which can cash in on that and exploit it fully to its advantage.

No matter what , as at the Indian General elections in May 2009 when Prabhakaran was alive , so at the forthcoming State elections in May 2011 , the issue of the Tamils is going to play a vital and pivotal role. Not only the issue of the Indian fishermen but even the passing away of Prabhakaran’s mother will be used as trumps in the Tamil Nadu elections. While the Tamil Nadu opposition politicians are expressing their condolences on the occasion of the bereavement following the death of Prabhakaran’s mother, a member of Karunanidhi’s Alliance , Thirumavalavan , a party leader has stated , he will be going to SL to pay his last respects to the dead mother of Prabhakaran.

From all these developments, it is evident, like how Prabhakaran’s shadow was chasing the politicians of Tamil Nadu at all the Indian elections, now, his ghost is giving chase to them at the forthcoming State elections too.

~ courtesy: Daily Mirror ~

The Musical phenomenon called Victor Ratnayake

by Prof Carlo Fonseka

As someone with a long and close association with the University of Colombo, I am delighted to join Vice Chancellor Prof. Kshanika Hirimburegama, Prof. Samantha Herath and others to celebrate Victor Ratnayake, the greatly loved musician in the world of Sinhala music. My association with the University of Colombo has been principally through its Faculty of Medicine and such training as I have had was in the filed of medicine. Medicine is really applied biology

mp3 ~ Victor Ratnayake-Okkoma Rajawaru

So, even when I wish to celebrate a musician a biological perspective naturally emerges and trumps art. Accordingly, the biological function of music and the role that Victor plays in performing that function in our world of music will be the theme of this essay. Readers are bound to hear echoes of thoughts and feelings I have previously expressed on this theme. Repetition is unavoidable. So If you feel bored you have a simple remedy. Just read something else.

Victor’s ‘Sa’

Victor Ratnayake is inextricably linked with the all time musical extravaganza called ‘Sa’ which has been performed umpteen times. I was present at the dress rehearsal of ‘Sa’. On 20 July 1973 I enjoyed its maiden performance at the Lumbini Theatre from a front row seat. To celebrate its fiftieth performance, I wrote a eulogistic appreciation of the show. I attended its grand 1000th performance at the BMICH on the 22nd of September 1984, which was graced by the presence of the Head of State at that time. Thereafter I stopped counting. Heaven knows the numerical order of the show that Victor recently staged in Australia.

Its appeal seems to be everlasting. And so it should be. In truth, ‘Sa’ has proved to be the greatest single song-show in Sri Lanka’s recorded history. Those who listen to Sinhala music have loved ‘Sa’ and its creator. The question is why they have done so. For my part, I have special reason to love him. He happens to be the first professional musician of the first rank who graciously solicited, sang and recorded a composition of mine (words and melody) on the 4th of April 1972. The song which has been broadcast by our National Radio any number of times, laments my first unrequited adolescent love, exemplifying yet again the association between love and music.

Biological Evolution

Everybody knows that the theory of biological evolution is associated with the name of Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) His famous book popularly called The Origin of Species was published in 1859. It is part of the theory of evolution that there are 193 living species of monkeys and apes and one of them is Homo sapiens to which all of us – me, you and Victor himself – belong. Long before Charles Darwin scientifically demonstrated our animal origin William Shakespeare’s Hamlet characterized "the piece of work" called Man as the "paragon of animals". And Shakespeare expounded his theory in Twelfth Night that music is the "food of love". In 1871 Charles Darwin published a book titled The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. In this book he suggested that some of the features of any given animal have evolved to make it sexually attractive to members of the opposite sex of its species. The best known example of this biological phenomenon is, of course, the peacock’s tail.

According to Darwin, what its tail is to the peacock, the ability to sing is to humans. No one should doubt that good singing is sexy. The appeal of Elvis Presley was legendary during his lifetime. Young women wanted to be with him; young men wished to look like him. That Jimi Hendrix, the rock guitarist, had sex with hundreds of young female musical fans has been documented. The lead pop singer Robert Plant once said, "I was always on my way to love. Always". There is evidence of the sexual appeal of singing from other species too. Zoologists say that male birds and whales and gibbons also indulge in singing as part of their courtship, to which the female members of these species are responsive. Let me not belabor the point. One biological function of music definitely has to do with sex and reproduction. Another is concerned with binding groups of people together. Other things being equal it is reasonable to suppose that a tribe strongly bonded together by music will have the edge in the struggle for existence over less musical tribes.

Victor Ratnayake Phenomenon

Let us now see how these Darwinian biological insights apply to the prodigious musical phenomenon called Victor Ratnayake. Judged by the breadth, depth and sheer volume of creative musical output as a superlative singer, melody maker, composer and director of music, he is unsurpassed. Good-looking and well-spoken apart from being enormously gifted musically, Victor Ratnayake took the world of Sinhala music by storm when he appeared on the scene in 1966. ‘Pa way wala’ is the song that hooked me.

Biography

The third child of a little-known lower middle class family of 11 children from the sleepy town of Kadugannawa, the highest musical qualification Victor acquired is a diploma from the Government College of Music obtained in 1965. Given such a modest background and attributes, what made Victor tick? The answer is that he had the one thing that matters: the magic of his velvety voice. His pitch-perfect exquisitely phrased singing enchanted all who listened to Sinhala music then, and continues to do so now wherever in the world they live. I believe that had not his beautiful, fertile, devoted, life’s companion (the much lamented) Chitra Rathnalatha and Victor become inseparably bonded from early childhood and – in order to counter bridal parental objection to their union – hurriedly legalized the bond on the 1st of November 1966, Victor might well have spread the treasure of his sperm bank among hundreds of nubile female fans who treasured his singing.

Between 1968 and 1972 he and Chitra were busy building a nest of their own and nurturing four offspring, but considering the huge demand for his genes from nubile females, there was a gross mismatch between supply and demand. In the event, countless females who were seduced by the magic of his voice had to be satisfied with only a hair they stole from his luxuriant head! I have personally witnessed the attraction of Victor’s singing for human females. I doubt whether even the most gorgeous tail of any peacock, has ever had an appeal of comparable intensity for peahens!

Solidarity

As already noted, the other biological role of music is that of forging solidarity among members of a tribe. In regard to this role too, wittingly or unwittingly, Victor has made a significant contribution. As all those who have watched and enjoyed his ‘Sa’ know the show begins and ends with the favorite number ‘api okkoma rajawaru’. Its lyric was written by Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne. He composed it to mark Sri Lanka’s historic transition from an unbroken monarchical rule from the earliest times to the 22nd May 1972 when the country became a Republic. The song declares that we are all kings now. In other words, in Sri Lanka, we the people are sovereign. Speaking for myself, every time I hear Victor’s magisterial rendition of this song, I feel more bonded to the people of my motherland.

King Victor

It is true that politically we are now republican. But it seems to me that in the world of music we continue to be monarchical. (There appears to be among our people a natural tendency to regress to monarchy as evidenced by the unbelievable popularity of the recent song "Maharajaneni".) In 1993, I was invited to contribute an article to a volume produced to mark the first 30 years of Victor Ratnayake’s musical life. In the course of writing it, I consciously posed a provocative question: After Amaradeva, who? I answered it in no uncertain terms through the strategic device of citing a dream. In the dream, I saw the Kingdom of Sinhala Music where the undisputed monarch was King Amaradeva. The pretender to the throne was Victor Ratnayake.

I perceived various attributes the pretender had to acquire to qualify to be king. One by one he has acquired them all. In 2010, the University of the Visual and Performing Arts honoured his musical genius by conferring on him its highest academic accolade: a Doctorate of Literature. Now, 18 years after I saw the dream we can all see that Victor Ratnayake is no longer the pretender. Adorable King Amaradeva is gracefully fading away from the Kingdom. Victor Ratnayake undertakes his visit to the University of Colombo on the 24th of February 2011, as the Reigning Sovereign in the Kingdom of Sinhala Music. We love our King because we love his music. Long live the King Victor!

(Prof.Carlo Fonseka is Chairman, Arts Council of Sri Lanka)

February 21, 2011

Palitha Kohona could face court over Tamil Tigers deaths

by Dylan Welch

AN AUSTRALIAN citizen and senior Sri Lankan diplomat has been accused of complicity in the murders of three surrendering Tamil Tigers in an application to the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands.

The man, Palitha Kohona, was the international face of the Sri Lankan government's war with separatist militants, the Tamil Tigers, and played an important role in the surrender of Tamil Tiger soldiers following their defeat in May 2009.

But reports of mass killings and the extrajudicial killing of surrendering Tigers have since surfaced. Dr Kohona and the Sri Lankan government strongly deny the claims, and so far the international community has been reluctant to investigate them.

However, two international Tamil organisations have made a series of war crimes allegations to the International Criminal Court involving Dr Kohona and his role in the negotiated surrender of three Tamil Tigers who are believed to have been killed.

While Sri Lanka does not recognise the jurisdiction of the court, Dr Kohona's citizenship of Australia - a country which is a party to the court - means unlike other senior members of the Sri Lankan government, he can potentially be prosecuted.

That does not mean that a full investigation is likely, however, as only a very few of the requests for prosecutions each year are pursued by the court.

Dr Kohona became an Australian citizen in the 1980s while working in Canberra with the Foreign Affairs Department. He is now the Sri Lankan government's representative at the United Nations.

During the 2008-09 civil war which led to the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, Dr Kohona was secretary of the Sri Lankan foreign affairs ministry and played a role in negotiating the surrender of Tamil Tigers.

Among those who surrendered were three senior Tiger members, Mahindran Balasingham, Seeveratnam Pulidevan and a man known only as Ramesh.

On May 18, the day after the Tigers admitted defeat, the three men, along with at least a dozen others, negotiated a surrender with the Sri Lankan army. They waved a white flag when surrendering to show their intent.

Watched by hundreds of other Tamils, the group walked into an army-controlled area. Several minutes later shots and explosions were heard, witnesses said.

Balasingham and Pulidevan have not been seen since and Ramesh was seen at a hospital months later but subsequently disappeared. The Sri Lankan government has confirmed the death of two of the men.

The request, filed by the Swiss Council of Eelam Tamils and the US group Tamils Against Genocide, alleges Dr Kohona had been involved in the trio's surrender in the days before their death.

''On about May 17, 2009, in the evening or night, Palitha Kohona communicated … that the surrendering [Tamil Tigers] members would be safe if they surrendered with a white flag raised,'' the request claims.

A day later the three men surrendered. ''Some time after 8.15am [the trio] walked towards SLA lines with a white flag, along with 12-40 combatants and non-combatants … the SLA attacked by gunfire.''

A spokeswoman for the Home Affairs Minister, Brendan O'Connor, would not comment on the case except to say: ''Australia is a party to the Rome Statute and, as such, supports action by the court to prosecute crimes falling within its jurisdiction.''

Dr Kohona told the ABC yesterday the claims had no substance and were politically motivated. ~ Courtesy: Canberra Times ~

War crimes charges filed before International Criminal Court name Palitha Kohona and Vijay Nambiar

By Mathew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 21 -- Charges filed with the International Criminal Court concerning war crimes in Sri Lanka name not only that country's Permanent Representative to the UN Palitha Kohona, based on his joint Australian citizenship, but also UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's own chief of staff Vijay Nambiar.

The detailed filing, which Kohona refused to “dignify” to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, describes “a basis to question whether Vijay Nambiar was in fact an innocent neutral intermediary or in fact a co-perpetrator within the negotiation related community.”

The filing recites:

"NAMBIAR again through the United Nations-24 hour dispatch center in New York. NAMBIAR replied to COLVIN that MAHINDA RAJAPAKSE, GOTABAYA RAJAPAKSE, AND PALITHA KOHONA had assured NAMBIAR that the LTTE members would be safe in surrendering to the SLA and treated like “normal prisoners of war” if they “hoist[ed] a white flag high.”

When Inner City Press has asked Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky to describe Nambiar's role in the so called white flag killings in May 2009, Nesirky at first refused to answer, then referred to an interview Nambiar belatedly gave to Al Jazeera, the transcript of which Nesirky would not provide.

But Inner City Press arranged to view the entire footage, most of which never aired on Al Jazeera, and wrote a story based on it:

Mr. Nambiar's belated defense is that they may have been killed in crossfire or by the Tamil Tigers. He says he was given assurances of "normal" treatment by Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaka and Palitha Kohona -- to whom Mr. Nambiar continues to communicate on the very topic and composition of the group of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka. This is a total conflict of interest.

On May 24, Ban Ki-moon reacted "angrily" when Inner City Press asked about this and three ICG allegations, saying, "I totally reject all that kind of allegations." Video here, from Minute 38:07.

Two minutes later, in response to a second question from Inner City Press about the ICG report, Mr. Ban said, "I rejected it? I don't know I ever said I reject it." Video here, from Minute 40:07.

On May 25, Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky said that Ban was rejecting the allegation that went beyond the ICG report: the question about his chief of staff Vijay Nambiar. So Inner City Press asked:

Inner City Press: Philip Alston has said that a number of LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] leaders who were, came out to surrender after having spoken with Vijay Nambiar, the Chief of Staff, were in fact — he believes, Alston believes — summarily executed by the Sri Lankan Government. So the question is... what was Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar’s role in encouraging them to come out?

Spokesperson Nesirky: The Chef de Cabinet has talked about this publicly and made clear that this was, that he had no direct contact with the people who were being asked to surrender. He had no direct contact with them. He spoke to the Sri Lankan leaders and was conveying a message that was relayed to him not by someone from the Tamil community. I will be able to give you the exact ins and outs if you need it, but he has spoken publicly about it.
Inner City Press: I really try to cover it very closely. I’m not, I’m not…

Spokesperson: Yes, yes he has. He did so quite recently in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Thereafter, Nesirky declined to summarize what Nambiar had said, or to make Nambiar available for questions. He said, "Ask Al Jazeera." So Inner City Press did.

What follows is a transcription sent to Inner City Press on this point. We will have more on this.

UN's Ban and a pensive Nambiar, transcription now shown

Q: ...role you played in negotiations for the surrender of many of the Tamil leaders at the time. What was agreed?

Mr. Nambiar: As you know both in April and May of last year the UN had made strenuous efforts in order to try and see that the civilian population would be safeguarded from some of the difficulties, the tragedies of the conflict that was taking place. Now, when I went in May during my second visit, the extent to which I was involved in this was a telephone conversation, a telephone message I got from a Sunday Times correspondent through the UK Foreign Office and through the UN headquarters where I was asked to check with the Sri Lankan authorities regarding the possible protection could be given to two of the Tamil leaders... When I received this call, I said that I will make an effort and contact the government authorities, which I did, the same day that is I think it's the 17 and 18 of May. I went and I spoke to the foreign secretary at that time, Mr. Palitha Kohona, the defense secretary, and subsequently I spoke to the president also. So, I raise this question …the Sunday Times correspondent talked about their wanting to surrender…they may want to do it to a third party…afraid for their lives…so I raised this with them and suggested …the response from them was that they would be treated likes normal prisoners of war, if they raised the white flag they would be allowed to surrender. Now that is the extent to which I was involved.

Q: This is what President of Sri Lanka told you..

Nambiar: Yes…the president also in response to my statement, he said the same thing, as did the foreign secretary and the Defense Secretary.

Q: They specifically said they would treat them…

Nambiar They just made…they just responded in the manner, they would be treated like ordinary prisoners of war.

Q: Since you spoke to so many people and parties that were involved, why do you think things went wrong?

Nambiar: I might add that this is only one of the issues that I raised…discussing a whole…the question was that the what happened in the heat of the war I am not aware of, it was something which we had no first hand knowledge about…there have been discussions of this in the press and subsequently there have been some comments make by the Sri Lankan leaders also about whether or not they could have been killed in the crossfire, there was one person who also suggested they said perhaps he could have been killed by LTTE themselves who were not interested in their people surrendering..it could have been killed by the Sri Lankan forces, we are not in a position to make any assessment, certainly I am not.

Q: Also speculation …coordinated execution while trying to get rid of other remaining leaders of Tamil Tigers…

Nambiar: I am not in a position to comment on that, because I don’t have any independent knowledge.

Q: All these are possible…

Nambiar: I don’t have any information on that…

Q: Maybe then investigation is necessary?

Nambiar: This is of course not for me to mention, there has been calls for this kind of investigation and it's for the member states to decide.

There is more. For now it should be noted that a television interview is not an investigation. It is easy to say that they were "killed in the cross fire" or by the LTTE.

This is what an investigation is for -- also, to determine how Mr. Nambiar conveyed back the assurances he received from Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaka and Palitha Kohona -- to whom Mr. Ban continues to converse, as does Mr. Nambiar, on the very topic and composition of the group of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka.

Afterward, Kohona confronted Inner City Press on the walkway behind the UN and disputed Nambiar's account, leading to another story.

Now the stories are before the International Criminal Court. Kohona refuses now to “dignify” the stories. But what about UN high official Nambiar - what does he have to say? And what about Ban's panel on Sri Lanka, blocked from entering that country even after Ban praised Mahinda Rajapaksa's "flexibility"? ~ courtesy: Inner City Press ~

Thamilchelvan statue cannot affect relations with France says Sri Lankan envoy

by Easwaran Rutnam

While expressing dismay at a bust of former LTTE political head S.P Thamilchelvam being erected once again in France, the Sri Lankan government says the statue is too insignificant to the strong relations between Sri Lanka and France.

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of France and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO Dr Dayan Jayatilleka told News Now.lk that the re-erection of the statue of S.P Thamilchelvam in La Courneuve, France has been raised with the French Foreign Ministry.

However he noted that Sri Lanka is also well aware of the local laws in parts of France which gives the right for people to even put up statues like that of the slain LTTE political chief and so the government will not get into any form of confrontation with the French authorities over the issue.

He also said that some groups were attempting to use the statue to scuttle the relationship between France and Sri Lanka.

“While we continue to express dismay at the statue being erected we have no intention of allowing a bust of a terrorist to harm the relations between Sri Lanka and France,” Ambassador Jayatilleke told News Now.lk from Paris.

The statue, which is on a private property in France was erected late last year but was later removed to be modified before being put up once again. Government officials in Colombo however had claimed at the time that it was removed by French authorities owing to objections raised by Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile Ambassador Jayatilleke said that he was attempting to reach out, not just to the French government, but also to the civil society in France and explain to them the Sri Lankan perspective and the true intention of things like the statue of Thamilchelvam being put up.

(Courtesy: News Now.lk)

The fundamental problem is not secessionism or devolution but justice for all communities in the island

by Dr. Asoka Bandarage

At a closed-door workshop on Sri Lanka organized by the United States Institute for Peace and the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. in August 2009, a leading Sri Lankan Tamil activist and a moderate asserted that Diaspora agitation would stop immediately when ‘13th plus’ or Tamil regional autonomy was conceded. He failed to mention that from the inception the ‘father of Tamil separatism,’ S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, saw federalism as a stepping stone to secession. The motto of his gradualist approach was: ‘a little now, more later’.

With strong backing of western governments and India, local Tamil politicians are demanding a political settlement from the Sri Lankan government. LTTE proxy and largest Tamil political party in Sri Lanka, TNA, originally supported Tamil separatism. However, in early 2010 it dropped the demand for an independent state agreeing to accept regional self-rule instead. On December 12, 2010, the TNA entered into a joint initiative with the Tamil Parties Forum consisting of the majority of Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka to engage in talks with the Sri Lankan government to reach a political settlement. The TNA has also offered party membership to youth in an effort to broaden its mandate.

While the regional power India is not offering to broker talks and a political settlement, it has been highly active in calling for a political settlement based on devolution of power to Sri Lanka’s Northern and the Eastern Provinces.

On a recent visit to Sri Lanka, Indian Foreign Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna reiterated India’s commitment to ‘meaningful devolution’ to the Tamil majority areas. While in Jaffna, he is reported to have stated that devolution should be based on the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution. In addition, India has inaugurated an Indian consulate in Jaffna in the northern tip of Sri Lanka which is close to Tamil Nadu and where there is a large Tamil population and active support for Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka.

Not insignificantly, India has also inaugurated an Indian consulate in Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka which is a major site of investment of India’s rival, China.

Informal dialogue has already taken place between the Sri Lankan government and TNA representatives on political decentralization. Reportedly, a preliminary agreement has been made to give the Provinces ‘exclusive powers over land and fiscal powers including the power to receive foreign direct investment with provision for the Centre to request and use lands necessary for other national projects.’

Agreement is yet to be made on police powers and the unit of devolution, possibly a compromise on the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. In theory a change of the Sri Lankan constitution to decentralize authority from the center to the periphery appears to be a logical compromise to both the separate state and the unitary state associated with Tamil and Sinhala nationalism respectively. The ‘international community,’ the Indian government, Sri Lankan NGO peace groups and left-liberals (including some members of the current Sri Lankan government) who espouse this federalist position are considered moderates.

In the abstract, a change of the Sri Lankan constitution and the transformation of the state from a unitary to a federal governance structure does seem to be the way out of the impasse. However, sustainable peace building cannot be undertaken a priori simply in accordance with the interests of politicians, be they local or international. Policymaking must be based on the demographic and socio-economic situation on the ground. Even if ‘iron clad guarantees’ against eventual secession are introduced into a political agreement, a Kosovo type situation could be repeated in Sri Lanka. The fundamental problem, however, is not secessionism or devolution but justice for all communities in the island. To be just, a settlement whether it be the unitary state or separatism, outright secessionism or regional autonomy, must accord with social realities and needs of all groups rather than aspirations of elites.

Devolution: A Just Solution?

The preliminary agreement between the Sri Lankan government and the TNA is based on previously failed and rejected agreements, notably the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 and the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution. The 13th Amendment imposed by India was intended to resolve ‘Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem’ by devolving power to the Northern and Eastern Provinces identified as the ‘areas of historical habitation of the Sri Lankan Tamil speaking peoples.’ Instead of resolving problems, the Indo-Lanka Agreement and Indian intervention culminated in one of the bloodiest and most anarchic periods in the history of the island. It led to violent resistance by the Sinhala JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) in the south and the empowerment of the LTTE, one of several Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups originally funded and armed by India, as the ‘sole representative of Tamils’. What were the reasons for the unpopularity and the failure of the 13th Amendment? What are the basic demographic and socio-economic ground realities? Sri Lanka is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with a highly uneven population distribution. The population is highly concentrated in the south especially the Western Province while the Northern and Eastern Provinces remain relatively under-populated. The latter two Provinces constitute as much as one-third of the island and two-thirds of the coastline.

But, the percentage of the Sri Lankan Tamil population for whom self-rule is being anticipated has significantly decreased. The Sri Lankan Tamil population was about 12.6% of the island’s total population according to the Census of 1981 but The Economist estimated that in 2002 the Sri Lankan Tamils were only 8% of the total population, that is, the same percentage as the Muslims. These estimates may change following the Census to be conducted in 2011.

There is concern on the island over the possible allocation of a large and valuable area of land to a Provincial Council dominated by a tiny Sri Lankan Tamil political elite. This concern is compounded by the fact that the claimed northern and eastern regions are characterized by ethno-religious pluralism rather than exclusivity.

The Eastern Province is the home to Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslims, approximately one-third each. The Northern Province had a significant Muslim population and a smaller Sinhalese population who were driven out by the LTTE during the course of the war. On November 30, 1990, 75,000-100,000 Muslims were driven out of Jaffna overnight by the LTTE.

The majority of Tamils in Sri Lanka live in the southern areas outside the disputed 'Tamil Homeland.' This is particularly evident in the increasing pluralism of Colombo, the capital city which is now predominantly non-Sinhalese. There are more Sri Lankan Tamils in Toronto and in Colombo each than in Jaffna. The Sri Lankan Tamil community today is more a transnational and an island-wide minority rather than a regional minority. These facts as well as the strengthened patterns of multiculturalism and mutual co-existence in the south undermine the separatist argument that an exclusive Tamil northeastern region is required for Tamils to live in safety apart from the Sinhalese.

These issues of social justice, rather than assumed primordial hatred are behind the rejection of an autonomous Tamil dominated region by the Sinhala majority and the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka. Though predominantly Tamil speaking, Sri Lankan Muslims identify themselves as a distinct religiously defined ethnic group. Tamil separatism has not been embraced by the significant hill country Tamil people who have always sought Sri Lankan citizenship and integration rather than separation from the Sri Lankan polity. Segments of the Tamil population living in the south, especially the Colombo metropolitan region, may not want to take up residence in the north or the east in a separate political formation either.

A resuscitation of the controversial Thirteenth Amendment (as '13th plus' or other form) could encourage balkanization. It could revive calls for a separate Muslim administrative unit in the East, as happened during the 2002 Norwegian facilitated peace process which sought to establish LTTE control over the north and the east. The grant of exclusive regional power over land is likely to create a dual and unjust situation where property ownership and residency in the North and the East are restricted to ethnic Tamils but available to all in the rest of the island. Then, regional autonomy could lead to ethnic cleansing, population transfers, and new forms of conflict and violence as they have in other regions of the world where partition was externally imposed.

Towards Unity Amidst Diversity

The rise of Tamil minority grievances, ethnic violence, the armed separatist struggle and the large Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora are all commonly attributed to Sri Lanka's post-independence language, employment, and land settlement policies favouring the Sinhala majority.

During the British colonial period, Sri Lankan Tamils from the Jaffna Peninsula had disproportionate access to English language education, prestigious university science faculties and careers in the Civil Service and modern professions such as Medicine, Accountancy and Engineering. Despite being approximately 12% of the island's population, the Sri Lankan Tamils were treated as a 'majority community' by the British and given equal political representation (in the Legislative Council) with the Sinhalese who were nearly 70% of the population.

Many of the post-independence Sri Lankan state policies were put in place to redress those ethnic and class disparities established in the colonial era. Ethnically based political mobilization of the Sinhalese and the Tamils by their self-interested leaders led to the 'ethnic conflict' and the armed struggle and the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of poor youth from both communities.

Sri Lanka has long abolished discriminatory legislation. However, many more efforts beyond the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Committee appointed by the Sri Lankan government are called for to build trust among groups and a common vision and partnership to reconstruct the society. Political, economic and psychological needs of local people, Tamils as well as Muslim and Sinhalese, must take precedence over corporate and elite interests in the war devastated north and east.

The 13th Amendment introduced in 1987 made Tamil an official language in Sri Lanka but provision has to be made to enforce that regulation more widely. The Sri Lankan government recently introduced a policy of compulsory trilingual education in Sinhala, Tamil and English for all students. It is intended to facilitate communication between the different linguistic groups and to bridge the class divide between the English speaking elite and the rest of the population. For this policy to succeed, teachers need to be trained adequately and placed throughout the island. Language and education expansion have to be matched with greater access to employment for all communities in both the public and private sectors.

While the present government has a two-thirds majority in Parliament and President Mahinda Rajapaksa is immensely popular, greater efforts need to be made to improve transparency, accountability and the rule of law. Safeguarding democracy in the face of terrorisms is not an easy task as increasingly understood by western democracies themselves.

The recently passed controversial Constitutional Amendment removing term limits to the Executive Presidency needs also to be viewed in this context. The Sri Lankan government is beleaguered by a one- sided international human rights campaign which overlooks the suffering and devastation caused by one of the world's most ruthless terrorist organizations for over three decades. Sri Lanka's increasing reliance on China is partly a result of ostracism by the 'international community.'

Sustainable peacebuilding in Sri Lanka calls for a more balanced approach from the 'international community.' The task of reconciliation and peacebuilding, however, cannot be left entirely to the government or external actors. A comprehensive Plan of Action involving private, state and civil society is needed. Diasporas, women and youth need to engage across ethnic divides to develop initiatives for lasting peace and development of the country.

Given Sri Lanka's strategic location and the so-called 'Great Game' (between the East and West) emerging in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lankans need to be vigilant in protecting the island's resources and needs from external interests. India and China are both increasingly involved in much needed and welcomed economic and infrastructural development in Sri Lanka. However, Sri Lankans must not allow the island to become the theater for regional or global super power struggles in the future. More importantly, it is necessary to keep the ecological fragility and vulnerability of the island in mind: climate change, coastal erosion, tsunamis, etc. may be the ultimate victors over the land, not Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims or external actors.

(Dr.Asoka Bandarage is Affiliated Professor, Sociology and Public Policy at Georgetown University. This paper was originally written on the invitation of the South Asian Journal of the South Asian Free Media Association. It was declined for publication by the South Asian Journal. The extensive references and footnotes given in the original publication are not reproduced here).

Colombo 10th worst city in the world to live in

Colombo, Sri Lanka’s financial capital, is among the ten worst livable cities in the world, according to a recent survey carried out by the reputed The Economist Intelligence Unit.

EIUTC222.jpg

According to latest livability index compiled by The Economist, the worst city to live in the world is Harare, Zimbabwe, followed by Dhaka, Bangladesh, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, Lagos, Nigeria, Algiers, Algeria, Karachi, Pakistan, Douala, Cameroon, Tehran, Iran, Dakar, Senegal, and then, the best of the worst 10 cities on the index, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The following were the top 10 most livable cities as ranked by The Economist Intelligence Unit: 1. Vancouver, Canada, 2. Melbourne, Australia, 3. Vienna, Austria, 4. Toronto, Canada, 5. Calgary, Canada, 6. Helsinki, Finland, 7. Sydney, Australia, 8. Perth, Australia, 9. Adelaide, Australia and 10. Auckland, New Zealand.

The Economist Intelligence Unit survey ranks cities based on 30 factors such as healthcare, culture and environment, and education and personal safety.

In 2010, it was The Economic Intelligence Unit that said Sri Lanka was the 8th fastest growing economy in the world.

The Urban Development Authority of Sri Lanka is now directly under the Ministry of Defence and attempts are being made to clean up and beautify the city of Colombo and enforce traffic laws strictly. Authorities are also trying to contain a Dengue outbreak

February 20, 2011

Sri Lankan Foreign Service must put its own house in order before anything else

by Kalana Senaratne

We are in the USA, far away from Sri Lanka. Dr. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN (in New York), had this to say: “We have come to a point where we don’t need to be defensive. As a country we need to be proud, we need to reach out, we need to look outwards, and express ourselves in a confident manner…” Important words, expressed after Sri Lanka’s Independence Day celebrations.

We are in Sri Lanka, far away from the USA. Things do not seem to be easy, the message is of a different nature; a call to be defensive (or offensive? or both?). The Prime Minister had the following to say, in Parliament: that the government has been informed that plans are being made by certain LTTE sympathizers and other elements in the Tamil diaspora in Europe to raise ‘war-crimes’ allegations, again, at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva.

This, I believe, is not news to anyone. Such plans will be hatched, until those who are alleged pass away, that is to say, until one reaches a point where allegations (and investigations) are meaningless because the alleged are no more. There is then a need to wake up, to realize, that such allegations even if they are dropped by States, will be made by various organizations, for years, if not decades.

How then are the diplomats going to “reach out”, “look outwards” and still defend the country and its leaders, at the UNHRC or elsewhere? This question seems to cause a lot of concern, naturally. Member of Parliament Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha informs that the regular meetings in Geneva will commence soon. There is some hope, since Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe is back. He together with the current External Affairs Minister will be a “tremendous force”, says Prof. Wijesinha (see ‘The Usual Suspects Threaten the Galle Literary Festival’)

One question, however, is whether there is enough progress made especially in the human rights front. Much of the investigations which began years ago have not been completed. There are attacks directed at media institutions. The final report of the LLRC will be out only later, after it completes its sittings. Legislation stuck in Parliament (the Draft Witness and Victim Protection Bill, for instance) has not come out. There are disturbing reports coming from the Northern and Eastern parts of the country, about killings and disappearances. This is why I tend to think that the task at the UNHRC is not going to be an easy one. As raised in these columns before, and as Mr. HMGS Palihakkara (a former Foreign Secretary) put it more eloquently in his ‘Prof JE Jayasuriya Memorial Lecture’ recently: “governance and foreign policy are functionally linked. So are the attendant challenges … when you get your governance act together, getting your foreign policy act together will be less of a problem.”

In sharp contrast, there are others who seem to paint a ‘rosy’ picture of the situation in Sri Lanka, and furthermore, about diplomacy. Ms. Sarala Fernando, a former diplomat in ‘Fixing the Problem’ (Sri Lanka Guardian), argues that much work has been done in the areas of resettlement and demining (which may be true, especially as regards the issue of resettlement, as acknowledged even by the US Ambassador in Sri Lanka). But then she argues that there has been a statistical “decline” in the allegations of human rights violations (decline, as in a drop in the number of allegations?), that there are only a “few” cases of disappearances remaining (few, as in not too much? not too many?), and comes up with a fantastic suggestion: “Is it not time for all the good news to be collated and disseminated through a credible website? How else to combat the endless propaganda churned out by the diaspora?” And then comes this: “such a site should not be ‘propagandist’ but represent creative diplomacy, using your assets to ‘attract’ attention and sending out a positive message.”

Is it that easy? Will that kind of diplomacy (what can we call it, ‘dot com’ or ‘dot lk’ diplomacy?) work, given the kind of challenges confronting Sri Lanka’s human rights record? What will this website say about the W/V Protection draft legislation, for instance (‘stuck in parliament, thanks for visiting the website’)? What will it say about the killings and abductions of journalists which remain to be investigated successfully? In any case, does not the government have enough websites already which disseminate information about issues pertaining to resettlement, demining, etc.? And how can such a site, Ms. Fernando’s site, be creative, and not ‘propagandist’? ‘Creative diplomacy’: as in creative with different types and sizes of fonts, or with nice colours, shades and patterns? Or creative, perhaps, with numbers, figures and facts?

Why then this focus on ‘dot lk’ diplomacy, one may ask. It is because a case is being made for ‘quiet’ or ‘traditional’ diplomacy; which had to be made, given what Prof. Wijesinha had to say: “… to ensure maximum impact [at the UNHRC in Geneva], they will need to involve Dayan [Jayatilleka] again in their deliberations, as well as their activities, though that should not be too difficult since he is now resident in Paris as our Ambassador.”

Now, I hesitate to endorse Prof. Wijesinha’s argument, because Ambassador Jayatilleka is not a ‘solution’ today, in that solutions need to come from Sri Lanka in the form of a significant improvement of human rights protection and the activities of the HR Commission, the passing of necessary legislation, the implementation of certain human rights action plans, etc. (issues on which Prof. Wijesinha is better able to answer as he is working on those areas back home). And since Ambassador Jayatilleka is not in Geneva, one cannot and should not expect a diplomat based elsewhere to do what other diplomats are supposed to do (unless of course a precedent has been set, since one saw, in some video clips, Ambassador Kshenuka Seneviratne in London during President Rajapaksa’s ill-planned ‘Oxford trip’!)

But interestingly, it is not this line of critique that some former diplomats, or ‘professional’ diplomats, have adopted. The approach adopted, rather strangely, is to show that Ambassador Jayatilleka’s brand of diplomacy was responsible for the emergence of the Special Session and that the success Sri Lanka achieved during that Special Session is, in any case, of marginal or very little importance.

So determined is Ms. Fernando to prove so, that her determination transforms into an amateurish argument. She claims that the sympathy and goodwill gained due to the tsunami disaster was such that: “supported by quiet diplomacy, that goodwill extended over a period of years, such that when I left Geneva in early 2007, a Special Session on Sri Lanka would have been unthinkable.” That, sadly, is an unthinkable statement, a misreading of the kind of pressure exerted on certain States by elements of the diaspora, which, along with the accusations raised by other human rights organizations, made such a Special Session necessary and inevitable in the eyes of the Western powers. A Special Session would have been unthinkable if only the armed conflict had ended in 2007!

But more seriously, it turns out that she was, at the time of leaving Geneva, well aware of a “highly critical draft EU resolution on Sri Lanka on the HRC agenda from 2006”, as pointed out by her successor, Ambassador Jayatilleka (in ‘The Geneva Consensus: Setting the Record Straight’). Ms. Fernando has not yet responded adequately to this serious charge.

While the pros and cons of ‘quiet diplomacy’ and ‘megaphone diplomacy’ need to be examined in a separate column, what is unfortunate is this attempt made to belittle the success gained in Geneva. Unfortunately, even Mr. Palihakkara seems to be reluctant to accept this when he argues that the most formidable challenge Sri Lanka faced was not in Geneva but in New York, because it is only the UN Security Council that could (rightly) issue a legally binding directive, and that: “Since such a decree would be legally binding, it would be qualitatively different from other similar calls, including a resolution in the Human Rights Council in Geneva which can be only recommendatory in nature and thus not legally binding.”

Firstly, what is unfortunate here is the inability or unwillingness to appreciate the seriousness of what could have happened had the UNHRC passed a resolution calling for an international investigation.

Secondly (and this is the most startling point of all), this belittling of the success achieved in Geneva comes, not from LTTE-sympathizers or elements in the diaspora (because for them, the Geneva outcome was a serious and damning blow anyway). This success is being belittled by our own diplomats, who served the country, together, during that challenging period! This, to me, is the greatest tragedy of all. Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala, in his recent speech on the importance of civil society, quotes a passage from Judge CG Weeramantry’s book titled ‘A Call for National Reawakening’. Reading that, I was reminded of another passage contained in Judge Weeramantry’s book, wherein the author refers to one of Sri Lanka’s national weaknesses: ‘Envy at the success of others.’

This is what Judge Weeramantry wrote: “It seems to be almost a national trait that much envy is shown towards those who achieve a measure of success above one’s own. This has been the subject of many wry jokes such as the story of the pits in hell, allocated to different nationalities, each of which had guards placed above it to prevent unauthorized escapes. The Sri Lankan pit alone had no guards and when a visitor inquired why this was so he was told that for Sri Lanka it was not wanted, as the inmates themselves would pull down any one who was about to escape and improve his condition… So long as this national failing continues this will be a great impediment to the rise of Sri Lanka as a nation that will gain international recognition” (p. 19-20).

Now, let us ask ourselves the question: doesn’t that sum up quite neatly the tragedy of the Sri Lanka’s Foreign Service? Some think that ‘Geneva’ was more important than anything else; some others think it was ‘New York’; and there are those who think ‘Geneva’ could have been easily avoided. No wonder then that we have to spend millions on, or to put it less diplomatically, ‘go behind’, the Bell Pottingers to build an image! No wonder then that the LTTE sympathizers and such elements in the diaspora succeeded in their efforts overseas, for so long.

This paralysis is further aggravated by the fact that the problem is not only between the ‘professional diplomats’ and the ‘political appointees’, as some might try to show. As newspaper reports suggest, it is a problem that exists between ‘professional diplomats’ too. In such an overarching context, then, there is, of course, a need for politicians to get serious about issues of governance, including human rights protection etc. to make the task of the diplomat a less troublesome one. But then, one misses an important point here: the foreign or diplomatic service should, I believe, put its own house in order before anything else. Yes, we need a guard above our pit in hell.

February 19, 2011

Mother of LTTE leader passes away

The mother of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran died at a hospital in northern Sri Lanka Sunday, AFP reported quoting a family friend:

Vallipuram Parvathi, who was believed to be in her early 80s, was being treated at the Valvedditturai hospital following a stroke last year, said a Tamil politician close to the family, who did not want to be identified.

Prabhakaran's parents were captured by the military in the final stages of fighting between troops and Tamil Tigers in May 2009. Government forces killed Prabhakaran on May 18 and declared an end to the island's drawn-out separatist war which had been led by the Tigers.

Prabhakaran's father, T. Velupillai, died in military custody last year, after which Parvathi was released. ~ courtesy: AFP ~

Related: Published - Jan 8, 2010: Prabhakaran, Veluppillai and the father-son relationship ~ by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Mahinda is "The Universally renowned Lord of the Three Sinhala Lands"

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“…Hitler (was) a brilliant populist manipulator who insisted and probably believed that Providence has chosen him as Germany’s saviour… People were enthralled by the Nazis’ cunning transportation of politics into carefully staged pageantry, into flag-waving martial mass”. — Fritz Stern (The Leo Baeck Medal Acceptance Speech)

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President Mahinda Rajapaksa

He is President Mahinda Rajapaksa, ‘The Universally Renowned Lord of the Three-Sinhala Lands’ (Vishwa Keerthi Three-Sinhaladipathy). At least according to the official plaque erected by the state to commemorate the gifting of (another) Sri Maha Bodhi-sapling to India. Together, the event (marking the 2600th Buddha Jayanthi) and the plaque provide a revealing glimpse into the psyche of the President and his political project.

Logically, the focus of this very Buddhist ceremony should have been the South, with its Buddhist-majority. The sapling was brought to the ‘Temple Trees’ to receive Presidential-homage, but it was a non-event even in Colombo. The state-organised ceremonies were focused on Jaffna, a district with nary a Buddhist inhabitant. The Sapling was “brought to Jaffna in a magnificent motorcade with ceremonial escort by Security Forces and Police (…) The route from Palaly airport to Jaffna town and back to Dambakola Patuna had been decorated with Buddhist flags as a symbol of veneration. A vehicle which aired Seth Pirith chanting all the way followed the motorcade” (Cimic – 9.2.2011).

When military-might inundate Jaffna with Buddhist symbols and the state erects an official plaque celebrating the President as the ‘Universally Renowned Lord of the Three-Sinhala Lands,’ such acts, apart from demonstrating Rajapaksa-megalomania, tell the Tamils that they are nothing but guests in a Sinhala-country.

The last time a Buddha Jayanthi was celebrated in Sri Lanka was in 1956 – the 2500th death anniversary. That became the backdrop against which the ‘Sinhala Only’ was unleashed. The teachings of Gautama Buddha are neither tribalistic nor martial. Consequently Buddhism could have been a unifying factor in Sri Lanka. But its universalist potential was undermined by the artificial creation of a nexus between Sinhala and Buddhism, primarily via the Mahawamsa.

The anti-minority nature of the 19th Century Buddhist renaissance, under the tutelage of Anagarika Dharmapala, reinforced this ancient misappropriation. Distorted and enslaved by Sinhala supremacism, Buddhism lost the ability to appeal to Tamils or to create a Lankan Dr. Ambedkar. The correlation between the 1956 Buddha Jayanthi celebration and the ‘Sinhala Only’ ended whatever residual possibilities extant for Buddhism to break this suffocating Sinhala-grip and become a Lankan religion, and thereby, a force for inter-ethnic unity and understanding.

Had there been a significant segment of Buddhist Tamils, with a voice within the Sangha, Sri Lanka’s post-Independence history may have taken a less destructive path. But to be able to appeal to Tamils, Buddhism has to cease being the identity-badge of Sinhala supremacism and reclaim its universalist potential. Forcing Sinhala-Buddhism down Tamil throats, via the building of religious edifices and the holding of religious functions in the North (by the state/military) will merely exacerbate minority suspicions and resentments and add a religious dimension to the ethnic divide

Executive presidencies do not promote despotism in general; but executive presidencies, sans presidential term-limits, do. This key absence enormously enabled the proliferation of life-time presidents and political dynasties in the Arab world.

Hosni Mubarak promised to serve Egyptians “until the last breath in my lungs and the last beat of my heart” (The London Review of Books – 4.2.2011). He also promised to turn Egypt into a ‘Tiger on the Nile.’ To bridge the gap between this grandiose promise and a reality consisting of high growth rates (often around 7%) with higher inflation, inequality and unemployment, Mubarak turned to religion. “Under Mubarak, praying has become as popular as shopping or football and now serves a roughly similar function as a distraction from the insurmountable frustrations of Egyptian life” (ibid)

By removing Presidential term-limits, the Rajapaksas defeated the sole-remaining obstacle to their Dynastic project. The ill-effects of this noxious step will become evident as Rajapaksa’s third presidential-term moves towards Rajapaksa’s fourth presidential-term (and Namal Rajapaksa, in heir-apparent guise, looms ever larger). The resulting political discontent will be reinforced by economic disappointments.

Sri Lanka’s debt burden is set to double in just two years (from Rs. 90 billion in 2010 to Rs. 171 billion in 2012). It may triple or even quadruple in the next few years. For instance, if Sri Lanka’s bid for 2018 Commonwealth Games (for Hambantota) is successful, the construction bill alone may come to Rs. 500 billion. In a country of 25,332 square miles there is only so much land to be sold! And yet, the circuses for the greater glory of our ‘Universally Renowned Lord’ must continue. The outcome would be higher prices and lower living standards, plus a debt-trap requiring a punitive bailing out by the IMF.

That is why the Defence Expenditure will remain high, to save the Rajapaksas, someday, from the wrath of a disgusted populace. This is also why the Rajapaksas will resort increasingly to divide et impera, using race and religion to prevent economic hardships from eroding their Sinhala-base and a pluralist coalescing around an anti-Ruling Family banner. The result is a dual-strategy consisting of faux-patriotism for the Sinhalese (military parades and grand rhetoric, costly pageants and fear psychosis) and increased subjugation for the Tamils.

According to the Tamil media, the Army has launched a drive to photo-register Jaffna residents. Such discriminatory and alienating practices may have been excusable in the throes of war; but not post-war. New state-organised colonisation schemes too are in the offing; according to the Director General of the Mahaweli Authority: “There are about 100,000 families without land and steps will be taken to provide them with land in the Vavuniya and Polonnaruwa districts” (The Island – 8.2.2011).

President Rajapaksa’s historical model seems to be King Dutugemunu, who, in the Mahavamsa version, placed Buddhism at the service of his power-project. The President himself made an implicit comparison between himself and the premier Sinhala Hero-King in his Independence Day Speech (which, incidentally, made no reference to an ethnic problem or a political solution): “King Dutugemunu commenced his journey to unite this motherland with blessings from this sacred land of the deity of Kataragama….. It is with similar blessings that I, as the leader of a mature democratic nation, take on with responsibility and confidence, the task of this era."

Ravings of extremists can become decisive in setting national agendas, when they are adopted and exploited by politicians to capture or retain power. The Sinhala Only cry emanated not from the heartland but from the margins of polity; it would have stagnated there, had SWRD Bandaranaike not embraced it, in his power-hunger. The discourse emanating from the Sinhala-Buddhist supremacist camp against the backdrop of the latest Buddha Jayanthi (Anniversary of the Enlightenment) seems equally deadly.

For instance, at a meeting organised by the Joint Committee of Buddhist Organisations, Ven. Medagama Dhammanada Thera perorated, “Today religious terrorism has replaced LTTE terrorism…. Christian organisations were responsible for spreading disharmony among Sinhalas and Tamils” (Asian Tribune – 14.2.2010). Irrational to the point of insanity, indubitably, but is it more so than calling the President of a post-war Sri Lanka ‘The Lord of the Three-Sinhala Lands’ on an official plaque, in Jaffna?

Parliament, People’s sovereignty and the Military Mechanism of Court Martial

by Ranil Wickremesinghe -
Leader of the Opposition

The Parliament of Sri Lanka has never questioned the existence of the military mechanism of Court Martial under the current Constitution or any of the earlier Constitutions. This is because it is a mechanism necessary to enforce discipline in the armed forces. This is also the reason why the validity of a Court Martial has not been questioned in the recent case of Fonseka vs. Kitulegoda. Instead, the legal arguments have revolved around the nature of the power exercised by the Court Martial. But some of the judicial observations on the case have raised key issues in respect to Parliament and the exercise of the people’s sovereignty.

Firstly, there is the question as to whether the Army Act of 1949 should be read alongside Articles 1 and 3 of the Constitution (which vests the sovereignty of the country in the people) or whether it should be read without any reference to Articles 1 and 3. In other words, does the sovereignty of the people have any bearing on this Act? In particular, to what extent are the legislative powers of the people exercised by Parliament under Article 4 (a)?

The Sri Lankan state accepts the sovereignty of the country as being derived from the power of its people. It does not recognize any other sovereign authority. Prior to the Republican Constitution of 1972 the source of our sovereign authority was the King/Queen of England. The British Monarch was vested with sovereign power by the Treaty of Amiens of 1802, which made the maritime provinces of Ceylon a Crown Colony. The Kandyan Convention of 1815 transferred the powers of the Kandyan King to King George III and this was consolidated through the Declaration of British Sovereignty in 1818.

King George VI, by virtue of the powers that were vested in him, granted us the Ceylon (Constitution) Order in Council of 1946. Article 4 of the Order in Council re-affirmed the powers, authorities and functions vested in the King. Article 44 explicitly states the executive power of the island shall be exercised by the King. Therefore the Order in Council recognized the prerogative powers of the King. Under the Ceylon Independence Act and Ceylon (Independence) Order in Council 1947, the UK Parliament and the King gave up all powers to legislate on behalf of the Island and vested it in our Parliament.

At the 1970 General Elections the United Front requested a mandate from the people for the Members of Parliament to form a Constituent Assembly to enact a new Republican Constitution. Having won the Parliamentary Elections the Government, with the consent of the UNP and the Federal Party, summoned a Constituent Assembly which enacted the Republican Constitution of 1972.

The mandate of the Constituent Assembly was to draft, adopt and operate a new constitution to declare Ceylon to be a free, sovereign and independent Republic. This constitution was to become the fundamental law of this country superseding both the existing Constitution of 1946 (in the drafting of which the people of Sri Lanka had no role), and also all other laws that may conflict with the new Republican Constitution. Therefore the mandate of the first Republican Constitution was undoubtedly derived directly from the people of Sri Lanka. Unlike the earlier Constitution of 1946 it did not gain its power and authority from the British Crown and the UK Parliament.

Article 3 of the first Republican Constitution of 1972 declared that sovereignty was vested in the people and that it was inalienable. Article 13 proclaimed all powers, privileges, immunities and rights which were hitherto exercised by Elizabeth II - Queen of Ceylon was vested in the Republic of Sri Lanka and thereby became a part and parcel of people’s sovereignty. Thereafter the Republican Constitution went on to state that the exercise of sovereign power was determined by Article 4 and 5. The sovereign power of the Queen and the manner in which sovereignty was exercised under the 1946 Constitution had no legal validity thereafter.

In 1978 the Second Republican Constitution was enacted under Article 51 of the 1972 Constitution. Therefore the present Constitution draws its legality from the 1972 Constitution, which in turn, was brought into operation by the Constituent Assembly established through a people’s mandate. All laws which were in operation at the commencement of the 1972 Constitution were validated by Article 12 of the 1972 Constitution.

In 1949, the Army Act established the Sri Lanka Army while repealing the Ceylon Defence Force Ordinance of 1910. The Army Act was one of the laws validated by Article 16 of the 1972 Constitution. The Defence Force Ordinance had made provision for the British Army Act of 1881 to apply with regard to the discipline of the officers and soldiers of the Defence Force. In fact, the British Monarch since the time of King Edward I (1279) had exercised the prerogative powers of raising and disciplining the Army. This prerogative power of the King is central to the existence of the British Army.

It was only since the 17th century that the Parliament of England began to legislate vis-à-vis the Army; in this particular instance, with regard to mutiny and desertion. The British Army Act of 1881 incorporated the offences hitherto established by the exercise of the Sovereign’s prerogative power as well as existing statutory offences into one Act. When a prerogative power and a statutory offence exist side by side in a single Act then the prerogative power can be used only to further the aims of the statute. The UK Ministry of Justice’s 2009 Review of the Exercise of the Royal Prerogative Powers states the prerogative powers of the sovereign in respect to the Armed Forces are interwoven with the statutory powers and cannot be separated.

In 1966, in Gunaseela vs. Udugama, the validity of a Court Martial was challenged under the Army Act. The Supreme Court of Ceylon then held that Article 29 of the 1946 Constitution (which gave Parliament the power to make laws for peace, order and good government) was sufficiently wide for the relevant provisions of the British Army Act 1881 to be re-enacted in our Army Act of 1949. Thus Article 29 together with Article 4 of the 1946 Constitution recognized the prerogative powers of the Monarch thereby enabling Parliament to enact provisions similar to the British Army Act 1881

However, as noted earlier, once we became a Republic we ceased to recognize the prerogative powers of the British Monarch as a source of our law. Moreover, though the 1972 Constitution validated the Army Act of 1949, it invalidated the prerogative powers of the monarch as the sovereignty of the state was transferred to the people of the country. As a result, judicial observations can no longer apply the reasoning in Gunaseela’s case in respect of Article 29 of the 1946 Constitution in determining the legitimacy of a Court Martial. Consequently, the Courts must interpret the Army Act of 1949 with Article 4 of the present Constitution which states that “the legislative power of the people shall be exercised by Parliament, consisting of elected representatives of the People and by the People at a Referendum.”

I was a member of the second National State Assembly which enacted the Second Republican Constitution. It was not our intention to validate the prerogative powers of the Queen or for that matter to bring back any unwritten laws. Our intentions at the time were to make provision for executive power to be exercised by the President directly elected by the people; introduce a Referendum and judicial remedies for instances where executive action infringed on the fundamental rights of people among other infringements. It was never our intention to restrict the people’s sovereignty referred to in the first Republican Constitution in any way.

The concept of the sovereignty of the people was expanded by including the franchise and fundamental rights as part of its definition. This is why I said in Parliament that the judicial observations in the case of Fonseka vs. Kitulegoda are in conflict with the legislative powers of the people as exercised by Parliament because they do not recognize the exclusive sovereignty of the people. It is not possible for the people or Parliament to accept the concept of a divided sovereignty wherein a part of our laws derives its legality from the Constitution and another part of our laws flows from the prerogative powers of the Queen. If we were to do so then we would have alienated our sovereignty.

In fact, it is worth noting that the Army Act of 1881 has an abhorrent history in our country which is worth repeating in this article – especially since the judicial observations pertaining to Fonseka vs. Kitulegoda refers to the Edmund Hewawitharana case of 1915. This case gave legal sanction to the law which was responsible for the death of some of our freedom fighters against British colonialism. Edmund Hewavitarne was a member of the Ceylon Defence Force and the brother of Anagarika Dharmapala.

When the 1915 riots took place the British Governor, Robert Chalmers panicked and gave orders to arrest Sinhala Buddhist leaders in the country. Since Anagarika Dharmapala was not in the island they arrested his brother Edmund Hewavitarne and brought him before a Court Martial.

In his defence, Edmund Hewavitarne brought a writ application before the Supreme Court stating that at the time of arrest he had not been mobilized by the Army. The Supreme Court of Ceylon turned down the writ application on the grounds that the British Army Act of 1881 empowered such a Court Martial to be held. Edmund Hewawitharana was taken to Jaffna and incarcerated. He died in jail due to a lack of medical attention. Subsequently, Sir John Anderson, the new Governor, gave him a posthumous pardon to make amends for the injustice.

Henry Pedris too was court martialled under the same law and sentenced to death. Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan met Governor Robert Chalmers taking an offer from Henry Pedris’ father to give the colonial Government an amount of gold equal to Pedris’ weight if his life was spared. However, Pedris was executed. D S Senanayake who was also in prison during this time made it a point to repeal this repulsive Army Act of 1881 and replace it with the Army Act of 1949. Furthermore, the prerogative powers of the Monarch which were recognized in the British Army Act 1881 is today not a part of British law even in England having been in abeyance from 1955 and thereafter being repealed in 2010.

We cannot allow the people’s sovereignty to be disregarded or usurped. In the past, whenever the people’s sovereignty was at risk, the Parliament of this country always reasserted the power of the people. The Parliament of Sri Lanka today has a duty to the people of this country to ensure that our sovereignty is safeguarded.

Harmonizing our multi ethnic multi religious society without polarization is the way forward

by H.M.G.S.Palihakkara

I wish to thank the hosts of this event for asking me to speak in memory of Professor J. E. Jayasuriya. To state that Professor Jayasuriya was an icon in the realm of education in Sri Lanka would of course be saying the obvious. Many who paid tributes to Professor Jayasuriya now and then have spoken comprehensively about his seminal contributions to almost all facets of education in Sri Lanka be it in policy formulation, textbooks, curriculum development, research, and last but not the least, in the noble profession of teaching, including educating the educators.

I can hardly add to the eloquent testimonies to Professor Jayasuriya’s untiring professional work towards advancing education in Sri Lanka. However, those of us who have had the fortune of being taught by Professor Jayasuriya will, I hope, be forgiven when we pay particular homage to him for we have personally experienced his commitment and ability to contribute so much for so long, on so broad a front. He did so while remaining focused all the time on the fundamental tenet of his profession- the centrality of ‘teaching’ in the complex enterprise we call ‘Education’. For me personally, this was an experience that spanned my learning curve not only as a student of Prof Jayasuriya’s pioneering BEd venture at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya but also, perhaps more importantly, as a pupil in a small school in the rural South.

During a good part of my primary school life, my scores in arithmetic had been pretty consistent. My consistency however had been in scoring embarrassingly low marks as compared with other subjects in which I scored significantly high marks. As we moved into Grade 9 this track record was disturbed. Our arithmetic class was rather unexpectedly blessed with a rare combination, the combination of a great teacher and a great textbook. The text book that provided inspiration to the teacher was one written by a gentleman called J. E. Jayasuriya. It turned out to be, at least for a few of us in that class, a perfect prescription for our arithmetic allergies. The arithmetic class was no longer a torture session of painful number crunching and computing. It became a venue for a learning process of breaking down issues and working out solutions .That process helped us understand the components of a problem before trying to conceive solutions thereto. I ended up with a Distinction pass for Arithmetic, one of the two D passes that year if my memory serves me right, at our SSC examination in 1961. But more importantly perhaps at least some of us in that class were beginning to acquire the analytical skills needed to address real life issues later.

In retrospect, that textbook was the instrument that demonstrated to me it was possible to transform seemingly complex computing questions into seemingly simple problem solving formulae. It was this unique ability of Professor Jayasuriya to extract simplicity from complexity and his talent as a good communicator that enabled him to win the hearts and minds of many students. He did this with great skill and acceptance on a broad spectrum of subjects ranging from simple arithmetic in junior school to child psychology and personality building taught at the Peradeniya University, that hallowed institution many of us still recall with pride and nostalgia.

Apart from being a great educator Professor Jayasuriya was also a great human being. He addressed his students with a warm heart and a cool head. But he was frank in telling us the truth that at the university, one acquires knowledge and skills in order to be analytical in drawing conclusions, but one acquires wisdom only when these acquisitions are successfully applied to the challenges of real life situations, be it professional work or family duties. In that sense, Professor Jayasuriya was a ’no nonsense’ teacher. He emphasized that as a teacher he can help you to get knowledge and skills but acquisition of wisdom is your own business. In my stint as a public servant from1969 to 2009, I found this truism more applicable to diplomacy than in any of the other disciplines I had to dabble in. This brings me to our topic today.

In discussing the post-conflict foreign policy challenges, I would like to briefly touch upon the intra-conflict diplomatic issues that confronted Sri Lanka especially in the terminal phase of the military operation against the LTTE. This is a perspective necessary to facilitate a better appreciation of the post conflict diplomatic challenges facing Sri Lanka. Before I do that, let me confess that I use the term "conflict" lightly. I do so because precision about terminology referring to Sri Lanka’s problem is not easily achieved, i.e., whether we should call this situation an ethnic conflict; a terrorist problem; a communal issue; a civil war; a counter insurgency operation or even a humanitarian operation as it was described towards the latter part of the military campaign in 2009. Leaving this rather complex discussion aside, I thought we could be satisfied with the term "conflict" for the limited purpose of the topic I speak to, today. That term can denote conflict of ideas, conflict of perceptions, conflict of interests, conflict of prejudices or even the conflict of absurdities. Before I proceed further, let me add another caveat; I speak today not as an expert or an informed academic on foreign affairs. My perspective is that of a practitioner.

Little do we appreciate that Sri Lanka’s conflict (and even its genesis) has been a highly externalized process. This external dimension has manifested in different forms for over three decades now. And it has assumed new meaning and somewhat disturbing proportions in the post conflict period. Consequently, there has been intense external influence and intrusive scrutiny over the conflict as well as many attempts at its resolution. This external influence and scrutiny spilled over into the post conflict period as well.

What are the factors that contributed to this unique phenomenon?

The first contributor is a consistent pattern of leadership failures in Sri Lanka for which all successive Governments and all ‘democratic’ political parties since independence must bear responsibility. When domestic processes fail to find solutions to internal problems, external prescriptions become inevitable. You create space for external forces to advocate and even impose solutions for the latter’s political or strategic convenience, be it from a regional power or from extra regional powers.

A secondary contributing factor is a large and vocal expatriate community or Diaspora that remained very much focused on the Sri Lanka conflict from the outset. A significant and continuous outflow of people, both economic and asylum migrants from Sri Lanka since the 1983 communal violence, has led to the creation of a substantial Diaspora influence group especially in a number of countries in the Western hemisphere. They have in fact become a very influential and vociferous opinion-making body, even impacting on the electoral fortunes of politicians in their respective host countries.

Another development that has externalized the conflict was the so-called "peace process" in Sri Lanka – the failure of which since 2002 has eventually led to the military activity that culminated in the elimination of the LTTE. This process also brought in the involvement of Norway as the facilitator and a group of Western countries known as the co-chairs in an oversight role for the ‘peace process’. This external involvement in the Ceasefire Agreement brokered by Norway and the subsequent ups and downs of the peace talks with the Tigers entailed a great deal of foreign involvement in what were hitherto considered essentially internal affairs of Sri Lanka.

I had taken it for granted that all of us are aware of the well documented role of our friendly neighbor India in this context, until a friend pointed out to me that nothing should be taken for granted! India was indeed a major contributor in internationalizing the Sri Lanka situation and providing intrusive Indian military inputs thereto in the pre-1983 and the post-1983 periods. This good neighbourly influence and brotherly guidance will continue, it appears. It is likely to manifest in more sophisticated but perhaps non-military forms. It may continue not only bilaterally but also through multilateral means. This intrusiveness can grow in intensity and frequency especially if a consensual political process does not take root here to capitalize on the soldiers’ success over the LTTE to ensure a sustainable post conflict peace building process.

Another development that brought further external visibility to the conflict in Sri Lanka was an emerging trend among local political parties to enmesh foreign relations with the interests of parochial electoral politics, by canvassing domestic governance issues abroad, for the purpose of electoral strategy at home.

The unfortunate synergy of all these created many situations in which a negative image of Sri Lanka sharply contrasted against what the country stood for before; a model Third World democracy with egalitarian ethos and socio-economic achievements.

Consequently, when the Government of Sri Lanka began its military activity against the LTTE, after it became clear that the LTTE was not seriously interested in a negotiated solution, the Sri Lanka situation was already under intense international attention.

Last but not the least, one must also bear in mind that in a shrinking world where the forces of globalization and the power of IT are at play, no country remains an island anymore. No situation can remain isolated. For a variety of reasons a conflict anywhere, be it internal or inter-state, will be a matter for attention everywhere as evidenced by recent events in Egypt. Real time television, internet, remote sensing technologies, and robust armies of investigative journalists work synergistically to bring conflicts and humanitarian emergencies instantly to the drawing rooms of millions of homes all over the world. Unlike previously, no conflict can escape public attention anymore. The recent Wikileaks episode demonstrates the power of Internet for dissemination and even disruption. The highly classified state secrets can no longer be counted upon to remain secrets.

Impactful contributions from various social networking web sites have led to dramatic political upheavals in some Middle Eastern countries, signifying that States find it difficult to keep abreast of, let alone keep under control, what was hitherto known as matters of exclusive domestic jurisdiction. It has been said, (and the jury is still out on this issue) that the world has just witnessed the first ‘Face Book revolution’ in Egypt, a phenomenon basically driven from Cyberspace.

It was in such an evolving international back drop that the Sri Lanka security forces approached the terminal phase of its military operation. The LTTE had taken over 300,000 Tamil civilians as virtual hostages, and exploited these innocent victims as human shields, exposing them to the LTTE’s own fire and to the crossfire between the two sides. Given the humanitarian dangers entailed, the ensuing situation was considered by the key international players as one that is ripe for international ‘humanitarian’ intervention in order to bring the conflict to an end through negotiations. This was the prevailing Western (international) sentiment notwithstanding the precautionary humanitarian measures taken by the security forces and the exercise of maximum restraint to minimize civilian casualties and other collateral damage.

The LTTE resorted to the abhorrent practice of holding such a large number of civilians as hostage with blackmail-like intent - to exploit the notion of ’civilian protection’ for their cadres’ safety. They also threw untrained and underage cadres to the battle, employed suicide bombers mostly among the unsuspecting civilians who were crossing over to the government lines and in fact fired at those civilians who were trying to leave. In this scenario of imminent and massive blood-letting and in view of the LTTE’s blatant disregard of all the calls by national and international leaders and bodies like the United Nation Security Council to free this human shield, the LTTE remained intransigent in its refusal to let the people go. They had the cynical knowledge that the human shield was the only last resort security available to their top leaders. Many international figures cautioned of an imminent ‘blood bath’ on the beaches of Puthumathalan on the Eastern sea board. The LTTE and its Diaspora lobby further dramatized this to good effect by threatening ‘ a collective suicide’ on the Puthu-mathalan beach.

For a number of reasons, this was an unprecedented foreign policy challenge for Sri Lanka. Firstly, this was the first time the Sri Lanka situation figured at the UN Security Council. In fact this was the first time any issue pertaining to Sri Lanka’s internal affairs, especially its security and integrity, had come before the UN Security Council. The Council is the only organ of the UN which can issue a legally binding directive to halt a military operation in its tracks, like it did to Israel concerning its operation in Gaza around the same time. The concern for the Sri Lanka Government was that it would have left room for the LTTE leadership to find a way out to re-group, re-arm and resume their terrorist campaign for Eelam. There was therefore understandable apprehension that what happened in 1987 to stop the Vadamarachchi operation against the LTTE could happen again in 2009. While the former of course was bilateral pressure from our neighbour, a regional power, the latter would have been a multilateral decree from the big powers that constitute the UN Security Council. Since such a decree would be legally binding, it would be qualitatively different from other similar calls, including a resolution in the Human Rights Council in Geneva which can be only recommendatory in nature and thus not legally binding.

The challenge for Sri Lanka at that time was to prevent the UN Security Council from issuing such a decree and leave no room for an external enforcement operation to be initiated in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was able to successfully prevent this from happening by employing a multi-pronged strategy that harmonized military, humanitarian and diplomatic action. This multi-faceted approach ensured the provision of humanitarian support, assistance and protection to the people victimized by the LTTE on the one hand, and facilitated effective strategies of preventive diplomacy in Sri Lanka as well as at the UN Security Council in New York. There was no resolution or any other decree passed by the UN Security Council directing or constraining the Government’s action to bring the conflict to an end.

This was undoubtedly the most formidable multilateral diplomatic challenge that confronted Sri Lanka since her independence. Any mandatory external intervention under the fiat of the UN Security Council could potentially have resulted in adverse far reaching implications on the fundamentals of the Sri Lankan nation state, i.e.… its territorial integrity and sovereignty of its people.

Having successfully achieved the complicated diplomatic task of preventing intervention during the conflict, Sri Lanka seems to be confronted with more difficulties in handling the less complex diplomatic dimension of the post conflict peace building task. This dilemma is seen in even sharper relief in the context of the comprehensive and concerted effort undertaken by the Govt. in the fields of resettlement, rehabilitation, livelihood, infrastructure development etc

In my brief remarks today I would like to refer to a few areas where this challenge is clear and present, and make some observations thereon. I must hasten to add that this is not an exhaustive or complete list but a highly selective listing.

Challenge of reconciliation and accountability:

One of the key post-conflict issues that has been projected here and abroad, some say in a rather contrived manner, is the debate on accountability or the question of compliance with International Humanitarian Law (IHL) during the terminal phase of the military operation. The journalistic short-hand usually poses this complex question as the ‘war crimes’ issue. The Government has established a Commission on Reconciliation which is expected to address a broad range of issues that straddle the conflict and post-conflict period including the humanitarian issues relevant to the conduct of the war. However, certain lobby groups abroad, particularly the so-called Diaspora elements sympathetic towards the LTTE and their political constituencies in certain countries have sought to side-step or even undermine this larger domestic reconciliation effort - an effort that encompasses both reconciliation and humanitarian law aspects while the Diaspora–backed effort is focused only on the latter.

They have called for an international scrutiny on the magnitude of the humanitarian and human rights issues that were manifest in the last stages of the conflict, and the relevant accountability aspects. The pressure for such an inquiry has become greater, precisely because Sri Lanka was able, as I described earlier, to prevent action by the UN Security Council to halt the military operation and thereby provide room, wittingly or otherwise, for the LTTE to remain a key player in a possible negotiation attempt later. This is a challenge that needs to be handled in a careful and calibrated manner in which policies and institutions relevant to governance, the rule of law and diplomacy must work with each other rather than work at the expense of each other. On the one hand we need to safeguard Sri Lanka’s national interests, aspirations of its people of all communities and our image and reputation as a long standing democracy. On the other hand Sri Lanka needs to work with all countries especially with those who may disagree with us on certain issues, in order to project ourselves as a nation at peace and a venue for secure investment and good business during this post-conflict period.

We need therefore to preserve the independence of the local mechanisms created and to show to those who voice their concern on accountability issues, that the Government is serious about addressing them. Most importantly, the Government needs to show the victims of the conflict, be they victims of LTTE terrorism or of the military operations, that the Government is responsive to conflict related grievances as well as their root causes. It is in this manner that one can meet the current challenge thrown at us by those critics of Sri Lanka, rather than hurling abuses at our critics. Diplomacy is all about dealing with people with whom you disagree or agree to disagree. Diplomacy is therefore not a zero sum game of cultivating one or one set of friends at the expense of another.

Diplomacy is also about seeking common ground where none seems to exist. This is especially so when such common ground may eventually bring benefits to your nation not only in terms of investment and economic activity, but also in the form of its image and reputation as a civilized society – a society where peaceful dissent is seen as an enriching experience and an exciting democratic challenge and not an act of treachery or treason - a polity where equity and egalitarian ethos prevail in governance and society. Our sovereignty is best protected in this manner rather than sloganeering it to unreceptive audiences. The Government has done well by establishing an independent mechanism for reconciliation. It is important to show that the nation after emerging from an injurious and costly conflict, still retains the strength of character and the political will to introspect; look at its own track record and see if we had gone wrong somewhere and if we had, what remedial measures can we, as a civilized society, undertake and what course corrections should be made. This message is the one we can and should market in meeting this challenge rather than marketing a message of infallibility cast in a notion of sovereignty which is slowly but surely fading away.

Challenge of Sovereignty:

Let me say a few words on the important matter of sovereignty, again from a practitioner’s perspective. Defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity is fundamental to the foreign policy of any independent nation. It is the bounden duty of any diplomat to do so. Sri Lanka and her diplomats are no exception. This is because the notion of sovereignty is the bedrock on which the nation state system of the current world order lies. Since of late, there has been a resurgence of the sentiment of asserting the Sri Lankan sovereignty. This is justifiably so, considering the nearly three decades of terrorism inflicted by the LTTE upon the sovereignty and integrity of the nation in both diplomatic and territorial terms.

We have discussed the causes and effects of this in the preceding remarks. Our soldiers and the political leadership provided by our President enabled the country to free itself from this manifest threat to its sovereignty and integrity. The nation reasserted the jurisdiction of the elected Government throughout the island, thereby exercising the sovereignty vested in the people as per our constitution. However, can we safeguard our sovereignty so valiantly reestablished by our soldiers, simply by sloganeering it?

There are several aspects to ponder. Firstly, sovereignty is something that cannot merely be preached but must be exercised. Sovereignty carries with it duties towards own citizens. Where there is failure to discharge such duties, fertile ground is created for unwelcome intervention. It is a fundamental tenet of sovereignty that the Government and its security agencies must have the monopoly of the use of force within its jurisdiction and no other entity within or outside the country can be allowed to impair that authority thereby undermining the rule of law. When a Government is unable to or unwilling to exercise that authority for whatever reason, certain crimes go unpunished; certain offenders enjoy impunity and certain investigations waver. When that happens, the principle of asserting the monopoly of the use of force and upholding the rule of law will be undermined and correspondingly, the exercise of sovereignty will be impaired.

It is therefore imperative that illegal carriers of arms and irregular groups who undermine the rule of law and tarnish the good name of the legitimate security forces be brought to book, thereby consolidating the sovereignty rescued by the soldiers. A vigorous program of punishing offenders and upholding the rule of law is required for meeting this challenge.

Another consideration that needs to be borne in mind is, like everything else in the world of Einstein’s physics, sovereignty too is not absolute. Although in the post civil war era in Europe, the popular belief was that sovereignty was almost absolute and enshrined so in the’ Peace of Westphalia’ Treaty, that has not been matched in practice. Moreover, the forces of globalization and wonders of technology, especially the IT and connectivity explosion throughout the world have rendered sovereignty a porous concept.

We therefore have to understand that in the modern world our sovereignty can be safeguarded only to the extent that we learn to live with other nations in an inter-dependent way, not in an adversarial way. Sovereignty has thus become a truly relative notion.

Sri Lanka has signed international treaties and other agreements, each of which require us to share with other countries and multilateral institutions reports and rationale for some of our sovereign decisions. This certainly is not a subjugation of our sovereignty to anyone else. This is an act of exercising our sovereignty and expression of the strength of character of our system to be transparent, accountable and reasonable, first to ourselves and then to others.

Similarly, we as members of the same multi-lateral bodies which look into the reports of other member states, has equal rights to observe and comment on others’ reports which are also expressions of the sovereign rights of those countries. In the modern world therefore we have to use the notion of sovereignty as a tool for dignified engagement and not as a cover for unilateral isolation.

Sri Lanka has always been up front in presenting itself to the outside world and has had a diplomatic profile quite disproportionate to its geographic or demographic attributes and military or economic clout. As a resurgent nation brimming with hope following the elimination of a terrorist menace, we should therefore look forward to asserting our sovereignty amongst ourselves and exercises it with other nations. We can do so most effectively when we are at peace with ourselves and when we invest our military gains in sustainable political and socio-economic processes .Harmonizing our multi ethnic and multi religious society without pandering to elements of polarization is the way forward in this regard.

Projection of this wholesome approach as the articulation of our sovereignty is indeed a priority task for our foreign policy establishment. This is both doable and desirable.

Challenge of human Rights:

Sri Lanka also faces a diplomatic challenge concerning our human rights record. As to whether the kind of diplomatic pressures Sri Lanka is under on this score, is justifiable or not could indeed be the topic of an interesting discussion. However the fact remains that it has become almost ritualistic for certain countries to predetermine their bilateral dialogue with Sri Lanka, focusing on human rights. The media have reported on many such bilateral discussions where our interlocutors invariably refer to human rights concerns in the country and even suggest progress on human rights as conditions for dialogue and business in other areas e.g. commerce, security and even people to people contact.

Several considerations are relevant here. First of all, Sri Lanka need not be defensive on human rights. Human rights problems exist in all countries. Addressing human rights concerns is good in itself. There is no need or in fact no basis to suggest or consider human rights as a Western concept. They are very much a part of our constitutional obligations. And many of the core values embedded in the sutras preached by the Lord Buddha if put together, will constitute a great Bill of Rights predating and perhaps even surpassing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the genesis of the modern human rights regime. We have also freely and voluntarily subscribed to about two dozen international covenants on human rights. These accessions indeed represent the exercise of our sovereignty. It is our sovereign right to commit ourselves to such obligations. Therefore the best way to reverse an adversarial relationship on human rights is to remove human rights concerns from such bilateral agendas.

There are two ways of doing that; firstly, by empowering our domestic mechanisms to promote and facilitate the full and effective implementation of our constitutional obligations on human rights and ensuring that our system of administration of justice is enabled to judge independently and robustly. Secondly we can broaden our bilateral diplomatic discussions beyond a single issue agenda (of human rights) into other areas of common interest e.g. regional cooperation, environment, terrorism, human and arms trafficking, non-proliferation, economic cooperation etc.

If we continue to argue that human rights problems are not unique to us and therefore no one should talk about that, it is simply not prudent diplomacy. Whilst it may constitute a good political speech for local consumption, it may in the long run militate against our own interests, (especially business and economy) our own image building and in fact the longevity of the elected government.

Challenge of ‘Diaspora’:

The next challenge I would like to talk about is the so-called ‘Diaspora’. The phenomenon called the Diaspora has thrown up a number of issues at least as far as Sri Lanka’s foreign policy interests are concerned. One of them is terminological. The dictionary meaning of the word Diaspora is that it represents a people denied of a homeland, legitimate or otherwise. The highly diverse Sri Lankan expatriate community may not fit that description since that community consists of economic migrants, asylum seekers, those who have well founded as well as ill-founded fear of persecution and many more. However for reasons we discussed earlier the word Diaspora has become virtually synonymous with a vast array of external lobby groups, (both pro-LTTE and anti-LTTE as well as pro-Govt and anti- Govt.) focusing on Sri Lanka. We may therefore continue to use the word for the limited purpose of our discussion despite this ambiguity. I have already referred to Diaspora and its potential to do good or harm to Sri Lanka.

We know how the Diaspora came about since 1983, but we know little about how the Diaspora works. We know even less than little as to how the Diaspora can be handled. It was clearly demonstrated by recent events where certain Diaspora groups were able to embarrass Sri Lanka and her President. Equally important is that certain elements of the Diaspora who tried, but failed, to get the UN Security Council to pass a resolution ordering the Sri Lanka Government to stop the military operation have now resumed their campaign to put Sri Lanka in the dock as it were, in the post-conflict period. The recent incidents were only a preliminary manifestation of what could be a sustained and embarrassing campaign. Such a campaign, if successful, could deny to the country the vital economic and political support in terms of aid, FDI and other business opportunities that will be needed for Sri Lanka to invest the decisive military success it secured in a programme of sustainable prosperity for all its people. Certain Diaspora groups may still harbor the ambition of resurrecting a ‘shadow’ LTTE abroad when in fact the soldiers were able to eliminate the LTTE at home.

It will therefore be in Sri Lanka’s interest to engage the Diaspora in two ways:

- by engaging those elements in the Diaspora who do not want to see the re-emergence of the abhorrent ideology and the institutional framework of the LTTE and;

- by launching clearly visible and humanely responsive policies, programmes and projects to address the real concerns of the conflict victims’ communities, especially the minorities.

The desirable course of action for the Government is to undertake such things not as a response to any foreign pressures bilaterally or multilaterally, but as a response to the people’s grievances aired through domestic mechanisms. When local actions progressively become responsive and relevant to minority grievances, the hostile Diaspora will become gradually irrelevant and the constructive Diaspora will become progressively assertive. Thus the domestic reconciliation process will advance and external efforts at polarization again will fade away. The host Govts. will listen less to the Diaspora and more to the Govt. of Sri Lanka. The Diaspora’s adverse impact on Govt’s foreign policy endeavours will correspondingly diminish. The contrary seems to be happening now - a sharp contrast to what transpired during the time when this same Govt. was able to get an EU-wide consensus to ban a ‘peace-talking’ LTTE in Europe. It is in this manner that a preventive diplomacy strategy can be adopted to address and negate the concerns articulated by the Diaspora and their host countries.

Institutional Challenges:

It is perhaps appropriate for me to make a few remarks here on what I would describe as institutional challenges. And they have a relevance to handling the Diaspora as well. The Flagship institution of any Nation’s foreign policy structure is its Foreign Ministry. The career Foreign Service constitutes its crew. Our Foreign Office, now with its significantly improved title of MEA, is endowed with a good crew. Weather being so unpredictable these days, I do not want to call it an all-weather crew but having worked with them for some decades I do know that many of them are thorough professionals who can handle pretty rough weather. It would be useful for the Govt. to assess objectively if the crew capacity has been optimally used to tackle the growing inventory of foreign policy challenges as I am personally aware that many of these professionals have contributed to some significant foreign relations achievements for the country and for this Govt. led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

To cite a few; the massive post tsunami coordinating effort, including the GSTP facility (where the Foreign Service and the Commerce service worked hand in hand), the unprecedented airlift of our nationals from the war zone in Lebanon in 2006, almost 6,000 of them at virtually no cost to the Govt; annual diplomatic effort at the UN and European multilateral venues since the late 80s to deter intrusive Resolutions on Sri Lanka; successful preventive diplomacy effort at the UN Security Council without alienating any country to deter intervention in Sri Lanka during the anti-LTTE operation in 2009; a sustained and painstaking diplomatic effort to get a European consensus to list LTTE as a terror outfit despite counter lobbying by a powerful group of countries and a multi-million dollar Diaspora. This action was repeated in Canada where much of the credit should go to the active Sri Lankan community there. It was this same crew of third secretaries, first secretaries , counselors and ambassadors who were in and out of the Chanceries in Europe almost every day carrying a carefully worked out brief as to why their accreditation should impose a ban on an organization with whom the then Govt had concluded a flawed ceasefire agreement

The significance about the effort of these officers was that they did not put up bill boards on the road sides announcing victory and claiming credit the way some other newer model envoys did. Having got the LTTE ban quietly then they would go to work on the next objective quietly, the ban on TRO, restrictions on fund raising and so on. They do so because diplomatic effort by definition is discreet business; one cannot have a high decibel strategy and one cannot crow about victory. Crowing has two problems. You make your diplomatic counterpart on the losing side an enemy. You would also embarrass your diplomatic friend who supported you by clustering him into your camp as it were. So these professionals, as far as I know, do not crow. They work on the next project. But the Govt. must give them projects, give them inspiration, and give them incentives. . The Govt. must recognize them and not downsize their dignity. Professionals cannot and will not publish their success. Govt must do it. Sometimes there is nothing to publish because in certain instances in diplomacy the greatest success is the absence of something, eg. an adverse Resolution on Sri Lanka. You cannot advertise that as if it is a bridge or a road. It is also not a bright idea to advertise that absence or crow about it as you signal your adversaries to work harder next time.

Granted, like in all services all may not be well with the Sri Lanka Foreign Service. As in any group of humans, the statistical law of the normal curve would apply here as well. There may be the fringe of the normal curve - the miscreants in the woodwork. That is the irrelevant minority against whom disciplinary procedures must apply. Like in the normal curve there is the significant majority who are hard-nosed professionals who have our national interest at heart. Like me many of them have become public servants from the rural heartland of our country. I know that personally, having served with them during some critical periods in our national affairs. The Govt. will be well advised to use this knowledge and experience judiciously and not lose it unwisely. Such a policy will stand in good stead in meeting the challenges ahead.

Challenge of consensus:

A new challenge in the foreign policy area is the task of domestic consensus building on foreign policy. Following independence, Sri Lanka initially has had a good tradition of a broad based bipartisan approach to foreign relations. During the last 20 years or so however, especially since the 1983 communal violence, a pattern was emerging slowly but surely where foreign policy issues were being dragged into the parochial political discourse at home. The massive outflow of people from Sri Lanka following the July ‘83 events, the progressive externalization of the conflict and the Sri Lanka political parties tragically exploiting these national issues for short term electoral advantage have all contributed to the unraveling of this consensual approach to foreign policy issues.

It was no longer possible, therefore to decouple a highly externalized ethnic issue from an electorally politicized ethnic issue at home. As a result, we have seen the rather disturbing and I would even say a shameful practice of domestic politicians taking up a range of governance issues with foreign countries and foreign organizations as they were either unable or unwilling to agree, or agree to disagree, on those very same issues locally. The regrettable outcome of this practice is that successive Governments are obliged to deal with a host of domestic governance issues with bilateral and multilateral interlocutors as these very same issues are injected into such discussions by different local political parties. All political parties and all successive governments have contributed to this unfortunate situation.

It is so unfortunate that at one point, when the security forces were able to entrap the LTTE leadership into a small area of the No Fire Zone on the Mathalan coast and when the LTTE held 300,000 people as a human shield, a query arose as to why all democratic political parties in Sri Lanka did not see it fit to issue a unanimous joint call through the Parliament or through some other political forum calling on the LTTE to free these people and lay down arms. Sadly, even at that critical hour, once again our politicians failed abysmally to summon the necessary political will to reach such a consensus. As usual perhaps some did not want to give credit while others did not want to share credit. It was said that had there been such a unanimous call from the democratic establishment of Sri Lanka against what is perceived to be one of the most ruthless terror outfits in the world, the UN Security Council was ready to reiterate that unanimous call. Once again, as events unfolded this was not to be. It is therefore important that Sri Lanka’s political establishment gets back to the path of bipartisan foreign policy making of the past rather than allow vital foreign policy interests to be dissipated in parochial electoral politics.

As one can see, governance and foreign policy are functionally linked. So are the attendant challenges. When governance is in deficit, diplomacy cannot acquire merit all by itself. The converse is also true. Image building abroad cannot be significantly different from the Rule of Law image we create for ourselves at home.

Challenges for all of us:

In conclusion let me revert to Professor Jayasuriya again. He taught our BEd. psychology class the importance of ‘introspection’ for personality building at the level of the individual. ‘Introspection’ by all of us is just as important for post-conflict peace building and reconciliation. As the nation emerges from a costly and traumatic conflict, introspection at three levels will help move the reconciliation process forward.

At the apex level, the top leadership of all sides on the political and ethnic divide must reflect on as to why successive leaderships failed to build a culture of consensus on critical national issues. They must also introspect as to how they can bring about consensual democracy as against the currently prevalent culture of adversarial politics.

At the community level, civil society and its ‘organizations’ must reflect carefully on how to build bridges between national interests and their institutional interests without compromising their advocacy principles.

Thirdly at the level of the individual, the citizens can and must find ways to use their franchise to educate their political leaders on the need to make course corrections towards consensus building on national issues. All BEd. graduates would know that adult education can be a frustrating and costly enterprise. We have to assume that all politicians are adults. We must therefore educate those adults in order to save our children from another round of bloodletting. When you get your governance act together, getting your foreign policy act together will be less of a problem. It is the job of the foreign policy maker to sensitize those who govern, to this stark reality. This may be quite a challenge but one that must be taken up

(TEXT OF JE JAYASURIYA MEMORIAL LECTURE TITLED "POST-CONFLICT FOREIGN POLICY CHALLENGES FOR SRI LANKA)

The Extraordinary Contribution of Dayan Jayatilleke in Geneva

by Dr.Rajiva Wijesinha M.P.

The two sisters among the mourners, whose voices had till now lacked their usual intensity, rose and rent the air with their shrill cries, quite unconcerned about the fate of the Master of Ceremonies. The four mourners now worked in unison, their bodies swaying like reeds in the wind, and lamented in chorus:

‘The poor will miss you, oh, you charitable one!
Who is going to feed us on festival days?
Your grandson has come, wake up, my beloved!
Your grandson has come, wake up, my darling!’’ - From Alagu Subramaniam, ‘Professional Mourners’

Some years back, in compiling an Anthology of Sri Lankan short stories entitled ‘Bridging Connections’, I included a sharp satire by Alagu Subramaniam entitled ‘Professional Mourners’. Though the main subject of satire was the upper caste family which took ruthless advantage of the poor women who were paid to mourn at funerals, I was reminded of that chorus of women when I saw a recent piece by Sarala Fernando, described as ‘a retired diplomat…served as Ambassador in Geneva from 2004-2007’, which is supposed to be about what she describes as ‘the race that is being run between the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission in Sri Lanka and the Panel appointed by the UN Secretary General in New York.’

The lady asks whether the race will ‘climax at the next session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva at the end of February’. She is optimistic, in thinking that ‘there is a return to professional diplomacy in Geneva, with the amiable Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe also taking up again the human rights portfolio’. However, apart from generalizations which have appeared elsewhere too, the chief purpose of the article seems to be to draw attention to what she depicts as her own tremendous successes in Geneva.

This is of course nonsense, since the situation that faced Sri Lanka in 2007, when the lady left, was extremely dangerous. As her successor, Dayan Jayatilleka, has noted, a resolution had been brought before the Council in 2006, and not rejected but allowed to lie on the table. The British were confident enough to try to resurrect this in 2007 and it was only because of Dayan’s superb establishment of a coalition of countries that were committed to Human Rights but also aware of the threat presented to all of us by terrorism that that original European motion had to be dropped in 2007. He obtained full cooperation from a range of countries over the next couple of years, which led to the desperate effort of some European nations to condemn us through a Special Session failing miserably.

Ms Fernando however tries to insinuate that the Special Session was the fault of her successor, in claiming that, ‘when I left Geneva in early 2007, a Special Session on Sri Lanka would have been unthinkable’. This forgetfulness about the actual situation she left behind is compounded by her claim, with regard to disappearances, that ‘only a few cases now remain unresolved’.

This again is nonsense, because when I took over as Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, we found that there were over five thousand cases of disappearances still on the books. The mechanism to resolve these, which had brought down an even larger figure, seemed to have been abandoned in 2003, and over the next few years little had been done. We had therefore to put together a team which went through all previous commission reports so as to try to resolve the issue, and the Working Group commended us for the cooperation we had extended.

The ambassador may of course only have been talking about what happened before she got to Geneva, but this type of blanket claim, in the context of contrasting her own ‘professionalism’ with that of her successor, is misplaced, particularly when the facts are taken into consideration. Incidentally, I should note that I have found out, now that I have been asked to help Minister Samarasinghe again, that the process has not been taken further since the Ministry of Human Rights was closed down.

I should note that there is another area in which the legacy of the period before Ambassador Jayatilleka took over haunts us. I refer to Philip Alston, whose first report on Sri Lanka, issued in 2006, was fairly positive (I gathered because he had been briefed thoroughly by Kethesh Loganathan, then Deputy at the Peace Secretariat, whom the Tigers killed because he was so effective). I was surprised then that Alston was so hostile to Sri Lanka in 2007 and I asked him why. His answer was that our ambassador had gone at him like a bulldog, and he had thought he should reciprocate.

I thought that he was referring to Dayan, but it turned out that he was referring to Ms Fernando, in terms of her reaction to his report. In all fairness to the lady, it turned out that he had refused to give her an advanced copy, but she found that the report had been leaked to select European ambassadors, who had quoted negative sections from it in their interventions. Ms Fernando has evidently forgotten all that, and her righteous indignation at the time, had led to her bulldog act. Unfortunately, instead of the matter being followed up and the source of the leaks traced, the confrontation had led to continuing bulldog behavior from Alston.

I would not dream of describing what Ms Fernando said and did as unprofessional, because professionalism demands different responses to different situations. What I find astonishing is the present attempt to rewrite history, and refuse to recognize the extraordinary contribution of Dayan Jayatilleka in Geneva. Though one might have differences with him about political issues, to suggest he was the cause of problems in Geneva rather than the solution is just bizarre. And when it is combined by fulsome praise of Minister Samarasinghe, who would be the first to acknowledge the seminal role played by Dayan in keeping lines of communication open to all, one wonders what strange agenda is being pursued.

I should add that, in his response (carried last week in the Daily News), while dealing with the particular canard, Dayan has been unusually generous in claiming that what he achieved will remain ‘safely intact and indeed ably enhanced in the hands of the professionals in situ’. I am not so sanguine. I worry first about what an Indian journalist indicated to me, that whereas Dayan had sought and received cooperation from a host of countries, now they are simply asked for their votes. The report may be inaccurate, but if not, it suggests a lack of professionalism, and also simple awareness of how much we can learn from sympathetic but high principled countries such as India and Brazil.

I mention just these two countries deliberately, because I have also been worried about the failure to use our current Chairmanship of the G 15 group. When the position was offered to President Rajapaksa, there were those in the Foreign Ministry who were of the view that the countries in the group were not important. In all fairness to the former Foreign Minister, when I pointed out that the group included vitally important countries such as India and Brazil, he advised His Excellency to accept the position.

However, instead of the group being used for setting new agendas, it lies passive, and instead we continue simply to react to problems posed by others. The tremendous prestige we acquired in sympathetic countries for the manner we dealt with terrorists was not exploited, and instead we continued to pursue the same old gods. We should be doing more with SAARC, where we are uniquely trusted by both India and Pakistan (and I should note that, for me, one of the most heartening aspects of the Special Session was the superb cooperation of the Indian and Pakistani ambassadors in accompanying Dayan to negotiations).

We should be doing more with ASEAN, given the strong cultural connections, the need for more investment, and the similarities in economic and social aspirations. We certainly should be doing more in South America, where Tamara Kunanayagam laid such productive roots for us in her different stints there, and for which I hope she will be given the high level of support she deserves.

But I fear that, despite the excellence of many individuals in the Ministry of External Affairs, the study and continuing consultation that are required to establish and develop a productive foreign policy are not happening. When I became Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management, I found that its various branches functioned with little knowledge of what others were doing, and I set up a system of regular weekly meetings, with focus on three separate areas. This certainly helped my staff, and I believe such coordination and an opportunity to exchange ideas is essential in any unit that aims to act coherently. Nothing of the sort however seems to take place in the Ministry of External Affairs. The professionals do not, except as individuals, contribute to policy in the manner one would expect.

But perhaps my expectations are misplaced. Unfortunately there seems to be no institutional memory in the place, understandably perhaps given the radical changes in perspective it underwent, having been led in turn by Tyronne Fernando, Lakshman Kadirgamar, Anura Bandaranaike, Mangala Samaraweera and Rohitha Bogollagama. We now have a Minister who comes closest to Lakshman Kadirgamar of all these, and much can be expected. But with no institutional mechanism to ensure continuity even with regard to the vital issue of Human Rights, I suspect that we will continue simply to react to problems instead of setting a suitable agenda ourselves.

Movement restricted 5,000 suspected ex-combatants in internment camps and no time set for their release - UN

Excerpts from Vocie Of America News

UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka, Neil Buhne says the impact of the floods upon people who were caught up in the later stages of the long-running civil war between the government and Tamil Tigers is particularly harsh.

He says about 300,000 people were displaced by the fighting in early 2009. Most were interned in government-controlled camps. He says people began returning home in October 2009 to areas, which now are reeling from the floods.

"Right now, there are about 18,000 people still in camps from that original 300,000. But, everybody else has returned. But, the areas they have returned to were devastated by the war. Almost all the houses were destroyed and most of the infrastructure. There is a huge amount of work done over the last year to help them to return and to help them start to rebuild their life, whether it is in terms of their house, rebuilding schools, rebuilding government structures, rebuilding livelihoods and most importantly rebuilding communities," Buhne said.

UN Coordinator Buhne says many areas are still heavily infested with landmines and this is why the 18,000 Tamils are remaining in the camp. He says they are not interned and they can move around freely. He says they will leave once their home areas have been cleared of mines.

On the other hand, he notes some 5,000 suspected ex-combatants are being held in internment camps. He says their movements are restricted and no time has been set for their release.

February 18, 2011

Sri Lankan farmers need urgent help after losing rice harvest to floods – UN official

UN News Centre

18 February 2011 Sri Lanka may have lost up to 40 per cent of the national rice harvest to the two waves of floods that ravaged the country in December and January, and inhabitants of the affected areas will need continued humanitarian support until they recover from the destruction, a United Nations official said today.

“A lot of farmers in these areas are people who were living on the edge – had borrowed money hoping for a good harvest crop [and] will now have no income,” Neil Buhne, the outgoing UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sri Lanka, told reporters in Geneva.

“We are very concerned about the impact this will have,” said Mr. Buhne, explaining that farmers in Batticaloa district in the Eastern Province had lost their entire rice crop to the floods just as they were getting ready to start harvesting. Residents of Trincomalee district in the same province lost an estimated 40 per cent of their rice harvest, he added.

The floods also destroyed much of the infrastructure in the affected areas, with many of the water wells contaminated by floodwater, according to Mr. Buhne.

“There is very serious damage to the physical infrastructure. The irrigation system might not be able to work for quite some time in many areas,” he said.

The UN and its humanitarian partners appealed for $51 million to provide humanitarian assistance to an estimated one million people affected by the first wave of the floods, caused by torrential rainfall in December. The second wave of flooding hit the country in January exacerbating the damage wrought by the previous deluge.

That appeal is currently 24 per cent funded, having received $12 million. Mr. Buhne said that the appeal will be revised at the end of this month, taking into account the humanitarian needs of those affected by the second wave of floods.

Mr. Buhne also presented to donor representatives in Geneva a document prepared by the Government of Sri Lanka, the UN and non-governmental organizations, outlining the humanitarian, early recovery and development requirements of northern Sri Lanka residents who were affected by nearly three decades of civil war that ended in 2009.

The document shows that some $280 million will be required for post-conflict humanitarian and reconstruction projects.

The majority of the 300,000 who were displaced and forced into camps during the conflict have returned to their villages of origin, with only 18,000 people still living in shelters for internally displaced persons. Returnees have, however, gone back to areas devastated by the war and in great need of reconstruction, Mr. Buhne said.

50th Anniversary of 1961 Tamil "Satyagraha" campaign

By D.B.S. JEYARAJ

Thus the violence of the oppressor silenced the non-violence of the oppressed; the armed might of Sinhala chauvinism crushed the ahimsa of the Tamils. This historical event marked the beginning of a political experience that was crucial to the Tamil national struggle, an experience that taught the Tamils that the moral power of non-violence could not consume the military power of a violent oppressor whose racial hatred transcends all ethical norms of humanness and civilized behaviour.

SJVDBS218.jpg

To the oppressor this event encouraged the view that military terrorism is the only answer to the Tamil demand and that the non-violent foundation of the Tamil political agitation is a weak and impotent structure against the barrel of the gun.” - Anton Balasingham in LTTE booklet “Liberation Tigers and Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle”

February 20th 1961 is a very important date in the history of the Sri Lankan Tamil political struggle to regain lost rights. [click here to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

Signing of India power generation project in Sri Lanka hits hurdle

by Sanjay Dutta

NEW DELHI: The Sri Lanka Attorney General's office has raised 70 queries on basic issues at the nick of time, which has delayed signing of a deal for India's first overseas power generation project that has been in the works since 2006.

After years of negotiations, state-run National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Ceylon Electricity Board agreed on the nitty-gritties for setting up a 500 mw coal-fired power plant at Sampur in Sri Lanka's Trincomalee area as an equal joint venture. The NTPC board approved the agreement in July last year.

Sources said the CEB board too cleared the deal around the same time but did not officially communicate it to the Indian power generation major since it was yet to get the A-G's concurrence. Government sources said the A-G's office took four months —after CEB submitted the agreement for concurrence —to raise questions.

The queries pertain to such basic issues as Lanka government's budgetary support to CEB's equity, process of invoking government's guarantee, laws governing the joint venture and place of arbitration. "These are very fundamental to the understandings reached among NTPC, CEB and the Lanka government over the last two years and should not be reopened," one official said.

Not surprising then that the project's slow progress has drawn the attention of the Prime Minister's Office. The project has been billed as a major milestone in bilateral ties with foreign nations.

It also figured in the joint declaration issued during Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa's visit in June 2010. Subsequently, both governments also decided to speed up the project's progress during Lanka power minister's October 2010 visit.

The sources said the external affairs ministry has advised NTPC against responding to the queries for the time being.

In the meantime, the CEB has invited a team of NTPC executives for discussing the issues but is yet to offer a schedule. New Delhi had agreed to extend a $200 million line of credit on soft terms to enable the Lanka government to fund construction of jetties and other infrastructure near the project site. ~ courtesy: Times of India ~

Supreme Court has not violated basic principles of constitutional law in Sarath Fonseka case as alleged by Ranil Wickremesinghe

by Nigel Hatch - Presidents Counsel

The statement made by Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe MP, Leader of t he Opposition in Parliament and reported in The Island of 9-2-2011 under the caption "Ranil asks govt. how long it intends to keep SF in jail" by Saman Indrajith raises several issues of Constitutional significance relating to the relationship between Parliament and the Judiciary within the wider Constitutional setting of a Separation of Powers in the present second Republican Constitution of 1978. Although not explicitly stated the statement was indubitably a reference to the recent determination of the Supreme Court in Sarath Fonseka V. The Secretary General of Parliament & Seven Others (SC Ref: 1/2011; CA (Writ) Appl No:676/2010, decided by the Supreme Court on 10-01-2011).

The Supreme Court was called upon by the Court of Appeal in terms of Article 125 of the Constitution to determine the question weather a Court Martial constituted under the Army Act No.17 of 1949 was included in the expression ‘any Court’ referred to in Article 89 (d) of the Constitution. Behind this somewhat abstruse question of law lay political implications because the question posed arose in the legal proceedings initiated by Gen. Fonseka in the Court of Appeal for a writ to quash several decisions made to declare that his seat as a Member of Parliament had fallen vacant.

The crux of the statement was that "recent judicial observations" had sought to re-introduce the sovereignty of the British Monarch by recognising the prerogatives of the Crown which was tantamount to reversing the present legal order effective since 1972 based on the sovereignty of the people.

These judicial observations according to him were based on two cases decided prior to the first Republican Constitution of 1972, namely Gunaseela V. Udugama (1966) 69 NLR 193 and Edmund Hewavitharana (1915) 18 NLR 334 which accepted the validity of the British Army Act of 1881.

Mr. Wickramasinghe based this conclusion on the following, inter alia:

(a) The first Republican Constitution of 1972 severed the limb with the British Crown and the source of sovereign power;

(b) The National State Assembly under the 1972 Constitution exercised the legislative power of the people directly and the executive power of the people through the President and the Cabinet and the Judicial power of the people through Courts;

(c) The second Republican Constitution of 1978, which is the present Constitution, which replaced the 1972 Constitution included these powers in Articles 3 and 4 of the present Constitution;

(d) The independence Constitution did not refer to Judicial power but the Privy Council in Liyanage V The Queen (1962) 64 NLR 313, held that Judicial power continued to be vested in the Courts as set out in the Charter of Justice and the Courts Ordinance;

(e) Therefore neither the Courts nor Parliament can give legal recognition to the sovereign powers and prerogatives exercised by the Monarch.

The essence of Mr. Wickramasinghe’s argument was that the Courts instead of proceeding under Article 4 of the present 1978 Constitution have sought to reintroduce the concept of the prerogatives of the Monarch relying on Articles 16, 105(2) and 168(1) of the 1978 Constitution which keeps in existence all laws enforced at the time of the enactment of the present Constitution in September 1978. Moreover he has submitted that "this is the intention of the legislation, unfortunately the judicial observations have not gone into these aspects."

Mr. Wickramasinghe concludes that "we have now come to a crisis situation where Parliament recognises the sovereignty drawn from the people while the Courts have now started to now recognise the prerogative powers of the Monarch."

The rectification of this alleged judicial misadventure proposed by him is that Parliament must therefore safeguard the sovereignty of the people and repudiate the recognition directly or indirectly given to the prerogative powers of the Monarch and declare any such decision invalid. This will be further adverted to later in this article.

The implications of this statement are serious. Quite apart from implying that the Bench has violated their oath of allegiance to the present Constitution, it further implies that there was no legal basis for the determination and that the Bench disregarded basic principles of constitutional law in arriving at their conclusion.

A careful reading of the judgment of the Supreme Court in Gen. Fonseka’s case would establish that the Supreme Court has done no such thing.

Whilst all five judges who constituted that bench of the Supreme Court unanimously held that a Court Martial was included in the words ‘any Court’ in terms of Article 89 (d) of the Constitution, neither the majority judgment authored by the present Chief Justice Asoka De Silva with which Justices Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, Gamini Amaratunga J. and Sripavan J. agreed with, nor the separate concurring opinion of Justice Saleem Marsoof, PC has in any manner sought to recognise the prerogative powers of the British Monarch in conflict with the sovereignty of the people exercised and enjoyed inter alia by a Separation of Powers between the Executive, Parliament and the Judiciary as postulated in Articles 3 and 4 thereof.

Before an analysis is made of the two judgments of the Supreme Court it should be noted that a common feature of all three Constitutions of Sri Lanka was that provision was made for the continuation and validity of pre existing legislation. This has a pragmatic rationale otherwise chaos would ensue.

As regards the question of law posed for determination - the contention on behalf of Gen. Fonseka was that a Court Martial lacked the features of a Court of civil judicature and is not covered by Article 105 of the Constitution as a Court and contravenes Article 4(c). By contrast the AG argued that a Court Martial being empowered to impose any sentence of imprisonment or death was a competent Court in terms of Article 13(4), and as such, attracted the provisions of Article 89(d) of the Constitution.

Both the Chief Justice and Marsoof J. in order to determine the question posed analysed a series of constitutional decisions between 1962 to 1968 which were cited and are known as the "Judicial power cases". These cases considered whether appointments to certain offices had to be made by the Judicial Service Commission because Judicial power was exercised and whether certain Acts were unconstitutional in the context of the separation of powers in the independence Constitution. The SC also considered its previous judgments in Udugama’s case where the Supreme Court determined that the Independence constitution did not have the effect of invalidating the provisions of any pre existing statute under which judicial power was exercised by a person not holding judicial office and that this rule applied even to the Army Act 1949 which merely reenacted pre existing law; and Edmund Hewavitharana where a writ was refused against a court martial in the context of the law as it stood at that time.

Citing the judgment of H.N.G Fernando (SPJ) in Udugama’s case which dealt with the nature of the powers of a Court Martial and where the legislative history of a Court Martial in the present Army Act of 1949 was considered, the SC in Gen. Sarath Fonseka’s case merely noted that such legislative history revealed that the Army Act 1881 of the UK was part of the law of Ceylon long before independence and even thereafter until the present Army Act was enacted. In Udugama the Court had held that the opinions expressed in American and Australian decisions that the powers of Courts Martial were independent of the judicial power of state could be followed in Ceylon with the adaptation that such tribunals were traditionally distinct from the judicature of Ceylon.

The legislative history of any legal concept in issue is a legitimate tool that any apex Court utilises in determining a question of law before it and has a long and unquestioned acceptance in Sri Lanka’s post independence jurisprudence. The reference to both cases was indeed necessary having regard to the submissions made even by Gen. Fonseka’s counsel that the concept of a Court Martial was valid and operative in the present legal system. The point of departure between Gen. Fonseka and the State was whether a Court Martial was included in the words ‘any Courts’ in terms of the present Constitution.

But in determining the question of law posed the Chief Justice took cognisance inter alia of the constitutional imprimatur of the validity of all pre-existing law (thus even the Army Act of 1949 which provided for the establishment of a Court Martial); that the present Constitution, as indeed its predecessor in 1972, forbad the judicial review of legislation; the consensus between Gen. Fonseka’s counsel and the AG that the concept of a Court Martial was valid and operative in the present legal system; that a Court Martial is empowered to hand down a sentence of imprisonment or death which was valid until and unless overturned by a Court of competent jurisdiction. Construing Articles 4(c) with Articles 16, 105 and 142 of the Constitution read together with the relevant provisions of the Army Act, the Chief Justice determined that a Court Martial is an entity exercising judicial power and recognised by the Constitution in terms of Article 4(c) and was a Court in terms of Article 89 (d) of the Constitution.

Justice Marsoof in his concurring judgment in answering the question characterised as one of "considerable difficulty," approached it from a novel position. He noted that an issue that could arise is whether the provisions of the Army Act of 1949 may be considered to be in force notwithstanding any inconsistency with the Independence Constitution. Noting that since 1972 only pre-enactment review of bills has been permissible, he concluded that there was no fetter on the power of any court or tribunal to review pre-1972 legislation on the ground of inconsistency with the provisions of the Independence Constitution as these laws derive their legal validity from that Order in Council.

The implications of this approach are beyond the scope of this article. Justice Marsoof concluded that the provisions of the Army Act 1949 relating to courts martial did not offend the provisions of the Independence Constitution and were in force at the commencement of the 1972 Constitution.

Thereafter, examining the constitutional status of courts martial in the context of the present 1978 constitution, Marsoof J whilst noting a divergence in the submissions of counsel for Gen. Fonseka, who argued that such a body came within the purview of Article 4(c) dealing with judicial power of the people and the contention of counsel for the 7th Respondent who was nominated to fill Gen. Fonseka’s seat in Parliament, that it fell within the ambit of Article 4(b) which dealt with executive power, concluded that a court martial came within Article 4(b) which deals with the executive power of the people.

Whilst determining that a court martial was not a court or tribunal as described in Article 105 and a member thereof not a "judicial officer" as defined in Article 170, Marsoof J further opined that the question of law had to be understood in the light of Article 89. Analysing the constitution he noted that there can be courts competent to impose punishments, including the death sentence, which are not part of the regular judicial hierarchy. It was in this context that Marsoof J referred to the decision in Edmund Hewavitharana (1915) 18 NLR 334, which noted that a court martial was an "extraordinary court." As such Marsoof J concluded that it was unimaginable that a person convicted or found guilty of any of the offenses contemplated by Article 89 should be free to continue as an MP, thus answering the question of law posed in the same manner as the Chief Justice.

In the circumstances, the criticism leveled by Mr. Wickremesinghe is without foundation. Moreover, the two examples he cites in support of his solution that Parliament declare this decision invalid are also inapposite.

The first was the decision taken by the Speaker in the NSA under the 1972 Constitution that Parliament had the right to proceed with the Press Council Bill despite the fact that the Constitutional Court entrusted with pre-legislative scrutiny had failed to deliver its opinion within the prescribed period of 14 days. What took place on this occasion is neatly encapsulated by Dr. Anton Cooray in his "Judicial Role under the Constitutions of Ceylon/Sri Lanka – An Historical and Comparative Study (1982)," from page 244. Although an effort was made by the then government to resolve this impasse, the Constitutional Court presided over by Justice T.S. Fernando refused to request an extension of time from the NSA, which was in fact what was proposed by the government. What in fact transpired is that the original CC resigned and the Bill referred de novo to a newly constituted Court which communicated its decision within 14 days to the Speaker. Thus the NSA did not deviate from the constitution. However, this episode was specifically cited by the subsequent UNP government before the Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry (SPCI) established in 1978 as an example of the manner in which the SLFP government had attempted to interfere with the judiciary. However the SPCI having gone into the matter decided otherwise (vide SP VI-1979 at pp. 4).

The second is the ruling delivered on 20 June 2001 by the then Speaker Anura Bandaranaike on an interim order issued by the Supreme Court restraining him from appointing a Select Committee on the motion of impeachment presented against the then Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva. In this ruling the Speaker concluded that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction to issue the interim orders which were not binding on him. This ruling can be justified on the basis that there was no justification for the court order. But this is not the case in the judgment under discussion.

But there is in fact a precedent where Parliament legislated to nullify a judgment of the Court of Appeal not referred to in the statement. This was when Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike sought and obtained in the Court of Appeal in writ application No. 1/78 an interim order against the SPCI on 9th November 1978. The UNP government of the day responded swiftly and retroactively amended the law nullifying the effect of that judgment by the enactment of the SPCI (Special Provisions) Act No. 4 of 1978. This whole exercise of the SPCI against Mrs. Bandaranaike and others has been widely considered to be an act of political victimization– see in general H.L. de Silva, PC in "The Imposition of Civic Disability" published in "FDB" compiled by Lakshmi Dias Bandaranaike (1994) at pg.129.

It is accordingly the considered view of this writer that there is no basis for Parliamentary intervention as Parliament and the Courts operate in their respective spheres. The judgment of the SC in the instant case was only on the interpretation of a question of law. No doubt Gen.Fonseka’s lawyers will vigorously pursue all legal avenues as regards challenging the legality and merits of the verdicts of the courts martial.

The Supreme Court has erred in the past and doubtless may well do so in the future. It is supreme but not infallible. What is essential is that there is an informed scrutiny of its judgments, a practice which has sadly gone into desuetude. Such scrutiny will only strengthen the institution. India affords us a striking example of where such scrutiny has in no way diminished the stature of the institution in the public.

In the context of the 1978 Constitution, the institutional independence of judges of our apex courts as regards tenure and emoluments etc. is assured. Attention has however shifted as to whether there is encroachment on their "decision making independence"in any manner.

There appear to be concerns, some of which have been expressed by prominent opposition MPs, including Mr. Mangala Samaraweera and Mr. Lakshman Kiriella. In fact, so has Mr. Rauf Hakeem, MP whilst in opposition. One would hope that now that he is in the Cabinet as Minister of Justice that if still of that view he would take steps to address some of these issues.

Almost 30 years ago, this writer as a law undergraduate attended a public lecture by the late Dr. Colivn R. de Silva on the 1978 Constitution. After the lecture, Mr.Sam Wijesinha, then SG of Parliament introduced him to Dr. de Silva. I remonstrated with Dr. de Silva that he had been uncharitable as regards the provisions of the 1978 Constitution, which I felt had further strengthened the independence of the judiciary. His response was "young man, you can have any amount of protection in the Constitution for Judges but in the end all this will be useless unless the Judge is impartial and has integrity." The wisdom of this response has remained with me ever since.

February 17, 2011

Tamil Scholar Bishop Caldwell's House now a Memorial

IDAIYANKUDI: English Protestant missionary Bishop Robert Caldwell's house at Idaiyankudi, a small hamlet situated about 70 Km from here, is now a memorial. The 19th century house has been renovated at a cost of Rs.18.50 lakh by the State Government. It was inaugurated by Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi through videoconferencing on Thursday.

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Bishop Robert Caldwell

Addressing the function from Chennai, Mr. Karunanidhi said that though several foreigners such as G.U. Pope and Beschi were enticed by the beauty, ancient nature and strength of Tamil, Bishop Caldwell was the foremost among all of them, as he came out with an authoritative work – ‘Dravida Mozhigalin Oppilakkanam' (a Comparative Grammar of Dravidian Languages) in 1856 which established the uniqueness of Tamil. He had learnt Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Tulu, during his stay at Idaiyankudi between 1841 and 1882.

Former Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai had earlier honoured Bishop Caldwell by installing his statue on the Marina Beach on February 2, 1968, on the occasion of Second World Tamil Conference. The statue was unveiled by multi-lingual scholar Appadurai.

Mr. Karunanidhi recalled the release of a special stamp of Bishop Caldwell during the World Tamil Classical Conference held in Coimbatore on June 17, 2010. The Chief Minister also listed the contributions of Rev. Fr. Constantine Joseph Beschi, popularly known as ‘Veeramaamunivar', Henry Alfred Krishna Pillai, Vedhanayagam Pillai, Samuel Pillai and others in enriching Tamil with their contributions.

Apart from releasing Rs. 1.26 lakh for installing a bronze bust of Bishop Caldwell at the entrance to the memorial, the State government also sanctioned Rs. 30 lakh for constructing a new residence for the priest, who was hitherto living in the house of Bishop Caldwell. A cheque for this amount was handed over to CSI Bishop of Tirunelveli Diocese Most Rev. J.J. Christdoss at the function.

Bishop Caldwell first came to Madras on January 8, 1838 from Clady, Northern Ireland, at the age of 24 as a member of the London Mission Society. A graduate from the University of Glasgow, Caldwell, who joined the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Mission (SPG), was fascinated by the comparative study of languages. Caldwell served as the Bishop of Tirunelveli along with Bishop Sargent and did much original research on the history of Tirunelveli. He studied palm leaf manuscripts and Sangam literature and made several excavations, finding the foundations of ancient buildings, sepulchral urns and coins with the fish emblem of Pandya Kingdom.

Speaker R. Avudaiyappan, Ministers K. Ponmudy, Parithi Ilamvazhuthi, T.P.M. Maideen Khan, Poongothai Aladi Aruna and Geetha Jeevan, Rajya Sabha MP S. Thangavelu, MLAs M. Appavu and P. Veldurai, Vicar General of Palayamkottai RC Diocese Rt. Rev. Fr. S. Antonysamy and District Collector M. Jayaraman spoke. ~ courtesy: The Hindu ~

Violence must stop first before resolving livelihood issues of fishermen on both sides - Kanimozhi

by Rohini Mohan

DMK Rajya Sabha member, and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi’s daughter, Kanimozhi answers questions following TEHELKA’s special report on the shooting of fishermen from Tamil Nadu.

TEHELKA found that the violence by the Sri Lankan navy is widespread. Almost every fisherman in the Palk Bay has gone through torture, and yet they say they have no option but to crossover to Sri Lanka. What will your government do?

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EXPRESSING SOLIDARITY: Kanimozhi, MP, being arrested in Chennai on Wednesday during the agitation against the arrest of fishermen by Sri Lankan Navy. Photo: V. Ganesan: courtesy: The Hindu

I understand that our fishermen are desperate and that fishermen from Jaffna, Sri Lanka, are complaining that Indians are going into Sri Lankan waters. The Tamil Nadu Government would set up a meeting between the fishermen from the two countries, and they can come to an agreement that our governments should stick with. This could go a long way in resolving the livelihood issue. But the violence must stop first, and for this we will take on the Indian and the Sri Lankan governments.

What was the point in courting arrest along with DMK cadres on 16 February 2011?

Some 106 Indian fishermen are detained in Sri Lanka, and we want them to be released. One of the 24 fishermen who were recently caught was also severely hurt. So we staged the dharna to send a message to the Sri Lankan and Indian governments that they should put an end to this violence.

Why are you reacting to the shootings now, when 400 people have been killed over the last 20 years?

The DMK had taken up the issue repeatedly before, but this spate of shootings has come after a long gap. Two fishermen lost their lives in a span of 15 days this year, so we had to react.

Does this reaction not conveniently come on the eve of the assembly election?

Just because there is an election coming up, should we not take up the issue? It may look like a political stunt, but we intend to take real action.

Like what?

The Tamil Nadu Government has been taking on the Indian and the Sri Lankan governments on the shootings. Even the Prime Minister has said it is a serious issue. Now, it is the turn of the Sri Lankan Government to intervene and make it clear to its navy that Indian fishermen should not get hurt. We also need to strengthen our Coast Guard so that they can patrol the border and prevent our fishermen from crossing.

Do you think making the Palk Strait a common fishing ground is a solution?

I think this issue can only really be resolved when fishermen from Sri Lanka and India talk. The Tamil Nadu Government will facilitate that.

Is the reclamation of Katchatheevu Island an old trope or will it actually make a difference? It is not important whether we reclaim the Katchatheevu Island. It is more important to at least reclaim fishing rights for Indian fishermen around Katchatheevu. There is no civil war in Sri Lanka now, so I don't see a security concern. Whatever rights the Indian fishermen had should be restored. ~ courtesy: Tehelka ~

Indian fishermen arrested in Sri Lanka

BBC News

Sri Lankan police have arrested 24 Indian fishermen, adding to the 112 already in custody for allegedly straying into Sri Lankan waters.

The Indians were seized by a group of local fishermen and handed over to police.

The arrests have sparked protests in southern India and were condemned by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who said they were unacceptable.

Diplomats are in talks to try to secure the fishermen's release or bail.

"This sort of behaviour is not acceptable between neighbouring countries," the Indian leader said on Wednesday.

The incident is the latest development in a continuing row over fishing rights.

The two countries now have a "joint working group" on fishing but it seems it has a lot of work to do to prevent such incidents recurring, says the BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo. ~ courtesy: http://www.bbc.co.uk ~

PTI: India asks Sri Lanka to release 136 fishermen

India on Thursday conveyed its “deep concern” over the detention of 136 Indian fishermen in Jaffna and asked the Sri Lankan government to take “necessary” steps to get them released.

“I have just had a telephonic conversation with the Minister of External Affairs of Sri Lanka (G.L. Peiris) and I have conveyed India’s deep concern at the detention of nearly 136 fishermen in Jaffna district,” External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said in New Delhi.

The Indian fishermen are currently in the custody of Sri Lankan authorities. Out of the 136 fishermen 112 were caught on last Tuesday by a group of local fishermen and handed over to the police there. This has triggered protests in Tamil Nadu, where the fishermen hailed from.

“I have also conveyed my deep regret that Sri Lankan nationals and Sri Lankan fishermen have taken law into their own hands and confronted our fishermen,” Mr. Krishna said.

He said even though there is no justification for fishermen to stray into Sri Lankan waters, likewise Sri Lankan fishermen have to be “very cautious” when they are getting into Indian waters.

“But nevertheless in the light of the bilateral relationship between Sri Lanka and India which has always been cordial, I think it is necessary that all of us must help to defuse the situation. I have suggested the fishermen to be released...,” Mr. Krishna said.

He said it so happens that Thursday is a holiday in Sri Lanka and courts are not functioning and “I am hopeful the Sri Lanka government will take necessary steps to get all 136 fishermen released” when the courts reopen on Friday.

“I have also suggested to the Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister that fishermen associations (from both sides) themselves should get in touch with each other so that they can come to some understanding with reference to fishing in international waters,” he said.

The incidents of detention of and recent attacks on fishermen have triggered protests in Tamil Nadu where over 5,000 DMK workers, including party MPs Kanimozhi and T.K.S. Elangovan, were arrested on Wednesday when they tried to take out a rally to Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission in Chennai.

India had last month accused the Sri Lankan Navy of killing at least two Indian fishermen.

The killings had triggered a flurry of diplomatic activity between the two south Asian neighbours following which Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao visited Colombo to seek assurances to prevent such incidents in future.

The issue was also raised by Mr. Krishna in his meeting with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mr. Peiris earlier this month in Thimphu, on the sidelines of a SAARC ministerial conference.

Sri Lankan floods cause $50 million in damages to irrigation networks

Alertnet

PANSALGOLLA, Sri Lanka (AlertNet) – Gamhevage Dayananda, a Sri Lankan rice farmer, used to earn a decent living off his two acres of paddy rice. In January, however, floodwaters destroyed the irrigation network that fed his village’s rice fields, taking his livelihood with them

Unusually heavy rains battered villages like Pansalgolla, about 250 kilometres east of the capital Colombo, in early January and again in February. During the January deluge, engineers were forced to open the sluice gates on water reservoirs used to irrigate paddy fields after the water in them rose to dangerous levels, threatening the structure of the tanks.

In Pansalgolla, the released water crashed into the village’s irrigation network and flooded paddy fields. A 40-feet-deep ditch, filled with muddy water, now stands in a triangular area where the irrigation channel, a dirt road and rice fields used to be.

Today villagers are forced to cross the ditch on an improvised ferry made of used tar barrels.

“The fields are gone and the water channel is gone. In their place we have a large tank,” said Dayananda, 37.

“I have no means to make an income for one year now,” he added. “The floods have taken away everything. No one warned us that rains would be this big. Usually we rejoice when the rains come, now it is like a mass funeral here.”

The damage to the irrigation network in the small village in Polonnaruwa District is indicative of the havoc wrought on a national scale by the two floods – a problem that could affect rice production and food costs in Sri Lanka, experts say.

Climate scientists and weather experts warn that more extreme weather, such as the heavy rains Sri Lanka received over the last two months – a year’s worth of rain fell between December and February – likely will become more common in the future.

“Global weather patterns are changing and we need to be mindful of them and perhaps take necessary precautions,” said Gunavi Samarasinghe, director of Sri Lanka’s meteorological department, as the floods raged in the country’s east in January.

The destruction of water channels – a lifeline for paddy rice farmers – has been felt hardest in Sri Lanka’s eastern districts of Ampara, Batticaloa, Polonnaruwa and Trincomalee, and north central Anuradhapura District. Referred to as the rice-bowl of the nation, together the districts account for over one fifth of the country’s total paddy land.

Worried about the threat to the country’s rice production, Sri Lanka’s government has said it will cover the estimated $50 million (5 billion rupees) in damage to the region’s reservoir and irrigation network.

Larger reservoirs and networks suffered $30 million in damages while smaller ones suffered around $20 million in damage, Irrigation and Water Resources Management Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said at a news conference.

“Around 500 tanks have been affected,” he said. The country’s treasury has agreed to release the funds needed for repairs, the minister said.

Irrigation engineers were only beginning to assess the damages to irrigation tanks from the January flooding when the new wave of floods hit this month.

Egalla Sumandasa, regional director of irrigation for Polonnaruwa district, said engineers were left with no choice but to release water in order to save the over-filled reservoirs.

“If a tank (embankment) breaks, it will be a catastrophe. (It would put) thousands of lives at risk and towns and villages too,” he told AlertNet in a phone interview. “When the spill levels were reached, we opened the gates. We had to secure the tanks, sacrificing the irrigation channels.”

The district’s largest reservoir, the Parkarama Samudraya (Parkarama Sea), for instance, covers an area of 20 square kilometres – one indication of the potential size of the problem if a reservoir was breached, he said.

“If we did not release water from the tank, there would be no Polonnaruwa town left by now,” he said.

As water was released from both large and small reservoirs in the region, connecting channels – like the one in Pansalgolla – suffered, he said.

In the small coastal village of Verugal, in Trincomalee district, January floods destroyed over 9 kilometres (5.6 miles) of irrigation channels, according to the government divisional secretariat there. As in other areas of the four districts Verugal suffered even more extensive – but as yet unspecified – damage during repeat floods in February.

Given the ferocity of the floods, the decision to save the reservoirs was the right one, Sumandasa said.

“The (irrigation) channels can be repaired. The cost may look high, but if a (reservoir embankment) was to rupture, the costs would be a hundred times more,” he said.

Repairing the channels and getting the irrigation network back in workable order should now be a priority, experts say.

Nimal Dissanayake, director of the Rice Research and Development Institute of Sri Lanka, says that the over 1 million metric tonnes of rice harvest likely lost to the floods could be made up in part if the irrigation network is quickly put back in working order and the extra water now available used to boost production of the next crop.

“The secondary harvesting season is cultivated using irrigated water between April and September. If we can provide the water then we can get a better harvest because there is enough water in the reservoirs,” he said in a phone interview.

So far the government has not announced any time frame for the repair work. But Dissanayake feels lost time would prove costly.

“We probably can stall the knock-on effects of the floods like price hikes and rice shortages by doing (the repairs quickly),” he said.

Amantha Perera is a freelance writer based in Sri Lanka. This story is part of a series supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network ~ courtesy: Alertnet ~

February 16, 2011

Attack on CBS correspondent in Cairo: 'Sexual torture taking place amid the greatest jubilation'

Attack on Lara Logan inevitable in retrospect

By Heather Mallick
Toronto Star

The violent sexual attack on CBS correspondent Lara Logan took place on Egypt’s greatest day, the Friday that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stepped down. It was in Tahrir Square, the place known as “Freedom Square” that the whole world had been watching for days.

If there is safety in numbers, she and her crew, which included security people, should have been safe.

But suddenly they were surrounded by a mob of 200 within the celebrating crowd and it turned into any human’s worst nightmare.

Logan was extracted from her 60 Minutes team and carried away for what CBS calls “a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.” Logan is now recovering in a U.S. hospital.

It was sexual torture taking place amid the greatest jubilation, a nightmare unfolding with the backdrop of thousands of distant people cheering.

It seems almost inevitable in retrospect. For street protests, as heroic as they may seem, often look different to women viewers, if only because women are cynics about protests said to be “universal.” Are women included in this “freedom-loving” population or are they shut away at home?

I always check photos and TV footage to see if women are included. I did this during the 2009 Toronto street blockade by Tamils, during the G-20 Toronto police riots and in Cairo this time. Women were always present. How ironic that I rejoiced in this. Maybe men and women were finally finding common cause. Women were there, not just Logan and other female journalists, but many other women, protesters who for once had absolute faith in their bodily safety.

And I feared for them because the sight of them didn’t square with the reality of everyday life in Cairo. One 2008 study said 86 per cent of Egyptian women — and 98 per cent of foreign women — reported that they were regularly harassed, with fully 62 per cent of men admitting to doing it.

It is unusual for a woman to make it to work in the morning without being assaulted in some way, so much so that the two front cars of every Cairo subway train are reserved for women only.

This is just a day in the life of Egyptian women. The country is famous for its casual brutality toward its female citizens. Women’s groups call groping a national “cancer.”

For all that we praised the protesters for using Facebook to coordinate their fight for freedom, it’s a fact that Egyptian women regularly use such technology to protect themselves from men. Women’s groups have set up a new tool named HarassMap to mark the worst leering and fondling sites in the city and let women (and men) text message and post notices on social media sites about their assaults.

Logan was a visible presence in the crowd if only for her blond hair and bright white clothing, a hard person to kidnap. A tall clear-skinned woman of great beauty, she was a target. A 39-year-old South Africa native, she was on her second trip to Cairo during the protests. She was arrested and interrogated the first time and had returned the day before the attack took place.

Logan knows war. She covered the invasion of Afghanistan in 2002 as well as the Iraq invasion and the bloodshed that followed and became CBS chief foreign correspondent in 2006. Married to a U.S. defence contractor whom she met in Iraq, she has a 2-year-old son. These are details that would normally appear in an obituary, I note sadly as I write them.

TV journalism has been a hard road for her, and she once said in an interview that her personal life, as complicated as that of any male reporters, had been “tabloid fodder.”

It hurt her deeply. In work, in life, in every way, Logan’s life has been a thousand times more difficult because she’s female. And it has come to this. [ Heather Mallick ~ hmallick@thestar.ca ]

~ courtesy: Toronto Star ~

Commemorative Lecture in memoriam of Lasantha Wickrematunge

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” ~ Martin Luther King Jr, (15 January 1929 ~ 4 April 1968), (Activist, Clergyman, and prominent leader in African ~ American Civil rights movement)

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A commemorative lecture to mark the second death anniversary of Sunday leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge was held today. This is the first commemorative lecture to pay tribute to Late Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was killed on 8th of January 2009 in Ratmalana, suburb of Colombo.

Christopher Warren, former President of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) delivered the key note address titled ~ “Role of Media in Post-War Democratization”. Candles were lit around the cement monument of pen with a human hollow to pay tribute to the journalists who sacrificed their lives. The monument stands on a barrel painted in white. The monument was created by the Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts (VAFA). [click here to to see & read in full]

Queen of Murasumottai celebrates her centenary birthday

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

May you live to be 100 and may the last voice you hear be mine” ~ Frank Sinatra (1915 ~ 1998), (American Author and Singer)

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Louisa Arulamma Thambyrajah celebrated her centenary birthday on 6th of February 2011. She was born on 6th of February 1911 in her ancestral home in Chaavakachcheri in Jaffna Peninsula, North of Sri Lanka.It is a great miracle that she survived the brutal war. Her life, experience and challenges are unbelievable, but they are true.

She is a daughter of a priest. She had her education at Uduvil Girls College ~one of the famous Girl’s schools in Jaffna peninsula. After completing her studies, she went back to her home town Chaavakachcheri to serve the community in the Church and teach at Sunday school. [click here to read in full ~ humanityashore.com]

Sri Lanka must set up cricket school with Murali in charge

by Amarnath Paul

"Adversity cause some men to break; others to break records" – William A. Ward

From the moment Muralitharan entered the arena of cricket he has been an awesome competitor. He worked tirelessly to get to the top and put his heart and soul into the game he so loved. Unexpectedly, he then had to battle the unjust and vitriolic accusations of umpires and other great pundits and some retired players who accused him of chucking, followed by the ugly chants of Australian crowds.

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This kind of unforeseen combat to prove his credibility for a prolonged period, made the little master of spin even more resilient and strong. His endurance and courage to stand up to international criticism and suspicion of his bowling action is truly amazing. Finally with the help of Australian specialists themselves and their technical expertise the legitimacy of his bowling was proved to the Australian critics and the rest of the world. Thereafter, the modest Murali super charged with more confidence than before, enjoyed the glory and plaudits that came his way with the icing on the cake being the crowning achievement of becoming the spinner who took the most number of wickets in the world, in Test cricket.

Being the best in the world instantly attracts contract deals and other lucrative offers to a man who deserves it all. But, when I read the sports page of The Island two days ago, it took me by complete surprise that Australia of all countries had wanted him as coach to Brisbane’s prestigious centre of excellence! Indeed the wheel has come one circle, and what a slow, gruelling circle it has been for the Smiling Assailant!

After Arjuna Ranatunga retired in 2001, Sri Lanka were again scheduled to play Australia in Australia and the former captain who stood by Murali in times of adversity, advised his ex team mate, Murali, (with good intentions of course) not to go on that particular tour, fearing the aggressive taunt of the Australian spectators, although his bowling action was cleared by ICC in 1996. As a non professional cricket enthusiast I was of the opinion he must go to allay any further rumblings from his detractors, especially the antagonistic Aussie crowds. Finally, he did go, and came back, smarter, taller, grittier and happier than ever before! And, if I am not mistaken some of the banners carried by Australian crowds, read, "We Love You Murali" !

Whether Murali takes the Australian assignment or not, I wish this unassuming gentleman of cricket the very best in everything he does, especially at the forthcoming world cup which would be his swan song. May he have a happy and satisfying closing chapter to his international game of cricket. Whether he walks out of this World Cup with roses and jasmines strewn around him or not, he will remain a legend. A Sri Lankan Icon loved by people of all walks of life, here and abroad. We will not see the likes of him for a long, long time on the world arena of cricket, I am sure.

My present thinking is that the Ministry of Sports should set up a school of excellence for spin bowling and entice the great master to be in charge, before someone else grabs his expertise and above all his honorable and graceful approach to playing the game of cricket in an era where too many players around the world rubbish the game by their pathetic display of hooliganism.

41 British MPs urge Prime Minister Cameron to support an independent, international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka

Today, 41 British MPs drawn from the three major parties at Westminster, have written to the British Prime Minister David Cameron urging him to add Britain’s support to calls for an independent, international inquiry into allegations of war crimes committed during Sri Lanka’s 25 year civil conflict (letter is attached). The MPs are all Members or Supporters of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils.

This is a major issue of concern for British parliamentarians, and follows credible evidence provided by the US State Department, the European Commission and International Crisis Group, as well as the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, that war crimes could have taken place in Sri Lanka. The MPs believe it is important for the future prospects of peace and reconciliation on the island that these allegations are investigated in a robust and impartial fashion.

The timing of this letter is significant. It comes as the international community awaits publication of the report of the United Nations Advisory Panel, appointed by Ban Ki-Moon to advise him on the matter of war crimes accountability in Sri Lanka.

Vice Chair of the Group, Siobhain McDonagh MP, said:

“The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have made welcome statements recently about the need for Sri Lanka to have a credible and independent way of addressing these allegations of violations human rights during the civil war. But this can only have credibility if it takes place under international auspices because serious concerns have been raised around the world about Sri Lanka’s previous efforts to investigate severe human rights abuses.

“If he supports the All Party Group in this way, the Prime Minister will be sending a powerful message to the United Nations Secretary General that Britain backs an independent, international war crimes inquiry. He would also send a powerful message to the people of Sri Lanka that Britain supports human rights, justice, reconciliation and peace on the island.”

The Full Text of the letter sent to the British Prime Minister and names of signatories are reproduced below:

Rt Hon David Cameron MP
The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London SW1
February 2011
Dear Prime Minister,

The need for an independent international investigation into war crimes in Sri Lanka

We are writing to urge you to use all the powers at your disposal to support calls for an independent international investigation into the alleged war crimes that occurred during Sri Lanka’s 25-year civil war. As you know, members of the Congress of the United States have already written to the Secretary of State there to ask her to call for such an investigation, and we should like the British Government to put its full weight behind this proposal.

In October 2009, the European Commission published a report on human rights in Sri Lanka since the war. It said “During the period covered by the investigation, there has been a high rate of unlawful killings in Sri Lanka, including killings carried out by the security forces, persons for whom the State is responsible and the police.” It added: “Extra-judicial killings were widespread and included political killings designed to suppress and deter the exercise of civil and political rights… Unlawful killings perpetrated by soldiers, police and paramilitary groups with ties to the Government, have been a persistent problem.”

In the same month, the US State Department listed numerous crimes that they believed required further investigation, including intentional bombing of civilian and humanitarian organisations, the use of child soldiers, extrajudicial abuse and detention of unarmed civilians and former combatants, the killing of captives or combatants seeking to surrender, and individual disappearances.

There is, therefore, certainly enough evidence to conclude that war crimes could have taken place in Sri Lanka, particularly towards the end of the civil war there, and we believe they can only be investigated effectively if investigations are carried out independently.

Along with many colleagues around the world, we believe that only an independent investigation can inspire confidence and achieve reconciliation. This is because, as Congress members noted, Sri Lanka’s past efforts to investigate severe human rights abuses have not been successful and inspire no confidence that new internal investigations will be credible. These concerns are supported by numerous reputable institutions around the world.

The International Crisis Group argues “An international inquiry into alleged crimes is essential given the absence of political will or capacity for genuine domestic investigations, the need for an accounting to address the grievances that drive conflict in Sri Lanka, and the potential of other governments adopting the Sri Lankan model of counter-insurgency in their own internal conflicts.”

Amnesty International has pointed out that there have already been 9 commissions of enquiry formed by the Government of Sri Lanka since 1991 to investigate human rights issues including disappearances. Amnesty has said they have lacked credibility, delayed criminal investigations and have been subject to government interference, with several commission members resigning in protest.

A Report by Desmond Tutu and Lakhdar Brahimi, for The Elders, also describes a Sri Lankan commission as “not nearly enough” and that what is needed is an independent, international inquiry.

In line with the members of Congress who wrote to the Secretary of State, we believe it is in the international community’s best interests – and the best interests of the United Kingdom, as well as of Sri Lanka – to ensure a lasting peace in Sri Lanka after such a long period of ethnic conflict. However, we believe that peace can only be reached once the full truth is known and understood.

For all these reasons, we ask you to announce Britain’s support for a robust and independent international investigation that would clarify what occurred during the conflict and offer the best hope of a sustainable peace in Sri Lanka.

Yours sincerely,

Lee Scott (Chair)
Virendra Sharma (Vice Chair)
Siobhain McDonagh (Vice Chair)
Simon Hughes (Vice Chair)

Heidi Alexander
Ian Austin
Hazel Blears
Peter Bottomley
Russell Brown
David Cairns
Martin Caton
Katy Clark
Jeremy Corbyn
Stella Creasy
Jon Cruddas
Jim Cunningham
John Cryer
Jim Dowd
Clive Efford
Mike Gapes
Barry Gardiner
Mary Glindon
Robert Halfon
Tom Harris
Margaret Hodge
Sharon Hodgson
George Howarth
David Lammy
Andy Love
John Mann
Stephen McCabe
John McDonnell
Teresa Pearce
Steve Pound
Nick Raynsford
Chris Ruane
Joan Ruddock
Stephen Timms
Emily Thornberry
Gareth Thomas
Keith Vaz

(Press Release from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils)

UN Committee calls on prompt investigations and prosecutions in Sri Lanka

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) urges Sri Lanka to “promptly investigate, prosecute and punish all acts of violence including sexual violence” which have arisen during the last stages of the conflict and in the post conflict phase. The Committee further calls on Sri Lanka to “consider having an independent international accountability mechanism, in accordance with recent proposal of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, mandated to investigate the cases of serious violations of human rights, including women’s rights, which have arisen in the last stages of the fighting.”

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Before, ECCHR has submitted a report to the CEDAW Committee during its 48th session on the foreseeability of sexual violence in conflict in the case of Sri Lanka. The paper demands new legal ways in order to hold perpetrators accountable and calls for the UN to consider the use of sexual violence in conflicts as part of its approach for respecting human and women's rights. The existence and legal denial of sexual violence as a crime was an expression of gender-based discrimination and patriarchal systems that needed to be overcome

The Committee called on investigations, prosecution and punishment of all acts of violence during the armed conflict in Sri Lanka. So far, although many international NGOs presented credible evidence of the commission of war crimes by both parties to the conflict, no serious investigations have been opened.

ECCHR’s Gender and Human Rights program manager Anna von Gall said: “Sri Lanka must comply with its obligations to prevent women and girls from being subjected to sexual violence by military personnel and has to prosecute those crimes that have been committed pursuant to the Convention's framework.”

~ (Committee concluding observations, ECCHR submission and oral statement)

~ (ECCHR – Sri Lanka)
Link (CEDAW 48th Session)

~ Contact:

ECCHR:

Gender and Human Rights Program, Anna von Gall, gall@ecchr.eu, Tel: +49 – 30 40 04 85 90
Universal Justice Program, Andreas Schüller, schueller@ecchr.eu, Tel: +49 – 171 332 4991

Anna v. Gall

Program Manager Gender and Human Rights
ECCHR - European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights
Zossener Str. 55-58, Aufgang D
D-10961 BERLIN
Phone: + 49 - (0)30 - 40 60 58 39

Fax: + 49 - (0)30 - 40 04 85 92
Mail:info@ECCHR.eu
www.ECCHR.eu
Council: Michael Ratner, Lotte Leicht, Dieter Hummel, Christian Bommarius
General Secretary: Wolfgang Kaleck

Colvin R. de Silva: A multi - dimensional personality

by Batty Weerakoon

The late Dr. Colvin R. de Silva’s birthday falls on February 16. He was born on 16th February 1907 and his demise took place on 27th February 1989 at the age of 82. In February 1993 his bust was unveiled at the Law Library. Those of us who saw the final phase of his career in Hulftsdorp which commenced in about the 1950s will remember that it is in the court just above where his bust is installed that we had the pleasure of witnessing almost daily his argumentative skill and legal acumen.

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Dr. Colvin R. de Silva

That was first the Chief justice’s Court and thereafter the Court of the President of the Court of Appeal Others whose busts grace the Library are R. L. Pereira, H.V. Perera, N.E. Weerasooriya and G.G. Ponnambalam. This is the tribute paid by the profession to those who in a period of over 50 years of practice brought distinction to it.

Of the position earned by Colvin in the profession there is this very perceptive assessment of Professor G. L. Peiris in his Dr. Colvin R.de Silva Memorial Lecture delivered in 1992. "He was, perhaps", he said "the only lawyer produced by the nation whose revered name can be invoked without incongruity on par with that of H.V. Perera. the undisputed colossus of our country’s legal scene"

Colvin’s achievement in the profession was indeed most remarkable especially because of a fact which went unnoticed in all tributes paid to him so far. The legal establishment in all its ramifications remained hostile to him to the end.

This did not surprise Colvin for he knew that this was an area of activity in which class and political attitudes came to the fore. He understood the establishment as part of the superstructure of a social system to which he remained unreconciled.

Bernard Soysa who assumed the leadership of the Lanka Samasamaja Party after Colvin’s death recalls the boldness with which Colvin even in his comparatively early days in the profession nailed to the mast his political colours. This again is not surprising.

Doctoral Thesis Written from Bogambara Prison

His doctoral thesis, Ceylon under the British occupation: 1795 -1833 though published when he was held in Bogambara under the Defence Regulations of war time, was researched on and presented to the London University when he was still in his twenties. It foreshadowed the position he was destined to take against British rule when he was back in his country. He was not as yet a Marxist.

Bernard is of the view that it was the great economic depression of the thirties that brought him to Marxism.

First president of L.S.S.P in 1935

Colvin’s many gifts made him the ideal choice for the presidency of the Lanka Samasamaja Party when it was founded in 1935. It grew out of Suriyamal movement which reflected the readiness of the politicised and more youthful element in the country to break through the limitations which they thought were being imposed on the movement for national independence by the Ceylonese bourgeois leadership. Colvin had analysed for himself the links this essentially land – owning bourgeoisie had with the colonial power as well as the remnants of local feudalism. He presented this to the country both in his polemical speeches and pamphlets with the confidence of a man who knew, and who in fact was, the most modern historian of the country’s colonial period.

He saw these desperate and divergent social quantities united in their attempt to ward off the threat of a mass movement expressing itself through the unsolicited gift of 1931— the universal adult franchise.

Bernard remembers with relish this _passage from Colvin’s presidential address at the third annual conference of the LSSP:

"it is this basic divergence of interests that make them uneasy bed fellows. But at one point nevertheless their interests completely coincide. The upstart official – dom has developed aristocratic pretensions which the attack on the head - man system vitally endangers."

The brown bourgeoisie dreads an agrarian upheaval which threatens their position as big landowners and parasitic businessmen. White imperialism fears a mass movement for independence which alone can hope to overthrow its entrenched power. In other words for widely different reasons they find that their interests coincide at one point.

And at that point stands the baleful figure of the Hon. D. S. Senanayake"

At this distance of time the last sentence has the effect of anti - climax. But this can in no way reflect the view or judgment of Colvin. He saw D. S. Senanayake not as a figure lending himself to bathos but as the person who "has steadily gravitated to the centre of the political stage

To take him on as Colvin did, was in fact to take on the whole establishment of which the lawyer firms that made and unmade legal reputation in Hulftsdorp, was a very sensitive part. Colvin had by deliberate choice turned his back on these. Though he came to be among the law’s best exponents he had also firmly decided against taking silk. That characterized his attitude to the legal establishment

The Bracegirdle case and plantation struggles

Nevertheless Colvin spare no pains in utilizing the law and its machinery to defend and expand the rights of the individual. It was he who carried on his shoulders the major burden of the law in the Bracegirdle case in which H.V. Pereira made himself available for the argument.

That was the period in which he, with the LSSP was knee deep in the plantations helping the workers there to organize themselves in their unions in defiance of the plantation RaJ. His indictment of the establishment before the Commission that was appointed to inquire into the fatal shooting of the worker Govindan in the Mooloya struggle has gone down into the country’s working class history.

The plantation worker first used his vote in order to send to the State Council the periya dorai of his thottam, had by 1947 advanced to the point of returning his genuine representative who sat and voted with the left. It was this boldness which prompted the powers that were to deprive him of his vote very calculatedly through the special provisions included for this purpose in the Citizenship Act read with an appropriate amendment made to the Franchise Act in 1950.

Lamentable Diffidence of the Court

Of the manner in which the Supreme Court and the Privy Council handled this issue and its repercussions Professor G. L. Peirs said this in his memorial lecture

It is clearly not an unfair assessment that the attitude of the courts on this occasion was marked by lamentable diffidence which amounted to dereliction of a vital responsibility. By adopting a narrow and univitingly literal approach, the courts were content to distance themselves from the core issues which demanded their attention."

"Colvin, among others rightly decried this lack of vision and fortitude. Not unexpectedly this decision which presented the courts of the country with the first opportunity of giving substance to the bare bones of constitutional prescriptions relating to human rights, had a wholly negative impact on the aspirations of the minority communities in the island"

Colvin’s view that Courts were not suited for working class issues.

Colvin did not see this as the result of the obtuseness of the courts. He saw the almost self imposed limitations of the courts as traceable to class and political attitudes. He never thought that the courts were the suited for working class issues.

Colvin did not see that section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution was in any way an adequate protection of minority rights. The Kodakkan Pillai case referred to by Professor Pieris and the Language Act of 1958 were ample proof of this

Hence it was that the 1972 Constitution for which he was responsible has in it the chapter on Fundamental Rights. The fundamental rights that stood guaranteed there are what we know today as human rights

Role as Minister of Plantation Industry and Constitutional Affairs

In that five- year period of 1970 -75, Colvin as a minister in the United Front. Government completed a volume of work which would have filled the lifetime of another even if that other had the same commitment as he to the goals of social justice. He had the habit of never overcoming the problem of a knot in a string by cutting it. Painstakingly he untied it and saved the string!

So it was with all his ministerial problems, even those which he had with his prime minister and the man behind the scenes, Felix. And several problems he did have in respect of the Constitution’s drafting and thereafter, the land reforms. He gave in on the smaller things but firmly insisted on the essentials. The 1972 Constitution has all the evidence of this approach.

Whatever Colvin touched he left in a superbly improved state. He had the B.C.C. enterprise nationalised not for any doctrinaire reason but, as he argued, because that organization with its tremendous storage capacity dictated the price of every coconut on every tree no matter in which corner of the land it grew.

As minister of plantations he said.-that the coconut industry cannot improve with such a giant being left at the behest of private interests. It was Colvin and of course Doric de Souza who was his secretary) who prepared the cabinet paper for the extension of the land reform to the sterling company estates. And it was he who masterminded the .reform bill itself.

Colvin had a clear vision for plantation Industry after Nationalisation

That the LSSP with Colvin had ceased to be in the government at the time of the actual take over of the estates was a great loss to the industry. It is a fact these missed the care and attention which he gave to the administration of the estates which had come into the State Plantations Corporation during his time as minister.

He had a very clear though wide ranging vision as regards the future of the tea industry. He had his mind on all aspects of tea including the competitor Lanka Tea had to meet and the problems of better marketing.

When Colvin accepted the two ministries of Plantations and Constitutional Affairs in the United Front government in 1970 he did so with the consciousness that he had a mission to be accomplished. He saw it as a carrying forth of the class struggle in to the arena of the state.

In 1964 he together with Leslie Goonewardene and Bernard Soysa opposed the entry of the LSSP into a coalition government with the SLFP because as they pointed out, without the inclusion of the Communist Party the specific weight of the left in that government would be low. It is for that reason that they, though invited to take ministerial office, declined.

Inspiring Role in 1953 Hartal and Electoral Struggles

It is in the class struggle itself that Colvin endeared himself to the masses that followed him. He was the one single person of whom it can be said that - he made the Hartal of 1953. His speeches at the funerals of those who died in that struggle were soul inspiring.

He did not stop at that. It was he who, assisted by Bala Tampoe, carried most willingly the burden of defending in the courts and freeing all those who on account of their participation in the Hartal were arrested and charged.

His leadership in parliamentary and local government elections too were equally colourful and inspiring. Veterans recall that it was his presence in the struggle that made Balapitya vote in 1974 for Ambalangoda’s Wiliam Silva in the Ambalangoda Balapitiya electorate.

But in the choice of his own electorates — first Wellawatte — Galkissa and thereafter Agalawatte, parochial loyalties was not a factor. He won these on a wholly political platform. And he lost them too on that.

"Nihathamani" and "Govindan" These Names Had Their Deep Significance in Colvin’s Life.

Colvin brought forth the best in all whom he worked with. The same love and concern which he had for his family which extended widely beyond Mummie and the children, he brought into his political party too. He chose his words and names carefully.

"Nihathamani" which was the name of his home had its own significance. When he broke jail together with N.M, Philip, Edmund Samrakkody and Jack Kotelawala and escaped to India. he kept British intelligence on the run under his assumed name "Govindan". He wrote a book too under that name showing up Stalinism for what it was.

That was the name of the worker who was shot and killed by the police in the Mooloya strike. It is also the name of the divine Krishna who lives among the cowherds of Brindhavan and brought out the best in them. Colvin knew the meaning of that name.

(Batty Weerakoon is a veteran LSSP Trade unionist,Lawyer and former Cabinet minister and Parliamentarian)

Sinhala Nationalism and Tamil Vellalas

A Few Comments on J.L. Devananda’s Response – Part Two

By Bandu de Silva

3. Political Overview & Conclusion

3.1 Anagarika Dharmapala – the Villain!

For the purpose of this article, it is not proposed to engage in a discussion over present day thinking among some of the Sinhalese, whether they be Buddhists or otherwise, but suffice it to point out that this ‘post-modern’ argument of associating Anagarika Dharmmapala as the villain of the alleged present day Sinhala-Buddhist prejudicial perception of the “other” has gone too far. [click to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

Efforts to de-legitimize The Mahavamsa – A Few Comments on J.L. Devananda’s Response

Part 1

By Bandu de Silva

~ By contrast, the role of archaeology in the consideration of early Tamil identity has been more or less secondary. The common tendency is for South Indian historians to appropriate the archaeological data as a source of correlates for information gleaned from the texts – in other words, to use the material record to search out “known” historical patterns, events, or places…[Click to read here in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

February 15, 2011

Modern pharaoh fell victim to those weapons of the young: Wael Ghonim and Egypt's New Age Revolution

'18-day revolution began not with terrorism and tanks, but with Twitter and texts and satellite TV broadcasts'

CBS 60 Minutes
13 Feb, 2011

(CBSNews) This Sunday night, for the first time in more than two weeks, traffic is flowing through Cairo's Tahrir Square. In Egypt, businesses are open, university classes are back in session and a new military government rules with popular support and a promise of coming democracy.

Egypt is an ancient civilization with a youthful population - nearly two-thirds of them are 30 years old or under. Many of them are educated but unemployed and angry.

Their 18-day revolution began not with terrorism and tanks, but with Twitter and texts and satellite TV broadcasts.

This week an aging autocrat who ruled as a modern pharaoh fell victim to those weapons of the young - out-organized and outmaneuvered by social media, by kids with keyboards.

In Cairo, CBS News correspondent Harry Smith had a chance to talk with the man who emerged as the symbol of the leaderless rebellion, Google executive Wael Ghonim.

Ghonim was jailed for his Internet organizing; when he gave a live interview on satellite TV following his release, he galvanized the movement. Though he was at the center of the "new age revolution," he has no ambition for leadership, nor any way of knowing what comes next.

Wael Ghonim: The regime was extremely stupid. They are the ones who basically ended themselves. They kept oppressing and oppressing and oppressing and oppressing. Right after I came out of jail, I wrote a status message that we are gonna (win), because we don't understand politics, because we don't understand their nasty games. We're gonna win because our tears comes from our hearts. We're gonna win because we have a dream. We're gonna win because we're convinced that if anyone stands up in front of our dream, we're ready to die defending it.

Harry Smith: Two and a half weeks ago, when this started, did you anticipate this outcome?

Ghonim: When I went on the streets on Tuesday, on the 25th, I was like, 'Whoa, it's gonna happen.' Because the only barrier to people uprising and revolution is the psychological barrier of fear. All these regimes rely on fear. They want everyone to be scared. If you manage to break the psychological barrier, you're gonna definitely be able to do the revolution.

That wall of fear fell in the last few weeks, as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians defied their government and demanded change. Helping to lead the charge was 30-year-old Ghonim, Google's regional marketing manager for the Middle East. In his spare time, he created a Facebook page, posting information about the brutality of Egyptian police.

He was especially angered by the killing of a 28-year-old Internet activist, who was beaten to death after trying to expose police corruption.

Smith: How important is his story in what happened here in the last three weeks?

Ghonim: By the way, his name is Khalid Sayid, name translated in English into 'eternal happiness.' His photo, after being killed by those police officers made all of us cry. Made all of us, you know, because he's coming from middle class. I personally connected to him. I thought, 'This could be my brother.' You know? And I know the police in Egypt. You know, they used to act like they controlled the world. You know, they'd beat you up. You are someone basically who have no rights. So when he died I personally got deeply hurt. I decided to start fighting this regime.

The Facebook page was called "We are all Khalid Sayid." Soon hundreds, then thousands of others began sharing photos and video of abuse and mistreatment.

Within months, the number of followers on Facebook grew to half a million, and when he and other organizers posted the dates and locations of protests, people started showing up and posting Internet videos. Many of the organizers never met in person. Their primary interaction was online.

Smith: If there's no social network, does this revolution happen?

Ghonim: If there was no social networks, it would have never been sparked. Because the whole thing before the revolution was the most critical thing. Without Facebook, without Twitter, without Google, without YouTube, this would have never happened

Smith: If you want to have a free country, if you want democracy, then the Internet is great, and all this information can be shared. But isn't just the opposite then true? If I want to continue to suppress people, the last thing I'm gonna give them is access to the Internet.

Ghonim: Block the whole Internet, you're gonna really frustrate people. One of the strategic mistakes of this regime was blocking Facebook. One of the reasons why they are no longer in power now is that they blocked Facebook. Why? Because they have told four million people that they are scared like hell from the revolution by blocking Facebook. They forced everyone who's just, you know, waiting to read the news on Facebook, they forced them to go to the street to be part of this. So really, like, if I want to thank one, thank anyone for all of this, I would thank our stupid regime.

Three days after the protests began in Tahrir Square, Ghonim disappeared. His friends and family feared he'd been kidnapped or even killed. Egyptian authorities had arrested him for 12 days. He was blindfolded, handcuffed and constantly interrogated.

Smith: Did they hit you?

Ghonim: Yeah, but it was not systematic. Like, it was individual based, and it was not from the officers. It was actually from the soldiers. And I forgive them, I have to say. I forgive them, because one thing is that they were convinced that I was harming the country. These are simple people, not educated. I cannot carry a conversation with them. So, you know, for him, I'm sort of like a traitor. I'm de-stabilizing the country. So when he hits me, he doesn't hit me because, you know, he's a bad guy. He's hitting me because he thinks he's a good guy. I'll tell you a funny story: At the end of the last day, you know, I removed my...blindfold. And I said, 'Hi,' and kissed every one of them. All of the soldiers. And, you know, it was good. I was sending them a message.

Smith: Why do you think they let you go?

Ghonim: Pressure. Ask Obama. Probably. There were a lot of factors to it. One is Google. Google did a lot of work to get me out. They did a lot, massive PR campaign.

After Ghonim was released, he appeared on a popular Egyptian television program, talking about those who had been killed in the protests. The next day, the crowds in Tahrir Square grew even larger. Their demands would not be denied. And Friday, 18 days after the protest started, Mubarak resigned.

Smith: President Obama came out several times during the revolution, had things to say. Did it help? Did it hurt?

Ghonim: You know, it was good that he supports the revolution. That's a good stand. But we don't really need him. And I don't think that....I wrote a tweet. I wrote, 'Dear Western governments. You have been supporting the regime that was oppressing us for 30 years. Please don't get involved now. We don't need you.'

Ghonim told us he has no interest in politics and he wants to go back to work at Google. After our interview, he talked about the future with family and friends. But he realizes his future has fundamentally changed.
Smith: Have you had death threats?

Ghonim: Yeah. I get those all the time. I'm getting a lot of hate messages, a lot of people are talking bad about me, and, you know, still accusing me of being a spy and a traitor. And all that funny stuff. But I think, in the next few days, when all the black files of the regime are gonna be out for everyone to read and see, AND we know about the money that was stolen from this country. Things are gonna get better.

Smith: Do you think Mubarak will be brought to trial?

Ghonim: At the moment, I don't care. Revenge is not the thing I want. For me, what I care about right now, I want all the money of the Egyptian people to come back. There are billions and billions of dollars that were stolen out of this country. You cannot imagine the amount of corruption that was here. You know, with all these people in power, with all this conflict of interest. And, you know, it's time for them to pay the price. And it's, as I said, revenge is not my goal, personally. You know, others would have that as their goal. And I don't blame them for that. But for me, what is more important, we want the money back. Because this money belongs to the Egyptians, and they deserve it. The people who were eating from the trash, that was their money.

Smith: People who watch this say, 'Okay, well, this miracle happened in Egypt. But it won't be like that a month or a year or five years from now. Life isn't like that.' Do you believe the ideals that were so well-displayed over the last two and a half weeks are the pavement or the foundation for the country?

Ghonim: Yeah, that's actually our responsibility. We're now meeting a lot. Because...this momentum, whatever that just happened right now, needs to be capitalized on now.

Smith: Did the Mubarak regime underestimate, or do you even think it understood, the power of the social network?

Ghonim: They don't understand the social networking part. But they underestimate the power of the people. And, you know, at the end of the day, I want to say my final word is, 'Thanks, thanks, thanks to the stupid regime. You have done us the best thing ever. You have woke up 80 million Egyptians.'

Smith: So if you're an autocrat, or if you're a dictator, and you watch what happened in Egypt over the last several weeks, what lesson do you think...?

Ghonim: He should freak out. He seriously should freak out. ~ courtesy: CBS News ~

The self-destructive scorpions of the United National Party

by Dr.Rajiva Wijesinha M.P.

There is an old folk tale about a scorpion that asked a frog to give him a lift across a river. The frog was naturally frightened that the scorpion would sting him, but the scorpion promised he would not, and pointed out that, were he to sting the frog while they were en route, they would both drown. The frog was reassured and took the scorpion on his back but, when they were half way across the river, the scorpion stung him.

As they were both sinking, with his last breath the frog asked the scorpion why he had destroyed them both. ‘I can’t help it,’ said the scorpion ruefully. ‘I am a scorpion. My nature will not change, whatever the problems it might cause.’

I was reminded of that story in reading Ranil Wickremesinghe’s comments at the Opening Session of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Regional Conference. He had performed his usual number about the deficiencies of the government and the wonderfully altruistic approach of the opposition.

He had certainly chosen a strange audience for his plaint. Years ago he used to be egged on in his efforts to undermine the government by that gaggle of sanctimonious diplomats, Juergen Werth and Angela Bogdan and Dominic Chilcott and Julian Wilson and that preposterous Dutchman whose name I cannot remember. But all but one of them were replaced by less manipulative characters, and the short term memory of Camelot (Ranil as King Arthur, President Kumaratunga as Guinevere, Mangala Samaraweera as Sir Lancelot, Bradman Weerakoon playing Merlin) faded, and serving diplomats no longer thought their main duty was to wake the sleepers in their caves and restore the old regime.

India and Pakistan and our neighbours however were always very different, committed to working with a democratically elected government. And India in particular, which has always taken Sri Lanka seriously, had a long term memory too, and remembered Ranil’s role in creating the current problems. Of course he may have reformed, and when he was Prime Minister they worked with him positively – but they would not have forgotten his speech in Chennai in 2003, when he claimed that democracy could be suspended for the sake of economic development. His current assertion then that ‘establishing a Constitutional dictatorship, supposedly for the purpose of furthering economic development and prosperity is also unacceptable’ would have sounded to them then like someone engaging in self-criticism.

Ranil’s latest effusion is the more bizarre – and more scorpion-like – in that it occurs at a time when many in government think his continuation as Leader of the Opposition would be more convenient in that it would ensure permanent victory at elections for the government. I think this view is wrong, not because the alternative would not be more popular electorally, but because the constant undermining of government does more damage to the country as well as the government than effective internal opposition, which might also help to keep government on its toes.

Indeed in that regard I have also pointed out that the assassination by the LTTE of Gamini Dissanayake was as much a tragedy for President Kumaratunga as for the UNP and the country, in that it allowed her to relapse into indolence, knowing that Ranil would find it difficult to defeat her electorally. The result, as one intelligent diplomat put it in 2001, was that we had slid backward more quickly than he had seen in any other country. He cited, as a simple example, the failure to move on Norochcholai and Upper Kotmale, matters which Ranil too ignored, until President Rajapakse ensured effective action as soon as he came into office.

I hope then that Ranil’s latest barb will convince the government that he really should not be shored up in office. And I have to say that my old idea, that Karu Jayasuriya would make a good interim leader, has also been destroyed by his own imitation of his leader, in relentlessly idiotic attacks on the government as well as everyone else.

His latest pronouncement is that what happened in Egypt has lessons for Sri Lanka. He ignores the fact that in Sri Lanka there have always been elections, except for the dark period between 1983 and 1989, when however he was not one of those Members of Parliament who voted to postpone elections. But what is saddest is that he also thinks it fit to score cheap debating points about President Mubarak, noting that he is ‘Eighty two years old and still sporting jet black hair’. He imagines, I suppose, that his sophisticated listeners will all think how clever he is at thus obliquely mocking the Sri Lankan President.

This is vulgarity of a sort that I had not thought Karu capable of. I remember Tarzie Vittachi writing many years ago that the Sri Lankan trait, when advised that you should not kick a man when he is down, was to respond, ‘What better time to kick him?” I had thought that an exaggeration, but to find it practiced by someone I thought a pillar of decency is most disillusioning.

I believe all politicians should as a matter of principle never say about someone when they are out of power what they failed to say when they were in. I know sometimes it is difficult to criticize people when they are in power, and it is also inappropriate to be nasty about leaders of countries with which one has good relations – but to take advantage of them losing office is disgusting, and I had expected better from someone I used to think of as a dignified old gentleman.

Sadly, in now affirming his loyalty to his current leader, he seems to have picked up the most unpleasant of his traits. Amongst these is forgetfulness. His own record was not bad I believe during the horrors of the eighties, the attacks on Tamils, the blatant stuffing of ballot boxes when individuals such as Duncan Fernando walked the streets with goons and guns on election days.

That is why I hoped he would bring a breath of fresh air to the UNP. But he certainly said nothing then, and continued to enjoy the fruits of office. He is better equipped therefore to talk about the positive features of democracy than his leader; but to put himself in the class of a freedom fighter on the lines of those who ‘risk life and limb demanding freedom for Burma and Tunisia’ would be laughable if it were not also so tragic.

February 14, 2011

First Citizens Peace Award of National Peace Council awarded to Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

Media Release

The Citizens Peace Award for 2010 of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka has been awarded to Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives. Dr Saravanamuttu was selected from 52 nominations received after the award was announced in November 2010. The National Peace Council is happy that its inaugural selection should be of a person who holds a leading position in a well known civil society organization and has distinguished himself and his work by courage, risk-taking and consistency over many years.

Dr Saravanamuttu has been a strong advocate of a political solution to the ethnic conflict in the country which is at the basis of NPC’s own mandate. During the years of war, as head of the Centre for Policy Alternatives and in his own personal capacity as a political commentator, Dr Saravanamuttu spoke steadfastly on behalf of a negotiated and just political settlement. Over these years he emerged as a leading champion of the ideals of human rights, good governance and power sharing between the different ethnic communities as an integral part of a solution to the ethnic conflict.

Among Dr Saravanamuttu’s many outstanding contributions two have attracted our sincere admiration. One is the courage he has shown in word and deed to mitigate the culture of fear stemming from impunity, extra judicial killings, terrorism and intolerance of free expression of political opinion. He has thereby given leadership to many others in civil society and media to express their own views and engage in debate in accordance with the freedoms and ideals of political life in a democracy. The other was his taking up the cause of temporary Tamil residents of Colombo city who were threatened with mass expulsion by government decree during the height of the war in 2007. As head of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, he filed legal action in the Supreme Court and prevailed, thereby inspiring confidence that the processes of justice continued to be available to vindicate the rights of citizens.

The Citizens Peace Award was established in 2010 by the National Peace Council to honour and encourage those individuals in civil society who have demonstrated courage and consistency in the protection of and respect for human rights; peaceful settlement of disputes and promoting increased understanding between and among communities. Other criteria considered included work in hostile conditions, sacrifices made and being a Sri Lankan citizen working within Sri Lanka. The selection of the winner was by the nine member Board of Directors of NPC and ratified by its 20 member Governing Council from recommendations made by a five member nominations committee after calling for nominations in the print media in the national languages and its website. The prize is made possible by funds received from the Sakai City Government’s Peace Contribution Award, Soroptimist International of Osaka Izumi and the National Peace Council.

The Geneva consensus: Setting the record straight

By Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

I write to correct an impression that may have been conveyed or mistakenly derived from references in an article ('The "race" between Mahinda Rajapaksa's LLRC and Ban-Ki-moon's UN panel') on your website to the evolution of the Sri Lankan issue at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva during the last war.

The written record would show that far from a special session on Sri Lanka being “unthinkable” during the tenure of the article’s author, there was a highly critical draft EU resolution on Sri Lanka on the HRC agenda from 2006, precisely during that tenure and a good year before I was deployed to Geneva.

When I assumed duties as Ambassador/Permanent Representative on June 1st 2007, the awesome nature of professional achievement immediately prior to my arrival was to have persuaded the initiators of the draft resolution to continue the postponement of the resolution to the next session, the first one that I would attend having assumed duties in June 2007. This was not quite ‘fixing the problem’ but fixing the successor.

By the end of 2007, in my first 6 months, I had succeeded in removing that draft from the agenda without making the slightest concession on the outstanding demand of stationing a full-fledged presence of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka.

When I accepted President Rajapaksa’s invitation to take up the post of Sri Lanka’s PR in Geneva as our war of liberation and national reunification was entering its decisive period, I was instructed also by the then Foreign Secretary that one of the tasks I had to expeditiously undertake was to correct an unauthorised deviation from our stance at the Conference on Disarmament; a deviation by my ‘professional’ predecessor which had generated a shocked inquiry-cum-protest at the highest political level from one of Sri Lanka’s most consistent friends, allies and military suppliers - and I might add, SAARC neighbours.

Indeed the Special session of late May was a Plan B, a fallback. Plan A was a UN HRC resolution (which was to be backed by an EU resolution), invoking an elasticised version of the doctrine of R2P calling for a halt to the Sri Lankan offensive operation and due on May 14th, 2009. As Prof Rajiva Wijesinha placed on the record already on May 18th 2009, that plan failed because of our successful resistance in Geneva which prevented the requisite signatures from being obtained until the Sri Lankan armed forces had destroyed the Tigers and its leadership. (‘How the West was Sidelined- For the Moment’, Rajiva Wijesinha, Human Rights Watch website, HRW-Watch.com, July 24, 2009).

As for the Special Session on Sri Lanka at the UN HRC, even the most amateurish (let alone a seasoned diplomatic professional) reader of the Wikileaks would confirm that the political officer of the US Embassy in London reported to the US Secretary of State that electoral compulsions motivated the former UK Foreign Secretary into a diplomatic drive on Sri Lanka; a drive, which the cable noted, included the May 2009 Special Session at the UN HRC. This is amply confirmed by an 80 page research study on the Lankan conflict and the (then) Labour government’s foreign policy on Sri Lanka authored by three commissioned specialists and deposited in July 2009 in the library of the UK Parliament.

The merest Google search of the foreign news coverage of the Special Session (May 2009), and then again on the first anniversary (May 2010) of our military victory, reveals that sources from the Washington Post, The Times (UK) and The Economist through the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International ruefully point to that Geneva vote as a considerable diplomatic achievement by Sri Lanka and its friends in the face of great pressure and momentum. Those reports reveal that elements at the time hostile to Sri Lanka hoped to secure a UN mandate for an investigation of some sort into the conduct of our armed forces in (at the least) the last stages of the war; and that given the veto exercised by Sri Lanka’s friends in the UN Security Council and the sheer arithmetical majority in the General assembly, it was thought that the UN HRC Geneva would be the best bet in securing such a mandate, modelled on the Goldstone inquiry which obtained its UN mandate from the HRC.

It is typical that while even those critical of Sri Lanka’s military victory admit that the Geneva vote of May 2009 was an unexpected defeat for their cause and a resounding achievement for our country, some sour Sri Lankan has-beens are the only ones to decry it.

The Geneva vote was won at a time when Sri Lanka had been unseated from the UN HRC by a General assembly vote in 2008 in New York; a venue from which I was ‘banned’ from attending by the former Foreign Minister, reversing a standing procedure of at least 25 years (and against the written objections of two successive Sri Lankan Perm reps there).

When I left my post in Geneva, I did not leave my successor a draft resolution on the agenda against my country. I left behind an unambiguous and decisive result in our favour.

If one may anticipate the argument that a built-in Third world or Afro-Asian majority rendered the vote in Sri Lanka’s favour axiomatic-- one that could have been achieved on auto-pilot as it were-- I would draw the readers’ attention to two facts: though backed by a Security Council member, Sudan lost a vote in the UN HRC a few weeks after we won ours, and a compromise arrived at the UN HRC Geneva just a year or two before was a factor that led to peacekeeping forces in Sudan and a peace deal. (If I may be permitted a digression, the recent peaceful secession of Southern Sudan through a referendum -- Rudrakumaran’s model and strategy-- could arguably have been the eventual outcome of the professionally negotiated PTOMS, if not for Hon Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Supreme Court, the JVP and Sri Lankan public opinion).

I am confident that the multi-continental breadth of the Geneva Consensus of May 27-28th 2009, the ‘soft power’ and ‘smart power’ it represented, the international legitimacy it confirmed, and the politico-diplomatic and strategic space for post-war Sri Lanka that it symbolised, remain safely intact and indeed ably enhanced in the hands of the professionals in situ. How could matters conceivably be otherwise?

Egyptian Peoples Revolt Has Deep Lessons For Both Oppressed and Oppressor in Sri Lanka

By Karu Jayasuriya
Deputy Leader UNP

Sri Lanka and the rest of the eastern world awoke to scenes of jubilation in the Egyptian capital Cairo, where 18 days of largely peaceful pro-democracy protests finally saw President Hosni Mubarak, being compelled to step down and give in to the fierce demands of his people. The military, which played a pivotal role in ensuring that the three week protest did not descend into a bloodbath on the streets of Cairo by refusing to turn on its citizens, has taken over while Egypt embarks on the long road towards true democracy.

Watching history being made in Egypt, where a 30 year tyranny is being replaced by hopes of liberty and freedom, we cannot help but be profoundly moved by the monumental significance of this event. To win their demands for the removal of President Mubarak, whose oppression and tyranny the people endured in exchange for stability and peaceful conditions in their nation for three long decades, the young people of Egypt did not employ violence or terrorism. This is the overarching beauty of this revolt – that it succeeded in spite of, or perhaps because of, its non-violent nature.

We are truly privileged to have witnessed such a defining moment in modern history. Like those that will forever remember the fall of the Berlin Wall that saw eastern Europe’s liberation from Communism, the ouster of one of the world’s longest reigning autocrats, Hosni Mubarak by the sheer might of the Egyptian people, will be etched in the collective memory of this generation, providing hope, inspiration and comfort to the oppressed and striking terror into the hearts of politicians who seek to tyrannize over their populations throughout the world.

And therein lies the hope for those of us in Sri Lanka, who witness with each passing day, the dictatorial aspirations of the current regime. Our hope is rekindled and we are reawakened by the reiteration of this historical truth: that every tyrant shall have his day of reckoning and that pharaohs and kings will only reign as long as their people allow them to.

People argue that Sri Lanka is no Egypt, and that the Sri Lankan president is no Mubarak. But there are parallels to be drawn here, because while they may differ in appearance, every autocrat speaks the same language, plays the very same game. Hosni Mubarak thought he would rule Egypt forever. Eighty two years old and still sporting jet black hair, Mubarak believed until 24 hours before he was forced to step down, that even though he would not contest the country’s next election, it was his son Gamal who would emerge victorious in scheduled polls in September this year. Until last night, Mubarak was so intoxicated by his own power and personality cult that he failed to fathom the anger out on the streets. The Mubarak family had amassed phenomenal wealth, dreamt of dynastic succession, lay aside the rule of law, freedom of expression and unleashed the secret police upon their people. In an election held in November 2010, just three months before one of the biggest popular revolts the world has seen, Mubarak’s ‘party’ won 97% of the ‘vote’ to secure near-absolute control of the country’s legislature.

Burma’s iconic freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi once said that “there is an inevitable sameness about the challenges of authoritarian rule anywhere at any time, so there is a similarity in the intrinsic qualities of those who rise up to meet the challenge”. It is this common creed that binds those peaceful protestors in Cairo’s Liberation Square, the people who risk life and limb demanding freedom for Burma and Tunisia, and those of us in this tiny island clamouring for a return to the tradition of democracy and freedom.

Human beings cannot live on the promise of bread alone. The human condition craves greater liberty, has loftier aspirations. Martin Luther King was quoted last morning by US President Barack Obama. Mr. King said of the birth of a new nation in Ghana – “there is something in the soul that cries out for freedom”. Today we might mortgage our civil liberties in exchange for relative stability, the promise of development and an illusion of ‘peace’. But the day will come when Sri Lankans too, feel that something in their souls that cries out for true liberty. The day will come, when all Sri Lankans believe that we deserve more than a corrupt regime that is siphoning the nation’s wealth; that we deserve a government that allows us to speak freely and live in dignity. A day when we realize that the power to make a change lies within ourselves.

On Friday, Hosni Mubarak thought he was invincible; that his reign was forever. Today, he is another aging dictator on the run, his assets frozen, his cronies displaced and hounded. Today the long-suppressed media and civil servants in Egypt are revealing the lies the regime made them propagate. Egyptians are tasting true freedom for the first time, and they are loving it. Mubarak may have served his country once, but by attempting to perpetuate his reign forever, he outstayed his welcome. No doubt the cries of Egypt’s people, demanding ‘Mubarak- get out!’ are still ringing in the ex-President’s ears.

There are deep lessons for all Sri Lankans, oppressed and oppressor alike, in the peoples’ revolt that changed the course of Egyptian history, and the world, last night.

Let us take note. Let us take heart. We are not alone.

February 13, 2011

An Open Letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa on the National Anthem

by Prof. Michael Roberts

14 December 2010

His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa,
President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
FAX = 94-11 254 2919

A few years back I had the pleasure of seeing the Royal-Thomian rugger match on television and watched you Sir, present the winner’s cup to the Captain of the Thomian rugger team, none other than your son, Namal. On this ground I earnestly request you and your sons to sit together and watch a replay of any recent rugby international between the New Zealand All Blacks and the South African Proteas.

There, you will hear New Zealand’s “God defend New Zealand” sung in both English and Maori; while the South African anthem is sung by all the players, whether Black, Coloured, or White, in Xhosa, Afrikaans and English. There are also versions of the latter in two other languages and it is said that “South Africa's anthem pulls together two anthems, five languages – and over 49-million people.”

Please note that this national anthem bears the imprint of Nelson Mandela. If you have the time, also please absorb the film Invictus in association with your sons. When he came to power Mandela deployed rugby as a unifying arena. This will be evident when you watch any rugger match today and see how the players, mostly White, sing the anthem in three languages so passionately. It is truly a stirring moment and a testimony to Mandela’s vision – revealing the manner in which he enticed the powerful White and Afrikaans forces to abide by their country after the Black take-over.

The point I am making will not be lost on you: it is in your power to emulate Mandela by enabling reconciliation through many steps. One such step will be for every Sri Lankan to be nourished as Sri Lankans through their ability to sing Sri Lanka Matha in both Sinhala and Tamil.

You, President Sir, have already shown us the way by speaking at the United Nations in Tamil as a symbolic gesture. By adopting a bi-lingual policy that enables us to express our patriotism through the inspirational Namo Namo you will, I stress, be adding further force to the programme already in place to teach both swabasha languages in all schools. Nursery rhymes and songs are the best way to learn another language. The bi-lingual anthem will assist both Tamils and Sinhalese to learn each other’s native speech.

Michael Roberts,

This letter was sent by fax and post in late December, with address and other details included as a matter of form. I have waited a suitable length of time since then before venturing to enter this intervention within the public realm – appropriately after Independence Day was celebrated by some Sri Lankans. I did not anticipate a direct response because the head of state can hardly spend time answering sundry letters. What interests me is action and practice. It is still unclear

(1) whether any decision was taken by the Cabinet on this important topic when it was addressed in December 2010;

(2) what practices schools follow in the north and east

(3) and in the other areas of Sri Lanka;
AND

(4) what the general practice is at official functions where Sri Lankā Māthā is deployed.

I welcome first hand empirical information on this topic as comment or sent to galle.mike@hotmail.com

Poetry of the Arab Revolt

Many activists have been quoting the poem “To the Tyrants of the World” by Tunisian poet Abul-Qasim al-Shabi (24. February 1909 - 9 October 1934), throughout Tunisia and Egypt particularly. This poem was recently featured in the “Aid Watchers.com” blog - a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI); - Ela Toghat Al Alaam ("To the Tyrants of the World"):

Reaction to President Mubarak's resignation in Tahrir Square, Cairo

To the Tyrants of the World

Hey you, the unfair tyrants...
You the lovers of the darkness...
You the enemies of life...

You've made fun of innocent people's wounds;
and your palm covered with their blood

You kept walking while you were deforming the charm of existence
and growing seeds of sadness in their land

Wait, don't let the spring, the clearness of the sky
and the shine of the morning light fool you...

Because the darkness, the thunder rumble
and the blowing of the wind are coming toward you from the horizon

Beware because there is a fire underneath the ash
Who grows thorns will reap wounds

You've taken off heads of people and the flowers of hope;
and watered the cure of the sand with blood and tears until it was drunk

The blood's river will sweep you away
and you will be burned by the fiery storm. - Abul-Qasim al-Shabi

Rajapaksa govt should be faulted for callous response towards floods devastation

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“But these were monstrous times. So, naturally Jennie turned monstrous”. Klaus Mann (The Turning Point)

Neither President Mahinda Rajapaksa nor his administration can be faulted for the calamitous weather conditions afflicting Sri Lanka. Global warming is a global phenomenon, an environmental malaise to which the entire world (and each one of its people) has contributed, to a greater or a lesser degree.

(To talks of rain gods who punish countries because they have bad rulers is to insult intelligence; such beliefs belong in pre-scientific times, when man ascribed the frightening and the inexplicable to unseen deities.) Global warming (a man-made phenomenon) is causing catastrophic climatic changes across the world; Sri Lanka too can expect her own share of resultant environmental disaster, irrespective of the identity or the nature of the president/the governing party.

What President Rajapaksa and his government can and must be faulted for is their totally inadequate, indeed callous, response to the back-to-back floods which devastated Sri Lanka in January and February. According to official estimates, 1.2 million people have been directly affected by the second round of floods alone. Floods have also caused massive damages to all harvests; for instance, the damage caused to the paddy harvest has been estimated variously at 35% to 90%, by different ministers. Repairs to the road networks destroyed by the floods alone are expected to cost a massive Rs.5 billion.

Putting the flood and landslide affected areas and the afflicted people back on their feet will be a gigantic task requiring billions of rupees plus much time and energy.

Given its critical importance and immense magnitude, this task of reconstruction and rejuvenation should be accorded absolute priority by the government, over and above any other endeavour. The government should also make an effort to mobilise the society to help in this massive effort. (After all, the disaster happened not in some distant country but in our own; the affected are not foreigners but our own people.) But neither is being done. Instead, the government is de-prioritising the entire crisis, effectively turning it into a non-issue.

Even as the rains were falling and the floods were raging in 13 districts, displacing more than a million Sri Lankans, the regime went ahead with its extremely ostentatious Independence Day ceremony in Kataragama; the President, in his Speech, made only a passing reference to the ongoing devastation. Then there was the Deyata Kirula exhibition in Buttala which went on for five days, guzzling resources, energy and attention which should have been spent on providing immediate relief to the affected people.

A stranger witnessing the Independence Day ceremony and the exhibition should have been pardoned for thinking that the floods had but a marginal impact on Sri Lanka. The President is yet to visit the areas affected by the second round of floods; in the official discourse, the floods and their aftermath are accorded negligible import, almost a post-script in the day’s news.

The government’s current priority is beautifying Colombo and its environs in time for the Cricket World Cup. Once this match-mania is over, the regime is likely to focus its attention on promoting Hambantota’s bid for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

The regime’s blasé attitude towards the havoc wreaked by the floods seems to be affecting the society as well. In general, when a natural disaster strikes, Sri Lankans forget all that which divides them and unite, however ephemerally, in compassion. It is one of the best qualities of the Lankan people. This time, society seems to be following the insalubrious example set by the regime, turning an almost blind eye and a deaf ear to the sufferings of a segment of fellow Sri Lankans (victims include Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims; discrimination is alien to nature).

The usual and rather enthusiastic voluntary efforts at providing aid and assistance to victims (the normal Lankan response to any natural disaster) seem rather thin on the ground, almost to the point of non-existence. Instead, the unaffected parts of society are waiting with baited breath for the World Cup to begin. Complaining about the rapid rise in the price of many essential food items in the wake of the floods seems to be the sole concession the absolute majority of the unaffected Sri Lankans are making to the disastrous reality surrounding them.

People often take their moral cues from the leaders. Perhaps one of the best known historical examples of this transference of values is the transformation experienced by British society from the more liberal moral climate of the Regency Period to an extreme form of moral Puritanism under the Rule of Queen Victoria (her consort Albert is seen as a pioneer of this change). That transformation affected the British Colonies as well; many of the most cherished values of Sinhala Buddhist extremists since Anagarika Dharmpala have nothing to do with either Sinhala history or Buddhist ethos; they are Victorian imports and implants.

When rulers are hegemonic they are able transplant their own values and beliefs on to the society they rule; and by doing so successfully, they manage to maintain their moments of hegemony longer. This is what the Rajapaksas seem to be doing currently; the last five years has wrought so many changes in the way a majority of Lankans see themselves, their country and the world.

These changes range from the disappearance of the ethnic problem and the need for a political solution from the public political discourse (the President set seal to this by not mentioning either in his Independence Speech) to a permissive attitude towards Familial Rule. Current societal indifference to the plight of 1.2 million Sri Lankans is part of this strategic transformation of Sri Lanka into a more atomised society, breeding a more self-centred man.

Such transformations are not unique to Sri Lanka but common to many societies. For instance in China, “The socialist slogans that the government touts are widely seen as mere panoply that covers a lawless crony capitalism in which officials themselves are primary players. This incongruity has been in place for many years and no longer fools anyone. People take it as normal, but that very normality makes cynicism the public ideology. Many people turn to materialism—whether in property or investment—in search of value, but often cannot feel secure there, either; even if they gain a bit of wealth, they do not know when it might disappear or be wrested away” (The New York Review of Books – 13.1.2011

Israeli human rights activist and co-founder of B’Tselem, Daphna Golan-Agnon, points out that there are multiple layers of denial operating in Israel on the war crimes issue: literal denial (it never happened); denial of significance (these weren’t really war crimes); justification (we had no alternative).

A similar system of collective denial is becoming lodged in the Lankan polity and society, denying anything that is unpleasant or ugly, problematic or criminal. It began with the ‘humanitarian operation’, became honed in the ‘welfare villages’ and reached a nadir with the incarceration of the ‘Sinhala Arch-hero’ Sarath Fonseka.

Since then, it has been applied in multiple areas from the Sinhala Only National Anthem to attacks on Indian fishermen in the Palk Straits, from the new wave of terror in Jaffna and the rapid construction of cantonments (while many of the displaced Tamils still lack adequate shelter) to the planned mass eviction of Colombo’s poor to land-grabbing in Kalpitiya. The capacity of this new morality to subsume the age old Lankan penchant for assisting the afflicted in natural disasters indicates that the task of creating a new Rajapaksa morality to buttress Rajapaksa Rule is continuing apace.

In almost any country, during tough times, it is the people who make the sacrifices; never the rulers; this is more so in autocracies than in democracies. When leaders preach to the people about the need for unpopular decisions, and the necessity for sacrifices, the subtext cannot be clearer: be ready for harder times because we will be making decisions which are going to make your lives more difficult than they already are.

So when President Rajapaksas mentioned the need to make unpopular decisions in his Independence Day Speech he was not referring to decisions which will be unpopular with the ruling elite. For instance, the unending and ever-growing duty-free vehicle bonanza to politicians will not be curtailed; nor will the cabinet be downsized or the perks and privileges of ministers and parliamentarians reduced. The President was referring to decisions which will be unpopular with the ordinary people, such as price hikes and subsidy cuts, demolition of houses and destruction of livelihoods.

Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, before flying to Geneva, told The Sunday Observer (6.2.2011) that he will be making efforts to ‘win over the West’. The regime’s favoured way of winning over the West is to hire expensive Western lobbying firms; these firms function as political beauty salons and their clients include some of the more unpleasant regimes and private firms in the world. Since these beautification tasks are far from easy, and the needs of their clients are desperate, the firms can and do command top dollars. For instance, Sri Lanka is said to be paying the UK firm Bell Pottinger (whose motto is ‘Better Reputations; Better Results’) about Rs.500 million a year to lobby UK, UN and EU officials.

The regime says it needs to hire expensive PR firms because there are enemies out there trying to tarnish the image of the country. For instance, the Central Bank Governor said that Sri Lanka will do “everything possible to boost that image and I believe it is our duty” (BBC – 22.10.2010). Not quite ‘everything possible’. Had the government not treated its political opponents like public enemies, incarcerated Gen. Fonseka after a politically stage managed military trial, attacked media institutions and media personnel, clamped down on dissent, launched public demonstrations against the UN and some Western countries, the need to hire PR firms at such enormous costs would not have arisen. Sri Lanka has to spend billions of rupees hiring Western public relations firms not because of the war but because of what the Rajapaksas have done after winning the war to strengthen Familial Rule and to build a political dynasty.

What will we do next?

Hire an Indian PR firm to burnish our image in Delhi, even as attacks on Indian fishermen at sea continue?

So Sri Lanka has enough money to hire Western PR firms and to bid for expensive international events, but not to look after its own displaced people. For instance, for the people of Dimbulagala “the promised assistance from the government did not arrive. They had reportedly not got anything from the government in the past few days. After repeated complaints and appeals that were unsuccessful, the people became very frustrated due to not receiving assistance due to them and a lack of solution for their shelter problem. On Friday morning it boiled over on to the streets and several hundred people were seen protesting in front of the Dimbulagala DS office” (Groundviews – 12.2.2011). That is the new Rajapaksa morality in a nutshell.

The "race" between Mahinda Rajapaksa's LLRC and Ban-Ki-moon's UN panel

by Sarala Fernando

In the current situation of natural disaster with the floods, not much attention is being paid to the race that is being run between the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in Sri Lanka and the Panel appointed by the UN Secretary General in New York to "advice" him on the accountability issues with regard to the conflict in Sri Lanka. Will the race climax at the next session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva at the end of February?

The LLRC was off to a fast start, mobilizing quickly, the Commissioners opting to take only minimum allowances, with few support staff. The LLRC has the advantage of "home-turf’ and was probably the first non-military mechanism to conduct hearings in the conflict affected areas. They have had access to hear testimony from former combatants in prisons, detention centres and rehabilitation camps.

The LLRC Commissioners are veterans, with a broad mix of local and international experience, and they have the ability to conduct business in Sinhala, Tamil and English, thereby reaching the people directly. The panel bogged down in New York, appears to have little Sri Lanka experience and is presumably restricted to English with the use of translators and interpreters. From my days supervising consulates abroad, I do know that English is not spoken fluently by many of our refugees and that written English is virtually non-existent. Even to fill a passport application, they have recourse to a paid translator – so there is a question right at the start, who is acting as translator/ petition writer to those who are giving testimony or sending representations to the panel in New York?

This is an important point as there is an enormous gulf between elements of the Tamil diaspora mobilizing on the basis of ethnic nationalism, raising funds to sponsor "investigations" of war crimes and those residents of all communities in the North and East of Sri Lanka who just want their livelihoods back and to live in security. American Ambassador Butenis made this point (in the leaked cable to Washington) that "there is an obvious split, however between the Tamil Diaspora and Tamils in Sri Lanka on how and when to address the issue (of accountability). While we understand the former would like to see the issue as an immediate top-priority issue, most Tamils in Sri Lanka appear to think it is both unrealistic and counter-productive to push the issue too aggressively now…"

There is also a question of what is the relative weight of "international standards" compared to "local knowledge and commitment to the country." The UN Panel runs the risk of broadening the split between the diaspora and those back home. Instead of taking on the mantle of a ‘shadow’ report, the UN Panel should have taken a supportive role and worked in tandem with the LLRC. In the past, quiet advice given by international experts and special mechanisms helped create viable domestic mechanisms to resolve protection issue in the aftermath of insurgency. For example, from once having the largest number of recorded disappearances coming down from the days of the Southern insurgency, thanks to quiet cooperation with NGOs working on a framework approved by UN experts, only a few cases now remain unresolved.

With the ending of the armed conflict, statistical analysis will show a sharp decline in allegations of human rights violations. Remarkable progress has been made on the caring and resettlement of IDPs, the parallel process of de-mining is almost completed and solid progress recorded on the rehabilitation of child soldiers and other combatants. Progressive lifting of the Emergency regulations has already begun. Is it not time for all the good news to be collated and disseminated through a credible website? How else to combat the endless propaganda churned out by the diaspora?

Disseminating the good news is important particularly because of the island’s proximity to Tamil Nadu where millions of computer users, sometimes youngsters just surfing the net, should have a picture of the evolving scenes of normalcy in the North and East so they do not get fooled by the diaspora propaganda. Needless to say, such a site should not be "propagandist" but represent creative diplomacy, using your assets to "attract" attention and sending out a positive message.

In Sri Lanka, testimony before the LLRC has been given by persons from all walks of life, from all religious persuasions, from government and non government, academics, professional organizations, soldiers and civilians, affected individuals. There was provision for testimony in camera upon request, but virtually all of the sittings have been open to the public and the press. Thus, the whole country is sharing in the testimony and discussing the proposals, in a more transparent manner than the process in New York.

A "smart" step has been taken by the LLRC to initiate an officials level mechanism, the Inter-Agency Committee (IAC) to begin immediately the process of granting relief based on its interim recommendations on issues of detention, land issues, law and order, language issues, socio-economic and livelihood issues. This mechanism is reminiscent of the Coordinating Committee on Humanitarian Affairs (CCHA) which worked so successfully during the armed conflict to get essentials to the conflict affected civilians.

Human rights advocacy groups usually take idealistic positions, based on international standards and do not accept the argument that countries are at different levels of development and need space to build credible national protection mechanisms. It has always been a problem how to sift the idealistic or uninformed complaints from those that suggest a useful course for action. During my time in Geneva, after every gruelling session of the CHR or HRC, the entire delegation, with representatives from different departments, would sit together, look at all the criticism leveled by states or NGOs, and decide what action could be usefully carried out back home. One recommendation, taking up a suggestion of the Special Rapporteur against Torture, was to remove corporal punishment, (dating from the colonial period) off our statute books. This did lead to positive action, which provided protection from physical harm for young children while winning international commendation.

Fortunately there is a return to professional diplomacy in Geneva, with the amiable Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe also taking up again the human rights portfolio, who has both institutional knowledge and experience. In the current situation of natural disaster, with damage estimated to exceed Rs50 billion, we can attract as much sympathy for Sri Lanka at the forthcoming HRC session, as there was when the tsunami hit in 2004. Supported by quiet diplomacy, that goodwill extended over a period of years, such that when I left Geneva in early 2007, a Special Session on Sri Lanka would have been unthinkable.

Today, armed with the recommendations of the LLRC, the report of the IAC and a compilation of the huge humanitarian contribution made by the forces post-conflict, our delegation has all the facts to win the case with the traditional diplomacy of courtesy, leaving "naming and shaming" to others less well equipped.

(Sarala Fernando is a retired diplomat and served as Ambassador in Geneva from 2004-2007)

Promoting the Rights of Tamils without espousing separatism or violence

By Prof.Rajiva Wijesinha

I was delighted when Nirgunan Tiruchelvam, grandson of the Senator and son of Neelan, gave me a copy of ‘Senator Tiruchelvam’s Legacy: Selected Speeches of and Tributes to Senator Murugeysan Tiruchelvam QC’. Having read it, I explored further and found an illuminating article written when the book was published in 2007 by my old schoolfriend D B S Jeyaraj, whom I knew as the slim young Sabapathy way back in the sixties. I was astonished, nearly two decades later, to find that the enormous Mr Jeyaraj, from whose newspaper columns there was so much to learn, was the same person.

Jeyaraj began his article, which celebrated the centenary in 2007 of Tiruchelvam’s birth, with an account of his first sight of the Senator, in 1970, a couple of years after he had resigned from the position of Minister of Local Government in Dudley Senanayake’s Cabinet. Sabapathy had vanished from S Thomas’, his family having relocated, as the article puts it, to Jaffna in that year. The occasion was an invitation to the Senator from V N Navaratnam, former MP for Chavakachcheri, whom coincidentally I wrote about last month on the 20th anniversary of his death in Canada, to be Chief Guest at the opening of the reconstructed Central Bus Stand at Chavakachcheri.

Ironically the paper publishing my article had included by mistake a picture of V Navaratnam, former MP for Kayts, who also died in Canada, much more recently. It was my fault, for I had mentioned only one initial, not realizing how far apart the two men had been. V Navaratnam had left the Federal Party in 1968, had set up his own party to agitate for self-rule, and ‘was viciously critical of M. Tiruchelvam and blamed him for allegedly misleading Chelvanayagam and betraying the Tamils.’

Jeyaraj went on to say that many MPs of the Federal Party, regretting the ill-fated alliance of the party with the Senanayake government, but unwilling to attack the revered Chelvanayakam, took it out on Tiruchelvam. As Jeyaraj puts it, ‘Gratitude has for long been a dwindling virtue in Tamil politics. V N Navaratnam was a rare exception’, which makes me the happier that I wrote about him, sadder that he was confused with the very different Member for Kayts.

Jeyaraj’s article puts succinctly the relentless criticism from which Tiruchelvam suffered, from a reborn FP after the break with the UNP, but more viciously from the SLFP led opposition during the period of alliance, and in particular its leftist components . Reading through the speeches, I was astonished at the crudity with which fellow Senators attacked him.

Senator Reggie Perera for instance, whom I had thought a model of cultural enlightenment, having expressed alarm at the inclusion of the Federal Party in the Government, mocked Senator Tiruchelvam’s pronunciation by suggesting that he had said ‘Hukkaduwa’ instead of ‘Hikkaduwa’. He went on to claim that the selling of the country to the Tamils would not be permitted, in his heckling during Senator Tiruchelvam’s speech on the Tamil Language Special Provisions Bill. Ordered to leave the Chamber for his continuing disturbances, he claimed on leaving (only to come back in shortly afterwards), ‘I will fight on the streets. I fought them once, I will fight again. But I do not blame you.

This is for the Sinhalese language, for the Sinhalese people, for unity among us.’

The university don Doric de Souza was as bad. Given that the LSSP had previously stood for parity for Tamil, he opposed the Bill on the specious grounds that the Federal Party wanted to ensure the primacy of the English Language. Behind this lay a refusal to affirm that the party still stood for parity, a backsliding that contributed to its appalling opposition to the later attempt of the government to establish District Councils.

Underlying the divisive bitterness that both these supposedly enlightened Senators evinced was perhaps disappointment that the Federal Party had thrown in its lot with the UNP rather than the left-wing coalition Mrs Bandaranaike had set up in 1964. Tiruchelvam’s maiden speech, in April 1965, soon after he was appointed to the Senate, suggests this, when he cites N M Perera’s claim that the Federal Party contributed to the defeat of the coalition government in December 1964, just when ‘the Tamils could enjoy the fruits of the talks’ which he had had with Mr Tiruchelvam in November 1964.

In fact, after the election, in March 1965, with no party having a clear majority, the FP had spoken to the coalition as well as to the UNP. Tiruchelvam gave two reasons for the decision to support the UNP – ‘One was…:once bitten, twice shy". Secondly, we thought, rightly or wrongly…we must support a Government that is wedded to the democratic process and democratic way of life’, a reference to the determination of the coalition to take over the Lake House group of newspapers (not, as de Souza pointed out, in correcting Tiruchelvam, the press as a whole’.

Ironically, the Federal Party, and Tiruchelvam in particular, were to be let down by the UNP too. Though the Tamil Special Provisions Bill was passed, the Regulations were not properly implemented. Worse, given opposition from within the UNP as well as from the official Opposition Dudley Senanayake abandoned the District Councils Bill which he had promised the FP he would introduce.

Tiruchelvam was mocked by the UNP after he had left the government, perhaps understandably, because he made clear the principal deficiency of the Prime Minister. Though he was positive about Dudley Senanayake’s moral decency, he was clear about why a government that began ‘with the support of the Sinhalese, with the support of the entire Tamil Members of Parliament, with the support of the Members of Parliament belonging to the Muslim community except one’ found itself by 1969 in a very different position –‘The Muslims are clearly restless and the Catholics are suspicious of the Government; the Buddhist hierarchy is up in arms against one Minister of the Government; the Government is confronted with an economic problem of terrific magnitude’.

He asks why ‘a man who started off under such favourable auspices in 1965, a man of undoubted integrity…a man who has no communal feelings, a man who hates to do what is wrong – come to this unfortunate and sorry pass?’ He answers the question in a way that continues to resonate, as undoubtledly popular governments over the last forty years persistently lose favour with the electorate – ‘I wish to say that the Prime Minister in a parliamentary democracy, vested with all power, can succeed, firstly if he has the necessary moral fibre, the necessary strength, to remove his uncomfortable colleagues; if necessary, to get rid of recalcitrant elements; if necessary, to be ruthless. I say that these are essential qualities of a Prime Minister. Honesty – yes; integrity – yes; political foresight – yes; but, in addition to that, firmness, strength, to get rid of colleagues who are inconvenient or undesirable in other ways.’

He talks then of the fact that Senanayake did not take his colleagues into his confidence regarding his discussions with the FP, ‘with the result that we had a Government which was not aware of its full commitment’. He adds that there were members of the Cabinet who ‘cannot get over their initial prejudices that the Tamils are a race apart’ and also ‘officials who have not accustomed themselves to treating the Tamils as equal fellow citizens’.

Tiruchelvam singles out one particular bugbear, the then Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs(IMRA Iriyagolla), and notes what seemed a deliberate attempt to bring down standards in Jaffna schools. I had not known about this, thinking that measures that restricted opportunities for children in the North began with the United Front government of 1970 (albeit initially for reasons of class rather than race).

But Tiruchelvam’s speech brought home to me how vital it is to prevent unnecessary interference through our centralized system of education in centres of educational excellence, interference aimed at bringing down what is superior, rather than improving what is bad. I was reminded then of a letter from the Government Agent in Vavuniya seeking relief from the dictates of an insensitive bureaucracy, and I can only hope that this administration will ensure that such irritants do not continue.

This government has I believe done much more than others to promote implementation of regulations with regard to language, to promote the bilingualism that was the subject of Tiruchelvam’s maiden speech (and indeed trilingualism, since we are now over the colonial hang-ups that erudite Doric de Souza suffered from). But, as Tiruchelvam noted, that will always be Ministers and Officials who refuse to understand that all citizens of this country are equal and must be treated equally. Dudley Senanayake, who came into office with so much promise, stumbled because of his failure to be firm about implementation of the policies he believed in. More than forty years later, with so much water or rather blood having flowed under so many bridges, we must hope that we do not make similar mistakes.

Senator Tiruchelvam ‘opposed the 1976 Vaddukottai Resolution that demanded a separate State of Thamileelam and advised Mr.Chelvanayagam against it’. His son Neelan became a hate figure to the Tigers, just as his father had been to those in the FP who were against compromise in the 70s, and was murdered in 1999, which led to the domination of the old TULF by the Tigers for the next decade.

Now, finally, the former democratic Tamil politicians have escaped from terrorist domination, and may go back to the principles of the Tiruchelvams, promoting the rights of Tamils but without espousing separatism or violence. We owe it, not just to their memories, but to the memories of all those of all races who suffered from violence, to ensure that a few divisive voices do not revive the resentments that Dudley Senanayake’s weakness of the sixties perpetuated for two generations.

February 12, 2011

'Independence day attack on UNP demonstration will not deter us'

by Rosy Senanayake

My decision to enter politics and the commitment with which I take my responsibilities has always been based on the fundamental freedoms that we, as Sri Lankans, have enjoyed since independence.

As a student, I remember my civic studies teacher explain my rights as a citizen as enshrined in the constitution – something that was always taken for granted.

TSTC212A.jpg

Rosy Senanayake

What happened on the 4th of February this year, a day when we celebrate independence from British rule, has surely been the ultimate assault on such privileges.

We were treated to an extravagant display of pomp and pageantry in the morning, followed by speeches that were meant to inspire the country.

All this was then turned into a farce when a peaceful demonstration was mercilessly targeted and savagely attacked that same evening.

The protest was to highlight the plight of General Sarath Fonseka, accepted by all — including the Executive —- to be a vital factor in defeating the LTTE. On this day our only intention was to bring to the attention of the country that a grave injustice is being perpetrated on such a hero by incarcerating him as a common criminal.

It is clear that a vast majority of the people feel accordingly and as citizens and as politicians, we have a duty to bring forth this travesty and to continuously ask for his redemption. It is with this intention that we marched peacefully towards Borella junction on Maradana Road, ironically away from the prison.

What happened is now well known but my personal experience was particularly harrowing. As thugs who looked very obviously trained in such activity, charged towards us with iron bars, clubs and huge stones; I was caught in the middle of what was a professional and well-planned operation.

By some miracle, I was able to get into a moving vehicle that was leaving — thanks to my personal security officer. In addition to physically protecting me, he was able to throw out a lit petrol bomb that was put into the vehicle from the rear; where the glass was already shattered by an iron rod.

Many viewers would have seen on television the flaming vehicle pull away from a situation that was meant to cause serious bodily harm to all who took part. In addition, my personal vehicle was smashed beyond recognition by the mob, breaking every glass and denting it all round in a willful act of destruction.

My driver, who held up his hands to protect himself from iron rods, had his fingers crushed and required emergency surgery – we await to see if he will be able to use his hands again.

It is now evident that persons who have been allocated to ‘control’ this area, as it is the common practice of the present regime, had taken on the responsibility entrusted to them with a vengeance. It is also clear that those who have activated a personal vendetta on the General, since he announced his interest in politics, supported such an action.

I personally think that the greatest shame was the ‘see no evil’ stance by the Police; as hundreds of them looked on, we were subjected to ferocious violence. The guardians of the law, as we have always seen them, were clearly under direct orders to do nothing – an order so converse to their entrusted role. Knowing my father-in-law, the former IGP Stanley Senanayake, and the principles he stood for, it is unthinkable that the modern-day Police could blatantly ignore such a crime due to political pressure.

So what of those among us who consider this a serious violation of our democratic rights?

They are the silent majority that suffers quietly, as extravagant spending by the state has resulted in no real relief for the people. In a country where housewives dread the journey to the market and where embarrassed mothers endure untold agony when unable to put even the basic of meals on the table, we continue to borrow from international loan sharks just to keep going and to fund self-congratulatory tamashas.

The people of Sri Lanka little realise that we are mortgaged to the third generation to come, as they are hoodwinked by the state media and spin doctors to believe that prosperity is just around the corner.

That is the very reason that we were attacked on Independence Day – a day set aside to celebrate the freeing of shackles from our colonial masters. The truth is a bitter pill and the message was that anyone who dares to exercise their right to draw attention to such double standards, including the media, can expect retribution with an iron fist.

However, I write today to say that it will not deter us – or those who truly value democracy in this country. As it is said, there are none so blind as those who will not see – the days of glossing over the shortcomings and laughing off the hard-pressed citizens with impunity are coming to a close.

As many international autocrats have realised, you can sit on a powder keg only for so long and the resultant explosion will be first felt by those who oppress the fundamental rights of democracy.

Grand music festival boosting Northern folk artistes to be held from March 25 - 27th in Jaffna

By Dhananjani Silva

The traditional folk artistes from the northern region of Sri Lanka are today an enthusiastic group making preparations for that grand comeback after almost three decades of oblivion. Jaffna Music Festival 2011 scheduled to be held from March 25-27 in the city of Jaffna will present a wonderful opportunity for folk artists from the Jaffna peninsula, who could not perform due to the environment that prevailed there during the war with the LTTE, to showcase their skills.

The festival will take place amidst a folk village camp setting which is built surrounding the main stage, explained the coordinator Jaffna Music Festival, Ramesh De Saram. The artists will lead simultaneous performances from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. followed by a daily main stage act from 4.p.m to 10 p.m. each day.

Colourful performances from the Jaffna Peninsula such as Kappat Paatu, Papiravaham, Chinthunadai Koothu, Villu Paattu, other forms of dance varieties representing Sri Lankan traditional arts such as famous mask dances, Kohombakankariya, Thovil, Muslim group performances, puppetry, stick dances, estate sector performances will also spice up the music festival, he added.

International folk music groups from Norway, India, Palestine, Nepal, and South Africa will also be featured. A series of village performances have also been lined up in February leading up to the final festival in March.

There will be open forum workshops with discussions on sound engineering, said artistic director Arunthathy Sri Ranganathan. Preserving our local musical heritage apart, the event promotes regional music cooperation and exchange of knowledge on folk arts, she added.

The Jaffna Music Festival is organised as a sister event of the Galle Music Festival held in 2009 and the event will alternate between Galle and Jaffna. It is supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy, Sewalanka Foundation and Aru Sri Art Theatre. Concerts Norway are implementing partners while Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, the main media sponsors will broadcast three performances island wide.

The event is open to the public free of charge. More details can be obtained via
http://www.jaffnamusicfestival.org. - courtesy: The Sunday Times -

Is Govt "allowing" foreigners circumvent laws in purchasing public property?

By Lasanda Kurukulasuriya

The government’s sale of several acres of land currently occupied by the Defence Ministry and Army Headquarters across the road from the Galle Face Green to a foreign hotel venture has not aroused much debate in either media or Opposition circles, as might have been expected.

The Hong Kong based Shangri La leisure group has bought 10 acres of the prime seafront property for $125 million for the purpose of constructing a luxury hotel. It appears that another foreign hotel project is also envisaged in this location. An Information Department statement in January said the “Ministry of Defence, Office of the Chief of Defence Staff and Army Headquarters along with Headquarters of other Armed Forces with residential facilities” would be relocating to Battaramulla to make way for “two giant foreign projects that will bring FDI of USD 1000 million.” It is not clear whether the sale includes the Air Force Headquarters facing Sir Chittampalam Gardiner Mawatha.

Deputy Economic Development Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena has said the deal was done outside of tender procedures. When UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake raised a question in Parliament in this regard on Tuesday, Minister Yapa defended the transaction arguing that the company in question was a “reputable” one and that the land, sold at $12.5 million per acre, was given at “three times the value” and therefore there was no cause for complaint.

Nevertheless several questions arise that are of public concern. What is the accepted procedure with regard to the disposal of state assets?

Why was the tender process not followed?

If there has been a departure from standard procedure what is the rationale, and shouldn’t there be parliamentary debate on it?

What are the criteria being applied here?

Perhaps they are perfectly good ones, but if they are not spelled out and subjected to public discussion the government leaves room for suspicions of some irregularity or fraud.

In the matter of corruption relating to public property a case that comes to mind is that of the privatization of Lanka Marine Services Ltd. In a landmark 2008 ruling against the John Keells group the Supreme Court held that several aspects of the transaction were illegal, including the transfer of eight acres of land belonging to the Colombo Port. The transaction was among the privatizations initiated during the previous UNP regime.

Another question that needs clarification in the light of the Shangri La deal is the government’s stand regarding the sale of property to foreigners. Doesn’t the fact that it is state property that is being traded to foreigners warrant some explanation?

If the guiding principle is that state property may be sold to any “reputable” foreign buyer, may Sinharaja then be parcelled out to the highest bidders?

What will go next?

Could it be Trincomalee Harbour?

It was an SLFP-led government that in 2004 introduced a 100% tax on land sales to foreigners, presumably in a bid to discourage such sales. It is well known that many foreigners have got around this obstacle by effecting their purchase through the mechanism of 99-year lease to a ‘company’ they set up with the help of local lawyers. In the case of the Shangri La deal it appears the government itself is allowing the use of this mechanism to circumvent its own law. There is a need for straightforwardness by the government with regard to its priorities on these several issues.

It is common knowledge that many of Sri Lanka’s prime beachfront properties have been bought privately by foreigners, particularly in Galle. It is argued that these properties, developed as hotel ventures, help boost the tourist industry and hence the local economy. Of necessity they would generate some local employment. But seeing that they are foreign-owned, the benefit to the economy would need to be weighed against the probability that the profits generated will be taken out of the country.

The consideration that gains may not be retained for the country’s economic benefit would also apply to tourist events associated with these properties, however ‘literary’ they may claim to be.

Such events may be hailed as the best thing since sliced bread by sections of Colombo’s entertainment-starved smart set, who will happily fork out for the overpriced tickets. But shouldn’t claims made on the basis of ‘cultural enrichment of the country’ be assessed in relation to the event’s accessibility, and benefit to the wider community (which there is, for example, at the Jaipur Literary Festival which is ‘Free and open to all’)?

Sri Lanka needs to retain its customary hospitality towards foreign visitors and residents, and there is much to be learnt from the entrepreneurship of the business people among them. But in the light of recent events there does seem to be a need for a better sense of priorities and perspective in evaluating their contribution. And when it comes to business transactions, it would be ridiculous, to say the least, to expect foreigners to abide by the rules if those in government are themselves found guilty of flouting them. ~ courtesy: the sunday times. lk ~

Imprisonment sentence must be declared invalid and Sarath Fonseka released immediately

by Elmore Perera

Has a three-member Court Martial been lawfully vested with power to impose upon an Army Officer a sentence of imprisonment?

A general Court Martial is instituted by the President (or an officer authorized by him) in the exercise of the executive power of the People. Clearly, therefore: "The institution of Court Martial, being an emanation of Executive Power, is not a Court, tribunal or institution set up (by the legislature in the exercise of the judicial power of the People) for the administration of justice which protect, vindicate and enforce the rights of the People, as described in Article 105 of the Constitution and has no place in the Judiciary as set out in Chapter XV of the Constitution.

None of the provisions of that Chapter, including, in particular, the provisions enshrining the independence of the judiciary (Articles 107 - 117), have any relevance with respect to a Court Martial. Any member of the Armed Forces who sits on a Court Martial does not hold paid office as a member of the Court Martial, nor does he fall within the definition of "Judicial Officer" found in Article 170 of the Constitution, although he is bound to act judicially when called upon to sit on a Court Martial."

This considered opinion has been explicitly expressed by at least one Judge of the Supreme Court. There can be no doubt that every single member of the Judiciary referred to in Chapter XV of the Constitution cannot rationally dissent from this opinion.

The failure of any member of a Court Martial to verily act judicially when sitting on a Court Martial, does not attract any adverse consequences provided, of course, that such act does not attract the disapproval of the Executive that appointed him as such member. Sadly however, there is no protection for a member who indeed acts judicially, but in doing so, incurs the displeasure of the Executive from whom he derives his authority.

The all important fundamental right enshrined in Article 13(4) of the Constitution provides that - "No person shall be punished with death or imprisonment except by order of a Competent Court, made in accordance with procedure established by law."

Having regard, inter alia, to the power of Courts Martial to impose sentences of death and imprisonment in terms of Section 133 of the Army Act read with Article 13(4) of the Constitution wherein it provides that such sentences may be imposed only by Competent Courts, the Chief Justice and four judges of the Supreme Court have held that the Court Martial in terms of the Army Act, is a "Court" in terms of Article 89(d) of the Constitution.

The disqualification referred to in Article 89(d) of the Constitution arises from "a sentence of imprisonment (by whatever name called) for a term not less than six months imposed after conviction by any Court (now explicitly including Court Martial) for an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term not less than two years."

Whilst it is correct to say that a Court Martial is indeed vested with the power to impose sentences of death or imprisonment on conviction of certain persons for certain offences in terms of Section 133 of the Army Act, there can be no doubt that such power can be lawfully exercised only on conviction of certain persons for certain offences according to law.

Section 131 of the Army Act provides that sentences of death or imprisonment may be imposed only where a person is convicted of the offence of treason, murder, culpable homicide not amounting to murder, or rape. Section 46(2) of the Army act provides that "A general Court Martial shall - where it is convened to try a person for the offence of treason, murder or rape, consist of not less than five officers.

The Court Martial convened to try Sarath Fonseka consisted of only three officers and were therefore not convened to try an offence of treason, murder or rape.

Section 132 of the Army Act provides that where an officer is convicted by a Court Martial of any civil offence not mentioned in Section 131 (i.e. an offence other than treason, murder or rape) he is only liable to be cashiered or to suffer any less severe punishment in the scale set out in Section 133. There is no provision in the law to impose a sentence of imprisonment on conviction of an officer for any such offence.

In these circumstances, the sentence of imprisonment imposed on Sarath Fonseka by a three-member Court Martial is clearly not according to law and therefore ab initio void and cannot be an impediment to his continuing as a Member of Parliament.

More urgently, the sentence of imprisonment must be declared invalid and Sarath Fonseka released without any further delay, to pre-empt any further irreparable harm being caused to him.

(Elmore Perera is Past-President OPA and Founder of CIMOGG - The Citizens' Movement for Good Governance)

Soft power, hard power and sustainable smart power

by Jayantha Dhanapala

(Text of Keynote Address titled Cultural Diplomacy and Soft Power- Sustainable Smart Power at the Opening Plenary of the South and Central Asia Fulbright Regional Workshop, Hilton Hotel, Colombo, 26 January, 2011.)

I think it is necessary for us to look beyond the current headlines, particularly with controversial Wikileaks and all the issues that they raise, in order to identify the trends that are taking place in international relations and to try to forecast how those trends will develop.

I see a confluence of three trends at the moment.

The first is the end of American empire - the end of the uni-polar world and the move towards a multi-polar world which coincides with an eclipse of hard military power.

Secondly, in terms of the world economy, I see the end of hard economic power - the end of the "Washington Consensus" which from 1980-2008 placed great faith in free market policies in a sort of creed of "market fundamentalism". If it needed the final nail in its coffin, it was the international financial crisis that has engulfed the world and, as Ban Ki-moon has said, "While recently we have heard much in this country about how problems on Wall Street are affecting innocent people on Main Street, we need to think more about those people around the world with no streets. Wall Street, Main Street, no street – the solutions devised must be for all."

The Washington Consensus has been replaced, perhaps, by what the G-20 call the Seoul Development Goals with a recognition of the need for state intervention and for the Millenium Development Goals of the UN to be achieved. But we have still to see how things evolve. Certainly what we are seeing again is the move towards a multi-polar system.

Thirdly, of course, is the impact of climate change - inexorable and irrefutable. The four reports of the IPCC all of them convey the vital importance of the world cooperating in order to find a response to this huge challenge to the survival of the planet.

Now in talking about soft power, I of course owe a great debt of gratitude to Joe Nye who I have had the privilege of knowing both in his academic capacity and also in his Pentagon avatar. His two books on the subject (published in 1990 and in 2004), have contributed enormously to the theory of international relations although I do not agree with all he says in them. And again, we owe a tribute to Senator Fulbright, whom I also had the pleasure of meeting when I was First Secretary in the Embassy of Sri Lanka, and whose great vision, as I said, has made the Fulbright programme inaugurated in 1946 into a very important element of the soft power of the United States.

So the plan of my presentation is to talk about the eclipse of hard power. I ought to then talk about a few of the declinist theories and the tectonic shifts of global power. I would like then to move on to identifying some of the elements of what I think is the soft power of the United States which can be converted into smart, sustainable power and discuss the existing programmes which are being used and which can be developed in the future. And, finally, to bring the different skeins of my argument together in some, hopefully, coherent conclusions.

The Eclipse of Hard Power

The eclipse of hard power is not going to be a smooth one. It is going to be a rocky road. Nobody likes to be displaced. We know that there is also behind hard military power, the military industrial complex, not only of the United States but of all the countries around the world.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) which has in its annual year book, its flagship publication, estimated that in 2009 the total military expenditure of the world was US $1,531 billion - a staggering figure far in excess of what the world spent during the height of the cold war. And of that figure 43% is spent by the United States alone. The next 20 countries on the list do not add up to that 43%. And so we have, therefore, this enormity of a misallocation of expenditure despite the US deficit, despite the international financial crisis and despite the enormous problems that we have internationally with over one billion people living on less than $2 a day while a cow in Europe is paid $3 a day to continue with the agricultural subsidies that are there for the European Union.

We also have huge arms sales with the U.S., Russia, Germany, France and U.K. accounting for 76% of the arms sales globally. Now, 50 years ago, in a very perceptive comment on the part of Eisenhower in his farewell address as President - and he was a military man who completed eight years as the U.S. president- he said, "In the councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.

The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper machine of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together."

Fifty years later, the message of President Eisenhower is still valid. But by the yard stick of hard military power the U.S., of course, ranks supreme. And yet, we find the United States embroiled in two unwinnable wars, extricating itself with difficulty from Iraq leaving that country in shambles, and also trying very hard to extricate itself from the war in Afghanistan.

So hard power clearly has limitations and we also see the same limitations with regard to hard economic power which as I said is represented by the Washington Consensus. Now Paul Kennedy, the British historian at Yale, published a book in 1987 about "the Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" and talked about the importance of economic power underpinning hard military power. Vietnam and Afghanistan for the two super powers were lessons that we have still not learnt - the lesson of "imperial overstretch".

Perhaps, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the last of the exercises in "gunboat diplomacy". Now, we have also got to learn lessons from the international financial crisis. But it is still not clear that we have learnt what is in fact the holistic definition of security today. That came about during the time when Kofi Annan was UN Secretary General when he said very clearly that there can be no security without development; no development without security; and there can be neither without human rights.

There was also a distinction made during that period between national security, which is the defense of territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation-state, and human security which is the ensuring of the security of the individual. And it is not always that we have the coincidence of both national security and human security which would be the ideal.

So as I said, Joe Nye’s concept which he first announced in his book "Bound to Lead: the Changing Nature of American Power" and followed later with "Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics" was essentially an identification of what Fulbright said in many ways which was that "In the long course of history having people who understand your thought is much greater security than another submarine."

Declinist Theories and Tectonic Shifts of Power

I want to move from there to talk about the decline of empires and the rise and fall of empires. A long time ago, in 1918, we had Oswald Spengler talking about the ‘decline of the west’ and it was very fashionable then to discuss the decline of the west between the two world wars. What we saw unfortunately was the rise of fascism instead and then, thereafter, we had World War II and the cold war.

But perhaps, more accurate than Spengler, is the vision of Arnold Toynbee who talks about "challenge and response" in his masterly monumental volumes on the history of the world. Or even more recently, the American geographer, Jarred Diamond, who talks in "Collapse" of the way in which in the past the various civilizations had responded to the environmental challenges of their times and some went under because they didn’t have an answer but some were able to survive. And all these examples are there for us as we face the current challenges we have.

But I think what is happening particularly in the evolution of the world economy is an important pointer for us. There is an emergence of the global south. As Deepak Nair, Emeritus Professor of the Delhi School of Economics has pointed out, in 1000 AD Asia, Africa and Latin America together accounted for 82% of the world population and 83% of global income. This continued for eight centuries. In 1820, the three continents still claimed three fourths of the world population and two thirds of its income.

Then, came the industrial revolution and colonialism, a revolution in transport and communication and the rise of Western Europe and the decline of Asia. Between 1870 and 1950 per capita incomes in Asia fell to one tenths of Western Europe. So also did the incomes in Africa and Latin America. But from 1950 Nayyar identifies a resurgence of developing countries and with it, of course, came decolonization.

From 1951 to 1980 there was rapid economic growth in the developing world. And in 2005 we were back to the same statistics as in 1870. This catch up has been limited to a few countries in the global south, particularly, India, Brazil, China and of course, the South East Asian countries but the 21st century is going to be the turning point. It is going to be a turning point where we are going to see an economic and political impact in the rise of the global south. There are, of course, very clearly demographic factors at work.

I like to quote Deepak Nair in some detail. He writes, "History does not repeat itself but it would be wise to learn from history. The early 19th century was a turning point in the world economy. It was the beginning of the end of Asia’s dominance in the world. And it was the beginning of the rise of Europe, in particular to Britain, to dominance in the world. The early 20th century was the next turning point.

It was the beginning of the end of Britain’s dominance in the world and it was the beginning of the rise of the U.S.A. to dominance in the world. The catch up and the transformation spanned half a century. The early 21st century, perhaps, represents a similar turning point. It could be the beginning of the end of the dominant status of the U.S.A. in the world.

"The emergence of countries outside North America and Western Europe, particularly, the power house economies in Asia which began with the East Asian success stories is now manifest in the rise of China and India, represents a striking transformation. In addition there are emerging economies in other continents of the developing world among which Brazil and South Africa deserve mention.

Of course, in the decades to come the continued rise of these countries, or the developing world as a whole, is not quite predictable and by no means certain. It would depend, in large part, on whether developing countries can transform themselves into inclusive societies where economic growth, human development and social progress move in tandem. This catch up and transformation, if it materializes, could also span a half century or longer. Yet the beginnings of a shift in the balance of power are discernible and the past could be a pointer to the future." (Developing Countries in the World Economy – The Future in the Past?" WIDER annual Lecture, February 2009)

That in many ways echoes what T.S. Elliot said in Four Quartets – "Time present and time past, are both perhaps present in time future."

Elements of US Soft Power

And so we move from this situation of a tectonic shift in global power - in the locus of power, both political and economic, but more in soft power terms, to the global south. And if we are going to have the United States still wielding an important influence, as it should with the enormous soft power at its hand, we must see that the programme such as the one we have here, the Fulbright programme, that it should be nurtured and developed. I think, absent the use of soft power, you are going to see a hastening of the transfer of power to other centres.

So my message is that the elements of U.S. smart power have got to be valued. And these elements begin, of course, with the constitution of the United States. The 1776 achievement, democracy, the separation of powers, the civil liberties and the rule of law which used 1776 as a foundation and built on it with the achievement of successive presidents, with the achievement of Martin Luther King and several others, the generosity of the foundations such as the McCarthur Foundation which identifies, for example, individuals both in the United States and elsewhere for genius awards, which identifies effective institutions for support.

There are also the great educational institutions of the United States. In a recent survey of world university rankings by the London Times, the first five universities are U.S. universities and in the first 200 universities, over 75 are from the United States. And they attract, like magnets, students of high calibre from all over the world and not only the United States. And if you retain this element of soft power you will retain the influence that will be a beneficial influence, both globally and domestically.

There are also the arts, the music, the theatre, the ballet, the literature which has been an important vehicle transmitting U.S. culture abroad. There is the enormous innovation that has taken place in environment and energy, the technologies that are being invented all the time. And here again, the issue of the edge that the United States has in Science and Technology. The money that has been spent for research and development still is very high in the United States but it is falling. It fell from 40 % of the global expenditure in 1996 to 35% in 2007. Whereas Asia’s component of global expenditure on research and development is rising and it is today 31%.

So, of the $ 1.1 trillion that is being spent globally you will find that the United States is not spending as much as what it should be spending in order to retain its position of supremacy in this field. Likewise, with patent applications which are a very useful guide to how innovative your industry is, how innovative your R&D is, here again, you have a catch up on the part of Asia, with China, the Republic of Korea and Japan leading the way.

But finally, of course, your wealth lies in the American people. The enormous diversity of the American population and the way which America continues to attract immigrants from a wide variety of countries. I think this must remain one of the important elements of the soft power of the United States which has to be used wisely and well. And the existing programmes, of course, include the Fulbright programme. In many ways you in this workshop, participating in the administration of the Fulbright programme are the harbingers of a shift to smart power.

The exchange programmes also include the international visitors programme, the Eisenhower Fellowship Programme and so many others. There are, of course, American Colleges setting up campuses in different parts of the world and this is in many ways a way in which the more pessimistic concept of a "clash among civilization" which Samuel Huntington talked of is being converted especially with the UN programme for an alliance among civilizations. And one of the earliest alliances among civilizations is the Fulbright Programme. Because it was conceived as a bi-national programme in all humility accepting the fact that the United States can also learn from other cultures and from other civilizations.

So we have, therefore, in this new global context, inter- dependence which is so important. We have the concept of the United States as a great power leading the world in the transition - in the transition from hard power to soft power rather than dominating the world with its hard power. We have an effort to make the entire global system more transparent and more equitable as well.

Conclusion

Let me conclude by talking about the importance of the human development concept as an alternative to hard economic power, because in the latest Human Development Report of the UNDP, about two decades after the concept was first introduced by the late Mahbub Ul Haq, we have the United Stated still being ranked as number four. And I think that is a very important aspect. China ranks 89, Russia ranks 65, France 14, U.K. 26, Sri Lanka, of course 91, but nevertheless a very respectable ranking for a developing country. But what is important is that the developed countries also bear in mind the importance of human development and not free market policies alone.

If I may quote from the Human Development Report giving a definition of what human development is and what we should be aiming at in the exercise of our soft power - "Human development is the expansion of people’s freedoms to live long, healthy and creative lives; to advance other goals they have reason to value; and to engage actively in shaping development equitably and sustainably on a shared planet. People are both the beneficiaries and the drivers of human development as individuals and in groups."

Fulbright warned us a long time ago about the arrogance of power. All nations, of course, are liable to the hubris of power. I think the propensity for arrogance will be much less if we exercise soft power and not hard power. And here again, we have heard many quotations from Senator Fulbright but if I may leave one more quotation with you. He said once, "There are two Americas. One is the America of Lincoln and Adlai Stevenson; the other is the America of Teddy Roosevelt and modern super -patriots. (He might have added George Bush and Sarah Palin here had he been alive today!)

One is generous and humane, the other narrowly egotistical; one is self-critical, the other self-righteous; one is sensible, the other romantic; one is good-humoured, the other solemn; one is inquiring, the other pontificating; one is moderate, the other filled with passionate intensity; one is judicious and the other arrogant in the use of great power."

What Fulbright said of his own country is applicable, of course, to other countries as well including to my own country. We have to acknowledge that, as Winston Churchill once said, "The United States invariably does the right thing - after having exhausted every other alternative"! And so, after having exhausted hard power, my hope and my plea is that the United States will now make the transition to soft power because that is the smart and sustainable thing to do in order to continue to wield its very beneficial influence on the world as we now know it and as we face so many challenges together.

Courts have no power to interfere directly or indirectly with the affairs of parliament

(Speech made by Ranil Wickremesinghe – Leader of the opposition at the opening ceremony of the 3rd CPA Asia Regional Conference in Colombo, on February, 12, 2001)

by Ranil Wickremesinghe

Mr Speaker,

Honourable Speakers of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Maldives
Honourable Prime Minister
The Guest of Honour – Honourable Lady Speaker of the Lok Sabha
Your Excellencies
Fellow Parliamentarians and friends

The South Asian Parliaments have a long history going back to the Order in Council which established the Legislative Council of Ceylon in 1835 in the case of Sri Lanka or Indian Council Act of 1861 in respect of the Parliaments of the sub continent. This has given us invaluable experience in shaping the rules, procedures and practices which govern the conduct of proceedings in our chambers.

We are also members of the Commonwealth of Nations and more particularly of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Therefore our obligations are not confined to upholding the rules of procedure but also to implement fundamental political values of the Commonwealth of Nations. This is what makes us different from other Parliamentary Associations. Being members of the Commonwealth we are all committed to Parliamentary Democracy and the role of Parliament in upholding the fundamental political values of the Commonwealth. The Harare Declaration incorporated the Commonwealth’s commitment to

* the liberty of the individual under the law,

* equal rights for all citizens;

* democracy and democratic processes,

* just and honest government.

The Coolum Declaration reiterated the commitment to "strengthen the Commonwealth’s capacity to support its members’ pursuit of democratic values and the rule of law". The Declaration also clarified the condition under which the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group would act to deal with serious or persistent violations of the Harare Declaration.

In the 2009 Trinidad and Tobago Resolution the Heads of Government reiterated the Commonwealth’s core values.

* Democracy: reaffirming our belief in the inalienable right of the individual to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in shaping the society in which they live; underlining that not only governments but all political parties and civil society also have responsibilities in upholding and promoting democratic culture and practices as well as accountability to the public in this regard; and recognising that Parliaments are essential elements in the exercise of democratic governance;

* Recognising that tolerance respect and understanding strengthen democracy

* Separation of powers:

* Rule of law; and

* the Freedom of expression

These declarations are supplemented by the Latimer House Principles for Good Governance of 2005. These principles provided a framework for the implementation by governments, Parliaments and the judiciary of the Commonwealth’s fundamental values. This includes

* The Parliamentarians’ rights to carry out their legislative and constitutional functions free from unlawful interference.

* The Parliaments duty to promote zero tolerance of corruption as well as a transparent and accountable Government, together with freedom of expression.

These principles require Parliaments to establish or enhance appropriate oversight bodies such as the Public Accounts Committee, Ombudsman, Human Rights Committees, Anti-Corruption Committees, Auditors General and information commissions which can play a key role in enhancing public awareness of good governance and rule of law issues.

Corruption and bad governance brings about suffering for the people and the decay of the State. Across the world, we see people agitating for the removal of corrupt leaders who have fattened themselves by bleeding their countries while the people suffer in poverty. I am happy to note the presence of Srimathi Meera Kumar, Speaker of the Lok Sabha. India has public interest litigation which can challenge the corruption of the high and mighty and also a Freedom of Information Act which promotes transparency in public matters. I am aware that sentiments have been expressed in India of the need to strengthen the Lok Sabha Committee system by making it mandatory for the Government to report back to Parliament on the follow up action. This is a very welcome suggestion.

Attempts to stifle probes and sweep corrupt activities under the carpet are not compatible with Democracy. Denial of basic rights, covering Government activities in a veil of secrecy and establishing a Constitutional dictatorship supposedly for the purpose of furthering economic development and prosperity is also unacceptable. India’s vibrant democracy and its economic development contradict the theory that a country can achieve economic development only through autocratic means. In fact, economic development becomes meaningful only when the people enjoy fundamental human rights.

We also have similar issues in Sri Lanka and there is no doubt that oversight by effective Parliamentary Committees like the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) would be the ideal forum to probe similar issues and inquire into the magnitude of corruptions. However, oversight should be effective and not merely nominal. This is why we have called for :
a. Senior members of the Opposition to chair the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE); and

b. the Enactment of the promised Freedom of Information Act.

We in the Opposition have also tabled a Resolution for the establishment of Oversight Committees in Parliament because we find that the present Consultative Committees headed by the Ministers are ineffective.

How are these fundamental values to be upheld? The main issue is how are these to be enforced. A Parliamentary democracy also means the rule of the majority in Parliament. Furthermore, the Cabinet of Ministers is a committee of senior leaders of the majority party in Parliament. Therefore, there are many instances where Ministers seek to protect their governments by restricting these Parliamentary Rights and values. Therefore an onerous task falls on the Speaker, to ensure that his rulings are based on the Fundamental Commonwealth Values.

The task of the Speaker is not an easy one, judging from the fate Madam Speaker of your predecessor in the Lok Sabha. Secondly, who is to advise the Speaker on the core values of the Commonwealth. There are also in addition, similar declarations by the Inter Parliamentary Union based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

One of our former Speakers, the Late Anura Bandaranaike showed a way out. When confronted with a decision where a bench of three judges of the Supreme Court issued a Stay Order restraining the Speaker. He took advice from a panel consisting of distinguished lawyers, nominated by both sides of the House, the Secretary General of Parliament and some of his predecessors. As a result he upheld the principle in Bradlaugh v. Gossett that the Courts have no power to interfere with the affairs of Parliament directly or indirectly.

I can understand the dilemma of a Speaker when these issues are raised. I myself have placed our Speaker in this situation by taking up the case of the infringement of a member’s rights through the mechanisms of Army Courts Martial and denying him the protection of a more recent law which safeguards his fundamental rights.

Therefore, in such instances, a Speaker of Parliament should be advised by a panel which will include CPA representatives nominated by the Secretary General of the CPA. This will ensure that the fundamental political values of the Commonwealth are upheld. This course of action will ensure that the Speaker’s rulings incorporate these fundamental political values.

Secondly the Edinburgh Plan of Action of July 2008 called for the Commonwealth Secretariat to establish a Standing Committee to report on the implementation of these principles to the deliberations of the Commonwealth including the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. There is a need to take action to implement this proposal or in the alternative to expand the mandate of the Eminent Persons to cover this responsibility.

Our Regional Association has also an obligation to promote peer review of the compliance with the principles by Regional Parliaments. It is best that the South Asian Regional Association and the Indian region Associations jointly carry out this review.

Since the 17th Century Parliaments have led the fight for individual liberty and democracy. I need not recount the role of the British Parliament and the American Congress. But it is we in the region who have made Democracy meaningful to nearly one and a half billion people. This is why I call upon our Regional Parliaments to reaffirm our commitment by devising an effective mechanism to ensure that we all implement the fundamental political values of the Commonwealth. We must continue to do so by implementing the Harare Declaration. If we do not act, we will only be betraying our voters.

Fall of Fonseka indicates that Rajapaksas cannot be beaten at their own game

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“….the dream of justice became subsumed into the callousness of reality, and people settled into a quarter century of life-waste and spirit-waste, of hardening attitudes and narrowing possibilities….” — Seamus Heaney (Nobel Lecture – 1995)

As 1.2 million Lankans struggled with the devastating effects of back-to-back floods, at an ostentatious Independence Day ceremony in Kataragama, President Rajapaksa delivered a peroration about the need to safeguard national-freedom. That evening, in the heart of Colombo, a peaceful protest demanding the release of Gen. Sarath Fonseka was attacked by armed thugs, as the police, in its new role as the guardians, not of the Rule of Law but of the Law of the Rulers, watched impassively.

That brutal attack demonstrated, yet again, that in today’s Sri Lanka, the primary foes of democracy and freedom are the Ruling Rajapaksas and their dynastic project.

Juvenal in his Satires asked, Quis custodiet ipsos custodies? (‘But who will guard the guards themselves’?)

When accorded carte blanche, even elected leaders can metamorphose into tyrants; Adolf Hitler, Papa Doc Duvalier and Robert Mugabe are examples of elected rulers who transformed democracies into tyrannies, from within. The deciding factor thus is not the manner in which a leader comes to power but the nature of his political project. Even the most democratic state can be transformed into a tyranny under a leader who nurses a “terrorist power philosophy” propounding a “barbaric friend-foe principle as opposed to the democratic idea of compromise” (The German Dictatorship – Karl Dietrich Bracher).

Such rulers wilfully conflate national freedom with their own freedom to rule with impunity and democratic opponents as national enemies. In such situations, the freedom of the rulers and the freedom of the people become mutually incompatible; rulers can be free only by depriving people of their freedom while people, in order to be free, must resist their rulers.

In his Independence Day Speech President Rajapaksa boasted, “We have taken many giant strides towards upholding and strengthening that freedom as never taken before”. In reality, this transliterates into keeping the Emergency, the PTA and a host of other repressive laws in place despite the end of the war, removing presidential term-limits, turning Independent Commissions into presidential appendages, subverting the judiciary, and using violence to silence dissent. In a move which is symbolic and symbiotic of this predatory rule, First Son Namal Rajapaksa was entrusted with the management of the historic Namal Uyana in Dambulla, a treasure trove with its pink-quartz mountains.

President Rajapaksa’s Independence Day Speech contained many Orwellian moments. For instance, he waxed eloquent about building a ‘law abiding society’ with ‘respect for discipline’, just four days after the LankaeNews office was torched and even as officially-mandated goons were preparing to attack a peaceful demonstration. Tyrants are not law-abiding; they are the first violators of the law. Their notion of a law-abiding society is one in which the rulers order and the ruled obey while their idea of discipline consists of rulers acting like wild asses as the ruled bow their heads in eternal docility.

The President clearly indicated what freedom means in the politico-ideological lingua franca of Rajapaksa Sri Lanka: “Similar to the right of all citizens to the freedom of expression, it is also their duty and responsibility to respect the dignity of the motherland in enjoying that freedom. I wish to emphasize this is also the responsibility of the Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and all communities among us, as well as of all political parties”.

Since motherland is equated with the Rajapaksas, opposing them is translatable into disrespecting the ‘dignity of the motherland’. Anyone who violates this basic principle will be treated as an enemy of the motherland. None is exempt from this iron-rule, not even the war-winning Army Commander. That is how Gen. Fonseka is not only languishing in jail but has ceased to be a national hero.

Despite his enormous contribution to the Sinhala supremacist cause, he became an anti-patriot, the moment he went against the Rajapaksas. His fall is the best possible indication that the Rajapaksas cannot be beaten at their own game, in their own terrain. The South must be weaned away from the Rajapaksa narrative, according to which the Ruling Family is the sole bulwark against persistent attempts by an envious, malicious world to destroy Sri Lanka. Such a transformation of the psycho-ideological terrain is a necessary precondition for freeing Sri Lanka from the Rajapaksas tentacles.

As the first round of floods subsided and people across the land were trying to piece together their shattered lives, the Rajapaksa administration officially launched the logo for the 2018 Commonwealth Games bid for Hambantota. The choice of the location is indicative of the real motive behind this expensive folly. Why have the Commonwealth Games in Hambantota where every facility will have to be built from scratch? If the object is to enable a non-Colombo District to host the Games, why not Kandy, Galle, Anuradhapura, Trincomalee or Jaffna?

Because Hambantota is the family-fief of the Rajapaksas; and the real purpose of these international circuses is to bring greater glory to the Rajapaksas, to slake their parching-thirst for global renown. The Rajapaksas want to stride the international stage, winning accolades from Washington to London. (It is not for nothing that two of the Rajapaksa siblings are also citizens of the US!) To satisfy this megalomania, Sri Lanka is being compelled to pay thorough her nose to host international tamashas, spending money she does not have and must borrow, money she should have spent on helping the victims of wars and natural disasters.

According to media reports, the Treasury has set aside Rs.850 million for flood relief. Given that more than a million people have been directly affected by the floods, this amounts to the princely sum of Rs.800 per person!

Lopsided priorities are the norm under despotic rule. The only concession the Rajapaksas made to the double-deluge was to cancel two musical shows connected to the Cricket World Cup. The Independence Day was held with the usual pomp and pageantry in Kataragama while the Deyata Kirula exhibition too went ahead, devouring state funds, resources and energies which could have been used for flood relief purposes.

The Rajapaksas taught us to turn a blind eye to the plight of civilian Tamils during and after the war. In an equally distressing development, the callous indifference of the rulers to the plight of the flood victims is becoming mirrored in Southern society. Normally when a natural disaster occurs, Lankan society mobilises itself to assist its affected members.

Such a societal effort at providing assistance is conspicuous by its absence this time around, despite the magnitude of the havoc wreaked by the floods. Lankan society, like the rulers, seems to have gone into a collective denial, preferring the escapism provided by the Cricket World Cup to dealing with the devastating plight of the flood victims and the effects the destruction is likely to have on the entire society (especially in the form of higher prices).

Is Lankan society embracing the hypocrisy and the ruthless self-centredness which are the hallmarks of Rajapaksas ethos? Are the Rajapaksas turning us into a nation like themselves?

February 11, 2011

US urged to work with Sri Lanka gov to encourage transparency, accountability, and equal representation of Tamils

American Enterprise Institute event Video: Sri Lanka: The Road Ahead

WASHINGTON, FEBRUARY 11, 2011

The United States should work with the Sri Lankan government to encourage transparency, accountability, and equal representation of Tamils--a historically marginalized, persecuted, and underrepresented ethnic group--panelists agreed at an American Enterprise Institute event Friday.

The conference focused on Sri Lanka's troubled past and its prospects for future reconciliation and growth.

Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation expressed hope for tolerance and open debate between Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa's government and the Tamils. Curtis asserted that the United States should support the country's significant economic growth and development, especially given Sri Lanka's strategic maritime and geopolitical role in South Asia. Dan Camp of the US Foreign Service disagreed, stating that US engagement has been purely humanitarian, while Sri Lanka seeks to maintain good relations with the United States to secure a market for its exports.

He added that while Tamils outside of Sri Lanka hope to attain greater retribution, local populations are, by necessity, more concerned with basic needs and material well-being. Karunyan Arulanantham, native Tamil and humanitarian activist, stressed that Tamil militancy and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam emerged only after a long history of hurt and conflict. Reconciliation would require the Sri Lankan government to become accountable to the Tamil people, to allow them due share of power, and to allow them to seek official recognition of war crimes.

Jennifer Leonard of the International Crisis Group regrets that the eighteenth amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution has lifted all checks on the president, allowing Rajapaksa to stall devolution of power to the northern and eastern Tamil regions. While the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission hearings attempt to bring justice for ethnic Tamils, they are not an adequate forum to provide real accountability. Since the sympathies of most who have testified lie with the government, human rights infractions have not been adequately portrayed.


American Enterprise Institute media release

American Enterprise Institute - AEI is a private, nonpartisan, not-for-profit institution dedicated to research and education on issues of government, politics, economics, and social welfare. Founded in 1943, AEI is home to some of America's most accomplished public policy experts--from economics, law, political science, defense and foreign policy studies, ethics, theology, health care, and other fields.

Successful South Sudan aside, leaders aspiring to crush secessionist movements look at Sri Lanka with awe

For every successful South Sudan, there are several suppressed Chechnyas. And every leader like Putin who aspires to crush secessionist movements has been looking with awe at Sri Lanka and its leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

by John Feffer
Co-director, Foreign Policy In Focus

A nation is like a marriage, or so Lenin imagined it to be, with each partner or province having a right to get out if things go horribly wrong. The Soviet constitution of 1918 provided this right to each of the republics. It wasn't an innovation that many other countries followed. And yet, constitutional provisions or not, the S word -- secession -- has occasionally brought nations to the brink of dissolution.

Sometimes these separations are amicable. Drawing a line down the middle of its name and its territory, Czechoslovakia dissolved its union without much fuss. Yugoslavia, on the other hand, was a very ugly divorce indeed.

Generally, "secession" is a very bad word in international relations. During the Cold War, many peoples -- Biafrans, Basques, Kurds -- uttered the word only to be severely punished for their transgressions. Bangladesh managed to break off from West Pakistan to form a new country - but probably only because a thousand miles of Indian territory already separated the two. After the Cold War, secession briefly became more popular, as the Soviet republics tipped their hat to Lenin as they went their separate ways. Elsewhere, Eritrea severed relations with Ethiopia, Namibia split from South Africa, and East Timor broke away from Indonesia. Yugoslavia was more than 15 years in the unmaking.

With so many post-Cold War precedents, you'd think secession wouldn't be dirty word today. For some, that's certainly the case. When voters went to the polls last month in Southern Sudan, nearly 99 percent opted for independence. The government in Khartoum has given its okay, so in July, Africa's largest country will formally split in two. Of course, this separation comes only after a 22-year-long civil war that left two million dead and four million displaced. That's an enormous price to pay. But many peoples in the world make comparable sacrifices and never get their own state.

Consider Chechnya. It fought two wars against Russia, lost 75,000 civilians, suffered through kidnappings and torture and the leveling of the capital Grozny. Not only have they not achieved independence, the Chechens must now put up with a Russian-installed dictator, Ramzan Kadyrov. A few years ago, one of Kadyrov's bodyguards ran away to Europe and testified about his employer's propensity for abduction and torture. At the beginning of 2009, in a botched kidnapping, several of Kadyrov's lackeys shot the whistleblower to death in Vienna.

In Chechnya's north Caucasus neighbors -- Dagestan, Ingushetia -- there's more talk about exiting Russia. The recent suicide bombing at the Moscow airport was organized by one of the factions pushing for independence. Putin has vowed to eliminate the "nest of bandits" responsible for the crime.

For every successful South Sudan, there are several suppressed Chechnyas. And every leader like Putin who aspires to crush secessionist movements has been looking with awe at Sri Lanka and its leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

In May 2009, Rajapaksa orchestrated the eradication of the movement for Tamil independence, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This terrifying culmination of a three-year offensive, according to the former UN spokesperson in Colombo, left as many as 40,000 civilians dead. A number of countries denounced the actions of the Sri Lankan military, and the UN Human Rights Council, with U.S. support, began to look into war crimes. The government has denied the allegations. "I will not allow any investigation by the United Nations or any other country," said Rajapaksa's brother, who also happens to be the defense minister.

The official condemnations from governments contrast rather sharply with the reactions of military personnel involved in counter-terrorism operations. They've treated Sri Lankan military leaders like rock stars. The New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson attended a recent conference on maritime security in Sri Lanka, where the formal agenda included discussions of piracy and other matters. "But mostly the conference was an opportunity for Sri Lanka's military leaders to boast to their colleagues about beating the Tigers," he writes. "The foreign speakers congratulated them on their achievement, and asked eagerly about the techniques they had used. Brigadier General Stanley Osserman, of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Command, said, 'Sri Lanka has a lot to offer in the field of terrorism prevention and maritime security.'"

The Sri Lankan "solution" of massive firepower and unrestrained ruthlessness was nothing particularly new. The Sri Lankan military might even have picked up some pointers from General William Tecumseh Sherman, who cut a swath to the sea in 1864 in a bid to make sure that the American south would never utter the S-word again. What made the campaign against the LTTE unusual was that it took place in the Internet age. Other countries are studying the Sri Lankan case not so much for how they did it, but how they got away with it.

Of course a third possibility lies between the success of Sudan and the failure of the Tamil Tigers, the Chechens, and most everyone else. Many states exist in a kind of limbo. Taiwan functions like an independent country and can stay that way as long as it doesn't make any formal declarations that would irk Mainland China. Kosovo has been recognized by 75 countries and last July the International Court of Justice upheld its declaration of independence. But Russia, China, and Spain -- which have their own problems with the S word -- have still barred entrance to the club of independent countries.

But Taiwan and Kosovo are still pretty lucky. They at least have gotten some recognition. Somaliland seceded from Somalia back in 1991. Yet no other country has recognized it. That's like throwing a party, inviting the world, and then sitting all night by yourself with all the chips and punch.

Last month, another section of Somalia filed for divorce. Puntland, like Somaliland, has been relatively stable, at least compared to the rest of the troubled country. Puntland's uttering of the S-word may simply be tactical, however. "It is willing to be part of a federal Somalia, so its secession is not irrevocable," writes Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF) contributor Hussein Yusuf in Puntland Splits. "Rather, it made its declaration as a kind of wake-up call to the international community. It wanted to call attention to the TFG leadership's inability and unwillingness to cooperate with the rest of Somalia."

The fate of these would-be countries is being closely watched. Many Walloons, Basques, Corsicans, Western Saharans, Acehnese, Naga, Karen, Tibetans, Kurds, Baluchis, Vermonters, and many, many others are wondering whether they will be able to say the S word and see it happen. With South Sudan leading the way, divorce might become a great deal more popular in the near future. They might just have to knock down some walls in the UN General Assembly to accommodate all the new seats. ~ courtesy: The Huffington Post ~

February 10, 2011

Rights advocates decry detention of refugee claimants from MV Sun Sea

Media Release
10 Feb 2011

The Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International Canada, the Canadian Tamil Congress and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group expressed their dismay today at the government’s aggressive efforts to keep the passengers of the MV Sun Sea in detention. As a result, men, women and children seeking Canada’s protection have spent months deprived of their freedom, at significant cost to the taxpayer.

“Liberty is a fundamental right,” said Gloria Nafziger of Amnesty International. “It can only be restricted only when absolutely necessary and for as short a period of time as possible. Any such restrictions should be in keeping with clear legal standards. And everything possible should be done to avoid locking up children. The government's approach to the detention of the Sun Sea passengers runs counter to these fundamental human rights principles.”

Most refugee claimants are not detained on arrival in Canada, and those that are detained are usually released within a matter of days or weeks. In the case of the MV Sun Sea passengers, however, the government has been demanding more proofs of identity than usual, investing significant energy and resources in a search for adverse information about the passengers, advancing weak arguments for inadmissibility based on tenuous alleged connections with the LTTE, vigorously opposing release by the Immigration and Refugee Board, and contesting orders of release in the Federal Court, even in cases involving children.

“We need to be fair in how we treat people fleeing persecution,” said Wanda Yamamoto, CCR President. “Whether they arrive by land, air or sea, they should be treated the same – singling out these claimants for special harsh treatment looks like discrimination.”

Supplementary estimates[1] tabled in Parliament Tuesday reveal the huge cost of the government’s chosen response to the MV Sun Sea arrivals. The Canada Border Services Agency expenses for the MV Sun Sea, which include the direct detention costs, come to over $22 million. The costs for the Immigration and Refugee Board, largely for the detention reviews, come to $900,000.

These costs would be dramatically lower if the MV Sun Sea passengers had been treated by the government the same as other refugee claimants, and released as soon as their identity was reasonably established.

As high as the current costs are, they would be even higher under the government’s anti-smuggling bill, Bill C-49, since it imposes mandatory one-year detention for designated arrivals.

“Earlier experience with the Ocean Lady passengers shows us that long-term detention is completely unnecessary,” said David Poopalapillai, National Spokesperson, Canadian Tamil Congress. “Those who arrived on the Ocean Lady in 2009 have all being complying with their bail conditions – none of them have absconded. Keeping the Sun Sea passengers locked up is unfair to them, expensive for the taxpayer and serves no rational purpose.”

A recently published evaluation of the Canada Border Services Agency detention program reveals that costs have been rising, there is a lack of consistency and there is inadequate consideration of alternatives to detention.[2]

See backgrounder for more information.

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[1] http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/est-pre/20102011/sups/C/docs/index-eng.pdf

[2] CBSA Detentions and Removals Programs - Evaluation Study, Final Report, November 2010, http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/agency-agence/reports-rapports/ae-ve/2010/dr-rd-eng.html

Backgrounder: Detention of refugee claimants from MV Sun Sea

The following are examples of cases where the Federal Court confirmed the Immigration and Refugee Board order of release, contested by the government:

The Federal Court denied the government’s application for a stay in a case involving three mothers and their five children, detained while their identity was investigated. The Court rejected the government’s argument that it would suffer irreparable harm if the women and children were released. In ordering the release, the Immigration and Refugee Board had noted that the government was holding the issue of identity to a higher standard than usual: normally, the government would consent to release once the National Identity Card was authenticated. The Court highlighted the impact of detention on the children affected: “Five young children are currently being detained and incarcerated with their mothers. They have already gone through a gruelling journey, which could leave them with severe emotional and psychological scars. Moreover, some of them are of an education age and have had no schooling for almost a year. Their prolonged detention could only aggravate their misery.”[1]

A journalist who worked in the LTTE controlled part of Sri Lanka was ordered released by the Immigration and Refugee Board. The UNHCR identifies journalists as a group at risk of persecution in Sri Lanka.[2] Although the journalist said he is not a member of the LTTE, that his paper is not an LTTE paper and spoke against the LTTE, the government is arguing that he is an LTTE member. The Immigration and Refugee Board did not consider those arguments very strong. Nevertheless, the government contested the Board’s order of release to the Federal Court. The Immigration and Refugee Board had ordered the journalist released on November 1, 2010. The Federal Court confirmed heard the release order on 26 January 2011, rejecting all of the government’s arguments. Because of the government’s aggressive efforts to prevent his release, the journalist spent three extra months in detention, after he had been granted his liberty.[3]

See also CCR, Myths and Facts 2011

February 2011

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[1] IMM-5359-10, IMM-5360-10, IMM-5361-10, Federal Court order, 17 September 2010.

[2] UNHCR Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection Needs of Asylum-Seekers from Sri Lanka, 5 July 2010, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4c31a5b82.html

[3] Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v. B188, 2011 FC 94, 26 January 2011, http://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/en/2011/2011fc94/2011fc94.html

Violence still plagues my Sri Lankan homeland

By Emil Van Der Poorten
Edmonton Journal February 10, 2011

If anyone told me 10 years ago that I would be sitting down at a keyboard to produce a piece such as this, I would have said they were nuts.

I was born before the Second World War in Sri Lanka and lived the first 35 years of my life in an affluent, landowning family. As a consequence, I was saved the usual challenges that most citizens faced in a developing country in southern Asia

The imposition of land reform that severely restricted the extent of land I was permitted to own had a serious negative impact on my ability to earn a livelihood because the division of plantation land into a maximum of 50-acre parcels did not provide an economical agricultural unit. In addition, there was the clear and present danger of that 50 acres being appropriated by a government that saw anyone who had opposed it in the previous election as being fair game for victimization.

Off to Canada I went, with a wife, a young daughter and an infant son, at the end of 1973.

While the travails of integration into a new society and economy did present challenges, we had those challenges significantly cushioned by family already established in Ontario and by English being our first language. After two years in Toronto, we moved west; first to southern Alberta and then to the north-central part of the province.

When we first arrived in Ontario on a snowy December night, questions about culture shock were more than relevant, and they were asked. We answered, quite honestly then, that it wasn't an issue. A part of it "not being an issue" could well have been the fact that grappling with the challenges of a new life in a new country -- inclusive of earning a living -- consumed whatever energy we could muster.

However, when we moved, in 1981, from Claresholm to Slave Lake, there was need for acculturation and adaptation to a different life. Here, in the isolated communities of northern Alberta, getting water from a hole in a frozen lake to one's home before the pail froze over constituted "running water." I do exaggerate, but not too much.

Despite the often desperate conditions of the Cree of the North, with whom I worked in a preventive social services program, I count the six years I spent among them and the white folks of the area as the greatest of my 32 years in Canada. My lasting impression of the northern aboriginal people was of their warmth and great sense of humour, a very necessary attribute if one was to survive in often desperate circumstances.

In 1989, we moved, after 15 years in small-town Alberta, to Edmonton.

A political junkie from early in life, it wasn't long before I became active in the New Democratic Party. Beginning with presiding over a constituency association in Slave Lake in the heady days of the mid-to late-'80s when the NDP's popularity peaked, I went on to employment as an organizer for the provincial party and then to manage provincial, federal and territorial election campaigns in several parts of Western Canada.

Then, for a variety of personal reasons, I decided a few years ago to return to the land of my birth and, specifically, to my ancestral home. Despite protests, particularly from a new partner in life, I was soon contributing articles with political content to four of Sri Lanka's Englishlanguage Sunday papers.

As anyone who has been politically active in Canada will vouch, getting a rude reception at the door or over a phone line when canvassing for a candidate is a disconcerting experience until one puts things in perspective and realizes that such hostility comes only from a small percentage of the Canadian electorate.

While I had also experienced the mild violence of Sri Lankan politics in the '60s and '70s, I certainly wasn't prepared for what I encountered in terms of murder and mayhem when I returned.

The Mahinda Rajapaksa government ran a superb public relations campaign when they had the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on the run and in the last year of "Eelam War IV." This included demonizing any and all "peaceniks" and declaring open season on anyone having the temerity to criticize them. This continued after the war ended and, in fact, its pace has accelerated.

"Human rights" has become a term of opprobrium and anyone championing the concept, in even its mildest form, is immediately branded an anti-national traitor and in the pay of the "western, imperialist, capitalist powers of the international community."

The founding editor of the Sunday Leader (the last independent English-language paper standing) was gunned down by assassins, widely believed to be from the security services, within sight of an armed services roadblock, and the killers have not been apprehended yet, despite two years having elapsed.

An additional chilling fact is that the government continues to maintain the same level of armed personnel -- estimates range from 350,000 to 500,000 -- despite the war being over.

Under the circumstances, "going home again," in its fullest sense, really is problematic.

Emil van der Poorten is a former Edmontonian struggling with the political strife in his homeland of Sri Lanka. [courtesy: Edmonton Journal]

Sri Lanka: Will Developmental Projects Solve Political Problems?

by Gulbin Sultana
February 10, 2011

Much water has flown down the Mahaveli since President Rajapaksa made his swearing-in speech, on November 19, 2010, wherein he indicated that he would adopt a developmental approach to ‘enhance Sri Lanka’s greatness in the world’, and his first task would be to ensure lasting national unity and sustainable, permanent peace in Sri Lanka. After a brief exhortation to ‘move towards a future that is trilingual’, he returned to the theme of ‘development’ and inferred that his government had “carried out development work in the North and East as never before in the history” and this process had led to “a closure of the highways to terrorism”.

Rajapaksa also stated that he “strongly believe(d) that this infrastructure to banish poverty [was] major part of a political solution”. Will it really work? Or will it alienate the Tamils further?

The President intends to expand roadways, install power projects, modernize all areas of employment, and turn Sri Lanka “into a hub of development” in the fivefold areas of maritime capability, aviation, commerce and trade, power and energy and knowledge. Sri Lanka, under Rajapaksa, is aiming to become one of the top thirty countries most attractive for doing business by 2014.1

In this regard, Rajapaksa’s entire team is busy strengthening relations with old friends (India, China, Japan, Pakistan, UK, South Korea) and cultivating new ones. During his visit to New York in September 2010 to attend the 65th UN General Assembly session, he met the leaders of Iran, Qatar, Turkey, Germany, Norway, Hungary, Portugal, Malaysia, Jamaica and Spain and sought assistance in the field of energy, infrastructure development and investment in housing and tourism. Sri Lanka is also trying to improve trade and economic relations with Kuwait, Serbia, Ukraine, Egypt, Brazil, South Africa, Oman and Singapore.

President Rajapaksa received a positive response from these countries because Sri Lanka is considered one of the best places to do business with in the post-LTTE period. Sri Lanka’s economy is growing at a considerable rate and in the year 2010, the economy grew at 8 per cent, the unemployment rate fell to 4.9 per cent in the third quarter of 2010.2 UNDP’s Human Development Report 2010 placed Sri Lanka at 91 in the human development index among 169 countries surveyed. According to the New York Times it is among the top ten growth economies in the world. An additional attraction for FDI in Sri Lanka is its Free Trade Agreement with India and Pakistan whereby the investing countries can avail of the Indian and Pakistani markets.

In his first term Rajapaksa vowed to end terrorism and achieved that objective. Going by that record, he should be able to achieve his stated objectives for the second term as well. Numerous development activities have been already initiated in the entire country with assistance of India, China and Japan. Some of the important development projects in the North and the East under Uthuru Wasanthaya program (Northern Spring), Nagenahira Navodaya (the Eastern Awakening) are: Iranamadu (development of road and irrigation projects), Maga Neguma (road development), NECORD, TARRP etc.

Undoubtedly, these development activities will solve many of Sri Lanka’s socio-economic problems. But the question needs to be asked whether these developmental projects are good enough to resolve all the problems the country is facing today?

President Rajapaksa does not seem to focus on solving the Tamil problem, which has shattered the country for thirty years and has the potential to revive yet another militant movement if the root causes are not addressed soon. Earlier on May 19, 2009, in his address to the nation Rajapaksa had promised to come up with a political solution if he was elected for a second term. However, the fact that he chose not to touch on this issue during his second swearing-in ceremony indicates that he does not accord enough importance to this issue any longer.

Let us briefly dwell on the issues raised by the Tamils for a long time. One of the major causes of Tamil resentment was the government’s language policy. Rajapaksa had indeed recognized it and tried to address it with his trilingual policy. His government apparently started working on it with Indian help. It was hoped that he would take this up seriously and implement it soon. Some efforts have been taken in this regard but the pace of progress seems to be too slow to convince the targeted audience of the sincerity of his intentions.

Moreover, it is still unknown how the radical parties like JHU and JVP would react to this issue. Even if Tamil language has been given official status since the 1990s, the progress on this front has been very poor. The ten year master plan announced by the government will require lot of devotion and commitment for its successful implementation.

There are other factors which need to be addressed as well, such as, the lack of Tamil representation in the military and police. Reportedly, 500–600 Tamil police officers have been recruited from Jaffna peninsula for the first time this year since 1978.3 This is commendable, but no Tamils have been recruited yet into the armed forces.

Another sensitive issue for the Tamils was the case of state sponsored colonization of the Tamil areas by the Sinhalese population. It seems similar kind of feeling is again coming to the fore among the Tamils. According to a recent TamilNet report, civil society circles in Jaffna feel, “Sri Lanka government is using Sri Lankan Army to grab lands in the North with the view of colonizing them with Buddhist Sinhala families”.4

Development activities in the Tamil majority areas should aim at winning the hearts and minds of the Tamil people. Sri Lanka does need development, but development has to be people-centred, driven by the people themselves. However, the people in these areas seem to be alienated from the developmental activities. In fact, the representatives of the Tamil Political Parties Forum (TPPF), during their meeting with President, registered their grievance that the people of the North and East were being ignored in the many developmental projects. A section of Sri Lankan Civil Society also echoes the same view.

There is a widespread belief among the people of Sri Lanka that the Tamils need to have equal access to education and employment opportunities for their children which will enable them to lead their lives with dignity and without fear. The development of the North and East is important but mere emphasis on “infrastructure development to banish poverty” cannot be a “major part of a political solution”, as has been pronounced by Rajapksa. Apart from economic development, the Tamils also require social and political rights. Emphasizing on economic rights alone will not solve the problem.

There is a view in Sri Lanka that “assessing Sri Lanka through the lens of the Tamil question is misleading”. However, assessing Sri Lanka’s overall development without laying due emphasis on the problems faced by a sizable section of the people will not lead to the results desired.

1. “Sri Lanka Pursues Nation-Wide Agenda of Renewal”, President's Address at the 65th UNGA, UN Headquarters in New York, September 23, 2010 at http://www.president.gov.lk/speech_New.php?Id=100

2. Central Bank, “Roadmap: Economic and Financial Sector Policies for 2011 and Beyond”, January 4, 2011 at http://www.cbsl.gov.lk/pics_n_docs/latest_news/roadmap_2011.pdf.

3. Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe, “Tamil Perspectives on Post-war Sri Lanka, the LTTE and the Future”, November 12, 2010 at http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2010/11/tamil-perspectives-on-post-war-sri.html.

4. “SLA Active in Grabbing Strategic Lands in North”, TamilNet, November 23, 2010 at http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=33081.

COURTESY: Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis

The difference between "patriotic" and "unpatriotic" in Sri Lanka

by Harim Peiris

Last week Sri Lanka commemorated her 63rd anniversary of freedom from colonial rule and Sri Lankans rightly celebrated the achievement of our political independence and democratic rights as a free and sovereign nation. That freedom and sovereignty has not been without challenge, the most serious of which was the three decades long challenge by the LTTE. However, the two JVP armed insurrections and the attempted military coup in the nineteen sixties must also rank as undemocratic measures that sought to take away our post colonial freedom.

The defining characteristic of a free society is that political power is exercised with consent, challenged and changed in a democratic manner, free of violence. That political dissent is permitted. The use of violence, orchestrated or otherwise, in the political processes and society, seriously erodes, undermines and weakens our democratic rights and freedoms.

Attack on e-Lanka News and the UNP Procession

Even as the nation celebrated her independence anniversary, there were two serious attacks on opposition voices in the body politic, one on a web news station named Lanka-e-News, a not very prominent but nonetheless active news web site and the other on a peaceful procession by the main opposition United National Party in the heart of Colombo.

(i) Attack on Lanka-e-News

The attack on the Lanka-e-news occurred in the same manner as such attacks have occurred on the Sirasa TV news station and assassinated former Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga among other assaults on media in Sri Lanka. They occurred in the city. Lanka-e-News editor Prageeth Ekneliyagoda, mysteriously went missing over an year ago, indicating that Lanka-e-news must indeed be having some enemies, who being unable to shut down the web site through the disappearance of its editor, had followed it up with the arson attack. These attacks occurred in the South, where democratic space is assumed and one had hoped was guaranteed. Our nearly half million men under arms having so convincingly won in the North are seemingly helpless to protect freedoms in the South.

(ii) Attack on the UNP

The attack on the UNP procession was similar. The police were generally more unwilling than unable to do their duty and provide protection to the “alternative government” which is what a parliamentary opposition is in a free society, exercising its democratic human rights in peacefully protesting and demonstrating their opposition to the incarceration of the joint opposition presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka.One does not require to be a political supporter of the UNP or an avid reader of the Lanka e news to be outraged at the assault on the right of peaceful assembly or the right of free speech. An attack on the rights of one person becomes an assault on society and on our collective rights. It is the duty of the State to ensure those rights.

Human Rights and Patriotism – An alternative view

A rather disturbing trend of more recent times has been the tendency to categorize every censure of human and democratic rights violations as unpatriotic. But this proposition while perhaps acceptable and even popular political rhetoric and it must be popular otherwise it won’t be repeated so ad nauseam, does not really hold water either intellectually or morally. Surely the unpatriotic action, is that which violates our rights and denies our freedom. “Unpatriotism is not decrying the assaults on our liberty, the assault on our liberty is unpatriotic”.

It is unpatriotic that opposition MP’s are assaulted and their vehicles damaged, it is unpatriotic that freedom of speech and assembly is violated and it is unpatriotic that the freedom of the media, electronic (Sirasa), print (Lasantha) and web (e-Lanka) are violated.

Those are the real unpatriotic acts and those that really love their country and her people, which is what patriotism is all about, will cherish the freedoms and liberties we achieved over sixty years ago after many centuries of foreign colonial domination. We should not allow our cherished freedoms and rights (human and democratic) to be weakened, eroded and stripped away. Protecting our rights and freedoms is the sacred, patriotic duty of every Sri Lankan and speaking up when such rights are under assault is a moral responsibility.~ courtesy: Daily Mirror ~

February 09, 2011

Sri Lanka Perspectives – January 2011

By Col R Hariharan

Politics

Sri Lanka political scene is getting hot as new members are being elected for 330 local bodies throughout the country on March 17, 2011. In these elections, 12.7 million voters would be electing 3,931 members to four Municipal Councils, 39 Urban Councils and 258 Pradeshiya Sabhas.

These elections in the Northern Province have become a prestigious one for President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and its Tamil partner Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) had not fared well in winning voter confidence in the presidential and parliamentary polls and local body elections for Jaffna and Vavuniya.

Rajapaksa would like to use the local elections to establish the UPFA footprint in the North to legitimise his claim of being the leader of people from all communities. With the work on restoration of infrastructure and rehabilitation of internally displaced population going at a slow pace in the war torn north, the morale of a northern Tamils is low. Another irritant for the Tamils is the visible presence of the army everywhere; the army has been acting as an overlord of the civil administration. To top it all, law and order in Jaffna has deterriorated fast with murders and other criminal acts showing a sharp increase. So as of now UPFA and EPDP’s chances of asserting their presence in these elections in the North appear low.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the former political proxy of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), contesting now as the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) – the Tamil name of the erstwhile Federal Party – is expected to capture majority of the seats in the elections in this district. They had fared well in the Jaffna local poll and parliamentary elections. The United National Party (UNP) which had some roots in the past in the North hopes to do better. The President would like to strike a deal with ITAK to prevent it from becoming a loose cannon in the power play in the North. So far the ITAK had been elusive. It is using this opportunity to leverage with the President for finalising the much delayed devolution package for Tamil minority. As of now, there is no sign of any quick progress in this regard.

In the East, the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) led by the President’s former ally Pillaiyan has decided to contest on its own symbol. As the three communities – Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalas – are almost in equal numbers, the election results are a wide open question, though UPFA is expected to do better.

The whole local election scene became a comedy of errors as nearly 20 percent of the nominations were rejected on technical grounds and trivial errors by returning officers. Both the UPFA and the main opposition party United National Party (UNP) were mortified to find a large number of their nominations rejected in many parts of the country. This was particularly damaging for the UPFA as its nominations to 35 local councils in 12 districts were rejected. The rejection in 16 local bodies in the Jaffna district including three Urban Councils (Velvettiturai, Point Pedro and Chavakachcheri) and 13 Pradeshiya Sabhas will perhaps become the biggest spoil sport for the UPFA’s efforts to show flag in the North.

Tamil Diaspora

To gain maximum mileage out of the publicity generated by the disastrous visit of President Rajapaks to the Oxford Union last month, pro-separatist segments of Sri Lanka Tamil Diaspora appear to be getting their anti-Rajapaksa act together. Though they are rive with internal differences, they appear to be united in bringing down President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s reputation using his problems in handling the strong adverse international allegations about Sri Lanka army’s war crimes and human rights violations.

The latest salvo was fired when three plaintiffs filed a law suit in a US District court in Washington seeking $ 30 million to compensate relatives of victims of killed in three incidents during the war by Sri Lanka army. The case was filed under the U.S. Torture Victim Protection Act 1991 which provides for victims to seek compensation from individuals in foreign states who commit acts of torture. The President’s spokesman dismissed the case as a publicity stunt by “mercenaries” of the LTTE.

The Tamils Against Genocide, a Diaspora Tamil organisation, expressed disappointment that the U.S, had not taken action on this issue when President Rajapaksa made a quiet visit to the U.S. said to be for medical check up during the month. The Amnesty International also expressed similar sentiments.

The Eelam sympathisers were shocked when Swiss police arrested ten former LTTE representatives in the country on January 11, 2011. According to knowledgeable Diaspora columnist DBS Jeyaraj, those arrested included the present head of the LTTE in Switzerland Vijaratnam Sivanesan alias Ragu alias Ragupathy, his predecessor Chelliah Kularajasekeram alias Kulam and the influential Swiss Tiger finance chief Chelliah Jeyapalan alias Abdullah. They are facing charges of money laundering and belonging to a criminal organisation. Switzerland is the home of about 32, 000 Sri Lanka Tamils; and the country had been an important source of LTTE funding.

India-Sri Lanka relations

The usually cordial relations between India and Sri Lanka came under severe pressure when two Tamil Nadu fishermen were killed within a span of ten days during the month allegedly by the Sri Lankan Navy. Though Sri Lanka vehemently denied the involvement of its navy in the incidents and attributed them to ‘miscreants’ there was widespread anger in Tamil Nadu. In a slightly disturbing aftermath, some fringe elements of pro-LTTE parties in Tamil Nadu raided the Mahabodhi Society in Chennai and attacked a Bhikku and damaged some of the property at the Buddhist temple. This was the first time such an attack on Sinhalas has taken place in Tamil Nadu during the last two decades.

Reflecting the political sensitivities in Tamil Nadu, Government of India has reacted very strongly to the killing of fishermen. Terming the incidents as "very serious" and "unacceptable", India has said that such incidents had "no justification" and called on Sri Lankan authorities to "desist" from the use of force. India lodged a strong protest with Colombo.

In the latest incident one fisherman was killed and two others injured while fishing off Kodiakarai coast on January 22. The man, who had put out to sea with two others from Pushpavanam coastal hamlet, died after Sri Lankan Naval personnel allegedly tied a rope around his neck and pushed him into the water. Earlier, in another incident on January 12, an Indian fisherman was killed in Palk Straits when Sri Lankan Navy allegedly opened fire at three fishermen, who put out to sea from Jagadapattinnam near Pudukottai.

As stated in the Sri Lanka Perspectives December 2010, such incidents gain greater significance as the Congress-DMK is alliance passing through a critical phase due to the 2G scam, and as the Tamil Nadu state elections are nearing. So New Delhi’s strong reaction is not surprising. In a follow up, India’s foreign secretary Ms Nirupama Rao is slated to proceed to Colombo to discuss the issue when she calls upon President Rajapaksa and meets other leaders.

In October 2008, India and Sri Lanka had reached an understanding on “practical arrangements to deal with bona fide Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line.” After that, killing of Indian fishermen, particularly those crossing Sri Lanka maritime boundary had decreased rapidly. In view of this, the latest killings particularly the one said to be on the Indian side of the boundary, need to be investigated fully. The possible involvement of elements opposed to the growth of cordial relations between the two countries in triggering such incidents should not be ruled out.

Courtesy: South Asia Security Trends, February 2011

Red Cross warns of funding gap as fresh flooding affects more than 1 million people in Sri Lanka

by International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies (IFRC); Sri Lanka Red Cross Society

The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) remains extremely concerned about the humanitarian impact of the recent flooding that has brought devastation and chaos to the eastern, northern and central provinces of Sri Lanka.

Heavy monsoon rains have affected more than 1.2 million people in recent days causing the displacement of over 300,000 people from their homes. As the situation worsens, only 17% of the IFRC's 4.6 million Swiss francs (4.8 million USD, 3.5 million Euros) emergency appeal for the floods has been met.

"This is the third successive wave of flooding since December. We've have had severe rains for at least 48 hours and many of the same families have been hit repeatedly," says Bob McKerrow, head of delegation for the IFRC in Sri Lanka. "Conditions are intolerable; we urgently need donors to step forward so that we can purchase relief materials."

18 of Sri Lanka's 25 districts have been affected in what people describe as the worst floods in the past 100 years. The worst affected districts are Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Polonnaruwa and Ampara. Several reservoirs have overflowed causing extensive flooding of downstream villages with over 15,000 homes reportedly damaged or destroyed.

Displaced families are being housed in more than 744 temporary evacuation centres established by the government in 11 districts across the island. An estimated 300,000 hectares of rice paddy has been destroyed prompting fears of price hikes in the country's staple food.

During these last three months the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SRLCS) has assisted more than 800,000 people. Thousands of Red Cross volunteers have been involved in relief efforts, distributing clothes, mosquito nets, bed sheets, sleeping mats, kaftans, tarpaulins and safe drinking water to affected people.

"It's crucial that we provide these relief items to these people so that they do not become vulnerable to other diseases that could arise after a flood situation like this", says Sri Lanka Red Cross director general, Tissa Abeywickrama.

The IFRC's emergency appeal aims to support the Sri Lanka Red Cross's emergency response and recovery effort which hopes to reach 75,000 families.

'While there's still time to heal the wounds in Sri Lanka, everybody needs to stop finding excuses for doing nothing'

International NGOs need to find their critical voices and stop hiding behind the fear that they'll be kicked out for speaking the truth.

by Karunyan Arulantham

Buried deep and largely unnoticed in the trove of diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks last December was an extraordinary note detailing the Sri Lankan government's alleged support of paramilitary groups involved in killing, abducting and raping Tamil civilians and in forcibly conscripting child soldiers.

The message sent home by then-U.S. Ambassador Robert O. Blake Jr. -- who is now Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs -- was all the more stunning for the revelation it included at the end: the political officer of the embassy, Blake wrote, had listened to a recording in which Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, "was effusive in his praise" for the most ruthless paramilitary group and the "benefits" it provided the government.

The cable helps explain why today, almost two years after the brutal end of Sri Lanka's 26 year war, so little progress has been made toward reconciliation. Culpability strikes too close to home, and the government clearly doesn't want a thorough, independent investigation that will hold people accountable -- an essential step for a durable peace. As current U.S. Ambassador Patricia A. Butenis wrote in a January 2010 cable: "There are no examples of a sitting regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers."

Ignoring this unambiguous indictment, the United States and other countries continue deluding themselves with the claim that the "Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission" Rajapaksa empanelled to investigate the war needs more time to finish its work -- despite nine previous commissions in Sri Lanka that never held anyone accountable. This diplomatic cowardice is providing the cover and the time for a massive government program to build new military bases and colonize the Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island with Sinhalese -- a phenomenon graphically chronicled in a recent New Yorker magazine article. The longer this campaign continues, the more difficult it will be to ever reconcile the island's deeply divided population.

Meanwhile, Rajapaksa is rapidly creating an imperial presidency, appointing family members to key posts (one newspaper on the island tallied almost 100 government departments controlled by the Rajapaksa brothers), stifling a free press, jailing his main political opponent and abolishing term limits. The push to consolidate power is occurring alongside a willful inattention to the underlying causes of the war -- the marginalization of Tamils by the ruling Sinhalese.

In the aftermath of the war, this problem is clearly illustrated by the government's refusal to engage in power sharing with Tamils, grant greater local governance to Tamil communities, include Tamils in redevelopment plans or provide Tamils with equal access to government aid and services. The Tamil areas being repopulated with Sinhalese are experiencing a development boom -- particularly hotel construction along the island's pristine beachfronts that is ruining the livelihoods of local fishermen. But many other Tamil communities that were destroyed and displaced by decades of warfare desperately need new schools, houses, hospitals, churches and temples, ports and roads.

The problems in Sri Lanka have been festering for years. What's needed is the courage and conviction to solve them. Western and democratic powers should stop ceding the field to China and win back the confidence of the Sri Lanka people with serious redevelopment aid that can give well-meaning foreigners leverage over the government. International NGOs need to find their critical voices and stop hiding behind the fear that they'll be kicked out for speaking the truth. Businesses need to "know their client" and insist that their investments benefit all of the island's people equally, and do not empower a discriminatory regime. And the international press needs to recognize the hazards that their Sri Lankan colleagues live and work under, and travel to the island to report about what's happening there.

Everybody can be part of the solution in Sri Lanka. But first, while there's still time to heal the wounds, everybody needs to stop finding excuses for doing nothing. As recent events in the Middle East show, that's a poor substitute for a real policy.

Karunyan Arulantham, M.D., is a member of the Tamil American Peace Initiative, a group of Tamil Americans formed to help bring lasting peace, justice, democracy and good governance to Sri Lanka, and to focus attention on the destruction of Tamil communities and culture caused by the war. [courtesy: The Huffington Post]

Only $8m of the 51m sought by UN for Sri Lanka flood relief flash appeal received so far

Humanitarian emergency persists as more floods ravage Sri Lanka

UN News Centre

Fresh floods have hit Sri Lanka just weeks after large swathes of the South Asian island nation were inundated by a deluge caused by torrential rainfall, the United Nations reported today, saying that over a million people already weakened by the initial flooding are affected.

Those affected include nearly 200,000 people who have been displaced and have sought shelter in 703 temporary evacuation centres in 15 districts, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in an update, quoting official estimates.

UN agencies and their partners have continued to respond to the humanitarian needs, which include food, shelter material, medical supplies, educations services and other basic items.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it distributed food aid to 326,000 people last weekend and is aiming to feed half a million of those affected. The agency provided rations to 500,000 people affected by the first wave of floods in five districts last month, WFP spokesperson Emilia Casella told reporters in Geneva.

The floods have claimed the lives of 14 people, caused injury to nine, while two others are listed as missing.

Flood waters have inundated fields causing widespread destruction in rice plantations, as well as to other crops in communities where farming is the main source livelihood.

People have been venturing back to their homes as the flood waters recede, but more rainfall is expected, OCHA reported. The torrential rains have also affected aid delivery with many roads still submerged or damaged.

Donors have, as of today, provided $8.4 million of the $51 million requested by humanitarian agencies last month to respond to the flood crisis. The appeal will be revised at the end of this month, according to OCHA.

February 08, 2011

Disappearance of Mr. Pattani Razeek on 11th February 2010

Update – 8th February 2011

•1. Who is Pattani Razeek?

Mr. Razeek is a well known human rights defender in Sri Lanka and Asia. At the time of his disappearance, Mr. Razeek was the Managing Trustee of Community Trust Fund (CTF) http://www.ctfsrilanka.org/ and was an Executive Committee Member of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) http://www.forum-asia.org/

He had also served as a Grama Seweka (Village Government Official) in the Puttalam district

Personal details:
Sex: Male,
Date of birth: 08th January 1955,
National Identity Card no. 550082632V
Address of usual residence: No. 70, Sameeragama, Kottantivu, Puttalam, Sri Lanka

•2. Date, place and description of disappearance:

Mr. Razeek was last seen near the Jumma Mosque in Kaduruwela, Polonnaruwa (a town in the North‐Central Province of Sri Lanka) around 3.30 p.m on 11th February 2010. Mr. Razeek was in Polonnaruwa in a van together with other staff of CTF, when their van was intercepted by a white van. Mr. Razeek alighted from their vehicle, approached the men in the white van and exchanged greetings in Arabic with them, indicating that the men are Muslim. After talking to them for some minutes, Mr. Razeek went back to his colleagues and told them that he will be joining the group in the white van that according to him was heading to the Eastern provincial town of Valaichchenai.

•3. Actions taken by family and concerned individuals and groups:

•Mr. Razeek’s family lodged complaints with the Police in Pollonnaruwa (place of incident), and Mundalama (place of residence)

•Mr. Razeek’s employer, CTF lodged complaints with the police in Puttalam (place of employer, CTF) and Pollonnaruwa

•Police have filed a case in Magistrate’s Courts in Puttalam

•A complaint has been lodged with the National Human Rights Commission

•Appeals have been made to the President of Sri Lanka, Secretary to Ministry of Defense, the Attorney General and Inspector General of Police

•Protests, and poster campaigns have been held in Mr. Razeek’s hometown and in the Puttalam district.

2• Complaints have been sent to UN Special Rapportuer on Human Rights Defenders and UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances

Appeals have been issued by international human rights organizations

•4. Clues and available leads:

•The Coordinator of the Minister Hon. Rishad Bathirudeen, Mr. S. R. M. Irashad had made a public statement, following Mr. Razeek’s disappearance, claiming that Mr. Razeek was an intermediary to the transfer of funds from CIA to the LTTE sometime in the past and that Mr. Razeek is detained in the custody of the Defense Secretary.

Police B report indicates that Mr. Shabdeen Nowshadh, a former employee of CTF and a close associate of Minister Rishard, is a key suspect in the disappearance. Police have evidence that Nowshadh made a call from Mr. Razeek’s mobile phone number to his residence shortly after the disappearance of Mr. Razeek.

•Nowshadh had made an application for "Anticipatory Bail" which was rejected on 23•rd June 2010 and he applied for a revision in High Court Puttalam. The next hearing date of the revision will be on 10th February, which is expected to be the final hearing.

•Mr. Nowsaadh has confirmed that he had met Mr. Razeek on the day and area Mr. Razeek was last seen.

•Local people believe the police is not taking action to question or arrest Nowsadh due to his political connections (he has admitted to courts he is a close acquaintance of Minister Rishard and is needed by the Minister for election and other work). Nowsadh had been seen in public places several times since this was disclosed in mid 2010.

•According to a news item given in• Lankadeepa a Sinhala newspaper dated 02nd July 2010, the police have stated that an extremist Muslim group has abducted Mr. Razeek.

•5. Background information:

•There were several calls asking for ransom to release Mr. Razeek, but after the family had indicated they are ready to consider even this, the calls for ransom had stopped.

•Leaflets had appeared indicating Mr. Razeek as a CIA agent, womanizer and having an affair with a female Trustee of CTF. One leaflet had appealed to Minister Rishard to intervene and punish CTF Trustees.

•Note: A large protest has been planned in Puttalam town on Friday, 11th February

February 07, 2011

First anniversary of General Sarath Fonsekas arrest

By D.B.S.Jeyaraj

Hello Friends

February 8th 2011 is the first anniversary of General Sarath Fonseka’s arrest. He was taken into custody by a contingent of soldiers on a Monday evening while he was engaged in a discussion with some political party leaders

SF211AB.jpg

[click to read in full ~ on dbsjeyaraj.com]

How the UNP demonstration on Independence Day was attacked by thugs while police watched

By Harsha De Silva

I am generally not the street-protesting type. I try to articulate my arguments with facts and figures, be it writing, speaking or engaging in debate. But the other day, I was in a demonstration and this is an account of what happened; the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The UNP had decided to boycott the 63rd Independence celebrations to protest against the incarceration of General Sarath Fonseka and the continuing clampdown on freedoms in general; it was only a week since the offices of LankaeNews were set ablaze. That morning I had already made several comments on rising prices, in fact the doubling of prices, since the UPFA had ascended to office.

During the day I had spoken to several people on the deteriorating economic freedom in Sri Lanka and how the State was expanding its activity in agriculture, manufacturing and services. I had pointed out that our economy was getting militarized; be it in vegetable trading and running tea boutiques on the A9 by the army, whale watching and canal transport by the navy or domestic air travel by the air force. I had wondered aloud about the appointment of all three service chiefs to the Board of Water’s Edge golf club. But most of the day I had participated in a workshop on how to increase economic freedoms of poor rural farmers by improving their access to information and knowledge. Something I believe in; that the solution to the twin problem of poor farmers and high cost of food lies in creating efficient agricultural markets via greater and more transparent access to demand and supply information, both spot and forward.

As a part of the activity for the day our party had organized a protest that evening. Named Nidahase Vilapaya it was to be a candle light vigil in front of the Welikada Prison to pressure the Government to release General Fonseka. I decided to participate in it. It was only about a month ago I had visited the General in prison and witnessed with my own eyes the ungrateful way the Government was treating the person who made a signal contribution in defeating terrorism in this country.

The derogatory ways in which some Government MPs refer to him in the Chamber had always disturbed me. I am sure the General has his faults, like any of us, but should we not have at least some gratitude? Anyway, the reasons were many. My seventeen-year old son also wanted to join the protest. He wanted to express his own feelings. In retrospect, perhaps it was not the wisest thing that I did that evening, but we were to participate in a peaceful protest. Heart of hearts though, I was happy that he was not growing up indifferent like some young people in this country today.

When we arrived at the Prisons Junction it was already crowded to my surprise. A senior policeman approached and advised me not to get down from my vehicle as the crowd there was not ours, but rather of Minister Mervyn Silva’s. He advised me to proceed directly to the place where we were supposed to start the protest; Punchi Borella Junction. However when we got there and attempted to alight from the vehicle I was advised by yet another senior policeman that I move further up the Maradana Road towards Borella as MP Thilanga Sumathipala was having a religious function near the Punchi Borella Bo tree and the police had instructed the UNP to shift the starting point of the demonstration.

In fact the section of the road near the Bo tree and passport office was barricaded and none of the protesters were allowed in. The only people there were those who had come to participate in the ‘religious function.’ The reason I am reiterating this point is because a DIG had stated that clashes began as we disturbed a religious ceremony of a Government politician. That is absolutely not true. We never passed any religious ceremony. We started our protest much further away from it as instructed by the DIG’s own staff and proceeded away from it and not towards it.

By the time we finally started our protest, maybe it was around seven in the evening. Some carried torches, some carried placards, yet others shouted slogans and most just walked along the street. Perhaps there were at least five hundred, may be more, I was in front and did not see the back. We had walked for around fifteen minutes and the protest was now taking shape. We were well within our rights and not breaking any law. In fact there were dozens of police in uniform on either side of the road. They did not try to break anything up. They were observing the proceedings. Perhaps other higher ups may also have been watching via the Rs. 300 million 24x7 surveillance-network of at least 118 ultra-sensitive cameras spread out across the city.

I remember quite well moments before the attack. I was a little ahead of the main group. Our vociferous parliamentary colleague Dayasiri Jayasekera was leading the slogans. He had a mega phone and others were repeating after him. Our deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya was just behind him along with MPs Ravi Karunanayake, Rosie Senanayake, Palitha Thewarapperuma and, I believe, Tissa Attanayake. DNA colleague Tiran Alles was also in the pack following.

I saw many other prominent UNP politicians actively engaged; Provincial Councilors Shiral Lakthillake, Mujibur Rahman and Srinath Perera and I think, it was former MP Dr. Karunasena Kodituwakku. A number of other politicians and civil society people were there as well. I saw many professionals whom I recognized.

Suddenly, we heard people screaming and then I heard shots. Someone said we were being shot at; perhaps they were rubber bullets that were coming our way, I don’t know. Then it was like a hail storm. Rocks, Molotov cocktails, cement blocks and all kinds of objects were being thrown at us. In seconds thugs appeared with iron rods, poles and started assaulting people and smashing up vehicles. Everyone started to run helter-skelter.

My son was right next to me. He pulled me away. We ran. Some fell. Some got caught to the mob. I heard women scream. It was chaotic. The police continued to observe the scene but did not do a thing. Perhaps the higher ups did the same from the CCTV headquarters. We were running back towards Punchi Borella. But the people from the ‘religious ceremony’ were coming towards us. We turned to a lane. There were others running down the lane. I heard voices of thugs asking for our blood.

"Ado …..ge putha… gahapung, marapung…". Suddenly a roller shutter opened. My son, a fellow protester and I were pulled in to some one’s home. The roller shutter was shut. A man who we had never met locked it and took us to the back. The goons were outside looking for us. We hid there for twenty minutes. The man who gave us protection we later realized was the security guard of the home occupied by some foreigners. He was worried thinking he had done something wrong, but when he recognized me he felt comfortable. My phone kept ringing. I made some calls to convey I was okay. We had escaped grievous hurt. Once the pious thugs went away we went back to my car and sped away.

We saw Rosie’s vehicle badly smashed up. Ravi’s and Dayasiri’s vehicles were damaged. I heard Mr Karu Jayasuriyas’s and another person’s vehicles were also damaged. Later I saw some television footage of a vehicle being driven away while the back was on fire! It was only when we came back to UNP’s media centre we were able to corroborate the stories. We saw mobile phone footage of people beaten up badly and got to know of the incident where the Sirasa journalist had been attacked and his sophisticated camera stolen.

We also saw photographs of those bleeding badly. My colleague Palitha Thewarapperuma had taken injured people to hospital and he had seen several others there as well. We heard that after the goon squads were allowed to get away by the observing police, a few of our protesters had regrouped and held a small demonstration at the scene. Subsequently I saw the visuals on television.

Now others started coming in to our media office. Parliamentary colleagues Mr John Amaratunga and Sajith Premadasa, who were on the way to the protest had been redirected for personal safety. Tiran and Mrs Anoma Fonseka also arrived having been escorted out of the melee. MP Eran Wickramaratne also joined. His coordinating secretary was badly beaten.

The middle aged innocent man was shaken up. Several other staff members of politicians were also targeted. We then held a hurriedly summoned press conference and conveyed to the media what actually took place. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is that thugs with iron rods, Molotov cocktails, poles and rocks beat us up while the police just watched.

We then came back home disgusted. On the way my son compared this brand of democracy with several other regimes past and present around the world. I was ashamed of our generation. I think it is time we said enough is enough if we still care about true democracy.

(Harsha de Silva, Ph.D is a UNP national list MP)

Indian Fishermen Poaching in Sri Lankan Waters has Assumed Menacing Proportions

By Prof.V.Suryanarayan

The Foreign Secretary, Amb. Nirupama Rao, along with senior officials of the Ministry of External Affairs, visited Colombo on January 30-31, 2011. Nirupama called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Minister for External Affairs Prof. GL Peiris, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and External Affairs Secretary CR Jayasinghe. The visit contributed in a big way to the easing of tensions in bilateral relations following the killing of two Indian fishermen in the Palk Bay region.

The Joint Statement issued at the end of the visit indicates a mellowing of Colombo’s intransigent stand and the desire to find an amicable solution to the thorny issue of livelihood of fishermen of both the countries in the Palk Bay region. It now remains for New Delhi and Colombo to consolidate the gains and move forward.

An analysis of the Joint Statement shows progress in three directions. Following the killing of two Indian fishermen, naturally there was a spate of protests in Tamil Nadu, including the unwarranted attack on the Mahabodhi Society. The Sri Lankan response was unfortunate and contributed to the exacerbation of the situation. The Sri Lankan diplomats based in India emphatically maintained that the Sri Lankan Navy was not present in the scene of killing. Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam mentioned that it was the handiwork of forces interested in spoiling bilateral relations. Obviously he implied pro-LTTE elements, but the Tigers have been completely decimated. Sri Lanka watchers in India are of the view that there is no pro-LTTE presence in the Palk Bay.

The Foreign Secretary’s visit has brought about a qualitative change in the situation. President Mahinda Rajapaksa concurred with Nirupama that violence against fishermen should be avoided. Let us hope the President will abide by his assurance though the record of the Sri Lankan Navy has not been very encouraging. According to Arulanandam of the Alliance for the Release of Innocent Fishermen (ARIF), since 1983, 236 fishermen have been killed in incidents of firing, 336 fishermen seriously injured and 80 are missing. What is more, number of fishing boats has been damaged and fish worth millions of rupees have been seized and dumped into the sea.

About the theory of a third force, articulated by Amb. Kariyawasam, the Sri Lankan side was silent. The Indian side, on the basis of information provided by fishermen, maintained that people in naval uniform had escorted Indian fishermen and the incidents of killing took place in such a situation. The only way by which truth can be ascertained is to constitute Joint Investigation Teams, consisting of the representatives of the Sri Lankan Navy and the Indian Coast Guard, who can inspect the log books to find out the exact location of the naval vessels at the time of the incident. It will be a good idea if New Delhi and Colombo agree to the constitution of such Joint Investigation Teams to probe into firing incidents, as and when they occur.

The second step forward is the reference in the Joint Communiqué to the India-Sri Lanka Joint Statement on Fishing Arrangements issued in New Delhi on October 26, 2008. The Joint Statement was issued following the visit of MK Narayanan, then National Security Advisor, and Shiv Shankar Menon, then Foreign Secretary, to Colombo and after detailed discussions with senior officials of the Defence Ministry, including Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The statement put in place practical arrangements to deal with bonafide Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen who cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL). It was provided that Indian fishing vessels will not venture into High Security Zones. What is more, there will be no firing on Indian fishing vessels. It was agreed that Indian fishermen would carry with them valid registration/permit and also identity cards issued by the Government of Tamil Nadu.

It should be recalled that this arrangement was worked out at the height of the Fourth Eelam War, when Colombo was very keen to avoid any adverse fallout in Tamil Nadu as a result of firing on Indian fishermen. Today, the situation has radically changed. In the post-war scenario, when Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen have resumed fishing operations, the validity of October 2008 arrangement may be construed to be detrimental to their interests.

For the first time, the Joint Statement made a welcome reference to the positive role played by the fishermen of both the countries to arrive at an amicable settlement. The Joint Statement records: “It was decided as well to enhance and promote contacts between the fishermen’s associations on both sides, since such contacts have proved to be mutually beneficial”.

This author has always maintained that a decision arrived at by the stakeholders - fishermen of both countries - has greater chances of success than an agreement imposed on them by the two governments. What is more, such as exercise should have been welcomed by the Governmental agencies in both the countries. Unfortunately when the Sri Lankan fishermen team visited Tamil Nadu, a few months ago, Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard did not meet them.

What is more, the reaction of the Sri Lankan diplomats was not encouraging. The Sri Lankan High Commission in New Delhi informed this author that the fishermen have no locus and only agreements signed by the two governments would be valid. The fact that the fishermen wanted to submit their agreement to the two Governments for their approval was not appreciated by the Sri Lankan diplomats. Therefore the present attitudinal change is welcome.

Amb. Nirupama Rao’s visit to Colombo has definitely contributed to the overall improvement of the situation. When this Author visited Sri Lanka in mid-January he found the situation to be tense. Sections in Sri Lankan Government were interested in precipitating a crisis and internationalise the issue. They had prepared satellite photographs of how Indian fishermen entered Sri Lankan waters and move towards Sri Lankan shores hour by hour.

The hawkish elements among them wanted to take up the issue in SAARC and to the International Court of Justice. The killing of two Indian fishermen was intended to precipitate a crisis in order to enable Colombo to internationalise the issue. But, Colombo did not anticipate the extent of Indian indignation, both at the state and central levels. Finally, better counsel prevailed leading to a thaw in bilateral relations.

The two Governments agreed that the next meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG) on Fishing should be convened at an early date. The JWG would address all issues relating to fishing by the two sides. The JWG was constituted in 2005. The first meeting was held in New Delhi in April 2005 and the second in Colombo in January 2006. Due to Fourth Eelam War, the third meeting could not be held for the next four years. It is reliably learnt that the third meeting of the JWG will be held in New Delhi in the middle of February this year. Naturally, the JWG, among others, will discuss issues like exchange of scientists and oceanographers, co-operation in enhancing trade in fishing boats, equipment and machinery, provision for training of Sri Lankan personnel in institutions of higher learning in India and co-operation to enhance joint surveillance to minimize the problem of poaching into each other’s waters. At the end of the third round of talks, the two governments are likely to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on development and co-operation in the field of fisheries.

On the crucial question of livelihood of Tamil fishermen in both countries, it must be stated that the question of livelihood of Sri Lankan fishermen, who have resumed fishing after a lapse of three decades, should be addressed squarely. A conducive atmosphere for a peaceful resolution can be created only when Indian fishermen refrain from fishing deep into Sri Lankan waters.

The agreement arrived at by fishermen of both the countries in August 2010 can be the basis for further discussions. One major achievement was that the two sides agreed to phase out trawler fishing. The Indian fishermen have given the “firm assurance” that they will stop mechanized trawl fishing in Sri Lankan waters within one year. The dialogue has resulted in several other areas of agreement. The number of fishing days in a year is restricted to 70. The ban on fishing has been extended from six weeks in April- May to another 30 days in September. The number of fishing days per week has been reduced from three to two (Mondays and Saturdays). In the northern Jaffna coast and south of Mannar Island, the Indian fishermen can fish up to three nautical miles from maritime boundary.

Unfortunately the agreement among the fishermen, as mentioned earlier, was not welcomed by the governmental agencies on both sides. What is worse, the Indian poaching into Sri Lankan waters assumed menacing proportions. In the fishing villages that this Author visited in January, the fishermen complained that Indian trawlers could be seen on all the seven days of the week. According to perceptive observers, trawlers from Nagapattinam and Karaikal also have started poaching into Sri Lankan waters.

This Author has always maintained that a long term solution to the travails of the fishermen is to look upon the Palk Bay not as a “contested territory” but as “common heritage”. A Palk Bay Authority (PBA), consisting of representatives of both the countries, including specialists in fisheries and marine environment, should be immediately constituted. The PBA can determine the quantum of annual sustainable catch, the type of fishing equipment that could be used and equitable fishing days and distribution of catch among the fishermen of both countries.

We should also take joint steps to enrich the marine resources in the Palk Bay. What is more, the Tamil fishermen of both the countries should be encouraged to enter into joint ventures for deep sea fishing in high seas. The PBA could also be vested with powers to take action against erring fishermen on both sides and recommend to the respective Government to withdraw their fishing licenses.

According to informed sources, the successful conclusion of the meeting of the third JWG will result in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two countries spelling out long term goals of maritime co-operation. But, an MOU is only a statement of intentions; students of foreign policy are aware that there are many MOUs which are gathering dust without leading to action. What is required is that the MOU should be immediately followed up by a bilateral agreement providing for speedy and time bound implementation of the provisions.

(Dr. V. Suryanarayan is former Director and Senior Professor, Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras. He is currently Senior Research Fellow, Center for Asia Studies, Chennai. He was a former member of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India.)

February 06, 2011

Let Events in the Middle East be an eye opener to the Ruling Regime in Sri Lanka

by Karu Jayasuriya

These are extraordinary times. Just as spontaneous actions of defiance in East Germany by its peoples led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and eventually to the demise of oppressive Communist regimes all over Eastern Europe 22 years ago, youth on the streets of Cairo and Tunis are toppling dictatorships that just weeks ago seemed indomitable. These historic changes that we are witnessing in the Middle East, are a fierce wakeup call for tyrants across the world, especially those who assume that their rule is unchallenged and will last forever

Like many dictators and autocrats, the ones in the Middle East were projected as benevolent, sole options of stability in volatile regions and the darlings of foreign states that did not care to bother about the predicament of the populace of those who were ruled by tyranny. They like other autocrats elsewhere shared many a common thread. The dictators of Tunisia and Egypt made a mockery of elections. President El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia has been ruling that country since 1987 repeatedly winning fraudulent elections with astronomical margins. This was before he was ingloriously kicked out a few days ago. His counterpart in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak has reigned since 1980. Just a few months ago the political party of Mubarak, apparently emerged victorious in a national election claiming over 90% of the popular vote, a phenomenon that has been happening for decades. The absurdity of these claims are now laid bare, as millions of angry crowds march on the streets demanding that these unpopular leaders step down.

Mubarak and Ben Ali ensured that their families and a few cronies associated with the administration were the sole beneficiaries of development, plundering their country’s wealth and monopolising political power while the masses suffered without jobs, prospects of development or hope. The first lady of Tunisia is reported to have taken over a ton of gold when she fled with her husband days ago. This is while the average Tunisian suffers struggles to make ends meet on a daily basis. Accusations against the Egyptian regime of Mubarak are no better. Like most dictators, the strongmen of Egypt and Tunisia also hoped that they could pass down their thrones to their sons or family members, making a mockery of the people’s will to choose their leaders. In the name of stability, the international community also backed these dynastic intentions. Yet in the face of people’s power even the most ardent backers of these dictatorial regimes have withdrawn their support and endorsed the free will of the people, proving that perceived support in the global community for tyrannical regimes is fragile and easily suppressed by the popular will.

It is with great humility that we call upon the leaders of our country, who are currently intoxicated with their seemingly unchallenged hold on power, to open their eyes to the reality of what is happening in countries where the will of the people have been suppressed for too long. It is advisable for our rulers to bear in mind that they are serving at the pleasure of the masses, even though that representation has been repeatedly distorted by corrupt and fraudulent elections.

The current regime has made it a hallmark to ally our country with some of the worst dictatorships in the world. We call on the present administration to look at what is happening in the Middle East. Dictators who just a few weeks ago seemed unshakable, are now fleeing their countries in shame. Years of tyrannical rule are coming to an end because the people of those countries decided that it is not worth waiting for the crumbs thrown at them by corrupt rulers.

We are a country with enormous potential. Today that potential is being misused by a few individuals for their own gain. In the name of development, billions of rupees are being misappropriated while the masses are eagerly awaiting any benefits coming their way. Despite supposedly impressive economic numbers, the people are being buried under the weight of the cost of living. Families are being thrown onto the streets in Colombo in order to make way for luxury hotels, for which a few in the administration are getting enriched while the masses are left to fend for themselves. Our own Tamil brethren in the North are still suffering for want of basic needs.

Opposing politcal views are being suppressed. Independent media is under threat. Several journalists had to pay with their lives, whilst some have left the country for their safety. Election laws are being grossly violated and state media abused to an extent never seen in the history of this country.

The introduction of the 18th Amendment destroyed all democratic institutions. Masses are being deprived of their fundamental democratic rights. The consequences of these short sighted actions will have to be faced by all of us and our children in the future.

It is high time the government realized that the rulers cannot deceive and suppress masses forever. When things go beyond tolerance, people will start clamouring for their rights and freedom.

The events of the Middle East bear witness to this truth.

(Statement issued by Karu Jayasuriya – Deputy Leader, UNP)

Jaffna University will lose millions of rupees because of present Acting Vice - Chancellor

by John Ratnathurai

I read today’s news on public anger over the delay in appointing Jaffna’s Vice Chancellor (Feb. 05) and the earlier interview with the Minister for Higher Education, S.B. Dissanayake (The Island of Jan. 05). He complained of bad management and neglect at Jaffna university under the present VC (Acting VC since mid-December) despite the allocation of ample funds. The UGC recently transferred a great deal of funds that have been allocated to Jaffna for building purposes to the Rajarata University, because they had not be utilised by the VC as the budget year came to a close.

The IRQUE Project (Improving the Relevance and Quality of Undergraduate Education) of the last seven or so years, was greatly appreciated by the people of Jaffna. Suddenly computers appeared from nowhere; so did the gym equipment, books for the library, training programmes and scholarships. For us it was boom time. Following the end of IRQUE, HETC (Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century) is the new World Bank project breathing life into dead universities.

But there is a problem. To be eligible for HETC funds, a university has to complete an internal Institutional Review. Two years ago HETC officials visited Jaffna and told the VC to submit the review. Most universities had completed their reviews a year before and started receiving funds. But, the Jaffna University got a warning letter last week that until the review was submitted, the funds could not be used. Even this news leaked from Colombo rather than through the Council or Senate, which are kept in the dark. Jaffna now stands to lose hundreds of millions of rupees because of the Jaffna Acting VC.

No wonder the public and the teachers’ unions are visibly angry with the VC as your correspondent correctly reported. Despite our being brought up on ideals of feminine virtue, the Jaffna GA Imelda Sukumar recently lamented the large number of abortions and illegitimate births while a woman’s rights activist stated that there had been 38 abortions at a girls’ school in this part of the country.

The Higher Education Minister, in his interview, was making a case for private universities. He has used the Jaffna University crisis as an example to project all state universities as intrinsically bad, while he himself is responsible for keeping the former VC going as Acting VC. The Minister must also take some responsibility for appointing the present VC three years ago.

And there lies the problem with our state universities – the appointment of persons because of their political affiliations rather than on merit. Perhaps that is why the private universities do better; not because state universities are intrinsically bad. For example the University of California at Berkeley, a state institution, is considered to have the best postgraduate programmes.

It is within the Minister’s powers to rectify the situation at the Jaffna University. If after the Minister has done his part, there still exist problems with our universities, then we can look to private universities to solve our problems. Not before.

Pushing up food production levels in Sri Lanka through artificial means cannot be sustained

By Dr. M. A. Mohamed Saleem and Arjuna Hulugalle
Gandhi Centre, Colombo, Sri Lanka

"War is over, terrorism is subdued, separatism is a taboo, and therefore Sri Lankans should come to believe that everything is on course for making this country of ours into an economic hub in the region" was the message a senior member of the governing party tried to convey recently.

No one will go against the vision of making Sri Lanka competitive and prosperous in the globalizing world, and of course, we now have an opportunity for rebuilding this country that will truly belong to all. Since independence, mistakes have been made and every community claims hurt by targeted and tangential transgressions committed by the other but, the most serious and outrageous oversight of the successive governments which affects all is the inability to make this country food secure. The same mistake should not be allowed any longer.

Food security simply, for the laymen, is the ability of a country to meet people’s present and growing food demands. It also assumes that a food secure country will have tested out mechanisms to tide over life-threatening emergencies due to food shortage. Food security measures adopted by Sri Lanka over the years can be generalized into the following three areas: accelerated production drives for increasing food output, imports of various items to make up deficits and building grain buffer stocks in various parts of the country.

Nature has blessed Sri Lanka with an assorted agro-climatic conditions ranging from semi-arid, sub-humid, humid and mountainous niches within a small area of 65,610 sq km which, potentially can support a wide range of crops and farming systems. We have been informed that findings from several land suitability studies across the country are gathering dust but, those who carried them out have no doubt that the country can produce most, if not all, of its food requirements by systematically managing crop combinations that matches the agro-climatic suitability of an area. A concerted effort that government started in the fifties and sixties was moving Sri Lanka towards substantial level of food sufficiency - for which the people of this country had to go through many years of food rationing, shortages and bread queues etc. – and, with the market liberalization policies of subsequent governments, the momentum of aggressive food production drive slackened. Possibility of importing food items of any sort at any time and manipulation of markets prices even worked against holding buffer stocks, and the grain storage facilities that once used to hold grain stocks were allowed to deteriorate.

Food situation and reason for concern: - Recently, close to 10 districts of Sri Lanka experienced relentless rains and flooding, particularly in the eastern province, displaced over a million people and damaged crop fields. Several thousand acres of sown paddy went under water, and it is feared most farmers lost a crop harvest. Usually farmers keep seed paddy from the previous crop and thus, without a harvest, crop farmers will be hard pressed for seed paddy for the next crop.

Likewise, other grain, tuber and pulse cropped areas went under floods. Grain stock in the country is low, and in the past, at times of emergency, Sri Lanka went to open markets for needed grains or attracted donor food contribution to make up deficits. Given the grain export restrictions imposed by some major food exporting countries, following drought or flood disasters on their soil, the rich non-food producing countries will outbid any other country to secure whatever food grains available from anywhere. Sri Lanka will be hard pressed to compete in this grain depleting world market. It is unfortunate that Sri Lanka could not generate the level of donor sympathy also this time around when it was struck by floods. It may be attributed to wider scale emergency needs around the world but, it could also be an expression of displeasure of some countries against Sri Lanks’s perceived geopolitical realignment.

According to a recent expose by a former civil servant then in charge of the Eastern Province, the country was able to effectively manage the 1957 flood disaster because it had food stocks, very efficient and dedicated people in the civil service and capacity for quick decisions (e.g. sowing a short term rice variety in lieu of the long duration rice variety in flood damaged fields) without political interference. Further, the country’s population was small, and food deficits were not as large and, compared to food habits of today that changed over the years even in the rural areas of Sri Lanka, people of that time were able to meet calorie requirements from other cereal or tuber alternatives. These are the conditions under which Sri Lanka now has to meet its food demands, and managing emergency will get further complicated.

Self reliance: a key to food security: Unfortunately, increased food production in this country is equated with liberal use of inorganic fertilizers. Sri Lanka, like many other countries, joined the band wagon when International Research Institutes for rice and maize introduced hybrid varieties which came up with a package of liberal use of different fertilizers, pesticides, and weed killers. Such cropping patterns were encouraged in poor countries as an answer to eradicate poverty. Initial high crop yields could not be maintained as many countries failed to use recommended level of fertilizers (mostly imported into the country) as fertilizer prices went up, and introduced crop varieties became highly susceptible to diseases in a new environment leading to yield declines.

Many countries that adopted such technologies now suffer from noticeable and growing syndrome of unsustainability manifested by increasing (and not decreasing) poverty, land degradation, arsenic contamination, pollution of water bodies and, famers have to incur ever increasing cost to derive benefits from their rice crops. Food security of any country cannot be built on such unsustainable farming methods, and this has been amply demonstrated over and over again in Sri Lanka. No government can continue to sustain a subsidizing fertilizer policy but, as long as the policies are unreceptive to viable cropping alternatives, fertilizer imports and supplying them at subsidized rates will remain a major politically sensitive policy instrument of this country.

The Mahatma Gandhi Centre has been collaborating with technical agencies such as the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) and Bio Energy Association of Sri Lanka (BEASL) on possible strategies for food production self reliance. It is realized that technologies used will have to be simple and put farmer in full control of them to avoid dependency on others and, the communities using those technologies will have to understand, adapt and modify them for varying requirements. The communities also should be responsible to prevent adverse consequences of such technologies (as pollutants) to others. Therefore, a commitment by the technology user is required to respect rights of the fellow human beings as well as other living organisms which will ensure that resources used are replenished or renewed so that the community in which he/she is a member will not rely on outside help for such needs. Thus, any problem and solution should be with involvement of everyone in the locality.

Years of field research by MONLAR with hundreds of farmers in different parts of the country have indicated that cropping technologies tried out meet all the above criteria and contribute to self reliance. What these technologies do is simulate the growing conditions of a luxurious prime tropical forest which is characterized by fast growth, plant combinations of different architecture, biological decomposition of periodically added organic (through aging and dying) materials. The entire plant community grows and matures in harmony. Such nature simulation technologies involving in situ compost formation and nutrient release by enhanced bacterial breakdown of leaves from fast growing trees (e.g. Gliricidia sepium) laid on the soil surface are now used by over four million farmers in India, and many more are taking up to such farming methods which are sustainable and more profitable.

Food Security: strategies encouraged by the Mahatma Gandhi Centre: Mahatma Gandhi realized that pushing production levels through artificial means cannot be sustained, and today we face the consequences of our irrational use of resources that are kept at equilibrium by interconnected natural laws in the form of climate change, global warming etc... The Mahatma was right when he said that "… nature provides for everybody’s needs but not for everyone’s greed…". The Mahatma Gandhi Centre therefore believes our country’s food security should begin at the village level. Each village should know its needs, resources at its disposal, its production capacity etc. Also, each village should be encouraged to set up silos to hold food buffer stocks periodically replenished. This should be supported by:

(a) Simple and sustainable production technologies as propounded, for example, by MONLAR

(b) Producer being given more recognition and reward in the society than the consumer

(c) Changing food habits to include other grains and tubers in the daily diet

(d) Encouraging everyone in some form of food production wherever they live including those who lack land space and

(e) Setting up information networks on food production, surplus, deficit information across the country.

The Mahatma Gandhi Centre believes that Sri Lanka’s food security can only be attained if everyone in the country realizes the urgency of becoming self reliant in our methods of food production. Sri Lanka can easily become self reliant if every village is encouraged with this task. There is no dearth of goodwill or empathy when fellow humans are in need, and with food secure villages there may not be a role for any agency to rush food supplies in an unfortunate event of a mishap in a neighbouring village. That is the peak of Dharma.

Suba Sundaralingam of TGTE "confronts" Maj Gen Shavendra Silva in Boston

by Kalana Senaratne

Does the shaking of hands, a hand-shake, this decent act of touching human flesh, mean anything, anything significant and meaningful? In the realm of politics and public engagement of politicians, this act has come to mean very little; in fact, it almost amounts to nothing.

After all, a president and a former army commander shook hands too, smiling. After all, politicians across the divide shake hands too. Shaking hands for the camera, they go on to say and do things that cause disharmony and disunity.

But a recent confrontation in Boston, a different kind of confrontation, ended in a way that would have pleased many, a hand-shake which looked genuine, at least for a fleeting moment. This ‘confrontation’ took place, as the video clips online suggest, at a presentation delivered by Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Ma. Gen. Shavendra Silva, in Boston-USA, on 29 January, 2011.

What seemed to be significant about this presentation was not what MG Silva had to say, but what happened during and after it. We are shown a few people gathered in front of the place where Maj. Gen. Silva was delivering his address, a few men carrying small placards. One read: "Please don’t allow war criminals in US: War criminal is here, find him and arrest him". Another placard read: "Genocide cannot be buried!!! Don’t look away". Some of these protesters were wearing T-shirts which had the words: "Stop Sri Lanka’s Genocide of Tamils". During a short altercation that ensued, one person stated that they "don’t like to talk to criminals". Another said that Maj. Gen. Silva was a coward, and not war hero, as he was (according to this protestor) responsible for the shooting of those who surrendered with white-flags.

But then came the invitation, perhaps from those who had organized the event: an invitation for the protesters to go in and listen to Maj. Gen. Silva speaking. While one seemed to hesitate, another expressed willingness. Thereafter we see them come in, sit down and listen to what MG Silva, whom they had called a ‘war criminal’ a few minutes before!

An interesting interaction, a lively debate, seemed to have followed Shavendra’s presentation. Among the protesters was Ms. Suba Sunderalingam of what is known as the ‘Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam’ (TGTE), who, inter alia, asked for MG Silva’s views concerning the ‘war-crimes’ accusations levelled against him and the Sri Lankan armed forces by numerous human rights organizations. Others, too, raised questions about old incidents said to have taken place in Navali etc.

While the responses could have been guessed by anyone there was what seemed to be an interesting observation by him, which in essence went as follows: that violations of humanitarian law or the commission of alleged crimes, if true, cannot be hidden forever. Evidence of such crimes, if committed, would surface one day. Having stated so, he went on to state that the allegations levelled so far were bogus, and that if anyone was responsible, the government and the military would take action.

While this is certainly a standard response, what is perhaps worthy of appreciation is the stark truth that Maj. Gen. Silva stated: that if crimes have indeed been committed, they cannot be hidden; they will surface. How could that happen, one may think, if journalists were barred from reporting?

But then, how could reports be written and produced by various organizations alleging the armed forces in particular since journalists did not have access to those areas? What of the credibility of such reports?

How, and in what way, would this ‘evidence’ surface, or would such evidence surface, if any crimes have indeed been committed as some allege through disgruntled elements within the armed forces? These are some questions that seem to arise.

What is also to be appreciated is what Shavendra stated in his interview with ‘Boston-Lanka’; that, the troops were well informed of international humanitarian laws, through training conducted by the ICRC in particular. The intention had been to win the war while respecting rules and norms of IHLs, and as claimed by him the troops did respect IHLs.

This assertion then means something important, even though some might wish to disagree with what was stated above: that the Armed Forces were mindful of the IHLs. This runs counter to the claim made by some about the non-applicability of IHLs during internal conflict situations.

To return to that confrontation in Boston: we see, finally, the person who had earlier accused Shavendra and called him a coward, and not a war-hero, extending his hand; a gesture which was welcomed by the latter, leading of course to that shaking of hands, between the accuser and the accused. A ‘confrontation’ which ended on a peaceful note, a confrontation which showed much tolerance being practised by all participants (Does this come close to what the ancient religious teachers meant by ‘tolerance’? Would the great teachers have been pleased to witness such a confrontation? Would they have blessed those participants: Sri Lankans in Boston, the blessed people?).

But then, with the passage of time, one begins to wonder: Were those protesters truly convinced? Or, were they left with no alternative, given that they were outnumbered within the hall? Were they, like politicians doing so for the camera? One hopes not, but one never knows for sure. Where was TGTE’s Suba? Did she not stay to shake the hand of Maj. Gen. Silva? Had she left, convinced and happy, or lunconvinced and disgusted?

Whatever the answers to those questions may be, the kind of interaction one witnessed in Boston is to be encouraged. It is time for those who were truly there, the armed forces-personnel themselves, to tell their story, which is more convincing than those told by politicians. This however, in turn, makes the stories of the civilians who were trapped in the battle-field, vitally important, too.

But, in the diplomatic arena, the audience would need to be of a different blend. ‘Preaching to the converted’ is of little use. Those who should be addressed are not only those who would hold posters that say: ‘You are our war-hero’. It should be those who say precisely the opposite: ‘You are a war-criminal’. A small start has been made, and Maj. Gen. Silva seems to be encouraging such interaction and engagement, as he noted during his presentation. For now, all those who participated ought to be thanked, even congratulated.

Floods threaten over 90 percent of rice crop

Officials say floods in Sri Lanka have killed at least 11 people and displaced as many as 250,000 people.

Monsoon rains drenched the country's eastern, northern, and some central provinces for the second time in less than a month, raising concern over a mounting humanitarian crisis.

Agricultural Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene told the Reuters news agency today the most recent floods threaten over 90 percent of the rice crop. [Courtesy: http://www.rferl.org]

February 05, 2011

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is an exceedingly brutal dictator, however, his people are not yet cowed into silence

The Galle Literary festival is a haven of civilised values in a country that is no stranger to strife

by Robert McCrum
Associate editor, The Observer, UK

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Ever since the Hay festival set up shop overseas in Cartagena, Colombia, in 2006, literary festivals have been going global, like the English language.

The marriage of international literary stars with local and expat audiences in exotic locations has inspired an unprecedented surge in book tourism, from Shanghai to Byron Bay, Australia. In Jaipur last month, for instance, you could bump into JM Coetzee, Richard Ford, Martin Amis and Candace Bushnell. With the export of festival UK, ambitious writers today are advised to carry a pen and a passport.

The importance of this phenomenon is marked by the way successful festivals are getting bogged down in politico-cultural controversy. In 2009, in Dubai, there was a row about medieval censorship. Last week, in Jaipur, the organiser, William Dalrymple, was accused of neocolonialism, promoting English and American writing at the expense of Indian culture, a charge he swatted as if it were a lazy mosquito.

A few hundred miles further south, in Sri Lanka, the Galle literary festival was also caught up in politics. The brutal regime that crushed the Tamil insurgency is rightly charged with repressing, "disappearing" and allegedly killing journalists. So Galle was accused of collaborating with an enemy of free speech. The Booker-shortlisted South African novelist Damon Galgut pulled out.

Last weekend I attended the Galle festival as a guest. It would be difficult to miss the military tenor of Sri Lanka's government, but this friendly week of books and conversation in a world heritage site on the south-western tip of a magical island is also a showcase of international literary values and a haven of benign civility. Far from being the dupe of a dreadful regime, Galle represents the best of the amateur principle and provides an impressive voluntary programme of social and cultural renewal.

First, just as Hay reflects the personality of its founder, Peter Florence, so Galle is made in the image of its creator, Geoffrey Dobbs. You might mistake him for a character from an Evelyn Waugh novel; actually, he is a courageous cultural entrepreneur who, like Dalrymple in Jaipur, is not afraid to stand up to cant. He started the Galle festival, singlehanded, and has worked tirelessly to raise audiences and sponsorship, develop local literary workshops and promote education.

As well as attracting literary superstars, from Colin Thubron to Germaine Greer, the festival has championed local writers and addressed Sri Lankan issues. This year, there was a session, covered by BBC reporter Bridget Kendall: "After the Shock: the Lingering Legacy of Civil War". The locals turned up in force. If you read Jon Lee Anderson in the New Yorker, you will know that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is an exceedingly brutal dictator. However, his people are not yet cowed into silence.

Galle is obviously a world away from the 30-year war with the Tamil Tigers, but it has also known tragedy. The 2004 tsunami struck this corner of Sri Lanka with particular ferocity. Despite massive reconstruction, the coast road from Colombo still takes the visitor past ghost villages. The formerly Dutch Galle fort, protected by 17th-century stone ramparts, was unscathed. It remains an oasis of colonial history and is the focus of the festival.

So the Galle festival has been at the heart of the socio-cultural renewal of a shattered community. Amid the oppressive gloom of Sri Lankan politics, it looks like a beacon of hope, optimism and good taste that will, with a bit of luck, shine for years to come. No one should mistake it for Sri Lankan reality, but at least it offers a little bit of literary freedom unintimidated by President Rajapaksa's autocratic regime. ~ courtesy: The Guardian. UK ~

Related: Gala of letters under way at Galle Literary Festival

Rajapakasa ruling family denouement may happen faster than Egypt or Tunisia

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“People want their freedom. People want their bread. People want to stop their lousy dictators from looting their countries”. — A Jordanian Dissident (New York Times – 30.1.2011)

Tunisia and Egypt, in revolt, are at the end of a journey Sri Lanka has just commenced.

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In a desperate attempt to postpone his political-demise, President Mubarak assured Egyptians that he will not re-contest the September presidential election and emphasised the need for presidential term-limits. Mubarak has been in power for 30 years, winning election after stage-managed election; he intends to install younger son Gamal as his successor. During the 23 year rule of President Ben Ali, his family treated Tunisia as a private-fiefdom. Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, another wizard at ‘winning’ elections, has ruled for 32 years and nursed a dynastic project; faced with growing dissent, he has vowed to retire in 2013.

Just one month ago, the Arab World was a haven for despots, a breeding-ground of dynasties. The Arab Street was deemed apathetic and anti-democratic.

Then, after long years of being trodden-on, the worm turned.

The past trajectories of Egypt and Tunisia indicate the future trajectory of Sri Lanka: long-term rulers with dynastic ambitions tyrannising over nominal democracies; electoral parodies with predetermined results; economic ‘development’ which under-develops the populace; a vampiric ruler-caste fattening on the life-blood of the country. The democracy myth was kept alive by allowing some latitude to opposition parties and non-state media. A combination of legal and extra-legal methods (including murder and incarceration) was used to keep these anti-regime spaces within ‘safe-levels’. After the 2005 presidential election, Egyptian opposition candidate Aymon Nour was jailed for fraud.

Presidents Mubarak and Ben Ali were initially popular. It took years for this popularity to wane, for hope to evaporate and despair to set in. Despite the absence of democracy, their long moments of hegemony would have lasted longer, had the economic conditions of the masses improved even marginally. Both countries were success stories in neo-liberal terms; their economies grew, per-capita incomes increased and tourism boomed. Egypt’s growth-strategy is based on physical infrastructure development (as is the Rajapaksas’; a third airport will be built in Sigiriya or Hingurakgoda and more land sold to finance the budget-deficit). Egypt was praised by the IMF in 2008 as ‘one of Middle East’s fastest growing economies’ while Tunisia was lauded in September for weathering the global economic crisis ‘relatively well’!

A ‘good business climate’, economic neo-liberalism’s panacea for most ills, is not necessarily good for the people; often it results in (as the UNDP terms) jobless, iniquitous or rootless growth, growth which worsens unemployment, income disparities and environmental degradation. That was the growth Tunisia and Egypt enjoyed. Perhaps the rulers sincerely believed in the fallacy of ‘trickle-down’; the masses certainly did, and waited for long years in the hope of ‘Jam tomorrow’ — in vain.

Economic injustice becomes bearable when it is accompanied by political freedom, because the possibility of change via ballot-box dampens popular anger; political unfreedom becomes bearable when it is accompanied by economic justice (or the strong and credible hope of it) because a populace will forgive a regime much, if it ensures them decent living conditions. There must be bread/rice or freedom; one or the other would suffice for very long periods, but if both are absent no amount of military might can prevent trouble. (Egypt has the 10th largest army in the world and receives assistance from the US and China).

So consent is paramount, even for well-entrenched dictators. Consent can be enthusiastic or grudging, active or passive, willing or unwilling. It can be consent born of genuine support and sustained by the hope of a better tomorrow or it can be consent born of apathy and nurtured by fear. But consent is an ephemeral quality in a country deprived of both political freedom and economic justice.

For the Rajapaksas it is early days yet. History moves at different velocities and our Ruling Family’s dénouement may happen faster than in Egypt or Tunisia. After all, unlike Egyptians/Tunisians we have enjoyed political freedom and experienced some measure of economic justice and may recognise and react to their absence, a tad faster. Last Monday’s arson-attack on the office of the fiercely anti-government Lanka eNews website is a reminder that democracy is under siege in Rajapaksa Sri Lanka.

Currently, selective acts of state-mandated terrorism are deemed adequate: in 2009 Lasantha Wickrematunge was killed and Sirasa attacked; in 2010, Prageeth Ekneligoda – who worked for Lanka eNews – disappeared and Siyatha TV attacked. The incarceration of Sarath Fonseka is a potent warning to oppositional politicians. But repression will become generalised as and when necessary, for instance if the worsening economic conditions cause strikes and demonstrations.

The democracy contagion in the Arab World is giving despotic rulers across the globe an intimation of their own mortality, a prescience of their ultimate fate. Beijing is hoping assiduously (more than even Washington) for the Mubarak regime’s survival. The Rajapaksas obviously recognise the affinity between themselves and the Arab Political Dynasties; the state-media is acting as if Tunisia is in some barely-known universe, Egypt’s volcanic upheaval a mere bagatelle and Yemen non-existent.

Despots never leave gracefully; and they will rend their countries apart to buy just one day more in power. Mubarak is talking of ‘conspiracies’ and trying to engineer a civil war to save his rule and his dynastic project; according to HRW his minions looted the Cairo museum, to discredit the protestors. The Rajapaksas would know that as economic conditions of the masses deteriorate and un-freedom increases, their support would wane, even among the Sinhala majority. Astute and ruthless when it comes to issues of political power, they would not hesitate to divert public anger away from themselves, and towards some convenient scapegoat, as for example the Jayewardene administration did.

In 1977 opening the economy was a dire necessity but it could have been done while avoiding neo-liberal excesses.

Prime Minister Premadasa understood the danger of iniquitous growth and used his enormously successful housing programme to fill some of the gaps. But the real safety-valve of the regime was Minister Cyril Mathew’s anti-Tamil campaign which helped conflate Sinhala racism and anti-capitalism/authoritarianism in the collective psyche of the Sinhala South. That road led to Black July. (A similar confluence of Buddhist militancy and anti-colonialism, against the backdrop of economic stagnation, enabled the 1915 Anti-Muslim riots).

Post-Italian reunification, writer/artist, Massimo D’Azeglio said, “We have created Italy. Now we must create the Italians” (Memoirs). The Rajapaksas do not want Sri Lankans; they need Sinhalese as their support base; and Tamils, Muslims and Christians as the ‘Other’, which inspires paranoia and keeps the Sinhalese yoked to the Rajapaksa-chariot for protection (thus the ‘Sinhala Only’ national anthem and the project to build nine Buddhist-stupas as war-memorials).

The Arab Street is teaching us that the Cimmerian darkness of tyranny can be challenged, even sans a strong opposition. But there is work to be done, of the Gramscian-sort. If the South is not weaned away from the perverted-patriotism of the Rajapaksas, the Ruling Family may succeed in turning our Tunisia-Egypt moment, when it comes, into another Black July against some convenient minority.

Political will to settle national issue still not forthcoming despite awareness for permanent settlement

Whither reconciliation under the incompatible system and disconcerting situation? Part II

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

The Honourable Sri Lankan Judge Christopher Gregory Weeramantry, Emeritus Professor at Monash University and formerly a Justice of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka from 1967 to 1972, a Judge of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) from 1991 to 2000 and currently the president of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms in his submission to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on 29th November 2010 explained how Sri Lanka’s constitution blocks peace and reconciliation and the dire need for change.

He told, “....without confidence and trust (of the people) that their rights will be upheld and guaranteed without fear or favour, there cannot be contentment and harmony, especially among minorities whose confidence in law and order needs to be built on firm foundations”.

Reconciliation cannot succeed without trust and confidence in the fairness of the system. The distinguished judge also said: “It goes without saying that the Constitution of a country is the bedrock on which citizens build their sense of security. To build up trust and confidence among the citizens of a country, especially one which is emerging from a long and bitter conflict, it is essential that their rights and liberties be securely guaranteed by the Constitution. That is an essential prerequisite to nation building in the aftermath of conflict”.

Attention has also been drawn to the incumbent President’s awareness of the need for reform and his reluctance to act accordingly. This is evident from the following statements in his submissions to the Commission: “The Mahinda Chinthana of 2010 said that while the present President had been particular1y careful when exercising the powers of the ‘Executive Presidency’, the Executive Presidency had in the past been used ‘to postpone elections, to topple elected governments, to disrupt the judiciary, to ban political parties, to suppress demonstrations and lead the country towards a violent culture, to sell state institutions at under-valued prices, to defend criminals and to grant concessions to unscrupulous businessmen’.”

“This categorical statement was a very strong indictment of the Presidential system, coming as it did from the President himself, with access to all the sources of information. Indeed this Presidential statement confirmed the worst fears I had entertained, when the Presidential system was conceived, of possible abuses of Presidential power”. Moreover, “it is true President Rajapaksa gave a categorical assurance that he himself would convert the Executive Presidency into a Trusteeship, which honours the mandate given to Parliament by being accountable to Parliament, establishing equality before the law, being accountable to the judiciary and not being in conflict with the judiciary. Trusteeship is indeed a noble concept and such an assurance by His Excellency the President is most honourable and welcome. Yet it still is personal to him and does not have the force of law, however noble the intention behind it. Nor does it bind any future holder of the office”.

Devolution

This inability to reconcile one’s political interest with the real needs of the entire plural society including the ethnic minorities is also the reason for the reluctance to devolve adequate powers to the provinces. The latter is perceived as empowering the ethnic minorities and weakening the centralized Sinhala majority rule. The inherent (collective) unit in the ‘unitary’ system to which the government is committed is not the one that corresponds with the island’s real demographic and traditional settlement features. Moreover, without the commitment to real democracy (not just the superficial confined mainly to the right to vote as it is now), devolution is not considered by the majoritarians essential for strengthening the democratic process, particularly in the context of the long established diverse settlement pattern of the population. Rejection of this reality is the root of the national problem.

The government’s decision to divert interest from the devolution plan in the aftermath of the military victory and triumphalism was evident from the declared intent to empower the people at the village level, implying some degree of decentralization. The Sunday Island of 26 December 2010 reported: “There is clearly no intention on the part of the centre to devolve power on the Eastern Provincial Council. This is borne out, among other things, by the recent budgetary provision to the effect that BTT should be collected by the centre and not the Provincial Councils. This is scandalous because the bulk of the PCs’ revenue comes from BTT. This is a complete violation of the 13th amendment, informed sources said. The problem of incapacity faced by the Eastern PC has been compounded by a recent central government circular that PCs need to get the approval of line ministries before statutes are passed by them which relate to the subjects of the respective line ministries”.

Recently, the Institute for Constitutional Studies conducted a workshop for media personnel on ‘Twenty Two Years of Devolution - An evaluation of the working of Provincial Councils in Sri Lanka’. In his address, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne “pointed out that the past 22 years of experience showed that the devolution of power was not carried out in the proper spirit of devolution. Every Government is actively involved in party politics while in office. Certain powers have been devolved to the provincial councils, but the Central Government curtails those powers by enacting its own legislation and also by way of Cabinet decisions in the guise of making National Policy”. (Daily News 20 January 2011). The complaint of the Eastern Provincial Council tallies with this general observation. There is no similar complaint from other functioning Provincial Councils for two reasons. First, devolution was introduced via the 13th Amendment as a means to solve the ethnic problem. There was no demand for it from the Sinhala polity. It was not perceived then as useful for strengthening democracy. Second, the PCs also serve lucratively the elected councillors with attractive perks and privileges similar to those bestowed to the parliamentarians.

It is true the PC system as it is now is a white elephant, serving no useful purpose to the vast majority of residents. This too is another example of the costly self-serving politics unhelpful to the people and the country, except the elected politicians and their cronies. The PC concept is sound but the way the system is set to function is ineffective. No system will be beneficial to the public and the entire country unless it is free from bribery and corruption. Sadly, no serious efforts are being made to get rid of several blights in the system vital for steady socio-economic development. The nationally unhelpful political culture and poor political leadership are responsible for the predicament.

Following the Indian analyst N. Sathiyamoorthy’s article – ‘It has to be Devolution, not Decentralization’- in the Daily Mirror 27 December 2010, Austin Fernando former Defence Secretary responded promptly supporting this stance. Daily Mirror published his article titled ‘It is devolution and not decentralization that is good for Sri Lanka’ in two instalments on 28 and 29 December 2010. At the very outset Austin Fernando remarked forthrightly: had any Sri Lankan put forward the same view, he/she would have been branded as traitor by the post-war patriots. The two words, ‘patriot’ and ‘traitor’ have acquired chauvinistic flavour after the resounding military victory. Real reconciliation crucial for uniting the divided people on the basis of candid admission of past mistakes and corrective actions that ensure equality, justice, legitimate rights and security individually and collectively to all citizens is still not in sight. Austin has explained the reasons for devolution (power sharing) and not just decentralisation (power delegation) and also the possibility of devolving powers under the unitary constitution. This is confirmed by the 13th Amendment. The case for devolution has been advanced from the standpoint of meaningful democracy.

Economic development as the panacea

Nevertheless, President Rajapaksa is confident of securing unity and lasting peace via economic development. The supreme leader thinks the struggle for development can also be won just like the war in 2009. Besides, the promising rhetoric and occasional reference to devolution, the post-war situation remains murky. Apparently, the government believes development that is being imposed by the centre according to its priorities is the panacea.

Sustained economic development cannot be achieved solely by investment and economic incentives. National unity, continued prevalence of law and order, adherence to the rule of law, efficient public institutions devoid of bribery and corruption, dedicated managerial and technical staff, good governance which entails among others good work ethics and accountability are necessary. Reluctance to implement suitable policies for parochial reasons also undermines the development process. Monitoring steadily the progress in implementing projects and programmes as well as the utilization of the allocated funds is also intrinsic to sustained economic development. The present system lacks this kind of comprehensive monitoring.

Moreover, there are no determined efforts towards creating the conditions conducive for sustained development. This is the challenge that must be overcome which is relatively easy, if the political system is also conducive. The stark truth is the destructive war alone did not hinder socio-economic development. It definitely destroyed existing structures and prevented their restoration for decades. No sensible person will think the right conditions can be created by rhetoric alone.

Devolution helps to achieve balanced development beneficial to residents in all the various provinces. Not only the local needs but also the available resources in the different provinces will influence the development programme of each province under a devolved system. This is not a substitute for development from the national perspective but is an essential auxiliary. Sri Lanka is relatively a small island but in reality it has diverse demographic and other regional features. Given this natural diversity, the case for devolution is strong not only from the development standpoint but also for securing unity and lasting peace in the island. The realists know well that devolution is beneficial to all the ethnic communities not merely the Tamils and Muslims in the Northern and Eastern provinces.

Reconciliation

The politically motivated discriminatory policies and practices and the violence unleashed against the victimised and politically weak Tamils that resulted in the ethnic conflict escalating into full-scale war are the root causes for the unresolved national problem. Ignoring them in the reconciliation process is unsound, from the standpoint of winning the trust of the disadvantaged ethnic minorities. Apparently, reconciliation is being sought unconventionally, without political appeasement, recognising the regional demographic realities but mainly from the expected development benefits under the incompatible system.

The Minority Rights International in its latest report titled 'No war, no peace: the denial of minority rights and justice in Sri Lanka' (posted by transCurrents on January 19, 2011) has opined that the government is doing little to resolve some of the original minority grievances that led to the conflict, such as violations of physical integrity including torture and enforced disappearances, lack of political autonomy and denial of language rights

Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Minister Dr Rajitha Senaratne in his submissions to LLRC said that the government has an obligation to protect the dignity of the minorities and ensure their rights are preserved. He also briefed the commission on the history that led to the 30-year-old war and blamed it on the politicians of that time. The Minister emphatically said that he was representing the people and not the cabinet and that his views would reflect the thoughts of the common man.

Jehan Perera in his recent article titled ‘A new ethos to obtain electoral and economic victory’ opined: “War-time governance required the centralization of decision-making capacities, emergency laws and an enhanced military budget. By way of contrast, post-war governance requires a non-violent style of leadership that alone can heal the wounds of war and unfetter the economic energies of the people. When decision-making power is concentrated in a few hands, emergency laws prevail and the (large) army is entering the vegetable trade, the message being sent to potential investors is not a positive one.” One can see clearly the prevailing post-war ground situation that is in conflict with the reconciliation and peace building processes.

In recent weeks there have been several distressing reports in the national papers on the tragic incidents in Jaffna, the cultural centre of the Sri Lankan Tamils.

The Sunday Times 2 January 2011 reported in December alone at least four murders, two abductions and 15 robberies took place in Jaffna. In Vadamarachchi, an earth supplier was shot dead in his house, while a woman shop owner was abducted from Point Pedro the same day. In Chavakachcheri, a vehicle broker was abducted, killed and his body dumped by the roadside. In Urumparai, the Deputy Director of Education, Waligamam was shot dead in his house, and a youth there was abducted in a van. Numerous robberies at gunpoint have taken place in Jaffna. In early December, thieves went to a Hindu priest’s house at Chankanai, shot the priest and his son, and robbed the house. The priest died later.

The veteran journalist, T. Sabaratnam in his column in the weekly ‘The Nation’ of 2 January 2011 also referred to the above shocking incidents as well as some disturbing activities in the East. Contrary to the supposed reconciliation process, some hostile activities have been taking place recently in the East. These smack of bringing in religion into the ethnic conflict. The temple row in Batticaloa centres round Thanthamalai Murugan Temple of Paddipalai District Secretariat division. TNA Batticaloa district parliamentarian Pakiyaselvan Ariyanethiran’s complaint “against the officers of the Archaeological Department who were obstructing the performance of daily poojas and threatening to take control of the temple and the 25 acres of land belonging to it on the pretext of conducting archaeological excavations” remains unheeded. “He had informed the Prime Minister that the temple known as Sinna Katirgamam is a historic Hindu temple and its historicity was confirmed by judicial decision of March 13, 1959”.

The columnist also stated: “Three months ago Trincomalee Government Agent Major General (Rtd) Ranjith de Silva stopped the Trincomalee Town and Gravets Pradesya Sabha from effecting maintenance work in the historic Kanniya Hot Wells and the adjoining Pillayar Kovil saying that the area belonged to the Department of Archaeology. He had also ordered the removal of the name board put up by the Pradesya Sabha stating that the Hot Wells were constructed by King Ravana.

The board reflected the Hindu tradition associated with Kinniya Hot Wells. Hindus believe that Ravana, the villain in the Indian epic Ramayana, built the Kinniya Hot Wells to perform the religious rites for his mother on the 31st day after her death. Hindus in the Trincomalee district perform the 31st day rites of their dead parents or relatives at Kinniya. A special madam had been constructed for that purpose.

There is a move by the post-war government “to discover and restore ancient Buddhist relics in the northern and eastern provinces and name them as proof that Sinhalese lived in those places”. The reality is in ancient Lanka or E-lanka-i in Tamil, there were Tamil Buddhists in these provinces. Clearly these moves are contrary to real reconciliation process. Such incompatible moves will lay the grounds for activating the ethnic conflict which no peace loving Sri Lankan wants.

The Catholic Diocese of Mannar also in their submission to LLRC stated: “We are deeply disturbed that some signboards in villages in Manthai West are only in Sinhalese and that some roads names have been given Sinhalese names. These are seen as indicators of “Sinhalization” of traditional Tamil areas and these are things that should be avoided if we are to move towards reconciliation.

Building a Buddhist place of worship (Pansala) in Murunkan Town where there was a Hindu Kovil is something that has caused a lot of concern, particularly as there is no Buddhist population in this area. Erections of Buddhist statues in prominent public places in many new locations in the North have also made our people fearful of Buddhist domination of majority Hindu, Christian and Islamic areas.

While being deeply respectful of Buddhism and believing in religious freedom for all religious communities all over the country, we believe the erection of Buddhist statues and places of worship in public places in the North, will not help in reconciliation efforts and in fact, may lead to further tensions and polarization amongst different religious communities.”

The failure to address the immediate issues of the severely distressed families in the former war zone also undermines the credence of the reconciliation process. There are many Tamils who are desperate to know the fate of their missing kith and kin either in custody after surrendering or earlier. There have been many involuntary disappearances during the war and their fate too is unknown. For some reason the authorities did not release the lists of the names of the detainees in various places. It is a well-known fact many youths some below 16 years were forcibly recruited by the LTTE leadership to fight for Tamil Eelam. On February 3 at the joint meeting of the ministers and members of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the government team assured that the list of Tamils detained soon after the war on suspicion will be displayed. Presently, this is available only in Vavuniya. It is not certain whether the Defence Ministry concurs with this move.

There are many other actions and inaction which are unhelpful for realizing reconciliation. These too were in the several submissions to the LLRC. There is no intent for some reason to expedite the normalization process. There is a political need to keep the Emergency Regulation and the armed Tamil groups operating in the North and East. They are under the influence of some Tamil politicians in the coalition government. No action has been taken to disarm them, despite the recommendation of the LLRC last year.

The reconciliation envisaged by the government under the present disconcerting conditions in the North and East with no sign of demilitarization and no intention of amending the incompatible system discussed earlier is something similar to that necessitated the leaders of the left parties LSSP and CP to join the present government. Amazingly, it is the present political leadership and not the vast majority of Sinhalese who are unwilling to seek a political settlement to the ethnic problem, the nation’s destroyer. Apparently, the military victory is being exploited further for sustaining the dominant status of the regime, which some analysts have termed ‘authoritarian’. Discussion on this subject is outside the scope of this paper. But it is important to mention here even if all sections of the populace feel secure and accept this kind of regime; from the long-term perspective its suitability for Sri Lanka is questionable. The recent wide-spread uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, which pose serious threat to similar regimes in the Middle East, cannot be overlooked. The demonstrators have been clamouring for democracy, freedom and social justice.

Mistaken belief in Mahavamsa exposed

J. L Devananda’s earlier article titled, “Mahavamsa Mindset: Re-visiting Political Buddhism in Sri Lanka” has evoked an interesting debate. His well researched response to the arguments of the believers of the ‘Mahavamsa’ version of the history of ancient Lanka reveals further the many contradictions arising from the mistaken belief that the chronicle written originally in Pali depicts the island’s complete history. “The Mahavamsa (Great Chronicle of historical poem) was written not as a history of Sri Lanka (or Sinhalese) but as a history of the Mahavihara (Theravada Buddhists). The Mahavamsa and Dipavamsa speaks ONLY of Theravada Buddhists and NOT Sinhala Buddhists. The original Mahavamsa (Mahawansha), is a historical poem written in Pali, which covers a period starting from the arrival of Vijaya (543 BC) to the time of Mahasena’s rule (334-361 BC) written by the Venerable Mahanama Thero, an uncle of King Dhatusena” several centuries later.

On this fundamental point, Devananda has pointedly said:”The Pali chronicles were written long after the events described took place (some of them more than 1000 years). Therefore these cannot be considered as accurate records of the events. These were written by Theravada Buddhist priests who mainly tried to convey a religious message using the events to illustrate the importance of the Theravada Buddhist religion, hence a very biased version”.

His two-part article based on in-depth analysis of the subject was posted by D. B. S. Jeyaraj January 31 on his blog (dbsjeyaraj.com). In Part I, Devananda has said: “The number of ancient Buddha statues found other than in Sri Lanka was in Tamil Nadu showing a strong presence of Buddhism. The well known Tamil Buddhist epics found were Manimekalai, Silappadhikaram, Valaiyapathi, Kundalakesi and Jivaka Cintamani. The lost Tamil Buddhist works include the grammar Virasoliyam, the Abhidhamma work Siddhantattokai, the panegyric Tiruppadigam, and the biography Bimbisara Kada. Manimekalai, a purely Buddhist work of the 3rd Sangam period in Tamil literature is the most supreme and famous among the Buddhist work done in Tamil. It also talks about the Tamil Buddhists in the island/Nagadipa but, neither Manimekalai nor Silappathikaram is a historical work.

The ancient Tamil literature and the excavations (archaeological findings) in Jaffna proves the existence of Tamils including Tamil Buddhists (Theravada and Mahayana) but there is no evidence what so ever to prove the existence of a separate Tamil Kingdom in Jaffna before the 13th century AD and the same goes to the Sinhalese. The temptation to consider that everything Buddhist in Sri Lanka is necessarily Sinhalese has to be resisted, as it must be remembered that the Tamils, Andhras, and Kalingas, also were at one time Buddhists, and had a very large share in the dissemination of Buddhist culture in the countries of South-East Asia”. Part 2 of Devananda’s article too contains vital information that disproves the claim of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists that the entire island is solely indigenous to the Sinhalese. Readers eager to know about the origin of the Sinhala race and the demography of ancient Lanka are urged to read his very informative article. The patriotic Sinhalese must reconcile themselves to the reality that the traditional homeland of the Lankan Tamils is in the North-East part of the island and not in Tamil Nadu.

In conclusion

Incumbent President Rajapaksa is very well aware of the political reasons that led to the national problem. In his speech on January 10, when a sales complex ‘Lakviru Sevana’ at Battaramulla was opened to market products made by disabled war heroes, he said: “Sri Lanka as a whole had to suffer due to a protracted conflict because of betrayals, subjugations and blunders made in the past. He was of the opinion that the conflict could have ended much earlier and the devastation caused by it to both man and property could have been avoided to a great extent, if certain administrators in the past had engaged in prudent and selfless decision making on behalf of the country”. (Release of the Ministry of Defence, Sri Lanka 11 January.)

Although there is the realization of the imperative need to end the protracted conflict, how it will be ended is a mystery. This is an issue that concerns not any one community but all communities aspiring to live peacefully and hopefully not just for the short term but much longer for the benefit of future generations. The political will to settle this national issue is still not forthcoming, despite the awareness for permanent settlement. Instead, the setting for the blame game seems to be ready.

The Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera, Metropolitan’s Commissary and Vicar General of the Diocese of Colombo, in this year’s Independence Day message has very aptly said, what our country needs now is a new political will

Apparently, the unity that pops up normally during periods of foreign aggression (LTTE’s violence also is in this category) is expected from the articulation of the presence of conspiracies against the people and the nation. This invention has surfaced in various forms after the war, despite the ‘unity and peace’ said to be prevailing in the entire country. Before the emergence of the LTTE threat which was real, the perceived combination of Tamils living in Sri Lanka and India was said to be a likely threat to the future of the Sinhala race/nation. After proclaiming triumphantly that the ruthless LTTE including the leaders have all been annihilated, the government found some other ‘enemies’ to sustain the threat to the Sinhala psyche. This has not been difficult with some foreign governments and NGOs calling for independent investigation into alleged war crimes and demonstrations by some disheartened Tamils in the Diaspora during the recent visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to London to address the Oxford Union. A section of the Tamil Diaspora acting rashly is helping the government to find a convincing aggressor to justify the continuation of the undemocratic system and emergency rule.

Had there been some positive developments in the political arena soon after the war ended, none of the war-related issues would have been this critical. The one-track approach taken to elevate Sri Lanka as a developed country soon, as mentioned earlier is unhelpful. In this context the editorial comment in the Daily Mirror 4 January 2011 is very pertinent. “Any outward mega development will be of lasting value and for the common good of all the people only if there is also inward transformation of the nature and attitude of leaders. Those in leadership and those hoping or striving to take leadership must be aware of and accept a vitally important factor for any leader- he or she must be ready and willing to be a sincere servant of the people and be prepared to make sacrifices or even suffer for the people. Any other form of leadership for personal gain or glory and to dominate people or abuse power is dead leadership and it will be a case of dust to dust or ashes to ashes”. It is illogical to urge the poor people to sacrifice without the self-sacrifice of those wielding power and the discard of the institutionalized corrupt practices.

In this regard the editorial has stressed emphatically the urgent need for inner transformation. The concluding portion, very relevant to the points stressed in this article is reproduced here. “Those in leadership, whatever spiritual power they believe in, must allow that power to transform their self-centred and greedy nature into a new nature of other centeredness, sincerity, compassion and other spiritual values like forgiveness, patience and kindness, humility and meekness. When this happens, the choices they make or the decisions they take will be for the common good of all. Then and only then will we see a new Sri Lanka with lasting peace, justice and equitable distribution of wealth and resources”.

It is wishful thinking to presume that the power-wielders and power-seekers in the political class will voluntarily change their unholy self-centred attitudes. Without the dynamic intervention of apolitical groups in the civil society, the much needed transformation is unlikely to materialize. The civil society is largely responsible for many politicians to have acted inconsiderately.

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

Whither reconciliation under the incompatible system and disconcerting situation? Part I

Standards of accountability apply to our inquiry regarding the violent end to Sri Lanka's long internal war

by Ban-Ki-moon

(Oxford, United Kingdom, 2 February 2011 - Secretary-General''s Cyril Foster Lecture 2011 on "Human Protection and the 21st Century United Nations")

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, Excellencies and distinguished guests, Dear faculty members, dear students, Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you, Mr. Vice-Chancellor, for your very kind introduction and for this invitation.

I am honoured to have this opportunity after my distinguished predecessors, as fourth United Nations Secretary-General to speak before you in this very esteemed and one of the oldest universities. It is an honor to be part of the Oxford community, if only for a day.

Few universities have produced so much scholarship on the United Nations, or so many dedicated international civil servants. Among those have been the late Marrack Goulding, the legendary Brian Urquhart, Kieran Prendergast and John Holmes, with who I have worked when he served as UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs our Special Envoys Prime Minister Tony Blair and former U.S President Bill Clinton.

My talk tonight has long been advertised as one devoted to the subject of human protection. And indeed, I will speak to you at length on that very important challenge.

But of course, our attention continues to be riveted on the events unfolding in Egypt. So let me say in just a few words how I assess the situation in Egypt. In fact, this afternoon I had a very good discussion in a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron and again we discussed at length this situation. I have been closely following the reports from Egypt.

The protests reflect the great frustration of the Egyptian people about the lack of change over the past few decades. This discontent calls for bold reforms, not repression.

The United Nations has been warning about the democracy deficit and other challenges in the Arab world through successive Human Development Reports dating back to 2002.

I am concerned at the growing violence in Egypt. I once again urge all sides to exercise restraint. I condemn any attack against peaceful protest. Such acts are unacceptable.

It is important at this important juncture to ensure an orderly and peaceful transition. I urge all parties to engage in such a process without delay, with full respect for human rights, in particular the freedoms of expression, association and information.

We should not underestimate the danger of instability across the Middle East. The United Nations stands ready to support reform efforts aimed at meeting the people''s aspirations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Cyril Foster lecture has become a rite of passage at the United Nations. Three of my distinguished predecessors have made the pilgrimage - Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan.

Secretaries-General are often better advised to listen than to lecture. Yet there are times when we should use our “bully pulpit” to address the peoples'' concerns, particularly when it comes to this important pillar of the United Nations: human rights.

That is why I would like to talk to you tonight about human protection and the UN.

In addressing this very broad topic, let me begin with a few distinctions.

Human protection is a subset of the more encompassing concept of human security. The latter reminds us that the security of “we the peoples” matters every bit as much as the security of states. Human protection addresses more immediate threats to the survival of individuals and groups.

Even with these distinctions, I will have to be selective in citing examples of our human protection endeavors. I do so without diminishing what the broad UN family achieves on a daily basis in protecting people.

Indeed almost all our major initiatives, from climate change to food security, from the activities of the World Health Organization to UNICEF, are concerned with human security in the fullest sense. As I will argue, the founders of the United Nations understood that sovereignty confers responsibility, a responsibility to ensure protection of human beings from want, from war, and from repression.

When that responsibility is not discharged, the international community is morally obliged to consider its duty to act in the service of human protection.

This evening, I will concentrate on those issues related to human protection that have been developed under my watch.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Cyril Foster was a simple man, an ordinary man, by his own modest account. Yet he possessed an extraordinary faith in humanity''s capacity to promote peace, prevent war and better the human condition.

The United Nations was born of just such an aspiration. Sixty-five years after the Member States first assembled in Westminster, we are still striving “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”

I was born during the last part of Second World War. As a child, I witnessed the ravages of the Korean War and the promise of peace. I learned about hunger, poverty and displacement in the ultimate classroom, personal experience. While everybody was studying in a classroom I had to study outside, under a tree. When it rained we had to wait until it [turned] sunny to resume class under the tree.

Against all odds, the United Nations came to our rescue. It fed my family and my people it helped rebuild our country. And it has given us hope. It continues to offer hope to our troubled peninsula.

That quest, like many others, remains unfulfilled. Korea is still divided.

But I often wonder how many children, in similar straits, ask the same questions today that I did more than sixty years ago:

Is the world listening? Will help arrive in time? Who will be there for me and my family?

This is exactly the experience I am having these days as Secretary-General of the United Nations.

I am just back from Africa. At least in the past five times when I traveled to Africa or many other developing countries, I met many young people and children and helpless people, who are very poor and very sick, who try get help, and hope, from me and from the United Nations. So the United Nations is still a beacon of hope for millions of children. So I feel very much humbled whenever I meet them. I wonder, what can I do, how can I bring a sense of hope to them?

The task of human protection is neither simple nor easy. We don''t always succeed. But we must keep trying to make a difference. That is our individual and collective responsibility. People like myself, as Secretary-General, and the leaders of the world have a moral and political responsibility to protect populations.

Indeed, the struggle to fulfill the Charter''s promise of protection demands the best that this and other world-class universities have to offer.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The world and its conflicts have changed significantly since the founding of the United Nations.

And as the world has changed, so too must its institutions. The most enduring bend without breaking. They adjust to changing circumstances and opportunities, trimming their sails in shifting winds, knowing that the quickest route to their destination is rarely a straight line. Their pace varies, but never their guiding principles.

The challenges facing us have changed, but our core responsibility to maintain international peace and security has not.

Slowly but surely, sometimes by trial and error, we have learned to use the instruments available under the Charter in new ways, adapting to evolving circumstances.

Through this evolution, the need to operationalize a concept of human protection has emerged.

Gaining momentum, it is reshaping our work. It is entrenched in our operational practice. It is finding expression in the development of doctrine and in new international legal institutions. It is reflected in bolder Security Council resolutions and progressively broader mandates, and in the General Assembly''s continuing consideration of the concept of Responsibility to Protect.

This evening, I will focus on three areas.

First, I will address human protection in the context of conflict and complex emergencies where the UN serves as a firefighter. We are now trying to change this, by trying to prevent the fire in the first place. This encompasses our initiatives in peacekeeping and emergency interventions in the context of disaster relief. I will also deal here with peacebuilding and peace consolidation.

Second, I will deal with prevention, so that fires do not happen in the first place.

And third, human protection and the development of legal institutions promoting accountability.

Human Protection in the Context of Conflict and Complex Emergencies

First, let''s look first at peacekeeping, one of our core tools for human protection.

At the turn of the century, the Brahimi Report called on the UN to retool itself operationally. It identified gaps in the practice and policy of UN peacekeeping, including the need to devote resources to conflict prevention.

The search for an improved UN response to conflict has continued unabated since then, including the recent New Horizon review of practice and policy. The expansion of peacekeeping operations throughout the world we are now considering what the optimal size of the UN Peacekeeping should be. That is the concept we call New Horizon and about which I have reported to the Security Council.

Peacekeepers have been entrusted with growing responsibilities not only to keep armies at bay, but to protect civilians who are prey to militias and other combatants. This, in itself, involved very different methods of work, rules of engagement and capacities.

For example, protecting civilians necessarily implies mobility and, in difficult terrain, that means air mobility. As we repeatedly pointed out in Sudan, if we do not have helicopters, we are only able to field a static force. We would not have been able to assist with the referendum in Southern Sudan, transporting ballots and other necessities in a region the size of eastern Europe. If we are not [properly] equipped, that would radically undermine our capacity to protect civilians.

Acting by consensus, the Security Council has repeatedly placed civilian protection at the operational centre of the United Nations'' peace and security agenda.

Darfur is just one recent example where the Council stressed this objective. Securing the required resources and troops has consumed much of my energy. I have been begging leaders to make resources available to us. That experience underscores what can happen when Member States fail to provide the resources necessary to carry out the Council''s mandates.

Today, more than 120,000 soldiers, police and civilians serve under the United Nations flag in fifteen theatres around the world. Support services have dramatically improved by the reorganizations undertaken at the beginning of my term.

More and more frequently, peacekeepers are subject to contradictory pressures within countries. They often face perilous challenges that strain the very credibility of the mission.

For example, our mandate may provide for civilian protection yet a host government may interpret its terms differently, as we have seen recently in Sudan, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Today, we face another challenge in Côte d''Ivoire, where the former leader clings to power despite the united demand of the international community and the democratic will of the people. This is just an unacceptable.

I arrived this morning from the African Union Summit. I am pleased to report that the United Nations has taken a strong and unequivocal stand, in step with the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States. The rule of law, human rights and the future of democracy are at stake, as well as the integrity of the African Union and to some extent that of the United Nations.

Our mandate encompasses both guaranteeing the electoral process and protecting recently elected officials and vulnerable populations throughout the country. It is a task that must be performed in the face of direct attacks, harassment and provocation.

The final chapter of this saga has yet to be written, but this we know: the growing international solidarity on protection principles gives us better tools and better chances than ever before.

From Civilian Protection to Peacebuilding

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our experience has taught us that to keep the peace in volatile situations, we have to build the peace at the same time. Countries that have recently come out of conflict are the most vulnerable to suffering new ones.

So the 2005 World Summit established the Peacebuilding Commission and its Support Office. They are helping us to address peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding as simultaneous and mutually reinforcing undertakings.

Protection is more than standing guard over vulnerable communities.

We have learned this most painfully in trying to combat unimaginable sexual violence in armed conflict, most notably in the DRC. This has been of great concern to me personally.

Undoubtedly, the UN needs to perform its protection duties more effectively. Our peacekeepers are upgrading their methods of patrolling and systems of communication to cover vulnerable communities more adequately in the most difficult terrain.

Again, the United Nations has been the subject of criticism. [We have been asked], How come, when you have more than 10,000 soldiers, that you''re not able to protect women and girls from sexual violence? But now we''re talking about sometimes vast lands [such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo] where there is not much transportation, not much communications. This is quite a challenge.

Of course, we strengthen our patrol, we try to establish communications with the village community leaders. But it''s quite difficult but we have been trying to keep all these situations from happening.

The authority of the state, I believe is the most important, and the institution with highest responsibility. Through the rule of law, through strengthening their institutional capacity, they have to carry out their primary responsibility. But we have seen in many countries, because of the weak institutional capacity, they cannot address all these very appalling situations.

That is why I established the [Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions] to help rebuild legal institutions and train police, prison and judicial officers in countries recovering from conflict. Without security sector reform, sustainable peace is often elusive.

At the United Nations, we need to bolster our capacities as well.

We are monitoring, reporting and combating the recruitment and exploitation of children in armed conflict.

On sexual violence, I have appointed, last year, a Special Representative who is devoted to and focusing in preventing, stopping this Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict by employing training, advocacy, sanctions and sometimes naming and shaming to combat sexual violence and the impunity that allows it.

There is a very important Security Council resolution, 1325, which was adopted 11 years ago. The Security Council called for the empowerment of women as a crucial protection tool. Our newest agency – UN Women, headed by former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet – will help sharpen this important element of peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

Humanitarian Relief as Human Protection

Human protection, ''fire fighting,'' also extends to our responses to natural and manmade disasters.

As well-established UN principles underscore, the safety and access of humanitarian actors responding to vulnerable communities must be assured.

In conflict or disaster settings, the guarantee of humanitarian access serves to limit the political manipulation of hunger and disease.

In 2008, for example, when Myanmar was hit by Cyclone Nargis, because of these authorities just closing their borders to international humanitarian assistance, I was compelled to press Myanmar authorities to respect the principle of humanitarian access.

This served the human protection imperatives even if it fell outside a strict application of the Responsibility to Protect.

Let me make this distinction clear: To me, there is a moral imperative to help a child trapped in a collapsed building in Port au Prince or to assist women and children fleeing conflict.

Let me draw your attention to the Central Emergency Relief Fund, abbreviated as CERF. This was created by John Holmes as Under-Secretary-General in the United Nations, which helps speed our initial response to disasters.

When people are dying from earthquakes we have no time to lose. This CERF is the best, most effective, efficient way of delivering aid. Within 24 hours – or a maximum of 48 hours –urgent first aid assistance can be dispatched to the disaster areas. This, I believe, is one of the most successful mechanisms the UN introduced five years ago.

Remember, we relied on CERF for our early response in Myanmar, Haiti, and Pakistan, to name just a few.

A core challenge for human protection is assisting those displaced by natural and manmade disasters. Our refugee agencies are helping 34 million people a day, every day. The United Nations is feeding 100 million people a day. We are working to improve protection efforts to keep the vulnerable from double jeopardy.

Human Protection and Prevention

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The best form of protection is prevention.

Prevention saves lives as well as resources.

When you have to deploy 10,000 soldiers, it costs billions of dollars.

But if you can prevent through mediation or preventive diplomacy, you may do it, even with a few million dollars.

Prevention is not a one-off affair. Article 34 of the Charter authorizes the Security Council to investigate any situation that might lead to a dispute or threat to international peace and security. Fact-finding and mediation should not wait for conflicts to erupt.

Our renewed focus on prevention is a recognition that all conflicts are ultimately political.

So we have strengthened the UN''s capacities for preventive diplomacy and mediation, and to support viable peace processes that produce durable agreements.

In 2010 alone, last year, we supported 34 different mediation, facilitation and dialogue efforts. The persistent work of UN envoys helped to ease the situation in Kyrgyzstan and Guinea and keep the transition to democracy.

We are adapting our doctrines, capacities and training, working with our partners and regional organizations. We have a group of mediation experts who are on standby, who can be deployed within 72 hours to any place around the world. That is what we have established: a Mediation Support Unit within the Department of Political Affairs.

Nowhere is prevention needed more than during elections, especially in societies divided by or recovering from conflict. We have already experienced many such unfortunate tragedies and violence because of elections. Elections are a democratic system. It can be a rallying force, it can be a force of unity and solidarity, but sometimes it can also be a source of division and violence.

There will be at least 20 elections in Africa this year alone. We have seen still issues pending in Côte d''Ivoire.

Properly managed, transparent elections can ease tensions and build transparent and accountable institutions. But they also entail risks.

Sudan is a case in point. We have been pleased to assist the successful conduct of the referendum in Sudan. Engagement by the United Nations and its regional partners was a key element in that referendum''s success – a process that could have gone dangerously wrong.

This was also the case in Guinea, where our regional office continuously engaged the parties when the election process threatened to break down.

These situation-specific efforts have been reinforced by more generic and thematic ones. They include our efforts to limit small arms, light weapons and anti-personnel mines, as well as to eliminate nuclear weapons.

What is true for preventing manmade threats, such as armed conflict, is also true for natural disasters. The UN is looking to enhance its ability to respond immediately to disasters and to assist countries at disaster preparedness.

I have fully backed this campaign. By having good preparedness against disaster, we can save a lot of human lives. Consider two cyclones in Bangladesh, 16 years apart: the first killed 150,000 people in Bangladesh. After 16 years, with all these preparations, the number of dead was just over 4,000. That''s a huge, huge difference. The difference was a considered investment in disaster risk reduction. Had Myanmar been able to do the same as Bangladesh for Cyclone Nargis, a storm of similar force, many of the 191,000 who died might still be alive today.

Human Protection and Accountability

Ladies and gentlemen,

A proper treatment of the centrality of human rights as one of the United Nations'' three pillars would require maybe a separate, long lecture. But tonight let me simply say that human rights are an essential component of human protection.

The last decade of the twentieth century saw unprecedented progress in international law, humanitarian law and the establishment of international legal institutions. There also was increased acceptance of international norms by Member States, at least in principle.

These steps led to important human protection advances in the Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit.

The Heads of State and Government embraced a responsibility to protect. You might have heard of “R2P,” the responsibility to protect – protecting populations by preventing genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

The Responsibility to Protect has undergone further doctrinal elaboration and institutional expression over the last five years.

When I was campaigning to become Secretary-General, I pledged that if and when I was elected as Secretary-General, I would do my best to operationalize it. This is what I have been doing for that last four years.

There are some states that are still feeling uncomfortable and who have skepticism of the concept of “R2P,” whether this is going to be used as a tool by the big powers to interfere in their domestic politics.

However, my doctrine envisages that our efforts to prevent these awful crimes rest on three pillars: first, state responsibility, first of all, the State should be responsible second, international responsibility to help states to succeed and third, timely and decisive response should national authorities manifestly fail to protect, including under Chapter VII, if the Security Council deems such steps necessary.

I am working with my two Special Advisors to prevent genocide and to promote the Responsibility to Protect.

Both in dangerous situations and among UN Member States as a whole, it has been standard operating procedure at the world body to take these perspectives into account in times of crisis.

This summer, the General Assembly is again going to address the regional and subregional aspects of my strategy. A similar effort is underway with respect to elaborating the concept of Human Security. These parallel efforts help expand common ground for placing human protection at the centre of the UN''s doctrine and operational activities.

Alongside the development of norms and rules has come legal enforcement through the tribunals established by the United Nations to ensure accountability for gross human rights violations as we have seen in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. This trend towards accountability, albeit in hybrid institutions, can be seen in places like Cambodia and Sierra Leone, as well as with the Special Tribunal on Lebanon.

We have welcomed the parallel establishment of the International Criminal Court, a signal advance in the age-old struggle to overcome impunity.

Accountability is now an indispensable element of the framework of protection. It is a frontal challenge to impunity. And it also serves as a powerful deterrent against potential perpetrators.

As Secretary-General, I have insisted on standards of accountability, especially as they relate to conduct during conflict. This applies to our inquiry regarding the violent end to Sri Lanka''s long internal war, and to the commission of inquiry in the case of the Middle East, most recently the flotilla case. We have also seen resistance to accountability efforts in Sudan and Kenya.

It is essential that we stand firm in support of the Special Tribunal in Lebanon in the name of accountability.

I have been stressing that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, being [part of the] international justice system, should not be the subject of political interference. The Tribunal''s prosecutor and judges are independent professionals.

Here I want to note in particular the vital role of civil society in advancing contemporary standards of justice and accountability. Our valued partners have called national governments to account and mobilized international action. I think civil society, they can be the eyes, they can be the watchers, how governments are implementing all these principles of justice and accountability.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Has the Security Council gone too far in its insistence on human protection?

I think not.

Critics should recall that the emphasis on human protection is the legacy of tragic events and high aspirations of the last century. They are grounded in the UN''s founding principles and purposes.

Article 2(7) of the Charter clearly contemplates that essentially domestic matters are the responsibility of the state, this will not preclude intervention when needed by the United Nations under Chapter VII.

The drafting committee in San Francisco underscored that if fundamental freedoms and rights are “grievously outraged so as to create conditions which threaten peace or to obstruct the application of the provisions of the Charter, then they cease to be the sole concern of each state.”

For some time, international protections for populations in situations of internal, transnational, or international conflict have grown. It has been almost a century and a half since the founding of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the subsequent agreement on the first Geneva Convention on the treatment of combatants.

The subsequent Conventions of 1949, and the Additional Protocols of 1977, extended legal protections to civilians affected by conflict, including by conflicts of a non-international character.

Where do we go from here?

And so we must ask: Where do we go now, from here?

Recently, I set out five core challenges to the Security Council on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict:

The first one is enhancing compliance with international law second: engaging with non-State armed groups and rebel movements to seek their compliance on critical protection issues third: enhancing protection through more effective and better resourced peacekeeping and other relevant missions and fourth improving humanitarian access and five: ensuring accountability for violations.

Beyond the immediate protection agenda, the United Nations is addressing the “creeping vulnerabilities. ” They also put populations at risk and weaken societies, and also plant the seeds of violence and conflict: Water scarcity, food insecurity, corruption, transnational crimes, the effects of climate change. Often, this impact of climate change, water scarcity, has become the source of conflict, regional conflict, very serious regional conflict. So it is not surprising that these human security issues are finding their way onto our peacebuilding agenda, and specifically that of the Peacebuilding Commission.

It has also become clear that in line with our more complex mandates, we need to help governments and civil society to deliver tangible peace dividends in post-conflict situations and to help them rebuild their capacity to govern.

Peace will not last unless people see real benefits in real time: safety, justice, jobs, education and prospects for a better future. In general, our peace engagements are very often places with limited infrastructure. Such countries are highly vulnerable, for example, to epidemics, diseases, and infant mortality.

This means that an effective emergency civilian surge may be just as important as the deployment of peacekeeping troops.

Improving our civilian capacities is key to effective delivery at an early stage and we have a major project underway to see how we can do this better.

And clearly, the twenty-first century United Nations must continue to focus, sharpen, and extend its work. In this regard, global power shifts have brought new voices, new partners and new opportunities.

We are identifying synergies across the United Nations system, with the World Bank and other multilateral institutions.

In these efforts, we are finding ready partners in regional organizations, national governments and local actors.

Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter provides a ready framework for deeper and closer, more innovative collaboration with regional organizations, such as the African Union, where we are working together from Sudan to Cote d''Ivoire, from Guinea to Somalia.

As the Secretary-General, I am often amazed by the foresight of the drafters of the United Nations Charter. At a time when there was not a single regional organization, the drafters had the foresight that one day the United Nations would have to work closely with regional organizations. So this is quite a visionary vision.

We are also promoting cross-cultural dialogue in situations of potential conflict through the UN''s Alliance of Civilizations, and warning against rising intolerance and the politics of polarization.

An Ambitious Agenda

Ladies and gentlemen,

The United Nations was created to be an agent of change, not just an object of change. It has made history, even as it evolved with it. From its inception, the UN has been an incubator of ideas, a builder of norms, and an arbiter of standards. It remains so today.

Through its actions, as well as its words, the world body has helped transform the global agenda by embracing human protection as an essential component.

This evening, I have set out a big agenda with you.

So we must ask ourselves: Have our strategies and our operational practice on the ground kept pace with the ever-increasing demand for human protection?

We must concede that on many occasions, our words are ahead of our deeds.

But I am convinced this is a challenge we can meet. Momentum is on our side.

What is required is a shared responsibility. But this cannot be done alone, without the help of governments or the help of business communities, help of generous philanthropists, help of NGOs and students like yourselves. This is a shared responsibility. Together, we can answer the cry of that child I mentioned before, trapped under the rubble of an earthquake, and people caught in the crossfire and those who are wondering: Can the world hear my call? Who will help me and my family?

Ladies and gentlemen,

This brings us full circle.

The UN recognizes that human protection stands at the centre of both its purposes and principles.

As Dag Hammarskjöld said, the Secretary-General can be partisan in one case only, and that is precisely in the defense of the UN''s own purposes and principles.

Whenever I see all these great challenges, global and local, I cannot but be humbled by how I can address these challenges as the Secretary-General.

The words of the framers of the UN Charter still ring true today. “The Secretary-General, more than anyone else, will stand for the United Nations as a whole. In the eyes of the world, he must embody the principles and ideals of the Charter.”

That is why human protection will remain a hallmark of my administration, continuously striving to make our deeds match our words.

“We the peoples” expect and deserve nothing less.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

February 04, 2011

Will other Catholic Bishops take up matters raised by Mannar Bishop before LLRC?

by Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda

Alleviation of people’s sufferings is primarily a spiritual concern. It is in that light we need to reflect on the insightful submissions made to the LLRC by the Bishop of Mannar Dr. Rayappu Joseph.

As this particular commission is mandated by the President, the report will be handed over to him at a future date and what happens thereafter depends on the degree of accountability that the government holds over the lives of people in that part of the country. It is then up to the President if he so decides to respond positively to the suggestions made by the bishop in view of minimizing people’s sufferings.

In his submissions one can read some of the key and crucial issues affecting the community there and the suggestions which, if carried out, would mitigate people’s sufferings. I was inspired to reflect on just two points.

Bishop of Mannar has clearly reiterated, ‘In order to achieve genuine and lasting reconciliation, we believe it is crucial to address roots of the conflict and war, primarily issues affecting Tamils such as recognition of their political reality, language, land, education and political power sharing’.

An important point that the Bishop raises is the fact that the war is a result and not the cause. As long as the socio economic and political climate which is the cause that pushed the youth to have recourse to arms remains unchanged peace cannot actually dawn even though the war has now come to an end. True peace and reconciliation can be established only if the cause for the war is totally eliminated.

The ‘Four Noble Truths’ teach us that suffering cannot be eliminated unless its root cause is removed. In the light of the gospels, the root cause of human suffering is the suppression of God’s law of Justice. The proclamation of the good news to the poor, prisoners, bound and oppressed has been the mission of Jesus in view of relieving them of their suffering.

The elimination of root cause in this context implies the implementation of the proposal to share power. Except among the fanatics, there is a consensus among all right thinking people on the need for a political solution; why then is such a solution delayed? It is a tragedy that those Southern politicians, who in the past very courageously argued and campaigned for the need of political power-sharing with the Tamil community in the North and East, have for the sake of political expediency almost lost their interest in the matter!

Nonetheless, the civil society in the South, more particularly the Christian community as a whole and all ‘people of good will’ ought to awaken themselves to their obligation towards the suffering community in the North and raise their voice to insist on the need for power-sharing as a political solution to the perennial problem in our country.

As Christians and brothers and sisters of one and same family, our concern for the Tamil community can find a genuine expression only by courageously supporting the idea of power-sharing.

For the Christians Truth is an essential dimension of Faith. It alone has the power to save. One’s Faith can be dead and sterile. It can be living faith only if one lives by what Faith demands of him/her. In the present context it demands everyone to speak the Truth as it has manifested in the socio political realities of our land.

Another challenge thrown at the authorities both political as well as religious is to clarify ‘the discrepancy between the number of people who came to government controlled areas between October 2008 – May 2009 and the population reported to be in Vanni in early October 2008’.

In this country, Buddhism preaches, ‘May all beings be free from suffering’ and Christianity advocates ‘Universal Love’ as its central tenet.

Can the other bishops take up these matters which the Bishop of Mannar is raising?

When I pose this question, I can hear someone shouting "another Tiger is still alive"!

"Little Jaffna" of Tamils in Paris is often mistakenly called "Little Bombay"

By Amanda Morrow

It’s often mistakenly called “Little Bombay”, but the lively neighbourhood that stretches from the rue du Faubourg-St-Denis north to La Chapelle is actually home to Paris’s Tamil community. The air is often fragrant in this quarter – where a colourful mismatch of shops sells everything from silks to spices. This façade, however, masks the painful reality behind the area’s birth.

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French Tamils demonstrate in Paris against the treatment of Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan Army in 2009
Tony Cross

It began back in 1983 when Paris got its first ever Tamil boutique - opened by a refugee fleeing the violent civil war in Sri Lanka. The independence fight waged that same year by the LTTE, or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, went on to last three decades and claim some 80,000 lives.

So with a foothold in Paris, and thanks to a systematic period of asylum facilitated by the French Office for the Protection of Refugees, “Little Jaffna” sprung to life in the city’s north. It flourished during the 80s and 90s, incorporating everything from fabric shops and beauty salons, to restaurants, grocers, schools and Hindu temples.

For Raja, a former Tamil Tiger fighter who escaped to Paris 20 years ago and now manages a French restaurant, the conflict in his homeland made life there impossible. “I joined the LTTE in 1983 and was with them until 1988, when I went to India and bought my ticket to France” he says.

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Paris's Vinayaga Chaturthi Festival in August 2009

“All I could think about was leaving – with all of the political problems and the problems with the Sri Lankan army.”

Sri Lanka’s war is officially over, with the LTTE separatists suffering an annihilating defeat in May 2009 during a year-long offensive by the Sri Lankan army. As in many expatriate Tamil communities, Tamils in Paris staged huge protests against the bloody tactics used by the army, and the lack of interference by the international community.

It’s left a bitter taste for Raja, who insists the cause has not died. From his Paris apartment, he’s still dreaming of a Tamil Eelam homeland. “The war may be finished – but we have to remember why we began it in the first place,” he says. “We were demanding our independence.”

Most Parisian Tamils support the Tigers, says Raja, using the present tense. While the Tigers may have been defeated on Sri Lankan soil, their international network is far-reaching, and seems to have remained at least partially intact.

According to Sri Lanka’s ambassador to France, Dayan Jayatilleka, the LTTE network has broken into three or four large factions around the world. Although there isn’t any single unifying leader, he tells RFI, it’s possible there are members attempting to put the cell structure back together and reignite the armed struggle.

“I can’t take a head count on how many Tamils in Paris support the war, but it seems to me that the politically active and preponderant element of the Tamil diaspora – the more mobilised and active element – seems comfortable demonstrating under the flag of the LTTE,” he says.

“But I am not sure if they represent the bulk of the Tamil community in Paris, or only an active minority."

What’s missing, says Jayatilleka, is an opposition movement from within Paris’s Tamil community. “Something that says, ‘No we don’t feel comfortable with the flag of the LTTE with its 32 bullets and its crossed rifles’,” he says.

Even here in Little Jaffna, where the women are dressed in colourful saris, the pavements are alight with market stalls and the sounds of Hindi music spill from the shops, it’s difficult to extract the politics from everyday life.

France’s 100,000-strong Tamil population – the majority of whom have chosen to call this quarter home – are Tamil foremost, and French second. It’s a sense of identity perhaps cemented by their ethnic minority status back in Sri Lanka, where the Sinhalese majority controls the army.

In a Sri Lankan beauty shop on the rue Perdonnet, a young woman, Anusha, who is Sinhalese and has been in Paris for 10 years, is having her hair done by a Tamil staff member. She says a depressed economy and lack of opportunity led many Sri Lankans to leave – regardless of their ethnic background.

These days Anusha sings and dances for Sri Lankan community shows in Paris.

"I am very much active in the Sri Lankan community, but my friends are not only Sri Lankan,” she says. “They are all nationalities: American, German, Dutch.”

Anusha is happy to chat about her life, friends and roots, adding that she visits Sri Lanka as often as possible. “Now the war is over, Tamils and Sinhalese live like a family,” she adds.

She is unperturbed when asked if active members of the LTTE still operate around Paris, but as she tries to answer, the conversation is suddenly ended by the hairdresser, who hurriedly pushes me out the door.

Fundraising for the LTTE, deemed a terrorist organisation in many countries, has been a sensitive subject in France since the April 2007 arrest of several members of its network on charges of extorting money from members of the Tamil community.

Before the arrests were made, the subject was investigated by journalist Nandita Vij, who works for RFI's sister station, France 24 television. Vij, who is of Indian origin, visited the Paris offices of the now defunct Tamil Coordinating Committee (TCC), which was later raided by French counter-terrorism police.

“The organisation that was collecting funds was working as an NGO that was helping out the refugees back in Sri Lanka,” Vij explains. “So their pretext was that they were collecting money for tsunami victims or for the rehabilitation of the Tamil community.”

While some people were at first happy to trump up money for the cause back home, Vij says that the younger generation eventually became less committed to the cause, and at this point were forced to give money.

“If they didn’t, they were threatened," says Vij. “Sometimes it was their family back in Sri Lanka who was at risk, or else they were harassed here in Paris – and at times beaten up outside their house.”

After her story went to air in 2006, Vij herself became a victim of harassment by TCC members who, even today, have not backed down on their campaign of intimidation.

“I am still under threat – I cannot go back to Gare du Nord for one, because people recognise me,” she says. “The harassment still hasn’t stopped, so I can’t even go and shop in the area for Indian groceries anymore.”

Despite the war in Sri Lanka, the extortion arrests in Paris, and the unfulfilled dream of a free Tamil state, the residents of Little Jaffna, and the streets that splinter off around it, have deftly carved out a lifestyle through which they can celebrate the riches of their culture.

There are Tamil newspapers, a radio station and Tamil language schools, while the annual Chariot Procession, a tribute to the Hindu elephant god Ganesha Chathurthi, has become a popular fixture each September for Parisians and tourists alike.

For Raja, memories of the war he fought are never far, but he's happy with his new life, which he says is one of integration for his French-born children, who are able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

“Here in France, my children take Tamil language classes – they learn to write Tamil, and they learn about our culture,” Raja says. “Then every year in June, there is an exam for all the children and they get tested.”

While integrating is much easier for Tamil children who go to school in France, older Tamils often struggle with language and culture barriers. As a result of Sri Lanka’s British colonial past, many are fluent English speakers, and come to France without knowing a word of French.

This means employment opportunities are restricted, with many Tamils unable to find work that corresponds with their qualifications back home. Among this group is Hamad, who works at the Silk Palace general store on the rue du Faubourg-St-Denis.

Ironically he comes from Pondicherry, in the south of India, once a lone French colony. Despite the French connection, Hamad says all of his education was in English. “Although I speak some French, it’s not been sufficient to get a good job, that’s why I’ve been working in a shop for the past eight years,” he says.

“Although none of my family is here, as they don’t speak French, I see a lot of Tamils every day, as most of our customers are Tamil. Sometimes I also attend the functions organised by the Tamil cultural associations.”

So now that the war in Sri Lanka has been declared over – with images of Tamil chief Vellupillai Prabhakaran’s bullet-ridden corpse being beamed round the world – are Paris’s Tamils considering a return to the homeland?

Not a chance says Raja, who points out that there is a strong suspicion among the greater Tamil diaspora that the Sri Lankan army fabricated Prabhakaran’s death.

“Personally I believe that he is lost now – but a lot of people think he is still alive because, in the past, there were often army announcements that he was dead, and then he would appear,” Raja says.

“These days there are two LTTE groups – those who say Prabhakaran is there, and those who say that Prabhakaran is not.”

While the separatist movement in Sri Lanka has been defeated, Raja says the suffering of Tamils continues – despite what he calls government propaganda that depicts Sri Lankan soldiers delivering relief supplies to Tamils displaced during the war.

“Even now people over there are living in fear. It’s not war, but they’re afraid because there is still a lot of violence,” he says. “For families where there is no husband, the women are often raped by the army. None of that has finished.”

Over at the Sri Lankan embassy in Paris, ambassador Jayatilleka says the numbers of people applying to return are encouraging – and that most Tamils on the ground in Sri Lanka have abandoned the secessionist struggle.

“I would say that quite a few want to go back, and the numbers that are coming in from other parts of the world such as Australia and Canada clearly demonstrate that a large number do want to, Jayatilleka says.

“I don’t know if this is simply for a visit, or if it is to relocate back to the parts of the island where they came from. But, yes, there has been a lot of movement, and no one is saying, ‘We don’t want to have anything to do with the place’.”

Regardless of any gravitation back to the homeland, here in Little Jaffna, where shop signs are decorated with the Tamils’ distinctive script, and where the Tamil community is entrenched alongside its Indian, Bangladeshi and Turkish counterparts, it’s hard to imagine this area looking any different. ~ courtesy: Radio France International ~

Related:

February 03, 2011

What our country consequently needs is a new political will

By Rt.Rev.Duleep de Chickera

(Independence Day Message from the Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera, Metropolitan’s Commissary and Vicar General of the Diocese of Colombo)

The celebration of independence is an important event in the life of any Country. It is an appropriate occasion to assess the quality of life of our people and our journey towards national integration.

The end of the war provided an excellent opportunity for healing the wounds of the past. It was also an opportunity to include all those who had been excluded economically and socially, to build systems of social vigilance which would protect the dignity and rights of our people and to search for a shared life style of forgiveness and unity. The end to the war also brought a challenge to put an end to violence and confrontation as problem solving methods.

It is however most unfortunate that in-spite of possessing the necessary human resources to make these changes, we delayed for too long and have now lost sight of these goals. We have failed to address the pressing crises of displacement and poverty, corruption and waste, good governance and national integration. There is consequently a growing discontent with the indifference to the people’s needs, rights and aspirations; and impatience with endless excuses that inevitably blame others. The old order is either incapable of, or reluctant to replace unjust systems and discriminatory trends with a more just order for the good of all our people.

What our country consequently needs is a new political will that will restore the sovereignty of the people and bring about true national integration. For this to happen those who claim to work for the good of the people should be liberated from our ideological and even trivial differences and come together. Persons of integrity from all faiths will have little option but to lend their unstinted support to such an initiative.

May God watch over our beloved Sri Lanka with tenderness and endow all our people with compassion, wisdom and love for the truth.

With Peace and Blessings to all

Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera

2nd February 2011

February 02, 2011

Rajapaksa Presidency has distressing similarities with early days of Ben ALi and Mubarak regimes

by Harim Peiris

President Ben Ali of Tunisia’s thirty year rule ended late last month, when popular unrest and street protests in that once calm and seemingly idyllic country erupted across the country and brought an unforeseen and abrupt end to a long rule that had provided stability and initially rising prosperity to Tunisia. However the social compact in Tunisia was seemingly to trade rising economic growth for political freedoms and while Tunisia had periodic elections which President Ben Ali predictably and convincingly won, as the economic growth benefits stopped flowing down to an increasingly restive younger generation, the end suddenly came.

Tunisians Inspire the Egyptians

The Middle East, especially Arab North Africa is being governed by long serving rulers, from Hosni Mubarak in Egypt to Mohamed Ghaddafi in Libya. The popular uprising in Tunisia has clearly influenced its other North African neighbors and popular protests have erupted across the region must most notably in Egypt. The political reign of President Hosni Mubarak is over even as the protest leaders organize a million man protest in Cairo, the real issue being whether President Mubarak leaves office immediately or is able to organize a more orderly and democratic transition of power.

Nationalism and Authoritarianism

The Ben Ali regime in Tunisia, the Mubarak regime in Egypt and indeed many of the other North African Arab regimes have many features in common.

The first is that they had long serving rulers, who had consequently built up significant and powerful elite constituencies in support of the status quo. Nonetheless, their regimes faced sudden and complete collapse.

The second feature is that these rulers used Arab nationalism and the Palestinian cause to create the rationale and ideological base for their continuous and long term rule.

The third feature is that all the regimes were authoritarian and fairly adept at cracking down on political dissent, harassing their political opponents and generally having a dominant near one party state.

The fourth feature in these regimes was the neo feudal characteristic of the immediate and extended family of the ruler playing a role that created a ruling family.

The fifth feature was that they had regular elections which the ruler always won by handsome majorities. They also had token opposition parties that were no serious political threat to the regime.

Lessons for Sri Lanka

The Rajapaksa regime in its defence is somewhat different from the presidencies of Ben Ali in Tunisia or Mubarak in Egypt or indeed Al Basheer in Sudan. The significant difference is that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is popularly elected, twice in fact in electoral contests that were a reasonable though flawed exercise in democratic choosing of elected leaders. Sri Lanka has flawed but credible electoral exercises. The North African Arab regimes had elections that were essentially sham exercises, rather like what transpired recently in Myanmar.

Having said that the Rajapaksa presidency shows some distressing signs and similarities, of the early days of the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes. The groundwork via the 18th amendment’s abolition of term limits is being laid for a very long innings at the top. The first son is being groomed to take over, while brothers number one, two and three, divide up the chairmanship of the legislature, command of the military and control of economic development projects.

Ethnic nationalism is being whipped up and an ethno nationalism ethos being created as the rationale and ruling ideology of the regime. Persisting with emergency regulations and laws permit the continued stranglehold on democratic debate with little tolerance for political dissent.

The real lesson for the Rajapaksa presidency and Sri Lanka is that the formula of nationalism, authoritarianism and populism even with periodic elections wore thin as the consequences of bad governance, neo feudalistic family bandyism and poor economic management took its toll on living standards and frustrated the aspirations of the younger generations.

Now Sri Lankans may not take to the streets and certainly the kind of violence and anarchy seen in Northern Africa ares certainly not really needed or even desirable in Sri Lanka. But the essential lesson that the formula of nationalism combined with authoritarianism does not in itself guarantee longevity in political power is a lesson that those who seemingly advocate such a path for us in Sri Lanka should well take note. (ENDS)

COURTESY:DAILY MIRROR

February 01, 2011

What really happened when President Rajapaksa went to the USA?

By Upul Joseph Fernando

Sri Lanka (SL) President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s sudden tour of the United States was shrouded in mystery. Though speculations were rife , the aims and objectives of the tour are still a secret. The secrecy notwithstanding, the outcome of it was the US based pro Tamil Tiger activist group ‘Tamils against genocide’ filing a lawsuit against Mahinda for war crime charges.

In 2009 October, when the former chief of defense staff of SL , Sarath Fonseka visited the US and the Department of Homeland security of that country questioned him in connection with the SL war crimes., Fonseka fled America and returned to the Island.

However when Mahinda visited the US, he did not face such an experience. It is reported that this was because he was protected by the Diplomatic immunity he enjoyed as the President of the country. Of course, Fonseka too ought to have enjoyed the Diplomatic immunity as he was the chief of defense staff then when he visited the US , but as he made a private tour he was not entitled to the diplomatic immunity.

Consequently, the US Homeland security sought to interrogate him, reports say. It is argued that even Mahinda too did a private tour of America , and how come only Mahinda enjoyed the diplomatic immunity. The answer furnished by some to this question is, as Fonseka is a green card holder of the US , he is liable for questioning by the Homeland security.

When all the circumstances and events surrounding the SL war crime charges are taken into account , it is very clear that a ‘hide and seek’ game is being played by interested parties. When Mahinda went to Texas, America , the US state Dept. Assist. Secretary Robert Blake was also in Texas ; when the media questioned on whether Mahinda will be meeting Blake , the spokesman for the US States Dept. did not give a direct answer and was evasive. He said , there will be no official meeting. But Blake also being in Texas while Mahinda was visiting Texas was something that was most intriguing. The US States Dept. spokesman declared that Blake was in Texas because he was to deliver a lecture at the Rice University.

It is impossible to imagine that Mahinda Rajapaksa would have embarked on the US tour without Blake’s assent. The President or the SL foreign Ministry would have perhaps made sure by speaking to Blake that he would not encounter any problems the Tamil Diaspora could possibly create . The President who had a nasty experience recently when he visited London and learnt a bitter lesson would in all probability leave no room for a repetition in the US by keeping Blake in the dark.

It is a well and widely known fact that during the period when Blake was the US Ambassador in SL , he maintained extremely close and friendly ties not only with President Rajapaksa but even with his family. It was reported that Blake at that time along with his family at the invitation of the President had spent a whole day with Mahinda’s family members at the latter’s ‘Carlton House’, in Tangalle at Hambantota – the native place of Mahinda. His swimming and frolicking in the sea then with Mahinda’s family members became a theme of conversation among all.

There was no doubt that when Mahinda visited Texas, Blake’s stay in Texas was not by accident. According to Govt. sources both have met unofficially. It is also learnt that though President ‘s tour was professedly private , he was scheduled to meet Blake , and that was why President’s secretary Lalith Weeratunge and Foreign Minister Dr. G L Peiris accompanied him on the tour. There are also reports that when defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa went to America last year , he too had met Blake unofficially.

According to Blake he had unofficial meetings with Mahinda and Gotabaya purportedly to ‘change’ Mahinda to fall in line with Blake’s diplomacy akin to UN Secretary General Moon’s ‘quiet Diplomacy’.

If Blake desired he could have given a blaze of publicity prior to Mahinda’s US tour as did Mahinda receive on his London tour . Yet , Blake like the SL Govt. treated President’s tour as confidential. It would have also been no difficult task for the Tamil Diaspora to locate Mahinda’s residence while he was in America. The Tamil Diaspora in America is not as vicious or vast as that in London.

However , Rudrakumaran , the Prime Minister of the Tamil Tiger transnational Govt. is in America. The SL Govt. has repeatedly urged Blake to arrest Rudrakumaran and entrust his custody to SL, but Blake has not acceded to this request. Some sources say , Blake has declared that there are no terrorist indictments against Rudrakumaran. It is also known that Blake is in constant touch with Rudrakumaran.

It is obscure whether Blake made a request to Rudrakumaran not to create a stir over Mahinda Rajapaksa’s US visit , in spite of the fact that ‘ the Tamils against genocide’ filed a law suit after Mahinda left the US. All in all , why US and Blake are playing ‘hide and seek’ ` pertaining to SL war crime charges is clouded in mystery.

COURTESY;DAILY MIRROR

'LTTE bore a large part of the responsibility' - Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State

NPR Station WRVO Radio Interview with Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Syracuse, NY, January 27, 2011

"I’m not sure I’d call that a model for how I’d want to see”, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake remarks on the view of the final phase of the LTTE-Sri Lanka war being held by “some strategists as a model for effectively putting down a terrorist insurgency,” which was mentioned in a recent New Yorker magazine article.

The Assistant Secretary of State made these remarks during an NPR affiliate radio interview on Jan 27th:

mp3 Audio of WRVO Interview: Grant Reeher speaks with Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asian Affairs (26 mnts)

Excerpts of the Interview relating to Sri Lanka:

QUESTION: In case you’ve just joined us, you’re listening to the Campbell Conversations, and my guest today is Bob Blake, Assistant Secretary of State.

I’ve got to ask you a couple of questions about your previous experience in Sri Lanka. Before you took on your current position at the State Department you were Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. While you were in that position the country was going through a civil war that had some really gruesome levels of violence and cruelty.

The first question, just a base one, what was that experience like for you in that time period?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: It was a very searing time for the country and I think a searing time for me personally, because the government of Sri Lanka went from being involved in a peace process with the LTTE which is the terrorist organization at that time, to making a decision after suffering many attacks from the LTTE that they were going to try to defeat them militarily. Most of us believed it couldn’t be done, but they disproved a lot of the skeptics. But they did so at a very high cost. Many many civilians were killed during that and particularly at the end of that conflict. It points now to the need for very serious reconciliation and accountability efforts to take place so that the country can be unified and it can again I think realize the promise that Sri Lanka has always had.

QUESTION: You just mentioned this and I wanted to follow up on it. There’s a recent piece in the New Yorker, I’m sure you’ve read it, about the conflict by John Lee Anderson. In that piece he writes about exactly what you just mentioned, the fact that despite, one of the points I wanted to ask you about here, despite the brutality with which the Tamil insurgency was extinguished, the government’s response is held up by some strategists as a model for effectively putting down a terrorist insurgency. And the model, to quote Anderson, is “deny access to the media, the United Nations, and human rights groups; isolate your opponents and kill them as quickly as possible; and segregate and terrify the survivors, or ideally, leave no witnesses at all.” Do you think that accurately captures what was done?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: I’m not sure I’d call that a model for how I’d want to see --

QUESTION: Exactly.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: But I think it’s important to be balanced in this. The first thing to recognize is the LTTE bore a large part of the responsibility for this. If you read the public statements that I and the EU and the Norwegians put out during the course of this conflict, we were always careful to urge both sides to protect civilians. The LTTE --

QUESTION: Just to clarify, that’s the Tamil group, Tamil Tigers.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: The LTTE, the so-called Tamil Tigers, have been on our terrorist list since 1997. One of the most brutal, lethal terrorist organizations in the world.

As the Sri Lankan army was pushing north into the Tamil areas, the predominantly Tamil areas that were controlled by the LTTE for more than two decades, they displaced, the Sri Lankan army displaced a large number of Tamil civilians and they all began to move northwards. The LTTE systematically refused international efforts to allow those internally displaced persons to move south. To move away from the conflict areas where they could have been given food and shelter and so forth. So they systematically basically refused all efforts and in fact violated international law by not allowing freedom of movement to those civilians. So had the LTTE actually allowed people to move south, none of this would have happened in the first place, so it’s important to make that point. I think that often gets lost in the debate on this.

Secondly, the LTTE often deliberately put its heavy artillery in the midst of civilian encampments, precisely to draw fire so that people would get killed in the hopes that there would then be international outrage and there would be essentially demands on the Sri Lankan government to stop the fighting and [agree to] some sort of negotiated settlement.

The Sri Lankans, not without reason, argued that the LTTE was really never interested in peace and that they had always used ceasefires as a way to regroup and rearm themselves, so they essentially refused any efforts to resume the peace process.

So we faced this very very difficult situation. On the one hand we wanted to see the defeat of a terrible terrorist organization that had been responsible for hundreds if not thousands of civilian casualties. On the other hand we wanted to ensure that there were not going to be civilian casualties as a result of this. I have to say, both sides were guilty of massive human rights violations that caused the deaths of many many civilians. I think, just to say what I said earlier, which is for this country now to recover from this experience I think there needs to be a reconciliation process, there needs to be new elections that are held in the north so that a new indigenous leadership can emerge, and I think there also needs to be some sort of accountability mechanism so that the Sri Lankan nation can put this episode behind them and that they can be confident that those who were responsible for the deaths that took place will be held accountable. ~ Text courtesy of: US State Dept. ~