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March 31, 2011

Diplomatic corps must act to free ailing journalist Bennet Rupasinghe

by Committee to Protect Journalists

Mar 31, 2011 The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the international diplomatic community in Colombo to help secure the release of Lanka eNews website News Editor Bennet Rupasinghe. According to colleagues in Colombo and international news reports, Rupasinghe was arrested by police after responding to a summons. He was called to give a statement about allegedly threatening a brother of a suspect who is in custody over the arson attack on the site's office on January 31.

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News Editor Bennet Rupasinghe in Police vehicle ~ pic: via LankaeNews

Rupasinghe's case was carried over to April 7, according to the reports. The court said that due to his age he may be allowed to be held in a secure hospital.

"Sri Lankan journalists are at the mercy of killers and kidnappers because the government has failed to meet its responsibility to protect them. This arrest cries out for immediate international support, and we call on diplomats in Colombo to pressure authorities to meet their obligations," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "Not only has the office of Lanka eNews come under arson attack, but its editor is in exile and its cartoonist is missing--the threat to the safety of its remaining staff is clear."

On January 24, 2010, the site's columnist and political cartoonist, Prageeth Eknelygoda, was abducted two days before presidential elections. His wife, Sandhya, and their two teenage sons have kept up a steady campaign pressuring the government to investigate the disappearance, which so far has not happened. A representative of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office has contacted the family, expressing Ban's concern, and offering them the U.N.'s support in their campaign.

Chief Editor Sandaruwan Senadheera, living in exile since early 2010 in London after repeated threats on his life, says he intends to keep the site running. The news site's offices were destroyed in an apparent arson attack in the early morning on January 31. At the time, CPJ called for the United Nations to intervene.

Lanka eNews is known for exposing governmental corruption and criticizing the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It gave its support to defeated opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka in the January 2010 presidential elections. Fonseka was arrested on February 8, 2010, court-martialed for committing "military offenses," and sentenced to three years in prison.

Attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka are seldom meaningfully investigated and never prosecuted. The country ranks fourth on CPJ's 2010 Impunity Index, which measures governments' records of bringing the killers of journalists to justice. ~ courtesy: http://www.cpj.org ~

Canada Gov't to Tamil refugee claimants: pay smugglers or stay in jail - CTV News investigation

By: Jon Woodward
ctvbc.ca

The federal government has been telling Tamil refugee claimants to pay tens of thousands of dollars to the smugglers who brought them here -- or Canada won't let them out of jail.

Government lawyers argue that it's a way to ensure the migrants won't be influenced by smugglers when they're let go. But critics say the tactic funnels money to smugglers the government is trying to hurt.

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Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney says forcing Tamil refugee claimants to pay the smugglers who brought them here is legitimate. March 30, 2011. (CTV)

"It's shameful," said Ujjal Dosanjh, the Liberal candidate for Vancouver-South. "This is an extortion of the refugee claimants to pay the smugglers who are the guilty party in the first place."

CTV News reviewed 15 transcripts of detention reviews conducted by the Immigration and Refugee Board where debt to smugglers was a factor in detention.

In one of those cases, debt was the only factor that kept a Tamil migrant detained in January. But that migrant was able to show his family had paid his debts by February -- and he was ordered released.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney seemed incredulous when asked about the issue at a campaign stop in Vancouver-Kingsway on Wednesday morning.

"I think that's ridiculous," said Kenney. "Paying a smuggler is an illegal activity. The government of Canada wouldn't countenance facilitating someone paying their debt."

About ten minutes later, the minister addressed the issue again.

"It's quite legitimate for our lawyers to take that position," he said. "We make no apology for ensuring that the law is enforced."

The law he's referring to is regulation 245-F, which says that if a refugee claimant owes money to a smuggler that can be a factor in deciding whether they can be released from prison.

The idea behind the regulation is to make sure refugees don't go underground to pay debts to smugglers, said immigration lawyer Eric Purtzki.

"If someone is beholden to a smuggler they might be unlikely to appear for a future appearance," he told CTV News.

But Purtzki said the rule forces his and other clients to pay the very smugglers the government is trying to attack.

"Often times individuals will contact their family back home in Sri Lanka and say to them that they need to pay the smuggler," he said.

In many cases reviewed by CTV News, the migrant or their lawyer presents evidence that the debt has been paid in the form of an affidavit from a relative, or mortgage or land sale documents.

Sometimes, a government lawyer challenges the legitimacy of those documents and argues that the migrant should remain incarcerated.

The outstanding debt for the migrants ranged from $5,000 to $28,000 in the decisions surveyed.

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Ujjal Dosanjh

Dosanjh said that if a Liberal government is elected they would examine repealing the rule.

In August, 492 ethnic Tamil refugee claimants arrived on B.C. shores after the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, or LTTE, a banned terrorist organization, in the Sri Lankan civil war.

The government says it is keeping Tamil migrants in jail in cases where their identity hasn't been confirmed or there is suspicion of terrorist involvement. ~ courtesy: CTV News ~

On the smugglers' trail: RCMP 'making a difference' - U.K. man 'Peg Leg Shankar' wanted by Interpol

by Stewart Bell

[Part IV] RCMP ‘making a difference’

A tall, sturdy cop with short-cropped hair, Lieutenant-General Pongpat Chayapan is Commander of Thailand’s Central Investigation Bureau.

He may also be Canada’s best ally in the fight against human smuggling.

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Police Lieutenant General Pongpat Chayapan, head of the Central Investigation Bureau speaks during an interview at The Central Investigation Bureau at the Royal Thai Police headquarters in Bangkok on Tuesday March 1, 2011


When he was a young officer in the Royal Thai Police, he was sent to Vancouver and Ottawa for police training. The RCMP taught him how to conduct surveillance and undercover operations.

To this day he remains fond of Canada and respects the Mounties. So when the RCMP came to see him last year, to ask for his help against the human smugglers organizing migrant ships to Canada, he did not hesitate.

“From my experiences working with the RCMP, I feel a comfort level in working with them,” the general said in an interview. “They are true professionals and the RCMP has made this issue become more aware in Thailand.”

It was a lucky turn of events for the RCMP, which was under pressure to fight human smuggling after two derelict cargo ships arrived off the British Columbia coast in August carrying more than 500 Sri Lankan refugee claimants.

The Mounties needed to find out who was behind the smuggling networks using Thailand as a staging ground. Ottawa also wanted the RCMP to stop any other migrant ships that might be preparing to leave for Canada.

Both required the close cooperation of the Thai police.

And they got it.

“We are fortunate that the RCMP liaison officer here came with the information and the willingness to work with us,” Lt.-Gen. Pongpat said. “Of course, I wasn’t happy. However, we realize that Thailand has been used as a transit point for many illegal activities such as human smuggling, the drug trade.”

After recognizing that little can be done once migrant ships are at sea, the Canadian government has begun quietly working in transit countries like Thailand to disrupt human smuggling operations before they get going.

The RCMP has sent a handful of officers to South and Southeast Asia to combat human smuggling in coordination with local authorities, notably the Royal Thai Police and police in Australia, which has become a favorite target of the smuggling syndicates.

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Bob Paulson, the head of Federal Policing, described the program as layered. At one level, he said police are trying to disrupt and prevent future ships. At another, they are chasing lower-level, hands-on members of the smuggling networks.

A third objective is to bring the “operating minds” of the networks to justice, he said. Although no arrests have yet been made, the RCMP said charges would soon be announced against the organizers who sent 76 migrants to Canada in 2009 aboard the ship Ocean Lady.

Deputy Commissioner Paulson said the overseas effort to stop further migrant ships had been a success. “It is making a difference,” he said. “I think we’re absolutely having an effect in terms of interrupting and disrupting.”

A central RCMP intelligence hub in Ottawa collects and analyzes leads about human smuggling, he said. Those deemed worth pursuing are sent to officers posted overseas, who share them with their police partners for follow-up.

“Here in Thailand, as anywhere else outside Canada, we have no law enforcement powers,” said Inspector George Pemberton, the Bangkok-based Mountie who heads the Anti-Human Smuggling Team. “Our role is strictly to cooperate with the local authorities, facilitate information exchange, make sure that the right information gets into the right hands.”

With an Islamist insurgency in the south, border skirmishes with Cambodia in the east and with Burma in the west, in addition to occasional clashes with the Red Shirt and Yellow shirt movements in the capital, Thailand already had its hands full when Canada came calling.

“They have a lot of security issues facing them, so the effort that they’ve put into tackling this problem has been just remarkable,” Insp. Pemberton said. “I think they have recognized that it is their problem, and it affects their reputation. They don’t want to attract criminals to Bangkok any more than we would want to attract them to Toronto.”

As a regional transit hub, Bangkok has long been used by smugglers but senior Thai police officials said the MV Sun Sea was the first large ship to embark from the country carrying a cargo of would-be refugees.

The freighter spent weeks in the Gulf of Thailand, loading passengers who traveled from Sri Lanka to Bangkok, and then to the southern city of Songkhla, where they were boarded fishing boats that brought them to the Sun Sea. The ship reached the B.C. coast last August, carrying 492 Sri Lankans.

“Thailand is a very open country, similar to Canada. They welcome people from all over the world and so a small number of those people will abuse the hospitality,” Insp. Pemberton said. “They’re obviously at a crossroads for Asia geographically, very well developed transportation infrastructure, good support networks in Bangkok for migrants and for refugees. The UNHCR [the United Nations refugee agency] is here, there’s a sizeable community particularly of Tamils here to provide support.”

Since Thailand, in cooperation with the RCMP, began a crackdown in Bangkok, police believe they have disrupted one migrant ship that was preparing to leave for the B.C. coast last fall. Some of the top human smugglers have been arrested or have moved to Laos and Malaysia but Canadian and Thai police believe the main network remains active in Thailand.

“They deserve a lot of credit,” Insp. Pemberton said of the Thai police. “I think they have pushed some of the bad guys out of Bangkok. But to think that that’s permanent, you would be crazy.

“Certainly the RCMP’s perspective is that this is a long-term problem. And it happens to be Tamils today that we’re looking at in Canada’s perspective. But the reality, looking around the world, is there’s millions of people fleeing either conflict or looking for a better life for their family. And so it’s Tamils today but who knows who it might be tomorrow.”

On the fourth floor of Royal Thai Police headquarters, Lt.-Gen. Pongpat strides down the hall. Two young men in camouflage leap to their feet as he passes, into a conference room to meet a delegation of police from various countries, including Canada.

Later, he sits at a conference table in his chocolate-brown uniform, his reading glasses in front of him along with two cell phones, a stack of official-looking papers and a tissue box encased in gold fabric and white lace.

To show his esteem for Canada, he offers his ranking of the world’s greatest police forces. The RCMP is the second-best, he says, behind only Scotland Yard. He puts the Federal Bureau of Investigation in third.

A framed painting on his office wall shows a man in the prisoner’s box of a Montreal courtroom, on trial for smuggling drugs out of the Golden Triangle. Lt.-Gen. Pongpat investigated the smuggler, who was later arrested, convicted and sentenced to 12 years. Almost three decades later, the general is again investigating smuggling to Canada. Only the cargo has changed.

After Canada sought their help, the Royal Thai Police launched a task force called Project Hydra to coordinate the various law enforcement agencies that had a role in human smuggling (but that were not well-linked due to problems such as the lack of a common computer system).

Now Thai officials are working with the RCMP to stop the next migrant ship. Thai police said they were informed that another vessel was being organized for the voyage to Canada and they are investigating.

The RCMP has launched Project Seahorse to probe the latest smuggling operation, which they believe is being coordinated by a Sri Lankan who made $1.6-million for organizing the Sun Sea. Nicknamed Praba, he works from a hideout in Laos.

Since most of the Sri Lankans who travel to Thailand to board smuggling ships or organize them enter the country as tourists, Thailand has put new guidelines in place that have made it much tougher for Sri Lankans to get visas.

As a result, the number of Sri Lankan visitors to Thailand has declined 70-80 per cent since the Sun Sea incident, Thai police said. “We are quite happy with the result we are having with the prevention process,” said Major General Manoo Mekmok of the Thai police Immigration Bureau.

Thai police have also increased controls on the southern border with Malaysia to prevent migrants and smugglers from crossing into Thailand to board ships. “We are sealing the border in the southern province because some of the lower tier of the network is still operating in Thailand and they may smuggle people into Thailand,” said Major General M.L. Pansak Kasemsant, Deputy Commissioner of the Immigration Bureau.

He wants the international community to know Thai authorities have been working on the issue. “We are trying our utmost to help and to arrest and to prevent human smuggling, under our law,” he said, “but you have to understand we are working under so much pressure for the human rights situation.”

Lt.-Gen. Pongpat said while the anti-smuggling program has had successes the fight is far from over. “It is temporary because there’s more opportunity to operate in Thailand because of its diversity, the less strict rules and regulations in Thailand itself. And of course Thailand is a tourist country.”

He reverts to English to make his point.

“Welcome to Thailand,” he says. “Welcome good person, welcome bad person.”

U.K. man ‘Peg Leg Shankar’ wanted by Interpol

Interpol has issued an arrest warrant for a British man accused of running the human smuggling network that sent 76 Sri Lankans to Canada aboard a cargo ship in 2009.

Shanmugasundaram Kanthaskaran, 40, is wanted by Sri Lankan authorities for “people smuggling, trafficking and illegal immigration” as well as “terrorism,” according to the Interpol website.

While the public Interpol notice is vague, classified details of the allegations obtained by the National Post show he is wanted in connection with the human smuggling vessel Ocean Lady.

A confidential Sri Lankan government report says Mr. Kanthaskaran, also known as “Peg Leg Shankar,” was born in Sri Lanka, holds a British passport and operates from the U.K., Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.

“The subject has established an effective network covering South Asian countries to run the human smuggling operations,” it says, adding he organized the Ocean Lady smuggling run with a Canadian named Ravi Shanker.

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Shanmugasundaram Kanthaskaran. ~ Interpol handout

According to the report, Mr. Kanthaskaran was a member of the Sea Tigers, the naval wing of the Tamil Tigers rebels. After his leg was amputated following a clash with government forces, he moved to London, where he was allegedly involved in procurement.

Using a ship called the Princess Easwary, he smuggled weapons to Sri Lanka from North Korea, the report says. The ship was transporting military hardware to the island in May 2009 when the civil war ended, it says.

After hearing that Tamil rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was dead, the ship’s crew dumped their cargo into the waters off Indonesia. Mr. Kanthasakaran then began organizing a human smuggling voyage to Canada, it says.

The ship, which was registered in Cambodia, changed its name to Ocean Lady and sailed from India with a stop in Malaysia, arriving off the British Columbia coast in October 2009 carrying 76 Sri Lankans. All have claimed refugee status.

Ten months later, a larger ship, the MV Sun Sea, reached Canada from Thailand carrying 492 Sri Lankans. Mr. Kanthaskaran’s alleged involvement in human smuggling may explain why Canadian officials such as Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews have linked the ships to the Tamil Tigers.

The Immigration and Refugee Board has so far ordered the deportation of two of those on board the Sun Sea on the grounds they had been Sea Tigers. A Canada Border Services Agency report says that pro-rebel music and videos were played aboard the ship.

But the RCMP remains uncertain whether the smuggling ships were a rebel operation (perhaps to raise money for the cause, or to relocate members and their families to Canada) or whether remnants of the rebel group were simply fleeing the region following their defeat.

~ courtesy: The National Post ~

On the smugglers' trail: Sun Sea’s Canadian link and the unlucky ones

[Part II & Part III]

by Stewart Bell

Sun Sea’s Canadian link

[Parti II:] BANGKOK — In the office of Thailand’s Anti Human Trafficking Division, Colonel Panya Pinsook flips through photos of engine parts, sacks of food, plastic oil drums -and the Canadians caught with the cache of supplies.

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A cellphone photo taken inside the Bangkok Immigration Detention Centre, where Sri Lankans arrested while awaiting ships to Canada are being held.

Police found the provisions during a raid on a Bangkok apartment building last June. They suspect it was being stockpiled for the ship MV Sun Sea, which was then being readied for a human smuggling run to Canada.

On the smugglers' trail

The four men arrested that day were all foreigners: the 30-year-old Sri Lankan businessman who had purchased the Sun Sea three months earlier, a Frenchman named Markandu Thayakaran and two citizens of Canada.

Nadarajah Mahendran, 54, is an importer of South Asian clothing and a former Toronto convenience store owner with a wife and three kids, and Thampeernayagam Rajaratnam, also 54, lives in suburban Markham, Ont.

Contacted by the National Post, neither of the Canadians would agree to talk about how they came to be in Bangkok with suspected supplies for the MV Sun Sea, together with the owner of the smuggling ship (who later boarded the vessel and is now in Canada claiming refugee status).

But details of the arrests are contained in two thick binders that document the results of Project Hydra, a Thai antihuman smuggling task force set up last year to investigate the Sun Sea in coordination with an RCMP investigation called Project Eprofluent and an Australian Federal Police probe called Longfin.

Since the MV Sun Sea arrived off the British Columbia coast last August carrying 492 Sri Lankan asylum seekers, government officials as senior as Immigration Minister Jason Kenney have said that Canadians had played a role in the massive human smuggling operation. But none of the suspects has yet been identified.

RCMP Deputy Commissioner Bob Paulson confirmed to the National Post that Canadian citizens were among those being investigated over their suspected roles in the Sun Sea. He would not say whether the men arrested in Bangkok were among them.

“I can’t really comment on that except that was good, that was an illustration of a cooperative enforcement action. And then to the extent that anybody is exposed to our jurisdiction, then we’re engaged in assessing that,” the deputy commissioner said.

Reached by phone in Ajax, Ont., Mr. Mahendran, said he would speak to a reporter the next day but never did. When a National Post reporter followed up and visited the new home, he was told to leave the property or police would be called. A letter sent to the address requesting an interview went unanswered. Mr. Mahendran has not been charged with human smuggling.

On the Scarborough cul de sac where, until recently, Mr. Mahendran lived for many years in a small red brick house, neighbors said he ran a clothing import business and travelled frequently. They said his wife was a seamstress and that they had two boys and a girl.

“He used to go back and forth,” Parbatti Randoll, who lives next door, said of his travels. She said he once had a shop at the nearby Lawrence Ave. E. and Birchmount Rd. intersection. The family moved out last November, she said. Another neighbor said his last trip abroad, a year ago, was a particularly long one.

“He was a very good man,” Ms. Randoll said.

Mr. Mahendran was born in 1956 in Inuvil, Sri Lanka, according to his passport. The northern farming town has a women’s hospital, and expectant mothers from surrounding villages often travel there to give birth.

Inuvil was not spared the horrors of the island’s long civil war. Inhabited mostly by minority ethnic Tamils, the town suffered executions, disappearances and shelling as government troops, Indian peacekeepers and Tamil rebels fought it out.

There is no public record of how or when Mr. Mahendran arrived in Canada but in 2003, he opened SRV Gifts & Clothes World Inc., naming himself as administrator and secretary. The company opened a shop in the heart of Toronto’s Tamil-Canadian neighborhood that his neighbors said sold imported South Asian clothing. In 2006, he registered another Ontario business at the same address. It was called SRV Convenience Plus.

A list of donors at a 2007 fundraiser for the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) shows a $50 contribution from an “N. Mahendran” beside the same phone number as that listed online for SRV Gifts. The Canada Revenue Agency alleges the TRO was an arm of the Tamil Tigers, although the group denies that.

AfterobtainingaCanadianpassport in Whitby in 2008, Mr. Mahendran left the following year for the United Arab Emirates, India, Burma and Thailand, the entry and exit stamps and visas in his passport indicate.

Then on March 1, 2010, he bought a plane ticket from VMS Travels & Tours in Scarborough. It was an economy class, round trip ticket on Cathay Pacific, leaving Toronto for Hong Kong on March 10 and transiting to Bangkok. He paid $1,690.

The immigration stamps in his passport show he traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, later in March. He was scheduled to return to Toronto on May 10 but another passport stamp indicates he was still in Malaysia on May 25.

By then, the international police probe of the MV Sun Sea was well underway.

Canada and Australia had learned that Sri Lankans were obtaining Thai tourist visas in Colombo and flying to Bangkok, where they were being taken to a 30-year-old freighter that was about to sail for Canada.

The ship, MV Sun Sea, had been purchased in March by the Sun & Rshiya Company, which had incorporated in Thailand in 2008 for “trading and agricultural products.” The company initially had two directors, one Thai and one Sri Lankan. But the Thai later left.

By early May, a few hundred Sri Lankan migrants were already on board the Sun Sea, most having put down a deposit of about $5,000, in some cases paid by family members who sold their land and jewelry, in others by relatives already in Western countries. The balance, $20,000 to $25,000, was to be paid after they reached Canada.

The Royal Thai Navy spotted the ship in the Gulf of Thailand during the first week of May but had no authority to board it or interfere with its journey since it was outside Thailand’s territorial waters. It was last seen heading east on May 9.

Three weeks later, on May 28, an Australian police official sent a letter to his Thai counterpart advising him that there were indications more passengers would be leaving Bangkok to board the human smuggling ship.

Police suspected the migrants would be moved south by bus to the port city of Songkhla. From there, longtail boats would take them to larger fishing vessels which would then deliver them to the Sun Sea, according to the letter.

“AFP is unsure where these Sri Lankan passengers are located but we believe they are currently in Bangkok,” the letter said. It added that the Australian police and RCMP liaison officers wanted to meet with Thai police.

In particular, they wanted to discuss “any action that can be taken against the passengers if they take a bus from Bangkok to Songkhla” and “any action that can be taken if the passengers assemble on the beach,” it said.

Thai police went to work.

They tracked the owner of the Sun Sea to a Bangkok apartment block, which they raided on June 3, arresting the four foreigners, according to Col. Panya and Thai police documents.

Police photos taken during the arrests show the two Canadians squatting beside the ship’s owner on the floor of a parking garage as police sort through the seized materials -which included 529 litres of engine lubricant and sacks of flour and vegetables.

One of the photos shows the ship owner posing with an assortment of metal parts. Col. Panya said police were aware the Sun Sea was having engine troubles at the time. The parts and supplies were found in the ship owner’s apartment as well as in a passenger van parked in the garage, Col. Panya said.

“I don’t want to say anything,” Mr. Rajaratnam said when asked about the incident. His Canadian passport shows he was born in Jaffna, Sri Lanka in 1957. Property records show he bought his home in Markham in 2003. He traveled to the United Kingdom in 2006 and to Sri Lanka from May 12 to 28, 2008, according to the stamps in his passport.

He said he did not know Mr. Mahendran or the owner of the ship, and that 15 to 20 Sri Lankans were staying at the same apartment building and suggested he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. “There’s a lot of Sri Lankans there,” he said. He referred questions to his lawyer but declined to provide the lawyer’s name.

The arrests resulted in only a charge for improper storage of materials and a fine of 10,000 Thai Baht, about $320, the police colonel said. The men were then handed over to the Immigration Bureau, which detains foreign nationals no longer permitted to stay in Thailand. Mr. Mahendran flew back to Toronto but the ship owner somehow slipped away, the colonel said.

On August 12, the Sun Sea entered Canadian waters off Vancouver Island and was intercepted by the RCMP and Navy. At a naval base near Victoria, the 492 passengers disembarked, including the ship owner and his pregnant wife.

Initially, he gave Canadian authorities a false name. But after a month, he acknowledged his true identity. He reportedly denies owning the ship. He cannot be named because he is seeking refugee status in Canada and the Immigration and Refugee Board has imposed a publication ban on his case.

Charging the smugglers behind the Sun Sea and the Ocean Lady, which brought 76 Sri Lankans to Canada in 2009, is a national tactical priority for the RCMP. A major investigation is underway in several countries.

But Douglas Cannon, a Vancouver lawyer who has represented several Sun Sea passengers, said human smugglers are not the problem. He blamed conditions in Sri Lanka, where the ethnic Tamil minority has long suffered widespread human rights abuses.

“Nobody disagrees that human smugglers are opportunists but that’s not the problem,” he said. “The problem is persecution that’s creating this terrible situation where people feel like they have to access rickety ships just to be safe.”

Deputy Paulson, head of the RCMP’s Federal Policing program, said he could not confirm whether either of the Canadians arrested in Bangkok were questioned by investigators upon their return to Toronto. He said such investigations were complex.

“I’m not making excuses except to say that the reality is, evidence collection abroad, introduction in a Canadian court, application of the Charter, all of those things are very complicated considerations,” he said.

“I know it seems like -you’ve got pictures for God sakes -but demonstrating intent, linking it to the conspiracy, all those things are big chunks and investigative gaps that need to be closed with reliable evidence.”

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Part III On the smugglers’ trail: The unlucky ones

The blue steel door slides open and a guard leads a line of detainee children out of Bangkok’s immigration prison, past visitors waiting with bags of rose apples, and across a tight alley to a classroom.

Many of the children are Sri Lankans.

They travelled to Thailand with parents who paid smugglers for a spot on a migrant ship to Canada. But they never made it to sea. Instead, they were arrested and locked up inside the immigration detention centre.

The 492 Sri Lankans who arrived off the West Coast aboard the MV Sun Sea last August were the lucky ones. For many others, the dream of Canada died in Bangkok’s overcrowded immigration prison, a big cement block on Suan Phlu Road.

It is no resort.

Visitors are not allowed inside, but the National Post was able to communicate with several detainees who sent photographs of the facility and the six- by 20-metre cell where the Sri Lankans are being held.

They show a rectangular room so overcrowded there is hardly room to tread. The detainees said 140 men are housed in the cell; they must sometimes sleep in shifts because of the scarcity of floor space. “There is not enough room to sleep — even stretch our limbs freely,” one said.

A young boy can be seen wandering among the men. The detainees said they lacked clean drinking water, healthy food and proper medical facilities, and they complained of the heat. “We don’t have any more power to bear this situation,” another detainee said.

The arrests were, at least partly, the result of Canada’s new anti-human smuggling program in Southeast Asia. Responding to Canada’s concerns about human smuggling ships such as the MV Sun Sea, Thailand set up a task force last year to work on the problem.

A Royal Thai Police investigation called Project Hydra began working closely with the RCMP and Australian Federal Police, and when smugglers began collecting deposits for yet another ship last fall, the Thais took decisive action.

“We used different methods to verify the information,” said Lieutenant-General Pongpat Chayapan, Commander of the Central Investigation Bureau. “And, of course, then we were able to locate the network of this criminal activity and through coordination with the RCMP, with cross-checking the information that we had on both sides, we were able to arrest these people.”

What police found was that Sri Lankans were living at hotels in three cities, waiting to board a migrant smuggling ship to Canada. Last Oct. 11, the Royal Thai Police, in coordination with the RCMP, began rounding them up.

In Bangkok, immigration police made 130 arrests. That was followed by another 61 arrests in the southern port city of Songkhla and in Hat Yai, near the Malaysian border. A further 23 were arrested in Bangkok on Dec. 8. Some were smugglers but most were would-be refugees.

“About 40 were involved in gathering the people, in falsifying documents, in ship procurement, as well as finding accommodation, food,” said Lt-Gen. Pongpat. No ship was seized. But he said the vessel had been modified to hold passengers “better than the MV Sun Sea.”

Thai police photos of the mass arrests show men, women and children — a group similar to the Sri Lankans who were on board the Sun Sea when it arrived off the British Columbia coast last Aug. 12. Only this group never even made it onto the ship.

The police operation was the first major success of Canada’s anti-human smuggling initiative, which aims to disrupt migrant ships before they even set sail. “We think they disrupted something that was very close to happening,” RCMP Inspector George Pemberton said in a recent interview in Bangkok.

“The Thais were very pro-active, especially in the late fall,” said Insp. Pemberton, who heads the RCMP Anti-Human Smuggling Team. “They took a lot of enforcement actions and we’re convinced that their actions deterred and prevented a vessel from going to Canada.”

But it also resulted in the mass arrests of men, women and children, members of the island’s ethnic Tamil minority who had fled Sri Lanka. And a significant number of them remain locked up at Bangkok’s immigration detention centre months later.

“Our chief concern about the waves of arrests is that they do not appear to make a distinction between the organizers of human trafficking or smuggling — people who are willing to put tiny babies and pregnant women at risk on the high seas — and their victims,” said Kitty McKinsey, the Asian spokeswoman for the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.

“At least the original arrests last October in Bangkok were indiscriminate and, as far as we can tell, not targeted at the real organizers of smuggling or trafficking of Sri Lankans to other countries,” she said.

“While we understand the need to crack down on illegal human trafficking and smuggling, we are concerned that care should be taken to keep victims from being caught in the same dragnet.”

According to the detainees, about 175 ethnic Tamil Sri Lankans remain at the centre. Fifty-three of those rounded up during the recent crackdown have been recognized as legitimate refugees by the UNHCR and are waiting to be resettled to other countries.

Thirty are children and 25 are women, one of whom is six months’ pregnant, the UNHCR said. A photo sent by the detainees shows a pregnant woman who was arrested on Oct. 11. In the picture, she is chained to her hospital bed by the leg.

“The UN refugee agency’s position is that asylum-seekers and refugees should not be locked up and we work with governments all over the world to find alternatives to detention,” Ms. McKinsey continued.

“We are also greatly concerned about arbitrary and indefinite detention,” she added. “We particularly do not believe that a detention centre is an appropriate place for pregnant women and children.”

Royal Thai Police officials said the detainees were free to leave Thailand once they had purchased plane tickets to Sri Lanka. They said they were doing their best but acknowledged prison conditions were not ideal.

“Our detention facility is limited. And the sheer numbers of them that come in has caused us a lot of difficulty,” said Major General Manoo Mekmok. “We try to do our best to keep their living conditions decent, up to the United Nations standard, but some are very hard to provide, like shower and nice toilet.”

The UNHCR said there had been eight round-ups of Sri Lankans since October, most recently on Feb. 17. Those arrested are sent to court to be fined for overstaying their tourist visas. Those who can’t pay the fine must serve a jail sentence. Either way, they eventually end up at the detention centre.

They must remain in detention until they leave Thailand. But many say they fear returning to Sri Lanka, so they wait it out in the hopes the UNHCR will help them resettle to a Western country. That happens rarely but it is their last hope, aside from the smugglers.

“A lot of these people are caught up in, I don’t know, maybe it’s like the Canadian dream,” said Troy Anderson, a Bangkok-based U.S. lawyer who advocates for the Suan Phlu detainees. “They know all these Tamils in Vancouver and Toronto and they kind of have this image of all the Tamils get there and have the good Western lifestyle.”

He said it was no coincidence the Thai crackdown on Sri Lankans began two months after the MV Sun Sea arrived off the British Columbia coast. “Once that ship went to Canada, very quickly after that the Sri Lankans started getting arrested,” he said. “It’s not rocket science to figure out that someone put pressure on Thailand to deal with the Sri Lankans.”

Even those recognized as genuine refugees by the UNHCR must stay behind bars until they leave the country. Thailand is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention — although it has a great number of refugees, especially along the Burmese border.

“We are against these sea voyages,” said David Poopalapillai, the Canadian Tamil Congress spokesman. “First of all it’s treacherous, dangerous and everybody’s putting their life at risk. But arresting them is not the answer.”

He urged Canada to resettle its share of the Bangkok detainees, and said Ottawa should do more to discourage migrants from falling prey to the human smugglers using Thailand as a transit country.

Canadian officials have visited the detention centre but not to resettle the Sri Lankans. Several sources said the Canadians came to question the detainees about the human smugglers organizing migrant vessels to Canada.

The detention centre is a prison with several blocks. Within the blocks are cells that hold 100 to 200 who share two toilets. Rice and soup are provided three times a day. There is also a shop where detainees can buy food.

“There’s at least 500 people there and it’s not, from what I can tell, built to handle that many,” said Mr. Anderson, who has represented several of the Sri Lankans at the detention centre. “It’s not a good situation.”

The Sri Lankans living illicitly in Bangkok face a bleak choice: return to the island they fled or risk being caught and sent to the immigration detention centre. Or there is a third option: board a smuggling ship.

For those with a past in the Tamil Tigers the situation is even more stark, which may explain why some of those who travelled on the MV Sun Sea last year were ex-combatants or had alleged links to the rebels.

As former separatist guerrillas, they are at greater risk if they return to Sri Lanka. But they cannot be resettled by the UNHCR because no country will accept them as refugees due to their past involvement with the Tamil rebels.

Some of those at the Bangkok detention centre are in that very bind. One detainee said he had joined the Tamil Tigers at age 12. He was sent to a rebel “education centre” until he was ready for paramilitary training.

He worked as a karate instructor and performed “sentry duties,” he said. In 2004, he told the Tigers he needed to visit his father at a hospital. He went instead to the capital Colombo, intending the leave the rebels.

But he said guerrillas arrested his wife. They told her he would be killed unless he left the country. So he flew to Hong Kong, hoping to transit to the West, but he was arrested and deported. Upon his return to Sri Lanka, he said he was arrested and tortured. Released on bail, he fled to Thailand.

The UNHCR accepted him as a refugee but Thailand detained him, at first at the airport and, since 2009, at the immigration detention centre. His wife is detained at the same facility. While a recognized refugee, he cannot be resettled because of his rebel past.

He said the detainees are let out of their cells twice a week for 90 minutes of exercise and time outdoors. “Except that, we are forced into a smaller jail room in which we can’t even move an inch,” he said.

He said the detainees just want to leave Thailand. “Please understand our difficult situation and please create a way for us to live peacefully and freely in whatever country it might be,” he said, “except Sri Lanka.” ~ Courtesy: The National Post ~

March 30, 2011

Protect Sri Lanka’s tradition of selecting Administrators objectively by competitive examination

by Tissa Devendra

It is with some nervousness that I venture to address today’s audience of experts in foreign affairs and their students as I have absolutely no knowledge of this subject, having spent most of my career as an officer in District Kachcheries. However, I concluded that you may pick up something useful about how our country – our "outstations" as they were snobbishly called – were administered not so many years ago.

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British High Commissioner H.E. Dr. Peter Hayes and Mr. Philip Barton visited Vavuniya IDP camps to assess the prevailing conditions there . Vavuniya Government Agent Mrs. P.S.M. Charles, Governor of Northern Province Mr. Dixson Dala accompany the delegation in the IDP camp area (March 2009) ~ pic: UKinSriLanka

Let me explain the rather curious title of my talk. First and foremost, I am not a linguistic purist and this title is no diatribe against the "achcharu bhasa" used by TV presenters of Sinhala pop music programmes. I adapted the title from Christopher Caudwell’s "Studies in a Dying Culture" – a mordant attack on the societies of pre-WW II Europe. ‘Caudwell’ was the nom-de-plume of a brilliant young English Communist who died fighting against Franco’s Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. The initial question mark is a Spanish device to indicate a question to come. The last explains itself. In this context I do not refer to the subjects allocated to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs but, rather, to our entire ‘way of life’ in Sri Lanka. Rest assured this is not going to be a socio-anthropological study. Mine will be a scatter-shot approach by an eighty year old who should be forgiven his prejudices and enthusiasms.

It all begins with History – a subject with which many of you younger people were deprived when it was erased from the school syllabus almost forty years ago. It is ironic that during my boyhood, "Ceylon and World History" was a subject taught to schoolchildren nine years old and onward. What is significant is this was when ‘Ceylon’ was yet a British Colony. Inexplicably the 1972 Declaration of a Republican Constitution was followed soon after by abolishing the subject of History from the syllabus. What is bitterly ironic is that the educational panjandrum responsible for this crime now occupies one of the highest positions in a national institution of higher studies!

The bedrock of international studies must be knowledge of our nation’s history. How else can we understand the workings of other countries unless we can measure them against our own experience? And this means knowing our History. This does not mean cursory visits to our ruined cities and museums. I am sure the learned faculty of this Centre and its excellent library will provide you with the historical background so essential for your studies. Many studies have now been published of the regional dimensions of the foreign policy of our ancient kings. Buddhism, trade and war -governed our relations with India and the Eastern Kingdoms. Foreign matrimonial alliances played a great part in local history right down to the Kandyan period and one royal dynasty in far away Korea traced its origins to a Sinhala princess of ancient times

Loyalty to one’s own motherland is a cardinal virtue and has to be much more practised by our diplomats, as some of you young people are bound to become. Assignment to a prosperous, glamorous Western country is much desired. Extended stay in such stations, unfortunately, tends to infect the weak minded with contempt for poor old ‘godayatik’ Sri Lanka. I am sad to say that a sizable number of our diplomats, including Heads of Missions, have fallen victim to the siren songs of the ‘golden West’. An inordinate number of them have slipped back, into the obscurity they deserve, in Britain, the USA, Canada and Australia. One wonders which country they ever served when they were Sri Lanka’s ambassadors. The situation has been exacerbated by our own governments making the suicidal mistake of appointing as our Ambassadors, not sons and daughters of the soil as you, but expats of Sri Lankan origin and dubious citizenship - who creep back into their former obscurity, in their country of chosen exile, once their assignments conclude The only country that beats us hollow at this game is the Philippines where every Filipinos spiritual home seems to be the US. It is doubtful whether any single retired Filipino diplomat can be found back in his homeland.

I will skirt the vices of nepotism and cronyism as they are all too well known. Nepotism seems to be so well entrenched in the culture of South Asia that I have little hope for its elimination. Political dynasties seem to have been accepted as a necessary evil by the voters of our SAARC countries- except for Bhutan and the Maldives. Cronyism, however, is universal and I have a mug an American friend gave me carrying the cartoon caption "Success is easy, all you need is the good old American you-know-who". The composition of every American President’s Cabinet makes this obvious.

Over the last few decades I have observed, with growing sadness, the emphasis on ‘boru shoke’ – to use that pithy Sinhala phrase. The most harmless of these phenomena is the tie now knotted round every staff officer’s throat. My first Government Agent was always in khaki shorts and ready for field inspections. So was my last G.A – the last Briton Manders. Today I find it a tragi-comic sight to see field officers trudging along ‘niyaras’ and jungle foot-paths togged up in ties like sales reps. This tie is a pathetic attempt, at least in the provinces, to show poor peasants and petitioners that these officers belong to a "higher caste" .In 1956 the great writer Martin Wickremasinghe applauded the Fall of the Brahmins. Somewhere in the 1980s President Premadasa, who should have known better, imposed this new sartorial protocol. Sensible and appropriate clothes are among lost virtues in administration.

Over the last few years governments have issued Vesak, New Year and X’mas cards, which are liberally dispensed by ministry officials to advertise their status, and save on personal postage.

Escort cars are another exhibition of status. A few days ago, Police officers ordered to perform escort duty to the IGP’s wife [!!] ran over and killed a hapless pedestrian. One cannot hark back to the peaceful old days when a single motor-bike policeman escorted the Governor General’s Rolls-Royce all the way to Nuwara Eliya. But, surely there has to be some modesty in visible security and a total ban on security escorts for officers’ wives to score social points.

The recent phenomenon of exhibiting "multi-religiosity" whenever a Minister assumes duties, on TV, of course, is obviously of dubious sincerity. Every Minister, we presume, adheres to his own faith. As such, I see no reason why he should entertain and listen to the incantations of clerics whose faith he does not share. Whom are they deceiving?

This "assumption of duties" before TV cameras is a recent phenomenon of doubtful value, especially so when bushels of them line up soon after a new government takes over – or there is a reshuffle. As a former GA, I shrank in shame when a new G.A was recently shown paying obeisance to "his" M.P on assuming duties. To strike a personal note – in 1970 when appointed G.A Matara I drove up myself to the Kachcheri and was greeted by the Arachchi, to whom I identified myself and who then escorted me to my seat. I did not have to kow-tow to the civilized MPs of the day – Dr.SA Wickremasinghe, Ronnie de Mel and Aelian Nanayakkara who expected service but not servility.

In 1978 when JR Jayewardene promulgated his Constitution there was some debate as to how he should be addressed. Was it to be "Mr. President" as in the egalitarian US or was it to be the almost Imperial "Your Excellency"? Needless to say JR opted for the latter form of address – now used even by Provincial Governors. I await with curiosity, how the yet-to-be-appointed Governor of Greater Colombo will be addressed.

The most illuminating example of ‘boru shoke’ can be seen from the change of designation that took place in the case of the Village Headman [VH], a Colonial designation. The populist ‘revolution" of 1956, opposed by most conservative Headmen [VH], led to a demand to cut these VH down to size. The new "progressive" regime now re-designated the VH as ‘Grama Sevaka’ or Village Worker. These gentlemen smarted under this designation as a ‘worker’. As time passed they agitated and won the designation ‘Grama Seva Niladhari’ Village Services Officer .The virus of ‘boru shoke’ prevailed and these gents/ladies are today designated ‘Grama Niladhari’ Village Officer The concept of Service is no longer referred to.

I have written elsewhere about the plague of ‘Generals’ that has now infected the Public Service. Till the 1980s or so the only Civil List officials whose designation included ‘Genera’ were the Surveyor General, Postmaster General the Auditor General, the Attorney General and the Inspector General of Police’. Over the last few years the designation ‘General’ has been tagged on to every Head of Department. All Directors and Commissioners are now Director General or Commissioner General and their Deputies and Assistants are now Dy DGs or Asst DGs.

But their job description remains the same as it always was.

I wonder how many of you know that there are no longer any ‘clerks’ in the public service? These basic level officers now revel in the inflated designation "Management Assistants." I wonder what other in the world is run by so many Generals and Managers!

I am afraid a ‘culture of sycophancy’ was prevalent in the days of our Sinhala kings – tempered, however, by traditions of hereditary protocol and precedence. But with democracy and universal suffrage anybody, even a cabinet Minister, is free to grovel before the great in an exhibition of loyalty and in the hope of favours to come. In olden days one went down on one’s knees only to pay obeisance to family elders and monks. Today, schoolchildren are expected to show this same humility to TV Quiz masters at TV contests.

Government institutions now exhibit their sycophancy in the print media by publishing, at their own expense, fulsome tributes to their own Minister. Goebbels has spawned many disciples.

Let me conclude this pitiful list with the folk story of the villager seen carrying a pineapple to the local Chieftain’s house. "Where are you going with that?" he was asked. He replied "If it works – I’ll be a Headman. If it does not, all I have lost is a pineapple"

I am not sure whether this illustrates bribery or sycophancy – or both!

After this rather grim picture of the workings of government, and the pitfalls that abound, you may ask me "Is there no hope? No silver lining?"

I am happy to say there is. The illustration is the election just concluded. During the whole process of the election- from the compilation of the Voters’ List, the printing of votes and their secure storage, the issue of poll cards, the appointment of Election Staff. The conduct of the election, the counting of votes and the announcement of results – is all in the hands of government officials devoid of political interference. An administration that has carried out these functions so vital a component of democracy can surely be trusted to run the country.

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Government Agent Jaffna, Ms Imelda Sukumar making her submissions to LLRC Nov 2010 - pic: SundayTimes.lk

A final word of praise to the Tamil Government Agents of the Northern Provinces, some of them women, who struggled to maintain the delicate balance between their duty to the Central Government and judicious accommodation with the terrorists who really called the shots in those beleaguered territories

Sri Lanka has as ample reason to be proud of our administrators, most of them yet selected objectively by competitive examination – a tradition that has to be protected at all costs,

A dying culture? No! But, a limping one!

(Inauguration Address at Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies delivered by Tissa Devendra on March 26, 2011)

Global Tamil Forum meets with US Assistant Secretary Blake

Statement by GTF

Global Tamil Forum met with US Assistant Secretary Blake as it continues to engage the Global community to bring focus to the resolution of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. The delegation lead by its President, Rev. Father S.J.Emmanuel (Germany) included President the USTPAC, Dr. Elias Jeyarajah, Mrs. Grace Williams (USA) and Suren Surendiran (UK).

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Representatives of the Global Tamil Forum, met with the United States Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Honourable Robert Blake on Monday, 28 March 2011 at the U.S. State Department in Washington. The meeting between the Assistant Secretary and the GTF was organised by the United States Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC).

The GTF highlighted the current plight of the Tamil people in the North-East. Key concerns of the Tamil people and ways of addressing their grievances were discussed at length. The recent communication from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was also shared with Assistant Secretary Blake and his team.

(Global Tamil Forum exists to harness the skills and the knowledge of the members of the forum, well-wishers and others including mainstream decision makers in the international governments, institutions and organisations with the aim of alleviating the suffering of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and to further their right to self-determination (as defined by Article 1.1 ‘United Nations: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ 1976) within a democratic framework under pinned by international law, its covenants and conventions. The forum was set-up in 2009 with the support of many International Tamil community organisations ~ www.globaltamilforum.org)

Elderly returnees show signs of trauma and isolation amidst struggle to meet their daily needs

Older returnees face isolation, poverty

by IRIN News

COLOMBO, 30 March 2011 (IRIN) - Thousands of older returnees to Sri Lanka's conflict-affected north feel marginalized and need medical care, experts say.

"There are hardly any programmes to help these people," said Samantha Liyanawaduge, executive director of Help Age Sri Lanka, one of just a handful of agencies targeting older returnees.

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Elderly returnees need greater assistance ~ Photo: Amantha Perera/IRIN

Although no official figures are available, estimates suggest there are more than 30,000 people over the age of 60 in the Vanni, a vast swath of land in the island's north once under the control of the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which waged a decades-long civil war for an independent Tamil homeland.

Since the war ended in May 2009, more than 320,000 displaced have returned to their homes or are now staying with relatives, the UN reports.

According to community workers, many of the elderly show signs of trauma or isolation and struggle to meet their daily needs. Those without extended family support face poverty, loneliness, dependency, ill health and lack of nutrition and access to adequate healthcare.

Chelliah Philip Nesakumar, an Anglican priest from Kilinochchi, the former de-facto capital of the LTTE, says the elderly often feel abandoned, with some demonstrating sudden outbursts of anger.

"On the surface they appear ok, but many are carrying the psychological scars of two-and-a-half decades of war," Nesakumar said.

Veeran Pandaran, a 61-year-old grandfather from Kilinochchi, had hoped things would get better when the war ended. "Life is certainly safer now, but we've been left to fend for ourselves," Pandaran said.

Ongoing development and rehabilitation work in his area includes hardly any programmes tailored to the old and impaired, he claimed. "There is nothing to help people like me," he insisted. "It's as if we are not important."

Limited resources

Help Age Sri Lanka - which has been working for the rights of marginalized senior citizens since 1986 - would like to do more, but resources are limited, forcing the agency to focus on the most serious cases first.

In February, it opened a small sub-office in Kilinochchi to coordinate its work and dispatch mobile medical clinics to the area each week.

Most of the elderly have cataracts. Of every 100 people the NGO sees, more than 60 percent are given glasses, while 20 to 30 percent require surgery.

Help Age has its own eye clinic near the capital, Colombo, which can carry out cataract operations free of charge; however, many people are physically unable to travel the 300km distance, or simply do not have the funds to make the journey.

This in turn leaves them no other option but to seek treatment at a hospital in the northern town of Vavuniya, 70km south of Killinochi, where the operation can be carried out at a cost of around US$55 - money many simply do not have.

"That's money these people don't have to spare," Liyanawaduge said.

Help Age organizes community groups and would also like to initiate programmes to generate income for them.

In the east of the country, Help Age has used elders' groups to start home-gardening, poultry and small cattle-farming operations.

"We know more needs to be done, but we simply don't have the financial resources to take them on," Liyanawaduge said.

March 29, 2011

Pictorial: Plying highways ~ perilling humanity

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

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The buses ply on A9 highway race and try to over take each other, but they forget the fact they are risking the lives of many who travel quite often. [Click to see more]

Govt. most vociferous on behalf of murderous leader Gaddafi is uncaring about campaigning on behalf of Tibetan ‘living Buddha’

by Upul Joseph Fernando

When Sri Lanka (SL) is gearing up to commemorate the Sri Sambuddha Jayanthi to mark the 2600th year following the enlightenment of Lord Buddha, the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama popularly recognized as the ‘ living Buddha’ has decided to go on retirement on the 10th of March 2011. Nevertheless , Jiang Yu , the spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, regarding Dalai Lama ‘s retirement had declared thus : ‘Dalai Lama has often talked about retirement in the past few years. I think these are his tricks to deceive the international community’

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14th Dalai Lama

But close observers of the Tibetan scene point out that there is no suddenness in the Dalai Lama’s decision. “He has been speaking of the need to pass on the baton to a younger leader citing among other things his age.

Nevertheless, the timing of the ‘resignation’ is significant. It coincided with the anniversary of the ‘uprising’ in Tibet in 1959. Four days from today, Tibetan Parliament –in-exile would begin its 11th session.

The 75-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner would like to see the ‘free election’ of his successor at the parliament session.

On its part, the Chinese government has been saying all along that it has to approve all reincarnations of living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism. China wants to sign off on the choosing of the next Dalai Lama.

In 1995, after the Dalai Lama named a boy in Tibet as the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama, Beijing put that boy under house arrest and installed another in his place.

Many Tibetans at home and exile have spurned the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama as a fake.

But will that experience stop China from naming its own successor, to the 14th Dalai Lama?. If it does, it raises the possibility of there being two Dalai Lamas -- one recognized by China and the other chosen by exiles or with the blessing of the current Dalai Lama. The Tibetan Buddhism has a history of more than 1,000 years, and the reincarnation institutions of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama have been carried on for several hundred years.

But the ethnic Tibetan Leaders were a little more circumspect . The Chairman of the standing Committee of Tibet’s autonomous region’s people’s Congress commented that he could not deny that the Dalai Lama ,as living Buddha and religious leader did have some influence on his believers , and his death would have some minor impact on Tibet. The Chairman of the Tibet autonomous regional Government told the ‘China Daily’that the reincarnation of the Institutions of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama have been carried on for several hundred years ; these historical Institutions and religious rituals of Tibetan Buddhism must be respected , and it was not up to anyone to abolish the reincarnate Institutions. It must be said that both the ethnic Tibetan Leaders , though sworn to protect the party , and the Govt. allowed a glimpse into their inner thinking , they made it clear that while they were committed to perform their official duties , they do not condone insult of the Dalai Lama and do not contribute to the Chinese Government’s policy of appointing their own living Buddhas , especially the Dalai lamas and Panchen Lamas.

The question at issue is what stance SL as a Buddhist country going to take on this matter. SL is not only a Buddhist country but has also professedly championed the cause of Buddhism standing sentinel over the Buddhist tenets before the international community. When the Buddha statues were destroyed in Afghanistan , it was SL which raised a huge hue and cry against it for the whole world to hear. Moreover , when the Buddha statues and symbols were being treated derogatorily or insolently in European Hotels and Social clubs , it was SL which protested most vociferously to attract the attention of the world. The present SL Govt. went even as far as to refuse visa to the world famous super singing star Akon to perform in SL on the ground that he offended the religious susceptibilities of the SL Buddhists . The foreign media reported that , ‘the ban comes after protests over one of the Star’s music video featuring scantily clad women dancing in front of a statue of the Buddha’.

But curiously enough, the SL Govt. has however no motive to stand by Dalai Lama the well known ‘living Buddha’ of Tibet. Neither is the SL Govt. showing any interest pertaining to the ‘reincarnation’ of Lamas in Tibet. The SL Govt. which is most vociferous on behalf of the number one murderous leader, Gaddafi who is conducting aerial bomb raids on his people , is however uncaring about campaigning on behalf of Tibetan ‘living Buddha’. At least the SL Govt. can take steps to tell the Chinese Govt. to respect the Tibetan Buddhism and the ‘reincarnation’ of the Institutions. Sadly, the Govt. has not taken any measures in that direction.In SL’s struggle for independence, Tibet and its people had a close relationship. Ven. S. Mahinda Thero, a Tibet national was a prelate who went to jail on account of the SL’s independence struggle. It was Ven. Mahinda’s Buddhist ‘kavi’ (poem) titled ‘Freedom mantraya,’ written by him which provoked the national feelings and incited the Sinhalese to resist the British colonial rule domination of the Sinhalese in the country who were then treated like slaves.

Today, ironically ,Tibetan National Ven. Mahinda Thero who faced imprisonment because he contributed to SL’s struggle for independence is being commemorated by SL , while at the same time bartering away the Tibetan people’s freedom ,

Buddhism and true Buddhist spirits.

Courtesy: Daily Mirror

March 28, 2011

Many writers in Sri Lanka seem to treat war crimes with a broad brush

Many writers in Sri Lanka seem to treat war crimes with a broad brush and seem unaware or unwilling to clarify the issues

by Dushy Ranetunge in London

I read with interest SL Gunesekera’s article international thuggery on Monday the 28th of March. He ends with “fiddlesticks”, more a two fingers up to the concept of the allied military operation in Libya being “noble”.

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Home grown thuggery

One could measure the “nobility” of the Allied operation in Libya to the “humanitarianism” of the Sri Lankan military operation in the Vanni.

An even better comparison would be Indian aircrafts escorted by Indian fighters dropping “humanitarian” supplies over Jaffna after violating Sri Lankan airspace in 1987.

The Indian intervention in Sri Lanka and the Allied intervention in Libya were and are against the established state and on the side of “rebels” who had declared war on the state.

In both instances, the “state” declared the “rebels” to be terrorists, “Al Qaeda” muttered Gaddafi and “LTTE” said the Sri Lankan state.

The “defenders of the faith” in Lanka, say that it can never happen in Sri Lanka because we are a democracy, unlike Libya. But it has already happened in Sri Lanka in 1987 and could easily happen again.

When Gaddafi branded his opponents as “terrorists” no one believed him. When Sri Lankan’s refer to Tamil rebels as terrorists, the world hesitates. The Sinhalese seem incapable of understanding that the diaspora has the sympathies of most host communities, including India.

Only the LTTE were proscribed as a terrorist organisation, because of its own foolishness but none of the other Tamil militant groups made it to the list.

In both Libya and Sri Lanka, a certain section of the population is hostile to the state and is “rebelling” against the state.

The “peace” that was in Libya and the “peace” that is in Sri Lanka is a militarily “enforced peace”, with soldiers in every street corner in Jaffna.

In a recent interview one of our most respected ex-diplomats H.M.G.S. Palihakkara stated “Sri Lankakn governments, and the political parties, had shown a failure of leadership and that therefore “external prescriptions become inevitable” with the country facing intense international attention."

“Diplomacy was not a “zero sum game of cultivating one or one set of friends at the expense of another”. Instead, it was about seeking common ground.”

Palihakkara’s words apply to Sri Lanka as well as Libya.

It is the failure in “leadership” and “diplomacy” in Tripoli and Colombo, that results in external prescriptions.

“Democracy” in Sri Lanka is a label for convenience, similar to the label “terrorist”. The extent of “democracy” and “terrorist” in Sri Lanka is as variable as demonstrations and death fasts against the UN are allowed, and student demonstrations against the state are broken up, and all this in the capital Colombo. If this is what happens in the capital, one can only imagine the quality of democracy in the streets of Jaffna, where journalistic access is still restricted.

Grinding Axes

Mr Gunesekera in his article also highlights injustices to the Sinhalese in 1915 at the hands of the British. Writers in Sri Lanka frequently resurrect past injustices to selectively have a go at “colonials” of their choice to grind present day axes.

These are irrelevant in the 21st century.

Sri Lanka has been the subject of “colonisation” from the beginnings of history and there is absolutely no difference in the behaviour of the “colonisers” who have landed on our shores throughout the millennia.

The first “colonisers” to ravage our land were the “Sinhalese”, when Vijaya and his merry band drove the many tribes that inhabited Sri Lanka into the forests after massacring them and then grabbed their best lands. The natives were denigrated and portrayed as inhuman barbarians and this in “Buddhist” chronicles.

There is absolutely no injustice that the European “colonials” did to the natives of Lanka, that the Sinhalese “colonials” did not do to the native tribes of Lanka.

Therefore it is somewhat ludicrous and misleading to selectively highlight injustices of colonials of choice. Since we are currently under scrutiny for War crimes, the British are the favourite “colonials” of choice to have a go at.

When Ranil invited the Portuguese to celebrate an anniversary of their arrival on the island, Portuguese colonial “injustices” were selectively resurrected by the “faithful”.

If on the other hand we had celebrated the Portuguese arrival on our island and their heritage, it would have rejuvinated our links with a European nation and generated economic activity around the anniversary celebrations providing employment. Instead we expect the countries in the Middle-east to solve our unemployment problem and complain that our women are mistreated.

Rather than blaming the British and the Portuguese for colonial injustices and blaming the Arabs for employment injustices, we should perhaps look more closer to home, if it is blame that needs to be allocated, for failing to follow policies to maximise employment opportunities for our citizens.

War Crimes

Mr Gunesekera also touches on the subject of war crimes. Many writers in Sri Lanka seem to treat war crimes with a broad brush and seem unaware or unwilling to clarify the issues.

In school, during our Buddhism lectures we were taught that according to Buddhist teachings to commit the sin of taking a life, certain criteria had to be satisfied such as seeing the animal, the thought of killing, the plan for killing and the execution itself etc.

The act of a war crime follows a similar process.

If the US, British, Sri Lankan militaries could demonstrate in a court of law that their targeting system has integrity, and that a target was acquired believing it to be a legitimate military target, and later after the attack it was revealed to have been a civilian target, this would not constitute a war crime.

Attacking a hospital knowing it was a hospital irrespective of it being in or out of a no fire zone, extra judicial execution of those who have surrendered would constitute war crimes. “Following orders” is not a defence in a court of law.

In the militaries of the United States, United Kingdom, France and NATO forces, the level of accountability is high and follows a transparent process that would stand up in a court of law. Their targeting systems are regularly scrutinized and procedures reviewed in a transparent manner so that they could withstand criminal investigation. Those who do not follow due process are triggered and face investigation. The Press in the West expose irregularities without intimidation and selfcensorship.

The presence of reporters in the ground in the Libyan conflict zone will result in whistle-blowing of any transgressions, and this in itself acts as a deterrent and careful action by allied bombers. These are all processes, which will legally protect and defend the Allies and now NATO against war crimes allegations.

In the Vanni in Sri Lanka, only selective reporters were given “monitored/controlled” access. This in itself created suspicion and gives credence to allegations of war crimes. Even today, foreign journalists access to the North is restricted.

The politics of domestic and international accountability options in Sri Lanka

by Alan Keenan

1. The need for an international investigation

The International Crisis Group, like others concerned with a sustainable and just peace in Sri Lanka, has been calling for the establishment of an independent and international commission to look into the many credible and well-documented allegations of war crimes in the final months of Sri Lanka’s long civil war. A serious and independent accountability mechanism is needed, first of all, as a matter of principle. The violations of international humanitarian law that we have evidence of and wrote about in our May 2010 report on War Crimes in Sri Lanka, point to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in the final four months of fighting and an assault on the fundamental principles of the laws of war.

These are simply too serious to be left without investigation or acknowledgment. Accountability is also important for achieving a set of broader conflict resolution goals: to open up greater political space in Sri Lanka’s shrinking democracy, to lay the groundwork for political reconciliation between the island’s different ethnic communities, to ensure that Sri Lankan Tamils have a clear account of atrocities by the LTTE that can’t be dismissed as pro-government propaganda, and, crucially, to discourage other governments from using indiscriminate and disproportionate force in their own particular “wars on terrorism”

2. The domestic option – the "Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission" (LLRC)

In response to calls for an independent and international inquiry into allegations of war crimes, the government of Sri Lanka established in May 2010 its own “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission”. The Sri Lankan government argues that the commission – appointed by President Rajapaksa and known as the LLRC – should be given a chance to look into the causes and consequences of the final years of the war and to find ways of fostering reconciliation. It is a grave mistake, however, to think the LLRC has any chance – or intention – of addressing the many allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law or helping to bring to account those responsible.

As Crisis Group argued in a joint letter with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch last October, the LLRC is fatally flawed as an accountability mechanism: most of the members of the supposedly independent commission have close ties to the government (the chairman is a personal friend of President Rajapaksa); there is no system in place to protect witnesses who might wish to testify about crimes committed by government forces; and, crucially, the commission’s mandate includes nothing about investigating or seeking to hold people to account for alleged war crimes or serious human rights violations. While the commission has recommended the government take action on these cases, no progress has in fact been made.

Now that the LLRC has completed its six months of public hearings – it is due to report to the President by the middle of May – our scepticism has been proven correct. This is despite the bravery of thousands of Tamils who testified or lodged complaints with the LLRC during its hearings in the north and the east of Sri Lanka. Hundreds pleaded with the commission to assist them in getting information about missing family members – many of whom were last seen being taken away by government forces.

When presented with partial and distorted testimony by government and military officials, on the other hand, the commissioners did little to question the official line. They refused to challenge government claims that the final months of the war were a "humanitarian rescue mission" in which the government successfully followed a policy of "zero civilian casualties". Nor have they taken any steps to follow up on the large amount of publicly available information about violations of international humanitarian law.

The government has made much of the “interim report” the LLRC presented to the president in September, and the special inter-agency committee formed to implement the LLRC’s recommendations. Most of the LLRC’s recommendations – on insuring language rights, on disarming pro-government Tamil paramilitaries, on releasing the names and speeding the release of those held in detention, and on insuring transparency of policies on land in the north and east – are sensible. They are at best, however, very modest reforms that should and could have been implemented long before. Indeed, the recommendations largely consist of requests to the government to implement existing laws and regulations. Most important: none of the recommendations address or will do anything to promote accountability for alleged war crimes and serious human rights violations.

If the LLRC were committed to making the most of their modest powers, there are, in fact, some first humanitarian steps they could recommend to the government that would help begin the process of inter-ethnic reconciliation while also laying some of the groundwork for legal accountability: these would include compiling and making available a full list of all those reported missing and all those detained by the government on suspicion of involvement with the LTTE (including hundreds detained for years without charge), issuing monetary compensation for deaths, injuries, and property destroyed and looted during the war, and ending the effective ban on Tamils in the north and east publicly mourning their dead

3. Sri Lanka’s long history of failed commissions and impunity

Strong scepticism about the LLRC has been warranted for another reason: Sri Lanka’s long history of failed commissions and the culture of impunity which their failure has encouraged. This impunity has only increased under the current regime, as revealed by the fate of the presidential commission of inquiry appointed by President Rajapaksa in late 2006 to investigate sixteen cases of political assassinations, massacres, and LTTE bomb attacks. Despite being overseen by a panel of international eminent persons, the commission's work was systematically undermined by the Attorney General's office and ended up investigating only a handful of cases. (The Attorney General at the time is now the chairman of the LLRC.) The international observers resigned en masse in protest in early 2008. The commission's report to the President has never been made public. There have been no prosecutions in any of the cases that implicated government or pro-government forces.

Most notable before this were the four commissions established in the mid-1990s by President Kumaratunga to investigate the tens of thousands of enforced disappearances from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Despite independent and dedicated commissioners who produced valuable reports, no successful prosecutions came from the work of these "disappearances commissions," and almost none of their valuable recommendations for the prevention and more effective prosecution of disappearances were ever adopted by the government.

The institutionalisation of impunity for human rights violations directly contributed to the ability of the government to violate so wilfully the laws of war in 2009 and to suppress attempts to report on and challenge these violations. It also contributed to the impunity with which the LTTE was able to abuse its captive population ofTamils in the north, after years of violating the rights of individuals from all communities throughout the country.

The systematic and deliberate undermining of the rule of law has, if anything, accelerated since the end of the war. Sri Lanka continues to see attacks on independent media, intimidation of civil society activists, violent repression of democratic protest, and the use of emergency law to arrest and intimidate political opponents. A flurry of killings and abductions in the town of Jaffna and other parts of the highly militarised north in late 2010 and early 2011 saw the murders of a number of people who spoke out against government policies. More recently, the government has launched a campaign, including investigations by the political arm of the police, against some of the country's few remaining high-profile pro-democracy and peace organisations.

With such deeply institutionalised impunity, it should be clear that there is no chance of the Rajapaksa government ever fairly investigating the strong evidence of war crimes against its forces. This is all the more the case since, as the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka explained in a cable to Washington later released by Wikileaks, the alleged crimes concern actions and policies devised and implemented by those at the highest levels of government, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers Gotabaya and Basil, respectively Defence Secretary and Minister for Economic Development in the current government.

4. Beyond ‘war crimes’ – the need for a broader framework for international advocacy on accountability in Sri Lanka

Nonetheless, advocates for justice and sustainable peace in Sri Lanka need to be careful. However important it is to bring accountability for the many violations of the laws of war committed by both the LTTE and government forces, there is a real danger that too exclusive a focus on war-crimes investigations will distract from or undermine efforts to address a) the more general dismantling of the rule of law and b) the larger history of atrocities lived through by all of Sri Lanka's people.

It is important that international attention on Sri Lanka recognise clearly that all its communities have suffered and continue to suffer from impunity and the effective absence of legal avenues for redress. At the moment, there is very little space for domestic activism or protest on these matters. Expanding that space and supporting Sri Lanka’s small, multi-ethnic community of rights activists should be a top priority of international action. Unfortunately, the more emphasis has been placed on war crimes by foreign organisations and governments, the more domestic space to challenge impunity has shrunk (though whether this is cause and effect is hard to know).

Moreover, because almost all the civilian victims in the final months of the war were Tamils, and the only major leaders left to prosecute are Sinhalese government officials, calls for war crimes seem to many Sinhalese and government supporters to be one-sided. (This is in part because the government has granted extra-legal amnesty to the few senior ex-LTTE leaders who are alive, in exchange for various forms of cooperation with government policies.) The government has exploited this perception and uses the widespread spirit of triumphant Sinhala nationalism to rally public support against what they say are attempts by elements of the international community to overturn their hard-won victory over LTTE terrorists.

International debate and advocacy on Sri Lanka should thus consciously adopt a broader agenda, focusing not only on war crimes, but also on the need to re-establish democratic and liberal institutions throughout the country, to depoliticise the police and judiciary and end institutionalised impunity, to challenge widespread corruption, to demilitarise the north and east, and to develop a constitutional reforms to address the legitimate grievances of minorities while also reassuring the many Sinhalese and Muslims scarred by the brutality and terror of the LTTE's decades-long quest for a separate state

5. Truth and reconciliation

Part of this shift would be to acknowledge that 2009 is not the only year that needs to be investigated and better understood. However brutal, the final months of the war were only the most intense stage of more than forty years of war and insurrection, with many periods of terror and brutal counterinsurgency from which members of all communities suffered terribly. The history of atrocities on all sides needs to be investigated. This would require a proper domestic truth and reconciliation commission, which would need a broader mandate, better resources, a longer time scale and better thought-out procedures than the ad hoc and politically-inspired LLRC. Unfortunately, with a regime in power that is anything but favourable to truth and open discussion, such a process is unlikely to be established for years, if ever.

6. The Secretary-General’s panel of experts

For all the reasons above, one can hope that the panel of experts appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to advise him on accountability in Sri Lanka, which is due to deliver its report in mid-April, will recommend the establishment of an international commission of inquiry. To date there is little sign that either the Security Council or the Human Rights Council would be willing to appoint such a commission. Both bodies failed abysmally to use their powers to protect civilians in the final months of war in 2009, and little suggests they would act more responsibly today. The most politically realistic route to a commission of inquiry would therefore be for the Secretary-General to directly appoint a commission himself. This act would be fully within his powers, despite attempts by the Sri Lankan government to argue otherwise.

Unfortunately, a number of influential foreign governments, including both the United States and Great Britain, continue to resist calling for an international commission of inquiry. They continue publicly to hold out hope – despite all the evidence to the contrary – that the LLRC could somehow contribute to accountability for alleged war crimes. They say they want to avoid “prejudging” the work of the LLRC or the possibility of another more robust domestic accountability mechanism. Yet as many diplomats will acknowledge in private, there is virtually no chance of the LLRC making any significant contribution towards acknowledging or holding anyone to account for the crimes committed in the final months of the war.

That said, if foreign governments want to support positive ways of addressing Sri Lanka’s legacy of violence and injustice, there is nothing inconsistent with supporting an international war crimes inquiry while also encouraging Sri Lanka to pursue reconciliation through the work of the LLRC or, better yet, through a new, less ad hoc and better resourced processes.. Reconciliation and accountability are different issues and require different roads to be reached. Both are needed. Yet it should be clear to anyone who follows Sri Lanka that the government has no intention of pursuing accountability – and that efforts to pursue reconciliation are still underdeveloped, far from the government’s priority, and will take a long time even with the best of intentions.

7. Repudiating the ‘Sri Lanka Option’: beyond the critique of double-standards

Finally, many in Sri Lanka argue that Western nations and international bodies have no right to press for an international inquiry into allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka because there have been no such inquiries into the many allegations of civilian deaths, torture, and other serious violations of the laws of war in Afghanistan, Iraq and other sites of the Western-led "war on terrorism". While there is no question that the US, the UK and other states are guilty of double-standards, international conflict resolution and human rights advocates can't be held hostage by the institutionalised hypocrisy of states. Political obstacles to getting a proper investigation into violations of the laws of war and possible war crimes committed by Western military forces are no reason to stand idle vis-a-vis Sri Lanka. Indeed, the Sri Lankan government is itself guilty of its own blatant double-standard: it condemned the violence in Gaza in January 2009, called for a ceasefire, and supported the establishment of the Goldstone commission by the UN Human Rights Council.

What’s more, when comparing Sri Lanka to other apparently similar situations of counter-insurgency, it is important to understand the extreme horror of those final months of combat: the intensity of civilian suffering, the number of those likely killed in just four months – anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 and possibly more – the blatant disregard for core principles of international humanitarian law, especially regarding hospitals and humanitarian access, and the absolute unwillingness of the Sri Lankan government to admit any wrongdoing or responsibility for the suffering of their own citizens. All the available evidence suggests the period of January to May 2009 in northern Sri Lanka saw some of the worst civilian suffering in recent history. It was clearly on a different scale than what took place in Gaza at the same time, and arguably worse than what seems to be taking place in Afghanistan, however much those situations are also deserving of serious independent and international investigations.

Hence the responsibility of all concerned is to repudiate, rather than promote the “Sri Lanka option” for ending insurgencies. This extends to the Sri Lankan military’s upcoming conference on “‘Defeating Terrorism – The Sri Lanka Experience’, scheduled for late May in Colombo. Billed as “an international seminar to share Sri Lankan experience on the road to military defeat of the world’s most ruthless terrorist organisation”, Sri Lanka has invited the world’s militaries to come and study the lessons of their victory over the LTTE. Given the strong evidence that the Sri Lankan military committed grave and systematic violations of laws of war, and given that it continues to actively resist any credible investigation of its and the LTTE’s actions, no government that respects the Geneva Conventions and principles of international humanitarian law should allow its military leaders to attend.

(Alan Keenan is Senior Analyst and Sri Lanka Project Director with the International Crisis Group. This text is a revised version of a presentation made as part of a live web seminar on "Accountability for Violations of IHL in Counterinsurgency: The Case of Sri Lanka", organised by the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research, on 24 February 2011)

Friday Forum deeply concened about recent appointments to Human Rights Commission

The Friday Forum is an informal gathering of public spirited persons who are dedicated to promoting peace and development in Sri Lanka within a framework of democracy, social justice and pluralism. To that end, the Forum has, from time to time, made interventions regarding matters of public concern. This statement too is made in the spirit of democratic engagement through the articulation of our views on matters of vital importance to national life.

The Friday Forum wishes to express its deep concern about recent appointments made to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, details of which were carried in newspaper reports. We are concerned about two important dimensions relating to the appointments: first, the process by which the appointments were made and secondly, the suitability of some appointees to serve on the Commission.

First, there is no transparency regarding the process by which the appointees were selected. We understand that the opposition did not participate in the process. While we can fault the opposition for its non-participation, that does not cure the very unsatisfactory nature of the process by which members of independent institutions are to be appointed under the controversial 18th Amendment to the Constitution that was rushed through parliament as an urgent Bill. The "Parliamentary Council", that replaced the more representative and independent Constitutional Council created by the 17th Amendment, is hamstrung by the fact that the President may only seek its observations.

While recognizing that the 18th Amendment is now law, we yet wish to express our steadfast opposition to the abolition of the Constitutional Council; what was required was its strengthening and certainly not its abolition. We are convinced that as long as the present arbitrary process of appointments to independent institutions is in operation, public faith and confidence in those bodies will be minimal.

In our opinion, the only way to provide assurances to the public, even in spite of faulty procedure, is to make every effort to appoint well qualified persons of high public standing to independent commissions. From a democratic perspective, the hand of the government will be strengthened if it does so. Unfortunately, the suitability of some of the recent appointees to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) is highly questionable. We understand that among the five appointees are a former Inspector General of Police (IGP), a former Government Analyst and a medical practitioner. We wish to question what human rights protection experience and credentials they bring to the Human Rights Commission. In short, the criteria that may have been used for selection is highly suspect.

We seriously question the suitability of those who have served in the police or the armed forces to serve as members of the Human Rights Commission. A large proportion of complaints received by the HRC are against excesses by the police or the armed forces. Victims of such excesses may be reluctant to come before the HRC for fear of breach of confidentiality and reprisals and, more importantly, of lack of impartiality. After all, justice must not only be done but must also be seen to be done.

We note that the HRC was downgraded a few years ago by the UN from Grade A to Grade B mainly due to questions about its independence. It was a recognition that Sri Lanka has failed to adhere to the norms of independence and competence required by the Paris Principles relating to National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) adopted by the General Assembly. Those Principles are today used the world over as the common standard to measure the effectiveness of human rights institutions. The problematic nature of the appointment process established by the 18th Amendment and the questionable appointments made recently can only worsen the standing of the HRC.

It is in the best interests of the people and the government of Sri Lanka to restore confidence in the HRC and other independent institutions.

Yours Sincerely,

Jayantha Dhanapala

On behalf of Friday Forum, the Group of Concerned Citizens consisting of;

Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala, Rt. Rev. Bishop Duleep de Chickera, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare, Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, Ms. Sithie Tiruchelvam, Dr. G. Usvatte Arrachchi, Dr. A. C. Viswalingam, Ms. Suriya Wickramasinghe, Dr. Deepika Udagama, Mr. Ahilan Kadirgarmar, Mr. Lanka Nesiah, Dr. Cameena Gunaratne, Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, Ms. Damaris Wickramasekera, Mr. Prashan de Visser, Mr. H. Wijeyanandana, Mr. Daneshan Casie Chettey, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, Professor Savitri Goonesekere, Mr. J. C.

EU Subsidy cut has had little impact on Sri Lankan garments - Government officials

by IRIN News

COLOMBO, 28 March 2011 (IRIN) - More than seven months after the European Union (EU) suspended its preferential trade agreement with Sri Lanka in protest over the country’s human rights record, the subsidy cut has had little impact on the sector targeted, according to government officials.

Many of the country’s 250,000 textile workers - who tend to work 12 hours a day, six days a week for a monthly salary of US$150 - had feared they would lose their jobs under the cut. But most are still employed.

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The garment sector is a major component of the Sri Lankan economy~ pic: IRIN

"We are still doing good," Nilanthi Perera, 29, a garment worker from Colombo, told IRIN. She supports three younger brothers and is the breadwinner of the family - like many of her colleagues. “Any loss [of jobs] would have destroyed us."

For five years Sri Lanka received a 10 percent tax concession under the EU’s Generalized System of Preferences Plus scheme (GSP), and textiles account for 65 percent of the country’s exports, according to Central Bank data.

But the country failed to prove to the EU its commitment to three international human rights conventions - the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child - said Jehan Perera, director of Colombo-based think-tank the National Peace Council.

“The EU wanted to send an investigation team to the country to see for itself the situation [regarding alleged human rights violations] - but the government refused to let them in,” leading to suspension of the GSP concession.

“The government would have been concerned that permitting the EU investigation team in would set a precedent, and lead to more pressure on the issue of war crimes,” Perera said.

Sri Lanka has been resisting efforts by a UN Secretary-General’s expert panel to conduct an independent investigation into alleged war crimes during the 26-year conflict between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) which ended in May 2009.

Lost leverage?

The National Peace Council advocates a step-by-step process and was against the total removal of GSP concessions, according to Perera.

“The GSP Plus concessions should not have been fully suspended but should have been used for further leverage to push Sri Lanka to adhere to a human rights agenda. Now the EU has lost this leverage,” Perera said.

He said the EU should have set more achievable human rights goals and used the GSP concession issue as leverage. "Threats are more effective than the actual punishments in aid policy," he said.

"The GSP Plus suspensions did not have a negative impact on the Sri Lankan economy, exports and apparel industry," Tissa Vitharana, a senior government minister, said.

In fact, the textiles sector notched up nearly 6.5 percent in exports from 2009 to 2010, according to the Central Bank.

Foreign buyers are continuing to place orders for Sri Lankan garments due to their high quality, and timely and efficient delivery, according to Chamara Hettiarachi, a Colombo-based economist. He said the textile industry had maximized capacity by appropriate use of technology.

March 27, 2011

Day 3: Jaffna’s Musical Potpourri

Jaffna Musical Festival Promotes Reconciliation through Music, Arts and Drama,” said the US Embassy press release marking USAID’s partnership of the collaborative effort in bringing out this medley musical scent of folklore potpourri, in the peninsula’s persevering town.

Pictures from the festival via YFrog ~ By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai:

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[Click to see & Read more]

On the smugglers’ trail: ‘So many refugees are here’

By Stewart Bell

Part I ~ BANGKOK — The Vembus Restaurant is a small room with green wallpaper and a big ceiling fan that spins above tables covered with plates of spicy South Indian food.

The owner, Vidya Shankar, is from the Sri Lankan capital Colombo and he estimates there are 2,000 to 3,000 of his countrymen in Bangkok, most of them waiting to travel to other countries.

“So many refugees are here,” he says.

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Restaurant owner Vidya Shankar speaks during an interview in Bangkok on Friday February 25, 2011 ~ pic courtesy of: Brent Lewin for National Post

In 2009, one of them appeared at the modest hotel Mr. Shankar runs above his restaurant. His name was Siandran. He was a young man of 19 or 20, and he confided that he had been a member of the Tamil Tigers rebels.

He had no money to pay for his room and board so Mr. Shankar put him to work cooking at the restaurant and packing shoes for export to Sri Lanka (Mr. Shankar’s other business). “He worked hard,” Mr. Shankar said. “He didn’t have any money, very poor.”

Siandran stayed in Bangkok for months. And then one day last year he just left. Mr. Shankar said he did not hear from him again until last month when Siandran called.

He said he was in Canada.

Siandran had been aboard the MV Sun Sea, the human smuggling vessel that arrived off the British Columbia coast last August. Mr. Shankar said he knew nothing about Siandran’s smuggling plans.

But others in the Silom neighborhood said it was widely known that a ship was being readied to take Sri Lankans to Canada.

In Silom, Sri Lankans find a temple, cheap rent and familiar meals. “They can get the food at the temple sometimes, even they can share the room,” said Oliver, a Sri Lankan eating at Mr. Shankar’s restaurant.

Most want to go to Canada but a police crackdown that began last fall has made that more difficult and Tamils are no longer confident they can transit through Bangkok to the West, he added.

Some of those who got on the Sun Sea had been involved in the Tamil Tigers, said one member of the community who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals.

The Immigration and Refugee Board has already ordered the deportation of two of them, both found to have been members of the rebel naval wing. Another whom the government had accused of being a former rebel was found not to have been a member the Tigers.

The recent arrests of Sri Lankans awaiting ships in Bangkok has driven some to the outskirts of the city, said the longtime Silom resident, adding they are all waiting to go elsewhere. “Not only Canada,” he said. “Any country.”

Not far away, at the Saverah Inn, an employee recognizes a photo of a man who allegedly helped organize the Sun Sea smuggling operation — and who is now in Canada. Locals said the smugglers housed some of their human cargo at the hotel until they were brought south to board the ship.

The hotel is in a small alley in an Indian neighborhood. Portraits of Thailand’s king and queen hang behind the counter. A tenant said tour groups of 20 or 30 would stay for a few days but he did not recall anything untoward.

Owner Ajmal Khan said he simply rented rooms and knew nothing about smuggling. “What they are doing, we are not interested,” he said, adding he no longer rented rooms to Sri Lankans.

On the smugglers’ trail: The multi-headed snake

He once earned his living exporting Indian-made leather jackets to Paris but Sathiyaseelan Balasingam has since found a more lucrative business: selling passage to Canada in rusty cargo ships.

The 41-year-old, who goes by the nickname Praba, is the suspected leader of a human smuggling network that has been collecting money from Sri Lankans willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to board ships to Canada.

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Birds are released from their cage for good luck at the Sri Mariamman Temple. The temple, also known as the Wat Khaek Silom Hindu temple is on the Silom Road neighbourhood of Bangkok, where many Sri Lankans stay while waiting to transit to other countries. Courtesy pic: Brent Lewin for National Post

His share of the profits just from the MV Sun Sea, which arrived off the British Columbia coast last August, is estimated by Thai police to be at least $1.6-million. After several years in Bangkok, he fled Thailand last year — but the RCMP believes he is still at it.

As recently as January 20, Inspector George Pemberton, the head of the RCMP’s anti-human smuggling team, sent a letter to the Royal Thai Police asking for help investigating Praba’s latest attempt to organize asylum seekers for another migrant ship to Canada.

On the smugglers’ trail: ‘So many refugees are here’

An RCMP investigation called Project Seahorse is probing the suspected attempt by Praba, together with two associates based in Malaysia and Bangkok, to assemble more passengers for a human smuggling run across the Pacific.

Working below Praba and his accomplices, who go by the names Ragulan and Kajan, are nine others who have been recruiting passengers, collecting money from them, caring for them and organizing the trip, the letter said.

Royal Thai Police are investigating.

“While you are interviewing me,” said Lieutenant-General Pongpat Chayapan, Commander of Thailand’s Central Investigation Bureau, “I am aware that there is a network, a smuggling ring, that is preparing to smuggle people over to Canada.”

The arrival of the MV Sun Sea, and 10 months before that another derelict migrant ship called the Ocean Lady, signaled that Canada had become a target of Southeast Asia’s human smuggling syndicates.

It also set off a political debate in Ottawa over what to do with would-be refugees who pay criminal syndicates to ferry them to Canada’s shores in such large numbers, and using such a dangerous method of transport.

A retired 59-metre freighter painted the colors of the Thai flag, the Sun Sea carried 492 passengers and crew, both seemingly genuine refugees and former Tamil Tigers rebels. It has so far cost Ottawa $25-million.

And with a spring election looming, the issue is sure to resurface on the campaign trail. The Conservatives have already aired television ads that call the Liberals and Bloc weak on national security for opposing new anti-human smuggling legislation, Bill C-49.

Despite all this attention, the human smugglers behind the ships have managed to avoid public scrutiny — until now. A National Post investigation, based on classified documents and interviews with key officials as well as unofficial sources in several countries, has identified the key suspects.

The Post investigation has also shed light on Canada’s new anti-human smuggling program in Southeast Asia, which has disrupted at least one ship so far and resulted in the arrests of several suspected smugglers.

Among those arrested in Thailand are a former Toronto convenience store owner and another Canadian citizen who were allegedly caught with engine parts, oil and food that police allege was being stockpiled for a British Columbia-bound migrant ship.

The fight against human smuggling ships has also resulted in the mass arrests of hundreds of Sri Lankan migrants who had fled their war-beaten homeland, and many of them remain locked up in an overcrowded Bangkok prison.

The smugglers are under pressure.

Since Thai police, in coordination with the RCMP and Australian Federal Police, began cracking down last year, several of the top human smuggling ringleaders have fled Bangkok for neighboring countries. But with so much money to be made, they are still trying to send migrant ships to Canada.

“A group including Praba, Ragulan and Kajan and others are organizing passengers for an illegal migrant vessel to Canada,” reads the RCMP’s letter to Thai police. “Praba is believed to be in Laos. We believe Praba to be Sathiyaseelan Balasingam, born Nov. 19, 1969.”

A photo of Praba in the files of the Royal Thai Police shows him arriving at Bangkok airport in 2009, a chubby Sri Lankan with a goatee and dark, slicked-back hair. According to a copy of his passport viewed by the Post, he was born in Jaffna, the northern region of Sri Lanka, where the country’s ethnic Tamil minority is concentrated.

In the Silom Road neighborhood of Bangkok, where many Sri Lankans stay while waiting to transit to other countries, locals recalled seeing Praba at the Wat Khaek Silom Hindu temple. They said he lived in France before moving to Bangkok and that he has a Thai wife and two children. Another Tamil source said he had once operated a leather clothing export business in the southern Indian city of Chennai, where he is suspected of smuggling small groups of migrants to Europe by air.

Thai police said he had no permanent address in the Bangkok, instead preferring to move from place to place, staying with those they call his “jackals” — the loose network of agents who hunt for desperate migrants willing to pay generously to be delivered to the West.

“He used to live in Bangkok,” Major-General Pansak Kasemsant, Deputy Commissioner of the Royal Thai Police Immigration Bureau, said. “After the Sun Sea case, after he has received the last large sum of money, he left Thailand.”

Police believe he made his way north and illegally crossed the Thai-Laos border, which stretches for hundreds of kilometres. The RCMP believes he is now living 700 kilometres north of Bangkok in a city called Luang Prabang.

Formerly part of French Indochina, Laos was bombed relentlessly during the Vietnam War. It is described as the most heavily bombed country in the world, on a per capita basis. U.S. warplanes pounded the country for harboring North Vietnamese troops who used it as a supply route. And now Laos is apparently harboring a notorious Sri Lankan migrant smuggler with his eyes on Canada.

Acquaintances say Praba has a fish farm and rice paddy on the north central plain where the Mekong River joins with the Nam Khan. It is from this new hideout that police believe he is overseeing yet another smuggling operation to B.C.

“He has fled Thailand and as long as he’s not in Thailand we can’t do anything,” Lt.-Gen. Pongpat said. “And even though he is not in Thailand there are networks that are still left in Thailand and they are forming a new operation and the RCMP are overseeing this, are monitoring their activities.”

The suspected members of Praba’s human smuggling ring are based in four countries. All are Sri Lankans by birth. Kajan, whose real name is Gajan Sinniah, 29, has used a forged Canadian passport to travel in Asia, the RCMP letter said.

Also being sought is a Sri Lankan named Bathiskumar Senthilnathan. “We believe that he is part of the network but he has escaped the country after the Sun Sea operation,” said Major General Manoo Mekmok, Commander of the Investigation Division of the Royal Thai Police Immigration Bureau.

Police believe the recruiters have been using Western Union to wire the money they have collected from passengers to organizers outside the country. Among those gathering passengers for the new ship is a man who is also trying to collect outstanding debts still owed for the Sun Sea.

Another of the suspected recruiters, known as Thusi, worked out of Bangkok’s Phong Tower apartment building. Located off a narrow side street, known in Bangkok as a soi, laundry hangs from the balconies. A woman leans over the railing and waves hello. Outside, meat for Thai satay cures on a long metal rack.

The front counter receptionist recalls a Sri Lankan with a baby but she says no more.

Canadian officials believe the smugglers have the capacity to send several large, steel-hulled migrant vessels to Canada each year. Used ships are easy to find in the region, and there is an ample supply of would-be refugees waiting in Thailand, Malaysia, India and Sri Lanka.

“Without getting into operational specifics, there are a lot of Tamils in Bangkok. There are a lot of Tamils in Malaysia who are here seeking refugee status,” said Insp. Pemberton, the Bangkok-based RCMP officer who heads the Anti-Human Smuggling Team. “I think it would be naive to think that some of them wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to find a faster way to get to a better life.”

Police have produced complex organization charts of the smuggling networks based partly on analyses of their phone calls. But police and experts cautioned that the smugglers are not necessarily formally structured.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which has an anti-human smuggling office in Bangkok, the networks do not always have a leader or mastermind. Instead they have one or more “coordinators” or “organizers” who have overall responsibility for the operation.

The coordinators subcontract others to carry out tasks such as recruiting passengers, purchasing the ships, provisioning the ships and housing the migrants. These networks, which are based largely on personal contacts, evolve constantly and change from one operation to the next.

“Often, recruiters may not be affiliated with one particular smuggler,” says a recent paper by the UN crime office. “They often live permanently in the country of origin or transit and have a good knowledge of the language of the migrants, and may even know them personally.”

A Canada Border Services Agency report said 45 such agents had been identified in interviews with the Sun Sea migrants. Thai police said they had the names of about 20 agents. “We have the list and we’re investigating and trying to catch them,” Maj. Gen. Manoo said.

The UN crime office paper said network organizers are seldom brought to justice. But the RCMP said it was trying. “It’s a national tactical priority to prosecute these things in the criminal justice system,” said Deputy Commissioner Bob Paulson, the head of Federal Policing.

The RCMP has sent a handful of officers to Southeast Asia over the past year to work with local authorities, notably the Royal Thai Police, which responded by launching Project Hydra — a name that reflects the Thai view of smuggling networks as multi-headed snakes.

“Our aim is for the top tiers of the organizational network,” said Maj.-Gen. Pansak of the Thai police Immigration Bureau. “So once the top tier, the head, has been cut, of course the whole body won’t function.”

Thai police believe they severed one of those heads on Jan 12.

Acting on information provided by another government agency, officers descended on the Lat Pla Khao market area of Bangkok that morning searching for eight men.

An old woman chopping chicken in her shop said the officers asked about the foreigners. who were staying in the pink apartment building around the corner.

But she didn’t know the tenants well so the police left her and climbed the four flights of stairs to apartment 4/2, a small room with a single fluorescent tube on the ceiling, a white tile floor and a balcony overlooking the traffic and the airline office across the street.

Police took a Sri Lankan man into custody. His name was Santano Fernandes, an alleged member of the smuggling network. “He looked very polite,” said the landlord who rented him the room for 2,500 baht a month, about $80. His passport, which the landlord had photocopied, showed he had made several recent trips to Laos.

At nearby apartments, police captured five more Sri Lankans, an Indian and a 47-year-old German named Jeyanandan Nadesan, who Maj.-Gen. Manoo described as Praba’s “right-hand man” and the top human smuggling agent left in Thailand.

The RCMP was later permitted to question him.

Seven weeks after his arrest, Mr. Nadesan emerged from his cell at Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre on Suan Phlu Road wearing a bright orange prisoners’ t-shirt, pale blue shorts and white sandals.

Compact and tattooed, the Sri Lankan-born detainee refused to speak to a National Post reporter but did meet briefly with the Thai translator working for the newspaper. He insisted he had done nothing wrong and was not involved in smuggling people to Canada.

The Thai police report on Mr. Nadesan tells a different tale. It says he was the leader of a group of agents who were “illegally delivering Sri Lankans of Tamil ethnicity to third countries using Thailand as a transit point.”

The group “had succeeded in so doing around August, 2010. At that time, approximately 492 Sri Lankans of Tamil ethnicity illegally entered Canada via Sun Sea vessel. At present, Mr. Nadesan is considered the biggest such agent in Thailand.”

At the time of his arrest, he was “in the process of illegally delivering another approximately 200 Sri Lankans to Australia during February, 2011,” the report adds.

A second Thai police report says the passengers were to be taken from the southern port city of Songkhla to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. From there, they were to cross to Indonesia to a pier where they would board a ship to Australia.

It says Mr. Nadesan ran the network for Praba, adding he controlled another 80 Sri Lankans who were staying in the Bangkok neighborhoods of Banglumpoo, Ramintra and Don Muang, waiting to go to Canada.

But Mr. Nadesan said it was all a mistake.

He said he had lived in Germany for 25 years and only moved to Bangkok to be with his Thai girlfriend. He said he did not understand why people thought he was a bad guy.

He cried.

He said someone must have reported him to police, maybe another Sri Lankan who was jealous of him.

Why would they be jealous?

“I don’t know,” he said.

With Mr. Nadesan in custody, police are now hoping to get the man they call his “boss.” Praba’s name has been placed on a watchlist and he will be arrested if he attempts to re-enter Thailand, said Maj.-Gen. Manoo.

“We really want to arrest him. We believe that he will commit the crime again, he will try to smuggle people from Sri Lanka again,” he said.

“He won’t stop.”

~ courtesy: The National Post ~

Verdict will come down to whether a jury believes Rajaratnam was trying to cheat

TCRRNYT328.jpgby Bill Saporito
TIME Magazine

For the past couple of years, Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, has been shaking the trees on Wall Street. Since October 2009, Bharara has charged 46 people in his investigation of insider trading tied to "expert networks." The biggest case is against hedge-fund giant Raj Rajaratnam, who ran Galleon Group and is now on trial in lower Manhattan.


Expert networks are firms that broker information by connecting corporate insiders with hedge funds and traders looking for an edge. It's that hedge edge that's being called into legal question — what Bharara has described as "blatantly trafficking in material, nonpublic information." Any information that could potentially change a stock price is considered material.

Material, nonpublic information goes by another name in the financial world: smart investing research. That's how you make real money on Wall Street, by digging up stuff nobody else has. (It works in journalism too, actually.) Getting exclusive info about a company — say, Google, as Rajaratnam allegedly did — that may help predict the direction of its stock price is the meat of the Street.

But it's a meal that's not often shared with average investors. After the tech-stock crash of 2000, changes were made in securities regulations that were designed to make investing fairer by opening the closed loop of information flowing among companies, Wall Street investment banks, their equity analysts and their best customers. Investing, however, is never fair, and the inside-dope business immediately reconstituted itself outside Wall Street in the guise of expert networks.

Funny thing is, cops like Bharara use expert networks too. Only they're known as "informants." In an expert network, the informant could be someone working inside a company that you're interested in, so you pay for access. Just like the cops. But of course, the lawmen have an advantage: once Bharara got a confession, he flipped an informant working for an expert network into an informant working for him. That led to a series of wiretaps, and he and his team just sat back and listened while choirs of hedgies sang themselves into trouble.

Bharara alleges that the wiretaps confirm that Rajaratnam got information that most investors couldn't possibly access and traded on it. But what if all this information on the wiretaps is simply part of the market chatter that helps establish stock prices? Rajaratnam's defense will probably claim that whatever inside information he gleaned was just part of the mosaic of data to which he applied his skill as a trader. "There is lots of language in insider-trading cases suggesting that hedge funds and portfolio managers do a public service by investigating companies," says Georgetown University Law Center professor Don Langevoort. "And if the law is too open-ended and sends people to jail for doing legitimate research, you put a chill on economic activity." In other words, guys like Rajaratnam argue that they're doing us a favor because their information ultimately filters into the market. He shorted Akamai, for instance, and information about shorted positions is available daily.

The definition of insider trading remains fuzzy. Just because you got the scoop from the CEO's secretary doesn't mean it's illegal. The real question is whether there's harm to the shareholders or the market. In the U.S., insider trading is illegal only to the extent that it is fraudulent. So Bharara will likely mount a case based on misappropriation, arguing that the corporate secrets the experts provided were essentially stolen property and that the recipient, Rajaratnam, knew the merchandise was hot. The verdict will come down to whether a jury believes Rajaratnam was trying to cheat.

Prosecutors love to yank Wall Street's chain after periods of excess, as in the 1980s (junk bonds), the 1990s (savings-and-loan fraud) and the early 2000s (dotcom bust). We've just had another one, and the lawmen are back in business. The U.S. Attorney may be the only agency actively practicing financial reform, keeping markets safe for us. The jury has to figure out when being in the know becomes illegal. Hedgies like Rajaratnam are the best investors around because they are willing to spend so much time, money and energy obtaining vital information about stocks. Unless you have a spare $1 million, you can't benefit, because hedge funds like Galleon are open only to people who already have a lot to invest. Maybe that's the real crime.

[ Courtesy: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2058207,00.html#ixzz1Hqol7R8T ] ~ pic courtesy: NYTimes.com

Muttiah Muralitharan and Sir Ian Botham announce project for youngsters in the heart of Sri Lanka North, Mankulam

By Simon Haydon
The Associated Press, March 27, 2011

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka-As his cricketing career winds down, Sri Lanka's superstar Muttiah Muralitharan, the man who can spin a cricket ball like magic, is turning his sights on dragging war-shattered youngsters out of poverty and nurturing the country's next generation of athletes.

Who else but Murali, as he's known to the whole country, could persuade the Sri Lankan president to donate a 50-acre parcel of land in the northern region that has been devastated by 20 years of civil war.

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Muttiah Muralitharan successfully appeals for the wicket of England's batsman Ravi Bopara, unseen, during the Cricket World Cup quarterfinal match between England and Sri Lanka in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, March 26, 2011. (pic courtesy: AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

But Murali hasn't given up on cricket yet. He's hoping for two more games in the next few days to bring the World Cup home.

"We have a good team with good ability but we're also going to need some luck," Murali said after a day spent touring the project.

Murali got up early for the helicopter trip from Colombo a few hours after helping Sri Lanka beat England and qualify for the World Cup semifinal.

With his 39th birthday coming up next month, Muralitharan is counting down the days to his retirement from all cricket, which will happen at the end of Sri Lanka's World Cup campaign.

Struggling for fitness, he is determined to play in Tuesday's semifinal against New Zealand in Colombo and then possibly the final in Mumbai.

Muralitharan took 800 test wickets and carried on a rivalry with Australian spinner Shane Warne for several years over who was the better bowler before the Sri Lankan retired from the five-day format last year.

Muralitharan outlasted Warne, but both men now co-operate on development projects. Now only a maximum of two ODIs remain to cap his career.

But the disasters that have struck Sri Lanka, civil war and then a tsunami that killed more than 30,000 people in 2004, have thrust Murali to the forefront of global efforts to raise money to lift Sri Lankans out of poverty — and cricket is often the best currency to use.

"Cricket is the most important game in this part of the world," he told a news conference Sunday held to announce a $5 million project to build a new school as well as a "Learning and Empowerment Institute," which will include sport.

On Sunday, Murali was accompanied by his friend and former cricketing foe Sir Ian Botham, who has joined the project, for a tour over the land near the northern town of Mankulam, ravaged by the war that ended in 2009.

The land dedicated to the new centre first has to be cleared of explosives, Murali said. Botham said it was "mind-blowing" to see the extent of devastation left behind in northern Sri Lanka.

High-profile cricketers like Botham, ex-England captain Michael Vaughan and Australians Steve Waugh and Warne have been major contributors to the project, which has seen one centre already built in the south of the country that was ruined by the tsunami.

Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara, also a supporter of the charity, said Muralitharan had been an advocate of ethnic harmony in a country often divided between Tamils and the majority ethnic Sinhalese people. Murali is a Tamil.

"Cricket is a social panacea in Sri Lanka and Murali is an icon, not just as a cricketer but as an advocate of racial harmony," Sangakkara said.

The centre already built in the south of Sri Lanka had become "a vibrant hub," Sangakkara said.

Sri Lankan government forces, dominated by the Sinhalese, are suspected of shelling that killed thousands of minority Tamil civilians, and the Tamil rebels are suspected of using civilians as human shields.

Amnesty International says between 7,000 and 40,000 are estimated to have died in the final five months of the conflict. ~ courtesy: The Canadian Press ~

March 26, 2011

Day 2: Folklore extravaganza in the North

Jaffna Music Festival 2011 is initiated through the Norway-Sri Lanka Music Cooperation agreement in partnership with The United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In this collaborative effort, Sewalanka Foundation is organizing the event, with the guidance of Aru Sri Theatre and support from Concerts Norway.

"Jaffna Music Fesitival will provide a forum for folk musicians, who have at times struggled to engage in and preserve these art forms and an opportunity to exchange traditions with other performers and festival-goers from across Sri Lanka", said a U.S. Embassy Press Release marking the delightful celebration.

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Pictures from the festival via YFrog ~ By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai:

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Rajapaksa siblings planning to nullify 13th Amendment and debase parliamentary sovereignty

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” — Orwell (In Front Of Your Nose)

As the latest WikiLeaks-cables reveal, lies and deception occupy a position of honour in the Rajapaksa modus operandi. Open defiance is not the Rajapaksa way, when operating in an unfavourable climate of opinion. Instead, the siblings favour the stealthy approach of Velupillai Pirapaharan, using deceptive declarations and false promises to camouflage a ruthless will and a steely determination. Thus they bedevil critics and disarm opponents, until the ground reality changes and their objective becomes a fait accompli.

Understanding the Rajapaksa Way is important because the siblings are planning the next critical step, aimed at nullifying the 13th Amendment and debasing parliamentary sovereignty, both sources of countervailing power and thus inimical to Rajapaksas supremacy. Legislation to set up Jana Sabhas will be presented in parliament in April.

Jana Sabhas will not be elected institutions; their members will be appointed by the Rajapaksas and their acolytes. Barring a few token credentialed members, an absolute majority of these appointees will be political stooges whose main – and perhaps sole – qualification will be unquestioning loyalty not to the SLFP/UPFA but to the Rajapaksa Family.

Mahinda Rajapaksa is the ‘uncrowned Ruler-King’ and one brother is the omnipotent Defence-Czar; the Jana Sabha system will establish another Rajapaksa-sibling as the almighty Development-Czar.

The process is already underway. This is to be Brother Basil’s empire and he has reportedly “made arrangements to enrol 5,000 graduates at village level…. purely on the recommendation of SLFP electoral organisers without conducting an interview (The Colombo Times – 14.5.2010). These unelected institutions choking with Rajapaksa-loyalists will have total control over local government authorities and provincial councils, according to Minister Susil Premjayanth. Local or provincial authorities will not be able to implement any development project without their approval; no approval, no project. “The Jana Sabhas would also have control on how the decentralized budget for MPs….would be spent” (The Sunday Times – 20.3.2011).

The 18th Amendment nullified the 17th Amendment by turning independent commissions into presidential appendages. Jana Sabhas (19th Amendment?) will nullify the 13th Amendment by disempowering provincial councils (according to Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Jana Sabhas will be multi-ethnic in composition – i.e. they will include some Tamils and Muslims who are Rajapaksa loyalists).

The new system will also undermine a parliamentarian’s capacity to implement development projects of his/her choice. Jana Sabhas will thus be a crucial milestone in the ongoing effort to Rajapaksaise the Lankan state, from the very top to the very bottom. As Minister Wimal Weerawansa said, “The ultimate objective of this concept is to ensure that the development work is closely monitored by a small group that has an awareness of the needs of the area” (ibid).

The local government elections were relatively free and extremely unfair. Though large-scale rigging was absent, state power and resources were abused blatantly and overwhelmingly. Yet, the UPFA’s average vote declined, by 2.7% compared to 2010 Presidential election and by 5.4% compared to 2010 Parliamentary election! The government is still popular, but less so than it was one year ago. If this downward trend persists, the Rajapaksas might find winning the next presidential and parliamentary elections an uphill task, without unleashing violence and malpractices, on a massive scale.

The siblings, infinitely more farseeing than their enemies, obviously sense this problematic future and are preparing to deal with it. The 18th Amendment was an important step in this direction. Its results are obvious in the conduct of the Elections Commissioner who admitted, post-facto, to the “occurrence of incidents of thuggery…..during the period of the nominations and subsequently” and the “misuse of State resources and State owned media” – and yet did next-to-nothing to stem this tide of irregularities. This catatonic-state was partly sourced in the 18th Amendment, which disempowered his post, turning him from an autonomous-guardian of the electoral process into a presidential functionary.

Jana Sabhas will be the next logical step in this process of creating a Rajapaksa-centric system (the Rajapaksas give and the Rajapaksas take away) which consciously discourages independence and integrity by rewarding servility and punishing dissent. The new system will devalue all elected institutions, making them increasingly irrelevant in politico-economic terms. It will enable the Rajapaksas to reward ‘loyal’ areas and punish ‘disloyal’ ones by delivering or withholding development projects.

If this insidious system comes into operation, the Rajapaksas will be able not only to revenge on dissenting voters but turn those SLFP/UPFA politicians they deem insufficiently loyal into political-eunuchs by taking away their ability to look after their own constituents. The electorate will get the message soon enough, and not just the opposition but even those SLFPers who are not Rajapaksa stooges will wither away, leaving the Ruling Family in total control over the state and the governing party.

WikiLeaks

Understanding how the Rajapaksas came this far, this fast (under six years) is vital to comprehending where they are headed and how they intend to get there.

According to WikiLeak cables, President Rajapaksa used two tactics to allay Indian and Western fears about the human cost of the war and his post-conflict intentions. He promised a ceasefire and a political solution to the ethnic problem. The Indians chose to believe him and persuaded the Americans to follow suit. According to the first cable, Indian National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan told the American Ambassador that “President Rajapaksa had agreed to announce on April 27 a cessation of hostilities with the LTTE…..” after consulting his cabinet and to stay silent, “until Rajapaksa fulfils his pledge and announces the pause”.

The promised ‘pause’ never happened; perhaps the President informed Delhi that hardliners in his cabinet blocked him!

According to the second cable, Narayanan assured the Americans that President Rajapaksa, “intends to pursue political devolution (‘the 13th Amendment plus’) and will make a gesture soon to win over Sri Lanka’s Tamils. Narayanan mentioned that Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabaya was currently paying a visit to New Delhi”.

Indians were concerned about “higher casualty figures” and acknowledged that “pressure needed to be put on the Sri Lankan government to limit the harm caused to civilians” but cautioned the Americans that “bilateral diplomacy would be more effective than highly public pressure in the UN Security Council or the Human Rights Council”.
India trusted Velupillai Pirapaharan at the commencement of the Eelam War and burnt a finger and an arm. India trusted the Rajapaksa siblings at the end of the Eelam War (probably on the rebound) and ended up humiliated and option-less.

Understanding this Rajapaksa method (irrespective of whether one is pro or anti-Tiger) is important, because this is the way the brothers deal with internal opposition as well. This, for instance, is the method they adopted vis-à-vis the critical 18th Amendment: pretend to retreat in the face of opposition; resume the Blitzkrieg when the opposition has disarmed itself.

The lies and deception work not just because the Rajapaksas are masterly illusionists but also because the intended victims choose to ignore the obvious. When will we realise that the siblings want not national-sovereignty but Rajapaksa-sovereignty? Or that the empowerment of Rajapaksas (via Jana Sabhas, for instance) means powerlessness for the rest of polity and society?

U.S. sought a bigger role in pushing a political solution for Tamils but was kept at bay by India

by Nirupama Subramanian

Sri Lanka told India it would implement a devolution plan for Tamil areas going beyond the 13th Amendment to its Constitution, but Indian officials were privately sceptical of the assurance.

Several U.S. Embassy cables accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks reveal that India pushed Sri Lanka on its devolution plans for months before the conclusion of the military operation against the LTTE.

The cables also reveal that the U.S. sought a bigger role in pushing a political solution for Tamils but was kept at bay by India.

As the military operations were drawing to a close, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told the U.S. Embassy Charge d'Affaires Peter Burleigh on May 15, 2009 that the Sri Lankan government had reassured India that “the government would focus on the implementation of the 13th Amendment Plus as soon as possible.” (207268: confidential, May 15, 2009)

But, the cable notes, “Menon was sceptical.”

National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan was a mite more optimistic. Returning from a visit to Sri Lanka on April 24, he had told the U.S. Charge that President Mahinda Rajapaksa “intends to pursue political devolution (‘the thirteenth amendment plus') and will make a gesture soon to win over Sri Lanka's Tamils.” (204118: confidential, April 25, 2009)

Earlier, in January 2009, the U.S. Embassy in Colombo reported in a cable (189383: confidential, January 29, 2009) on External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's visit that President Rajapaksa had spoken of a 13th Amendment Plus plan.

Briefing the U.S. Embassy's Deputy Chief of Mission and other diplomats, the Indian Deputy High Commissioner in Colombo, Vikram Misri, said Mr. Mukherjee's visit was mainly to press Sri Lanka on ensuring the safety of civilians during the military operation against the LTTE.

In discussions with the Indian Minister on the political front, the cable noted, “President Rajapaksa said he supports a 13th Amendment- plus approach, but did not specify what the ‘plus' would entail.”

It is no secret that even before 2009, India wanted Sri Lanka to hasten on a political settlement to the Tamil question that would go beyond the 13th Amendment that flowed from the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. The cables only confirm this.

In November 2008, senior presidential adviser Basil Rajapaksa returned from New Delhi. Briefing the Americans about the visit, he said India had pressed Sri Lanka to devolve more powers to the Eastern Province. (cable 176664: confidential, November 4, 2008)

Mr. Rajapaksa told U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake that the Indians had expressed particular concern about civilian casualties from Sri Lankan military operations, as well as the need to do “a better job of winning Tamil hearts and minds.”

According to Mr. Blake's cable, Mr. Rajapaksa told him that “the Indians argued that progress on these issues would help keep the region “free of outside interference” and would enable India to better support Sri Lanka in its fight against the LTTE.

Mr. Rajapaksa said both sides had agreed on the need to “move toward” towards a peaceful, negotiated political settlement. India wanted Sri Lanka to begin by devolving non-controversial powers such as agrarian services to the Eastern province.

But the presidential adviser — he is also his brother — told the Americans that India's “No. 1 concern” was the Sri Lankan Navy firing at Indian fishermen.

In the same cable, Mr. Blake reports a later conversation with Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Alok Prasad. Contrary to Mr. Rajapaksa's impression of his New Delhi meetings, Mr. Prasad said the primary focus of the meetings was devolution, and not the issue of fishermen.

While the talks primarily focussed on how to speed up devolution in the East, Mr. Prasad noted that India had told Sri Lanka it should be thinking of “the outlines of a settlement that goes beyond devolution of power under the 13th amendment.”

But Mr. Prasad told the U.S. envoy that “India had very little hope that Sri Lanka would do more in this regard,” as the President did not have the required parliamentary majority to amend the Constitution, and some political parties were opposed even to the 13th Amendment.

It appears from the cables that the U.S. wanted constant reassurances that India was pushing for a political solution. At one stage it even suggested that there should be a joint India-U.S. effort on this front.

In August 2008, Joint Secretary T.S. Tirumurti “avowed” at a New Delhi meeting with Mr. Blake, the Indian government's “continued advocacy for devolution of power in Sri Lanka, and said India was preparing to share specific ideas with Sri Lanka.” (cable 167817: confidential, August 29, 2008)

The Indian official said New Delhi was pitching for a power-sharing formula that went beyond the 13th Amendment.

At the same meeting, Ambassador Blake proposed that India and the U.S. together encourage Sri Lanka to articulate its power-sharing vision “now” and engage in “quiet talks” with the LTTE.

He also suggested encouraging a “quiet dialogue” between the UN and the LTTE so that internally displaced people in the Vanni would be free to move south from LTTE-controlled areas “out of harm's way.”

India was clearly not interested in the U.S. suggestion. Mr. Tirumurti responded that “Rajapakse wants Prabhakaran dead.”

Pushing the ball back to the U.S. envoy, he spoke of a “credibility problem” for the West as the LTTE continued to raise funds in Europe, which was a source of concern for Sri Lanka and India.

But Mr. Blake pushed back, saying that while the U.S. would be glad to see Prabhakaran captured or killed, “the U.S. and India should not allow Rajapaksa to predicate progress on a power-sharing agreement on Prabhakaran's demise.”

A year later, the Indian Foreign Secretary seems to have briefly toyed with the idea of involving the U.S. and other powers to put pressure on Sri Lanka to resolve the political issues after the fighting ended.

The Foreign Secretary suggested to Mr. Burleigh at his May 15, 2009 meeting that “it would be useful for India to convoke an international conference — noting that India, the Co-Chairs [of the peace process, Norway, Japan, the U.S. and U.K.] and China should attend — to look at the post-conflict landscape. Menon characterized this as an opportunity for India; prohibitions on contacts with the LTTE had prevented useful engagement in the past, but now there would be space.”

Mr. Menon expressly wanted China in the grouping. According to the cable, he argued “that best results from Sri Lanka could be expected when the West, India and China all worked together. Otherwise, Sri Lanka would find ways to play its international interlocutors off against each other.”

But it seems to have been just a passing thought, as no such meeting took place. (courtesy: The Hindu)

March 25, 2011

In Pictures: Jaffna Music Festival – Mar 25, Inaugural Day

The Festival “Jaffna Music Festival” is set to celebrate the diverse traditional folk arts of Sri Lanka for three days consecutively from 25 th – 27 th March 2011.

Jaffna Music Festival will explore the exciting and vibrant breadth of Sri Lankan traditional art and adding to the exciting line-up of authentic Sri Lankan folk artistes, the Festival will also see colourful performances by international folk groups from India, Nepal, Palestine and Norway.

Pictures from the festival via YFrog By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai:

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'We strongly believe there is still sufficient work to warrant maintaining a delegation in Sri Lanka' - ICRC

by International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Resource Centre
March 25, 2011

In November 2010, the Sri Lankan government asked the ICRC to close its offices in Jaffna and Vavuniya and to conduct its operations exclusively from Colombo. ICRC head of delegation Yves Giovannoni and two Sri Lankan staff members from the Jaffna and Vavuniya offices reflect on ICRC operations in Sri Lanka, past and future.

What has the ICRC been doing in Sri Lanka, particularly in Jaffna and Vavuniya?

The ICRC has been working in Sri Lanka for more than two decades, starting with the uprising of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People's Liberation Front – JVP) at the end of the eighties and then continuing through the insurgency of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

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Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability and Rehabilitation. With the ICRC's support, hundreds of people a year (like these landmine victims) receive physical rehabilitation and benefit from micro-credit schemes.
© ICRC / C. McGoldrick

Our humanitarian activities have focused on protecting and assisting civilians, prisoners, the wounded and the sick – on all sides. In many cases, we worked with the Sri Lankan Red Cross Society, and restoring links between separated family members is a good example of an area where they played a key role. We have always operated with the approval of the government, and have often been able to act as a neutral intermediary between opposing sides.

What role can the ICRC play in Sri Lanka at the moment? Are there still humanitarian needs in the country?

There certainly are humanitarian needs in Sri Lanka. Some needs arise suddenly and require a rapid emergency response, like the floods at the beginning of the year. Others are more long-term, and require a sustainable solution.

The ICRC continues to address humanitarian needs resulting from the armed conflict, just as we do in many other countries where active hostilities have ended.

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Medawachchiya, Vavuniya. Dissemination session for female soldiers in a Sri Lankan Security Forces camp.
© ICRC / D. Sansoni

People who have lost limbs will of course require artificial limbs for the rest of their lives. The ICRC will continue to support the Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation until 2014. The centre is looking after about 2000 people, mainly in the Jaffna Peninsula.

Many households remain vulnerable. Some because the main breadwinner is dead, missing, or in prison. Others because they have to support a relative disabled by a mine. The SLRCS and the ICRC hope to provide these vulnerable households with micro-credits, vocational training or grants.

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Trincomalee. Passengers disembark from an ICRC-chartered ferry after having been evacuated from the embattled town of Jaffna.
© ICRC / N. Ng

The ICRC will continue to assess conditions of detention and detainee welfare at most places of detention throughout the country. We will continue to submit our observations to the authorities in the form of confidential reports. This confidential dialogue between the ICRC and the authorities is in line with our standard procedure. It enables us to maintain the trust of the authorities and to visit people who have been affected by the conflict. Additionally, the ICRC and the SLRCS together provide travel allowances, so that people can visit relatives held in prisons or rehabilitation camps.

During the recent floods, the ICRC supported the efforts of the SLRCS and other Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement partners to help the people and communities affected. It is quite unusual for the ICRC to get involved in dealing with a natural disaster, as the local Red Cross or Red Crescent Society normally takes the lead in this type of situation;, but of course we could not ignore the size of this humanitarian emergency and assisted where we could.

How will the ICRC meet humanitarian needs in Jaffna and Vavuniya without being present in the area?

In November 2010, the government asked us to close our offices in the north and to conduct our operations solely from Colombo. We have been working closely with the SLRCS to set up procedures that will allow us to pursue our humanitarian programmes with a reduced field presence.

We will continue to support families where the main breadwinner is no longer present because of the conflict, where a relative is disabled because of the conflict or where family members remain separated or unaccounted for. The authorities have allowed us to continue our technical and financial support for the Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation until 2014, and we will be conducting our humanitarian visits to people detained in these areas from Colombo.

What is the future of the ICRC in Sri Lanka?

We strongly believe there is still sufficient work to warrant maintaining an ICRC delegation in Sri Lanka for the foreseeable future. At the same time, we are working with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and other partners in the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement on the process of restructuring the SLRCS, a process that should result in a stronger Red Cross Society.

Longer term, a lot will depend on how soon the remaining consequences of the armed conflict are resolved. In turn, this depends on the quality of the dialogue on humanitarian matters with Sri Lankan institutions and partners.

We shall continue to work with the Sri Lankan government, academia and other bodies to promote humanitarian norms and their inclusion in the rules and regulations of the armed forces and police. This is especially relevant in view of Sri Lanka’s major role in United Nations peacekeeping operations, where these international norms apply.

* * *

Anton Selvakumar Dilan, Field Officer, Jaffna sub-delegation

What will be your lasting memory of your work with the ICRC?

The day I helped evacuate the sick and injured from the conflict zone in early 2009, at the height of the war. I witnessed the suffering of the people, and their helplessness as they fled for their lives. It was a remarkable experience to be serving with the ICRC at the time – the ICRC was the only humanitarian organization that had access to these people.

How will you want to be remembered by the people you served in the area?

The ICRC has been present in the Jaffna Peninsula for 21 years. It played a significant role in alleviating human suffering, helping thousands of people affected by the armed conflict. I would like the people of Jaffna to remember the ICRC not as a provider of food and emergency supplies but as a ‘life saver.’

* * *

V. Ashokalingam, Driver, Vavuniya sub-delegation

What will be your lasting memory of your work with the ICRC?

I will never forget the smiles of the thousands of people whose lives the ICRC was able to touch in the course of these years – people who received emergency supplies, food or temporary shelters; people evacuated for medical reasons or the people the ICRC visited in detention. And above all the smiles on the faces of children and parents reunited after being separated by the conflict.

How will you want to be remembered by the people you served in the area?

I would like the ICRC to be remembered as an organization that stood by the people of this area during the most difficult phases of the conflict.

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Velanai Island, Jaffna peninsula. The ICRC supports projects that help people affected by war to earn a living. Here, students are learning masonry skills.
© ICRC / C. McGoldrick

Major ICRC operations conducted from Jaffna and Vavuniya:

-From 1990 until 1995, the ICRC helped establish and maintain a safety zone around Jaffna Teaching Hospital in order to ensure that all casualties had access to emergency treatment

-From 1995 until 2002, the ICRC chartered ships that enabled thousands of people to travel to Colombo for medical treatment and transported medical supplies to hospitals in Jaffna

-During the period when the A9 highway was closed to the public, the ICRC helped to maintain public transport in the Jaffna Peninsula, at times even carrying post and school examination papers to Colombo.

-From 2000 to 2002, the ICRC frequently escorted government food convoys. After 1996, the organization acted as a neutral intermediary to facilitate the exchange of corpses between the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE.

-During the ceasefire, between 2002 and 2006, the ICRC acted as a neutral intermediary at the Muhamalai crossing point.

-The 2004 tsunami hit Sri Lanka at the height of the conflict. During this period, the ICRC worked with the SLRCS to build health centres and restore family links.

-With the resumption of hostilities, ICRC-chartered flights transported patients and medical supplies between Colombo and Jaffna.

-During the final phase of the conflict, the ICRC evacuated 13,800 casualties and accompanying relatives from the war zone to Trincomalee by sea.

March 24, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor: A Lustrous Pinnacle of Hollywood Glamour

By MEL GUSSOW

Elizabeth Taylor, the actress who dazzled generations of moviegoers with her stunning beauty and whose name was synonymous with Hollywood glamour, died on Wednesday in Los Angeles. She was 79.

A spokeswoman at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center said Ms. Taylor died at 1:28 a.m. Pacific time. Her publicist, Sally Morrison, said the cause was complications of congestive heart failure. Ms. Taylor had had a series of medical setbacks over the years and was hospitalized six weeks ago with heart problems.

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(February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011)

In a world of flickering images, Elizabeth Taylor was a constant star. First appearing on screen at age 10, she grew up there, never passing through an awkward age. It was one quick leap from “National Velvet” to “A Place in the Sun” and from there to “Cleopatra,” as she was indelibly transformed from a vulnerable child actress into a voluptuous film queen.

In a career of some 70 years and more than 50 films, she won two Academy Awards as best actress, for her performances as a call girl in “BUtterfield 8” (1960) and as the acid-tongued Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966). Mike Nichols, who directed her in “Virginia Woolf,” said he considered her “one of the greatest cinema actresses.”

When Ms. Taylor was honored in 1986 by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times, “More than anyone else I can think of, Elizabeth Taylor represents the complete movie phenomenon — what movies are as an art and an industry, and what they have meant to those of us who have grown up watching them in the dark.”

Ms. Taylor’s popularity endured throughout her life, but critics were sometimes reserved in their praise of her acting. In that sense she may have been upstaged by her own striking beauty. Could anyone as lovely as Elizabeth Taylor also be talented? The answer, of course, was yes.

Given her lack of professional training, the range of her acting was surprisingly wide. She played predatory vixens and wounded victims. She was Cleopatra of the burnished barge; Tennessee Williams’s Maggie the cat; Catherine Holly, who confronted terror suddenly last summer; and Shakespeare’s Kate. Her melodramatic heroines would have been at home on soap operas.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who directed her in “Suddenly, Last Summer” and “Cleopatra,” saw her for the first time, in Cannes, when she was 18. “She was the most incredible vision of loveliness I have ever seen in my life,” he said. “And she was sheer innocence.”

Mankiewicz admired her professionalism. “Whatever the script called for, she played it,” he said. “The thread that goes through the whole is that of a woman who is an honest performer. Therein lies her identity.”

It was also Mankiewicz who said that for Ms. Taylor, “living life was a kind of acting,” that she lived her life “in screen time.”

Beauty Incarnate

Marilyn Monroe was the sex goddess, Grace Kelly the ice queen, Audrey Hepburn the eternal gamine. Ms. Taylor was beauty incarnate. As the director George Stevens said when he chose her for “A Place in the Sun,” the role called for the “beautiful girl in the yellow Cadillac convertible that every American boy, some time or other, thinks he can marry.”

There was more than a touch of Ms. Taylor herself in the roles she played. She acted with the magnet of her personality. Although she could alter her look for a part — putting on weight for Martha in “Virginia Woolf” or wearing elaborate period costumes — she was not a chameleon, assuming the coloration of a character. Instead she would bring the character closer to herself. For her, acting was “purely intuitive.” As she said, “What I try to do is to give the maximum emotional effect with the minimum of visual movement.”

Sometimes her film roles seemed to be a mirror image of her life. More than most movie stars, she seemed to exist in the public domain. She was pursued by paparazzi and denounced by the Vatican. But behind the seemingly scandalous behavior was a woman with a clear sense of morality: she habitually married her lovers. People watched and counted, with vicarious pleasure, as she became Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky — enough marriages to certify her career as a serial wife. Asked why she married so often, she said, in an assumed drawl: “I don’t know, honey. It sure beats the hell out of me.”

In a lifetime of emotional and physical setbacks, serious illnesses and accidents, and several near-death experiences, Ms. Taylor was a survivor. “I’ve been lucky all my life,” she said just before turning 60. “Everything was handed to me. Looks, fame, wealth, honors, love. I rarely had to fight for anything. But I’ve paid for that luck with disasters.” At 65, she said on the ABC program “20/20”: “I’m like a living example of what people can go through and survive. I’m not like anyone. I’m me.”

Her life was played out in print: miles of newspaper and magazine articles, a galaxy of photographs and a shelf of biographies, each one painting a different portrait. “Planes, trains, everything stops for Elizabeth Taylor, but the public has no conception of who she is,” said Roddy McDowall, who was one of her earliest co-stars and a friend for life. “People who damn her wish to hell they could do what they think she does.”

There was one point of general agreement: her beauty. As cameramen noted, her face was flawlessly symmetrical; she had no bad angle, and her eyes were of the deepest violet.

One prominent and perhaps surprising dissenter about her looks was Richard Burton, who was twice her husband. The notion of his wife as “the most beautiful woman in the world is absolute nonsense,” he said. “She has wonderful eyes,” he added, “but she has a double chin and an overdeveloped chest, and she’s rather short in the leg.”

On screen and off, Ms. Taylor was a provocative combination of the angel and the seductress. In all her incarnations she had a vibrant sensuality. But beneath it was more than a tinge of vulgarity, as in her love of showy jewelry. “I know I’m vulgar,” she said, addressing her fans with typical candor, “but would you have me any other way?”

For many years she was high on the list of box-office stars. Even when her movies were unsuccessful, or, late in her career, when she acted infrequently, she retained her fame: there was only one Liz (a nickname she hated), and her celebrity increased the more she lived in the public eye. There was nothing she could do about it. “The public me,” she said, “the one named Elizabeth Taylor, has become a lot of hokum and fabrication — a bunch of drivel — and I find her slightly revolting.”

Late in life she became a social activist. After her friend Rock Hudson died, she helped establish the American Foundation for AIDS Research and helped raise money for it. In 1997, she said, “I use my fame now when I want to help a cause or other people.”

Twice she had leading roles on Broadway, in a 1981 revival of Lillian Hellman’s “Little Foxes” and two years later in Noël Coward’s “Private Lives,” with Burton, then her former husband. In the first instance she won critical respect; in the second she and Burton descended into self-parody. But theater was not her ideal arena; it was as a movie star that she made her impact.

In a life of many surprises, one of the oddest facts is that as an infant she was considered to be an ugly duckling. Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born in London on Feb. 27, 1932, the second child of American parents with roots in Kansas. Her father, Francis Lenn Taylor, was an art dealer who had been transferred to London from New York; her mother, the former Sara Viola Warmbrodt, had acted in the theater in New York, under the name Sara Sothern, before she was married. (Her brother, Howard, was born in 1929.) At birth, her mother said, her daughter’s “tiny face was so tightly closed it looked as if it would never unfold.”

Elizabeth spent her early childhood in England. It was there, at 3, that she learned to ride horseback, a skill that helped her win her first major role. Just before World War II, the family moved to the United States, eventually settling in Beverly Hills.

An Inauspicious Start

Ms. Taylor’s mother shared with her daughter a love of movies and encouraged her to act. Elizabeth made her movie debut in 1942 as Gloria Twine in a forgettable film called “There’s One Born Every Minute,” with Carl Switzer, best known as Alfalfa, the boy with the cowlick in the “Our Gang” series. The casting director at Universal said of her: “The kid has nothing.” Despite that inauspicious debut, Sam Marx, an MGM producer who had known the Taylors in England, arranged for their daughter to have a screen test for “Lassie Come Home.” She passed the audition. During the filming, in which Ms. Taylor acted with Roddy McDowall, a cameraman mistakenly thought her long eyelashes were fake and asked her to take them off.

The power of her attraction was evident as early as 1944, in “National Velvet.” MGM had for many years owned the film rights to the Enid Bagnold novel on which that film was based but had had difficulty finding a child actress who could speak with an English accent and ride horses. At 12, Elizabeth Taylor met those requirements, though she was initially rejected for being too short. Stories circulated that she stretched herself in order to fill the physical dimensions of the role: Velvet Brown, a girl who was obsessed with horses and rode one to victory in the Grand National Steeplechase. “I knew if it were right for me to be Velvet,” she said, “God would make me grow.”

In one scene her horse, which she called the Pie, seemed to be dying, and Ms. Taylor was supposed to cry — the first time she was called on to show such emotion on screen. Her co-star was Mickey Rooney, a more experienced actor, and he gave her some advice on how to summon tears: pretend that her father was dying, that her mother had to wash clothes for a living and that her little dog had been run over. Hearing that sad scenario, Ms. Taylor burst out laughing at the absurdity. When it came time to shoot the scene, she later said: “All I thought about was the horse being very sick and that I was the little girl who owned him. And the tears came.”

Ms. Taylor gave a performance that, quite literally, made grown men and women weep, to say nothing of girls who identified with Velvet. In his review of the film in The Nation, James Agee, otherwise a tough-minded critic, confessed that the first time he had seen Ms. Taylor on screen he had been “choked with the peculiar sort of adoration I might have felt if we were both in the same grade of primary school.”

She was, he said, “rapturously beautiful.”

“I think that she and the picture are wonderful, and I hardly know or care whether she can act or not.”

The movie made her a star. Decades later she said “National Velvet” was still “the most exciting film” she had ever made. But there was a drawback. To do the movie she had to sign a long-term contract with MGM. As she said, she “became their chattel until I did ‘Cleopatra.’ ”

At first she played typical teenagers (in “Life With Father,” “A Date With Judy” and “Little Women”). At 16 she was “an emotional child inside a woman’s body,” she later said. But in contrast to other child actresses, she made an easy transition to adult roles. In 1950 she played Robert Taylor’s wife in “Conspirator.” The same year, she was in Vincente Minnelli’s “Father of the Bride,” with Spencer Tracy. And, life imitating art, she became a bride herself in 1950, marrying the hotel heir Conrad N. Hilton Jr., who was known as Nicky. After an unhappy nine months, she divorced him and then married the British actor Michael Wilding, who was 20 years older than she.

By her own estimation, she “whistled and hummed” her way through her early films. But that changed in 1951, when she made “A Place in the Sun,” playing her prototypical role as a seemingly unattainable romantic vision. The film, she said, was “the first time I ever considered acting when I was young.”

In the film she plays a wealthy young woman of social position who is the catalyst for Montgomery Clift’s American tragedy. To the astonishment of skeptics, she held her own with Clift and Shelley Winters.

“A Place in the Sun” was followed by “Ivanhoe,” “Beau Brummel” and “The Last Time I Saw Paris.” Then she made two wide-screen epics back to back, “Giant” (with Rock Hudson and James Dean, who died after finishing his scenes) and “Raintree County” (with Clift, who became a close friend). Her role in “Raintree County” (1957), as Susanna Drake, a Civil-War era Southern belle who marries an Indiana abolitionist, earned her an Oscar nomination for best actress. It was the first of four consecutive nominations; the last resulted in a win for “BUtterfield 8.”

Ms. Taylor was filming “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” with Paul Newman in 1958 when her third husband, the impresario Mike Todd, was killed with three others in New Mexico in the crash of a small plane called the Lucky Liz. They had been married little more than a year and had a newly born daughter, Liza.

A bereaved Ms. Taylor was consoled by her husband’s best friend, the singer Eddie Fisher, who in a storybook romance was married to the actress Debbie Reynolds, one of America’s sweethearts. Soon a shocked nation learned that Debbie and Eddie were over and that Mr. Fisher was marrying Ms. Taylor, continuing what turned out to be a chain of marital events. (In 1993, at an AIDS benefit, Ms. Reynolds appeared on stage 20 minutes before Ms. Taylor and said, to waves of laughter, “Well, here I am, sharing something else with Elizabeth.”) Mr. Fisher died in 2010.

After Ms. Taylor finished “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” MGM demanded that she fulfill her contract and act in a film version of John O’Hara’s “BUtterfield 8.” Her performance as the call girl Gloria Wandrous brought her an Oscar in 1961 as best actress.

The award was bestowed less than six weeks after she had an emergency tracheotomy in London after being overcome by pneumonia and losing consciousness, prompting one of several times that headlines proclaimed her close to death. She and others felt that the Oscar was given to her more out of sympathy for her illness than in appreciation of her acting. Next was “Cleopatra,” in which she was the first actress to be paid a million-dollar salary. Working overtime, she earned more than twice that amount. The movie was made in Rome and cost so much ($40 million, a record then) and took so long that it almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox and caused an irrevocable rift between the producer Darryl F. Zanuck and the director, Mankiewicz.

When “Cleopatra” was finally released in 1963 it was a disappointment. But the film became legendary for the off-screen affair of its stars, Ms. Taylor, then married to Mr. Fisher, and Richard Burton, then married to Sybil Williams.

Opposites Attract

Taylor and Burton: it seemed like a meeting, or a collision, of opposites, the most famous movie star in the world and the man many believed to be the finest classical actor of his generation. What they had in common was an extraordinary passion for each other and for living life to the fullest. Their romantic roller coaster was chronicled by the international press, which referred them as an entity called Dickenliz.

After finishing the film, Ms. Taylor went with Burton to Toronto, where he was on a pre-Broadway tour with “Hamlet.” In Toronto, and later in New York, the two were at the height of their megastardom, accompanied by a retinue as large as that of the Sultan of Brunei and besieged by fans, who turned every public appearance into a mob scene. In New York as many as 5,000 people gathered outside the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on West 46th Street after every performance of “Hamlet,” hoping Ms. Taylor was backstage and eager to see the couple emerge.

They were married in 1964, and Ms. Taylor tried without success to keep herself in the background. “I don’t think of myself as Taylor,” she said, ingenuously. “I much prefer being Burton.” She told her husband, “If I get fat enough, they won’t ask me to do any more films.” Although she put on weight, she continued to act.

The life of Dickenliz was one of excess. They owned mansions in various countries, rented entire floors of hotels and spent lavishly on cars, art and jewelry, including the 69.42-carat Cartier diamond and the 33.19-carat Krupp diamond. (In 2002 Ms. Taylor published “My Love Affair With Jewelry,” a coffee-table memoir as told through the prism of her world-class gems.)

Since childhood Ms. Taylor had been surrounded by pets. When she was not allowed to take her dogs to London because of a quarantine rule, she leased a yacht for them at a reported cost of $20,000 and moored it on the Thames.

After “Cleopatra,” the couple united in a film partnership that gave the public glossy romances like “The V.I.P.’s” and “The Sandpiper” and one powerful drama about marital destructiveness, the film version of Edward Albee’s play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” As Martha, the faculty wife, a character 20 years older than she was, Ms. Taylor gained 20 pounds and made herself look dowdy. After she received her second Academy Award for the performance, Burton, who played Martha’s husband, George, offered a wry response: “She won an Oscar for it, he said, bitterly, and I didn’t, he said, equally bitterly.”

The Burtons also acted together in “Doctor Faustus” (1968), in which she was a conjured-up Helen of Troy; “The Comedians” (1967), with Ms. Taylor as an adulterous ambassador’s wife in Haiti; Franco Zeffirelli’s film version of “The Taming of the Shrew” (1967), with Ms. Taylor as the volatile Katharina to Burton’s wife-hunting Petruchio; “Boom!” (1968), based on the Tennessee Williams play “The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore,” with Ms. Taylor as a rich, ailing woman living on an island; “Under Milk Wood” (1972), an adaptation of the Dylan Thomas play; and “Hammersmith Is Out” (1972), a retelling of the Faust legend in which she played a diner waitress. On her own, Ms. Taylor was an adulterous Army major’s wife in “Reflections in a Golden Eye” (1967), with Marlon Brando; a fading prostitute in “Secret Ceremony” (1968); an aging Las Vegas chorus girl in “The Only Game in Town” (1970), with Warren Beatty; a rich widow who witnesses a murder in “Night Watch” (1973); and a wife who tries to save her marriage through plastic surgery in “Ash Wednesday” (1973).

After 10 high-living and often torrid years, the Burtons were divorced in 1974, remarried 16 months later (in a mud-hut village in Botswana), separated again the next February and granted a divorce in Haiti in July 1976.

Burton died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 58 in 1984 in Switzerland. Thirteen years later Ms. Taylor said that Todd and Burton were the loves of her life, and that if Burton had lived they might have married a third time. For years after his death, she told The Times in 2000, she couldn’t watch when the films they had made were on television.

After her second divorce from Burton, she wed John W. Warner, a Virginia politician, and was active in his winning campaign for the United States Senate. For five years she was a Washington political wife and, she said, “the loneliest person in the world.” Overcome by depression, she checked into the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif. She later admitted that she had been treated as “a drunk and a junkie.”

Battling Drugs and Food

In addition to alcohol and drugs, she had a problem with overeating, and it became the butt of jokes by the comedian Joan Rivers. (“She has more chins than a Chinese phone book.”) Ms. Rivers later apologized to Ms. Taylor through a friend, though Ms. Taylor shrugged off the insults, saying they did not “get me where I live.” Ms. Rivers said, “From then on, I was crazy about her.” Ms. Taylor wrote a book about her weight problems, “Elizabeth Takes Off: On Weight Gain, Weight Loss, Self-Image & Self-Esteem” (1988). When she returned to the Ford Center for further treatment, she met Larry Fortensky, a construction worker, who was also a patient. In a wedding spectacular in 1991, she and Mr. Fortensky were married at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Valley Ranch in Santa Ynez, Calif., with celebrated guests sharing the grounds with Jackson’s giraffes, zebras and llamas. Although the press was not invited, a photographer parachuted in and narrowly missed landing on Gregory Peck. Five years later, the Fortenskys were divorced. Ms. Taylor, a longtime friend of Jackson’s, was a visible presence at his funeral in 2009.

Through the 1980s and ’90s, Ms. Taylor acted in movies sporadically, did “The Little Foxes” and “Private Lives” on Broadway, and appeared on television as Louella Parsons in “Malice in Wonderland” in 1985 and as the aging actress Alexandra Del Lago in Tennessee Williams’s “Sweet Bird of Youth” in 1989.

In 1994 she played Fred Flintstone’s mother-in-law in “The Flintstones,” and in 1996 she made appearances on four CBS sitcoms. In 2001 she and Shirley MacLaine, Joan Collins and Debbie Reynolds made fun of their own images in “These Old Broads,” a tepidly received television movie — written by Carrie Fisher, the daughter of Ms. Reynolds and Eddie Fisher — about aging movie stars (with Ms. Taylor, getting little screen time, as their caftan-wearing agent) who despise one another but reunite for a TV special.

Ms. Taylor was often seen as a caricature of herself, “full of no-nonsense shamelessness,” as Margo Jefferson wrote in The Times in 1999, adding, “Whether it’s about how she ages or what she wears, she has, bless her heart, made the principles of good and bad taste equally meaningless.”

Increasingly, Ms. Taylor divided her time between her charitable works, including various Israeli causes (she had converted to Judaism in 1959), and commercial enterprises, like a line of perfumes marketed under her name. She helped raise more than $100 million to fight AIDS. In February 1997, she celebrated her 65th birthday at a party that was a benefit for AIDS research. After the party Ms. Taylor entered Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for an operation on a brain tumor.

There were other medical setbacks. In recent years she had to use a wheelchair because of osteoporosis/scoliosis. In 2009 she had surgery to address heart problems. This year she refused to undergo a back operation, saying she had already had a half-dozen and wasn’t up for another. In February she entered Cedars-Sinai for the final time with congestive heart failure.

She is survived by her sons Michael and Christopher Wilding; her daughter Liza Todd; another daughter, Maria Burton; 10 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

In 2002 Ms. Taylor was among five people to receive Kennedy Center Honors in the performing arts.

Married or single, sick or healthy, on screen or off, Ms. Taylor never lost her appetite for experience. Late in life, when she had one of many offers to write her memoirs, she refused, saying with characteristic panache, “Hell no, I’m still living my memoirs.”

Mel Gussow, the principal writer of this article, died in 2005. William McDonald, William Grimes and Daniel E. Slotnik contributed updated reporting. ~ Courtesy: The New York Times ~ ~ courtesy Pic: CBS Photo Archive via NYTimes.com ~

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 23, 2011

An earlier version misstated the first name of an actor, best known as Alfalfa, who appeared with Ms. Taylor in her first film, "There's One Born Every Minute." He was Carl Switzer, not Alfred.

Best service Tamil diaspora can do is invest in Sri Lanka and improve conditions for the people - Governor of Central Bank of Sri Lanka

Interview with Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka ~ by Shakuntala Perera

Q: Yours was the unenviable task of carrying the economy through a global recession as well as an intensified war within the country. How did we push through without the breakdown that seemed inevitable at the time?

Very simply, by getting our basics right. To withstand any pressures you have to get your fundamentals right; we worked very hard on getting our inflation, interest rates, reserves and other key indices right. Without this we would’ve been in a very difficult position. So we didn’t feel the shock because it was absorbed by the govt in one way and by the Central Bank in another. We lessened the pressure on the economy by not letting it get transmitted to the economy. We took the market shock as far as the reserves were concerned; we didn’t allow the rupee to play too volatile. By which we ensured that stability was maintained. All this paid off.

Q: The government expressed much confidence in investor growth following the successful end of the war. How successful have you been in attracting the desired investment?

Most of these investments as well as economic factors get translated ultimately to see whether your growth is happening and if the stability is maintained. We see in Sri Lanka that growth is happening; we saw last year an 8 per cent growth in the economy- one that any Western country would give anything to achieve. And at the same time we maintained stability ensuring that the markets were not affected.

We did that by ensuring that the amount of investment was sufficient and that the investment got in to the right areas. Investments must come in to growth areas that can give you a return on that investment.

We’re also seeing our food security maintained, and the milk is on the way there and electricity coverage is very good. These are all good indicators. Of course maintaining this will be difficult given the turmoil in the global oil market.

The difference with the current shocks globally is that they come more regularly. Some of the ones I’m facing on a monthly basis are those that earlier Governors would experience in their lifetime! But now were also geared for that and confident that we can meet these challenges. We have brought in new buffers to help withstand these pressures, in the form of bringing in our reserves which are now higher- our tax space is now broader which means that we are able to generate more revenues to the government.

Q:But given the slow movements how confident are you of the rate of investment the country needs is taking place?

I’m happy with the investment coming in now, because anything more would also cause us problems; there is a certain quantum of investment that an economy can deal with at any given time. We re able to deliver an 8% growth with what we’re getting now- if there was more it may have improved our overall growth. But with a greater tendency for other pressures; like those of inflation or too much liquidity. In fact more money coming in can make the rupee appreciate faster.

These are the other sides of the coin the pressures of which we haven’t had to deal with particularly because the inflation levels have been at the right level. Someone may argue and say that we haven’t got enough- maybe, but initially in many countries which are going through a transition like ours the first investors would be the locals. We’re seeing it here too. After this takes shape you will see more foreign investors coming through- maybe in a year two. And in the mean time we’re seeing big investments like Shangri la coming through too. At the moment I’m not too uncomfortable with the investments that we’ve seen taking place.

Q:Are you concerned with the manner in which the Tamil Diasporas are affecting the investment coming in by their negative publicity?

Definitely, I would’ve been much happier if that didn’t take place. It is in the interest of all that Sri Lanka has a quick path to development. But by doing what they are doing they’re forcing the people here in further difficulty. If they have any real feeling for these people they would be like us and going there and instilling confidence to improve their lot. My message to them is; without grumbling come and invest and improve their conditions here. This is the best service they can do for them, unless they want to indirectly make them suffer further.

Q: But records show that the inflow of investments for the last two years are less than in the previous years, when the war was on – how is this possible ? Why is the BOI downgrading their targets and post conflict investment projections?

In a way that is an unusual occurrence. I believe in hindsight; there is a reason for that- immediately after the war was over there was an interim period when people wanted to see where the situation would take the country. They wanted to see if the peace would hold. Then came the elections- which both took up close to a year. But thereafter the flow started. I’m fairly confident that the interest will be maintained and that people will appreciate the political stability and the security maintained providing an impressive area for investment. These are the factors that will impact upon the big investors- the ones who are slow in coming in but once they do help start moving things fast.

Q: There are allegations that the economic development that is taking place is limited to a few infrastructure projects carried out with foreign loans, thereby resulting in adding to foreign debt but not contributing much to the economy.

It is essential that we have the capacity to develop if we don’t have the money. Otherwise even if we have growth, it’ll be at a slow phase. You need to take the chance as there is always a risk, because if you borrow too much and our capacity to repay is not sufficient we can get in to trouble. In 2002 our debt to GDP ratio was as high as 103% - last year it had come down to 84%. Actually debt may have increased but it is still manageable; what is important is that repayment is long term. So with these 30, 40 year loans we’re very much on track- we’re not in a debt trap at all- we have every confidence we can repay our debt. Over the next five years we expect the ratio to come down to 60%- a very comfortable level as far as the world is concerned.

Q: But the international ratings giant Moodys’ rated us just over Lebanon and Jamaica in our debt affordability.

That has been a worry for us. In fact I visited Brussels two weeks back and had the occasion of meeting the OECD to explain to them of the change that has taken place. Many of them do a rating and do not revisit them often enough. Perhaps there is a responsibility on our part also to engage them and explain to them what has happened. Moody’s, Fitch have all upgraded us eventually and in a period when many other countries were down graded. We were one of the few that saw an upturn in rating. Again, there is plenty for us to do but we are doing what is necessary and the country’s rating has improved.

Q:There are various pressures put on the country through allegations of war crimes and human rights abuses which can have a serious impact on the economy. How seriously affected are your functions by these allegations?

Economics and politics go together and to get a good economic environment you need a good political background. So in that sense we have a responsibility to tell our story out to the world, because there is an enormous amount of money being spent and immense efforts being made by international groups fed by both local and other international groups. Their main mission seems to be to damage the image of the country and attack the economy. We’ve had to tackle this at an international level at regular intervals.

On every bond issue I handle I’ve had to confront this problem- we have convinced them of course which is why we had over subscribed many times over. This shows that those who’re putting their money in now that they are putting money in a good thing. When these people spread these rumors others need to check for the credibility of these claims. They speak of 30,000 killings at the end of the war- where are the bodies? Would I be able to walk as safely as I do in Jaffna if the security forces had carried out these acts? I believe the world will understand the true picture behind these lies.

Q: You always had your misgivings about obtaining the GSP+ facility. How are we doing without it?

We should never rely on concessions which are not trade related. These unilateral gifts given by the largess of their hearts are never to be trusted. These will only make us more dependable. The more we accept them the more beholden we will be to these organizations. All this facility does is, give the buyer an advantage- nothing to us. I could never see the merit in this. In the end we have seen that there was no real impact by losing it either

Q: It is commonly believed that there is a lot of liquidity in the money market – how can this be sustained over the long term without developing a bubble?

That is a concern- because there is a lot of liquidity and inflows of money that have come in had to be sterilized by the CB and we buy the dollars because we don’t want the rupee to appreciate too much. That’s a price we pay in this balancing act. That’s the price of stability. We have mopped up the excess liquidity. If we don’t do that there would be an increase in inflation which would affect the economy.

Q: Looking forward, how would the economy concentrate on for a sustainable growth in the next decade? How is our present income mix expected to shift?

We’re confident with the fact that we have been able to double our per capita income. We managed this in 5 years and we target it to double again in 5 years- so that we’ll reach a Rs.4000 per capita then. That shows that if we can go on that path we can transform this country. Of course when your doing that global pressures will increase. Were hoping the impacts will be less and that certain adverse impacts will be minimized

Q: Will there be many changes in our present systems and fiscal organizations, like the Dept. Of Inland revenue, Customs, BOI, and Treasury? If so, how will these organizations be seamlessly integrated to the benefit of the country and its economy?

We have introduced a very significant change at the last budget- a major initiative where the tax rates were brought down significantly, and the tax slabs broadened. Inputs many were reluctant to carry out. It was a bold call- we would reduce taxes and recover more revenues. Reduction of duties of vehicles did the same- although rates were halved those that were collected more than doubled in some areas. These steps will bear fruit- maybe the first year will be slow but recent numbers indicators show an improvement. ~ courtesy: The Daily Mirror ~

Political parties closely allied to Sri Lanka's president protest against Libya air strikes

By BBC News

Hundreds of people have protested against Western-led air strikes in Libya outside the United Nations headquarters in Sri Lanka.

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Protesters chanted slogans against the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon - pic DailyMirror.lk

Demonstrators shouted anti-Western slogans, waved placards and burned tyres near the UN compound.

The protests were organised by political parties closely allied to Sri Lanka's president.

Correspondents say relations between Libya and Sri Lanka have been extremely close in recent years.

Libya was one of the countries which supported Sri Lanka when the UN Human Rights Council sought a resolution against Sri Lanka for alleged war crimes in the wake of the country's 26-year civil war.

In 2010 the UN was forced to close its offices in Colombo for several days because of protests over a proposed war crimes investigation.

BBC Sinhala's Elmo Fernando, who was at Thursday's rally, said that protesters chanted slogans urging UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to quit his post and "go home".

They also accused the international alliance of conducting raids over Libya of war crimes, our correspondent says.

There have also been protests against air strikes in Libya in Greece, Serbia, Spain and Turkey. ~ courtesy: BBC News ~

'‘Wonder of Asia’ goal puts livelihood of local fishing communities at risk'

Sri Lanka focuses on tourism at the expense of fisher people

by Melani Manel Perera

The goal is to turn Sri Lanka into a ‘Wonder of Asia’. Tourism can jumpstart the country’s economy and create jobs. However, the needs of local fishing communities must be taken into account. Their livelihood is at risk from new projects.


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The government of Sri Lanka plans to promote tourism as a pillar of the country’s economic development and a way to counter the economic crisis caused by the very long interethnic conflict between Sinhalese and Tamils. The goal is to turn the island nation into a “Wonder of Asia”, to quote President Mahinda Rajapaksa. But not everyone is convinced. Although billions of rupees in revenue are promised, many warn against forgetting the needs of ordinary people who are at risk of becoming victimised a second time.

AsiaNews spoke with Mano Rawatte, a Sri Lankan who teaches programming at a US university. For him, “focusing on tourism to jumpstart the economy is a good idea, but it must take into account the fact that other Asian nations have been doing the same for many years.”

According to the university instructor, the various projects proposed by the authorities should focus on job creation in non-traditional activities (like fishing and farming).

However, “I seriously doubt if the environment will be protected or enhanced with expanded tourism unless strict rules are enforced to protect the beaches, remove garbage, and protect coral reefs,” he said.

In fact, Rawatte is concerned about the problem of corruption, which is widespread in the tourist sector. This would be especially true if a casino is opened.

“It is a way of making a lot of money that could be reinvested in rural school development,” he explained. However, casinos should “be for everyone, not only tourists.”

At the same time, “social ills like drug addition, gambling and sex tourism are already present in the country and they won’t get worse for this,” he said.

Herman Kumara disagrees. For the social activist and secretary general of the World Forum for Fisher People, the consequences of this kind of development will be far more negative than any benefits it might bring.

Sri Lankans are mostly employed in fishing and farming. To develop tourist projects without taking into account this reality is “dangerous”.

Projects like the ‘Sea Plane’ venture “harm not only the coastal marine ecosystem in some areas, but also the life of communities. Fisher people in Kalpitiya, Panama, Arugambay, Nilaweli and Negombo base their subsistence on fishing. Depriving them of that in favour of tourism means depriving them of their lives.”

According to the controversial project, seaplanes would be used to bring tourists to hard-to-get places. Currently, it is on hold.

For Kumara, tourism does remain an important factor in promoting economic growth. The solution lies however in cooperation between the government and its citizens.

“We expect the authorities to involved individual communities to start development from the ‘bottom’ up. This way, people, their livelihood and lands can be protected.” ~ courtesy: AsiaNews.it ~

March 23, 2011

'US human rights concerns complicate efforts to attract more American investment in Sri Lanka'

by Matthew Pennington
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Rights legislation and pressure from U.S. lawmakers for a war crimes probe complicate efforts to bring more American investment to Sri Lanka after its civil war, the country's ambassador said Wednesday.

The United States is already the top foreign investor and destination for Sri Lankan exports, but Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya said that Chinese companies with state-backed financing are now leading in major infrastructure projects in the island's economy, which is booming after the quarter-century war with the Tamil Tigers ended in 2009.

"I'm pushing hard to get more U.S. companies into Sri Lanka," the ambassador told The Associated Press.
Wickramasuriya will travel to Sri Lanka this week with executives from companies including Boeing, Caterpillar and hotelier Starwood. They will meet with top officials and potential business partners.

He said the Leahy Amendment — a U.S. law barring support to foreign military units believed to have committed gross rights violations — was an obstacle to more American investment. The amendment is named for Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Wickramasuriya said that law had prevented supply last year of spare parts from U.S. firm Bell for transport helicopters operated by the military, forcing Sri Lanka to seek choppers from other countries.
"Those are blocking points for U.S. businesses," he said.

Also, this month the U.S. Senate passed a resolution urging an international probe into allegations of war crimes. Government forces, dominated by the island's majority ethnic Sinhalese, are suspected of shelling that killed thousands of minority Tamil civilians, and the Tamil rebels of using civilians as human shields.

Amnesty International says between 7,000 and 40,000 are estimated to have died in the final five months of the conflict. No independent group can say with certainty how many perished as all but a few humanitarian workers were barred from the battle zone.

Wickramasuriya played down the impact of the resolution, which he saw driven by ethnic Tamil propagandists based overseas and rights groups. But he said it could make some Sri Lankan businesses hesitant to match up with American partners.

The Obama administration has said that international pressure for a war crimes probe is likely to grow if the Sri Lankan commission does not investigate properly. International rights groups say the commission is pro-government.
Wickramasuriya rejected the accusation of bias and said the commission should be allowed to complete its work. He said if there is "credible evidence" of rights violations, there could be criminal proceedings.

March 22, 2011

Sonia Gandhi govt unable to make Mahinda implement political solution as promised

by Upul Joseph Fernando

After the Indo- Lanka peace accord was signed, a very interesting and intriguing cartoon made a splash in the Indian media. The cartoon carried a drawing where the then Indian Prime Minister (P.M.) Rajiv Gandhi was shown as panting and running holding the tail of a tiger around a tree while the then Sri Lanka (SL) President J R Jayewardene was relaxing seated in a chair. The idea conveyed by the cartoon was the SL President after signing the accord had entrusted the entire task of destroying the Tamil Tigers to Rajiv Gandhi and the Indian peace keeping Force (IPKF) while he was sitting pretty.

Today , exactly 14 years have elapsed since that event occurred , and the Tamil Tiger menace had been liquidated. Sonia the wife of Rajiv Gandhi however is now holding the tail of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ‘Lion’ and running in circles around the tree. Sonia Gandhi and her Govt. have to hold the tail of the ‘lion’ and run round perhaps because of the assurance given by her Govt. to America including the western countries during the tail end of the SL war. The assurance being , no sooner the Tamil Tigers are devastated than a political solution shall be found for the Tamil people of SL. When America and the international community came forward to halt the war during the final phase, India gave this assurance to them.

This came to light when ‘The Hindu’ newspaper recently revealed the messages contained in the ‘Wikileaks cables’. The US Embassy Wikileaks cables accessed by ‘The Hindu’ newspaper expressed thus : ‘ the cables reveal that while India conveyed its concern to Sri Lanka several times about the perilous situation that civilians caught in the fighting faced , it was not opposed to the anti LTTE operation. They also show that India worried about the Sri Lankan President’s “post conflict intentions”, though it believed that there was a better chance of persuading him to offer Sri Lankan Tamils an inclusive political settlement after the fighting ended. After its efforts to halt the operation failed, the International community resigned itself to playing a post -conflict role by using its economic leverage , acknowledging that it had to rope in India for this.

During the final days of the war, the Indian External affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee came to SL and met Mahinda Rajapakse. What Mukherjee said was noted in the Wikileaks cables as follows : ‘From Mukherjee’s statement at the end of his visit , it was clear that India did not oppose the operations ‘ - “ I stressed that military victories offer a political opportunity to restore life to normalcy in the Northern province and throughout Sri Lanka after twenty three years of conflict. The President assured me that this was his intent"

The British High Commission’s briefing to the US Embassy ‘s Counselor after the UK special Envoy for SL, Des Browne’s meeting with Indian Foreign Secretary Menon when the former arrived in New Delhi was expressed in the Wikileaks cables this way … ‘A British High Commission contact briefing the US Embassy political Counselor on this meeting said , the Indian officials were concerned about the humanitarian situation , but were more upbeat on chances to persuade President Rajapaksa to offer Tamils a political solution once fighting had ended.

The two Indian officials were slightly more optimistic of the chance to persuade President Rajapaksa to offer the Tamils a genuinely inclusive political settlement once fighting had ended. It was the Indians’ impression that President Rajapaksa believed this was his moment in history , i.e. , a chance to bring peace to the Island for good , but that the SL army was an obstacle having been emboldened by its victory over the LTTE. They told Mr. Browne that if Sri Lanka did not implement the 13th amendment plus devolution plan quickly, a new terrorist movement could quickly fill the vacuum left by the LTTE’s defeat.

Now, it is nearly two years since the SL war ended, yet the quick devolution plan India spoke of with the Western countries led by America is not still on the horizon. ‘If the quick devolution plan is not implemented there will be a quick terrorist movement taking over’ is also not in sight . This is why Sonia Gandhi is invariably holding the tail of the ‘Lion’ and running round the tree . During the period of J R Jayewardene , Rajiv Gandhi told J .R. that if the Indo –Lanka accord is signed , he would disarm Prabhakaran and induce him to participate in Provincial Council elections. As Rajiv too could not fulfill the promise made by him to J R. he also had occasion to hold the tail , but in his case, that of the ‘Tiger’ and run round the tree

Presumably , Sonia Gandhi’s Govt. would have told America and the International community during the final stages of the war to allow room to Mahinda Rajapaksa to finish off the Tamil Tigers, and that Sonia’s Govt. will ensure that a political solution is arrived at by the Rajapaksa Govt . for the Tamil people . But to her deep consternation , she is now in no position to hold the ‘Lion’s’ tail and run around the tree. ~ courtesy: Daily Mirror ~

Significance of Libyan situation for Sri Lanka: Responsibility to protect is not a dead letter

by Dr.Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

A lot has been written and said about the popular uprisings in the Arab world and some have opined on the possibility or lack thereof of similar events in Sri Lanka. Suffice it be said that the situations in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya are different to that in this country. Over thirty years we have had armed insurgencies in the south and in the north and east of the country. The challenge is to move beyond conflict and whilst it is often the case that the trajectory of international and national politics is unpredictable, the possibility of any such uprising in the short or medium term is slim as the first phase of the local election results indicate, contested though they are by the opposition.

There are a number of factors for this ranging from the practice of democracy however flawed in Sri Lanka, the popularity of the president augmented by the war victory, the state of the opposition, the expectation of economic take off even in the face of economic hardship, apathy, fatigue, fear and the crushing of dissent.

Yet, the response of the international community, in particular, to the events in the Arab world is not without significance to us in Sri Lanka.

UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizes the international community to take all necessary steps short of the deployment of ground forces to defend the citizens of Benghazi and elsewhere in Libya from the forces of Muammar al Qadaffi. The resolution was sponsored by the UK, France and Lebanon and has the support of the Arab League.

Whilst no single member of the Council voted against the resolution, India, Brazil, Germany, China and Russia abstained.

The latter two have subsequently gone on record stating their opposition to the use of military force and calling for an immediate cease-fire. The Western states aside, Nigeria, South Africa, Colombia, Gabon and Lebanon voted in favour. Earlier, the Council reported Qadaffi to the International Criminal Court.

Arguments of double standards – why Libya not Yemen?- notwithstanding, there is an UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against the Qadaffi regime.

What would the Rajapaksa regime have done if Sri Lanka were a member of the Council? Indeed, what is the Rajapaksa regime’s position on the UN Security Council action against one of its nearest and dearest friends?

In the Libyan case there is no question of a war without witness. The international media is there in Tripoli and in Benghazi and reports on an hourly basis on what is going on including the Qadaffi regime’s bombing of civilians.

The Council acted when it was clear that Qadaffi was determined to take control of Benghazi and against the backdrop of his warnings that he would do so without mercy. Responding to action by the Security Council he has warned that if the world intended to go “crazy” over Libya he would do so too!

The Rajapaksa regime has allegations against it of war crimes, which are the subject of an investigative panel set up by the UN Secretary General. The doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect or R2P has been rubbished by the regime and its apparatchiks and declared a dead letter and yet it seems to have more than a bit of life in it.

After all, Security Council action over Libya is part and parcel of the responsibility to protect civilians against regimes that inflict violence on them. Were it to be the case that Libya has breathed life into a doctrine that was declared defunct by our local pundits and patriots, will it be the case that the Rajapaksa regime could have to deal with action by the UN, facilitated by similar abstentions in the Council?

A lot will depend on the regime continuing to convince its supporters that Sri Lanka is an entirely different case. It will also depend on the enduring nature of their strategic interests in Sri Lanka and the wider region. Most of all it will depend on the report of the Secretary General’s Panel and what he intends to do with it.

Down the line, it is not entirely fanciful to speculate that were the report to be strong on the question of war crimes and were it to come to the Human Rights Council in any shape or form, for its reception there may well be different to the resolution on Sri Lanka in 2009 which the regime frequently refers to as the barometer of international opinion in its support. Will there be changes in the body of Arab support and will India be pro-active in the regime’s defence as it was in 2009 or be passive?

A key factor in the regime’s response will be the LLRC report since the regime has insisted that the LLRC is the answer to all questions about accountability in respect of human rights violations and war crimes.

As to what will happen is yet to be seen. The Secretary -General could sit on his Panel Report in the same way that our chief executives have done with numerous commission reports.

It is clear though that if damage limitation is going to have to be the order of the day, it will have to be done by a foreign service that is not demoralized and superceded by ineffective cost intensive lobbying firms but one with clear direction and competence. Moreover offence may not be the best form of defence, either, in these circumstances.

This may be asking for too much of a regime that is firmly convinced that any softening of its position on accountability constitutes the thin edge of the wedge which will eventuate in its undoing. It has shown itself to be more comfortable with confrontation, placating international opinion with yet another commission, only when it has run out of options.

Will the diplomats in the LLRC ensure that the LLRC will conclude that game or at least conclude that it cannot be played any longer?

And, will we ever know.

Protection of the civilian population in Libya remains a concern for Sri Lanka

Statement by Ministry of External Affairs, Sri Lanka

The issue of protection of the civilian population in Libya remains a concern for Sri Lanka, as indeed for the rest of the international community. In fact, it is this very same concern that led to the adoption of UNSC Resolution 1973.

Hence, the measures taken under this Resolution must be linked to the objective of protecting civilians and civilian populated areas. Their plight must not be allowed to deteriorate because of the use of violence. We urge on all parties the need for restraint in order to ensure the safety of civilians.

Even as the security of the civilians continues to be re-established, it would be important to move swiftly towards a process of resolving differences through peaceful means and dialogue. Sri Lanka which has a longstanding relationship with Libya, deeply desires the early commencement of such a process.

Colombo

22nd March 2011

Tamil Businessman remandee at New Magazine Prison complains to UN about torture

A reputed Tamil Businessman from Colombo who has been remanded at the New Magazine Prison has complained to the Human Rights division at the UN in Geneva that he had been severely tortured by the Sri Lankan Police and Intelligence services while being detained for investigations into alleged links with terrorism

The letter sent by to the UN seeking redress by Mr.Ramasamy Prabaharan is currently being circulated by a prominent Sri Lankan left party leader and is reproduced in full here:

Ramasamy Prabaharan
6767 Magazine Prison
Colombo 08
Sri Lanka

Secretariat of the Committee Against Torture – Petitions Unit
Human Rights Treaties Division
52, Rue Des Pâquis,
CH-1201, Geneva,
Switzerland

Your Excellency,

SEEK REDRESS FOR VIOLATION OF MY FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS BY THE SRI LANKA POLICE DEPARTMENT AND THE INTELLIGENCE SERVICES

I, Ramasamy Prabaharan am an inmate at the New Magazine Prison in Colombo for the last five months. At the time of my arrest, I was a well reputed businessman. My fundamental rights have been violated by the Sri Lanka police department and the intelligence services and I humbly seek your Excellency’s humane and just government to help me in deadly predicament I have been forcibly plunged into, by the state. Your Excellency, I beseech you to kindly probe into my grievances and please assist me in securing my release from the grossly unjust situation.

2. The particulars appended pertaining to my business career, unlawful detention, brutal assault, cruel inhuman and degrading torture by abusing me physically as well as mentally whilst held in detention and torturing me into forcibly admitting false allegations detrimental to me, are for your perusal.

3. I am a well reputed businessman, owner of panama traders an electronic outlet in Colombo, established in 1983 is one most popular showroom in Sri Lanka are the main dealers of leading brands such as Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, apple, black & decker.etc.the annual turnover exceeds 180 million. I am a member of Colombo swimming club, otters aquatic club, Colombo golf club, Sinhalese sports club.inorder for my business I used to travel abroad regularly, even for holidays have travelled throughout Europe,America,Canada,Singapore,Malaysia,Thailand,UAE,hong Kong, Australia, new Zealand and have an OCI (overseas citizenship of India).

4. During my career as a businessman, I have sent letters to the defense secretary of Sri Lanka in regard of developing the country, helped many army officers to capture terrorists, about to kill innocent lives.

5. My medical report has been handed over to the Supreme Court by the JMO (Jayapala).fundamental case no.-963/2009 forms and the medical report will be sent to you in the next mail was unlawfully detained for almost fifteen months from may 19th, without any charges framed against me, and it was only 12th may 2010 that I was remanded and sent to the magazine prison in borella, Colombo 08.

6. Due to the most brutal, inhuman and barbaric assault and torture on me while in detention, I was hanged upside down for almost a day and beaten up severely with a wooden pole, about eighteen times, my nails were removed, my head was toned with nails, after all these torture I had to clean the floor of blood with my tongue. This happened for almost four months, and now am suffering with excruciating pain all over my body and had to undergo treatment but I was taken to the hospital the doctor was shocked to see I’m alive after what I’ve been through and forced me to get admitted but I wasn’t allowed to. The ICRC (no13753) thoroughly checked my body, the torture I went through was said to be the cruelest in the past fifteen years.

7. Before my surrender, I was in India about to be admitted for my throat surgery but when I heard about these allegations I returned, and my throat surgery is still pending.

8. Even though I am in the remand prison, I wish to inform your Excellency that my life is in grave danger as, to obviate the blunder they have made in arresting me and brutally assaulting and torturing me .I have been threatened with death, unless I withdraw the fundamental rights violation application filed by me. Hence, I kindly beseech your Excellency to use your good offices to peruse the facts presented by me. Kindly assist me in the matters placed before you, namely:

A.Adequate protection/security for me whilst travelling to and from the courts to the prison.

B. political asylum for me and my dependants, when I am released from the prison.

C. legal assistance for me to file a case against the Sri Lanka police department and the Sri Lankan intelligence services in the international criminal court of justice.

9. I would like to apprise you of the fact that I am registered with the international committee of Red Cross society. I do hope, your Excellency ,you would consider the facts placed before you and humbly beg you to treat my appeal with compassion and help me out of this unjust and grave predicament.

Eagerly anticipating a favorable reply.

My permanent address-153, Canal Bank road, Wellawatte, Colombo

Thanking you,
Ramasamy Prabaharan

Police begin "investigation" into National Peace Council funding

Statement of the Governing Council of the National Peace Council in regard to investigation being carried on it

Last week, the Executive Director of the National Peace Council was called to the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Sri Lanka Police. He was informed that the CID wished to carry out an investigation regarding the organization's sources of funding, its partners and the activities it was carrying out.

CID officers asked questions about the work of the National Peace Council and asked for further information. This investigation was preceded by adverse media commentary in both the state media and sections of the private media that NPC together with other non -governmental organizations continue to be funded by foreign donors despite the end of the war and claiming that they are serving the interests of their funding partners.

The Governing Council is perturbed that the organization is being investigated by the CID instead of by the normal civil administration although there is no prima facie evidence or specific allegation that it is engaging in any criminal activities. Most of the information that the CID has requested the organization to furnish has already been provided to the NGO Secretariat of the Government which is under the purview of the Ministry of Defence. These include work plans, sources of funding, financial and audit reports, salaries of staff and annual reports. So we fail to understand why the CID should investigate the organization. NPC staff has always cooperated fully with the NGO Secretariat which is the appropriate government regulatory and monitoring agency.

The National Peace Council was established in 1995 to support a citizens’ movement for peace in a time of escalating war. We believed, and continue to believe, in a non-violent and negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict within a united Sri Lanka. Although the war has ended in an outright victory for the government forces we believe that the minority communities must be reconciled with the government and the majority community. Such reconciliation needs to be based on a just solution to the grievances of the ethnic minorities with devolution of power to enable them to carry out their administration of public affairs in the Tamil language also. Therefore, NPC continues to affirm the need for a political solution to the ethnic conflict and for a reconciliation process between the communities and the government of the day.

The National Peace Council is primarily an advocacy and education organisation. What we advocate is the protection of human rights and fundamental democratic freedoms of all the people of our land. This is a long term objective which will convince the majority of the people the need for a just solution to the minority problems be they ethnic or religion based minorities. Our advocacy is related to the values and principles enunciated in the several United Nations declarations and connected declarations which are the basis of our Constitution. We do not in any way seek to engage in any political activity. All the work that we do is transparent and in the public sphere. Throughout its years of existence, NPC has also been politically non-partisan, and its policy making bodies and staff are of diverse ethnicities, religions and political convictions.

The Governing Council is distressed that the current CID investigation would intimidate our staff members and their families, and also gives a negative message to the wider society of official intolerance towards liberal and democratic values. The UN Human Rights Day theme this year was the obligation of the member states to protect human rights workers in accordance with the UN Resolution. NPC's financial statements are available in our annual reports which are public documents in accordance with the Companies Law under which the organization is registered. All projects and donor funding are audited on an annual basis by Price Waterhouse and Coopers. The audited accounts are filed with the Registrar of Companies and are accessible to members of the public. Our advocacy and education programs are also public and reported in the annual reports. We hope that the CID investigation will be concluded speedily and the results conveyed to us.

March 21, 2011

Those responsible for injustices and abuses in Sri Lanka war must be held to account – Voice of America Editorial

Lasting Peace In Sri Lanka

It has been nearly two years since the end of the conflict between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

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VOA Editorial
Reflecting the Views of the United States Government

It has been nearly two years since the end of the conflict between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist militant organization. "Sri Lanka has made steady progress in normalizing life for its citizens and reconciling the differences that devastated parts of the island for so many years," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake, "but there is much that remains to be done."

The United States remains concerned over some developments that are shrinking democratic space and respect for human rights in Sri Lanka. The 18th Amendment passed last year weakens checks and balances and abolished term limits, giving unprecedented power to the executive presidency. Substantial parts of the emergency regulations remain in place and the north continues to be heavily militarized.

Media freedom in Sri Lanka remains constrained with continuing incidents against journalists and independent media such as the recent arson attack on Lank-e-news. A media environment in which journalists can work without intimidation or interference, and incidents against journalists are credibly investigated and prosecuted, is essential for the reconciliation process.

Finally, it is critical that allegations of injustices and abuses committed by both sides during the conflict in Sri Lanka are investigated. And those found responsible must be held to account.

The United States has not wavered in its support for the people of Sri Lanka, providing humanitarian and livelihood assistance as the country rebuilds. The U.S. has contributed sixty-two million dollars in food aid over the last two and a half years, eleven million dollars for demining efforts, in addition to programs to help create twenty-thousand jobs in the North and East.

"Economic prosperity and development are necessary but not sufficient conditions for lasting peace and healing in Sri Lanka," said Assistant Secretary Blake. "The lasting solution for peace needs to include not just economic opportunity, but a political climate in which every Sri Lankan feels he or she has an equal stake in the country's future and the ability to realize his or her potential in an open and just society."

March 20, 2011

Rajapaksa project of establishing familial control over the State Army and the SLFP

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

His smiling picture is everywhere…. He’s given his name to all the squares….
He’s burned the last soothsayer — Who failed to kneel before the idol….
From the Caribbean to China’s Great Wall — The dictator-dragon is being cloned.” — Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayyati (The Dragon)

Thursday’s local government election marks a key milestone in the Rajapaksa project of establishing total familial control over the state, the army and the SLFP.

The election took place in a context totally advantageous to the regime. The 18th Amendment had tilted the electoral-field firmly in its favour. The opposition is in unprecedented disarray. Polling took place mostly in rural/suburban areas where the Rajapaksas enjoy considerable popularity.

Elections for all municipal councils were postponed, to save the UPFA from a humiliating defeat in Colombo. The governing coalition ignored election laws with impunity and abused state power and resources at will.

Defeat was impossible under such conditions.

And yet, instead of taking the election in their stride, the Rajapaksas campaigned with manic energy. This poll, though unimportant as an electoral battle, was of immense significance as a political contestation. What was at stake was not just power at the local government level but also the Rajapaksas’ capacity to maintain their hegemony in the South, including within the SLFP.

A less-than-total win would weaken the Ruling Family’s standing in the country and loosen its grip on the SLFP. A stunning victory would enhance the ‘Rajapaksa magic’ and convince rank and file SLFPers to shift their allegiance unreservedly from the Bandaranaike-dynasty to the Rajapaksa-dynasty.

So the President and his siblings spearheaded the election campaign while senior SLFPers were reduced to a barely visible ancillary role. Under Rajapaksa tutelage, the campaign became a hot-war against the opposition and a cold-war against the remaining pockets of (passive) resistance to Rajapaksa Rule within the SLFP.

The main focus was on Hambantota, the traditional Rajapaksa fiefdom and Gampaha, the former Bandaranaike stronghold, which Basil Rajapaksa is intent on taking over.

Interestingly, Brother Basil, rather than First Son Namal, functioned as the second-in-command to the President, demonstrating that this is still Rajapaksa Brothers Inc. (though it may metamorphose into Rajapaksa and Sons Inc. someday.) The campaign also debunked persistent rumours about a major ‘fall-out’ within the Ruling Family.

There would be differences of opinion among various members of the family, as well as incompatibilities created by competitive personal agendas (for instance, between Uncle Basil and Nephew Namal). But these are mere ‘tiffs’ of no strategic import and do not prevent genuine unity in defence of the overall Familial Project

Despots want their people to become permanent navel-gazers. A despot’s utopia is a society in which people live in their own petty private worlds surrounded by massive psychological ramparts. Milton Meyer has pointed out that non-interference was what the Nazis wanted from ordinary Germans: “Absolutely nothing was expected of them except to go on as they had paying their taxes, reading their local paper and listening to the radio” (They Thought They were Free).

Similarly the Rajapaksas want nothing more from Sri Lankans than passive, silent acquiescence to their rule. Their ideal is an accommodationist mindset, characterised by indifference and apathy, and a temperament which ignores even the most obvious injustices because of a deep-seated belief that ‘nothing can be done’.

A Rajapaksa landslide at the election will etch this deadly and deadening fatalism ever more deeply into the collective Southern-psyche by making long term Rajapaksa Rule seem even more of a fait accompli than before.

Despots prefer dysfunctional societies purged of natural compassion and human solidarity, especially across primordial or political barriers. They compel people to focus on dividing lines rather than on unifying factors, thereby reducing drastically the politico-psychological space for common vision and common action.

The Rajapaksas would want their Southern base to believe that their draconian policies towards civilian Tamils or Colombo’s poor are correct. They would want the Sinhalese to be indifferent to the forced registration of Tamils, the non-poor to be indifferent to mass eviction of the poor and the well-fed to be indifferent to the fact that 20% of Lankan children are undernourished.

The Rajapaksas would regard with paranoia the idea of oppositional unity across ethnic, religious and class lines on the basis of political freedom and socio-economic justice (a project of politico-social liberalism in contradistinction to economic neo-liberalism). Their counter is Sinhala Supremacism masquerading as patriotism; and resurrecting the dead Tiger periodically to keep ethnic over determination alive

A key lesson of Arab revolutions is the decisive role of the military. If the army is not a national entity but the security force of the Ruling Family, it does not cavil at reacting with overwhelming violence to unarmed protests. Such an army would either crush a peaceful uprising immediately or cause it to change its peaceful character and become violent, by compelling protestors to arm themselves in sheer self-defence.

The regime can then characterise the revolution as a civil war and drown it in a blood-tide, as Muammar Gaddafi is doing in Libya. The Libyan Army (unlike the armies in Egypt and Tunisia and even in Bahrain) is not a national entity but a mere praetorian guard for the Gaddafi Family. This is no accident but the outcome of deliberate policy; during his 42 year rule, Gaddafi destroyed the relative autonomy of the Libyan Army and turned it into his personal tool.

In Sri Lanka, the process of Rajapaksising the Armed Forces is well underway. The siblings have deployed for this purpose their signature carrot-and-stick policy, symbolised in the contrasting fates of Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Gen. Shavendra Silva. Gen. Fonseka is a prisoner in Welikada jail, while Gen. Silva is in New York, as Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Ambassador to the UN.

The message these antipodal ends send to every serving or retired officer is as unmistakable as the message sent by the pre-emptive sacking of Mangala Samaraweera to SLFP seniors – no one is big enough to escape the wrath of the Rajapaksas.

Total, unquestioning loyalty to the Ruling Family is the only option available to those who want to avoid trouble and get ahead in life. Mussolini defined his fascist model as “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state”.

‘All within the Family, nothing outside the Family, nothing against the Family’ is the Rajapaksa ethos.

Despots believe that their rule represent the end of history. But a day comes when the promise of bread, the reality of expensive circuses and the fear of barbarians at the gate cease to suffice. The Rajapaksa Rule will last for a while, but this ‘low dishonest decade’ (or decades) will end someday.

The democracy tsunami cannot be confined to the Arab World, nor will Sri Lanka be immune to the democratic Zeitgeist of the new century. The Rajapaksas have already begun to prepare for this future danger by working diligently to erase the line of demarcation between the Ruling Family and the Armed Forces.

Their aim would be to turn the Lankan military into their praetorian guard, a debased force which will not balk at mowing down unarmed and peaceful Sinhala protestors.

Gamini Fonseka: 75th Birth Anniversary Tribute

by Prasad Gunewardene

The late Gamini has many distinctions to his credit in the film and political scene. In the film scene, as his mentor, Dr Lester James Peries says, we will never see a Gamini Fonseka again. In politics, Gamini was the first professional actor to enter politics and the Chamber of Parliament.

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Gamini Fonseka (March 21, 1936 - September 30, 2004)

Be that as it may, when we mark this film legend’s 75th birthday today (March 21st), it is appropriate to evaluate the qualities of this legendary actor of our times. He was a fine human being. He was a quality professional in the fields he embarked upon. He measured the talents of others correctly sans jealousy.

Though Gamini was seen and viewed as the greatest actor, Gamini saw that others had talent over him in their own way. He never hesitated to commend them in public. That was the area of discussion between Gamini, myself and my journalistic colleague, Stanley Samarasinghe when we last met the film legend at his Ja-ela residence, just a week before his untimely demise.

Film industry

At his request, by prior appointment, we met that day to discuss various subjects including the judiciary at his residence. Stanley was invited by him to join the discussion on the judiciary as Stanley was a senior court correspondent of the print media for over 35 years.

Gamini Fonseka was well versed with the process of the judiciary in West, Asia and South Asia. He quoted many eminent judges from those regions. Stanley was ably competent to respond to queries raised by Gamini. At times they both argued while I watched them in silence.

It was quite interesting to see Gamini Fonseka engaged in a debate with a pen between his fingers to fill the void of the cigarette that frequented his fingers (by then he had given up smoking and proudly claimed he did so one year ago). Stanley too did not let go the dominating Gamini Fonseka. What was quite interesting was that they both lost cool but smiled at each other the next moment.

Gamini assessed and evaluated the knowledge of Stanley Samarasinghe on that day. After I went home, Gamini (my late father’s first cousin and my uncle) telephoned me to say, “I am happy that you brought an intelligent man for the discussion today”.

Coming back to our discussion with Gamini, after lunch I turned the topic of discussion to the film industry and its personalities of his era. As a schoolboy I had admired the beauty of many Sinhala actresses and I was eager to know which one of them looked most glamorous and attractive. I asked him.

He expressed an eye-to-eye contact with me to quip in Sinhala, “Umbatath podi kale lassana dewal penila thiyenawa wage” (You have also seen some nice things in your childhood). Stanley chipped into crack, “Mr Fonseka, he still likes them”. “That is in the blood of our clan, we are always attracted by beautiful things”, shot back Uncle Gamini.

Saying so, Gamini Fonseka claimed that Sandhya Kumari was the most glamorous and beautiful actress, demonstrating by his hand to describe that she was photogenic and the best in every angle.

Intelligent actress

I then asked about the beauty in Malini Fonseka. Gamini responded, “Malini is a village beauty who could be improved before the camera to the urban. She is the most intelligent actress of all times”.

He said that Malini was an actress who carefully studied the character offered to her, lived in that character and expressed it with confidence. I then told him that he was the best actor and asked who was next. Gamini stared at me and asked, “Who said I am the best actor”. I replied that it was people and country. He responded in the negative and claimed that the best actor was none other than Joe Abeywickreme. I asked him how could that be, when he won awards over awards as the best actor.

Shot back Gamini, “Awards are mere wooden implements given at occasions but the truth lies elsewhere” and added that Joe was the only actor who had a million expressions on his face to play any character to perfection. “That is why I say he is the best actor”, Gamini summed up.

“Then what about Tony Ranasinghe”, I asked.

Gamini Fonseka came back to respond in a serious style to describe Tony from the bottom of his heart. He said, “Tony the actor is the best character based actor even not witnessed in the Indian screen. He has an actor within himself who emerges at the correct moment”. Gamini claimed that Tony was the best character based actor in Asia. He had a word of praise for Vincent Karu to say he was the best fighter on the screen and added that there were occasions they both discussed and truly fought before the camera at films for satisfaction to true form.

Great friend

Our last meeting ended after nine hours with this great actor on that day. As we took leave from him who stood near the jasmine wine, I heard his ‘whistle’ calling me back as I opened the gate.

I went back. He plucked two jasmine flowers from the line, placed it on my palm (he usually did it every time I said ‘bye’), looking up the blue sky he said, “Keep this in your hand, go home safely and give me a call”. I asked him why he was gazing up the sky. He shot back, “There’s somebody waiting up for me, I think my time is right for that call”.

I told him not to talk nonsense as his grandfather went beyond 80 in age. He replied, “That is Charles Fonseka, not my father, his brothers and me. We will not go to 70”.

A week later Uncle Gamini peacefully passed away in his customary morning nap after breakfast, just six months short of his 69th birthday. He was a great friend to me. I miss him every moment.

He stands as a monument in my life, till I join him someday.

(The writer is the Editor-in-Chief of www.lankapuvath.lk )

Related: Gamini Fonseka: “Maharajaneni” of Sinhala moviedom ~ by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

U.K. Tamil Activist "Moved" by Sonia Gandhi's Gesture

by Hasan Suroor

LONDON: Britain's normally hard-to-please Tamil activists were, on Saturday, effusive in their praise for United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi after she reportedly told them that she shared their concern over the situation in Sri Lanka and said that the displaced Tamils should be rehabilitated and have their rights restored.

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Sonia Gandhi delivers the Commonwealth Lecture on "Women as Agents of Change" in London on Friday Mar 18th. - pic PTI

“I am very, very concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka. Tamils should have their rights restored. We are with the Tamils, you must know,” Ms. Gandhi was reported as saying in a statement issued by the Global Tamil Forum.

The forum's spokesman Suren Surendiran, a strong critic of the Indian government, said he was “moved” by her gesture.

“She was very generous considering that she was surrounded by security people and could have easily ignored us. I was very moved by her gesture.”

She had spoken to senior members of the forum at a reception hosted by the Commonwealth Foundation on Thursday.

Earlier, she delivered the 14th Commonwealth Lecture on “Women as Agents of Change.” ~ courtesy: The Hindu ~

Positive forward movement in Govt-TNA dialogue

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The on –going political dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)has registered some positive forward movement at the third round of talks held on Friday March 18th in Colombo.

The essence of the dialogue was succinctly revealed in the following excerpt from the joint communiqué released to the press after the talks

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[Click to read in full ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

"I am most Concerned about the relationship being built between the TGTE and the Govt of South Sudan"

An Interview with Shanaka Jayasekera by Shanika Sriyananda

A Sri Lankan counter-terrorism expert highlighting the attempts of pro-LTTE elements trying to get recognition for the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) from South Sudan, urged the government to renew its counter-terrorism strategies to defeat the former LTTE criminal network and its negative political lobbying to discredit or defame Sri Lanka internationally.

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(L) to (R) Shanaka Jayasekera, Emblem of Government of Southern Sudan and V.Rudrakumaran

Associate Lecturer of the Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism (PICT), Macquarie University Australia, Shanaka Jayasekara, told the Sunday Observer that the government needed to develop close dialogue with the allies of South Sudan, in particular Kenya which is most influential in terms of South Sudan.

He said the Sri Lankan embassy in Nairobi needed to urgently take a proactive role preventing any form of legitimacy being afforded to the TGTE.

“Though active pro-LTTE lobby groups are in the UK, Norway, US, Switzerland and Canada, LTTE assets are believed to be in Eritrea, I don’t think any recognised member of the international community will take the TGTE seriously”, Jayasekara said.

Jayasekara cautioned that TGTE in the hands of the Nediyavan faction could pose a significant political and security threat to Sri Lanka as the TGTE could act as a catalyst for a LTTE revivalist movement with a militant agenda.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: The country is heading for massive development in the post conflict era. How do you view this progress?

A: The government is undertaking infrastructure projects in all parts of the country and there is a sense of optimism in the people. This has happened after thirty years. While the government keeps pace with development activity, it must address political issues.

Q: What is the current status of the LTTE overseas network?

A: Following the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009 and the elimination of the top tier leadership, overseas operations of the LTTE fell into the hands of the second and third tier leaders. The extraction of Kumaran Pathmanathan also led to a credible leadership deficit amongst the LTTE sympathetic groups.

The overseas pro-LTTE network splintered into four key factions that claimed to represent the Tamil separatist ideology in some form or fashion. They are the Nediyavan faction (Oslo Group); Joe Emmanuel faction (London Group); Rudrakumaran faction (New York Group) ; and Vinyagam faction (Brussels Group).

Q: What are the countries with an active pro-LTTE lobby?

A: The LTTE had TCC branches in twelve countries and you will still find a few remnants holding on to the past. However, the most active pro-LTTE lobby groups are in the UK, Norway, US, Switzerland and Canada. Some of the LTTE assets are believed to be in Eritreia.

Q: According to your assessment which group is the most dangerous among these four?

A: I would consider the Nediyavan faction which is based in Oslo, Norway as the most dangerous group, which is nominally led by Perinpanayagam Sivaparan (a.k.a. Nediyavan), a former LTTE combatant who married the daughter of Rajan Lala a founder-member of the LTTE.

As a result of his marriage into the family of a confidant of Prabakaran, Nadiyavan was appointed as the overseas coordinator of all TCC branches worldwide. The LTTE conducted its international operations through twelve TCC branches in diaspora active countries.

With the defeat of the LTTE, Nadiyavan inherited control of the TCC branch network. However, given his junior rank many rejected his leadership and defected to other factions.

As I said, Nadiyavan is only the nominal head of this faction. The powerbase of this faction lies not with Nadiyavan but with the Tamilnet clique led by Jeyachandran in Oslo and Sreetharan in Bethesda, USA. This faction in my view has gained considerable ground since May 2009 to consolidate and reconstruct the LTTE ideology of Tamil separatism.

Q: What is the strength of the Joe Emmanuel faction ?

A: The Joe Emmanuel and the former TRO activist Ediriweerasingham form the powerbase of this faction.
During the initial split of the LTTE international network, this faction was able to attract defectors amongst the Tamil diaspora. In fact many Tamil groups broke away from the TCC’s hegemonic control and joined the global alliance associated with this faction.

Groups such as the ATC (Australia), BTF (UK), DFTA (Denmark), NCET (Norway), NZTC and WTS (New Zealand), STF (Sweden), TRF (Malaysia), USTPAC (US), ETU (Europe), TEMP (France), CTC (Canada), TKCV (Netherlands), MT (Mauritius), STF (Switzerland), and GT (Italy) associate themselves with this faction.

This faction has a strong presence in the UK and has a constituency based lobbying program that influence British politicians. During the time of the Labour government in the UK, they had significant political influence with several labour politicians to the extent that British foreign policy was guided by electoral concerns over Tamil votes.

Q: Do you see a future for the Rudrakumaran faction?

A: In my view the Rudrakumaran faction is falling apart. Visvanathan Rudrakumaran was closely associated with the LTTE as its Legal Advisor. However his role as legal advisor and meetings with Prabakaran seems to have given him a level of immunity from US prosecution for association with a banned terrorist group. In fact it is ironic that he who served as the legal advisor to the LTTE is now accusing others of war crimes.

This faction is supported by several academics who graduated from the universities of Colombo, Peradeniya or Jaffna and now serving the Tamil separatist cause. In Australia, affiliates of this faction were able to mount significant pressure on the Labour government recently.

Much of the political lobbying in the US is carried out by Jeyarajah using K Street lobbying firms. The money poured into this has got them meetings with senior State Department officials, as well as Senate resolutions against Sri Lanka.

Q: Is the Vinayagam group, which is known to be the criminal element of all these LTTE remenants, still active in arms procurement?

A: Yes, this is the criminal network of the LTTE. The LTTE had an elaborate covert network for weapons procurement and shipping operations. These teams have merged with the TOSIS overseas intelligence group under the leadership of Vinayagam, a former overseas intelligence operative has acquired part of the LTTE assets that facilitate illicit trafficking and shipping activity.
There were reports that Vinayagam was operating from Brussels and was looking to relocate to Canada, however this is unconfirmed.
Q: Do you think that these groups pose a threat to Sri Lanka’s peace?

A: In the last eight months there has been a convergence between the Nadiyavan faction and the Joe Emmanuel faction. This has been primarily to secure a majority in the transnational government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE).

A combined Nadiyavan - Emmanuel alliance is attempting to oust Rudrakumaran as the head of the TGTE and install former TNA Batticaloa MP Jeyanandamurthy as the head of TGTE.

The most recent indication of this alliance is the visit to Australia and the US by Joe Emmanuel. It is alleged that Joe Emmanuel had discussions with Tamilnet founder Sreetharan in the US on this matter.

In my view the TGTE in the hands of Nadiyavan faction can pose a significant political and security threat to Sri Lanka. It is likely that in such a scenario the TGTE can act as a catalyst for a LTTE revivalist movement with a militant agenda.

Q: Will the TGTE have an international recognition?

A: The TGTE is just a room on top of a shopping mall on 6th Avenue in New York. It is an imaginary government. I don’t think any recognised member of the international community will take the TGTE seriously, but we have to be careful about the anomalies in the international system such as defacto states and newly created states.

I am most concerned about the relationship being built between the TGTE and the Government of South Sudan. As you know the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) led a separatist struggle in Sudan and established a separate state after a referendum.

The LTTE had built relationships with several separatist groups in Africa such as the Eritrea People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) that have now achieved statehood.

The US based representative of SPLM, Domach Wal Ruach addressed the inaugural meeting of the TGTE in Philadelphia in May 2010 as a guest speaker. Immediately following the referendum in South Sudan, the SPLM which is in fact the government -in-waiting sent a letter to the TGTE on 18 January 2011 inviting an official delegation from the TGTE to visit South Sudan.

There is a strong possibility that the TGTE is setting the stage to receive an invitation to attend the July 9 independence celebration.

The Sri Lankan government needs to urgently develop a dialogue with the allies South Sudan, in particular Kenya which the most influential in terms of South Sudan. The Sri Lankan embassy in Nairobi needs to urgently take a proactive role preventing any form of legitimacy being afforded to the TGTE.

Q: The government says the majority of the Tamil diaspora is in support of peace and they want to rebuild the N & E. How will this affect the pro-LTTE elements?

A: I think that is a good assessment, most in the Tamil diaspora want to see a peaceful Sri Lanka in which all citizens are treated equally.

What is more interesting is they also feel a sense of freedom from the dictatorial monopoly that the LTTE/TCC had on Tamil diaspora activity.

Now the Tamil diaspora can engage in social and cultural activities without being worried that the LTTE/TCC goons will be watching them.

Q: In this scenario do you think Rudrakumar should abandon his mission?

A: The idea of a separate state of Tamil Eelam has always been, and will be, a pipe dream, so anyone espousing to such an idea should find better ways of using their talents. All communities, be they Tamil, Sikh or Basque, will have extremist elements that can only relate to a zero sum objective. There is nothing new with Tamil extremists.

Q: Recently it was said India is still a LTTE hideout. Do you agree?

A: Sri Lanka and India have an excellent relationship which has worked well with - Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga - regularly meeting with their Indian counterparts.

Any concerns must be channeled through this bilateral process of quiet and constructive diplomacy. India is a friend and has contributed significantly towards the defeat of the LTTE.

Q: What more should be done to defeat LTTE operations internationally?

A: We need to understand the new threat. The old LTTE is defeated.
What we have now facing is political lobbying to discredit or defame Sri Lanka, and former LTTE criminal networks. We have to understand that the centralized LTTE structure no longer exists, now we have multiple groups espousing a common ideology.

We cannot have a one size fits all approach to our counter strategy. They have different strengths and weaknesses, we need to identify these and have group specific responses. Unfortunately, we are still in the mindset of the old LTTE and constructing our counter-strategies without understanding the new threat. ~ courtesy: The Sunday Observer~

Nuclear radiation threat to Sri Lanka: Lessons from Chernobyl, Fukushima and Kalpakkam in South India

By Bandu de Silva

Dr. Janaka Ratnasiri has brought to the attention of the Sri Lankan public the potential dangers posed to Sri Lanka by India’s proposal to build a nuclear plant at Kudankulam, close to Kanniyakumari town at the southern tip of the Indian peninsula which is only 240 miles away from Sri Lanka’s Western coast and is in direct line with Puttalam. (The Island).

The learned scientist has given details of the Kudankulam cluster India is planning to build. For the present purpose here, it is sufficient to give the capacity of this plant. Once completed, it is expected to have a total of 8 plants comprising two plants of 1,000 MW each and six plants of 1,200 MW each, thus making a total of 9,200 MW of capacity. That is a project of greater magnitude than the Kalpakkam plant which came under pressure from the Tsunami of 2004. Minister of Power and Energy, Champila Ranawaka has also told The Island that “whether or not Sri Lanka goes nuclear, there would always be a threat to the country as India has set up a nuclear plants on its southern tip.” (The Island, March 19).

It is also said that approvals for the last four nuclear sites in India, including Kudankulam are yet to be granted. The damage to Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant by the recent earthquake and Tsunami which affected Japan’s east coast has raised international awareness levels and concern over the proliferation of NPPs around the world, and if the Kudankulam project which is so close to Sri Lanka’s shores goes ahead without any information sharing between the two neighbouring countries it cannot be considered a situation which treats the situation of people on both sides of the Palk Straits, not to speak of the prospects of infringing their human rights and the humanitarian issues a fault or mishap could raise as now seen in the case of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Countries also express concern when neighbouring countries build infrastructure not far away from their borders. The Russian concern over the proposal to build a nuclear defence shield in Poland and Czech Republics is a case in point. So did India show concern over the facilities granted to VOA at Iranwila near Puttalama on the ground that the facility could be used to monitor Indian shipping movements in the area. So was India’s concern over the gift by US scientific community for the Arthur Clarke Centre at Katubedda University. The Foreign Ministry then sent the Counsellor of the Indian High Commission to me to get details of the Satellite tracking disc which was gifted to Sir Arthur Clerke that was installed there as I was in the initial team that facilitated the setting up of that Centre.

The Indian government also showed concern over GOSL trying to lease the oil tanks at China Bay in Trincomalee to US firms and granting facilities for foreign navies in the Trincomalee harbor. Presently, the Indian government is closely watching over the Chinese building a port at Hambantota and sought approval and established a Consulate General there. Even the purchase of a Chinese built boat for anti-smuggling/ illicit immigration purpose in the 1960s was a matter of concern to India and the High Commission then sent Second Secretary, Raj Kumar to me to discuss the matter.

Likewise, a NPP like the one to be built by India at Kudankulam should be a subject for discussion between the two neighbouring countries to ally any fears entertained here, nay, even as a responsibility on the part of a responsible country seeking permanent status in the UN Security Council. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka suffers from an inferiority complex when it comes to dealing with India. That is by virtue of her being a small entity living close to a big neighbor – “the backyard of Tamil Nadu” as E.M.V.Naganathan, once wrote.

When India built the first NPP in Tamil Nadu (Kalpakkam?) on the shore (according to reports, it got “engulfed by the Tsunami” in 2004), I submitted a report to our Foreign Ministry suggesting discussion over the issue with the Indian government. It was tuned down at the level of the then Permanent Secretary who asked me not to raise “unnecessary” issues saying that we had enough problems at hand with India. That is why I say Sri Lanka suffers from an “elephant Vs. mouse” inferiority complex when it comes to dealing with India.

Coming to Kalpakkam, Dr.Ratnasiri tells us that the 500 MW nuclear power plant got affected during the 2004 Tsunami. This power plant withstood the giant waves, which engulfed the surrounding area, but got shut down automatically when the water level rose. The rising water had also damaged the cooling water intake facility. The reactor was shut down safely and there was no release of any radioactivity. The reactor was restarted about a week later. But the incident prompted the IAEA to organize an international workshop on the safety and risks of NPPs built near coasts.

Writing further on that workshop, Dr. Ratnasiri says: “ It is common to build NPPs near coasts enabling the use of seawater to cool the reactor. That specialists from around the world scrutinized the potential impact of natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunami flooding on nuclear reactors at a Workshop which was held from 29 August to 2 September 2005 at Kalpakkam itself, and that participants deliberated over 5 days to share latest knowledge and research developments and take home lessons learned, from this tsunami, and past flood events, should show how Kalpakkam plant caused anxiety to the world scientific community. Ironically, Japan was among the several countries which provided resource persons to the workshop. However, it is not known whether the proceedings of this workshop including any recommendations were made public.

According to material posted in websites, the power plants in Japan were built to withstand earthquakes, but not designed for quakes of such high magnitudes as occurred last Friday. These specialists had obviously not taken into consideration the combined impact of earthquakes and tsunamis taking place simultaneously on coastal nuclear plants.” Dr.Ratnasiri rejects a report published in the Island of March 15th that Kalpakam plant was not affected by the Tsunami of 2004. As quoted earlier, the waves affected the plant’s cooling water supply and subsequently it had to be shut down for a week, which also prompted IAEA o hold a workshop in Kalpakam.

What arises from Dr.Ratnasiri’s exposure is if Sri Lanka should not raise the issue with India over NPP in close neighbourhood of Sri Lanka at a scientific level. I do not know if the present series of discussion levels with India –fisheries is one such – includes a provision for regular official exchanges at scientific level. This is a matter for consideration if the new relationship is to have any meaning.

We are familiar with the way the Sethu Samudra issue, one which concerns both countries, was handled by India. I suggested then through my writing in The Island that former President Chandrika Kumaratunga should take that issue with the India government during her official visit at that time. I expected a permanent official mechanism to be established but that did not happen. The issue was downgraded by the Indian side to one of low priority. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was seen inaugurating the Sethu Samudra Project officially within weeks of meeting President Kumaratunga. So much for India’s concern over Sri Lanka’s concerns.

When the Chernobyl explosion took place I was in Paris. Countries in both Eastern and Western Europe were very concerned over effects on their agriculture and dairy production especially. Later there were reports that nuclear contaminated clouds did not bring rains over Western Europe but I discovered a French scientific magazine which disagreed and reported on contaminated rain over France. I alerted the government and the scientists in the Atomic field here. They detected a French shipment of French milk powder in the harbor indicating high radiation level and banned its unloading. I recall the French Embassy trying to deny it.

The Chernobyl case and now the Fukushima disaster should itself be a warning all around. I can realize the Japanese panicking. I saw the effects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 25 years after the disaster when I was there. This is not a call for pessimism but alertness. The Fukushima plant is said to have been built to withstand Tsunamis but not earth quakes! That is strange in an earth-quake prone country. If that is true that shows how omissions could be made and a greater need for taking precaution and vigilance.

As pointed out above, it took the Tsunami of 2004 to alert the nuclear scientists of the world to examine the situation of the Kalpakam NPP after having ignored my suggestion for the Sri Lankan government to take it up India at the right time. With the effects of both Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters behind us, shouldn’t issue of the projected Kudankulam NPP be a subject for immediate discussions between India and Sri Lanka in the spirit of growing cooperation between the two countries at least by sharing scientific information in the first instance?

The learned Jurist, Dr.C.G. Weeramantry, former Vice President of the International Court of Justice, an indefatigable advocate against the proliferation of nuclear power plants, has observed that the continuance and proliferation of nuclear reactors violates every principle of humanitarian law, international law, environmental law and international sustainable development law. As such, is there much point in talking about human rights and humanitarian catastrophes resulting from wars as that alleged in Sri Lanka in the recent past, when man-made disasters of a worse magnitude are seen lurching around us with no perception of future threats to mankind. Is there any difference in the two situations?

India did not want to get involved in Sri Lankan peace process withut a Sinhala consensus

by K.Venkataramanan

CHENNAI: After resisting multilateral pressure to get more players involved in the Sri Lankan peace process for over two years, India seriously considered “crossing the Rubicon” in October 2005, the last days of Chandrika Kumaratunga's presidency. But it beat a quick retreat shortly after Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected to power in November, U.S. diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks reveal.

According to one cable sent by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi on October 14, 2005 ( 42686: confidential), Anupam Ray, Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, told Embassy officials in New Delhi that “the peace process has deteriorated, LTTE leader Prabhakaran is more unpredictable than ever, and Norway has outlived its utility”. Thus, the “time has come” for India to reengage, Ambassador Robert Blake quotes Mr. Ray as saying.

While India would prefer to wait until there is a “Sinhalese consensus about the outline of a solution,” the Government of India “can't wait forever because Prabhakaran wants Tamil Eelam in his lifetime.” Mr. Ray was clear that India did not want to play mediator or facilitator and would not join officially the ‘Co-chairs', as the grouping of Norway, Japan, U.S. and the European Union, who led to the 2003 conference of donors to Sri Lanka in Tokyo, came to be known. However, it would take a more active role in the donors' group.

Just days after Mr. Rajapaksa's victory, MEA Joint Secretary Mohan Kumar told U.S. Embassy officials that “in the light of the stalled peace process and the potential for further decline,” the Government of India “prefers to be hands off,” but “can't keep quiet” any more. This was in a cable sent on November 23, 2005 ( 45954: confidential). “India is crossing the Rubicon,” he said, but “still looking for the best way to protect its interests in [the] Sri Lankan peace process.” According to the Ambassador, Mr. Kumar “attributed this decision directly to Prime Minister [Manmohan] Singh and Foreign Secretary [Shyam] Saran.”

While President Rajapaksa was eager to review the 2002 ceasefire agreement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), dump Norway as peace facilitator and rope in India, India, according to Mr. Kumar, was preparing to convey a message on his expected first visit in December 2005. This message was that he “should moderate his statements, keep the ceasefire going, bring Norway back into the process and work towards a Sinhalese consensus solution to the conflict.”

At the same time, the Norwegians had informed India that the LTTE would like India to play a facilitatory role, but the Government of India declined. Mr. Kumar “insisted that the GOI will never accept. If India facilitated, Prabhakaran would demand meetings and access in Chennai, forcing the GOI to lift the terrorist group's proscription. This would have the negative effect of giving the LTTE a foothold into Tamil Nadu to meet with mainstream parties and gather support in the south.”

However, as is widely known, Mr. Rajapaksa's maiden visit to India as President failed to achieve its objective of getting India seriously involved in the peace process. According to a cable sent on January 4, 2006 ( 49054: confidential), shortly after his December 27-30 visit, Indian officials were telling U.S. diplomats in January 2006 that as instances of ceasefire violations rose, India had “toyed with the idea that its participation could help prevent a breakdown in the peace process.” But it had told Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera late in November that India would not take a more active role without a Sinhalese consensus.

Mr. Blake said MEA officials had indicated the Prime Minister had made the “decision to rebuff Rajapaksa's call for involvement, influenced by domestic political constraints.”

This was an apparent reference to protests in Tamil Nadu against the President's visit. He referred to an escalation in LTTE attacks and commenting that it “complicated this decision process and likely contributed to an Indian decision to let the situation ripen.”

The Ambassador said National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan felt that “now is not the time to be dragged into Sri Lanka's travails.” ~ courtesy: The Hindu ~

March 19, 2011

Video and Pictorial: A Stroll thru Jaffna Town

~ A Stroll thru Jaffna Town ~ Capturing on the go ~ of moments, on mobile ~ of people, place and perseverance ~ in nostalgia and newness ~

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Statue of Sangam period Lady legend Auvvaiyaar. This particular statue was erected and inaugurated in 1971 in Jaffna town. It is an inviting landmark to the place

Video: A Stroll thru Jaffna Town ~ Featuring "Arul Purivai" ~ Instrumental rendered by Violin Maestro Kunnakuddi Vaidyanathan

Jaffna~Moments of Nostalgia

by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

“I worked hard for that FIRST KISS
And a heart don’t forget something like that
Like an old photograph
Time can make a feeling fade
But the memory of a FIRST KISS
Never fades away!”
~ Samuel Timothy McGraw ~ American Country Musician and Actor

I always feel enchanted, whenever I travel to Jaffna by bullock cart, bicycle, car, foot, helicopter, jeep, motorbike, plane, ship, train or even through Kilali lagoon during difficult times. Journey to Jaffna ~ may it be before the war, during the war or after the war, I always cherish the memories of Jaffna which is closer to my heart.

Jaffna which is beautifully called “Yaazhpaanam” in Tamil. It is famous for its unique architecture, tradition, cuisine, rituals and festivals. According to 2007 statistics, Jaffna district’s population was 650,720 (1,85,405 families). Jaffna district is geographically divided into Valikaamam, Vadamaraatchchi, Thenmaraatchchi and Jaffna Islands. It has an area of 1,025 square kilometres (approximately 395.8 square miles).

Jaffna as it today begins to bustle with visitors and new businesses. Beautifully woven Palmyrah products in bulk cross the Pannai Lagoon, and decorate the stalls. Old statues still stand in line as landmarks are cleaned and painted and polished. Travellers from the rest of the country storm the stalls to buy authentic Jaffna products

Bicycles ~ the common mode of transport for women, children and children in Jaffna take the lead as usual on highways, streets and alleys. Sometimes, the whole family travels on a bicycle which can be often witnessed in the Peninsula. Men and boys whistle and ride, if their bicycles do not have bells. Women, of course, ride carefully with full gear! “Wow! Women in Jaffna are so brave and manoeuver through vehicles without getting hit” mentioned by my fellow foreign journalist while visiting Jaffna in 2000.

“The heart that truly loves, never forgets people and place!"

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Saravanamuththu Kanagaraj sells newspaper in the morning in Jaffna

Click for more pictures: Moments of Nostalgia

Transnational Govt of Tamil Eelam “Prime Minister” states his opinion

An E-Mail Interview with Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran by Maryam Azwer

In an email interview with The Sunday Leader, Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran, ‘Prime Minister’ of the ‘Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam’ (TGTE), that was formed in May last year, shares his views on this issue, as well as other diaspora-related concerns that have arisen in recent months.

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V. Rudrakumaran handing over message of heartfelt condolences to an official at Japan UN Mission in NY, regarding March 11 Tsunami-pic: TGTE.org

Q: What is the present role of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam?

A: The exclusionary policies of the Sinhala leaders and the pervasive and entrenched racism in the country resulted in denial of effective participation by the Tamil Nation in the political process of the island of Sri Lanka. The continued marginalisation of Tamils coupled with brutal repression clearly established that only in an independent state can Tamils live as free people and with dignity. Tamils expressed this wish clearly in the 1977 general elections. This expression of Tamils’ determination was demonstrated through a democratic exercise conducted by the Government of Sri Lanka. It should be noted that this peaceful expression to call for an independent state came long before the armed struggle actively started. The genocide in Mulliavaikkal has served to strengthen the rationale for the establishment of an independent sovereign state as a measure for self preservation.

Since there was no political space for Tamils to articulate their political aspirations, their nonviolent struggle had overtime transformed itself into an armed struggle in the absence of national and international mechanisms to resolve national conflicts. The de facto state of Tamil Eelam emerging through this phase provided the political space for Tamils. With the destruction of the de facto state and the resultant political space, the situation has reverted to status quo ante. Given the above, the pragmatic necessity and the moral imperative was to create a political space outside the island of Sri Lanka.

The idea of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) was conceived under the above circumstances. The concept was given a political formulation by the Advisory Committee of the TGTE comprising of Tamil and non -Tamil intellectuals. Country working groups were formed; elections were held in 12 countries; a Constituent Assembly was formed; a Constitution was drafted, debated and ratified and the government was formed.
The TGTE’s role is to carry on the Tamil struggle through democratic and diplomatic means in the post-Mullivaikkal era.

Q: The European Union has re-listed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. What is the TGTE’s response to this?

A: After the massacre of tens of thousands of Tamils in Mulliavaikkal, the Tamils perceive the European Union’s re-listing of the LTTE as an act of injustice towards them. It also raises a question as to whether the international community has understood the real situation, the roots of the conflict. Tamil people have also approached us to take measures rectifying this.

I was involved as a litigator in the designation challenge and the constitutional challenge. The courts have stated that in these matters they simply defer to the political branches. When law is used for political purpose it not only undermines the integrity of the rule of law but also has a corrosive effect on the constitutional freedom enjoyed by the citizens of these countries.

We cannot resist asking the EU to re-evaluate the purpose of this political exercise. What the European countries need to do now is to ask themselves the question, “Did our actions in the past stop the killing of 60,000 Tamils? Did our actions in the past bring a fair and just settlement to the Tamil National question? If not, why not? If something went wrong, what is it, where did it and how?” It would be a pity if those who preach the virtue of everyone moving forwards and forgetting the past should now have to wallow in the past themselves.

I also would like to mention that the re-listing of the LTTE has no effect whatsoever on the TGTE’s activities.

Q: What do you have to say about the various media reports that have referred to you as Prabhakaran’s ‘successor’?

A: The Tamil National leader Mr. Pirapaharan has a unique and larger than life role in the Tamil liberation struggle.
I have been elected by the people to serve in the TGTE Assembly and then elected to serve as Prime Minister. I am a servant of the people and as such will do all that I can to achieve an independent and sovereign state of Tamil Eelam through the means entrusted to me.

Q: There have been reports of a certain faction of the TGTE, allegedly led by Norway based MP Perinpanayagam Sivaparan, having challenged your position as the self-appointed Prime Minister of the TGTE. What do you have to say about this?

A: TGTE is a democratic body. Members were elected through internationally accepted standards that guaranteed transparent, free and fair elections. Election Commissioners were of high calibre, known for impartiality and fairness. For example, the former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark served as the head of the Election Commission in the United States for the TGTE elections. The election campaign was vibrant and on election day tens of thousands lined up for hours to vote. Numerous international election monitors observed the elections and certified its fairness. Several media outlets around the world also covered this election.

The members of the TGTE Parliament adopted a constitution and designated the post of prime minister, among others. I was elected as the Prime Minister.

Those who were elected through this democratic exercise have no policy differences among us. Everyone is sincerely and actively committed to secure an independent Tamil Eelam through peaceful, transparent, nonviolent and diplomatic means. The elected members represent the wishes of the Tamils around the world and are aware of the enormous responsibility placed on them, especially after the massacre of 60,000 Tamils in the final months of the war.

The events surrounding the TGTE are pertaining to procedures which are normal and inherent in a democratic process. However we are confident that none of these will in anyway hamper or dilute the TGTE’s course of actions towards the establishment of an independent state.

Q: At the recent United Nations Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva, Sri Lankan Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe claimed that the LTTE’s international network is active and involved in ‘criminal activities.’ What is your response to this?

A: In the face of an undulating onslaught by Amnesty International, the International Crisis Group and all their allies who have submitted withering briefs about the abysmal failures of the Sri Lankan government, its criminal past and the sham called LLRC, the GOSL is back to its old tactic of trying to divert attention by resorting to ad hominem attacks. However, since compelling evidence is coming to light, the GOSL will not succeed in this game.

There are several activities happening at the UN. The report on Sri Lanka’s war crimes compiled by the panel appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will be handed over this month. We will urge the report to be made public and be sent to UN Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council. Recent actions by these two UN institutions on Libya point to what is in store for Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan government will not escape for the killing of over 60,000 Tamil civilians in Wanni.

Q: The Government of Sri Lanka says it welcomes Tamil diaspora support to establish normalcy in and develop the North and the East. Government Spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella also told this newspaper recently that the GOSL was confident of receiving such support. The TNA, however, says that there is too little freedom for diaspora organisations to carry out their work here. What is your opinion on this – are leaders of the diaspora willing to visit Sri Lanka to lend this kind of support?

A: Presently there is no normalcy in the North and East. People are living in fear under military occupation. Murder, torture, rape, forced disappearances, forced prostitution are prevalent. The military occupation is entrenching even while the GOSL claims that it has won the war. Like in Myanmar, Pakistan and the Middle East, the Sri Lankan army is now actively engaging in entrepreneurial activities. These attempts to be self sufficient demonstrate the GOSL’s intention of permanent military occupation of the North and East. We do not believe development can take place under military occupation.

Moreover, under the guise of development, the GOSL is engaging in colonization.

Also it should be pointed out that while the government is speaking about development, their actions tell a different story. The government has tight control of all organisations and aid flowing into the North and East.

This is problematic because it curtails the freedom of aid organisations to spend money on projects it prioritises and forces aid to be spent on government’s priorities. Also problematic is the high level of corruption in the government. Transparency International scored Sri Lanka a 3.2 (it scores countries on a scale from 10 (very clean) to 0 (highly corrupt) indicating that much of the aid money sent to Sri Lanka may not reach its intended recipients.

Above all, we would like to point out that without political freedom, without the decision making authority, development cannot take place. As Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen observed, “Freedom is both the primary end and the principal means of development.”

Thus for any kind of meaningful development, the military has to be withdrawn, and stakeholders should have the decision making authority.

Q: How much does the Sri Lankan Tamil community stand to benefit from Tamil diaspora efforts?

A: As stated earlier, the diaspora is an integrated part of the Tamil Nation. The Tamils living in the island and outside are one entity. As long as the Tamils living in the island do not have the political space to fully articulate their political aspirations, the diaspora living around the world in liberal democratic countries have to undertake that task. The people in the homeland and their political leaders have to struggle on an everyday basis simply to ensure the physical survival of the Tamil Nation, the inherent right to their homeland, the betterment of the people’s social and economic welfare and their basic right to a secure life.

These struggles are essential for the very existence and survival of our nation in the island of Sri Lanka and have to be undertaken in every little space available for expressing them. We believe our campaign in the international arena will also result in the expansion of the political space inside the island. We believe that the days are not far when both the campaign of the Tamils inside and outside of the island of Sri Lanka will be in synch towards the establishment of a free and independent state of our own. ~ courtesy: Sunday Leader ~

Forming a Development Corporation within the Armed Forces of Sri Lanka

by Somapala Gunadheera

Of late there have been some adverse comments on the failure to downsize the armed forces after the defeat of the LTTE and engagements of soldiers in seemingly infra dig civilian activities. It appears to be in the national interest to take an objective look at these allegations. First let me deal with the wisdom of disbanding the forces soon after a war that seriously imperilled the nation for thirty long years. It is true we have not faced any dangerous situation after the fall of the LTTE. But there is no convincing evidence that threats have abated irrevocably. There is no need to concoct evidence to justify the retention of the armed forces. Common sense demands that we err on the safe side until there is incontrovertible proof that the risks have completely blown over. This demand is factually backed by such international developments as the Transitional Government of Tamil Elam.

International experience demonstrates the wisdom of retaining forces after a war. Any notions that the Army no longer had a reason to exist in the aftermath of the First World War were soon dispelled by succeeding events. American troops occupied the German Rhineland alongside other Allied contingents, doing much to restore normal economic life in their zone. One of the most lasting contributions of the Allied Forces was the reconstruction of defeated Germany and Japan after World War II, restoring order and economic prosperity.

The US Army helped with flood relief in the Mississippi Valley in 1927 and the Ohio Valley in 1937, not to mention their involvement in other domestic and foreign natural disasters. The involvement of the Army was not confined to emergencies. It made significant contributions to the nation's repertoire of knowledge. The Signal Corps conducted important experiments with aviation and radar, and Army medics fought disease in the Balkans, Germany, and Poland while developing preventives for malaria and rabies.

In Germany occupation authorities revived comprehensive health insurance for the population and in Japan the Army instituted a massive program to prevent and treat communicable diseases and to raise the standards for medical personnel. These services converted the beneficiaries into strong allies in the postwar confrontation with communism. That was the achievement of a foreign Force. Much more can be accomplished by a truly disciplined and nationalized Army.

The main reason urged for the reduction of the forces is the high cost of maintaining them. This is not a decision that can be taken on economic grounds alone. The cultural ethos of the country comes into play in a big way here. Admittedly, the credit for ridding the land from the throes of terrorism goes to the armed forces. They were held up as heroes when the fighting was on and unending hosannas were sung in their praise. Can a culture that has gratitude as a cornerstone make up its mind to convert its war heroes to idle loafers overnight?

Quite apart from the economic aspect of disbanding the army, there is a grave security problem involved with the decision to disengage the soldiers. Disbanding the armed forces would add thousands to the already expanding ranks of the unemployed. Obviously this increment would consist of persons hardened against death and destruction. Furthermore they have had extensive training in the use of firearms and explosives. A foretaste of what could happen when a massive release of such war veterans join the job market can be had from the many bitter experiences the country has had with runaway soldiers.

The immediate priority is to 'nationalize' the armed forces. The impression among the minorities that they are a 'Sinhala Army' is largely prompted by the heavy preponderance of Sinhalese among the troops. Perhaps that was considered a necessary evil during the days of fighting but my experience even then was that the few that remained with the Services were unbiased in their performance.

Occupied with rehabilitating the displaced in Jaffna, soon after Rivi Resa, I observed through the corner of my eye a Tamil officer placed in charge. I inwardly admired him for the professional manner in which he discharged his duties without fear or favour. Deftly, he walked the tight rope between his community and the Army, without losing the common touch but not compromising the interests of the establishment. It is imperative that many such men are recruited to the Army to give an ethnic balance to eradicate racial prejudices against the forces and make it a truly Sri Lankan Army.

It is good to see the forces already winning hearts and minds of the Tamils in the North. The negative picture created against them during the fighting appears to be receding due to the tangible contribution they are making towards rehabilitation. The remarkable success in de-mining is said to owe much to the commitment of the Services. Reports from Jaffna also throw light on the positive measures taken by them to integrate themselves into local life and culture.

But still national rapprochement has far to go. There is much lip service paid to the subject by Sinhala politicians but at ground level the Tamils do not appear to be satisfied with their security and their future. The majority among boatloads of illegal emigrants detected frequently are from the North and the East. No doubt they are seeking greener pastures but the extreme risks to which they are exposing themselves is reliable evidence to the fact that the Tamils are not yet fully convinced that nothing is "rotten in the state of" Sri Lanka. It is up to those in power to match their words with deeds and take prompt action to guarantee the basic rights of the minorities, without prolonging negotiations until the cows come home.

The spate of mysterious crimes and dirty tricks reported from Jaffna of late has become a thorn in the flesh. The most poignant incident among them is the desecration of the grave of Prabhakaran's mother. The sanctity granted to the concept of Mother by all local cultures makes this dastardly act a heinous blasphemy. In any case the poor old lady played no part in her son's activities; nor could she have prevented him from doing what he did.

Even the unrest among Jaffna students during the funeral has to be understood dispassionately. One should not forget that ethnic affinity makes heroes of even bandits for their declared sectarian interests. The Sinhalese admire their Saradiel even up to this day for his attempts to rob the rich to pay the poor, despite their much guarded precept against robbery.

For historical reasons there is impulsive suspicion on the Army for these misdeeds. The English Law maxim that a suspect was presumed to be innocent until he was proved guilty does not apply to rumour. What applies there is the opposite of the maxim. A suspect is held to be guilty until he proved his innocence. It is up to the 'suspects' to clear themselves by convincing the local population that their hands were clean. If they were innocent, they should go out of the way to catch the culprits and exposé them in public. The Services have all the power and facilities to disabuse this prejudice against themselves, if it happens to be misplaced.

The aversion to engaging the Services on casual assignments appears to arise from the ad hoc nature of the engagements. Having been consistently brainwashed on the concept of heroism, the resentment may be due to the seeming effort to downgrade the heroes with menial work. It may be a disturbing sight to the people to see their idols in battle, selling vegetables and cleaning drains. There should be no such hard feelings, if servicemen are engaged on a structured commercial setup.

It would be a colossal waste of a national asset to squander the wealth of the professional expertise and experience of the Armed Forces in idleness. They have among them a sizable part of the nation's technology and disciplined labour. It is in the national interest to use this resource gainfully when it was not otherwise engaged in safeguarding the security of the land. This could be done by forming a Development Corporation within the services. The move may involve suitable amendments to legislation but such adjustments would not be unprecedented.

In the US Army, engineers have played a significant role in flood control, experimenting with ways to divert excess water into cutoffs and holding reservoirs. Dams constructed by Army engineers in the Missouri Valley not only helped prevent floods but also supplied hydroelectric power and recreation on reservoir lakes. These activities were undertaken with congressional mandate. There appears to be no reason for our legislature to disapprove of such nationally beneficial engagements by the Armed Forces in peacetime. Only the law has to be fine-tuned to make their military and commercial activities mutually exclusive, depending on the exigencies of the occasion involved.

The proposed Development Corporation can make a significant contribution to national undertakings such as construction, engineering, industry and agriculture. Their bids on government contracts would make the offers more competitive to the advantage of the taxpayer. The income from these undertakings would go to defray the wages bill of the Services. A portion of the earnings can be paid as incentives, thereby optimizing commitment and morale.

The Corporation would be a safety valve for the Government in times of emergency. The Services have been used over the years by successive Governments to provide essential services to the people, a fact countenanced by law. The Corporation would provide these services in appropriate situations with greater efficiency and discipline, on account of its training and experience.

Some words of caution are apposite here. It is essential that the proposed Development Corporation is run strictly on professional lines with transparency and independence. For instance, agricultural projects should not be used to forcibly acquire private lands anywhere. In fact those already acquired during the troubles ought to be restored to their lawful owners without hesitation. As far as possible, the Forces should return to their original peacetime bases sooner than later.

The Corporation should not be called upon to serve the parochial interests of the Government in power. The command structure of the Corporation should run independently parallel to the line of authority of the Services, the latter taking precedence during active mobilization.

Institutionalizing the venture should narrow the gap for political intervention. Coercion to illegal activity for partisan purposes by self-seeking individuals would find it difficult to raise its ugly head in a commercialized organization. In order to avoid even a shadow of doubt, the management of the Corporation would be wise to begin with a firm resolution not to buy white vans.

Devastation and genocidal attacks have not changed the Liberation dream of the Tamil masses

by Dr.Vickramabahu Karunaratne

In a recent interview MP Suresh Premachandran said, “That is why we are talking of a political solution within a united Sri Lanka, a federal system. It is because the diaspora has no faith in the government that they speak of a separate state. If the government can’t hold a serious discussion on a solution people will feel helpless. In this scenario the separate state cry will continue especially internationally, because the inherent feeling of the people will be there, if there is no genuine response from the government.” He rejected the government claim that if the Tamil people enjoy economic prosperity denied to the NE provinces due to LTTE’s activities, then there is no cause for these demands.

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Dr.Vickramabahu Karunaratne at a rally protesting attacks on media in Sri Lanka: pic VIKALPASL

Suresh argued, “The Tamil struggle started with Chelvanayakam, and even by 1977 this was a given mandate. It was the situation after, which led to the military struggle. This is not a problem of the LTTE. It was only because of the refusal by the successive governments to give these demands that led it there. The fact remains that if these are not met today, this situation will arise again in ten years. You can suppress it for some time but not continue without a solution. This will invariably become a problem for the international community as well, if there is no solution soon."

It is clear that all Tamils, including those who lick the boots of the government, aspire for autonomy to the Tamil home land in the NE. LTTE used the method of terror to achieve this freedom. But even those who crawl before the dictatorial regime have the same political aspiration. Devastation and the genocide attacks have not changed the liberation dream of the Tamil masses. In spite of what the leaders do or say, they have to answers to what the people wish to have.

The latter do not want to be a subjugated nation, prosperous or otherwise. Trouble is those who sell their tradition, history and natural resources, to the multi national corporation system and live in luxury with robber barons cannot understand this remorseless feeling of the Tamil people. Sinhala leaders that ruled this country up to now were not concerned about the independence of Lanka. In fact they sold the country with their conscience, to the lords of global capital. Recently, the latter included the Delhi Arya Brahmins. The purpose of this sellout was to get support for the repression of Tamil people. This so called liberation war project has made Lanka a depressing miserable country living under the rule of global masters. Latter’s agenda is pushed down the throat of Mahinda under the name of development. While the so called development is going on, we are made poor, hungry and miserable. Of course the agents and brokers of the regime are all happy and floating around in flush limousines wasting millions of dollars.

The greatest burden placed on the masses, both Sinhala and Tamil, is the continuation of the emergency. Emergency was extended by giving a false picture of LTTE activity. This time it was very clear. What PM Jayaratne stated about LTTE activity was denied by the Indian government with a curt note. Not even Indian masters could stomach the lies spread by the puppet government. Emergency is the foundation of the military government in the north and the detention of Tamil suspects. In the south it is the base for state terror against, oppositional politicians, media men and trade unions.

Specially, the state sector trade unions are unable to take trade union actions as the government is capable of using emergency regulations to make the relevant services compulsory. In fact, Emergency powers can be used against any trade union activity, and the PTA can be used to detain trade union leaders. In 1980 Alavi, Vasu and myself were detained as leaders of the general strike. We were kept at Magazine prison for a long period, though subsequently, the high court dismissed the charges of both, conspiracy and criminal actions against the government. Hence it is an issue on which all should get together to press the government.

All opposition forces that stand for democracy must get together to press to remove the emergency. Last week in the social democratic assembly I proposed that we lobby the main opposition represented within the parliament, the UNP, JVP and the TNA, to request them to get together and mobilize all votes in the parliament to oppose the next extension of the emergency.

There were around 50 activists from different organizations present in the social democratic assembly, including Lakthilaka, Abu Yusuf, SG Punchihewa, Kelly Senanayaka, Thiru and other progressive leaders. There was a general agreement to meet the parliamentary opposition and press them to unite in voting against the emergency.

Faux pas galore by the Sri Lankan Foreign Service political appointees

It is no secret that non-career officers or political appointees are usually not versed in diplomacy. Here are some of their goings-on that should raise a smile.

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cartoon by Wijesoma

- A Third Person Note (TPN) is a standard form of communication with the host country. A recent political appointee to London who is said to have gone there with a ‘revolutionary spirit’ had a problem with the term ‘Third Person Note.’ He argued that, in the modern era, it made no sense to send communications in the TPN format.

He spent considerable time and energy trying to change things so that any communication with the host country was in First Person/Second Person format. He found fault with SLFS colleagues who refused to depart from this well-established practice and began to shoot his own notes to the host country’s Foreign Office in First Person/Second Person format. In no time did a bundle of notes come back from the Foreign Office, personally addressed to the career officer at the mission. A handwritten personal note from the desk officer at the Foreign Office was attached to this bundle: “Tell your new officer who has written and signed these notes in First Person/Second Person Format not to send ‘love letters’ to us anymore.”

- A political appointee in Australia started a new business; that was to go from house-to-house in the dead of the night putting into mailboxes leaflets and brochures from companies wishing to promote their products. Every 10 leaflets thus delivered earned him a dollar. He carried a sack full of brochures each night, accompanied by his wife who carried another. The target was to earn 50 to 60 dollars each day. Their agent would assign them to different areas in the same locality. One day, after stuffing nearly 100 odd mailboxes, the pair, with sacks on their backs, walked into the lawn of a grand house only to be greeted by a familiar figure. “Oh dear, are you carrying Sri Lanka’s DPL pouch in the middle of the night?” the Pakistani diplomat asked our crestfallen diplo!

- The political appointee who held ‘minister’ rank in the Kuwait mission was hardly fluent in English. He would go to houses of Sri Lankan migrants to ‘sing and recite poems in Sinhala.’ That was during nights. Back in office, he would write Sinhala language petitions against his mission colleagues and send them to higher authorities in Sri Lanka under the name of those migrants he visited. Once, the Kuwaiti Foreign Office telephoned the mission over an urgent matter. He picked up the receiver and shouted to his colleagues: “Aney, mey miniha ingirisiyen katha karanney”! (“Hey, this man is speaking in English!”) This man is now an ambassador-aspirant!

- One political appointee at the Sri Lanka mission in Washington was given his position while he and his family were high profile asylum seekers in the US. Being a shrewd politician, he took up the assignment while allowing his wife and children to remain as asylum-seekers. The ambassador supported him until one day, at a party, an ‘unsuspecting’ Sri Lankan went up to him and said, “Your ambassador is a very handsome person and his English is superb.” From then onwards, the two men tried to outdo each other until the handsome guy left the mission.

- A politically appointed second secretary in New York would take visiting politicians to casinos. He scratched so many lottery tickets that the story was other Sri Lankans would ask him advice on what lottery was best!

- A non-career man in Australia was assigned by the mission to authorize Sri Lankan visas by placing his signature on the relevant page. Imagine the disgust of one foreign applicant who was returned his passport with two signatures-one rightly belonging to the Mauritian authorizing officer and one wrongly belonging to our Sri Lankan political appointee—on the page containing his Mauritius visa while the Sri Lankan visa remained unsigned! An urgent last minute intervention allowed him to proceed to Mauritius but he avoided Sri Lanka in disgust.

- Another of our political appointees was a hearty ‘belcher.’ In the middle of a dinner hosted by the Indian ambassador, our man kept belching repeatedly. This went on until, as observers say, he was politely asked by the host to leave early.

- One political appointee in the West insisted that all his staff and callers from his own Foreign Office should address him as ‘Excellency.’ One day, a person from the Foreign Ministry needed to convey an urgent message to His Excellency, the President, who was visiting this political appointee’s country of accreditation. She telephoned the political appointee and told him, “Ambassador, we want to convey an important message to His Excellency.” Our man demanded that she should correct herself and call him His Excellency first. The caller persisted, saying, “But this is a message for His Excellency, the President.” The incensed political appointee yelled at her and hung up.

COURTESY:LAKBIMA nEWS

Old Thomians must rally together and develop the school by the sea!

by Kumar David

You’ll always remember
Where ere you may be
The school of your boyhood
The school by the sea

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Nostalgia and affection for the old school is common enough but in the case of some Alma Maters the bond is rather strong; the school by the sea is one. In proof I will count the happy tales of provenance when old Thomians meet, the strong and supportive Old Boys Association, the equally supportive Centenary Club open to all who were in school in the centenary year 1951, a network for raising finances for repairs, maintenance and extensions, the packed out Christmas carol service and participation in fund raising dinners and balls.

It is a delight to stroll in once in a while, stand on the quadrangle, look around at the Chapel of the Transfiguration, the science block across from it, and on the other diagonal the school hall and the matching main class room block. It is really rather picturesque on a deserted holiday or Sunday – that is if you can get past the soulless gate staff who can be unwelcoming of unannounced old boys. When I happen by with a foreign guest I do make it a point to stop and amble through the quadrangle and down to the Big Club grounds by the sea, just for the "Wow" effect. They all say "It’s a picture postcard, did you really go to school here". Well, I guess I am a sort of dishevelled chap, but I dare say STC has the loveliest school campus in the country; apologies if there is some gem I have not seen.

The recent fracas

There has been rather a bad incident some weeks ago. Seventeen senior prefects, in the name of ragging, assaulted their newly appointed successors – had they done this in a public place they would have been liable to criminal prosecution – and there are whispers of indecent bullying, details of which the public have, thankfully, been spared. Warden Puddefoot acted promptly, firmly, fairly and reasonably, the Board of Governors and the old boys stood by him to a man, and I believe parents value the school’s handling of the emergency. The culprits were dismissed instantly but the school refrained from making endorsements staining their names on school leaving certificates. These are young fellows and obnoxious as their behaviour is, it is best not to blight their futures permanently. The shame of it one hopes will be lesson enough; had I been the father of any of these scoundrels the skin off his back would have stained my belt!

In rather a sweet are the uses of adversity twist the school has come out of the mess moderately well, and perhaps with its reputation enhanced – of course it would have been better had it never happened. Still, by handling an unpleasant incident with maturity and dignity Warden Puddefoot has set an example that other schools may wish to emulate in difficult times. My friends from the ‘other place’ remind me that their principals are in an unenviable quandary, because as a government school, they are exposed to bullying by Cabinet Ministers and the like. My rejoinder is that if old boys stand firm a ministerial buffoon is no match.

STC may have come out of the current embarrassment with its reputation salvaged, but there are deep worries about the future that need to be addressed. It has come to light that perverse ragging has been going on for a while. I swear it did not happen in the 1950s and 60s, and I say this not to repeat that silly refrain of how good things were in the old days; it just did not. That however is not the point. Previous Wardens must have known and turned a blind eye; worse, the Board of Governors chose to coddle STC like Caesar’s wife.

Forget the accusations, the mea culpa, and the self-flagellations; that is also beside the point. What is crucial now is that the school authorities put in place appropriate mechanisms for the future. The new Warden and the staff have inspired enough confidence to reassure well-wishers that given the right tools and support structures they can put the school on an excellent track. These are the exertions to which the Board of Governors and other authorities must turn their attention. This is not the end of the matter; it is the start of a process of getting things right for the long term and for once and for all.

Make hay while the sun shines

This is just the time to push even further forward. Old Thomians have rallied in recent weeks with a bit of an adrenalin rush and it’s the right time to rope in support for a major development programme that the school now needs if it is to be a leading institution in the new century. STC is working on an ambitious building and development programme to construct a new commerce block which will house twenty classrooms. The building alone will cost about Rs75 million and state of the art equipment another Rs25 million. The OBA and the Centenary Club have made a commitment to raise a part of the funding but it will not be an easy challenge. Year 2011 has been designated fund raising year if the project is to get off the ground in 2012. The smart thing to do is turn adversity upside down and cash in on the adrenalin to get more support; it will take some pulling on heartstrings and reaching out to the whole STC old boy network and to private sector companies.

Old Thomians may like to know the proposed location of the block. It will replace the old and unsightly shower and lavatory structure between Chapman House and Hotel Road and face the northern part of the Small Club grounds. Care will have to be taken to ensure that the new structure does not disfigure the aforesaid picture postcard.

Another matter to which STC needs to turn its attention is academic excellence. Warden Stone is on record, and no doubt de Saram and Davidson would have concurred with the view that the educational experience is a total one. Building character and the whole man, not just book learning must be the goal; hence the STC emphasis on sports, music, tradition and all-roundedness. Nonetheless a school is a school is a school! First and foremost it must excel as an academic entity to be worth the name.

There are numerous yardsticks to measure academic quality; teaching and learning, examination results and general knowledge. Performance at public exams and admission to universities is what carries most credibility in the public mind. There is plenty of room for STC to improve. It will not happen in a day but enhancing academic quality– not simply maintaining current standards - measured by whatever mix of yardsticks the school chooses, must be a priority to which a commitment is made. There may have been some slippage in recent decades and the competition out there is savage, therefore academic excellence is a seminal concern – this is not to imply that it is neglected now.

STC is a private and therefore a fee levying school. This is a circumstance which makes many outstanding students non starters – I guess many don’t bother to apply – and had they been enrolled the effect on the school’s academic standing would have been beneficial. I wonder whether it would be possible to institute a scholarship scheme to subsidise all or part of the tuition fee for a few academically excellent entrants each year. It should start at the lower fourth and continue to the college forms – that is five years. At five students per level no more than 25 scholarships are needed, phased in at five a year. Endowment funds, company sponsorships and old boys who are prepared to bequeath in their wills can help. Naturally such endowments must be specified as intended for this purpose.

Schemes of this type are commonplace elsewhere in the world. I was at the Harvard graduation ceremony about five years ago when my son got himself a Master’s. Larry Summers was president and in his address he held out a promise. "Listen! Anybody anywhere in the world, get admission (Harvard’s admission criteria are means-blind) and if you can’t find the money, we will find it for you. Nobody who secures admission to Harvard need stay away for financial reasons." Well I don’t know quite how literally this is to be taken, and anyway Harvard - usually rated numero uno in the world year after year - has an endowment treasure chest of I think $18 billion. That’s big money, but five scholarships per middle and upper school class is a target that the School by the Sea can aspire to.

Stray Thoughts on Sri Lanka’s Victory over New Zealand, 18 March 2011

by Prof.Michael Roberts

Sri Lanka’s comprehensive victory over New Zealand in the last match for Group A at Mumbai was marred by a controversial third umpire decision that reprieved Mahela Jayawardene when he was in his twenties. This verdict certainly had a bearing on the game and was a moment of high drama.

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pic: BBC ~ Cricket World Cup: Sri Lanka thrash New Zealand

Cricket’s beauty emanates in part from its contingent twists of luck/fate. The abrogated Nathan McCullum catch – what a wonderful piece of fielding that! – was one such landmark that turned the match in Lanka’s favour. But no one has noticed another act of fortune that decisively favoured New Zealand: namely Upul Tharanga’s run out at the bowler’s end off a Dilshan drive. Along with a helmet or cap falling on the wicket, this is about the unluckiest way to get out. Occurring early in the innings this sort of moment boosts the bowling side in ways that cannot be measured.

It is to the credit of Sangakkara and Jayawardene that they stabilized the innings, albeit without assurance at times. This is where the Jayawardene-McCullum incident not only favoured Sri Lanka, but transformed Jayawarden’s batting form: thereafter he moved up two gears and scored 40 more runs in silken fashion till he missed a ball that he should have put away.

The Contretemps

While I have always been in favour of camera technology being utilized to assist umpires, the one area where it generates problems is in what can be called “possible brush/bump ground catches.” Here, camera obscura enters in and favours the batsman.

The facile acceptance of the camera’s evidence on this issue over the years was only disturbed when it occurred in a Sheffield Shield Final in Australia and favoured a batsman who went on to score a century and turn the match in his team’s favour. Camera technology has improved since then, but problems still remain.

On this occasion I would abide by Tony Greig’s non-partisan verdict: the Third Umpire made a mistake. I add, though, that the camera did suggest a smidgeon of doubt. It was not an issue of the ball bouncing, but whether the ball brushed the turf between McCullum’s spread of fingers – that is between the two that grasped ball and the other two fingers.

An incidental note should be attached to this incident: why do TV directors’ permit two men from the same nation on the field to be commenting at the same time? Even with the best will in the world, subjective sentiments intrude at critical moments like this. Some individuals are more controlled than others; but no matter whom, the basic principle should be this: avoid having two blokes from any of the competing sides at the TV microphone at the same time. Justice must be seen to be done.

Despite his own protestation, Simon Doull’s leanings were starkly manifest. As Greig’s verdict indicates, it was reasonable enough for Doull to dispute the umpire’s verdict, but to argue in bump-ball terms, as distinct from brush-the-turf terms, is poor analysis directed by sentiment.

As partisan was his upbraiding of Jayawardene from the verbal clash with McCullum. Certainly, the camera captured Jayawardene saying something and McCullum retorting. But Jayawardene had no need to initiate comment and most people would conclude that McCullum said something to which he responded. As usual with such confrontations, whether on cricket field or rugby match, it is the second moment of a contretemps that is caught on camera and the guy who started it all gets off scot-free (from referee, umpire and public).

Another sidelight can be raised. Both Nathan McCullum and Ross Taylor confronted – yes, it was so confrontational, though never going overboard to the degree displayed in the Gatting-Rana and Ranatunga-Emerson incidents – the on-field umpires after the final decision was delivered. A speculative question arises: would other captains and sides have approached the on-field umpires in the same manner? Ponting and Australians would have certainly been even more aggressive? But others? The West Indians? Bangladeshis? Sri Lankans if the boot was on the other foot? Are there differences in cultural style and degrees of “aggro”?

The Match: Additional Comments in Point-form

1. Sangakkara has been remarkably steady and consistent not only in his batting not only in the World Cup, but also in the domestic and West Indian matches leading up to the series. He deserved the man of the match ahead of Muralitharan.

2. Sangakarra got out to a poor shot; he should have been aiming over the bowler’s head not at cow-corner. Fatigue provides a good excuse; but Sri Lanka can ill afford such errors in games ahead. When the side is negotiating the last ten overs, it is the responsibility of the batsman whose eye is in to stay there as anchor around whom the others try and accelerate. That batsman should concentrate on rotating the strike and then encourage new batsmen to innovate after settling in with a few singles. Dilshan or Tharanga also let the side down by getting out at Pallekele at such an important stage. That is after one got out, the other had to anchor the final chase.

3. When Jayawardene got out, Mark Nicholas made an apposite comment: “the Batting Power-Play strikes again.” Fortunately, Sangakkara made up for this loss by a series of magnificent strokes.

4. But, then, the middle order showed how brittle it is – with the exception of Matthews.

5. Thilan Samaraweera also failed on this occasion. However, he has revealed how useful he is to the side in the Australian match when he helped steady the ship and scored at a reasonable rate. Again, in his two late-innings two cameos against Canada and Zimbabwe he actually scored at a S/R of over a hundred and easily outshone Tissara Perera.

6. Chamara Silva is the main worry in the middle. His incapacity to produce singles as he starts batting is a liability. A McCullum full toss was hit straight back to the bowler and the next ball went the same way – as a catch. His uncanny ability to middle the ball straight to the fielders square of the wicket was revealed during the match against Pakistan at the Premadasa. While a policy of steadying the ship was required when he went into bat then, with four wickets down, his low strike rate eventually cost us. I wonder whether his wagon-wheel over the last two years will display the restricted range of his scoring strokes?

7. So, Kapugedera must now displace Chamara Silva in the XI.

8. I was supportive of the Selectors’ choice of XV in an essay written early in February. I understood their preference for experience as indicated by the selection of Tharanga and the two Chamaras over Chandimal. Now, after meeting people in Lanka, I believe Chandimal should haven in the XV as a middle order batsman who can power-hit.

9. I further believe Jayasuriya should have been in the side for one of the two Chamaras on the understanding that he is selected as a bowling allrounder slotted to bat at 5-7 according to circumstances.

10. On the bowling front in the New Zealand Muralitharan was clearly one of the key figures in undermining New Zealand. But do not forget Kulasekera. Look at his figures: 7-0-19-1, the important wicket of Martin Guptill and a superb economy rate.

11. Aided by an excellent catch by Mahela Jayawardene, Mathews chipped in with the critical wicket of Brendon McCullum, a guy who is the Kiwi version of Sehwag.

12. So, the downfall of the Kiwi batting was a team effort, marred only by two difficult catches missed by Tharanga and Kulasekera.

13. Despite Ajantha Mendis’s success in this match, I would have preferred to have Suraj Randiv in the XV. A batting tail of Malinga, Murali and Mendis is simply too long.

14. Malinga’s erratic bowling and expensive E/R is a continuing concern. As with many pacies, his penetrative possibilities come at high risk.

15. Lasith Malinga is model for all bowlers in the manner with which he responds to fielders’ catch-errors or batsmen boundary hits off his bowling: he smiles amiably and nonchalantly. One may question his hair style but his panache and sportsmanship is of the best.

Sisira Mendis: Retirement of an Officer and a Gentleman

BY Krishantha Prasad Cooray

There are things one can say and things one cannot say about a friend. There are things that can be said in private and not in public. There are things that can be said at a specific moment in time but never before or after.

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Today, I sit and write about my friend, Sisira Mendis, because the time is right to say out loud what needs to be said about this extraordinary officer of the Sri Lanka Police.

Sisira retired from service a few days ago. Retirement is as good a landmark as any for a man to look back on his life and reflect on the vague, indeterminate, relaxing and awesome foreboding called the ‘future.’ It is a good moment for someone like me who has known Sisira for more than two decades to give voice to my memories holding nothing back, fearing the censure of a modest man or being worried about embarrassing him.

I met him, as I said, 20 years ago through his wife Sharmalee, who was at the time one of my colleagues and a dear friend. We have been very close ever since that first meeting and Sisira has never been too far from my thoughts even if circumstances put physical distance between us.

He was DIG-Narcotics when he retired, but was and always will be known as a ‘CID person,’ having spent around 35 years in that sphere of police work, holding in turn the posts of Deputy Director, Director and Deputy Inspector General.

Sisira is not the only senior police officer I have known and associated with closely. Sisira is not one to ask and I am not one to tell, so he might not know of the warm, endearing, respectful and admiring terms that his colleagues, superiors and subordinates use to describe him. They only reaffirmed what I already knew: that he was a driven, passionate human being, possessing exceptional skills, hailed quite rightly as a man of discipline, integrity and a wonderful work-ethic and as such, a rarity not just in the Sri Lanka Police but in the country as well.

Much has been said about Sisira’s prowess in the police force and how he distinguished himself in that field; so I would like to dwell instead on the human being I am privileged to know.

As a person who spent a few years in the media industry, I can say without hesitation that friendship with a man of his stature would be considered an asset by anyone interested in gathering facts and information. This was not the case though with Sisira. He never divulged unnecessary information, not even amongst those he considered intimate associates.

His first and last point of reference in everything he said and did was his responsibility to the police and the need to do justice by his position. He never compromised himself because he knew this would damage his employer and the institution he loved and dedicated his most productive years to serve.

I remember him hanging up on me once when I called him on his mobile. He was driving and rattled out the following words: ‘I will call you back…there are cops on the road!’ He did call me back. I teased him: “You are a rare policeman Sisira. You are DIG/CID. You could have easily picked up the call and talked to me. You could have said ‘I will call you back’ but needn’t have said ‘there are cops on the road.’” I will never forget his response. “As a senior policeman, I should not insult subordinates and I should always respect the law.”

Those words epitomize Sisira Mendis through and through; his profound sense of honour and conscientiousness at all times, never bending the rules for reasons of convenience. Sisira never put himself in a position that would compromise his integrity, even in a matter of perception. If someone wanted to meet him for some ostensibly social purpose, Sisira would invite the person to the Senior Police Officers’ Mess, because in that environment, he would be in control. He would foot the bill. Always. He was a rare professional of exceptional quality. His word was his bond and he never promised what his ability and his integrity did not permit him to deliver. Here was a man who walked the line unafraid; Truth and Justice were his raison d’être and simplicity the sine qua non of his existence.

We live in times when political loyalty is the bottom line. This is true of all sectors of the public service. There are officers who align themselves with one or another of the political parties. They leave themselves open to be used as tools and indeed they are more than happy to oblige. Sisira, was in a class by himself. He was not arrogant. But he was not interested in being a foolish hero either. He did his job, making sure that the law was fairly interpreted and justly executed.

One recalls a different era when a parent would be proud to have a son in the police and so too a child whose father was an officer. Times have changed and now there is as much pride as there is embarrassment and sadly, probably more of the latter. It is people like Sisira Mendis who keep hope alive and give stature to an institution that ought to stand much taller than it appears to today.

In all the years I have known him, I have understood that Sisira sets a great store by friendship. His loyalty to his friends is beyond question; beyond reproach. He would put his own hand in the fire for you, even if the whole world was against you, yet Sisira believed you were in the right. I know this through personal experience. He saved my life. Justice was important to him and while he would stick his neck out to defend you because you were right, he would never venture to defend you if he felt you were in the wrong. He would stand beside you and ensure you did not feel isolated and abandoned, but would never support what he felt was an erroneous decision or wrongful course of action, especially if the law was somehow compromised in the process.

We all retire. In this vein, I am reminded of the wise words of Shakespeare’s tragic hero Hamlet: “If it be now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: The readiness is all.’ Sisira was always ready. There are a few public officers we wish were excused from retirement-regulations. Sisira is one of them, but that would be beyond the bounds of his humble and rational thinking. Those of us who know him, know better. During his illustrious tenure of service to the nation, Sisira has acquired such a wealth of knowledge on all things human and the intricacies of running an institution and managing human resources efficiently, that there is no doubt that he leaves the Sri Lanka Police hopelessly impoverished in the wake of his departure.

I am no clairvoyant so I don’t know what life after the police would be like for Sisira Mendis. I am certain of a few things, however. I know that Sisira will remain an honourable human being and a man who will undoubtedly continue to serve, with distinction, any organisation or community that is privileged to next count him among its ranks. Speaking strictly for myself, as far as I am concerned, Sisira has not retired and never will.

Friendships don’t have expiry dates outside of those imposed by the laws of nature. Fate brings us together, friendship keeps us close. I am richer for having the privilege of his friendship. For that I am grateful.

India Tried to Resolve "Cohabitation Crisis"Between Chandrika and Ranil in 2003/4

by K.Venkataramanan

CHENNAI: India made an unsuccessful effort to resolve the ‘cohabitation' crisis in Sri Lanka between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe late in 2003 by suggesting that the Defence portfolio be split so that he could have effective control over military affairs in the north and east as he remained in charge of the stalled peace process.

Indian High Commissioner Nirupam Sen's suggestion did not convince Mr. Wickremesinghe, from whose Cabinet the Defence, Interior and Mass Commuication portfolios were taken away by Ms. Kumaratunga in November 2003. However, according to the contents of a conversation between Milinda Moragoda, a senior Cabinet Minister who was coordinating the peace process from the government side, and Jeffrey J. Lunstead, the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, the Prime Minister had no objection to India trying to sell the proposal to the President while she was in Islamabad for the SAARC summit in January 2004.

Mr. Lunstead reported the development in a cable dated December 29, 2003 ( 12953: confidential), accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks. The context was the lengthy stalemate in the peace process after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) withdrew from the peace talks in April 2003 and, six months and hundreds of ceasefire violations later, came up, on October 31, with a controversial proposal for an ‘Interim Self-Governing Authority' for the northeast. Four days later, Ms. Kumaratunga, marginalised in the decision-making regarding the peace process and left with the feeling that her presidency was not given the respect it deserved, divested the Defence, Interior and Information Ministers of their portfolios. This resulted in the ‘cohabitation crisis' reaching a point of no-return. Mr. Wickremesinghe thought he could not pursue peace without control over the military – as maintaining the ceasefire was the foundation of the process – and believed that a fresh parliamentary election was the only way out.

On December 26, Mr. Moragoda met Mr. Lunstead to review his upcoming visit to the U.S. and told the latter that the only effort to resolve the political stalemate “was a proposal being brokered by Indian High Commissioner Sen following his consultations in Delhi.” The Ambassador said: “Sen was pushing the idea that the regional commands (for the North and the East, presumably) could be carved out of the Defense Ministry and put under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's control. This would give him the operational control he needed to resume the peace negotiations. Milinda [Moragoda] did not know if this idea would fly. Even the PM was not fully convinced it was useful, but he was willing to let Sen try it out on the President. Milinda thought that the Indians would push this idea with President Chandrika Bandarnaike Kumaratunga (CBK) at the SAARC summit in Islamabad in early January.”

In a cable sent two days later, on December 31, 2003, containing a report on the handing over of a letter from Secretary of State Colin Powell to Mr. Wickremesinghe ( 12992: confidential), Mr. Lunstead said he had asked the Prime Minister if there was any chance of Mr. Sen's initiative succeeding. “PM said he did not think this would go anywhere, and even if he liked it, he did not think the Service Chiefs would accept it.”

Chandrika willing

According to a cable sent on January 5, 2004, Mr. Lunstead spoke on January 2 to Mr. Sen, who, “without any prompting,” said: “The technical means of squaring the circle are available. The problem is that Ranil does not want that much – he wants everything. She (the president) is willing to compromise, the problem now is his objection to accepting any piecemeal solution” ( 13027: confidential).

Mr. Sen explained that the President was looking for a way out by offering to delegate a number of defence matters to the Prime Minister, “but the PM was trying to get everything.” He added that External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee might raise the issue with the President during the SAARC summit.

Throwing light on what exactly Ms. Kumaratunga's ‘way out' was, Mr. Lunstead said in another part of the same cable, while recounting his meeting with Ms. Kumaratunga to deliver a separate letter from Mr. Powell, that she was willing to make Mr. Wickremesinghe Minister of National Security and turn over to him parts of the Defence portfolio related to the peace process.

Mr. Lunstead's own comments show that the U.S. did believe that the Prime Minister could not be blamed for the impasse, but at the same time he should be told that he should “give some meaningful role to the President, if he expects her to give him back operational control over defense.”

“We have urged her to compromise, and will continue to do so, but she will not listen to us if we ask her to consent to her own political oblivion,” he observed.

When Mr. Moragoda said on December 26 that during his U.S. visit he planned to convey to the Deputy Secretary [Richard Armitage] that the international community should understand that the President caused the crisis and was prolonging it with her obstinacy, Mr. Lunstead replied that the U.S. understood that the President had caused the crisis but its public statements had to be relatively even-handed.

The Indian efforts, however, did not bear fruit as Ms. Kumaratunga dissolved Parliament soon and called fresh elections that were held in April 2004 and brought her party back to power.

COURTESY:THE HINDU

"We are with the Tamils and I am very concerned about Sri Lanka" – Sonia Gandhi

In an opportunity to speak with Mrs Gandhi following her Commonwealth lecture, at the reception for invited guests, senior members of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) raised issues regarding the plight of Tamil women in Sri Lanka.

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Mrs. Sonia Gandhi ~ file pic: PTI ~ via The Hindu

Mrs. Gandhi said that she is very concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka. She said that the Congress lead coalition government has asserted their serious concerns to the Government of Sri Lanka. She said that Tamils from the war torn parts of Sri Lanka must be rehabilitated without further delay.

Replying to evidence of breach of international law and crimes against humanity, Mrs. Gandhi said “I have myself, seen that video and we are very concerned”. When asked whether she would support an international investigation into war crimes alleged to have been committed in Sri Lanka, Mrs. Gandhi very politely said that she cannot comment and asked the members to refer that question to Mr. Kamalesh Sharma – The Commonwealth Secretary General who was flanking Mrs. Gandhi at the reception.

When members told Mrs. Gandhi about the militarised north and the crimes including systematic rape of women by the military, again Mrs. Gandhi said that “I am very very concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka. Tamils should have their rights restored and it’s their rights you know. We are with the Tamils, you must know, we are with the Tamils”

Senior GTF members thanked Mrs. Gandhi for taking the time to speak to them and shared with Mrs. Gandhi the willingness of Global Tamil Forum to engage with India in finding a political solution to the longstanding conflict in Sri Lanka

Addressing the 14th Commonwealth lecture, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress Party and Chair of the United Progressive Alliance, discussed the 2011 Commonwealth theme, ‘Women as Agents of Change’, on Thursday 17 March in the Ballroom at 8 Northumberland in London.

Mrs Gandhi reminded the Commonwealth that “investing in women is the highest-return venture”, and set out five areas in which women have emerged as ‘agents of change’ in India. These included self-help groups pooling savings and securing loans for local projects; new, elected roles for women in rural self-government; social activism through the establishment of the language of human rights for women; the establishment of local enterprise collectives; and the setting up of village information centres and IT kiosks.

She added that women’s enterprise plays a vital role in regions ravaged by violence and conflict, “a programme in war-torn Afghanistan to train women, especially war widows, to acquire skills, set up food processing enterprises and initiate ecological regeneration”. Within India, these enterprise groups have taken the lead in mediating, peace-building and reconciliation in areas of strife”. - Press Release issued by GTF -

March 18, 2011

The world's rising democracies need to decide whose side they are on

It is ironic that India -- which intervened in what was then East Pakistan in 1971 to prevent a civilian bloodbath in Bangladesh's independence struggle, intervened in Sri Lanka in 1987 for similar reasons, and has played a critical role supporting democratic solutions to civil conflicts in Nepal, Afghanistan, and elsewhere -- decided that the same values of democracy and human rights that govern its own society are not for New Delhi to protect and advance elsewhere.

What we learned from the Security Council debate over Libya

By Dan Twining

"We have often seen in our contemporary history that the weakness of democracies leaves the field open to dictatorships." -French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, Mar. 16, 2011

Yesterday the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize military intervention to protect the Libyan people from the depredations of Colonel Qaddafi's rule. What have we learned from the debate over the resolution and its outcome?

(1) The international system doesn't work in the absence of U.S. leadership.

It was only the near 180-degree shift in the Obama administration's position on a no-fly and no-drive zone in Libya -- in the face of what was shaping up to be a massacre by Libyan government forces in Benghazi and strong pressure for urgent intervention from Britain, France, and the Arab League -- that made the UNSC vote possible. For weeks, President Obama has judged the risks of action in Libya to be greater than the risks of inaction -- with the effect that the United States ended up sitting on the sidelines. But the White House belatedly realized that American inaction was the greater risk to the national interest.

In the meantime, by choosing to stand aside during the early, critical stage of the Libyan uprising, the U.S. implicitly endorsed the status quo and allowed Qaddafi to regain the initiative. Washington also unwittingly signaled to other contested regimes in Bahrain and Yemen that they had a choice to avoid the "Mubarak option" of ceding to the will of the people -- by shooting them -- without risking their U.S. ties. Lesson: America still has the unique power to manage unfolding international crises, which are essentially unmanageable when Washington sits on the sidelines -- and a U.S. decision not to intervene is as much a strategic choice as the decision to do so.

(2) The world's rising democracies need to decide whose side they are on.

Developing democracies Colombia, South Africa, and Nigeria supported the Council resolution on intervention in Libya. Brazil and India did not. Great powers have to make choices in international affairs -- it's what makes them great powers. India's abstention in the Libya vote disappoints its many American friends who supported President Obama's call last November for a permanent Indian seat on the Security Council. India's current two-year UNSC rotation was always going to be a litmus test of New Delhi's ability to be a constructive player at the high table of world politics, from which India was excluded for 60 years.

It is ironic that India -- which intervened in what was then East Pakistan in 1971 to prevent a civilian bloodbath in Bangladesh's independence struggle, intervened in Sri Lanka in 1987 for similar reasons, and has played a critical role supporting democratic solutions to civil conflicts in Nepal, Afghanistan, and elsewhere -- decided that the same values of democracy and human rights that govern its own society are not for New Delhi to protect and advance elsewhere. The same goes for Brazil. Do these giant democracies really think their interests will be better served in a world in which leaders have an absolute right to slaughter their people -- a world in which an archaic notion of "non-intervention" precludes any active defense of the same universal values that underlie the Indian and Brazilian miracles?

(3) The Responsibility to Protect is no longer a Western concept.

The Arab League's urging of international military intervention in Libya to protect the Libyan people was a historic departure from the norms of sovereignty embraced for decades by Arab strongmen. In the explicit judgment of (largely unelected) Arab League leaders, Qaddafi forfeited his claims to sovereignty over Libya by virtue of his treatment of the Libyan people. This is a more progressive, and enlightened, standard for the universal protection of the basic rights of humankind than that embraced by some of the world's developed democracies.

Should such a principle strengthen as a pillar of international society, history will clearly not be on the side of Sinocentric autocracy or other forms of authoritarian rule; indeed, it may not be either China or the West but key players in the developing world who shape a new understanding of the limits of sovereignty under international law in a way that tilts the international system more firmly towards freedom. Going back to Point 2, one would imagine that India, Brazil, and for that matter Germany would want to be on the right side of this evolving debate.

(4) U.N. Security Council candidacy has a corrosive effect on countries' willingness to stand up for what they believe in.

Three of the four countries aspiring to UNSC membership and currently sitting on the Council -- Germany, India, and Brazil -- abstained from the vote on Libya (South Africa, the fourth, voted for it). Their officials appear to believe that being true to their values and voting with their more natural democratic allies on the Council could complicate their ability to secure Chinese and Russian support for their permanent membership aspirations. While this may be true, the opposite logic should equally apply. Their failure to vote with their natural allies by standing up for the same basic rights for the Libyan people that Germans, Indians, and Brazilians enjoy could complicate American, French, and British support for their quest for a permanent seat on the Security Council.

(5) France may be America's natural ally in Europe.

It goes without saying that the relationship with Britain will always be special, and that British and American interests in world affairs will continue to closely align. The surprise in the Libyan debate is how forcefully France has demanded justice for the Libyan people and assertive action against their oppressors. In fact, France's pedigree as a country with significant military capabilities that is quite comfortable wielding them overseas makes it a more comfortable partner for the United States than conventional wisdom would suggest. Forgotten in the emotional debate over the Iraq war were concrete French offers to form a substantial part of the military invasion force in 2003 if only Washington would give the U.N. process a bit more time. As French Gaullism gives way to closer military and intelligence cooperation at NATO -- whose military structures France rejoined in 2009 -- and bilaterally with Washington, a natural entente should continue to consolidate between the United States and the country whose people showed the world, in 1789, that the droits de l'homme are the gift of no ruler but the prerogative of humankind.

~ courtesy: Foreign Policy Magazine ~

The son also rises: Namal Rajapaksa, the president’s eldest son is being groomed for high office

DYNASTIES have to start somewhere. For an aspiring Gandhi in India , or a Bhutto in Pakistan , exploiting the family name to get into politics is relatively simple. Getting a dynasty going in the first place is more testing.

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Rajapak-son has some peculiar friends

Sri Lanka’s president since 2005, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is evidently giving the matter some thought. His government is already dominated by several Rajapaksa brothers, including a fierce one, Gotabaya, who oversees defence, and a more nimble-minded one, Basil, who runs economic policy. Now the 65 year-old president, who last month denied a rumour that he was being treated for cancer, is increasingly eager to promote his son, Namal Rajapaksa.

The 24-year-old MP is frequently taken on foreign trips by his father. In January he was dispatched to Libya to deliver a formal invitation for Muammar Qaddafi to visit Sri Lanka , to improve the “strong personal relationship” between the two country’s leaders.

At home excuses are rustled up to keep him in the limelight. Last month he dispensed the man-of-the-match award at Sri Lanka’s opening game of the cricket world cup, which took place in a newly built stadium in—by happy coincidence—his own constituency, Hambantota, in the south of the country. A few days earlier the portly young politician had been shown laying a foundation stone for a new office complex, funded by the Asian Development Bank; just before that he was named chairman of a new fund to protect a forest and an ancient pink quartz mountain range, the National Namal Uyana.

He is on hand to inaugurate new bridges and roads. As the head of a national body, Tharunyata Hetak (“aspiring youth”), he is whisked north—a chopper is usually on call—to dish out cash, books and other aid to victims of the civil war. His group has its own television channel, which shows him doing the dishing. He enjoys fawning—sorry, perceptive—coverage from state press and broadcasters.

His year-long political career has been charmed. His constituency, a Rajapaksa family stronghold since the 1930s, has been chosen as the site of a new international airport, a conference centre, hotels and other big projects. In November he officiated with his father at the opening of a large, Chinese-built harbour in Hambantota. Now young Mr Rajapaksa, charming, London-educated and fond of rugby, is leading a bid for Hambantota to host the 2018 Commonwealth games.

A presidential change will not happen overnight. Mr Rajapaksa père remains popular among the Sinhalese majority for helping to force a decisive, brutal end to a civil war two years ago. He won a thumping re-election last year and has since pushed through constitutional changes that give him more clout and let him seek a third term, probably at an election in 2016. But preparing the son looks to be a form of insurance policy.

The opposition is hoping for a ruling family feud, as the son vies with his uncle to be heir-apparent (Basil had previously been touted as a successor). But Namal’s promotion may suit the whole family. It must fend off accusations that thousands of Tamil Tiger opponents and civilians were massacred at the dreadful climax of the war. Frequent foreign demands for an inquiry, and an attempt by the United Nations to launch one, have soured Western relations with Sri Lanka .

Patching up foreign ties and reconciliation with the aggrieved Tamils are the most important tasks facing Sri Lanka ’s rulers. These are much harder while Mahinda remains the face of government. If the Rajapaksas want a dynasty preserved for many years, preparing the way for a young insider, untainted by any role in the war, could be the family’s canniest strategy. COURTESY: THE ECONOMIST

March 17, 2011

Campaigning on Chicago Streets to get Justice For Sri Lankan War Crimes

by Apoorva Joshi, AI -USA Intern

Yesterday a few Amnesty volunteers and I took to the streets of Chicago to collect petition signatures calling for justice for war crimes in Sri Lanka. My fellow intern stopped a woman on the street to ask for her signature:

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Intern: “Would you have a moment to sign a petition for war victims in Sri Lanka? I’m from Amnesty International.”

Woman: “What is that?”

Intern: “Amnesty International is an international NGO that focuses on human –“

Woman: “No, the petition. What is it for? Sri what?”

Intern: “Sri Lanka—we are asking Secretary Clinton to pressure the UN to launch an investigation about the abuses that occurred during their 1626-year-long civil war.”

Woman: “I’ve never heard of it. Did you just make that up?”

Intern: “No. It’s a real place. It’s off the coast of—“
“Is it in Africa?”

A few minutes later, the woman walked away having signed the petition, with educational materials in hand about Amnesty International, the situation in Sri Lanka, and where she can reach us for more information or to volunteer.

This exchange is an example of why I stood out in the March wind in the heart of Chicago. Dozens of people walked past us without signing our petition. Amnesty is asking the U.S. government to support an international investigation into war crimes and other abuses committed by both the government security forces and the rebel group fighting for independence during the 16 26 year civil war in Sri Lanka.

Many people passing by said they were too busy to stop. Some of them said they didn’t believe in our mission. Most of them actively looked away or at the ground hoping that it would make them invisible.

But it mattered. It mattered because one person walked away today knowing more about the atrocities that occurred in Sri Lanka; one more person will be able to go back to her community and share what she learned.

We had a group of students from the Amnesty International USA chapter at Lawrence University help us out with the petition signing. They said the experience was valuable to them because it connected what they do on campus to the broader mission of Amnesty International. Even though I’ve been interning here for a few months and am very familiar and dedicated to everything Amnesty does, at times I can feel a little distant from the impact we make on the world. Amnesty has achieved so much, but it’s hard to feel like I’ve played any part in it.

Yesterday I felt better about our impact—a team of ten volunteers got almost 250 people in one hour to take action on this pressing issue, to help initiate justice for the victims of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. We made a difference. And we will continue to do so.

COURTESY: The Amnesty International USA Weblog

Why Amnesty International supports setting up UN Panel on Sri Lanka

BY Yolanda Foster – Amnesty International

Since the war ended in 2009 in Sri Lanka, there have been 2 major initiatives claiming to deal with the issue of accountability. One is domestic, the Lessons Learned & Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). The other is international – the UN Panel on Sri Lanka. I will first analyse the LLRC before turning to the Panel.

The Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, established the LLRC in May 2010. It has had a number of hearings in Colombo and the north and east, concluding its sittings in January.

Thousands of victims came before the LLRC demonstrating that there is a desire for accountability within Sri Lanka but the fact remains that the LLRC had no mandate to act as an accountability mechanism. Its focus was on collecting public and expert perceptions about the root causes of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and recommending steps to promote communal reconciliation.

The Commission’s mandate did not require it to investigate alleged violations of human rights or humanitarian law or establish accountability for violations, and in five months of sittings these were not issues the LLRC pursued with any sustained interest. When individual testimony did include complaints of violations – such as enforced disappearances in northern Sri Lanka --

Commissioners did not probe the complaints. Recommendations by the Commission to date have been limited to problem solving, such as suggesting procedural reforms to help people to trace missing relatives, rather than investigating allegations of abuse or bringing perpetrators to justice.

Diplomats have acknowledged that Sri Lanka’s past track record on accountability was poor, that the LLRC’s mandate was unclear; that it lacked witness protection and potentially, independence. But some policymakers still claimed the LLRC might achieve some measure of success, owing in part to the Government’s strong political majority and international pressure. It is difficult however to imagine what sustains their conviction.

Domestic mechanisms could improve procedures but will not deliver justice

National commissions of inquiry have not worked as justice mechanisms in Sri Lanka; impunity for human rights violations persists despite decades of ad hoc inquiries. More than anything, the Sri Lankan government, which actively suppresses criticism and opposition, has not allowed Commissions to carry out their mandates independently. Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is no exception.

LLRC hearings in Colombo featured government officials and prominent citizens who were asked to comment on what went wrong with the 2002 cease-fire and how best to proceed with reconciliation. In early sessions, the Commission allowed government officials to repeat unchallenged claims that Sri Lanka followed a “zero civilian casualty policy” and that the final military offensive against the LTTE in the north was a “humanitarian mission.

Commissioners did not require officials to explain the government’s many public misrepresentations of the facts during the war. The most disturbing of these are the government’s repeated claims that there were under 100,000 civilians left in the Vanni at the beginning of 2009 when officials later conceded there were some 300,000 and that the security forces were not using heavy weapons in civilian areas when the military eventually admitted they were.

Sittings in the north and east proved to be different in tone. There, almost despite itself, the LLRC process did expose important evidence of abuse. Thousands of civilians came forward when the Commission announced it would hold hearings in former conflict areas -- some at great personal risk (most were told to submit their complaints in writing due to lack of time). Many were Tamil women seeking news of missing relatives believed to have been taken into the custody of the security forces.

For these women the LLRC was a kind of catharsis - an opportunity to share their suffering but sadly as some have told Amnesty, without real redress. Some alleged serious crimes on the part of state forces or the LTTE but the Commission showed little interest in investigating their allegations in depth. The sessions were short; commissioner’s responses to the witnesses were often perfunctory, and they asked few follow-up questions, often merely promising to forward written complaints to relevant officials.

Reports of northern proceedings describe a Commission that was ill-prepared to deal with the large numbers of civilians coming forward with complaints: timeframes to hear testimony were too short; venues sometimes lacked seating -- forcing people who had travelled long distances to testify to sit on the ground; there was inadequate Tamil translation and preference was given to more prominent community leaders giving evidence over ordinary people.

In November, people who came forward to give evidence before the Commission in Kayts Island, Jaffna, were reportedly threatened by armed men alleged to be members of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP). In subsequent sessions there were reports that witnesses and Commissioners were photographed by members of the security forces

If the Sri Lankan government is serious about reconciliation it must be serious about truth and justice. Any mechanism claiming to address public grievances about the treatment of civilians during the war must be given adequate scope and resources to allow for individuals to receive a fair hearing and sufficient authority to ensure redress. It must also treat all witnesses in a safe and humane fashion – something that is impossible without good witness protection.

The Commission’s interim recommendations, sent to the President in September, did not reflect concern for the protection of witnesses or the gravity of the crimes some alleged. There was no recommendation aimed at bringing perpetrators of abuse to justice.

The LLRC did call for practical measures that could help families trace detainees, but none of these recommendations was new. The Commission recommended that the government take measures to speed disposal of detention cases – something that is badly needed, but in fact the Attorney General has been promising for years. It recommended that family members be informed when detainees were moved from one place to another; this should have been happening routinely.

The Commission also recommended administrative changes to allow use of one's mother tongue in business with government -- something that has long been mandated by law. In October 2010, the Sri Lankan Government announced that it would appoint an Inter-Agency Advisory Group to facilitate the implementation of these recommendations. The Inter-Agency Advisory Group said it would also consider the possibility of an assurance that private land in former conflict areas would not be used by government agencies, and the need to disarm remaining armed groups carrying illegal weapons. To Amnesty International’s knowledge no policy change has been announced on either issue.

Given the challenges facing the LLRC Amnesty does not feel there is a credible domestic process of accountability which is why we have supported the setting up of a UN Panel as a first step towards international justice.

History of the UN Panel

The United Nations General Secretary appointed a panel of experts to advise him on accountability in June 2010. The focus of the panel concerns any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict. The panel officially began its work on 16 September 2010 and is looking into applicable international standards and comparative experience with regards to accountability processes. It is important, as we sit here at the Human Rights Council, to remember that the UNSG hopes that the panel will give the United Nations a constructive role in supporting accountability in Sri Lanka. In October 2010 the panel invited individuals and organisations to make submissions and as a result, Amnesty International understands that the Panel has received thousands of submissions despite a lack of access to Sri Lanka. Due to the high volume of submissions, the UN Panel has delayed the handover of the report until the end of March.

Domestic versus international mechanisms of accountability

There is often a tension between calling for domestic or international mechanisms of accountability and there should be debate about what is best. In most cases, Amnesty International would always prefer to support domestic processes. Given what we know, however, of the history of ad hoc Commissions in Sri Lanka we feel there is no option but to call for an international investigation. In this context we launched a global campaign to ask the United Nations to support victims in their struggle for truth and justice by setting up an independent international investigation. This campaign collected over 55,000 signatures which we delivered 2 weeks ago to the UNSG`s office.

When I travelled to New York in February, to handover the petitions, I was accompanied by Dr Manoharan. His son Ragihar was killed by the security forces in the East of Sri Lanka in January 2006. Dr Manoharan expected the Sri Lankan authorities to take action. He came forward to act as a witness. He wanted the domestic criminal justice system to show that it would hold the killers of his son to account. This system failed. In fact there was executive interference in the cover up of the Trinco 5 case, Dr Manoharan himself received threats and he was forced to flee the country to seek safety. Despite co-operating with a domestic Commission of Inquiry (2006) mandated to investigate the Trinco 5 case, Dr Manoharan still waits for the Sri Lankan state to acknowledge the security forces were complicit with the killing of his son, “an innocent one”, as he wife fondly remebers Ragihar

Victims’ families like Dr Manoharan have had to wait too long for justice in Sri Lanka. They no longer believe in the false promises of Commissions, they expect the United Nations to take some responsibility in supporting a genuine process of accountability inside Sri Lanka

In the debates between domestic and international investigation we shouldn’t lose sight of ongoing abuses. New reports of abductions, enforced disappearances and killings in northern Sri Lanka have had a profound effect on public security in that region and people’s ability to heal and rebuild; police killings of criminal suspects in other parts of the country are also on the rise.

Amnesty’s call for a genuine process of accountability is not limited to what happened in the final months of the war. We believe the people of Sri Lanka deserve the right to have a mechanism that can tackle human rights abuses if their own criminal justice system has become so degraded by years of shielding perpetrators in the context of executive interference.

In this regard, we expect the United Nations to make good on its responsibility to support international justice. The report of Ban Ki Moon’s Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka, now scheduled to be handed over at the end of March must be issued publicly. The Human Rights Council and other UN bodies should consider its findings carefully and support Sri Lankans in their struggle for truth, justice and healing.

(Yolanda Foster is Amnesty International’s chief researcher on Sri Lanka)

Britain must act now on Sri Lanka with Europe, USA and India urges British APPGT

The All Party Parliamentary Group of British Parliamentarians for Tamils (APPGT) has urged Britain to act now on the Sri Lankan issue in association with other European partners,USA and India.

In a statement issued by the APPGT the group has also expressed concern about post-war Sri Lanka slipping into becoming an Autocratic state.

The full text of the statement is as follows –

The US Senate recently passed a resolution urging an international investigation of war crimes allegations. Robert O’Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, said the US wanted to see a proper investigation into abuses by both sides in the conflict and was giving the Sri Lankan commission the chance to do so.

It was hoped that the Sri Lankans would do this themselves; but if they are not willing to take the accountability issue seriously, then there will be pressure from the international community to look at some kind of international option.

Lee Scott MP, Ilford North, Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group, referring to the recent comments by Robert O’Blake said “ Nothing but an independent international enquiry to alleged war crimes will satisfy the international community; Sri Lanka must be ready to face economic sanctions if it fails to meet internationally accepted standards”.

Lee Scott, Conservative MP for Ilford North, who has previously expressed his serious concerns about the humanitarian and human rights situation in Sri Lanka continued “The Tamil people have been waiting far too long for justice. The situation has worsened not only for Tamil people, but also Sinhala academics, journalists, and human rights activists under President Rajapaksa’s rule in Sri Lanka.

Respected international organisations such as Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group wanted Governments such as the UK and USA to take firm action. Our Prime Minister was the first European Leader to publicly acknowledge the “wrong choices” that we (Britain) had made in the interest of stability and trade. The developments in postwar Sri Lanka clearly shows that it is slipping into an autocratic state. It is important that Britain act now, along with our European partners, the USA and India. The APPGt is very aware of this situation and will continue to do their utmost to bring this to international attention”.

“Humiliation” in Sri Lanka: Is our society decent or civilised?

By Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

Avishai Margalit the Israeli philosopher wrote a treatise on the Decent Society from which I have quoted often. In it he defines a civilized society as one in which people do not humiliate each other and a decent society as one in which institutions do not humiliate people. My reason for frequently citing this is that throughout the yet to be resolved conflict in Sri Lanka and in parts of the country that were not direct theatres of armed conflict, issues of human dignity and decency abounded and yet do so be it on the basis of ethnicity, religion, class and dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy. Now as we are faced with the challenge of moving beyond the post-war to the post-conflict and with it an unprecedented opportunity to forge reconciliation and unity, Margalit’s treatise assumes a crucial importance and pertinence.

In response to international and national criticism of the inability and/or unwillingness on the one hand or the tardiness and lack of priority on the other to commence this process of reconciliation and unity, the regime points to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) as proof of its commitment to effect reconciliation and unity. The shortcomings of the LLRC process apart, there are incidents that continue, are allowed to continue or are committed, that fly in the face of the declared commitment to reconcile and unite and which negate the spirit and raison d’etre of the LLRC. Moreover, attesting to and augmenting the cancer of impunity, nothing is done to prevent, deter and punish these acts of hate, of hurt and of harm.

The controversy over the national anthem is one. As reported, the rank ignorance and prejudice as well as the servility and silence of those who do know better that was paraded at the cabinet meeting which addressed the issue notwithstanding, the Deputy Director of Education in Jaffna who spoke out on the issue was murdered in cold blood on Boxing Day. This egregious insult and repudiation of out millennia of civilization and of the great religions that are practised in this country was barely reported in the non-Tamil media.

The headquarters of the Army in Jaffna is to be relocated to the LTTE War Memorial in Kopay. The debate, such as there is on this issue is on the web. It is littered with arguments about whether LTTE cadre were actually buried in the grounds, the LTTE being beyond the pale, the legality of the LTTE”s use of the land in the first place and Allied treatment of Nazi memorials. What is missing is the simple issue of the families of slain LTTE cadre treating the memorial as a space to remember and to mourn their loved ones, and the surely obvious question as to what this represents in terms of a demonstrable commitment to reconcile and unite?

It also begs the question of as to whether the denizens of the LLRC should take up these issues and remonstrate with the regime that incidents such as these – and there are many others which go unreported because of the fear of the victims and the fear and apathy of the media – undermine their work, impede reconciliation and send out the message that lessons are not being learned.

There is also a new Human Rights Commission, an institution one would expect to turn to in these circumstances. It is the first of its kind post 18th Amendment and therefore sadly not one in accordance with the international standard of the Paris Principles pertaining to such commissions or one that could reverse the demotion of our national Human Rights Commission by the international coordinating committee for such bodies.

All these nasty things- hurtful, hateful and harmful – stand. The hurt and harm and hate that spawned them unchecked become integral elements of public standards, ethics, morals, culture and sensibilities or yet more egregious examples of the lack of them. Anything goes as long as it is does not contest but uphold triumphalism and majoritarianism in praise of the dynasty and its consolidation power.

Consider for example the Prime Minister’s remarks in the parliamentary debate on the extension of the Emergency. Leave aside the farcical explanations of the source of his information, the message seems to be that the reason for extending the Emergency is that the LTTE though defeated is still around and still around as a security threat. The victory celebrations that we’ve had have clearly been premature and of the wishful thinking variety. It seems that the LTTE will be around as long as the Rajapakshas are and with them the Emergency as the standard operating procedure for regime security.

Consider the report about the political appointments to the Foreign Service. Those being appointed are friends and relations of the regime and with, on all accounts, little or no particular educational attainment or experience befitting a member of a once proud and professional service. It is indeed a national tragedy that the highly educated minister appears to be presiding over the disintegration of our foreign service. With these appointments along with a pet Poo-Bah to oversee the ministry and the sidelining of the service professionals by the Bells and Bates’, Pottingers and Potts at lavish cost and little success, our foreign policy has been reduced to knee-jerk jingoistic reaction, ill-informed, indiscreet statement in the interests of self-preservation and some bordering at times on paranoia.

Indeed we are at a point at which in any healthy, vibrant functioning democracy both the prime minister and the foreign minister would have had to go, nay, would have gone them-selves without prompting because their position in office was untenable.

Not at this court; not in this country. Perhaps it is the case that under this dispensation and equality of sorts applies. Margalit’s point about humiliation holds for citizens, be they average, ordinary or extraordinary. Be they even ministers.

Arthur C. Clarke, Science Fiction and the Hazards of Prophecy

by Amal Siriwardena

I met Arthur C. Clarke briefly when I was about ten years old. My father, Regi Siriwardena, then features editor of the ‘Daily News’ was interviewing Clarke. We met at Clarke’s residence at Gregory’s Road, where he was living with his then diving partner Mike Wilson (who produced the first Sinhala Colour film ‘Ran Muthu Duwa’) and Mike’s wife Elizabeth

Both of us were then avidly interested in Astronomy, and I tagged along to look through Clarke’s telescope. We had a telescope ourselves but we envied the compactness of the little ‘Questar’ instrument. After we had done with looking at the moon, I was asked to sit and be quiet while the interview was being recorded. I vaguely recall one question which was on the lines of ‘what would you say if someone asked whether all the money being spent on space exploration couldn’t be put to a better use on Earth?’ I cannot recall what answer Clarke gave at the time but I have come across a reply he has given elsewhere. We certainly have problems at home, he said, but so had Queen Isabella when she supported Columbus’s voyage.

In my adolescence I read many of Clarke’s early fiction and non-fiction writings. Although Clarke has written many fine Science Fiction novels, on the whole I like his short stories better. His story ‘The Star’ tells of the discovery of the ruins of a civilization that was destroyed when its sun exploded in what is called a supernova. When the explosion is dated it turns out that the sun was what is known to us as the star of Bethlehem. ‘The Star’ was once selected to be included in a school textbook in the seventies but was later dropped for fear it would offend the Catholic Church.

In my favourite story, ( possibly the best sci-fic short story ever written)‘The Nine Billion Names of God’, the monks in a Tibetan monastery hire a computer company to help them rapidly complete a three thousand year old project. The task is to arrive at all the names of god, which are to be derived from the possible combinations of letters of a special alphabet after eliminating nonsense combinations. The monks’ belief is that when the task is completed the universe will come to an end, as god’s purpose in creating it will have been achieved. The computer engineers become fearful of the reaction of the monks when they find that all their work has come to naught. On the last day, leaving the computer to finish its run, they secretly leave the monastery. On their way back to the airfield the story comes to its stunning climax.

Another short story ‘The Sentinel’, which is about the discovery of an artifact on the moon left by an alien intelligence, provided the germ for the remarkable film Clarke co-directed with Stanley Kubrick, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. The filming of some of the zero gravity scenes presented some unprecedented technological challenges. The counterpart novel, with the other books ‘2010’ ‘2061’ and ‘3001’ culminated in the four part Odyssey series. A unique feature of the Odyssey books is that though there is a common thread running through them, they are not linear successors to each other. In the novel ‘2001’ the destination of the spaceship discovery is the planet Saturn; but in the subsequent books it appears to have been, as it was in the film, Jupiter. Clarke skillfully weaves the ideas he has discussed in his popular science writing into his fiction. In his non-fiction he once stated that it is a fallacy that a human being exposed to a vacuum will instantly die. In the most dramatic moment of the film 2001, the Astronaut David Bowman, having been refused re-entry into his spaceship by the mutinous computer HAL, manually opens an airlock and crosses space without a space suit.

Clarke was a man of many facets who could bridge the two cultures. In a couple of his novels he has referred to the power of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach to soothe those who are in traumatic situations. In ‘2001’, David Bowman is left alone in his spaceship when all his comrades are dead. Finding that Beethoven and other romantic composers shattered his nerves, he finds solace in the abstract architecture of the music of Bach.

I find an echo of this in my father’s poem ‘Insanity and the Goldberg Variations’:

Thank you Bach, How often I’ve blessed you on sleepless nights.

Later in the poem he continues:

You Johann Sebastian are absent from the music

You take no pride in your emotions- unlike the deaf one …….

Clarke was also versatile with language. Once asked whether he was gay, he deftly side stepped the question saying ‘ no, just moderately cheerful’.

Clarke’s reputation as a prophet has mainly been built on his prediction of the telecommunication satellite. In the February 1945 issue of ‘Wireless word’ he explained how a system of satellites in the geostationary orbit over the equator, which rotate in exactly in one day so that they appear stationary, could provide global TV coverage. At the time he could not expect to see his idea realised in his lifetime. What is less well known is that, in a letter written in 1956, he predicted a ‘world wide person –to –person radio’, in effect a mobile phone. He continued ‘I’m still thinking of the social consequences of this’. Think of the consequences it has had here in Sri Lanka on courting couples and 3-wheeler drivers!

Yet, Clarke’s successful prophecies have obscured the fact that he has had a mixed record as a prophet. He once had great expectations for the hovercraft, a vehicle which can travel over any kind of surface on a cushion of air, and believed that it would replace ships. He also once opined that the automobile would soon disappear from urban areas to be replaced by some kind of mass transportation system such as conveyor belts. A prediction one would wish had come true but which unfortunately hasn’t.!.

In, the late fifties and sixties, the first flush of space exploration, there were over-optimistic expectations of it’s progress. These were also decades of optimism in the west, before oil crises, stagflation and the defeat in Vietnam; they were also an era of great faith in science and technology. Clarke naturally shared the mood of the times. His book ‘Profiles of the Future’,devoted entirely to scientific and technological futurism, was first published in 1962 and went through a number of revised editions. At the end of each book he gave a timeline of future developments, which to be fair, he himself said is not to be taken too seriously. In the 1962 edition he placed the first planetary landings in the eighties and envisaged colonising planets by 2010. Although he revised his timelines in subsequent predictions he still remained an incurable optimist. In a round of predictions made in 2001, he still hoped for an orbiting Hilton Hotel by 2017 and a Mars landing by 2021.

Clarke was also an optimist about the possibilities of life elsewhere in the universe. Even when the Viking Mars Lander gave a barren picture of the planet he still maintained that the planet had a varied topography, that there was evidence that it had running water at some period, and there could still be oases which could support life. He was also a passionate believer in the existence of extra-terrestrial intelligence. ‘There is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe’ he said not entirely in jest ‘it is simply too intelligent to come here’.

In was in ‘Profiles of the future ‘ that Clarke first proposed the following three laws of prophecy:

Law 1: When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; when he states that something is impossible, he is probably wrong.

Law 2: The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Law 3: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

The laws of course are open to criticism. Science writer Isaac Asimov added a corollary to the first law stating; "When, however, the lay public rallies round an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists and supports that idea with great fervour and emotion — the distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right".

One of Clarke’s most intriguing predictions is the ‘universal replicator’; a device which would enable any object, from gourmet meals to diamonds to the Mona Lisa to be automatically created given the necessary raw materials. It would make most agriculture and industry obsolete, indeed it would end most of ‘work’ as we know it. On the other hand it could lead to an explosion in the creative arts, entertainment and education. It would be indistinguishable from magic indeed!

Science fiction, by its conception of what a future is, is inherently political. Though in the past I would have considered Clarke a somewhat right- wing writer, in the light of what has happened since I would no longer hold this opinion. Clarke certainly did not anticipate the collapse of the Soviet Union; something for which he could hardly be blamed since the army of Sovietologists in the White House and the State Department failed to do so. He foresaw the kind of future where the two systems would converge. In several of his fiction writings he has visualized joint Soviet- American space Projects. In ‘2010’ he shows empathy with the Russian people when the commander of the Soviet spaceship ‘ Leonov’ tells her American shipmate," all your grandparents died in bed Woody; three of mine died in the Great Patriotic War ".

Several of his novels and short stories written during the height of the Apartheid period have referred to a revolution in South Africa which overthrew the white supremacist regime. Though history finally resolved the problem differently, Clarke at least understood that men should walk upright in the land in which they were born. In ‘ 2010’ however he has added a twist. The revolution still happens, but it is bloodless. The Afrikaners, mindful of the omnipresent TV cameras, choose to flee taking their money with them, rather than have a massacre which will be watched by the whole world. This shows Clarke’s belief in the socio-political power of Television. It also gives some food for thought in the light of recent events. What happened in Egypt and Tunisia was not bloodless, but how much worse could it have been if not for the cameras ?. During the first Gulf War Clarke cited the fact that Saddam Hussein allowed CNN to broadcast from Baghdad as demonstrating the pervasive power of .Television.

While researching for this article I came across a searing indictment by Clarke on the American capitalist system. After observing that the structure of American society may be unfitted for the effort that the conquest of space demands he continued, "No nation can afford to divert its ablest men into essentially non-creative and occasionally parasitic occupations such as law, insurance and banking". He also referred to a photograph in Life Magazine showing 7,000 engineers massed behind a new model car they had produced as ‘a horrifying social document’. He was appalled by the squandering of technical manpower it represented. All this indeed makes one wonder whether he really was a closet socialist.

Clarke first came to Sri Lanka in 1956. Seduced by its climate and natural beauty and fascinated by its history and cultural diversity, he soon opted to make it his home. He relished waking up all year round with the sun streaming into his bedroom and missed nothing except Devon Clotted Cream. The island also gave him ample opportunity to pursue his other passionate interest, that of deep sea diving. He pointed out that being underwater is the closest one can get to weightlessness while remaining on the planet. His book ‘Treasures of the Great Reef’ describes how, with Mike Wilson, he recovered some old coins from a sunken ship. Clarke seems to have been a shrewd observer of the Sri Lankan social scene. In his novel ‘ Fountains of Paradise’, largely set in twenty-second century Sri Lanka, there is a conversation between the retired international bureaucrat Rajasinghe, and his female domestic servant Though the whole exchange is given in English it is implicit that the two are switching languages, showing that Clarke had observed the linguistic nuances of bi-lingual Sri Lankans.

‘Fountains of Paradise’ is about the construction of a ‘space elevator’, a cable suspended from the geostationary orbit. This idea however was not originated by Clarke; it was first conceived by the Russian engineer Yuri Artsutanov in the same decade that the first earth satellite was launched. The elevator, which will enable payloads to be raised to orbit without having to use rockets, is built out of super-strong materials manufactured in orbiting factories under zero gravity conditions. The earth end of the elevator is at the summit of a mountain which Clarke calls Srikanda, but is clearly Siripada. ..

Clarke’s later novels were all co-authored with other writers with the other doing the bulk of the writing. But the difference in style shows up. As one critic said ‘they do not have the feel of a Clarke novel’. I was also surprised to find that in one of his last novels ‘Time’s Eye’ he has borrowed a theme used earlier by Fred Hoyle in his novel ‘October the first is too late’. The earth is fragmented in time, with people from different eras occupying different parts of the globe. There is nothing essentially wrong about borrowing an idea, but it makes one wonder whether Clarke was coming to the end of his creativity.

Clarke was never publicity-shy. He was known to have requested himself to be interviewed on important occasions. He was also very conscious of his standing vis-à-vis other writers. Clarke and fellow science writer Isaac Asimov once entered into the ‘Clarke-Asimov treaty’ while in a taxi cab in New York. According to the terms of the ‘treaty’ Asimov was the second best science-fiction writer in the world (leaving the first place for Clarke) while Clarke was the second best popular science writer in the world (leaving the first place for Asimov).

Arthur C. Clarke was someone who enriched the intellectual lives of all of us who took an interest in science in the latter half of the twentieth century. We are the poorer for not having him around. As for the errors he made, they were the occupational hazards for anyone who ventures to look into the crystal ball.

Perpetrators allegedly from ruling UPFA identified as responsible for majority of major election violations

Local Authority Election 2011: Media Communiqués on Election Day, by Centre for Montoring Election Violence

Final Report:

17th March 2011 Colombo, Sri Lanka, 6:00PM:

At the end of polling, CMEV has recorded 56 election violations in the elections to the 91 local bodies it monitored. Of these 27 are major incidents and 29 are minor incidents. The major incidents included one report of murder, a grenade attack, seven incidents of assault, seven incidents of intimidation including five reports of an intimidatory presence around the polling station, the obstruction of polling agents, voters and election monitors, as well as the chasing away of voters. The alleged perpetrators identified as being responsible for major incidents of violence are the UPFA (16), UNP (2), TMVP (1) and the Police (1).

As CMEV did not monitor the election to all bodies that polled today, it is not in a position to make a overall comment on this phase of the Local Government elections. However, we note the recurrence of incidents of violence and violations of election law including as a consequence of intra-party competition both at the personal level and the level of constituent parties of the ruling alliance. We also note that as a consequence of a lacuna in the law, the Department of Elections could not provide transport to IDPs to polling centres. As a result, political parties did so especially in the Puttalam area. CMEV hopes that in the future the participation of all citizens in Sri Lanka in the electoral process will not in anyway raise questions about undue partisan influencing of their exercise of the franchise.

CMEV has received the following reports after the release of our second media communiqué:

Assault

Northern Province, Mannar District, Mannar PS, around 10.00PM

A CMEV monitor reports that a voter named Robel has been assaulted in front of the Sullukudirippu Roman Catholic Maha Vidyalaya by two policemen and four people who arrived in a white van. When CMEV contacted Mannar Police Station, Sergeant Upali claimed that they did not receive any complaints regarding the incident and further stated that the police station will inform the mobile police unit to conduct further investigations.

Southern Province, Hambanthota District, Tangalle UC

UNP parliamentarian Dilip Wedaarachchi reported to CMEV that UNP candidate Abdul Rahuman was attacked by UPFA supporters near the President's residence Carlton. The victim received serious injuries and has been admitted to the hospital.

Western Province, Gampaha District, Wattala PS, at around 9.30am

UNP candidate Charles Ranmuthu reported to CMEV that he and his supporters were attacked by an unidentified group consisting of 25 persons who came in two vehicles (WPHH 3000, 5668) near the Nayakanda Good Shepherd Convent polling centre. The victims have not received injuries and at the time of the incident there was a policeman present. UNP candidate Ranmuthu alleged that the perpetrators are supporters of UPFA.

North Western Province, Kurunegala District, Nikaweratiya PS, from 12.00 - 1.00pm

UNP candidate R.B Ekanayaka (NO. 08) reported to CMEV that a group of UPFA supporters including the Secretary of Minister Jonston Fernando, Sunil Jayaweera, had tried to attack him with an iron rod near the Diwulagoda Maha Vidyalaya polling centre. When Mr. Ekanayake escaped on his motorbike they fired 6-8 gunshots. The perpetrators have smashed the victim's motorbike (NWWM FB14) and his uncle's Nissan Vehicle (301-1626 FB14). They also attacked neighbouring houses. The victim was not injured. He has complained about the incident to the SPO, but has failed to lodge a complaint with the police due to a fear of reprisals.

Voter transportation

Southern Province, Hambantota District, Lunugamwehera PS, around 12.40PM

A CMEV monitor reports that posters of UPFA candidate Walgama Wadduge Ajith Kumara aka Chooty Malli (NO.08) have been dispersed around the Kudagammana Prathamika Vidyalaya polling centre. His supporters are involved in voter transportation in a jeep (52-8486).

Voter intimidation

Southern Province, Hambantota District, Tissamaharama PS, at around 2.45PM

CMEV monitor reports that a group of 15 UPFA supporters are stationed near the Mahasenpura Maha Vidyalaya polling centre with a list of voters' names.

Continuous campaigning on Election Day

Southern Province, Hambantota District, Tissamaharama PS, at around 12.40PM

Leaflets of UPFA candidate Wijenayaka (NO. 04) have been dispersed near the Muthiyammagama Kanishta Vidyalaya polling center. Leaflets of UPFA candidate R.A Gayan Sadharuwan (no.08) have been distributed by his supporters in a cab (WPPP 4313). A three-wheeler pasted with stickers of UPFA candidate Wijenayaka (NO.04) has been transporting voters into the polling centre.

~ Earlier Reports - (2) & (1) ~

Local Authority Election 2011: Media Communique 2:

17th March 2011 Colombo, Sri Lanka: After the release of our first media communiqué, CMEV has received numerous reports with regard to the violation of election law and incidents of violence as well as intimidation. These incidents include murder, the obstruction of CMEV election observers, reports of voter transportation, death threats received by candidates, voter identification issues and reports of voters who were chased away from polling centres.

Murder

Sabaragamuwa Province, Kegalla district, Moradana area at Bulathkohupitiya Pradehiya Sabha. The incident occurred in the early hours of the morning. A three-wheeler transporting UPFA posters had knocked down a supporter of the UPFA who was part of another campaign group. As a result, both of these groups were involved in a fight, which led to one individual being stabbed with a knife. The victim was rushed to the Kegalle hospital and succumbed to his injuries. CMEV contacted the Bulathkohupitiya police station and S.I Samarasena informed us that the fight was not a political incident, but a 'personal matter.' Furthermore, we contacted Jude Rookantha Perera, a UPFA candidate, and he confirmed that he visited the area and that it was a personal fight. CMEV also contacted the Kegalle Hospital police about the incident and OIC Premachandra informed us that the body has not been released yet. In order to obtain further details, CMEV contacted an official at the hospital who told us that the body will not be released until the District Medical Officer (DMO) returns to work. The DMO is presently on leave.

Obstruction of CMEV election observers

North-Western Province, Puttalam district, Puttalam PS at around 10.45AM

Citing the Election Commissioner, SPO of the St.Andrew Maha Vidyalaya polling centre has stated to CMEV monitors that they have no authorization to provide information to CMEV.

North Central Province, Anuradhapura District, Mihintale PS, 9.00AM

The Senior Presiding Officer (SPO) of the Missaka Belgium Community Centre polling centre refused to provide information to the CMEV monitor R.Supun Seneviratne. The SPO has further stated that they are only authorized to provide information to PAFFREL.

Voter transportation

As we highlighted in our first media communiqué, there have been many reports of voter transportation from Puttalam to Mannar. CMEV has contacted the Deputy Manager of the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) and he stated that under the instructions of the Election Commissioner, voters are able to pay the normal bus fare to travel to Mannar. He further stated that CMEV should contact Mr. Ameen, Deputy Depot Manager of SLTB, Puttalam division for further information. However, CMEV has been unable to contact the Deputy Depot Manager in Puttalam. CMEV contacted an official attached to the Assistant Commissioner of Elections and he confirmed that the Election Commission has requested the SLTB to provide transport to voters provided that they pay the normal fare for the service.

Uva province, Moneragala District, Wellawaya PS at around 10.30AM:

CMEV monitor reports that large-scale voter transportation is taking place near the Mallaththawala Maha Vidyalaya No. 25 polling station. Details of the parties and vehicles involved in this incident are as follows:

Van (GK 3443) bearing the name and preference number of UPFA candidate Rohana (No.08)

Cab (250-5309) bearing the name and preference number of UPFA candidate Raja (No. 03)

Van (50-1108) bearing the name and preference number of UNP candidate Dilum (No.04)

Three-wheeler (JG 8815) bearing the name and preference number of UPFA candidate Srinath (No.10)

These vehicles have been moving around the polling station.

Northern Province, Mannar district, Mannar PS & Mannar UC, at around 10.00AM:

CMEV monitor reports that voters were transported along the Kurunegala-Mannar road in WPNA 3877 CTB bus (Mannar Depot), WPNA 3879 CTB bus (Kurunegala depot) and WPNA 633797 CTB bus (Kurunegala depot) by the supporters of UPFA candidate Hameen (3).

Northern Province, Mannar District, Manthai East PS area, at 12.00 NOON:

TNA supporter Amrithalingam reports that UPFA supporters are transporting voters from Palpani to Ambalpuram in eight busses and a gray colour van.

North Western Province, Puttalam District, Puttalam PS at around 9.00AM:

A three-wheeler (UR 7786) bearing the photo and preference number of UPFA candidate Nasmi (No.01) has transported voters to the Sri Visuddharama Temple polling station. CMEV monitor reports that there are two policemen on duty.

Southern Province, Hambantota district, Tissamaharama PS, at around 9.15AM:

UPFA supporters of candidate Y.K Wasantha are transporting voters into Gonagamuwa Kanishta Vidyalaya polling centre in a white van (ST 2540765).

Eastern Province, Ampara district, Navinthanpalli PS, from 9.30-9.45AM:

TNA candidate U.P Thevan (07) reports to CMEV of transportation of voters from Sorikkalmunai 01 to Sorikkalmunai 03 using a bus (60 Sri 0083) by supporters of TMVP candidate Sutharshan (NO.01).

Eastern Province, Ampara district, Samanthurai PS, from 9.50am - 10.00AM:

Voters have been transported from Samanthurai to Jamaliya Vidyalaya polling centre in a white van (61-4636) by supporters of SLMC candidate Kadar.

Death threats

Eastern Province, Ampara District, Navithanveli PS, at around 10.40AM:

TNA candidate Kalaiyarasan (NO.05) complained to CMEV that TNA candidate Kularatnam (NO.09) has received death threats from TMVP Eastern Province Council member Pushparaj near the Saraswathi Vidyalaya and Thalai Mahal Vidyalaya.

Eastern Province, Ampara District, Navithanveli PS, at around 10.40AM

TNA candidate Kalaiyarasan (NO.05) complained to CMEV that TNA candidate Kularatnam (NO.09) has received death threats from TMVP Eastern Province Council member Pushparaj near the Saraswathi Vidyalaya and Thalai Mahal Vidyalaya

Voter identification

Uva Province, Moneragala District, Medagama PS, in the morning

A voter at the Bakinigahawela Sinhala Maha Vidyalaya polling centre reported to CMEV that the Grama Sevaka has failed to return temporary identity cards to 30 voters. These temporary IDs were handed over to the SPO during the last parliamentary election and Grama Sevaka has not received new identity cards. The Grama Sevaka has reported this to the voters yesterday. (March 16)

Uva Province, Moneragala District, Medagama PS, in the morning

A voter at the Bakinigahawela Sinhala Maha Vidyalaya Polling centre reported to CMEV that the Grama Sevaka has failed to return temporary identity cards to 30 voters. These temporary IDs were handed over to the SPO during the last parliamentary election and Grama Sevaka has not received new identity cards. The Grama Sevaka has informed about this to the voter yesterday. (March 16)

Voters chased away from polling station

Central Province, Kandy District, Gampola UC, from the beginning of voting till now

UNP Candidate Sarath Gamini Hettiarachchi (20) reports to CMEV that Muslim voters arriving at the Gampola Wickramabahu National School polling centre (50) and Yowun Senanka Puhunu Godanegilla polling centre (52) have been allegedly chased out of the polling centres by supporters of UPFA candidate, Janaka Uyanwatta (01). It is alleged that Thilak, an underworld member, is responsible for this incident. Sarath Gamini Hettiarachchi, UNP candidate (NO. 20), alleged that vehicles belonging to the Prime Minister's security division are moving around the area and security personnel of the Prime Minister have parked their vehicle in by-lanes. According to the witness, a complaint has been lodged at the Gampola police station. When CMEV contacted the Gampola police station, the police claimed that they did not receive a complaint regarding the incident, but they have dispatched a mobile police vehicle upon receiving a fax from the Election Commissioner. A CMEV monitor reported that the SPO has confirmed that this incident took place and that they were unable to intervene. Furthermore, the Army and Police have been deployed in order to secure the area.

Central Province, Kandy District, Udapalatha PS, at around 9.15AM

Devapriya Ranatunga, UNP candidate for the Udapalatha PS, has complained to CMEV that supporters of UPFA candidate Udaya Kumara (P.No 22) who arrived in VW 3045 motorcycle have chased the voters out of the Panwilatenna Maha Vidyalaya polling centre. UPFA candidate Udaya Kumara was present at the time of the incident.

Local Authority Election 2011: Media Communique 1:

17th March 2011, 1000Hrs: Polls opened at 7.00 am today in 234 Local Authorities. The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) has received a number of reports of violence and violations relating to electoral law, including individual incidents of voters being chased away from a polling booth in Dambulla MC and an attack in Beruwela UC on the house of a candidate. CMEV is monitoring the polling through the deployment of Mobile Teams.

Transportation of voters from Puttalam to Mannar

CMEV was informed by its monitors, that voters are largely being transported to polling centres by political parties, particularly from Puttalm to Mannar. This is a violation of electoral law. CMEV contacted the Mannar Election Office and was informed by an officer in charge of transport that the Election Department has not provided transportation facilities this time and therefore political parties had stepped in to do so. He confirmed that he had received information regarding this.

Hand Grenade attack in Dimbulagala PS, Polonnaruwa

A hand grenade attack has been reported from Dimbulagala PS of Polonnaruwa District at around 3.20 am. The attack occurred inside a polling centre namely Maguldamana Vidyalaya according to the Aralaganvila Police Station. CMEV learnt that a police officer on duty had been injured during the attack and had been admitted to the Polonnaruwa Hospital. CMEV was later informed by its monitor, that this attack was allegedly carried out by a group of UPFA supporters when the police officer prevented the pasting of posters near the polling station. However, a police constable attached to the Aralagangvila Police Station informed CMEV that the poll is being conducted at the said centre as scheduled.

Tension in G.B.Senanayaka MV of Ekala PS, Gampaha

At around 08.30 am a CMEV Monitor reported that a tense situation prevailed near the G.B.Senanayaka MV polling centre due a dispute between the UNP polling agent and election officials. According to the CMEV monitor two centres have been established - one for men and another for women- in the said centre and although two UNP polling agents were allowed access to the centre only one voter list was given. Subsequently the polling agents had an argument with the SPO to provide two separate voting lists to each of the polling agents. It is also reported that police also intervened in the incident. At around 09.00 am CMEV Monitor informed that the police had the situation under control.

Voters driven away by thugs at Dambulla Rajaye Madya Maha Vidyalaya hall no.02, Dambulla MC
At around 9.00 am voters at the Dambulla Rajaye Madya Maha Vidyalaya hall no.02 polling station were beaten and chased out of the station by a group who arrived in a vehicle. A mobile police vehicle of the Dambulla police station arrived at the scene and the group fled the area. According to the people around the polling station, this group is affiliated to the UPFA. CMEV contacted the Dambulla Police who stated that a complaint had been lodged relating to the assault.

Tension and attack on UNP candidate's house in Beruwala UC , Kalutara District at around 9.30am

UNP candidates have complained to CMEV about a tense situation around the Beruwala Urban Council arena. It is reported that UPFA supporters allegedly led by Marjan Hajiya had attacked the Mahagoda residence of UNP candidate Hasan Fasy (No. 8 ) and assaulted his family. CMEV was informed that the attackers numbered around fifteen persons, including five with pistols. When CMEV contacted the Beruwela Police Station, it was informed that 42 Air Force personnel have been dispatched to the area.

(CMEV was formed in 1997 by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), the Free Media Movement (FMM) and the Coalition against Political Violence as an independent and nonpartisan organization to monitor the incidence of election related violence. Currently, CMEV is made up of CPA, FMM and INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre.)

India Protected Sri Lanka From International Pressure to Stop the War and Talk to The LTTE

by Nirupama Subramanian

India played a key role in warding off international pressure on Sri Lanka to halt military operations and hold talks with the LTTE in the dramatic final days and weeks of the war in 2009, confidential U.S. Embassy cables accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks showed.

The cables reveal that while India conveyed its concern to Sri Lanka several times about the “perilous” situation that civilians caught in the fighting faced, it was not opposed to the anti-LTTE operation.

They also show that India worried about the Sri Lankan President's “post-conflict intentions,” though it believed that there was a better chance of persuading him to offer Sri Lankan Tamils an inclusive political settlement after the fighting ended.

After its efforts to halt the operation failed, the international community resigned itself to playing a post-conflict role by using its economic leverage, acknowledging that it had to rope in India for this.
In the closing stages of the war, New Delhi played all sides, always sharing the concern of the international community over the humanitarian situation and alleged civilian casualties in the Sri Lankan military campaign, but discouraging any move by the West to halt the operations.

In January 2009, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee made a “short notice” visit to Sri Lanka. The Indian Deputy High Commissioner in Colombo, Vikram Misri, briefed the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission and other diplomats about the visit, in a cable dated January 29, 2009 ( 189383: confidential).

At a two-hour meeting at President Rajapaksa's residence, attended by the army chief, defence secretary and other top officials, Mr. Mukherjee stressed he was in Colombo with “no objective other than to ensure that human rights and safety of civilians were protected.”
Mr. Misri told the diplomats that while domestic political considerations were a factor in the Indian calculus, “New Delhi is deeply worried about the humanitarian crisis in the Vanni. He added that Indians throughout the country, not just in Tamil Nadu, are troubled by the high level of casualties sustained by Tamil civilians caught in the crossfire.”

From Mr. Mukherjee's statement at the end of his visit, it was clear that India did not oppose the operations. “I stressed that military victories offer a political opportunity to restore life to normalcy in the Northern Province and throughout Sri Lanka, after twenty three years of conflict. The President assured me that this was his intent.”

Indian theme

This was to remain the Indian theme, except for a brief period in April 2009, when New Delhi, under pressure in the context of elections in Tamil Nadu — the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a partner in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), was feeling the heat of the Sri Lankan operations — made an attempt to press for a pause in the operations, if not a cessation.

In a meeting with U.S. Embassy Charge d'Affaires Peter Burleigh on April 15, 2009, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said the Sri Lankan government had made clear it “did not want a UN Envoy in resolving the conflict with the LTTE, nor was the GSL interested now in direct negotiations with the LTTE or in a cease-fire”, which is in a cable sent on April 15, 2009 ( 202476: confidential).

The Foreign Secretary told Mr. Burleigh that the Indian government had advised Sri Lanka against rejecting all such proposals out of hand and “offered a suggestion that the GSL consider offering an amnesty to all but the hard core of the LTTE.”

But he also pointed out there were questions about what constituted the LTTE's core and what modalities would be used to make such an offer.

The Foreign Secretary “acknowledged that the space for such discussions was small and flagged President Rajapaksa's electoral considerations as militating against anything that could be viewed as a concession to the LTTE. ‘Quiet diplomacy' outside of Sri Lanka faced serious challenges and the Sri Lankan government would have to ‘be dragged, kicking and screaming' to talks.”

Mr. Menon highlighted another problem: in “India's view, the group was sending conflicting signals and there was a real question as to who spoke for Prabhakaran”. He also questioned whether Prabhakaran understood the situation he faced.

Ruling out the possibility of Indian involvement in any such process between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government, Mr. Menon told the U.S. official that the ongoing elections in India made such efforts “impossible.”

Still, he left Mr. Burleigh with the impression that India was not opposed to the idea of talks at that late stage.

“He asked whether the U.S. was interested in such talks and said India would think about participation, perhaps with other states under UN auspices, in an effort to obtain a peaceful conclusion to the conflict,” the charge wrote in the cable.

Three weeks later, U.K. Special Envoy for Sri Lanka Des Browne, visiting New Delhi on May 6-7, heard from Foreign Secretary Menon and National Security Adviser (NSA) M.K. Narayanan(cable 206806: confidential, May 13, 2009), that while there was “domestic political pressure” on India to do more on Sri Lanka due to the ongoing elections (the Tamil Nadu Assembly election was on May 13), “there was little anyone could do to alleviate the fighting as Sri Lanka government forces moved towards the end game of defeating the LTTE.”

A British High Commission contact briefing the U.S. Embassy political counselor on this meeting said the Indian officials were concerned about the humanitarian situation, but “were more upbeat on chances to persuade President Rajapaksa to offer Tamils a political solution once fighting had ended.

The two Indian officials were “slightly more optimistic of the chances to persuade President Rajapaksa to offer the Tamils a genuinely inclusive political settlement once fighting had ended. It was the Indians' impression that President Rajapaksa believed this was his moment in history, i.e., a chance to bring peace to the island for good, but that the Sri Lankan Army was an obstacle, having been emboldened by its victory over the LTTE.” They told Mr. Browne that if Sri Lanka did not implement the “13th Amendment Plus” devolution plan quickly, a new terrorist movement could quickly fill the vacuum left by the LTTE's defeat.

Their advice to the British special envoy: it was “useful to have Sri Lanka on the UNSC's agenda, and to issue periodic Presidential Statements, but it would be counterproductive for the UN to ‘gang up' on Colombo; providing Rajapaksa with a rationale for fighting off international pressure would only serve to bolster his domestic political standing.”

On May 15, the U.S. Charge met Mr. Menon again for “a discussion on the urgent humanitarian situation” in Sri Lanka, in a cable sent on May 15, 2009 ( 207268: confidential).

Acknowledging the “dire situation,” the Foreign Secretary said pressure needed to be put on the Sri Lankan government to avoid civilian causalities. But once again, “he cautioned that bilateral diplomacy would be more effective than highly public pressure in the UN Security Council or the Human Rights Council."

For a ‘pause'

By then, under pressure from UPA coalition partner and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, New Delhi had already tried to get the Sri Lankan government to go easy on the war-front.

On April 23, Mr. Burleigh wrote ( 203792: confidential) of his meeting that day with the Indian Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Menon told him that in a phone call to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later that day, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee would propose that the U.S. and India coordinate an international effort to force the Sri Lankan government “to take appropriate political steps to bring stability to Sri Lanka and a return to normalcy in the Tamil regions.”

He told Mr. Burleigh that the Indian Cabinet had decided to make “a new appeal to pause military operations” and provide relief to civilians trapped in the war zone.

Mr. Menon and Mr. Narayanan then made a quick visit to Colombo on April 24. On their return, the NSA told Mr. Burleigh, in a cable sent on April 25 ( 204118: confidential), that the Sri Lankan President had “more or less” committed to “a cessation of hostilities”.

Mr. Rajapakse would make the announcement on April 27 after consulting his Cabinet. Mr. Narayanan asked the U.S. to “keep quiet” about it until it came.

The announcement did come, but not for a cessation of hostilities. Declaring that combat operations had ended, the Sri Lankan government announced heavy-calibre weapons would no longer be used. The Defence Ministry warned this was not a cessation of hostilities or ceasefire, and said the push into a 10-km swathe of land where the LTTE leader and the members of his inner circle were holed in would continue.

Briefing Delhi-based diplomats during his May 6-7 visit, Des Browne, the U.K. special envoy, said he believed Sri Lanka could be forced through monetary inducements to accept a post-conflict role for the international community, according to the cable sent on May 13, 2009 ( 206806: confidential).

“At the end of the day they'll want the money,” Mr. Burleigh quoted the U.K. special envoy as saying. Mr. Browne noted that the government had expended “vast resources” for the war, and emphasised India's “unique role” in the post-conflict scene.

But it appears that the U.S. was worried India might shy away from such a role, and Mr. Burliegh suggested in his cable that “the time is ripe to press India to work more concretely with us on Sri Lanka issues.”

COURTESY:THE HINDU

March 16, 2011

Saving the Sri Lankan Foreign Service: Wrestlers, County Cricketers, and Pac-Boat riders to Hardware Merchants and ‘Nadagam’ Mudalalis !

by Bandu de Silva

The first three named in the subtitle indicate the type of persons who were recruited to the Foreign Service in the era of Prime Minister S.W.R.D Bandaranailke, and the Hardware merchant was one who contacted me to ask if he should accept the diplomatic post offered to him in Singapore under President Kumaratunga government and the Nadagam Mudalalis are in the current list.

I did not enter the recent media discussion on recruitment to the Foreign Service though I had a lot to say on it as a former Director of the Overseas Administration Division of the then Ministry of Defence and External Affairs who was personally selected for that post by Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike , not on any political considerations but because she had had reports from the Treasury about me as an administrator and her Permanent Secretary, Arthur Ratnavale who was the former head of the O&M Division of the Treasury had advised her to appoint me as he himself was familiar with my work from the days in Beijing and Australia.

It was a little discussion with an old friend from London last night who was a very senior public servant in Sri Lanka under Mrs. Bandaranaike, that prompted me to write now. He said it was a good thing that my youngest daughter, whom Dr.V.L.B.Mendis described as the person with most and varied qualifications to ever show interest in joining the Foreign Service in 2003 (more of that later) was not given an opportunity to join the Foreign Service by the very person who is said to be advising the Foreign Ministry now (Mr.Pathiraja according to The Sunday Leader, March,13,2011) on an anarchic process of recruitment outside the approved scheme. My friend’s point was that my daughter was far better off outside the Foreign Ministry now, intellectually speaking- a point that which seemed to be contained in Prof.Rajiv Wijesinghe’s recent comment when he wrote about the absence of an ‘Advisory mechanism’ to support the external Affairs Minister. My friend said that my daughter has had the opportunity to follow academic pursuits as she had demonstrated by her gaining a LLM at Cambridge within nine months; an MBA at Monash and now proceeding with her PhD researching on post-war reconstruction in Sri Lanka. My friend even thought that it was a good thing from academic perspective that the Presidential Secretariat rejected her request for a financial grant to cover travel etc. on the ground it had no scheme to support research at foreign Universities. That, he said, not because it points to the disinterest in Sri Lanka, despite all the claims about the big discussions about post-war re-building, but because it leaves her to make independent assessment without obligation to the funder. The way Presidential Funds have been disbursed is public knowledge throughout and I do not wish to comment here. In Paris where I was Ambassador, even a former French teacher, was given a travel grant to visit his old College at Kandana!

Presidential intervention

It is just as well the President had seen how the External Affairs Ministry’s ill-advised scheme of direct recruitment could not only affect the morale of the Service and destroy even the little professionalism in it if people were selected to the permanent establishment that way and sent abroad without even the basic training, but it would raise serious contradictions about Mahinda Chintanya as it did with Mr. Bandaranaike’s “small man’s era” when he changed the scheme of recruitment and made it an elite club of Shire Cricketers in England, Harvard wrestlers and a Pac-Boat rider who failed to pass the degree exam even after three tries and stopped the proposed recruitment .(The Island, March15). What resulted from the ”foreign experience” criteria (more on that later) of Prime Minister Bandaranaike should stand as a Lesson to be Learnt.

I was also attracted by an interview given by Presidential Secretary, Lalith Weeratunge, to Indrajit Bhadwari of the “GFiles” recently where he spoke of the need to gear the country’s Administrative Service to serve the immediate post-war development goals. He spoke of the need for “management skills” (MBAs perhaps as universally recognized now), and mastery of English. However, he said, this cannot be done by a stroke of the pen. Despite the urgency to complete the basic programme of development by the end of this year, it remains to be seen how the enthronement of English could be effected so soon without keeping the Sinhala and Tamil medium educated public servants and candidates out. The introduction of English as a compulsory subject at the “A” level examination without English teachers in our village schools is surely going to put the villagers at a disadvantage. That means there will be no candidates like me or my old friend Somapala Gunadheera who were hundred per cent products of village schools who beat all public school candidates in the Civil Service Examination conducted in English, in my case even in the Overseas Service Examination

Professionalism in the Foreign Service

The reason for my appointment as Director of the overseas Administration by Mrs.Bandaanaile was for far more important reasons than the reports she had received from the Treasury of my performance in the Administrative area from her own Permanent Secretary Arthur Ratnavale who was earlier the Head of the O&M Division of the Treasury and the former Secretary, Ambassador Herbert Tennakoon under whom I worked in Tokyo. Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike was keen to make the Foreign Service, strong so as to help her to achieve her foreign policy goals. That was not the first time that the importance of the Foreign Service was realized. It was a Universally accepted idea which was encapsulated in US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger’s address to a batch of new recruits to the American Foreign Service and quoted ever since.

The realization of the need for professionalism in Foreign Service goes back to the very beginning of independence and was structured into a set of instructions issued by the first Prime Minister D.S.Senanayake which remained the handbook on diplomacy for Sri Lankan diplomats. Non career heads of mission may not have been privy to it as was demonstrated by Tissa Wijeyeratne who had been Ambassador to France when I showed it to him at the Ministry when he assumed duties in 1974 as Additional Secretary. The idea of building up a professional service continued.

The SWRD Bandaranaike reforms

They were not really reforms but an ad hoc move as presently proposed by the External Affairs Minister, G.L.Peiris. Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike, on assuming duties even interviewed the batch of recruits to the Service including myself (heading the list) but he was not satisfied with the process of recruitment which was the open competitive examination which included a written examination and two interviews. He wanted persons with “foreign experience” taken into the service. (SEE HANSARD, August 1956). None in the Service then would have qualified as they were all local educated and had not left the shores even in a fishing boat to Katchchativu or Batala gunduva off Chilaw. On the face of it, the SWRDB idea was to make the service elitist which idea clashed with his declared slogan of “The small man’s era”. My friend H.S.S.Nissanka made a mistake in identifying me, a hundred per cent product of the village, including village schools as Bandaranaike’s first product under the “small man’s” era. No. I was recruited under the J.L. Kotalawala era examination scheme. The point that Nissanka wanted to really stress was that a Farmer’s grandson, a Gamarala to be exact,- he knew my background as we were both teachers at Dharmaraja College, Kandy - entered the Foreign Service. The other real farmer to enter the Foreign Service came from Kalmunai but not through a competitive examination but with his Harvard wrestler qualifications.

The Overseas Administration Division

How far this important Division has been downgraded can be seen from the fact the Ministry has no officer with administrative experience and perception of the long term needs of the Service to meet the foreign policy demands and objectives of the country. It has had to bring back a retired promoted clerical officer who once served under me as a clerk with no notable distinction or personal qualities except trying to impress me with his family’s connection with the UNP and that Foreign Minister ACS Hamid having selected him to the Paris mission. Later, as D/OAD, he was noted for the mismanagement of the recruitment procedure in 2003 along with the then Additional Secretary who was an Administrative Service officer. How could a strong Foreign Service be built up with this type of lackadaisical arrangements?

In contrast, what was stressed by Prime Minister Mrs. Bandaranaike was that a strong Overseas Administration Department was needed to take care of the more important aspects of recruitment policy, management, training and placement. So, in addition to my appointment, I was provided with the services of two very senior Foreign Service Officers, the late Rodney Vandergert, later Chairman of the PSC after his retirement and C. Mahendran, later Ambassador to Japan and the UN, as my Deputies. Even the recruitment procedure of Clerical officers to overseas Missions then was revamped through a rigorous selection procedure through the holding a public competitive exam and two interviews presided by me and assisted by (Dr) Sarath Amunugama, (present Minister) then Director of Establishment in the Ministry of Public Administration and Gamani Seneviratne another senior Foreign Service officer with wide administrative experience. I was given complete freedom of action and my position then was one which was secured from creeping political interference. The Prime Minister herself had assured me the security from political interference so much so that no Minister or other politician, or members of Prime Ministers family ever interfered in my decisions because of the confidence I enjoyed with the P.M.

That arrangement lasted until the ‘Janawegaya’ group of Kumar Rupasinghe appeared around the end of 1974 with Rupasinghe and Tissa Wijeyeratne leading and Chandrika Bandaranaike and to a lesser degree Sunetra Rupasinghe interfering, not only in the Administration of the Ministry and Missions but in the entire foreign policy decisions. The time was a critical moment for the Prime Minister. I left the scene as I did not want to be led by these people. Permanent Secretary W.T.Jayasinghe too abdicated his responsibilities over the foreign Affairs Division and Overseas Administration leaving it to Additional Secretary, Tissa Wijeyeratne.

By that time a section affiliated to them was moving to dispose of the government’s real estate assets in London. The valuable real estate property of the Ceylon student Centre was disposed of. And they were aiming to dispose of the equally valuable Hyde Park Corner High Commission property. Secretary Jayasinghe and I had to use every bit of ingenuity to stop this from realization.

After, the Prime Minister took control of the situation, she got in touch with me in Paris and later in Colombo during a visit to Colombo and accused me for abandoning her . She said I should have opposed the intrusion by her children in the affairs of the Foreign Office. How could I do it when the Permanent Secretary Jayasinghe himself had abdicated his responsibilities over the Foreign Relations Division of the Ministry and concentrated only on the Defence Division?

Stinking record under Minister A.C.S. Hamid

The Ministry next came under Foreign Minister Mr.A.C.S.Hamid when all rules were thrown to the wind. The administration was placed in charge of an expert in Gem appraising! I can substantiate it. Appointments to the Foreign Service over which many are lamenting today were done outside the scheme of recruitment. When either the President or the Prime Minister showed interest in a particular appointment on contract, the Foreign Minister saw to it that four of his nominees were included in the package submitted to the Cabinet for approval. That was routine norm, “ONE to FOUR” as it was called!

Kith and kin and friends of politicians were appointed to overseas posts without any training, including a Minister’s brother, a former Price Control Inspector, as a Director in the Foreign Office and later as Ambassador to Kuwait. So the public cannot blame this government but the issue is that voters did not elect this government to repeat the UNP’s unsavoury record. A classic case under Foreign Minister Hamid, was the appointment of a Muslim teacher from Harispattu as Second Secretary to assist me. The only work I could assign him was to organize the small Library of about 25 books and periodicals even which he failed to do. So he remained without other work for nearly a year as long as I was there. I heard that later he had found a job as a house cleaner and was taking French leave from the Embassy for that purpose. What a time it would have been with both Diplomatic officers being two former teacher without any training in administration or handling diplomacy. That is a typical example to which the one of our leading Embassies in Europe was turned into. That is a lesson to be learnt in the present context. Mr. Pathiraja may be privy to more information.

The issue at the bottom

I thought I should, for the benefit of the country record some of my thoughts on the issue at the bottom, which is really not the issue of appointments outside the scheme of recruitment, but the sad state of the administration of the Ministry of External Affairs which it reflects. This not to direct the finger at the present Minister or its administrative head, Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe but at their own level they should have seen the technical loopholes and the political repercussions that the project would result in. It is then not surprising that Prof. Rajiv Wijeinghe remarked recently, on the incapacity of the External Ministry provide an advisory mechanism for foreign policy.

The shocking revelation is the External Affairs Ministry’s naivety about administrative procedures – that is obviously the contribution of this retired expert – to think that the Treasury and Public Administration Ministry would give blanket approval to a scheme to recruit a dozen persons for the permanent service without holding a public competitive examination, but based on a process of recruitment on hearsay or subjective evaluation of the contributions of their fathers , despite any negative elements displayed by them in public and which reportedly did not indicate the qualifications of the person nominated nor the salary point on which he/she would be placed. This is the type of professional advice the Ministry is receiving now. The Treasury cannot be expected to blindly approve any foolish proposal which is silent about financial implications.

Mismanagement revealed: The issue of 97 vacancies

The reported filling of 11 vacancies in the Foreign Service on contract through Cabinet decision last week should not have come as a surprise. Provision existed in the original Overseas Service Minute for filling vacancies following three methods, namely, open competitive examination, personal selection and promotion [from other services] to the lowest grade. The last was generally meant for clerical grade promotions until I changed it a Director Overseas Administration in 1972 to include other services as well. But these stipulations may have since changed in favour of the open competitive examination. In practice, however, the provision for filling vacancies continued. Personal selection was the method used to fill heads of mission posts both from outside and within the career service.

The surprise, however, is the news (The Sunday Island Editorial, March 13,2011) that there are 97 vacancies in the total foreign Service Cadre of 237 unfilled for a long time. That is more than 1/3rd of the cadre positions remaining vacant. This is not a situation that could have arisen overnight but the result of years and perhaps, decade of accumulated folly on the part of the Ministry Administration, especially the Overseas Administration Division. I say this with a sense of responsibility as one who held the responsibility of Director Overseas Administration.

What that presents in administrative terminology is “total mismanagement” of the administration for a long period, perhaps, decades, including lack of insight into the needs of the Foreign Service taking a long term perspective, in relation to the country’s foreign policy needs. Foreign policy needs too have been growing since independence and is of varied dimension today. So it is not surprising that the cadre needs stand at 237 officers. That excludes head of mission, I suppose.

Financial Constraints

But mismanagement may not be the only cause. A vital factor could be the budgetary constraints which prevented a proportionate increase in expenditure under personal Emolument and Allowances under the Ministry and overseas missions. If that is so , then it is a blame that the whole government should share. It is a case of financial provision not meeting the expectations of the government and the country. In 1983/4 when the role of our missions had to be changed to meet the situation arising from internal compulsions and international responses to it, our missions and the foreign office was not ready for it. At the end of it the responsibility lies with the Ministry for not forcefully advocating the cause to obtain adequate financing. That could not have been expected from an old clerk who is used to push papers.

If Prof. Rajiv Wijesinghe complained about the absence of an advisory mechanism in foreign policy in the Foreign Office recently, these material factors inhibiting the process have to be taken in to account. Today all officers are equipped with IT and there is instant access to information in contrast to the days when the Senior Foreign Relations Counsellor, the Civil servant, Neville Jansz did not know about the Anglo-French invasion of Egypt soon after the nationalization of the Suez Canal which made Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike to burst out asking “Don’t you people even have a Radio set on your table?”

The Treasury has always remained a stumbling block against the expansion of the Foreign Service from the inception. The established cadre could not be increased to meet the needs for transfers. As a result, cross-station transfers was the norm then. In the early days, an officer had to be prepared for a minimum eight year spell of overseas stay at a stretch with cross-postings by which time he/he would have even lost touch with the country. The stock question that the Treasury asked was what are these people going to do back at home in the Ministry. Here the Treasury had become the decision maker. This mental attitude remained throughout and even Prime Minister Mrs.Bandaranaike could not influence the Treasury decisions.

It would now seem that the External Affairs Ministry is in a position to fill the vacancies in the Foreign Service as seen from annual examinations being held to fill a certain number of vacancies. That points to the relaxation of financial controls by the Treasury to an extent

2003 recruitment fiasco

The important point about recent filling of as many as a dozen vacancies on contract through direct recruitment is the claim that the examination process takes a long time. This is misleading. I conducted examinations and completed recruitment procedures in record time. The first batch recruited included my former colleague K.Godage and two others over whose selection Director General, Dr.V.L.B.Mendis congratulated me. The next batch included 12 others.

The record of 2003 shows that the Ministry decided to hold the open competitive examination without any consideration about the availability of an adequate recruitment base. In other words, it was not sensitive to the situation in the country. That year, a many complaints published in the media showed, the examination was held before University final result were out. The results were out a few days after the closing date of applications. Two to three years of back -log results were also expected. I had knowledge of the situation that the Senate would approve the results as my cousin was then the Registrar of the Colombo University. That persuaded me to write a letter to Secretary Lionel Fernando suggesting postponement of closing date by a few days. I did not even have a courtesy of a reply. How could the other members of the public then expect any responses to their complaints? In fairness to D/OAD, Mr.Pathiraja, I must say he came to me at a funeral house and whispered to me that my daughter could apply “Next time.” What display of efficiency? That mishandling deprived many prospective candidates with good credentials as I knew, including my youngest daughter, whom Dr.Vernon Mendis thought far over-qualified of the opportunity of submitting themselves for selection.

Perhaps, the likes of my daughter were not what the Foreign Ministry was interested in though both the Cambridge and Monash Universities grabbed the opportunity of having her as a post graduate student by offering her scholarships and now the Brisbane University in having her as a PhD candidate.

So the Ministry’s arguments about immediate needs in the Service having to be met are baseless and can fool only the uninitiated. Just as Mr.Bandaranaike used the interview with five of us new recruits as an alibi, as the grapevine revealed, to recruit into the Service, a few predetermined persons using the “foreign experience” criteria which qualified a County cricketer, a Wrestler, a Cargo Boat rider and another lady from Jaffna who made the short trip across-the –Palk Straits to visit old relatives, which her politician father had arranged, the present argument for the need for quick recruitment and immediate postings too points to a decision to take in certain pre-determined persons under the “Cultural and other definition,” irrespective of the negative aspects some of the fathers displayed even when holding public office like a head of mission, is a story god for the marines, as the saying goes ! The cultural orientation could, perhaps, be an after- thought that came after the Copacabana show organized on the National Day by the Consul General in Los Angeles. I can speak a lot on the cultural aspect because I was the only “cultural officer “ in the Ministry for long years. The idea is all humbug!

If culture be the criteria, one could ask what is wrong with the appointment as diplomatic representatives in our overseas missions of a kin of the Gurunnanse from Balapitiya who put Sarachchandra on the Nadagam circuit who has been completely forgotten by the country with the rise of Maname Mudalalis; or Ariyapala Gurunnanse’s son Bandu Wijesuriya from Ambalangoda who kept the audiences in Sydney enthralled with his drumming as a member of Chitrasena’s troupe though he too may be aging now,? Ambassador Wilmot Perera took a young Kandyan dancer to Beijing in 1957 and we had to find him employment in the Embassy at the level of a K.K.S. Even appointing a scion of my good friend, the late Chitrasena itself, would not be a bad idea.

They could drum, dance and sing, show some traditional acrobatics, a few rope tricks, charm a few snakes to appease audiences now demonstrating in front of our Embassies!

Sri Lankan Tamil Poet and Irish Violinist Marry Music, Lives

Unique music shows their common experience of exile and immigration

by Lonny Shavelson
VOA News, San Francisco, California

Colm O'Riain is an Irish violinist. Pireeni Sundaralingam is a Sri Lankan Tamil poet. They’re married and have created a unique music that sounds out their common experience of exile and immigration.

SLTI318.jpg

pic courtesy of: http://www.wordandviolin.com

Perhaps the best way to introduce the marital and musical pairing of Colm O’Riain and Pireeni Sundaralingam is from the first time his Irish and her Sri Lankan parents met.

Listen: Shavelson Audio Report (mp3)

"We initially were rather concerned as how our parents would react, as we came from different religions, different backgrounds, two different parts of the planet," says Sundaralingam. "When they did meet, they found they had many stories in common, stories of colonialism, of resistance, also of poetry and literature and the music that springs out of that. My father said, 'I don’t know what you were so worried about. They’re just like our people.'"

The British declared the Island of Sri Lanka a Crown Colony in 1802, one year after they attached Ireland to the United Kingdom, and that Crown unity led to the suppression of the Gaelic language in Ireland.

"If caught speaking Irish, you could be sent to jail," says O'Riain. "If caught teaching it, you could be deported."

The Tamil language in Sri Lanka faced similar challenges.

"Tamil language could no longer be used in law courts and schools," says Sundaralingam.

From that common colonial experience grows a song and poem called "Celtic Raag," in Tamil, Gaelic and English.

"If I could choose the language in which I spoke to you, I would chose the dark, red tongue of the Tamil Lands, the yearning notes, the desert drone, the heated hum of the monsoon rising. If I could choose the language in which I spoke to you, I would choose to speak in Gaelic, the sliding scale, the sussuration of breath, The sound of water beating between us."

"We both come from small islands surrounded by large oceans," says O'Riain.

"I’m sure that the sounds of both Gaelic and Tamil were influenced by the fact they evolved right there beside the ocean," says Sundaralingam.

The couple has performed at the English National Theatre in London and the UN Headquarters in New York as well as at arts and literary festivals around the world. They see a natural meshing of their two arts forms.

"Pireeni’s poetry is naturally lyrical, and the basis of all lyrical poetry is music," says O'Riain. "And I grew up in Ireland where there’s a very strong poetry movement."

"It was once said that every poet lives as an exile within his own language, and to write poetry that you have to look at the world sideways on, to feel slightly at odds with the world, to look at things with fresh eyes," says Sundaralingam.

The two have released a CD called “Bridge Across the Blue,” which brings together musicians and writers from different ethnic traditions to tell the immigrant stories of America. ~Courtesy: VOA News ~

Members of parliament should not be members of the cabinet

By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

Anyone who knows anything about political theory has heard of the doctrine of the Separation of Powers. This means that those who perform the active function of government, the executors or doers, should be distinct from those who lay down the framework on which action is taken, the legislators. That framework is created not only through laws, but also through the budget, the allocation of resources for the Executive. Because of this latter responsibility, the Legislature also acts as the monitor of Executive action, through oversight mechanisms.

Hardly anyone thinks that this doctrine of Separation is a bad thing. Obviously those who act should not also be the judges of their own actions. However we tend in this country to ignore the fact that the doctrine does not operate at all here. The simple fact is that all members of the Executive, apart from the President, are also members of the Legislature. The proportion of legislators who belong to the Executive, and see this as their primary function and responsibility, has grown and grown over the years. Since 1977 the proportion has been well over half of the majority faction in Parliament, indeed in the 1977 Parliament it was well over half Parliament as a whole.

This is particularly ironic, since that Parliament introduced a Constitution which was intended to separate the functions clearly, on the lines of France and the United States, which have an Executive Presidential system. The essence of that system is that those who act are outside the Legislature, which can then perform its Legislative and Budgetary and Oversight functions independently. Jayewardene indeed, before he became President, argued that he wanted full separation, because that would also help his Ministers to function effectively, without being subject to the demands of Parliamentary duties.

In 1977 however he changed his mind. Surprisingly, there has been no exploration elsewhere of why he did this, and the consequences of his final decision. I suspect the reason has to do with the actual result, which is easy and effective domination of Parliament, which became an unquestioning if well rewarded instrument of his will.

We thus had an extreme example of the total union of the Legislature and the Executive. One reason however for there to be no questioning of this was the assumption that Montesquieu’s original enunciation of the doctrine of Separation had been based on study of the British system, and therefore a dispensation based on that system could not constitute a travesty of the doctrine.

This is fundamentally to ignore both history and logic. When Montesquieu wrote, the Executive in England, as practically everywhere else, was the King. He chose his Ministers. If they were not in the House of Commons, he made them Lords, so they promptly became Members of Parliament. But in essence he was free to choose whom he wanted to help him in the Executive, and was not restricted to Members of Parliament. In fact the practice still continues, as in the case of recent British appointments to influential ministerial positions.

However, it certainly became the practice that the vast majority of Ministers came to be appointed from amongst members of the House of Commons. But membership of that institution, as discussed earlier, was readily obtained by capable people whom parties forming governments wanted, since they could be slotted into safe seats. Thus membership of the Executive continued to be decided basically on merit, with simple service as a Member of Parliament, for however long, not being seen as a significant factor.

Thirdly, given the relative size of the Commons and of the Cabinet, the vast majority of Members of Parliament had no Executive responsibility, so there was no great conflict of interests when Parliament or its Committees met for Legislative or Budgetary or Oversight purposes. Those with Executive responsibilities could be questioned without the assumption that the exercise was based on oppositional hostilities, and members of the governing party could also participate fully in obtaining information without it being assumed that they were acting in opposition to the Executive. In short, Parliament was essentially the field of action of Legislators and, though Ministers were the most important Members, they contributed while in Parliament to its legislative function, in which they were equal if conspicuous partners.

My argument then is that, if Members of Parliament are to properly fulfil their legislative and other related functions, they should not be members of the Executive. The Founding Fathers of the American Constitution understood this well, and the manner in which they ensured that Montesquieu’s Doctrine would be followed was by constituting the Legislature and the Executive separately. De Gaulle, in producing his own Constitution based on an Executive Presidency, kept the idea of a government based on the will of the people as expressed in elections to a Legislature, but ensured Separation by making members of Parliament resign from that body if they accepted membership of the Cabinet of Ministers. And of course he made provision for Ministers who had not been elected to be appointed.

This fulfils the primary purpose of ensuring that the Head of the Executive can – as in the old days when Montesquieu enunciated his doctrine – pick the best people available for Executive office, without being confined to Members of Parliament. But it also helps Members of Parliament to do their main duties as Parliamentarians better, and thus better serve the people who elected them. I refer not only to their legislative functions, including financial provision and oversight, but also their representative functions. They can concentrate on serving those who elected them, rather than having as Ministers to work for the country at large.

And this, I should add, will help overcome one problem, when Ministers supposed to work for the country at large concentrate instead on serving their own electorates. I know umpteen stories from Secretaries about Ministers who provided facilities disproportionately to their own areas, who provided jobs and special facilities (including trips supposedly for training) to a small proportion of the population. Such stratagems are difficult to stop when the Minister believes that his return to Parliament depends on them – but they make a joke of the responsibility to the country at large that membership of the Cabinet should entail.

March 15, 2011

The allegation about Lankan Muslims supporting Pakistan against Sri Lanka in World Cup cricket

By Izeth Hussain

After quite some time allegations have once again surfaced that some Muslims have supported the Pakistan side against all others, including the Sri Lankan one at the recent World Cup match. I have been sent newspaper material quoting Government MP Thilanga Sumathipala in that connection. I have made my own careful enquiries, and I believe that I am now in a position to write responsibly on this matter which needs to be cleared up in the national interest.

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pic: BBC-Sports

First of all I must acknowledge that it is a fact that some Muslims did celebrate Pakistan’s recent victory against Sri Lanka. Apart from what I have been told, there is also the statement issued by the Jamiyyathul Ulama – which is something like a supreme council of theologians – asking the Muslims to put aside religion and support the SL side against all others, which amounts to an acknowledgement of that fact. Secondly I must state that from what is known of him MP Sumathipala has been exceptionally sympathetic towards Muslims, so that what he is reflecting is not anti-Muslim bias but a national concern over the behaviour of some Muslims.

That really is the crucial point: it is "some" Muslims, not all of them, not a majority of them, not even a substantial proportion of them, who display behaviour that is clearly unacceptable from a nationalist point of view. I will cite myself as an example. During the 1999 World Cup tournament I wrote an article in the Weekend Express stating that when the Pakistan team played a match my Islamic sentiments flew out of the window, and all I wanted was to see that the Pakistan team was given a proper good bashing. The reason was that it had become apparent to practically everyone by then that Pakistani cricketers had been cheating the cricket-loving public by their outrageous match-fixing over many years. I resolved then not to spend a cent to watch the Pakistan team playing, and I tune in to the TV to watch its spectacular performances mainly for comic relief.

An example was the recent match against New Zealand. Pakistan were 23 for 1, and suddenly they were 23 for 4. I switched off and learnt from the next day’s newspapers that New Zealand had most improbably scored over a hundred runs in the last few overs. I am not saying that spot-fixing had been going on because the ICC has not said anything about it. What I do know is that the glorious uncertainties of cricket are part of the game, but when Pakistan is playing the inglorious uncertainties of Pakistan cricket are a certainty. The place where people find much stimulus through uncertainty is the casino. I suggest therefore that the ICC move its headquarters from London to Las Vegas.

I have gone into the above details because I believe that my reactions are not eccentric, not peculiar to myself. A Muslim friend whom I contacted for information over the telephone burst out that for many years the Pakistani cricket teams have been a disgrace to cricket, a disgrace to Pakistan, and a disgrace to Islam. I am told that such indignation over the inglorious uncertainties of Pakistan cricket is quite widespread among our Muslims. It means that the behaviour of the Muslims who celebrated the Pakistan victory against Sri Lanka is eccentric, not at all representative of the average SL Muslim.

I come now to the facts, the hard facts, on which my case rests. I am told that there are no instances of our Muslims celebrating Pakistan victories over Sri Lanka in the rural areas or in the provincial towns. It has been a phenomenon peculiar to Colombo and, what is more, peculiar to certain areas in Colombo: Maradana, Dematagoda, Maligakanda, Hulftsdorp, and Aluthkade. If that is correct, two conclusions can be drawn.

One is that to apply what is true of Muslims in a small part of the island to all our Muslims, or even to a substantial proportion of them, would amount to racism, revealing a stereotyping process that is typical of racist strategy. The other conclusion is that we need to understand what makes Muslims in that small area of the island tick in that peculiar way. They are poor Muslims who may be subject to pressures that are not applicable elsewhere, such as the threat of displacement. I don’t want to go into details about that problem in this brief article. They may feel peculiarly marginalized because of the Muslim problem of representation: Muslim politicians have been failing so dismally in articulating the concerns of their fellow-Muslims that I have held for more than ten years – quite seriously – that our Muslims would be best represented by Sinhalese politicians.

The problem of why those Muslims tick in so peculiar a way should be approached from the perspective of nation-building, in which there has been a comprehensive failure in Sri Lanka. It is known that while the Burghers had a substantial presence in Sri Lanka their preference was for the Australian team above all others, and it is known that the Tamils have a preference for the Indian team, but neither ethnic group has made its preference known in an overt and obtrusive way. The case is different with the Muslim preference for the Pakistan team when it goes to the extent of celebrating a Pakistan victory over Sri Lanka.

True, that applies only to a small group of Muslims, but it could point to a broader sense of Muslim alienation. The truth seems to be that all our ethnic groups including the Sinhalese have a sense of alienation in Sri Lanka today. We cannot ignore the fact that Defense Secretary Gotabaya has dual citizenship, Sarath Fonseka was qualifying for it, and Palitha Kohona also has dual citizenship. The important point is that we should approach the problem posed by some Muslims not from a racist but a nation-building perspective.

Ancient trees with historical land and religious value must be protected

By Jagath Gunawardana

Sri Lanka is fortunate to be endowed with a very large number of trees, some of which even have historical, cultural, social and religious value, growing in all parts of the country.

In June 2009, the Bio-diversity Secretariat of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources published a book depicting some important trees, an endeavour that took them several years. However, it has to be noted that two of the trees provided in the text were destroyed within the year itself.

The first to be destroyed was the giant Pus-wela (Woody Liana) in Hunuwila, Opanayaka. It is a famous landmark when reaching Balangoda. The major part of this was cut down for no apparent reason despite public protests, by the company that was laying the road. The other tree to be destroyed within the year was the Ebony tree that was in the middle of the Malabe Junction, a famous landmark and also the largest ebony tree that was outside a protected area. It was killed slowly due to the tap root being cut to accommodate the cementing of the pavement. In addition, the historic Arukku-Nugaya (arched banyan tree) that was across the Galle-Matara main highway was also felled during 2009, despite protests by people, to accommodate the widening of the road.

A tree gets historical significance by the events or circumstances associated with it and the its age or the species is often irrelevant. The historical, cultural and social values are the important factors, although the significance of the species may, on occasion, give an added intrinsic value to it, such as the case of Baobab trees in Mannar. There are trees with historical significance that are comparatively young in age such as the Mahogany tree at Horana planted by Ernesto Che Guevera when he visited Sri Lanka. This tree is only 50 years old but is even depicted in a stamp due to the fact that it was planted by Guevera and to denote the friendship between the countries.

There are instances where an event is associated with a historical tree having different historical significance for different people who look at an event from their own perspectives. The best example of this is the Bo-tree at Watapuluwa which gets its historical value from the first complete rout of the British colonial forces by the forces of the Kandyan kingdom which happened in 1806.This tree was named the Davies Tree by the Colonial administration and a plaque has been placed near it in 1906 mentioning the incident as a massacre. The first great victory by the Kandyan forces against the British forces had been viewed by them as a massacre in which only the officer who led the contingent, one major Davy, was left alive and after whom the nearby road (Davie Road) and this tree have been named.

The identification of, and more importantly, giving legal protection to old trees especially to those with historical and religious value, is important as some of these have been wantonly destroyed during the recent past. The cutting down of the historical Banyan (Nuga) tree at Denipitiya, associated with the Poetess Gajaman Nona, by the orders of the Divisional Secretary is one of the worst such cases. This historic tree was earmarked to be protected way back in 1971 but was not given protection in 1993 when the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance was amended, and the authorities were not particularly in a hurry to provide protection by regulations when this was pointed out at the time.

Their reasoning was that such a well-known tree would be protected by all and that giving it legal protection could wait until the next amendment. However, it was cut down under the orders of the Divisional Secretary in 2001, despite many protests, and we could not take any action as it was not protected at the time. The historically and religiously important Na Tree at Parakaduwa was saved in 2001 because it had been protected by law.

These recent examples show that public awareness and protests are in themselves insufficient to protect these ancient trees although there are instances where trees have been saved by civic action. A good example is the saving of the historic Kumbuk Tree at Paramaulla at Alawwa through public protests after an irate colonial administration officer wanted it cut-down as his coach met with an accident when passing it.

In contrast to the disinterest shown to the protection of historical trees in Sri Lanka, some countries are taking great efforts to protect old trees, even though they may not have a historical significance as such. For instance, Britain is taking steps to protect their ancient trees regardless their historic importance and the Woodland Trust, the leading woodland conservation charity, launched a project in 2007 called the Ancient Tree Hunt to find, records and protect the ancient trees found in Britain. Their intention is to find all possible trees which are more than 200 years old. It is worth noting that this effort is to identify old trees in general and not to confine their efforts to trees with historical value.

If Sri Lanka is to conduct a similar survey to identify ancient trees without their historical, religious or cultural significance, the number would be very high. Even if we were to take only those with religious or historic significance, it could be a large number. It is a little known fact that Sri Lanka has the largest number of ancient trees with their histories recorded from their planting up to the present. The oldest tree with a continuous written historical record from the time of planting to the present days is the Jaya Sri Maha Bhodiya at Anuradhapura and the record is unbroken since it was planted in the third centuary B.C. The other oldest trees with continuous records are the eight saplings known as Ashtapal-Bodhi that sprang up from the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya and have been planted in different parts of the country under the orders of King Devanampiyatissa. All of these sacred Bo-trees (Bodhis) have continuous records spanning more than 2000 years.

There is an urgent necessity to identify and document the ancient trees growing in Sri Lanka and priority should be given to those that have religious, cultural, and historical importance and to those which may need immediate intervention to protect their survival. A tree that is important for religious purposes gets a certain degree of protection under the provisions of Section 293 of the Penal Code because the destruction and the damaging of objects of religious value are deemed as offences. Those that have some historical, cultural, social or religious value that grow in public places can be protected under the provisions of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance.

The Bio-diversity Secretariat of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources had, based on the survey of historical trees, identified some of those trees that needed immediate legal protection. They were preparing the necessary documents to provide legal protection to them under Section 43 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance when the subject of wildlife conservation was taken away from the Environmental Ministry and handed over to the Ministry of Economic Development.

This subject has in turn been handed over to the Ministry of Agrarian Services in November 2010. The ultimate result is that the move to give legal protection to some important trees has been stalled since April 2010. It is therefore an urgent national necessity to revive this process and give them the necessary legal protection before many other such valuable trees are wantonly destroyed.

George Bush told Mahinda Rajapaksa to "finish off" the Tamil Tigers

by Upul Joseph Fernando

Prior to the recent mystery ridden US tour of the Sri Lanka (SL) President Mahinda Rajapaksa , the former US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage met him in Colombo. This meeting being given minimum publicity was a riddle to all. Soon after this meeting , the President proceeded direct to Texas , America. There he was met by the former American President George W Bush , according to reports.

Mahinda after his appointment as the President of SL in 2005, participated in the UN General Assembly in 2006. During that period George Bush was the President of America. Mahinda got the opportunity to have a brief meeting with Bush when the latter accorded a reception. On that occasion, Bush had questioned Mahinda on the SL ‘s peace process and the ceasefire agreement. At that point of time, the ceasefire agreement was in existence but the peace negotiations had been temporarily halted.

When Mahinda had explained to Bush that the Tamil Tigers desire war and not peace , Bush had said, terrorism shall be eradicated and therefore to finish them off’However, after Mahinda commenced the war to ‘finish off’ the Tamil Tigers, Obama took over the reins as the new President of America when Bush was back home. It is surmised that on the mystery surrounded US tour of Mahinda , the latter may have reminded Bush of his advice to ‘finish them off’, and pointed out that while he so advised , America on the contrary is levelling war crime charges against Mahinda. Although it is obscure what reply Bush gave , it is exceedingly clear that the SL Govt. via the contacts of Bush is seeking to curb the hostile climate and trend against SL that is built up in America. May be that the SL Govt. is of the view that sometimes the bitter antagonistic stance taken by the US Senate assembly against SL can be changed by way of Bush who it believes can exert influence on the Republicans.

Even though the Obama administration went to great lengths and left no stone unturned in its attempts to halt the SL war, the American intelligence units which were created during the Bush administration to wage war on terror continued to help SL Govt. to destroy the Tamil Tigers. The American intelligence served immensely towards the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. Especially the Asia Pacific Command contributed to the SL Govt.’s war victory.

Even today the American intelligence is working in co ordination and co-operation with the SL’s State intelligence to devastate the Tamil Tigers’ international network.

Nevertheless, after the conclusion of the war there is nothing that the American intelligence can do to repudiate or repel in regard to the war crime charges mounted against SL. Even though the SL Govt. is reposing tremendous confidence in Bush on this issue, it is doubtful whether Bush can do anything about it. Bush too is in a thicket of difficulties and deep quandary because of the campaign he carried on to annihilate terrorism during his tenure of office as President. Recently, Bush was scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the Jewish charity Foundation , ‘Keren Hayesod’, Switzerland.

Bush however at the last minute cancelled it .Referring to this, the Rights groups declared ‘ because of the seriousness of the legal proceedings that may be taken against him in the allegations of torture’, while the Court officials of Geneva said , the criminal complaints against Bush in the torture allegations have been made in Geneva . Human rights groups said, it plans to submit a claim from 2500 pages against Bush in the Swiss City on Monday for alleged ill treatment of suspected militants at Guantanamo Bay US naval base in Cuba, which includes detainees from Afghanistan, Iraq, and other fronts in war on terrorism.

Bush cancelled his visit because there was pressure on the Swiss Government to arrest him and open a criminal investigation if he entered the country. When viewed in this backdrop, it is manifest that Bush too is in the same predicament as Mahinda Rajapaksa. America and the European countries too are stymied in their efforts to make the tour to investigate the war crime charges against Mahinda.

Richard Armitage was a Deputy Secretary of State under the Bush administration . During the period of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Govt., he worked with extraordinary zeal and zest pertaining to the SL ‘s ethnic issue. He took a tough stand against the Tamil Tigers. Some even say his tough approach militated against the SL peace process.

If Mahinda who met Armitage in Colombo had later met Bush in Texas , it is deducible that Mahinda is personally intervening and manoeuvring to change the hostile American stance against SL Govt. Yet when considering the stern warning issued by the US State Dept. Assist . Secretary Robert Blake to SL as well as the letter signed by the members of the US Senate assembly urging the investigation of the SL war crime charges , it is crystal clear that the manoeuvring has to be carried out under the most delicate and critical circumstances. - courtesy: Daily Mirror -

Achieving lasting peace and healing in Sri Lanka requires more than Economic prosperity - - Robert O. Blake, Jr

"Economic prosperity and development are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for lasting peace and healing in Sri Lanka"

Remarks by Robert O. Blake, Jr. Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at Asia Society Event, New York, NY, March 14, 2011

Sri Lanka Looks Ahead: Will Prosperity Bring Peace?

by Robert O. Blake, Jr.

Good evening, Ambassador Kohona, Asia Society members and guests, and thank you, Jamie, for that kind introduction.

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Robert O. Blake, Jr. Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs-file pic-by Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

It’s a pleasure to be back with the Asia Society, an organization whose work has been unmatched in promoting mutual understanding among, and within the many Asian nations. The last time I participated in an Asia Society program was actually in New Delhi a year ago where I spoke of the importance and strength of the U.S. - India relationship, so it is great to be able to travel just a few hours and not cross any time zones to be with you today. Thank you for the invitation to participate in today’s conversation on Sri Lanka, a country which is important to the United States and significant to me personally after spending three great years there as Ambassador.

Jamie wondered whether prosperity will bring lasting peace and healing in Sri Lanka. I think it’s an essential question to ask. After so many years of conflict, economic growth and improving livelihoods are certainly important for rebuilding the country. But I also believe that reconciliation has important political and social dimensions as well. Thus, I would like to look at economic development in the broader context of the country’s post-conflict healing process of which it is a key factor. Let me start by saying that in the nearly two years since the end of the conflict, Sri Lanka has made steady progress in normalizing life for its citizens and reconciling the differences that devastated parts of the island for so many years, but there is much that remains to be done. Let me focus first on the progress that has been made.

Progress

At a steady pace, an estimated 265,000 civilians who were displaced during the final stages of the conflict have been able to leave camps to return to their districts of origin in the north and the east. While approximately 18,800 internally displaced persons remain in camps, and an additional 2,600 are stranded in transit camps, the concerted resettlement effort represents a critical step in helping those who suffered immeasurably during the conflict begin to reclaim their lives and live with dignity. In addition, an increasing number of Sri Lankans displaced prior to 2008, including those who went as refugees to India, are also returning to their homes.

The resettlement process requires that the hundreds of thousands of land mines laid during the conflict are removed. The Government, together with demining NGOs and with the support of the U.S., has made considerable progress in this area, clearing over 5 million square meters of mine-infested land throughout the northern provinces of Sri Lanka, and destroying over 25,000 landmines and unexploded ordinance.

The Government of Sri Lanka is also proceeding with creating places for people to go home by reducing the area considered to be “High Security Zones, ” which had restricted freedom of movement and access. The government's Interagency Advisory Committee (IAAC), set up to implement the interim

recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), has said that the high security zones have been reduced by 25 square kilometers, making some 2,800 homes accessible. In collaboration with international partners, the Government also has plans to construct an additional 100,000 homes in the north giving priority to families who suffered during the conflict.

Ensuring peace and security for all Sri Lankans is essential. To this end the government has said it plans to strengthen firearms laws and to help law enforcement officials learn to speak the language of those they are charged with protecting. The government has hired 335 Tamil police officers and plans to recruit an additional 475 Tamil-speakers for inspector and constable positions. The trilingual national language policy also will be important in bringing Sri Lankans together.

And Priorities

While the government has made progress, after a quarter century of conflict, I think everyone agrees more needs to be done to heal the wounds of more than 25 years of conflict. The Government of Sri Lanka must lead this process.

The United States welcomed as an important step in this reconciliation process President Rajapaksa's appointment of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, or LLRC, and the establishment of the Interagency Advisory Committee to implement the LLRCs interim recommendations. The LLRC has heard the testimony of hundreds throughout the country and has made public many of the transcripts on its website; we look forward to the final report to President Rajapaksa shortly after its work concludes in May. We hope that the report will be made public and will include strong recommendations for national reconciliation.

The U.S. continues to encourage the Commission and the Government of Sri Lanka to engage with and draw upon the expertise of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon's Panel of Experts, which I believe can be a valuable resource. It is also important that the LLRC and the Advisory Committee, in consultation with Sri Lankan Tamils and other minority communities, find a way to resolve the often conflicting and tangled claims to land in former conflict zones so families may rebuild their lives.

The end of the conflict has presented an incredible opportunity to build a peaceful, just, democratic, united Sri Lanka. The U.S. is concerned, however, that some developments are shrinking the democratic space and respect for human rights in the country. The 18th Amendment passed last year weakens checks and balances and abolishes term limits, giving unprecedented power to the executive presidency. Nearly two years after the conclusion of the fighting, substantial parts of the emergency regulations remain in place, the north continues to be heavily militarized, and the role of the armed forces appears to have increased with the Ministry of Defense assuming responsibility in non-traditional areas such as urban development. Media freedom remains constrained with continuing incidents against journalists and independent media such as the recent arson attack on Lanka-e-news. An unfettered media environment in which journalists can work without intimidation or interference, and incidents against journalists are credibly investigated and prosecuted, is essential for the reconciliation process.

Perhaps most critical is a full accounting of the individual lives that are still in question from the end of the war, which means providing information to families about relatives that are either missing or in detention so they know the status of their loved ones. The Sri Lankan government told the diplomatic community that it has compiled a database that will assist in the efforts to locate missing persons. We hope that families of those missing or detained will have access to this database. Reconciliation also entails charging or releasing those that are in custody. We understand that the Attorney General's office has formed a panel to examine the cases of those detained and to expedite their processing, and that the panel has already examined several hundred detainees. We hope that all those detained without charges will soon benefit from this panel's work.

And finally reconciliation means addressing allegations of injustices and abuses during the conflict, no matter which side committed them, and investigating and holding accountable those individuals who were responsible. Although it is difficult to ascertain exactly how many lost their lives in the final months of the war, the U.N. estimates it was thousands. These deaths must be investigated and those who committed wrong-doing must be brought to justice.

Accountability is an essential part of any reconciliation process. Without it an enduring peace will remain elusive as unhealed wounds fester. Primary responsibility for implementing a credible and independent process through which individuals who may have violated human rights and international humanitarian law are held accountable for their actions lies with Sri Lanka itself. Our strong preference is that the Sri Lankan government establish its own transparent process that meets international standards. However, in the absence of such a mechanism, there will be mounting pressure for an international mechanism.

Lasting peace requires a durable political solution. The United States is encouraged that the government has conducted two rounds of talks on a political settlement with the Tamil National Alliance. We hope that a third round of talks will soon build upon the constructive first two rounds of talks that have already taken place.

U.S. Partnership

The Government of Sri Lanka is taking many important steps, and it is already a very different place than it was in May 2009 when I left the country as Ambassador. But there is much more that can and must be done. Jamie asked us to think about whether the international community has a role in helping Sri Lanka recover from decades of conflict. I believe that it does. In the spirit of friendship and partnership, the United States has not wavered in our support for the people of Sri Lanka, providing humanitarian and livelihood assistance as the country rebuilds itself.

To highlight just a few of the many programs that our Embassy in Colombo is implementing in cooperation with Sri Lankan counterparts: we've provided nearly $62 million in food aid over the last two and a half years, the bulk of the nourishment for the persons displaced at the end of the conflict, and $11 million for support, training, and equipment for the demining efforts of the government and its NGO partners. Earlier this year we opened a new American Corner in Jaffna, a place where Sri Lankans can meet and share their ideas, and help connect Jaffna with the rest of Sri Lanka and the world. We've facilitated in-country exchanges in which youth from different geographic and ethnic backgrounds can experience each other's lives. In recent weeks, we have provided more than $4 million in immediate assistance for victims of the terrible flooding affecting parts of the country.

We are also committed to helping create opportunities for Sri Lankans: USAID is helping to create 20,000 full time jobs in the North and East through a series of innovative partnerships with private companies. Through our eight Access centers spread throughout Sri Lanka, the U.S. is providing two years of intensive English language instruction to hundreds of youth in rural areas, which will open up educational and professional opportunities. We have provided numerous small grants to youth organizations to help them establish IT centers and promote science and technology. And it is important to remember that the U.S. is the largest single importer of Sri Lankan goods worldwide, purchasing 22 percent of its exports; we welcome the approximately 3,000 students from the island who study in the U.S. each year; and U.S. entrepreneurs are the largest investors in Sri Lankan bonds and other financial instruments.

Potential and Promise

The U.S. is ready to continue helping the Sri Lankans to restore their country, and there is still a great deal to be done. It is clear to me that Sri Lanka has the potential to be one of South Asia’s bright spots. It can indeed become the "Wonder of Asia," as President Rajapaksa says. With 8 percent GDP growth last year, a renewed tide of visiting tourists to take in the country’s beautiful scenery and impressive history, and strong investor confidence, the country's economy is on an upward trajectory. Sri Lanka has some of the best health and social indicators in Asia with one of the lowest infant mortality rates and highest literacy rates, 90 percent, in the region, for example. The country has a well-educated young population for whom it is promoting regional cooperation as a means to create opportunities through free trade agreements with India and Pakistan. As I said, Sri Lanka shows great promise as a country emerging from decades of conflict to become a friendly partner in the region and the world. Of course, national reconciliation is a critical part of this process.

As evidence of the dynamism in Sri Lanka currently, I would like to highlight a few events and developments that we probably would not have seen even two years ago: Sri Lanka is currently co-hosting the cricket world cup, opening its doors to players and fans from all over the world; last year, Colombo hosted the International Indian Film Awards – the Bollywood Oscars – last year; Sri Lanka welcomed the Fulbright program’s South and Central Asia workshop in which Fulbright Commission directors and U.S. Embassy officials from the region gathered to share their experiences and work in promoting educational exchange; scholars from Duke and Johns Hopkins Universities are collaborating with Sri Lankan counterparts in the field of health sciences; later this month representatives from a number of U.S. firms are traveling to Sri Lanka to explore business and investment opportunities.

At the same time, the U.S. encourages the Government of Sri Lanka, the private sector and civil society to draw on the resources and expertise of the many Sri Lankans living in the U.S. and around the world. I also encourage Sri Lankans living overseas to respond to overtures from the Government of Sri Lanka and opportunities to promote development and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. The end of the conflict presents an opening for everyone that is a friend and partner of the country to help realize the dream of opportunity for all Sri Lankans.

In closing, economic prosperity and development are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for lasting peace and healing in Sri Lanka. Economic growth will indeed help Sri Lankans to realize their dreams for themselves and their children. But the solution for lasting peace needs to include not just economic opportunity, but a political climate in which every Sri Lankan feels he or she has an equal stake in the country’s future and the ability to realize his or her potential in an open and just society. As President Obama said speaking to the world in Cairo in 2009: “all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.” I believe this is as true of Sri Lankans as any people anywhere in the world and the United States stands with Sri Lanka as a friend and partner in this pursuit.

Thank you.

Protect Wilpattu Park and the Mobility Right of Internally Displaced Women

We, the undersigned call on the Government to take immediate action to prevent the destruction of the Wilpattu National Park, while continuing to provide access through the road from Puttalam to Mannar via the park. We believe that through taking corrective measures the Government can ensure that both issues are addressed in order to protect the rights of the expelled Northern Muslims and the ecology and natural heritage of the area.

We call upon the Government to ensure that steps are taken to maintain an access way through the park as it is vital for civilians in the area, especially displaced women and their families. We are requesting restricted access. When the road was reopened in January 2010 to facilitate the Muslim IDPs return to Mannar mainland, particularly to Musali DS division, there were many restrictions to protect the park (for instance, the road was kept open for public use only from 6.30am to 3.30pm and the speed limit was restricted to maximum 20km/h. Further, every 100 yards there were navy and military personnel stationed by the road guarding the park. Despite these safeguards, one wonders how it can be argued that the park is exploited and animals are harmed only by the IDPs.

This road provides easy and low cost access from Puttalam to Musali in Southern Mannar as the alternate route that goes via Medawachchiya takes double the time (Puttalam- Medawachchiya – Marichchukadi 235km vs Puttalam – Wilpattu – Marichchukadi – 77km) and triple the cost (Rs. 320 to vs. Rs. 100). We’d like to point out that a saving of Rs. 220 per trip makes a considerable difference to the IDPS who are struggling to have one meal a day- the saving means they can have an extra meal, especially after the destruction from the recent floods which also affected areas in mainland Mannar.

On humanitarian grounds, we are appealing to the Government and the Wildlife Authorities to allow reasonable use of this old Mannar Road. We are not requesting that a new highway is built through the park and are content to use the existing road. We support the handing over of the administration of the park to the relevant wildlife authorities, while at the same time provide access to IDPs. Before the closure of this road in May 1985, people utilised this road while the guards appointed by the park authorities and during the internal armed conflict, the military, oversaw the use of this road by the population of these areas.

A women’s group has been accessing the road a few times since it was reopened in January 2010. On a couple of visits, elderly women who had lived in the adjoining villages accompanied the members of the women’s group.

These visits have helped us understand the importance of the road, especially from the perspective of women, since the population most affected by the closure of the road are women and children. Though the temporary closure of this road due to the rain in September 2010 put an end to such visits, the women’s group has sufficient information to demand the mobility rights of the IDP women and their families. The narratives and experiences of IDP women are highlighted below:

• It was the Muslims from Musali division in Mannar who began to return to their places of origin (Musali) from Puttalam, where they lived with as IDPs for more than two decades.

This was made all the more possible because the Wilpattu (or old Mannar) road was reopened after about thirty years. Access to their places of origin via this road made it possible for them to return, with the belief that they have mobility between Puttalam and Musali. It was a historical moment for the women to have mobility via old Mannar road between these two places that they are comfortable to move around and feel safe.

• Basic facilities like water, shelter, sanitation, health and education are not available in the resettlement areas, including the interiors of Musali. Pregnant women and women with small children undergo immense suffering and face difficulties to meet their existential needs when they returned to their places of origins. Hence, the return of the entire family is taking longer than expected with some family members, most often the men folk and also some women, moving to the resettlement areas while the children remain in Puttalam while the educational facilities in the return areas are being reconstructed. Thus, the road has become a crucial means through which access basic services. Spending an additional Rs 220 on a regular basis
is beyond their means, especially when their livelihoods have not yet been restored.

Moreover, traveling via the longer route is impossible for a pregnant woman, especially if she is in her early or later months of pregnancy. Hence, her right to mobility is denied with the closure of the road. Another concern is increasing snake bites since the resettlement areas are infested with snakes and closure of the road would restrict the ability of the IDPs to have
quick access to medical treatment.

• Since the mobility of women has been restricted by the temporary closure of the road, women have become more dependent on the male members of their families resulting in the reinforcement of traditional norms and gender roles, in the form of women staying back at home to look after household work while men have mobility and access to resources.

Women’s safety is once again at risk, given that most male members are away for many weeks from Puttalam camps to resettlement areas in Musali in order to rebuild their livelihoods and houses.

• Another aspect that affects the women the most is the lack of support structures, such as neighbours and relatives, in the resettled areas. For example, a single woman living with her children in the resettled area, used to have support from her relatives living in Puttalam who visited each other frequently when the road was open. This is no longer possible and single women have been once again place in a vulnerable category.

We are greatly perturbed by reports in the media that the Wilpattu Park is being destroyed as a result of illegal felling, mining and the construction of new roads through the park. Wilpattu Park is a unique habitat for both fauna and flora and needs to be protected. As people of the area we recognize its value. We call on the Government to take steps to ensure the Park is not further destroyed. We feel that a balance has to be and can be found between the demands of the people of the area and nature by providing reasonable access through one road through the park. Access roads through national parks are not unusual either in Sri Lanka or internationally and we fully recognize that measures will have to be taken to ensure that the wildlife and the forest are not negatively impacted by the movement of civilians.

While reiterating the right of access through the road, women’s groups have no objection to place limitations, as required, regulating the access in terms of nature of vehicles and time of opening of the road.

After twenty years of displacement and living and suffering in welfare camps in Puttalam the Northern Muslim community has started moving to their places of origins and access through this road is one critical step to support this process and allow them to exercise and enjoy their rights!

Dated: March 13th 2011

Signatories:

-Jensila Majeed (Community Trust Fund - Vavuniya, Puttalam and Mannar)

-Juwairiya Mohideen (Unity Lanka International - Puttalam)

-Priyadarshini Thangarajah (Women’s Action Network)

-Luies Rebekka (Women Rural Development Society Chavatkaddu -Mannnar)

-Edward Lourdsmery (Wwomen Rural Development Society Eluthoor - Mannar)

-Jeyaram Junisha (Women Rural Development Society Uppukulam North - Mannar)

-Athisayarajah Sugeevini (Women Rural Development Society Chavatkaddu-Mannar)

-Vijayakumar Mery Rubitta (Women Rural Development Society Santhipuram-Mannar)

Sri Lanka wanted U.S. help against LTTE "Air Force" in 2007 as Indian radars were insufficient to prevent attacks

By Nirupama Subramanian

CHENNAI: Sri Lanka quietly asked the United States for assistance to improve its air defence systems as India-supplied radars had proved insufficient to prevent an attack by LTTE aircraft on the Katunayake air base in March 2007, but it agreed with the Americans that New Delhi must be kept in the loop.

Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse summoned U.S. Ambassador Robert O. Blake and the Defence Attache at the U.S. Embassy on March 30, 2007 and sought a visit by a U.S. military team to assess how Sri Lanka could improve its air defence systems against future LTTE air attacks.

The meeting took place days after an LTTE air-raid at the Sri Lanka Air Force base at Katunayake, in which several helicopters, including two Mi-17s on loan from India, were damaged.

At the time, there were media reports that the Indian radars had failed to detect the aircraft, but Sri Lankan officials denied the reports.

According to a cable sent from the U.S. Embassy in Colombo on April 1, 2007 (102721: confidential) and accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, Mr. Gothabaya Rajapakse told the envoy that Sri Lanka's current radar systems were "not sufficient" to meet the LTTE air threat.

Years of waiting

Two radars provided by India had two-dimensional capabilities, and two more were on the way, Mr. Rajapakse said. Sri Lanka had asked India for three-dimensional radars, "but after years of not receiving them, decided to purchase a Chinese system that is now in the process of being installed.

Mr. Gothabaya Rajapakse told Mr. Blake that in addition to the radar systems, "not a single L70 anti aircraft fire direction radar - ALSO provided by India was working making any attempts to shoot down an aircraft at night difficult.

The Defence Secretary said that radars in Vavuniya had picked up an unidentified aircraft; so had the civilian radar at Katunayake at the last minute. But otherwise the attack had escaped detection.

The LTTE aircraft was able to travel from northern Sri Lanka, along the western interior of the country, strike the airfield and return to the north.

"The Defense Secretary requested U.S. military assistance in assessing Sri Lanka's entire Air Defense System and help in acquiring the hardware required to UPGRADE their system," the cable said.

The U.S. Ambassador told Mr. Gothabaya Rajapakse he would convey this to Washington immediately. Noting "the importance of working in a transparent manner," he asked if in the event of Washington acceding to the request, Sri Lanka would have any objection to keeping India in the picture, as New Delhi had supplied some of the radars.

Mr. Rajapakse had no objection to this but suggested that Sri Lanka would take on the responsibility of informing New Delhi, after the U.S. decided whether or not to send the team.

The cable commented that Mr. Rajapakse "clearly understood" that if the team approved setting up a new radar, this would "likely not be free.

Mr. Rajapakse also suggested that since the U.S. had already assisted Sri Lanka in setting up a maritime surveillance radar, there could be merit in establishing an integrated air and maritime system.

The U.S. followed up quickly. At a meeting on April 3 with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollogama, the very first point that Assistant Secretary for South Asia Richard Boucher took up was the state of Sri Lanka's air defences and the government's plan to deal with the LTTE air threat (cable 103423: confidential).

"Bogollagama claimed that the three radars provided by India require down time every eight hours, and the government was investigating if the one installed at Katunayake air base was down during the Tigers' air strike," according to the cable from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, sent on April 5.

The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister said radar efficiency levels were being discussed, and that his government had asked India for two more two-dimensional radars and a 3-D radar.

Washington appears to have sent an assessment by May 2009. The matter had assumed urgency after further LTTE air raids on oil/gas storage facilities at Kolonnwawa and Muthurajawela on April 29.

On May 25, in line with its desire to keep India informed, the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi informed the MEA of a "recent survey" by a U.S. military team of Sri Lanka's air defence capabilities, according to cable sent on May 30, 2007 (110122: confidential).

"[The Defence Attache] relayed that the eight-man team's mandate was to identify possible improvements to current GOSL air defense systems commensurate with the current and foreseeable capabilities of the GOSL air force and its budgetary realities," the cable noted.

When the MEA official, Director Suchitra Durai, asked if the team had made final assessment of radar equipment to be provided and if the U.S. would share this with the Indian government, the Defence Attache told her it was "too early to predict the exact systems and installation timelines.

Coastal radar system

Despite all the talk of U.S.-India "common interests" in Sri Lanka, India seems to have separately exerted pressure on Colombo to move the planned installation of a U.S.-provided coastal radar system from the north of the island to the south. But New Delhi eventually backed off.

On June 5, Commodore Lakshman Illangakoon of the Sri Lankan Navy provided the U.S. Embassy in Colombo a "readout" of his meeting in New Delhi with Indian Navy officials.

The cable, sent on June 13, 2007, notes that India had been pressing Sri Lanka to have the U.S. system moved to Sri Lanka's southern coast and install an Indian-provided system (111852/confidential/ noforn).

"Illangakoon told us the Sri Lanka Navy Commander had instructed him to hold firm that the U.S.-provided coastal radars should be installed in the north, if necessary over Indian objections"

But at the New Delhi meeting, Commodore Illangakoon was informed that India had lifted its objections to the installation of the U.S. radar in the north.

An Indian Embassy official told the U.S. Embassy Defence Attache in Colombo that India would "consider other options, such as placing Indian-provided radars alongside the U.S. system to cover dead spaces."

COURTESY:THE HINDU

March 14, 2011

Expert explains intricacies of Indo-Sri Lankan fishing crisis

The following video is from the news organization NEWSCLICK .

An Indian expert on Fishing , V.Vivekanandan is interviewed by Srinivasan Ramani.

The two-part interview provides valuable insight into the vexed problem between fisherfolk of Tamil Nadu and Northern Sri Lanka.

IFTC314.jpg

Indian fishermen, who were arrested by the Sri Lankan police, at Point Pedro on Wednesday, Feb 16th. Photo: Virakesari via The Hindu

Part I, Beyond Maritime Borders: The Indo-Sri Lankan fishing problem

Part 2, Beyond Maritime Borders: The Indo-Sri Lankan fishing problem

Beyond Maritime Borders: The Indo-Sri Lankan fishing problem

V. Vivekanandan, Advisor, South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies, speaks on the issues confronting fishermen in South Tamil Nadu, apropos the problems between India and Sri Lanka over fishing close to the maritime boundary.

Interviewed by Srinivasan Ramani

Sri Lanka in a transition between light and shadow – Dayan Jayatilleka

By Rosslyn Hyams

Reconstruction after Sri Lanka’s civil war is slower than could be wished, the country’s new ambassador to Paris has told RFI. But Dayan Jayathillaka insists that there has been progress since the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

"It's been 30 years of war, massive devastation, be it materially or economically, psychologically, socially: there is a tremendous amount of healing to be done."

And "the main problem" in the “healing process” is that results so far, are patchy, he says.

“Even in areas where people have been able to return, there is little to no proper infrastructure, no economic activity."

Although he insists that things are picking up, “it’s not a situation of malign or benign neglect, it’s slower than we would expect, but there’s significant economic and social activity of all sorts taking place”.

An estimated 20,000 Tamils are still in government-run camps in the north of the country two years after the end of the conflict.

That’s “20,000 too many as far as Sri Lanka is concerned,” Jayathillaka remarked, speaking on the eve of Sri Lanka’s second independence holiday since government forces defeated the late Vellupillai Prabhakaran’s guerrillas.

Apart from physical injury, or hunger and loss of property, wars leave less visible traces. Both the government and the LTTE rebels have been accused of serious violations of human rights, during the final offensive in Jaffna in 2008-2009, and before.


Sri Lanka has refused an outside inquiry and has set up its own panel, the LLRC, which a three-member human rights panel set up by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is allowed to address.

The ambassador’s take is that “doors are open, but there will be no parallel inquiry which is externally driven.”

Former US ambassador to Sri Lanka, Robert Blake recently told the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, that if the LLCR does not align with international standards of investigation, Sri Lanka could be forced to accept an international one.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has appointed a panel to find out why a 2002 ceasefire between the government and the Tamil rebels broke down.

Blake also wondered why, like those others he calls Sri Lanka’s “friends around the world”, Colombo is not doing more to ensure human rights are respected now, referring in particular to attacks on media organisations and journalists.

“Sri Lanka is in period where it’s not as dark as it was, but not as bright as it should be - in a transition between light and shadow, ” Jayathillaka comments when tackled on continuing violations of human rights and of freedom of expression.

“Every violation diminishes us,” he admits but says he’s hopeful that as the context is changing, “the byproducts of the earlier context will disintegrate".

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines notes that progress is being made with the removal of landmines.

That’s one stark reminder of the drawn-out civil war between the Sinhalese-majority government and the Tamil Tiger rebels. Efforts to clear mines have been further hampered by last year’s floods.

“The mines are being prised out and we have done relatively well ... There's lots more to be done,” Jayathilleka says, “I'm quite sure it can be done faster, but what's been happening is not an insignficant revival."

For the ambassador hope has taken root. Sri Lanka is moving towards a peaceful future for the whole island and particularly for young people who he says, even if they'd been fighting with the LTTE, are now going back to school.

Political progress is a source of pride that Jayathillaka says "we deserve a pat on the back, as I think few administrations would have taken the risk of holding elections so soon after the conclusion of the war”.

As a result of last April’s election, the Tamil National Alliance now occupies 14 of 225 seats in parliament. Local elections are due to take place this month, except in urban areas where they have been postponed. These are expected to be a test of the government’s performance, especially in the war-worn north.

All in all, Ambassador Jayathillaka, "political scientist by training and profession" who very recently returned from an academic stint at the National University of Singapore, is convinced that for his country and all its people, things can only improve now.

"My optimism resides in Sri Lanka ... having never gone through a period of military dictatorship.”

According to the authorities, the reason that General Sarath Fonseka is in jail, is to prevent that occurring now.

Arrested in February 2010, the war hero was then found guilty by a court martial of irregularities when he was army chief. Fonseka’s arrest came just weeks after he’d challenged President Mahinda Rajapakse in an election in January 2010. And lost.
But the opposition still sees Fonseka as a hero and a leader.

Around independence day, a demonstration for his release organised by the United National Party saw clashes with some government lawmakers resulting in several people being injured.

“The Supreme Court has ruled on the mechanism of the court martial, whether it was constitutional, and the Supreme Court has said ‘yes’." explains Jayathillaka. “Some appeals are going on ... He has his lawyers, he has his day in court, and in that sense it’s still pretty much open. ”

Jayathillaka cites an interview Fonseka gave to Indian weekly Outlook, in which he was critical of corruption in his country, as evidence of dictatorial intentions.

"His attempt was to shift the traditional balance of power between the civilian and military dimensions of Sri Lankan politics. That’s no reason to lock him up. But there was a trial, a test at the hustings … and Mahinda Rajapakse won a fairly resounding victory.

“However threatened, [Sri Lanka] has always managed to retain and revive quintessential, representative democracy, though flawed, distorted, perhaps embattled, it has always survived ... and that democratic space is bound to keep expanding."

Are Sri Lankans who set up shop in France - Sinhalese or Tamil - who fled the war situation at home in the last three decades, as doubtful about that as the political opposition, or more optimistic, like Ambassador Jayathillaka?

He notes that at the present time his new charges, "have been going back, in large numbers, not resettling, but to visit their old home towns, their villages, to check out the post-war situation. There is a pretty significant spike in inflows from the diaspora as tourists."

COURTESY: RADIO FRANCE INTERNATIONALE

March 13, 2011

Treatment of Academia: This govt is the worst in post - colonial Sri Lanka

by Sumanasiri Liyanage

The behaviour of the present government, the statements by its ministers and the actions by its bureaucracy have compelled me to portray this government as the worst government in post-colonial Sri Lanka as far as its treatment of academia is concerned. Although Minister of Higher Education S. B. Dissanayake has been active on many fronts and appears really keen to effect some changes—let me make it clear that I wholeheartedly support his goal of eliminating ragging from higher educational institutions—it is sad that the Ministry of Higher Education has failed so far miserably to develop a comprehensive higher education plan and strategy.

Moreover, I also argue that the policies of the government as a whole will not assist in any manner in achieving its objective of making Sri Lanka a knowledge hub in the region.

Addressing public meetings during the last presidential election in many parts of the country, I highlighted the wisdom behind this proposal. I must confess that after 27 months, I am totally disappointed over the record of the present government on this and many other issues. I feel that it is my social responsibility and duty as a university teacher not only to express my dismay and disappointment, but also to suggest corrective measures even those suggestions are not taken into consideration. So one may easily understand why the university academic community pressed its union leaders to take strong community actions against the way in which the government and its bureaucracy, especially, its Secretary to the Treasury treat university academia and the university system. As one young lecturer puts it, "it is not the rupees and cents that are at stake, it is the dignity of our profession".

Why has the government fallen into this sad state? There are multiple reasons all of which I do not intend to analyse here. Suffice it to say that the government has a list of lofty goals, but it does not have a comprehensive plan to achieve them. The same goes for higher education.

The government says it is working towards making Sri Lanka a knowledge hub! What does it mean? It means the country should achieve one or more of the following three things. First, Sri Lanka can be made a regional centre of knowledge-based industries. Secondly, the country can focus on knowledge creation through research and development. Thirdly, it can be made a regional centre of training and dissemination of knowledge. Although conclusive evidence on the presence of a positive correlation between educational level and economic development cannot be established, all three definitions above stress the fact that Sri Lanka cannot be made a regional knowledge hub without paying due to attention to higher education and research.

Instead of exploring how the available academic resources can be used and improved and how new resources could be created, the government has, in the past one year or so, degraded, devalued and humiliated the Sri Lankan academia. Let me begin with the statement by the Secretary to the Ministry of Higher Education. He has recently invited Sri Lankan academics living abroad to come back to Sri Lanka and serve the country. He has also stressed that a mechanism can be worked out to ease the burden in the case of the violation of bonds. It is commendable, but it is an incorrect starting point. In order to lure expatriates into coming back, an environment should be created for the academics to return and live with dignity with adequate facilities to continue their work.

Does such environment exist in Sri Lanka? What has been done during the last three years by the government to create such an environment? How much money has been allocated to research and development from the last three budgets? It would be a gross mistake to assume that setting up of private universities in Sri Lanka would resolve these issues and change the whole academic environment in Sri Lanka. I am not against private universities as these institutions would broaden and expand higher education in Sri Lanka. Moreover, they would even assist the third dimension of the knowledge hub strategy.However, the private universities would not turn out to be institutions that carry on research and knowledge creation. In Sri Lanka it is the state and state universities that could promote and advance knowledge creation at least in the short and medium run.

How does the government treat university academia? I will cite two very recent examples. Let me avoid at this stage talking about broken promises. In the Budget Speech the President made in Parliament on Nov. 22, 2010, the government has promised that the 25% research grant will be given to researchers. The Secretary to the Treasury failed to issue the relevant circular until the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) had announced that it would resort to trade union action. Is it inefficiency or negligence or a deliberate move against the academia?It has been generally accepted that the benefits offered to senior public servants should be also given to university academia.

Concessionary vehicle permit is one of such benefits. Since 1994, concessionary permits have been given to government officers with minimum five year service and the same rule has hitherto been applied to university academics. For some reason that may be known only to the Secretary to Treasury, the time period has been amended with regard to university teachers making it 12 years! This is disgraceful, to say the least. Is this the way the government is going to create environment for expatriate Sri Lankan academics to return?

Is degrading, devaluing and humiliating academia part of a wider project that the government has in mind? Although I may not in a position to say something conclusive in this regard, certain surmises can be made on the basis of past experience. When governments want to privatise public sector institutions, governments oftentimes deliberately make them ineffective and weak in order to justify privatization. If one looks aback what successive governments have done, one will see that the expenditure for state universities has not been adequately increased. Research grants were curtailed and training for university teacher was neglected. Minister of Higher Education got it right, when he told the public sometime back that a substantial number of university dons did not have Ph. Ds. However, the Minister and the ministry also have a responsibility to see how and why such a situation has arisen. State universities have been neglected for many years although new state universities were set up. The working conditions of the university academics are substantially lower than their counterparts in India and Pakistan and those in other research organizations in the country, like the Central Bank and the TRI.

As my colleague from the University of Moratuwa revealed a couple weeks ago, a fresh graduate from the UOM receives higher pay than his senior professors! The private universities are not substitute for state universities.

They may be glorified colleges that train people for market-oriented activities. If the government thinks that the goal of education is to create ‘commodified hands’ for the job market, the consequences of such policies would be detrimental to the country in the long run. My second surmise is that the government may be treating the weakening of state university system as part of a deliberate policy of balancing fiscal deficit. The World Bank and neo liberal economists in the Treasury may be following such a policy even it is not consistent with the policies of the government

Finally, under the present system, Humphreys decide behind the scene.

It is in this context that the university teachers and their union, Federation of University Teachers’ Association, have resolved to engage actively in the process of policy making in the education and higher education sector even using its collective force. The demand of the FUTA that the state allocation for education and higher education be increased at least to six per cent of the GDP should be viewed in this light. When private sector comes in, there is a possibility that the level would even reach 8 per cent of the GDP. We should not forget the contribution of the parents is also should be taken into account. Times Higher Education has released first best universities in the world.

There are some Asian institutions including Indian Institute of Science in the list. I am sure, if the government adopts correct policies, Sri Lanka will be able to add some of its institutions to the list

However, creating a knowledge hub without academia would end up as daydream.

(The writer teaches political economy at the University of Peradeniya and is an executive committee member of the Peradeniya Arts Faculty Teachers’ Association)

Sri Lankan Prime Minister "revives" the LTTE in India

by N. Sathiyamoorthy

Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne told Parliament that the LTTE had three ‘secret camps’ across the Palk Strait, in the south Indian State of Tamil Nadu.

Independent of Jayaratne’s subsequent withdrawal, the damage had been done, particularly to the mutual trust between the two nations that was missing in between but was carefully re-built, brick by brick, in recent years. The credit for this on the Sri Lankan side should go to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who handled the India relations, personally, and at the highest levels of the second rung, otherwise.

If the Prime Minister were to rely on unverified media reports, as he has since claimed, and not on his intelligence agencies, something seems to be really amiss in the State of Sri Lanka. Worse still, Jayaratne, on parliamentary record, had attributed his information to intelligence agencies.

It is a serious lapse of responsibility, considering the fragile nature of bilateral relations with an immediate neighbour, which has serious consequences for both in more ways than one. If the Prime Minister and the Government of Sri Lanka are serious about the rebuttal since, the record could be set right, if at all, only if it is stated in Parliament.

It is sad that on matters of bilateral relations, particularly with the Indian neighbour but including the rest of the international community, too, flippant comments of the kind have come to be made by responsible – or, not so responsible -- individuals holding high offices in Government, from time to time.

Such instances takes away the seriousness of governance from the Government, and thus challenges the credibility, though not the legitimacy, of the institutions that such individuals have come to represent in the Sri Lankan State scheme. To comment in haste and rebut at leisure is not what diplomacy is about. Instead, it is about weighing the words and presenting it with care. Prime Minister Jayaratne would only have to ask his External Affairs Ministry, and they would tell him what diplomacy and parliamentary statements on bilateral relations are all about.

It is nobody’s case that the Sri Lankan political class should not make statements, based on newspaper reports on sensitive issues that involve the nation’s security. Nor can anyone deny them the luxury when their counterparts in the south Indian State of Tamil Nadu have been making rash statements of the kind, based on unverified reports, often palmed off by pro-LTTE segments of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora. It is a habit that does not die that easily. It is also fine for provincial politicians, most of whom are not even a part of the Government in Tamil Nadu. It is a different matter when the Prime Minister of a country to come up with such observations.

What makes Jayaratne’s observations flippant on the one hand, and a serious concern for bilateral relations is the fact that it involves the LTTE. Sri Lankans are not tired of reminding India, how it had armed and trained the LTTE in the past, in camps on Indian soil. In the immediate context, the Prime Minister’s statement contests the claims of his own Government that the LTTE had been routed completely. Ground reports since the conclusion of the ethnic war too have stood testimony to the Government’s original claim.

If nothing else, it begs the question why Jayaratne did not have his intelligence agencies verify the news reports before going to Parliament -- rather than go to Parliament first, and then have the media reports verified for their veracity. This is not how Governments act, and not in relation to the nation’s Parliament. Nor do they do so with the immediate neighbour, whom his President is not tired of reiterating was a ‘relation’, an elder sister, and not just a friend.

A predecessor of Jayaratne and UNP Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was not wide off the mark when he contested the Prime Minister’s parliamentary claim. Despite the rebuttal, Jayaratne’s statement has the potential to stir up the political scene in Tamil Nadu, during the current run-up to the Assembly polls in the south Indian State. In the land of ‘Rajiv Gandhi assassination’, LTTE is a bad word still, despite what anti-India hard-liners in Sri Lanka may want to believe. Those sympathetic to the LTTE still in Tamil Nadu are individuals. The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka is an institution.

Sirimavo: Honouring the world’s first woman Prime Minister

PMSBTC313.jpgA Review by Asanga Welikala

Sirimavo: Honouring the world’s first woman Prime Minister, edited by Tissa Jayatilaka, is the commemorative volume published by the Bandaranaike Museum Committee to mark fifty years since Mrs. Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike’s first accession to power on 21st July 1960. If her place in the history books as the world’s first woman to lead a democratic government was an instance, in tragic circumstances, of greatness being thrust upon her, the essays and speeches in this volume attempt to show how she achieved greatness in her own right as the leader of a Third World democracy and international stateswoman.

The substance of the essays and speeches certainly makes Sirimavo a desirable addition to any library shelf devoted to Sri Lankan politics and political history, but its stylish design and presentation makes it equally suitable for the coffee table. This is a book to which no disservice is done on being judged by its cover, and in this respect, the dust jacket photograph of Mrs. Bandaranaike is an inspired choice. It captures her enigmatic charisma, not only of old world Sabaragamuwa gentility and an aristocratic feminine elegance, but also a steely touch of power and self-assurance, in a manner reminiscent of a Korda or Cartier-Bresson portrait.

Content-wise, the book is a well selected and edited collection of essays, photographs and speeches. The essays are a mixture of personal memoirs, tributes, and scholarly and policy reflections written by diplomats, civil servants, academics and lawyers, in a combination that largely achieves its purpose as a coherent whole. They deal not only with Mrs. Bandaranaike’s policy interests and political achievements, but also the personal traits and attributes she brought to bear upon her style of leadership. They are respectful, sometimes affectionate and even endearingly humorous, and, although some are more critical than others, none are uncritical hagiographies of her actions as a party leader, head of government, line minister, policy-maker or parliamentarian.

To the credit therefore of the editor, the contributors, and perhaps most of all, members of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s family, the book succeeds in evading that commonest pitfall of Sri Lankan political festschrifts: that of becoming a glutinous panegyric to the real and perceived excellence of the subject. Such a book does not deserve an adulatory review, and what follows is a critical appraisal of it and its subject in the hope that it would add constructively to the debate about Mrs. Bandaranaike’s singular contribution to the public life of this country that the publication of this volume is no doubt intended to initiate. I should add also that this is a selective review primarily of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s role in shaping the post-colonial state and its constitutional evolution, and therefore does not pretend to do justice to the many other facets of her political life and private persona dealt with by the essays and speeches as a whole.

Although Mrs. Bandaranaike’s accomplishments in such fields as foreign affairs and social development are formidable personal achievements in any political career, her contribution to the politics of Sri Lanka in a crucial period of its post-colonial progress is, as a matter of historical assessment, rather more contentious. Both her governments and her SLFP demonstrated a tendency to statist authoritarianism and a sectarian form of majoritarianism, about which perhaps the most alarming feature is, in retrospect, the effortlessness with which she succumbed to the convenient temptations of the ideological shibboleths of the era.

Socialist and nationalist discourses, then enjoying their heyday in the states and societies of the emerging Third World and Non-Aligned Movement, were no doubt the essential mood music of her time at the top of Sri Lankan politics. But it seems too often to have been the case that these were eagerly embraced so as to lend a carapace of legitimacy to what were in reality parish-pump calculations of electoral advantage; and on the same impulse but with more deplorable consequences, the conscious abnegation of core democratic values including the freedom of the press, the liberty of the individual, the independence of the judiciary and civil service, and the protection of minorities.

While a retrospective reviewer must acknowledge the argument made by several of the essayists that any fair assessment of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s actions and policies should be judged against those dominant ideological currents and policy nostrums of her time, a closer look at many of her key decisions and policy postures even from that sympathetic perspective leads to conclusions that show her in a less positive light than what they seek to project. By the time Mrs. Bandaranaike first formed a government in 1960, Sri Lanka, unlike many other emergent post-colonial states in Africa and Asia, was already an established democracy of thirty years standing, with traditions of parliamentary government, the rule of law and other liberal institutions. When she took decisions that went against the grain of these traditions, therefore, she was interfering with a liberal democratic patrimony that was precious and irreplaceable. It was an indulgence of the parochial at the cost of the transcendent.

In doing so, she set precedents that successor governments have been only too pleased to follow, with deleterious consequences for civil, political and economic liberties, and for the substantive character of our democracy. It is in this context that even a margin of appreciation for the ferment of anti-imperialist nationalism and socialist developmentalism in which her political career took shape, cannot absolve her of due responsibility in the process of dismantling the culture and institutions of liberal democracy in Sri Lanka.

It is also in this sense that Jayadeva Uyangoda’s cogent essay is damningly persuasive as an explanatory thesis of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s two administrations in the impact they had on the political sociology and constitutional evolution of Sri Lanka. In this essay, Professor Uyangoda shows how the UF regime she led between 1970 and 1977 – and in which the two anti-liberal discourses of ethnic-nationalism and socialism that coursed through the politics of mid-twentieth century Sri Lanka became conjoined in the site of state power – consolidated ethnic majoritarianism at the fundament of the fledgling republic, and began the process of the ‘illiberalisation’ of the state.

Over and above the general impact the policy choices of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s governments had on the evolution of the post-colonial Sri Lankan state, the UF government made a direct and historic intervention aimed at a radical reformulation of the normative foundations and institutional architecture of the state in the autochthonous constitution-making process of 1970-72. This exercise of autochthony established the Sri Lankan republic in 1972. While the political momentum towards severing the remaining constitutional links with Britain was overwhelming at the time (even the Tamil federalists were in favour), in choosing to do so through an extra-constitutional legal revolution, the UF regime established a precedent for acts of constitutional manipulation that were to follow which concerned less defensible ends. In giving full expression to the constitutional vision of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism – in the form of a constitutionally privileged status for Buddhism and Sinhalese, and the entrenchment of the unitary state – but aggressively rejecting even a moderate accommodation of Tamil aspirations to autonomy, the 1972 Constitution repudiated the loyalty of Tamils to the new republic, radicalised that community’s politics, and contributed to the later descent into separatism and armed conflict. The 1972 Constitution instituted the pervasive politicisation of governance from which we continue to suffer, and may never escape.

Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne’s essay on this subject provides a compact description of the making and substance of the 1972 Constitution, although in my view, it treads rather lightly on the role of its Old Left architects. Dr. Wickramaratne makes oblique references to the baleful influence that Felix Dias Bandaranaike, the grey eminence in Mrs. Bandaranaike’s shadow, had on the determination of certain substantive questions, including the entrenchment of the unitary state. Felix was the kind of politician about whom it is easy to believe the worst. That should, however, never exonerate the Old Left for the wholesale abandonment of its pluralist principles and total capitulation to the chauvinist agenda in a constitution-making process it could have influenced infinitely for the better had it tried a little harder.

So much for Mrs. Bandaranaike’s political legacy, but that is far from a rounded appreciation of her as a human being. Again and again, reference is made in the Sirimavo essays to her personal qualities such as decisiveness, determination, tenacity, conscientiousness, discipline, courtesy, considerateness, punctuality and her capacity for hard work, impeccable manners and quiet sense of humour. There is no doubt that Mrs. Bandaranaike was all this and more, which makes her a rare and attractive personality worthy of both admiration and emulation. It is easy from these accounts to see how she was able to generate such loyalty among her colleagues and officials.

Both the editor and several of the essayists also describe her as ‘unencumbered by learning’, in implicit contrast perhaps to her husband and in positive comparison to D.S. Senanayake. Except for the Catholic rigours instilled at St. Bridget’s, tempered by the noblesse oblige of Mahawalatenna, the freedom from the clutter of too much book learning appears to have been what enabled Mrs. Bandaranaike’s uncomplicated process of decision-making and decisiveness in action, as well as what seems to have been a complete absence of mendacity. This is not quite as curious a compliment as it may seem, given that a sound education, especially of the variety imparted at ‘the city of dreaming spires’, has not been among the guarantees of a political life well led among Sri Lankan politicians throughout the ages. Viewed against the elasticity of political principles and the extraordinary capacity for verbose casuistry some of these individuals are renowned for, Mrs. Bandaranaike’s straightforward common sense is infinitely preferable.

In these days when standards in public life and parliamentary behaviour within and without Parliament have sunk to subterranean levels, the personal example set by Mrs. Bandaranaike (and indeed, others of her generation) serves as a poignant inspiration. On 16th November 1995, in one of her last parliamentary interventions, an excerpt of which is reproduced in the book, she delivered what could only be described as a dressing down to Members on both sides of the House on their profane behaviour and use of unparliamentary language. As the undisputed elder stateswoman in the House, perhaps only she could have administered such a sustained rebuke on both sides, and one can almost hear the meek silence of the apprehended delinquent, as the raucous House is hushed under the onslaught of her reproaches and admonitions. The effect she had on that occasion can be gathered from the chastened response of Mr. Speaker, which, in a deft editorial touch, Tissa Jayatilaka has included in the excerpt: “Thank you, Madam, for the nice advice you gave to both sides of the House and to me. I will try my very best to maintain law and order very firmly from tomorrow.” While of course no such thing ever happened in the Sri Lankan Parliament, the contrite promise in these words seems to me a fitting epitaph for Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and all the good things in politics and public service she epitomised.

March 12, 2011

Re-defining patriotism as unquestioning loyalty to the ruling Rajapaksa family

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

Few of us can easily surrender our belief that society must somehow make sense. The thought that the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied.” — Arthur Miller, The Crucible

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The war is won and the Tiger is stone-cold dead. The government assures tourists and investors that Sri Lanka is as safe as paradise. Police stations are replacing ramparts with flower-gardens and the security-details of politicians are being reduced.

But each month the dead Tiger is carefully resurrected, as Sri Lanka’s draconian Emergency Law comes up for renewal in parliament. In this month’s version of the ‘Undead Tiger,’ Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne announced that the LTTE is secretly operating three training camps in Tamil Nadu! This piece of absurdist political-theatre about an Undead Tiger is critical to the success of the Rajapaksa project; it enables the Ruling Family to nourish a siege-mentality in the Sinhala South and justify the continued existence of the Emergency, in post-war Sri Lanka.

Despots need a perilous world, a world menaced by known and nameless foes, from within and without. They need frightened populaces, who will consent to subjugation, in return for illusions of stability and security. Thus despots seek to manufacture consent for anti-democratic rule by manufacturing national threats, via ‘bogeyman/gonybilla tactics.’

Despots feel unsafe with thinking populaces capable of forming informed judgements and making measured decisions. They want their populaces to be numbed (politically, intellectually and morally) with suspicion and dread. Despotic rulers cannot co-exist with independent citizens; they need dependent subjects who accept their worldviews and their interpretations unquestioningly. Like the Wizard of Oz, despotic-rulers need their populaces to wear reality-distorting politico-psychological spectacles. Anyone who resists participating in these exercises of mass self-deception is regarded as an enemy, and dealt with accordingly.

So Sri Lanka’s Ruling Family needs a spectral Tiger to haunt the collective psyche of the Sinhalese and compel them to consent to anti-democratic laws, autocracy-enabling constitutional amendments and repressive practices. According to the latest Amnesty International report, “Thousands of people are languishing in detention without charge or trial under Sri Lanka’s repressive anti-terrorism laws. Sometimes held in secret prisons, they are vulnerable to a whole range of abuses including torture or being killed in custody” (Forgotten Prisoners).

Without the Emergency and the PTA, such brutally repressive and manifestly unjust practices will be harder to sustain or justify. Thus Rajapaksas will continue to dab in political-necromancy (summoning the dead Tiger to life), even at the risk of antagonising India, and turning Sri Lanka into an international joke – because it is vital for the success of their despotic-dynastic project.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa often speaks in praise of patriotism. At a recent gathering he perorated that “those who love their country will be protected by the country itself” and that “those who work for the country and not for personal gains lead happy lives” (On Lanka News – 1.3.2011).

Juxtapose these Presidential pronouncements with the contrasting fates of Sarath Fonseka and Kumaran Pathmanathan. Gen. Fonseka, the war-winning Army Commander, has lost his rank, honours, pension, parliamentary seat and freedom. Pathmanathan alias KP, the LTTE’s financial wizard and key arms procurer, recently set up his own NGO and was reportedly presented with 100 aces of land in the Wanni by the regime.

The Lankan state which jailed Gen. Fonseka is rewarding Pathmanathan; and the favoured Pathmanathan is bound to be in a happier state than the persecuted Gen. Fonseka. Consequently President Rajapaksa’s assertion that patriotism is materially and spiritually rewarding can be true only if Pathmanathan is the patriot and Gen. Fonseka is the anti-patriot. And for such a radical re-classification to be possible, patriotism itself needs to be redefined, as defence of the ‘prosperity, freedom and rights’ not of the country but of the Ruling Rajapaksa Family. (i.e. patriotism as defined by Ambrose Bierce in his Devil’s Dictionary: ‘The first resort of the scoundrel’ and ‘Combustible rubbish ready to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name’).

Patriotism is the fundament of the Rajapaksa political project, the sharpest Rajapaksa weapon and the most voluminous Rajapaksa mantle.

Once the redefinition of patriotism as unquestioning loyalty to the ruling family is accepted, the antithetical treatments meted to Gen. Fonseka and Pathmanathan become perfectly explicable. The moral of these two morality tales is clear: Rajapaksa loyalists will be looked after by the state and with public funds; Rajapaksa opponents will be persecuted, imprisoned and perhaps even killed.

Revenge as punishment is a key leitmotiv in this redefined patriotism. The former Army Commander is being denied a geyser by the authorities, despite a court order to provide him with one for health reasons. Last month, the cremation site of Velupillai Pirapaharan’s mother was desecrated. According to media reports, the Lankan military had built its new Northern Headquarters atop a Tiger cemetery it destroyed a couple of years ago. Each act aims to humiliate and denigrate a defeated/fallen opponent and sends an unequivocal warning to all would-be-opponents.

Allowing Gen. Fonseka a geyser or an exercise machine, for health reasons, would not have cost the regime anything. It may even have won the regime some plaudits for fairness and compassion, just as treating civilian Tamils and dead Tigers with common decency would have helped create bridges of understanding between the North and the South. But the regime is not interested in tolerance or reconciliation. The message it wants to send to Tamils in the North and political opponents in the South is identical to the message Gaddafi is sending the people of Libya with his tanks and his war planes: submit and obey unquestioningly; or suffer and die.

Despotism is impossible where sources of countervailing power exist. Thus the Rajapaksas are moving decisively to destroy all sources and forms of countervailing power. The 18th Amendment, which removed Presidential term-limits even as it enhanced, qualitatively, Presidential powers, marks a new and a critical nadir in this retrogressive journey.

But it is not only constitutional, legal and political countervailing powers the Rajapaksas want to eliminate. They also want to persuade us to abandon critical thinking, connive at our own bondage and accept the Rajapaksas as the only possible leader-saviours of Sri Lanka. Gramsci points out that “when one’s conception of the world is not critical and coherent,” it results in the creation of a composite personality containing “Stone Age elements and principles of a more advanced science…” (Prison Notebooks).

The Rajapaksas want to addle our minds with fear (via spectral Tigers and other bogies), awaken historic memories of hero-kings who defeated enemy hordes and saved the nation and encourage the belief that a ruler of the same mould is needed for national and popular salvation. Thus the official projection of President Rajapaksa as the uncrowned Hero-King, a modern day Dutugemunu.

The fact that we neither rage nor laugh when the elected President styles himself as the ‘Universally-Renowned Lord of the Three-Sinhala Lands’ is a measure of the success achieved by the Rajapaksas in strengthening the ‘stone-age elements’ within our collective-psyche at the expense of more democratic sentiments.

Briefing note on the Human Rights situation in Sri Lanka - by Sri Lanka Advocacy Group

March 2011

Context

The continuing deterioration of the human rights situation in all parts of Sri Lanka continues to be a matter of grave concern. A climate of impunity prevails throughout the island, with political interference in law enforcement and judicial institutions leading to a breakdown of law and order and a silencing of any criticism of authority. The failure to investigate prominent cases of assassination and disappearance including the assassination of Tamil politician Maheswaran in January 2008, the assassination of newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunga in January 2009 and the disappearance of cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda has led to a loss of faith in institutional mechanisms and generates an environment of fear and silence.

The end of the military conflict between the government troops and the combatants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has not led to any process of reconciliation with the Tamil citizens of the north and east of the island, who were most affected by the war. These areas continue to be heavily militarized, and the structures of civilian administration are subordinated to the military at every level.

Presidential elections in January 2010, saw the re-election of President Mahinda Rajapakse. The main contender for this post, former Army General Sarath Fonseka, later elected Member of Parliament, was detained in February 2010 and tried before a military tribunal. He is now serving a prison sentence. The forfeiture of his seat in Parliament was appealed on the basis that the military tribunal did not constitute a court of law and the recent Supreme Court ruling that in fact that a Court Martial constitutes a Court of Law in Sri Lanka has raised serious concerns about the independence of the judiciary from the executive since the members of the military tribunal are appointed and their decisions ratified by the Executive.

On 8 September 2010, the government passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which removed the limitation on the number of terms a President could stand for re-election, and also took away safeguards against the concentration of power in the Executive Presidency under the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.

There has been no progress made towards a political solution to the ethnic conflict, despite the availability of references such as the work of the recent All Party Representative Committee and proposals presented to Parliament by previous governments. Although the government has reportedly initiated talks with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the framework of the discussions and the time frame are not clear.

The government has continued to maintain an adversarial approach to the Panel of Experts appointed by the UN Secretary-General to examine the issue of accountability with regards to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict

Institutional Mechanisms for Human Rights Protection

No Minister for Human Rights was appointed to the Cabinet of Ministers following the Parliamentary elections of April 2010.

Failure of the Parliamentary Committee process mandated with the nomination of members to the Human Rights Commission undermined the capacity of that institution to act independently and to intervene on behalf of victims of human rights abuse. The downgrading of the Sri Lankan Human Rights Council by the International Coordinating Committee on National Human Rights Institutions (ICC-NHRIs) in March 2007 remains in place. There have been recent reports in the media about new appointments to the Commission by the government, but opposition parties have as yet failed to respond. The five persons nominated by the government are not known for their knowledge or expertise in human rights.

In the absence of a Ministry or equivalent mechanism on human rights, the Attorney General’s Department undertook the creation of a National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP). Although selected civil society actors were invited to be a part of the process in the initial stages, most of them withdrew after finding that the final draft document did not contain any of their contributions.

Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)

The Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act remain in force and even in late 2010. There were used to arrest and detain those suspected of having links with the LTTE as well as those belonging to the opposition parties and generally propagating views critical of the government. In addition, these laws are used to harass and intimidate persons on the basis that they and their actions constitute a threat to national security. The PTA legitimizes detention in unauthorized locations, and is also used to acquire property of persons linked to the LTTE; in January 2010, Gazettes were issued regarding forfeiture of property in the Colombo suburbs of Pamankada and Pita Kotte.

Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression

There continues to be a severe crackdown on the publication and dissemination of dissenting views, which is both systematic and deliberate, targeting a broad range of groups and individuals as well as encompassing a various forms of dissent. Members of the government have been very frank in expressing their views as to the suppression of dissent. On 30 May 2010, for example, the Media Minister went on record in the Irida Lankadeepa, a Sinhala newspaper, saying that he doesn’t want exiled journalists to return as they are anti-Sri Lankan. This hostile environment has led to over thirty journalists and media personnel leaving the country since 2009. Among the recent cases of victimization of media persons are:

· political cartoonist and journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, who wrote about the use of chemical weapons against civilian targets in the North, disappeared in January 2010;

· printer and publisher, Jayampathy Bulathsinhala and three members of his family were arrested and detained under Emergency Regulations in September 2010 due to his involvement in the campaign against the 18th Amendment to the Constitution;

· on 31 January 2011, the offices of Lanka E-News, a news website critical of the government were set on fire and completely destroyed

Media persons working in the North and East have also been subject to attack and intimidation, including for exposing corrupt practices within the government structures. For example, the office of the Eastern Province Tamil newspaper ‘Vaara Ureikkal’ was attacked in September 2010 and its editor attacked in February 2011; in January 2011, a journalist working in the Amparai District was assaulted while on his way to report on the distribution of aid to flood victims when he refused demands by a local politician for favorable coverage; in December 2010, a journalist of the Thinakaran newspaper in Batticaloa was assaulted; in July 2010, a journalist and human rights defender in Mannar, was attacked.

Tamil newspapers in the Northern Province have complained of threats and intimidation against their journalists and staff. Douglas Devananda, a Cabinet Minister and the leader of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), has publicly warned the editor of Yarl Thinakural a Jaffna-based Tamil newspaper and its administrative manager for having published front page news about an attack on an election meeting

In the immediate aftermath of the January 2010 Presidential Election, several state media workers who campaigned against the misuse of sate media resources, were assaulted, threatened, and had their services terminated or were interdicted. One person was forced to flee overseas, but even after he left, his family was subjected to intimidation.

In July 2009, the government officially reactivated the Press Council Act of 1973, which includes powers to fine and/or impose punitive measures including lengthy prison terms, proscribed the publishing of articles that discussed internal communications of the government and cabinet decisions, military matters affecting national security, and details of economic policy that could lead to artificial shortages or speculative price increases.

Freedom of Association and Restrictions on NGOs

In June 2010, the NGO Secretariat along with other key state institutions such as the Attorney General’s Department, were brought under the Ministry of Defense (MoD). All NGOs are required to register under the Secretariat and thereby subject themselves to monitoring by the MoD.

There is an active campaign in the state and private media against NGO workers and civil society activists who are continually blamed for bringing the country to disrepute and for acting in an anti-national manner. This was particularly so with reference to individuals and groups linked to the campaign against the extension of the GSP+ tax privileges by the EU and those seen to be involved with the campaign for bringing the government and the LTTE to account for alleged ‘war crimes’. The Secretary to the Ministry of Defense, the President’s brother, is among those public figures who have openly threatened human rights defenders and journalists.

Access to the North remains restricted for foreign nationals, even for those engaged in humanitarian work. Many international NGOs face problems with procuring visas and work permits for expatriate staff. For example, in 2010, the Director of the Nonviolent Peace Force, Director Tiffany Eastham and senior staff members Ali Palh, Elizabeth Ogaya and Dan Hogan all had their visa extensions refused and were ordered to leave Sri Lanka at short notice.

Access to the war affected parts of the island also remains restricted to national civil society actors, with every movement into the north being controlled by the Presidential Task Force appointed after the war. NGOs interested in working with civilians in the newly resettled areas of the North face numerous difficulties in getting permission from both government and military. The procedures are subject to arbitrary changes, and are long and complicated.

Civil society organizations organizing activities that have the potential to be critical of the government have found these activities being obstructed. For example, an academic conference due to be held in Jaffna in December 2010 had to be called off since the Mayor withdrew the conference venue, and participants in human rights training programmes subject to intense scrutiny. Interventions aimed at empowering communities to stand up for their rights are not allowed and a human rights defender who raised this issue at a meeting in Colombo was reprimanded. A woman human rights defender had the experience of taking over 45 minutes to explain to a Presidential Task Force official about why they run a shelter for battered women and why they assist abandoned pregnant women to take DNA tests.

Members of opposition political parties engaging in non-violent and legitimate campaigning such as distributing leaflets have been subject to arbitrary arrest. On 4 February 2011, the Independence Day, a peaceful rally organized by the United National Party (UNP, the major opposition party) was brutally attacked while police stood by.

Limitations are also being placed on the freedom of association by the courts. For example, on 9 December 2010, the Colombo High Court granting bail to the Convener of the Inter-University Student Federation (IUSF), ordered him not to participate in any students’ movements, political meetings or paste posters. People in recently resettled villages of Vanni area have been prevented from meeting together to form associations and discuss and take actions on community issues.

During May 2010, the military cancelled several religious and cultural events planned in the North in memory of those killed during the war, and the organizers were threatened. On the 20th May the Media and Information Minister told the media that Tamil people cannot be allowed to make public campaigns when they commemorate their children and family who died in the war.

Human Rights Defenders

Human rights defenders, including those in exile, collaborating with the international community in calling for accountability have been threatened, harassed and vilified in the local press. In December 2010, Opposition MP Dr. Jayawardena and New Left Front leader Dr. Wickramabahu were accused of instigating protests against President Rajapakse in the United Kingdom, and of providing information regarding war crimes to international bodies. Dr. Jayawardena was attacked inside Parliament and Dr. Wickramabahu and his supporters were attacked by government thugs as he arrived at the Sri Lanka’s International Airport.

Human rights defenders in the North and East have been subject to intimidation arrest and detention for their work, including monitoring human rights violations and carrying out training in human rights. In December 2010, a human rights defender in the North, who has been helping to organize families of disappeared people received threatening calls, was subjected to surveillance and questioning by intelligence agents. Another defender in the North documenting human rights violations also received threatening phone calls and was questioned at the airport. In the East, a human rights defender was threatened and was compelled to leave the country in 2010, while in February 2011, a priest from Batticaloa, well known for his work on child rights was arrested along with five of his staff. Also in the East, women human rights defenders who had attended a training were questioned by police officers.

On 3 October 2010, the Divayina, a Sinhala daily newspaper, disclosed details of a training on UN Human Rights Complaints Mechanism and Special Procedures conducted for 13 defenders from Mannar and Vavuniya. The article identified the Law and Society Trust, Colombo as having collaborated with the Non Violent Peace Force (NPSL) in the training, and accused NPSL of engaging in anti-government activities and of prompting local human rights defenders in the North to report on human rights violations to the UN. On 22 October 2010, the English sister paper Sunday Island online carried a follow up article stating that the military intelligence were investigating 13 human rights defenders who were accused of submitting false complaints regarding human rights violations against Tamil civilians in the North to the UN. On 2 January 2011, the Sunday Divayina carried a further article in which it disclosed the names of the human rights defenders. Again, on 15 January 2011, the Dinamina (a State controlled Sinhala daily newspaper) accused NPSL of engaging in secret anti-government activities and also disclosed information regarding the relocation of the NPSL office in Colombo. The Sunday Divaina carried a further article attacking NPSL on 23 January 2011.

On 10 December 2010, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo reportedly refused permission for Sunila Abeysekera, a well known Sri Lankan human rights defender and a recipient of the 1998 UN Human Rights Prize, to speak at an event to be held on the campus of Colombo University and co-hosted by the Law Faculty’s Centre for the Study of Human Rights Centre and the UN’s Human Rights office in Colombo.

Local mobilizations against government policies and practices have also come under intimidation. Fisheries Union leaders who protested against the proposal to establish a landing zone for ‘sea planes’ in the Negombo lagoon were arrested and charged with conspiring against the government while a farmer’s summit organized by an opposition party was also obstructed. Several protests by the Inter University Student’s Federation (IUSF) have been crushed by state forces and student representatives have been attacked or detained. Campaigners fighting against forced evictions in the Colombo district have been threatened and repeatedly harassed by pro-government thugs. In December 2010, two human rights defenders who worked to promote citizen’s action and participation against government policies were threatened and forced to leave the country. In May 2010, displaced persons who were protesting during a visit by two government Ministers about the takeover of their land by the Navy were detained and threatened. Later in 2010, a religious leader who supported efforts by a community organization to organize a peaceful protest regarding water facilities was threatened by the military.

Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)

The LLRC was established in response to a worldwide call for an independent investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by both the LTTE and the government during the last stages of the military conflict in April/May 2009. The mandate of the LLRC however focused largely on the Ceasefire Agreement and its collapse, and did not address the issue of reconciliation in a forceful manner.

Although the LLRC hearings held in the North and East provided a rare opportunity for civilians to voice their grievances and report violations, in the absence of a Witness Protection Act or any mechanism to protect those who came forward to give testimony, they also provided the context for threats and intimidation of witnesses and intimidation of human rights defenders observing proceedings. A woman who gave testimony about her husband’s disappearance after he surrendered to the Army, had the military visiting her residence and also received threatening phone calls. In Jaffna, there were reports of a systematic campaign to discourage residents from appearing before the LLRC. Human rights defenders who attended some hearings were photographed, questioned and warned not to share information with foreign media. In Mannar, a soldier had made witnesses nervous by taking photographs. In addition, access of the foreign media to hearings of the LLRC in the Vanni was restricted, and the lack of infrastructure and systems created problems for the large numbers who came to give testimony in the North and the East. Weaknesses in translation have led to Tamil speakers to point out that key ideas put forward by witnesses have been omitted.

An interim report of the LLRC was released in September 2010; this does not appear on the LLRC’s own website, but according a “leaked” version, the recommendations are constructive and draw on some long standing civil society demands. While there have been some steps taken to implement some of the recommendations, such as a Task Force set up to inquire into detainees, this is not a transparent process nor is there any monitoring mechanism built into the system.

The Situation in the North

Former military officers belonging to the majority Sinhala community are Governors in both the North and East. This means that the highest Provincial offices continue to operate from a military perspective. NGOs and community leaders have, for example, received instructions that no events or functions should be organized without the presence of the military and of government politicians.

Travel restrictions to the North restrict information about abuses being shared, at both national and international levels, and deny war-affected people opportunities to get assistance from donors and well-wishers. One reporter who managed to go to Vanni reported that she was told by Ministry of Defense that “clearance is required in order to prevent journalists from reporting bad things on what is happening in Jaffna and Vanni”.

There has been recent concern about the law and order situation in Jaffna following a number of killings, extortions and acts of intimidation reported from different parts of the peninsula in December 2010 and January 2011. Around 40 incidents of killings, disappearances, rape and threats and intimidations have been reported. On 26 December 2010, a Tamil Deputy Director of Education in Jaffna was shot dead, after he had opposed the singing of the National Anthem of Sri Lanka in the majority language of Sinhalese. On 31 December 2010, an activist who had campaigned against environmental damage due to sand excavation in Jaffna was shot dead.

Those who had been detained by the government and subsequently released continue to face persecution, in way of threats and intimidations. Women in newly returned villages are extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse. Many of these abuses go unreported due to lack of confidence in existing protection mechanisms, lack of victim and witness protection, and fear of reprisals. There is evidence of the involvement of the military in some incidents while the complicity of the military is also evident in other incidents given the large presence of military in the North. Only in one case of rape in Viswamadu has there been arrest and detention of members of the armed forces implicated in the incident. The establishment of checkpoints and registration of civilians by the military and police in a manner that is not done in other areas of the country has also raised fears of continued militarization of the North.

On the humanitarian side, some internally displaced persons are still unable to go back to their own villages due to military occupation of their lands, such as in Mullikulam in Mannar district and some areas in Jaffna. Most of those who have returned have inadequate housing, livelihood, food, healthcare and education facilities.

Reconciliation and Development

Development in the war affected areas is limited to large scale physical infrastructure projects, such as roads and bridges, but this is not accompanied by any process of consultation with affected communities regarding their futures and with no constructive effort to promote reconciliation and build bridges between the different communities on the island.

On the contrary, any potential for reconciliation is constantly challenged by the failure of the state and the political leadership of the ruling parties to address the genuine concerns of the affected communities with regard to their security and their future. The refusal to acknowledge the deaths and disappearances of large numbers of Tamil civilians as well as the concerns for the safety of those detained for prolonged periods constitute major obstacles to reconciliation. Among the symbolic denials of the equality of Tamils in Sri Lanka have been the attempts to stop them singing the national anthem in Tamil. The destruction of monuments to Tamil militants, the obstruction of commemorative events to remember those Tamils who died during the conflict is coupled with the building of monuments for war ‘victories’, building of Buddha statues and Buddhist monuments in areas which are predominantly occupied by Hindu, Christian and Muslim communities, displaying sign boards in Sinhala only and giving Sinhalese names to roads and places in the north all have the effect of alienating the minorities.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The situation in Sri Lanka at present is one in which the suppression of dissent has been normalized, thereby strengthening the climate of impunity and silence. The crackdown on human rights defenders had contributed to a dramatic reduction of documentation of past and present violations, and of complaints lodged to domestic and international bodies. Self censorship in writing and speaking about human rights and depletion of the community due to many human rights defenders and journalists fleeing the country, has strengthened the environment of fear and silence. Human rights defenders who remain in Sri Lanka operate with a deep sense of vulnerability and helplessness. Families of human rights defenders, particularly children have also been negatively affected, as their parents were forced into hiding, to give up their livelihood or to flee overseas.

In this context, as the situation within the country deteriorates, the people of Sri Lanka, especially its human rights defenders, turn to the international community to engage in a principled engagement with the Sri Lankan government, including in bilateral and donor relations. Countries that have experienced armed conflict and political upheaval and that have experience in dealing constructively with issues of truth, accountability and reconciliation must play a critical role in supporting the government of Sri Lanka to develop such mechanisms in Sri Lanka.

The UN Human Rights Council is an important opportunity to discuss the human rights situation in Sri Lanka at a multilateral level. It is crucial that different governments raise questions about above issues during the proceedings at the upcoming March session of the Human Rights Council. In addition, it is also crucial that different governments take up these issues in their bilateral discussions with the Sri Lankan government.

We appeal to member States of the UN Human Rights Council to use this opportunity to address the continuing repression of human rights defenders in Sri Lanka and to call on the government of Sri Lanka to honour its commitments and obligations to the Council made during the Universal Periodic Review in 2008 and the Special Session on Sri Lanka in May 2009.

The government of Sri Lanka also has received Concluding Observations from the Committee on the Rights of the Child Rights (in September 2010), the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (in November 2010) and from the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (in January 2011) and the Human Rights Council should secure its commitment to implement the recommendations contained in these Observations of treaty bodies.

In addition, we urge the members States of the UN Human Rights Council to call on the government of Sri Lanka to:

· respond to the requests for country visits made by Special Procedures;
· conduct impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights abuse and prosecute and convict perpetrators, irrespective of whether they are State or non-State actors; and
· guarantee safety and security for human rights defenders.

March 11, 2011

Sri Lanka sans the LTTE seems difficult for some players

"When there are many challenges because of past political blunders, the post-war government is concerned mainly about safeguarding the military victory gained resolutely in 2009 and the resultant popularity"

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

According to recent media reports, 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 State election time. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the ruling Congress Party and the present Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi who is the leader of DMK were said to be the targets of the LTTE cadres.

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Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne participates in a religious event invoking blessings on the President, Government and the people at the Ruwanweli Seya, Anuradhapura - file pic-by daily news.lk

But the Tamil Nadu Director General of Police, Letika Saran has denied LTTE presence and has dismissed the warning as baseless. (Upul Joseph Fernando - ‘Prabha’s ghost haunts Tamil Nadu elections’ in the Daily Mirror 23 February 2011).

This sudden allegation is connected with the political situation there which is unfavourable for the DMK and Congress to win the forthcoming State election. Hence the need for tactical moves by concerned leaders to earn the sympathy of the Tamil Nadu voters. The opposition party ADMK led by J. Jayalalitha has accused the DMK leader of collaboration with New Delhi that helped the Sri Lanka Government to destroy the Tamil Tigers. Although the alleged LTTE threat is patchy in Tamil Nadu, it has become useful to the Sri Lankan government in executing its agenda.

Citing this ‘intelligence information’, Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratna told Parliament on March 9 that the LTTE was attempting to raise its head once again. He said that the LTTE is being trained to assassinate Tamil Nadu politicians and the LTTE activists V. Rudrakumaran in the US, Nediyawan in Norway and Vinayagam in India are involved in funding these operations. He warned that the Tigers may attempt to carry out small scale attacks in Sri Lanka as well. In the parliamentary debate in Sri Lanka, the opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe dismissed this warning which he said was aimed at giving a reason to extend the State of Emergency. He called on the government to remove the emergency regulations in the country.

Power politics in Sri Lanka

The recurrent contest for power in Sri Lanka has been mainly for the benefit of the victors and their associates. This has been the dominant game since independence. The losers were the ordinary people in all parts of the island, as successive contests failed to bring about tangible benefits to all the people and the country. The consolidation of diverse communities for national unity, promotion of national development exploiting the available resources in all parts of the island gainfully and the avoidance of causing damage to the territorial integrity of the island were not the main aims of the political leaders competing for power. Moreover, the myopic supporters also ignored the foul methods used to win power by the contestants. From the past experience, it is evident that the benefits from this regular contest for power have not been widespread regardless of its outcome.

The SLFP whose leader is President Rajapaksa is the dominant party in the present coalition government that has two-thirds majority in the Parliament. It has come up with the notion of a new opponent posing a threat to post-war recovery. At a press briefing on March 1, the SLFP alleged that in spite of the LTTE’s defeat in May 2009, those promoting separatist sentiments hadn’t given up their operations. The belief that the country could still be divided on ethnic lines has not vanished from the minds of some disgruntled members in the opposition. It was also alleged sections opposed to the post-war government are “acting at the behest of several countries”. (Source: Shamindra Ferdinando, 'The Island' 3 March 2011). Apparently, there is some apprehension that the political opponents are trying to snatch the power of the present regime by some means. This not only shows the paramount importance given to safeguarding the acquired power than to the needs of the people and the nation but also the reliance on the ethnic factor in the power struggle. There is no clear indication yet of the way government intends to prevent the division of the island along ethnic lines.

Who is playing politics at the expense of the country, which has been the acrimonious political game since the 1956 contest between the two main rival parties, the grand old UNP and the SLFP founded by the UNP dissident S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike? It is very astonishing for the government with two-thirds majority and the main opposition party in disarray due to internal power struggle to be concerned more about its hold on power than the basic issues that affect the living conditions of the suffering people and the future of the island nation. The fact that politics in Sri Lanka is focused mainly on power is very clear from recent contradictory moves. The contradictions are not confined to the anomalies between statements and actions or rather inaction. Some moves are momentary gestures intended to pacify powerful parties abroad urging the Sri Lankan government to settle the ethnic conflict soon by devolving governing powers to the provinces.

The ineffectiveness of the commissions and committees set up by governments to consider awkward issues is widely known now. The latest instance is the four-member committee including 3 ministers set up to have structured dialogue with the main Tamil political group, the TNA. Following the last-minute postponement of the February 28 scheduled meeting indefinitely, TNA has charged that the discussions were sham as the structured arrangement for dialogue was to pacify the international community, notably India. Jaffna district TNA MP, Suresh Premachandran also alleged that misleading statement had been made during the talks by the government delegation on the availability of the list of names of the detainees in camps located in various places. Distressed Tamils do not know whether their missing family members are dead or forcibly detained under special regulations.

On the contradiction between statements and actions, ‘The Island’ editorial (1March 2011) opined: “ President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his Independence Day speech last month, stressed the need for creating a law abiding society to achieve national progress. He must practise what he preaches. The onus is on him to ensure that the UPFA thugs are kept on a tight leash, especially in Hambantota, where attacks on the JVP and other Opposition activists are on the rise” The uncontrolled escalation of violence is associated with the culture of impunity that grew in the recent past.

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S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike participates in Buddha Jayanthi Celebrations – 1956 - pic courtesy of: S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike Museum

The undemocratic and unethical ways of acquiring the sovereign power of the people to govern the country on their behalf also damaged the honourable culture of the Sri Lankan society. The admirable ways of rendering selfless services to the people and thereby win their hearts and minds are alien to the country’s political culture. In fact, the despicable methods are contrary to the canons of all the four religions of the different communities in the island. Sadly, those who use Buddhism for gaining power, ignore the noble teachings of Lord Buddha when exercising the political power. The Daily Mirror reported on 8 March 2011 that at the news meeting addressed by the priests of the National Bhikku Front, they called for good governance and save the Rs. 2.9 billion being wasted annually because of corruption. This will enable the government to provide some relief to the suffering millions which in turn will commemorate the 2600th Sambuddha Jayanthiya fittingly. The National Bhikku Front Patron Ven. Attthagane Ratanapala Thera also said “those who advised the rulers of the country should provide effective guidelines for the government to run the nation in an exemplary manner. He explained that the government had failed to make use of the guidelines given in the Dhamma and the example set by the ancient rulers of the nation”.

Relativism instead of realism

The main parties in the contest sought the support of the members of ethnic majority that outnumbered those of the ethnic minorities in the entire island but not in all the provinces. In the North and East the demographic makeup is completely different. Political ideologies, social justice, democratic principles and values including equality of all citizens, regardless of their ethnic, regional and religious connections have been downplayed by the power seekers. The emphasis was solely on the size of the different communities in the various provinces. This in turn resulted in the misinterpretation of the ‘island nation’ as ‘Sinhala nation’, contrary to the traditional demographic and regional configuration of the island. Instead of accepting the settlement pattern well known to have existed for the past several centuries, some are focusing on the historical time it emerged! To them this is crucial for deciding the devolution issue! Had the developed countries distinguished between original and subsequent settlers, they would not be in their current stable and developed state.

Britain granted independence in 1948 on terms agreed by all the island’s ethnic communities. In fact, only after Britain captured the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815, the entire island came under one central rule. Yet the social division Kandyan Sinhalese and low-country Sinhalese continued. Since there was no linguistic or religious difference, their integration for centralized rule was not difficult. The 1956 ‘Sinhala Only Act’, the State sponsored colonization schemes and the media-wise standardisation of marks for university admissions did not affect the two Sinhala groups. More than religion, the two different native languages stood in the way for the integration of ethnic communities. The realistic way is to make suitable structural adjustments that eliminate the obstacles to unification.

Sri Lanka adopted the British model ignoring the diverse languages, traditional settlements of different ethnic communities and their aspirations. The British and Lankan societies also differ in their outlooks. The myopic decision to abandon English completely and teach students all subjects exclusively in their mother tongues was a terrible mistake. The present leaders have belatedly realised the harm done five decades ago. The society’s narrow outlook is also related to the school curricula and teaching methods. Undue importance is given to legends and feudal disputes as if these have relevance in the modern world. Moreover, the segregated education system reinforced the ethnic division. Education is one among many sectors that need significant reforms for Sri Lanka’s rapid advancement in the modern world. Unlike in multi-ethnic liberal Britain, the highly centralized power structure in Sri Lanka has made democracy the same as majoritarianism (rule of the majority ethnic group). The majoritarian politics is based on relativism and not realism. Hence it is in conflict with the basic concept of equal rights and freedom in democratic plural societies.

Division based on elitism was exploited by the British rulers for facilitating their rule. The situation then was entirely different and the colonial rulers had no interest in building a robust unified nation. Paradoxically, the exploitation of the ethnic division by the power seekers in the sovereign island for realizing their political ambitions has prevented realizing unity in diversity. The common Ceylonese identity that prevailed at the time of independence waned rapidly after 1972. The discriminatory ways the Sinhala majority governments functioned caused the decline.

Consequences of ethnic and party politics

The dual nation concept gained strength because of the divisive politics pursued for gaining power. The exclusion of the Tamil ethnic minority that has been an important constituent of the island nation after independence from the decision-making process, particularly on matters relevant to their security, well-being and future instigated the idea of a distinct Tamil nation in the serene multi-ethnic island. A section of the Tamil separatists thought they could achieve their aim by furthering this division exploited by the power seekers. To the LTTE leadership and ardent followers, the end and not the means mattered. Those seeking power and glory thoughtlessly have a good lesson from this reckless approach. The means are equally important as the end sought, particularly when humans are involved. Also in the modern world, no country can prosper in isolation. Interdependence is intrinsic to the global economy.

Some are questioning the means and not the victory gained in the war against the LTTE separatists/terrorists. Anyway, the May 2009 military victory is being exploited to the maximum for narrow political gain. Besides the mismatch of the centralized decision-making system with the ground realities, the flawed structure was bent to facilitate the misuse of power. Many problems confronting the ordinary people and the nation are due to this distortion.

The myopically governed island damaged further by the ruthless war needs reforms in almost all fields of governance. The war was the pretext for abandoning some basic tenets of policing, rule of law, good governance and democracy but the extent of the violations was excessive beyond reasonable limits. The violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the despotic LTTE were horrendous but these did not justify the democratically elected and internationally recognized bodies to act inhumanly. Although there are lessons to be learnt, the fundamental fact is the tragic events could have been avoided had the government and opposition leaders thoughtfully agreed to settle the issues instead of allowing them to damage national unity and endanger the territorial integrity of the sovereign State. In some instances the main opposition party obstructed the government’s move to settle issues through constitutional reforms. The August 2000 episode is a case in point. It is amazing after all the tragic experiences since 1958 when the first violent attack against the Tamils started in the post-independence island, the post-war government has no desire to settle politically these issues. Apparently, the military victory has given the confidence that these could be suppressed by other means.

Post-war challenges

When there are many challenges because of past political blunders, the post-war government is concerned mainly about safeguarding the military victory gained resolutely in 2009 and the resultant popularity. Even here the methods used are undemocratic and risky. The considered way through reforms of the present inefficient systems so as to make them accessible and beneficial to all citizens is not in sight.

Addressing a gathering at the Kurunegala District Secretariat’s auditorium organised by the Wayamba Province Sri Lanka Freedom Party Professionals with the intention of initiating a dialogue on the country’s current situation and the role of the professionals in the upcoming local elections, the External Affairs Minister, Prof. G.L.Peiris is reported to have said, “defending and safeguarding the victory achieved under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa (who is also the head of the SLFP), overcoming many obstacles, and confining the dark period which spanned across three decades to history, has become the major challenge we face today and that the government should not be left to overcome this challenge by itself and there is no better group to help this cause by creating the much needed and strong awareness of the people than the professionals of this society”.

The reason for seeking the assistance of the professionals is evident from the following statement. “...., even though the LTTE was defeated militarily, paving the way for a peaceful society, both local and foreign groups linked to the LTTE are trying to destroy the country’s economy and organise opposition to Sri Lanka, and it is the duty and responsibility of the professionals of our society to impart information about these threats in order to defeat them”. (The Nation 20 February 2011).

Columnist, Shakunthala Perera in the Daily Mirror 2 March 2011 has also warned of the global games of the Tamil Diaspora’. She has indirectly reprimanded Sri Lanka’s foreign Embassies and High Commissions in the West for ignoring the anti-national activities of some Tamils in the Diaspora. To quote: “The continued activism of the Tamil Diaspora in certain key western destinations should warn us against the danger of the lukewarm attitude our own foreign service has allowed for”. She seems to be surprised that effective bans against the LTTE as a terror group have not discouraged some groups in the Diaspora to continue advocating the separatist agenda. The LTTE was banned because of their terror campaign and not for demanding a separate self-governing State. If the Sri Lankan government puts forward an alternative political structure that empowers the powerless ethnic minorities, it will inevitably end the irksome campaign of the few stubborn separatists in the Diaspora.

When there are many challenges to overcome determinedly in post-war Sri Lanka, the focus of some Sinhala ‘patriots’ is mainly on the separatist challenge, which like many others is the legacy of the neglect and ethnically discriminatory actions of past governments. The many challenges confronting the island nation cannot be overcome by overplaying the separatist challenge which as stated earlier is linked to the inapt political system that denies any meaningful role for the ethnic minorities in governance and not to any ideology per se. The biased system is also very weak without the usual separation of powers of the legislature, executive and the judiciary, checks and balances, mechanisms to ensure the independence of the executive and judicial branches, free and fair elections, the observance of human rights, the rule of law, good governance, accountability of ministers and senior executives in the public sector and prevent bribery and corruption and the abuse of administrative powers for personal or some other improper purpose. These characteristics are fundamental to a functioning democracy.

Ad hoc development under strengthened centralized regime is not the way to lasting peace and socio-economic advancement.

The fact that the weaknesses in the present system harm all regardless of their ethnicity is reiterated by the Sunday Times columnist KIshali Pinto Jayawardene, who is also an attorney in her article titled ‘Pressing for improved democracy in Sri Lanka’ in the March 6 issue of the paper. To quote: “the defects in Sri Lanka’s justice systems are not limited in their reach to the minorities or to a particular administration. Instead, these defects are historic, endemic and systemic and have resulted in grievous wrongs to both the majority and the minorities”. The judicial system also needs suitable changes for efficient dispensation of justice without undue delay and cost to the victims, which is the case now.

People are fully aware of the need for permanent peace, good governance, continued impartial enforcement of law and order, justice, observance of human rights and media freedom, individual and collective security and social welfare. It is the self-centred politicians who mislead and deceive the society for their own benefits. From the long-term perspective the military victory is best safeguarded by reforming the corrupt system structurally and functionally to serve all the people efficiently not only with regard to their present needs but also in fulfilling their justifiable aspirations.

The dependence on the military for governing is visible more in the Northern and Eastern provinces than in other parts of the island, where the military is performing civil duties. Although the armed LTTE have been annihilated, the victors seem to be in need of a substitute to justify the continuation of the military might and the high-handed methods used during the war. This approach is dangerous as evident from the recent disturbances in several authoritarian regimes. Conviction, determination and courage are needed to achieve significant progress in all fields vital for steady human and economic development and lasting unity and peace.

Voice of rational Sri Lankans

Rational Sri Lankans have suggested the realistic ways of overcoming the many challenges confronting the island nation. The way forward suggested by two eminent Sri Lankans has been praised by many discerning persons. The views of former Foreign Secretary and later Head of SL Permanent Mission to the United Nations H. M. G. S. Palihakkara, who is now a member of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) were expressed in his J. E. Jayasuriya memorial lecture on ‘The Post Conflict Foreign Policy Challenges for Sri Lanka’ delivered on the 14th of February. The other diplomat, Jayantha Dhanapala in his public lecture early February sponsored by the Citizen’s Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) explained how an energised civil society could promote good governance. The citations of their statements here are from the newspaper articles of Shanie in ‘The Island’ of 12 and 10 February and of former Sri Lankan Ambassador K. Godage in the ‘Daily Mirror’ of 3 March 2011.

Jayantha Dhanapala gave several reasons for the Sri Lankan civil society not being more effective in ensuring good governance in the country. One was “the heavy politicization of society over six decades of the practice of partisan politics that every participant in public life and every opinion expressed is viewed through the prism of party politics. We no longer appreciate the fact that honest men and women can disagree and that dissent is a necessary feature in democratic society. Successive governments have adopted the posture that If you are not for us; you are against us".

The reason behind this is the confiscation of the responsibility of civil and religious leaders by avaricious politicians, who wished to portray themselves as the guides and guardians of the people. Moreover, the direct involvement of some Buddhist priests in competitive power politics did not help to separate the political and general social responsibilities.

The post-independence school curriculum did not induce awareness amongst students of the duties and responsibilities of civil society in democratic governance. In fact the secondary school students are not taught ethics and social responsibilities. Recognition of the rights and duties of citizens in democratic societies is closely related to the understanding of the basic principles of true democracy which is not simple majority rule. The concept of civil society as one entity with common interests did not gain strength because of the inaction to forge a durable relationship between communities based on equal rights and justice.

The main political parties competing for governing power had no genuine interest in promoting and protecting civil liberties. All the main players preferred the people to be ignorant of their democratic rights and duties. This enabled them to make drastic changes to the Constitution that gave carte blanche to the rulers. The civil society had no role in making these changes that weakened democracy in Sri Lanka after independence. This process accelerated after the creation of the powerful Executive Presidency.

K. Godage in his acclaim of aforementioned Palihakkara’s lecture cited the lecturer’s remark: “When domestic processes, fail to find solutions to domestic 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”. This has been the case during the past several decades when successive governments failed to seek a political settlement to the ethnic problem created by political leaders anxious about their political than the nation’s future. Furthermore, Palihakkara’s observation that “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” is definitely as Godage has said, “a thought provoking, unambiguous recognition of realities and failures of our leaders and policy makers”.

It is a shame the dishonest and irresponsible ways the leaders functioned corrupted the minds of Sri Lankan youths. The damage done to the traditional culture of both the Sinhalese and Tamil societies can also be attributed to the recourse to violence and coercion by politicians and of course terrorism of the rebels. The nexus of some politicians to the underworld is well known. The post 1983 terrorism that destroyed many innocent lives and properties did not erupt suddenly in a calm and friendly environment. No sensible person will deny its connection to the series of past violent events which occurred with the patronage of powerful politicians.

Ambassador Palihakkara’s suggestions on the ways of overcoming the challenges confronting post-war Sri Lanka which are due to the blunders of the national leadership and the lack of will of the successors to correct past mistakes are definitely unbiased and sensible without any narrow political motive. The practice of seizing anything hastily without forethought for short-term political gain must cease now, if Sri Lanka is to emerge soon as a tranquil and promising island. Now the mood of triumphalism that prevailed in the months after the May 2009 military victory in the war against the LTTE has diminished, the present leadership is looking for an effective substitute that is politically useful. New threats to Sri Lanka are perceived from the dismayed Tamil Diaspora and others critical of the government. They can be silenced by improving the efficacy of the political system in a way acceptable to all the communities in plural Sri Lanka.

Instead of looking for exploitable entities, as is sadly the case now bold moves with foresight are needed for transforming Sri Lanka as a truly democratic socialist State, amiable for all residents. The post-war political situation has given the singular opportunity to act in the interest of the future well-being of the people and the country. On the contrary, the post-war happenings are creating a politically hostile environment favourable for resuming the usual confrontational politics. On the issue of the Tamil Diaspora, Palihakkara has suggested the speedy implementation of projects to address the grievances and the real concerns of the ethnic minorities. “When local actions progressively become responsive and relevant to minority grievances, the hostile Diaspora will become gradually irrelevant”. The reluctance to settle the ethnic issue is clearly politically motivated risking the internal unity and the country’s future which also depends on Sri Lanka’s international standing. Foreign aid and trade will remain crucial for the well-being of the island nation.

Liberal intellectuals and professionals for reforms

Although late, formation of the ‘National Intellectuals and Professionals Organization’ is very valuable. The organization’s objectives were explained by the speakers at the inaugural convention held on 26 February 2011 at the New Town Hall in Colombo.

Counsel Karunaratne Herath, who chaired the meeting said: “There are intellectuals and professionals in all parts of the island. However, they do not play any role in the social structure. Instead, politicians, who do not have any education have wriggled into the social structure and are demolishing it. These politicians have been able to cast aside intellectuals and professionals. As such, there is no law in the country today. The law of the country now is the jungle law as those responsible for the judicial matters in the country do not carry out their task honestly. Sri Lanka is the only country that violates and makes mockery of the Constitution. Hence, the ‘National Intellectuals and Professionals Organization’ has something more to fulfil than mere amassing intellectuals and professionals. They should break loose from being regressive and act to commence the process of changing this society.”

In his keynote address, Prof. Kumar David said: “National Intellectuals and Professionals Organization should become the vanguard to overcome challenges and change the society”. He hoped the Organization would break the silence of the society in Sri Lanka. The Organization’s new President Dr. J.D. Dias, specialist eye surgeon said, “the task of the intellectuals and professionals should be to emancipate the masses from their distressed state”. The elected Secretary, senior lecturer Dr. Rohan Fernando in his speech said: “Working individually or separately would not have any benefits to the society. Despite seeking solutions for issues they have not been successful”. He also said: “We should attempt to find solutions for issues as intellectuals and professionals by joining our forces, experiences and abilities. Hence, the step we are taking today is a very important one and one with a strong will. What commences today is the process of changing the society with the mediation of intellectuals and professionals.”

The other office-bearers are: Treasurer - Chartered Accountant Sunil Gamage; Vice President - Geologist Jayakody; Asst. Secretary- Ayurveda Dr. Ms. H.S. Shantahilatha; and National Organizer - Dr. Susil Ranasinghe of Anuradhapura General Hospital. It will be useful if the liberal intellectuals and professionals in the Diaspora too join in this restructuring process. The citizenry has been used as a mere tool by the crafty politicians for achieving their narrow aims denying the liberal intellectuals and professionals not involved in party politics any useful role in the national integration and development processes. Development here includes all fields that improve the present living conditions and the prospect for peaceful and prosperous future for the younger generation

The quandary now is because of the lack of interest of the government in settling many outstanding issues, contrary to the common desire of the anxious Sri Lankans tired of living in a hopeless state because of the lack of unity, real peace and significant socio-economic development. It is a mystery that the leadership is going mainly for infrastructural development with the intent to attract foreign tourists, ignoring other problems that continue to affect the living conditions of the vast majority citizens including those living outside the former war zone. There is definitely an urgent need for all similar non-governmental organizations functioning separately to join as partners in the move to bring about the changes vital for the removal of the man-made constraints that obstructed unity, peace, good governance, social justice and meaningful regional and national development.

The importance of creating and sustaining the basic conditions for ensuring the benefits of development are long-lasting and the need for the society to be pro-active has also been emphasized by Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director -Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA). In his speech accepting the ‘first Citizens Peace Award’, 28 February 2011 he cited the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Professor Amartya Sen’s reflection on real development revealed by him recently at a conference in New Delhi. “Development without a firm base within a rights perspective and paradigm is inherently risky and inherently dangerous”. Prof. Sen also made the point that the ability of all citizens to discuss the public interest, the public good and public policy is fundamental to a functioning democracy. This raises another vital question which has been overlooked by those concerned about the isolation of the civil society in the affairs of the State. What kind of democracy the people want? Is it the presently distorted one? Hopefully, this confusion will also be cleared sooner than later.

Let me conclude this article reminding Dr. Saravanamuttu’s call for the action of all sensible citizens as one society. To quote: “When we look at what is happening in this country, we really do need to remind ourselves that unless we as a society and we as citizens recommit ourselves to saving what is precious and valuable and worthwhile in this country, we have no right to talk in terms of patriotism, national interest or public interest. We need to act”. (Ref. TransCurrents 9 March 2011).

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

Conservative Party gets entangled in post May 2009 Tamil diaspora politics in Ontario

by Amarnath Amarasingam

The recent revelation that members of the federal and provincial Conservative Party have been getting into bed with former members of the World Tamil Movement (WTM), banned as a terrorist organization in Canada since 2008, was not news to many in the Tamil community. ONPC311.jpgThe Conservative government's actions are indeed hypocritical in light of their tough talk against terrorism. However, the Canadian public is missing a crucial part of the story: the criticism of the Conservative Party is largely collateral damage in what was, at base, a leadership coup within Tamil diaspora politics.

The leak to news media was an attempt by anti-WTM activists to stem the influence of WTM members in Canadian politics. Tamil diaspora politics, with all of its own petty bickering, leadership struggles, and vendettas, went mainstream in order to achieve what one community member called an ‘internal ethnic cleansing’ of the former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) structure from Canadian politics. When I phoned one of the individuals leading the anti-WTM campaign, he was jubilant and noted that this was a breakthrough for the Tamil community. “These guys need to go, they need to stop hurting the Tamil community,” he tells me.

With the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka in May 2009, Tamil political organizations in Canada have attempted to move from supporting an armed struggle in Sri Lanka, to transnational political lobbying. However, according to sources in the community, former LTTE operatives in Canada and elsewhere, proved difficult to extricate from diaspora politics. They insist that members of WTM began a concerted effort to undermine, undercut, and interfere with the activities of “moderate” Tamils in an effort to hold on to their positions of power and safeguard millions of dollars in assets.

Around the middle of last year, the Tamil media in Canada was again ablaze with news about a new organization, the National Council of Canadian Tamils (NCCT) that would be holding elections in Ontario on June 20, 2010. While it was obvious that former WTM operatives were behind the organization, it was also clear that many unaffiliated individuals were being placed as the public face of the group. Members of the Tamil community explicitly warned them to stay away from the group as it would inevitably collapse and may leave their reputations in tatters.

With news of the NCCT elections, anti-WTM groups went on the offensive to rid the Tamil community of WTM influence once and for all. An anonymous email was circulated without much fanfare, containing information on all WTM operatives at work in Canada. This email eventually reached critical mass.

The opportunity to bring the information to the public came with the announcement that several Sri Lankan Tamils, some supposedly backed by WTM, were holding discussions with the Conservative Party of Canada. It was almost too good to be true. Their involvement with the Conservatives would ensure that the mainstream media, sniffing out a scandal, would take notice. “We used the mainstream as a platform to bring this to the light,” says one of the anti-WTM activists. “If the mainstream does not take notice, these guys will never leave.”

Canadians will remember that on May 6, 2000, Finance Minister Paul Martin attended a dinner organized by the Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils (FACT), an umbrella organization which had WTM as one of its groups. At the time, Canadian Alliance MPs lambasted Martin for attending the dinner, which they said was a front for the Tamil Tigers. As one anti-WTM organizer tells me, “We have to tell the Conservatives, ‘These are the people who brought Paul Martin down, and now they are coming to you, so how can you trust these people?’”

When I pointed out that perhaps it was unfair to denounce the entirety of the NCCT when the organizers were primarily to blame, the response was, “Sometimes you need to burn down the whole house to get rid of the bugs.” The assumption is that whatever damage these revelations do to the reputation of the Tamil community in Canada, it can always be repaired. “This is one of the biggest blows that we have brought to these people,” says one activist, “this is not the end. We will continue until they stop hurting the Tamil community. We don’t need these people.”

As noted, the instigators of the anti-WTM strategy see the criticism of the Conservative Party as secondary. For them what is important is the mainstream delegitimation of the World Tamil Movement, which most Canadian Tamils consider to be a corrupt and meddling stain on the community. In other words, the Canadian public should not assume that all Tamils, wanting to run for public office, have a hidden agenda to influence foreign policy. Rather, the recent controversy was a strategic attempt from within the community to purge supposed “Tiger remnants” from making further inroads into mainstream Canadian politics.

Amarnath Amarasingam is a doctoral candidate at Wilfrid Laurier University, and is currently completing his dissertation entitled, Pain, Pride, and Politics: Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism in Canada. He can be reached at: amar2556@wlu.ca On Twitter: http://twitter.com/amaramarasingam

Assassination attempt on TNA parliamentarian Sritharan

By D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The abortive attempt to assassinate Tamil National Alliance Parliamentarian Sivagnanam Sritharan has sent shock waves throughout the “Tamil speaking world”. Although the incident did not receive adequate coverage in the mainstream media, the attempted murder of the Jaffna district MP has rocked the Tamil people as many feared the bad days of old were returning.

There was a time when many Tamil MP’s and political leaders were being killed at regular intervals. Earlier the perpetrators were from Tamil militant organizations like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO). Tamil moderates of the Tamil United Liberation Front(TULF) were the victims in most instances. They were accused of being collaborators and vilified as traitors. Most of the killings were by the tigers. [click to read in full ]

March 10, 2011

Populist Politics and the Sooriyawewa & Premadasa Stadiums

by Prof Michael Roberts

The old Premadasa Stadium was a monstrosity. The new one is far better on the eye though hardly a classic structure. Together with the Mahinda Rajapaksa Stadium at Sooriyawewa it was constructed in time for the staging of the World Cup. In this achievement both stadiums stand out sharply in contrast with the tale surrounding the renovations that were done at Eden Gardens in Calcutta.

The old Premadasa Stadium in silhouete — Pic by David Colin-Thome

Thus both venues stand as monuments to the hard work of Suraj Dandeniya and his team, including the army of workers of all types who slaved away for months. In this silent but imposing manner they are a slap in the face of the several media outlets, headed by the Island, who ran a concerted campaign of denigration against Sri Lanka Cricket in general and its chairman de Silva and his nephew Suraj in particular. The carping attacks were as concerted as they were stridentThis line of consistent criticism may have been deemed an effective way of boosting newspaper sales, but grapevine gossip suggests that aspirants for the top SLC posts had a hand in promoting such adverse comment.

Premadasa Stadium today –Pics by Pramod Fernando in isandcricket.com

It is significant that this line of attack did not aim directly at President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Yet DS de Silva has been very much a presidential protégé. Appointed initially in 2008 to foster the development of school cricket throughout the island, he was elevated to the position of Chairman, SLC at some point in 2010.

His tasks included the pursuit of a brainchild of the Rajapaksa clan with young Namal as its point man: namely, creating a fully-fledged international cricket stadium with floodlights at Sooriyawewa. This step was part of a massive multi-pronged scheme to transform their home district of Hambantota by (1) creating an international harbour from scratch; (2) creating an international airport from nothing; and (3) adding an international convention centre – all to be supported by a grid of roads (already well-advanced).

Clearly, the Rajapaksas have been developing their own patch. But, as I have argued earlier, this clutch of developments will be of immense benefit to the whole country in reducing, without eliminating, the overweening dominance of the Greater Colombo area in the political and spatial economy of the island.

Harry Solomons in Sydney, a true-blue Sri Lankan cricket supporter, has criticised the government for spending enormous amounts on the Sooriyawewa Stadium when that money could be devoted to the expansion of cricket facilities at all levels in all the provinces. Unlike Solomons, however, my assessment of this venture is not organised within the prism and tunnel-vision of cricketing needs. Nor do I estimate it in the short term of say 5-10 years. My evaluation is framed over the prospects in the next five to 30 years – guided here by my reading of the way the rail and road networks constructed by the British in the 19th century transformed the island.

Suraj Dandeniya’s difficulties in finalising the construction of the stadium at Sooriyawewa, one should note, were compounded by the freak rains experienced by the arid south-eastern corner of the island during December, January and February. In surmounting this added disadvantage it is my surmise that the man-hours put in by the Chinese and Sri Lankan workers at all levels of activity must have been extraordinary.

To judge from the state of the Premadasa Stadium in November when it hosted the West Indian Test match, equally exacting efforts must have occurred there. I stress here that the building work was accompanied by a thorough overhaul of the playing area and the pitch. The ground was raised by as much as three feet everywhere and clay itoruuced in this mix in order to reduce the rise of moisture and the development of difficult batting conditions night in the manner experienced in recent years (information directly from Anuruddha Polonowita). The manner in which Sri Lanka were able to chase down a total of some 280 West Indian runs a month back and the recent match against Pakistanis are testimonies to the importance of this transformation – thus far anyway.

Spurring these endeavours at both new venues and that at Pallekelle was the knowledge that the President of the land was keeping a keen eye on the whole effort. Mahinda Rajapaksa actively intervened in the process by his visitations to the site. On at least one occasion he summoned the SLC Committee to a meeting at extremely short notice to discuss cricketing affairs.


So here we see micro-management geared towards efficient delivery in what is a populist programme. Mahinda Rajapaksa is a populist par excellence, one who caters to the dhuppath podhu janathāva and the rural bourgeoisie. Cricket is clearly one realm of his populist pitch, so that he recently treated cricketers, officials and wives to a grand reception at the Presidential Palace. Ever since 1996 politicians know that Sri Lanka’s cricket team has enormous popular attention and thus political appeal.


Mahinda Rajapaksa’s interventions in this realm are therefore reminiscent of Ranasinghe Premadasa. So, in a flip back in time, it is the tale surrounding the building of a stadium in the locality of Khettārāma by Premadasa in the 1980s that serves a logical corollary to the Rajapaksa story retailed here.

Developing a Cricket Stadium at Khettārāma

Khettārāma was, and is, an urban slum quarter. Premadasa was born and bred in this quarter. He was from the Hinna caste, a body associated with the role of washing clothes for the Salāgama caste people. His caste and working class background did not prevent Premadasa developing competency in English to back his proficiency as a Sinhala rhetorician. Nor did it hinder his rise in the ranks of the United National Party. When the UNP swept to power in 1977 and set up a Presidential system under JR Jayewardene, he was made Prime Minister.

Though JR seemed ageless, it was known that he would pass away at some point in the near future. Though Premadasa was the heir-apparent, there were other ambitious and competent personnel in the cabinet, notably Gamini Dissanayake and Laltih Athulathmudali, both gentlemen from elite schools carrying lots of social clout in powerful class circles. Subterranean competition in the “presidential stakes” was therefore at play within the ruling UNP party.

As a populist politician from an urban background Premadasa developed a populist ‘outreach’ through a campaign of village upliftment and renovation known as Gam Udāwa. Dissanayake in his turn was in charge of the massive development plans vested in the Mahaweli Development Board, with all the perquisites and patronage normally associated with such mega economic activity [so too in Hambantota and elsewhere n Lanka today]. What is more, working hand-in-glove with a cricket administrator named Abu Fuard, Dissanayake became President of the Board of Control for Cricket in 1980/81. He was a critical force in the steps taken to secure full Test status for Sri Lanka at the ICC meetings of July 1981.

Sri Lanka’s entry into the international arena was coincident with the arrival of colour TV. The telecasting of international matches immediately boosted the popularity of the game and those associated with it. Dissanayake’s high profile in this field was therefore an asset in his leadership ambitions within the UNP.

Though his home constituency was in the hills, Dissanayake’s class and ethnic background led him to site the new BCCSL headquarters within the SSC grounds. This was in the heartland of Cinnamon Gardens, the upper-crust locality of Colombo. Though the first Test match in 1982 was played at the Oval in the unsalubrious locality of Maradana abutting Wanāthamulla, the fact was that many international ODI matches in the 1970s and 1980s were played at either the SCC or CCC grounds in Cinnamon Gardens. In brief, though the composition of the Sri Lanka squads was no longer restricted to the Royal-Thomian types, the favoured venues had a class edge to them.

This was when Premadasa thrust himself into the cricketing arena. He used his urban links and his considerable initiative to develop a stadium within Khettaaraama. Moreover, in a far-seeing step, this venue was equipped with floodlights. An engineer in the Colombo Municipality with a cricketing background, Michael Joachim, was sent to Australia to explore possibilities and he used the WACA ground at Perth as his model in designing the lighting scheme.

Beginning with an A Team contest England and Sri Lanka in 1991, the Khettaaraama Stadium quickly became an international venue. Premadasa did not live to see its fullest fruits: he was cut down by an LTTE assassin on 1 May 1993. So, too, was Dissanayake when he was the Presidential nominee for the UNP in the 1995 elections. Unlike Premadasa though, Dissanayake did not leave behind a stadium that could be recomposed in his name.

For all that, Dissanayake’s services to Sri Lanka cricket were far more significant than that of Premadasa because he was an instrumental figure in the processes that extracted full Test status for the country in mid-1981 from a body that had been resistant to the idea for quite a while. It is not by monuments alone, but by landmark transformations and organisational achievements that a person’s services should be judged.

Adequate playing venues in different towns did however figure in the ICC’s reluctance to accord Test status to Sri Lanka, so Dissanayake set about developing the Asgiriya and then the Galle grounds to meet this demand. Premadasa’s independent initiative then added another resource to the pool.

Since then, however, the stakes have mounted. In recent times venues that can hold substantial crowds and mount good lighting systems for night games are an essential requirement for such series as the Champions Trophy. The Asgiriya grounds were a poor choice because of its small scale, the leasehold ownership of the space by a school and its location in a hilly area that draws rain during the season when foreign teams can tour Sri Lanka. The Pallekelle and Rangiri (Dambulla) alternatives have therefore been developed by different administrations for this reason.

The entry of Sooriyawewa into this scheme of things was truly a surprise, which, as we have seen, was motivated by lineage political considerations. But whatever the motives, it is a master stroke. Located in one of the more arid parts of the dry zone, it will be less likely to encounter rain disruptions than Rangiri and Pallekelle stadiums; or that at Galle. Sited in front of the majestic fort the grounds at Galle are not likely to circumvent the heritage restrictions and mount ugly light towers. So Sooriyawewa will be a long term asset to all the southern districts as well as the Monaragala, Amparai and Kalmunai areas in its pull and encouragement.

Floodlights are so important in the ICC schemes of determination that Sri Lanka Cricket is now calling for tenders for the setting up of floodlights at the SSC grounds. This is because the Champions Trophy will only be assigned to countries where there is one city with two approved international venues. To host such mega events, then, Sri Lanka has to think big, think well in advance and think lights. There is no room for short term blinkers.

Tamils only want Chelvanayagam’s demands met- not Prabakaran’s - Suresh Premachandran

Interview with Suresh Premachandran - Tamil National Alliance Parliamentarian

By Shakuntala Perera

Q: The attack on Jaffna district TNA MP Sridharan in Nochchiyagama has raised serious concerns on the security of politicians. How concerned are you as a fellow Tamil MP from the North?

We can’t understand why it took place in an area like Anuradhapura. The government must take responsibility and explain why and who was behind it. We are still in the dark about the attack. This is certainly not a simple matter- this is attempted murder. It was lucky he escaped the attack. We are under the same threat today.

When several killings and abductions happened in Jaffna recently and we raised it in Parliament, the government promised investigations, but there has been no arrests still. Even if you were to surmise that these killings were by Tamil para-military groups in the North and the East, how do you explain an attack in Anuradhapura? The government is telling the world that there is no violence in the country and there is peace but how do you explain the threat to a Parliamentarian today?

Q: But hasn’t the threat of impunity in the North and the East decreased considerably following the end of the war?

The North and the East is hundred per cent under the army control; something we raised our concerns on in Parliament. The army is involved in every civilian activity whether it is a school function or a meeting at the Kachcheri. Military intelligence officers are all over. If anything happens then they have to answer.

But the government maintains that it needs to have a military presence till the threat of LTTE activists is completely removed from the provinces.

If there is such activism how come no incident was reported after two years of the war ending. I don’t think there is any threat to the government from the LTTE. To us there is no LTTE presence or threat.

Q: The Prime Minister informed Parliament on Wednesday that LTTE training continues in Tamil Nadu, which can explain the threat that the government warns of?

It is an absolutely absurd statement, unless it was made to justify the extension of emergency regulations. The government should take it up with the Indian government.

You maintain that several former Presidents’ acceptance of the LTTE as the sole representatives of the Tamil people was a legitimization of the demand for a separate state. But President Rajapaksa recently stressed that he will not grant any of the demands that the LTTE espoused. As a Party that supported Tamil separatism how do you view the present stand of the government?

But even Prof. G L Peiris who is a Minister in this government expressed readiness to discuss federalism as an option. Even this government went to talks with LTTE. But now the government’s assertion is that there is no political issue for discussion. But if people with no weapons expressing their desire for discussions on a political solution are not accommodated, that would explain the dual face of the government. Why can’t the government genuinely talk over the solution with the TNA as the representatives of the Tamil people? The government is only conducting the present talks under pressure from the European Union or the United Nations. There is no real policy change where the government is concerned. If there was, they would have come up with a proposal.

When the President says he will not grant any demands of the LTTE he must understand that these proposals were first brought forwards by late Chelvanayagam. These are not Prabakaran’s demands. We only want an acceptable solution to the Tamil problem within a united Sri Lanka. Otherwise agitations will continue not only in Sri Lanka but outside as well.

Q: But analysts believe that there is a change in the perception of the local Tamil population who suffered under the war as opposed to the commitment witnessed by the Tamil Diasporas to establish a separate Tamil state.

That is why we are talking of a political solution within a united Sri Lanka. A federal system. It is because the Diaspora has no faith in the government that they speak of a separate state. If the government can’t hold a serious discussion on a solution the people will feel helpless. In this scenario the separate state cry will continue especially internationally, because the inherent feeling of the people will be there if there is no genuine response from the government.

The government concedes that if the Tamil people enjoy economic prosperity denied by the provinces due to LTTE’s agitations then there is no cause for these demands.

The Tamil struggle started with Chelvanayagam, and even by 1977 this was a given mandate. It was the situation after which led to the military struggle. This is not a problem of the LTTE. It was only because of the refusal by the successive governments to give these demands that led it there. The fact remains that if these are not met today, this situation will arise again in ten years. You can suppress it for some time but not continue without a solution. This will invariable become a problem for the international community as well, if there is no solution soon.

There are increasing criticisms against the Tamil Diaspora itself for continuing to use the Tamil cause for its own welfare with little real concern for the average Tamil person in the North and the East especially.

That could be seen as a situation that happened with the LTTE where monies were collected by the LTTE. But why that feeling remains is because there is no solution to the bigger problem. What is the option open to the people? If the government is not ready to accommodate us what is the option available to us? We don’t want to go anywhere else- we want to live within a united Sri Lanka.

Q:What in your opinion is the contribution or relevance of the Trans National Govt of Tamil Eelam to this Tamil cause?

Their formulation in other countries is because they see the TNA’s problems in getting anything from the government for the Tamil people. Till the government comes to such a solution this cry will continue. Their relevance will remain as long as the government fails to solve the problem here. The need will also remain whether there is a relevance or not.

Q: How is this situation helped in your opinion by the Diaspora push for investigations in to alleged human rights violations that the international community is holding the government accountable for?

The government said there were zero casualties, but foreign organizations claim it is 35,000. Still there is no real account of the exact number of killings. If the government says there were no killings why can’t they allow the UN panel to come and verify. The government must prove themselves.

Q:India is only expressing its concern for a political solution that prioritizes devolution of power and not really intervening in talks. Are you discouraged by this attitude of the Indian centre?

Prof Peiris earlier said that within a unitary constitution there can’t be any devolution. But we feel that the 13th Amendment itself is not enough to look after devolution activities, because so many of the important matters are still under the centre. If law and order are held within the centre how can provincial administrations look after the problems in the provinces? The police powers are very necessary for the provinces. Without this what is the use of devolution? Devolution without these is not enough. We need to go beyond this- otherwise nothing can be implemented.

Q: Reports indicate that under ongoing discussions the PCs are to be given exclusive powers over land, and Fiscal Powers, including that of obtaining direct foreign investments, while the Centre could request for land for issues of national use. How receptive do you believe the Sinhala community will be to this stand?

The Sinhalese can live in the North and the East and for a long time the Tamils and Muslims have been living in the South. How do you connect between the Sinhalese people living in the North and the East and police or land powers being granted to the provinces? The only difficulty will be for the Councils to operate without these powers. Why should this situation prove unviable if we are going to be within a united country? If the Tamils can live there why can’t Sinhalese live here? - courtesy: Daily Mirror -

U.S. Senate Resolution and Blake's Remarks Indicate Emerging Convergence of Opinion in US on Sri Lanka Issue

By Bandu de Silva

The paucity of comments on the U.S. Senate’s unanimous Resolution on Sri Lanka so far except for the official response of the Ministry of External Affairs and a very brief comment in the Editorial in the Sunday Island March 3, 2011.and an equally brief reference in The Sunday Times Political Column of the same day, makes me wonder if this is an indication that the Senate Resolution is not being taken too seriously over here since it is a non-binding one, as the editor of The Sunday Island commented?

Even the External Affairs Ministry’s strategy in its response was to concentrate on the significance of the LLRC and not to meet any other points arising from the Resolution such as the pressure it exerts on the international community in general, and the UN Secretary General in particular, “to establish an independent international accountability mechanism to look into to reports of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations committed by both sides during and after the war in Sri Lanka and to make recommendations regarding accountability”; as well as on the President [of the U.S.], to take measures to “develop a comprehensive policy towards Sri Lanka that reflects United States interests, including respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, economic interests, and security interests”.

These other points arising from the Resolution not commented upon by the Ministry of External Affairs, cannot be ignored even if the resolution was not binding. The minimum that could be expected is the cascading effects it will cause in other countries of the West where the Diaspora is active. Already such manifestations have appeared in the legislatures of Britain and Australia. More is expected in some E/U countries. What that means is adding to international pressure against Sri Lanka on human rights and other allied issues.

Taken along with Assistant Secretary Robert Blake’s remarks in the subsequent interview with AFP, they point to an emerging convergence of opinion within the U.S. on the Sri Lankan issue, the human rights and alleged war crimes by the government and the LTTE between the legislative arm and the administration. This convergence is even more significant not only because the Senate Resolution has gone a step beyond the administration’s position, but it has reversed its position demonstrated a few months earlier at the height of the State Department’s preparation of a Report for the government when it stepped in to warn against pushing a former friendly country towards the other extreme. Not that it mattered much to America what this “peanut “ of a country (my apologies to Rajiv Gandhi!) could do by herself but they were certainly mindful about the ever growing influence of their bête noire, China, over there.

Perhaps, the earlier idea of the Senate of offering the carrot to remove the Chinese factor has been set aside since in favour of the stick. In real terms, it is a long way for China to reach the blue-water capabilities of the U.S. and venture into the strategic Indian Ocean though they seem to be having interests in ports in Myanmar, Pakistan and Sri Lanka now for facilities for their navy. India’s superiority in naval power in the Indian Ocean over China’s was confirmed very recently by B.Raman, former Assistant Secretary to the Indian Cabinet, presently, Director of the Institute of Topical Studies in Chennai, at a recent Seminar held in Bangalore.

The Senate Resolution goes beyond the administration’s position in that it seeks no role by the Sri Lankan government by itself to conduct an internal investigation into alleged violations of human rights and war crimes but it wants “the Sri Lankan government, the international community and the United Nations to establish an independent international accountability mechanism to look into reports of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations committed by both sides during and after the war in Sri Lanka and to make recommendations regarding accountability”.

According to my understanding of diplomatic nuances, this shift of emphasis in the Senate’s position seems to be the culmination of a strategy on the part of the U.S. administration which saw some set back a few months back when the Senate took up a positive attitude towards Sri Lanka in the face of an impending unfavourable report by the State Department, now supported by the pro-Eelamist Diaspora to closing the divergence in view with the Senate. That is to see a more positive support from the legislature (read the Senate) than what it took earlier. In other words, to create a pressure point within the US system outside the administration, so that the latter could steer along a seemingly less abrasive course.

The position about the US administration’s point should be clear from the initial observation of Ambassador Butenis when she welcomed the appointment of the Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission (LLRC); and now by Assistant Secretary Robert Blake’s confirmation of the same when he acknowledged subsequent to the Senate Resolution that the US government welcomed the LLRC and it had urged that the Commission applies best international practices so that there could be a credible investigation, and was looking forward to the Commission submitting its report to President Rajapaksa in May. It also expected that the recommendations would be made public. He also stated that the U.S. was encouraged that the Sri Lankan government had acted on some of the recommendations of the Commission.

It is then all clear that the administration’s point of view is in support of an internal investigation by the government of Sri Lanka. This is to be understood in the context of America’s own stance that she has by her Laws prevented American citizens from being tried abroad by any international or other tribunal, for any crimes, war crimes included. Then America should be the first country to recognize the right of another country and in the case, of Sri Lanka, with its long tradition of a legal system, her capacity to conduct such internal measures.

This is where the US administration’s position on Sri Lanka is still open and veering towards an internal investigation but with the caveat that the Commission applies best international practices so that there could be a credible investigation. Robert Blake did not close the account when he stated that [US] was looking forward to the Commission submitting its report to President Rajapaksa in May and that it expected that the recommendations would be made public. His observation that [the U.S.] was encouraged that the Sri Lankan government had acted on some of the recommendations of the Commission is an expression of hope.

Then as far as the U.S. administration is concerned, much depends on the nature of the findings by the LLRC and what its recommendations would be and how far the government is ready to go to implement them. Robert Blake’s quoted statement to the AFP correspondent that “, if the Government does not carry out an accountability exercise in a "manner that is consistent with international standards…" the US would favour an international war crimes probe on Sri Lanka. That is only when national domestic recourse is unavailable.

There is controversy, however, over what these "international standards" are. (e.g. raised by Nalin Ladduwahetty (Sri Lanka Guardian of March, 10,2011). Ladduwahetty says what is lacking during this entire episode is that the international community that includes the US does not state precisely what these "international standards" are, and that if such standards exist there would not be a need for the UNSG to appoint an expert panel to advise him on the standards to be used to guide an accountability exercise. And if international standards do NOT currently exist, what international standards is Ambassador Blake referring to?”, he asks.

To come to the Resolution itself, the first para of the Operative section which is a commendation of the UN Secretary General Ban- ki -_Moon for creating the three-person panel to advise the Secretary-General on the implementation of the commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to human rights accountability has no meaning to be incorporated in an Operative para, and the wording used suggest that the idea is simply to draw attention to it to give more credence to the Resolution. But its inclusion there points to the UNSG’s act of appointing a panel to advice him was mere eyewash.

The real objective was, as the Senate Resolution reveals, in the absence of any prospects of a Security Council support, the UNSG is seeking a way to create a role for U.N. to establish an “independent international accountability mechanism” to look into reports of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations committed by both sides during and after the war in Sri Lanka and to make recommendations regarding accountability, through some manipulation by getting the Sri Lanka government to voluntarily accede to it, even if the Security Council may not endorse it? In the absence of a Security Council request, the International Criminal Court (ICC) could go into it if such a voluntary request is made.

It is the next Operative para of the Resolution that lets the cat out of the bag. It is the request calling upon the Government of Sri Lanka, the international community, and the United Nations to establish an independent international accountability mechanism to look into reports of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations committed by both sides during and after the war in Sri Lanka and to make recommendations regarding accountability. The inclusion of crimes against humanity is significant. It can be interpreted in many ways. The absence of an independent role for Sri Lanka in the Resolution is quite clear.

Another problem that the Resolution seeks is for the GOSL to allow humanitarian organizations, aid agencies, journalists, and international human rights groups greater freedom of movement, including in internally-displaced persons camps. This is an important point. A good number of these agents which contributed to causing instability in the country are now constrained. A few have returned after recent flood damage to meet which the government needs external support. The cost is going to be around a staggering Rs. 50 billion, if I am correct, meeting which may put the government’s other ambitious projects under severe strain, the rhetoric of not requiring foreign support notwithstanding.

The issue of NGOs is a very important one to watch. I am personally aware, how during the ten years I attended Sri Lankan Aid Group meetings in Paris, the programme of international aid to Sri Lanka was turned from around the early 1980s from direct government to government financing, or granting loans to companies in donor countries engaged in projects in Sri Lanka, - support to hard-pressed local companies as much as helping Sri Lanka which would finally pay the debts - into programmes to be disbursed through NGOs. So NGOs proliferated and causing serious implications for the security of the country. Today, as I write, there is report of a big financial scam on a global scale by one of the most vociferous NGOs in the field of human rights. The LLRC mandate should have included an investigation into their activities. At least, a separate Commission should be appointed without delay to go into their activities to Learn Lessons from their destabilizing role.

One cannot also ignore the reference in the Senate Resolution among other things to U.S. security interests contained in the request to the [U.S.]President to develop a comprehensive policy towards Sri Lanka that reflects United States interests, including respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, economic interests, and security interests. It was in this particular Operative paragraph that I see the hand of the Department of State in this Resolution as a precursor to action to facilitate moves by the government.

With or without the Resolution, Assistant Secretary Blake’s remarks should not be taken too lightly. Blake was quoting the case of Libya incidentally. This is what he said: “I want to make a point here, which is that the United States is not holding Sri Lanka to any special standards here. You will note that, for example, over the weekend the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution against Libya on Saturday night. One of the provisions of that resolution was to refer Moammar Qadhafi to the International Criminal Court so that they could investigate alleged war crimes and abuses against his people. So this is a very common thing……”

What is the significance of this statement? Doesn’t one recognize the analogy? If the Libyan regime could be accused of bombing its own people in rebellion in which over 6000 are claimed to have perished, couldn’t the argument be that a similar case be made against the Sri Lankan government, for the deaths of several thousands in the war against the LTTE? Did anyone call for proof in the Libyan case? I am not saying this but I am only analyzing the statement made by the Assistant Secretary. He had stopped short of saying everything but the nuances are quite clear.

Now, the U.S. Navy is at the door step of Libya. The British government too has said that its Naval forces are ready to proceed at any moment. Internal turmoil like this is what these nations are waiting for. Sri Lanka, as a country not producing oil, is of not direct interest to the Western world like Iraq, Iran or Libya. Today ‘oil’ remains a major objective. The need for re-access to oil resources in Libya which led Britain to close the Lockerbie case and release the Libyan suspect from jail, points to how all these so called principles in pursuit of which the West acts are thrown aboard when it comes to final gains to a country. Even within Britain there is a serious division of opinion on this issue.

The British oil companies are back doing very well in Libya now. So do the Americans who do not want to be left behind. But Gaddafi was still a mercurial personality. These interests could provide enough reasons for the U.S. and Britain to look for prospects of intervention there. Human right violations and indiscriminate bombing on her own citizenry, whether they are in rebellion or not, can be used as the alibi for intervention. It could have been in the interest of Western countries to throw President Gaddafi out and create instability like in Iraq, whoever may be instigating the present chaos, so that they could continue to exploit the oil resources of these lands.

As a country which does not produce oil, Sri Lanka may not offer such attraction. But the reference to “[U.S.’s] security interests” in the final Operative par of the Senate Resolution should not be lost sight of. That could portend the direction that U.S., at least the Senate for the present, may want to follow finally. So far despite the LTTE issue having presented an opportunity for U.S. and the West to intervene, the Indian interest in the Sri Lankan issue, had kept these forces away from our shores. However, it is a situation of general internal turmoil that the Western powers are looking for.

The reasons for internal dissatisfaction are those arising from the government’s moves for retaining and consolidating its political power as political expediency, through means which have been questioned widely, resulting in downgrading the role of the legislature and the judiciary and other major institutions, it is a situation which many expect to be counterproductive in the long run and destructive at the end to the country as a whole.

Though these are pure internal affairs of the country, the present government’s programmes like close friendship with China and other countries like Myanmar, Libya and Iran which are on the U.S. Black List and others like the free play of NGOs have not been to the liking of America and other Western countries. The Senate Resolution itself summarises this in the ‘security’ concerns it has expressed which it is asking the U.S. President to take note of and formulate a policy.

The situation in Maghreb, Bahrain and other places in the Arab world recently, and in Indonesia earlier, as an analogy that some sections within the country are trumpeting up may look far too much optimism in the context of the triumphant psychosis that the government has been able to build up. However, any show of use of force to counter any popular manifestations could be counterproductive as demonstrated in these other countries.

This is a time that the government has to tread cautiously not only in the diplomatic front, but also over the local situation. There could be interested forces at work as it happened in 1970 and again in July 1983 –the latter still not investigated – waiting to create trouble profiting by growing discontent. It is the timely removal of the irritants and deep division caused in the political stream in the country on which the government should turn its mind in order to remove causes of instability.

Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe has called for patience till the LLRC Report is out. The present over- emphasis on the LLRC report itself by the Sri Lankan government, like Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe’s statement (The Island, March 9, 2011), is bound to raise expectations very high. If it does not deliver, as the U.S. and the so called international community expects, what next, is a big question. It should be remembered that even South Africa’s much publicized Truth Commission has not succeeded in meeting all its recommendations, especially, over compensation to those who suffered under the Apartheid regime. That despite the country’s riches.

Ambassador Butenis’ meeting with the President on post-conflict developments is mere diplomatic eye-wash, as long as America pursues human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity as priority areas in her agenda and insists that if the Sri Lankan Government does not carry out an “accountability” exercise in a "manner that is consistent with international standards…" the US would favour an international war crimes probe on Sri Lanka.

Finally, it may not be irrelevant to ask what our diplomatic representative and the hired PR firms in Washington were doing while the Senate was changing its earlier positive stance held on Sri Lanka a few months back to a negative one? The Ambassador was more conspicuous playing the role of a ‘tourist guide’ to some U.S. Tour Operators, than following up on the gain made earlier as if guiding tourists had far greater priority to the country than the issue now brewing affecting the country’s overall image and other consequences.

On the other hand, what this development of the Senate Resolution and Robert Blake’s remarks reveal is that the new pro-LTTE leadership in the U.S., the Diaspora and the NGOs have been far more successful and have scored what they think is a triumph in the U.S. legislature on the eve of the Geneva sessions of the Human Rights Commission which was expected to debate the Sri Lankan issue. One immediate effect of Libyan development is that it over-shadowed the focus on the debate on human right and other allegations brought against Sri Lanka because priority had to be accorded to the debate over current developments in Libya. However, will the major issue of “reported” ” human rights violations, crimes against humanity” raised in the Senate Resolution disappear altogether?

ICC may ask Sri Lanka government on war crime investigations involving Ambassador Kohona

“Sri Lanka would be asked to comment by ICC on the war crimes communication concerning Amb. Kohona says Australia’s First Assistant Secretary for North Asia”

Deputy Chair of Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (FAD&T) Legislation Committee, Russell Trood (Liberal, Queensland) during deliberations last week of February queried with David Stuart, First Assistant Secretary, South and West Asia and Middle East Division and Peter Rowe, First Assistant Secretary, North Asia Division, the communication sent to International Criminal Court (ICC) urging investigations on alleged war-crimes against Australian-Sri Lankan dual national Palitha Kohona and the appointment of ex-Navy commander Admiral Samarasinghe, as the next High Commissioner for Sri Lanka to Australia, the official publication Hansard said.

First Assistant Secretary for North Asia Division, Mr. Rowe, said that Australia would be monitoring the progress of the matter with ICC and added “in the normal course the Sri Lankan government would be asked to comment or be involved in these investigations”.

Relevant excerpts from the Hansard as follows:

Senator TROOD—I have received representations, as I suspect other members of this parliament have, with regard to a suggestion that an individual may be nominated by the Sri Lankan government as the high commissioner, of whom some groups disapprove. In fact, the allegation is that this individual has been involved or participated in war crimes in a broad sense. Are you familiar with these allegations?

Mr Richardson—I am familiar with what I saw in the media, but Mr Stuart will be more familiar than I.

Mr Stuart—Yes. Our practice is that we do not discuss nominations of such positions. That is a longstanding practice of Australian governments.

Senator TROOD—My understanding is that the foreign minister has been contacted about this matter. Is that true?

Mr Stuart—There have been representations, especially by the Tamil community.

Senator TROOD—So you are familiar with those representations?

Mr Stuart—I am.

Senator TROOD—Do you know the individual concerned?

Mr Stuart—We do not discuss nominations.

Senator TROOD—Can you tell me: is the position of the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Australia currently vacant?

Mr Stuart—I must say that I am still doing my introductory call, but I believe so.

Mr Richardson—Yes. I met the charge d’affaires yesterday.

Mr Stuart—I have been a bit distracted by things in the Middle East part of my vast kingdom!

Senator TROOD—Yes, it is a vast kingdom, but this is an issue of some moment. You have not had reason to consider an application from Colombo about this; is that right? Have you received a request to consider a future high commissioner to Australia?

Mr Stuart—It is not the government’s practice to talk about nominations, whether they have been made or the substance of the nominations.

Senator TROOD—Presumably, at some point, there will be a request from the Sri Lankan government to invite us to decide whether or not we should receive a new high commissioner? Is that a fair proposition?

Mr Stuart—Yes.

Mr Richardson—It is, but unless the nominating country made the nomination public—and some countries do that; for instance, Indonesia very often makes a nomination public before a decision is taken. The Australian government does not comment publicly on who may or may not have been nominated.

Senator TROOD—You are obviously reticent to make any observations about it. Perhaps I can make the point that neither I nor any other member of parliament ever has much of an opportunity to make any observations on these matters as well, that I have received considerable representation about this and it reflects a deep degree of concern within parts of the Sri Lankan and particularly the Tamil community, and that we should be very careful about any appointment that we consider in the light of those concerns. Thank you.

I have one other question in relation to Sri Lanka, which concerns a potential International Criminal Court action in relation to Tamil Tiger deaths. It relates to several Tamil organisations having made some allegations of war crimes to the International Criminal Court concerning an Australian citizen, Dr Kohona. Are you familiar with that matter?

Mr R Rowe—Yes. I am aware that two Tamil groups have sent a communication to the International Criminal Court asserting war crime claims against Dr Kohona, who is a dual Sri Lankan-Australian citizen.

Senator TROOD—Do you know whether the court has taken up this matter?

Mr R Rowe—The International Criminal Court will deal with this communication in the sense that it will consider whether there is sufficient information to warrant the opening of an investigation, which would be determined by the Office of the Prosecutor. The matter is in the hands of that office. I would comment that, of course, that office receives many hundreds of communications with assertions of various crimes having been committed by individuals, but the onus is on the office at the moment to make a determination whether or not the situation that has been referred warrants an investigation in terms of the statute.

Senator TROOD—So we are a long way from any consideration of a charge being propounded or a warrant or anything of that kind being issued for the arrest of this person?

Mr R Rowe—That is correct. As I said, there would be a decision and then an investigation.

Senator TROOD—Do you know if Dr Kohona is a resident of Australia?

Mr R Rowe—Dr Kohona currently occupies a position as Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York.

Senator TROOD—And he is a dual Sri Lankan-Australian citizen?

Mr R Rowe—That is correct.

Senator TROOD—So, if there were to be a pressing of charges of some kind, we would have an interest in the matter?

Mr R Rowe—We would certainly monitor the matter. As I said, the onus is on the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s office at the moment, and I think it would be fair to comment—and I cannot speculate too much obviously because much will depend on what decision the Office of the Prosecutor takes—but I would note that the assertions that have been referred to the Office of the Prosecutor relate to activities that allegedly occurred in Sri Lanka, and in the normal course the Sri Lankan government would be asked to comment or be involved in these investigations.

Senator TROOD—I do not have any further questions on that subject. Thank you.

COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA ~ Proof Committee Hansard
~ SENATE ~ FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE LEGISLATION COMMITTEE ~ ESTIMATES ~ (Additional Estimates) ~ THURSDAY, 24 FEBRUARY 2011 – CANBERRA ~ BY AUTHORITY OF THE SENATE [PROOF COPY]

March 09, 2011

U.N. to investigate Prageeth Eknelygoda's disappearance

By Bob Dietz
CPJ Asia Program Coordinator

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One of Prageeth Eknelygoda's last cartoons.

Tuesday's letter from CPJ and four other groups to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon apparently had some impact. The Canadian Press reported today that Ban has asked the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNESCO, which oversees press freedom, to look into the case of Prageeth Eknelygoda, a Sri Lankan columnist and cartoonist missing for more than a year.

The letter was the latest in a campaign by media support groups in and out of Sri Lanka to help Sandhya Eknelygoda and her two sons in their battle to learn the whereabouts of their husband and father. Prageeth, a columnist and cartoonist for the Lanka eNews website, disappeared on January 24, 2010. Since then, the family has been asking the Sri Lankan government for any information about his fate. Not one government official has given them any information, and there is no credible investigation going on into his disappearance.

The Cartoonists Rights Network International, International Media Support, Reporters Without Borders, and the International Federation of Journalists also signed on to the letter. [Courtesy: http://www.cpj.org/]

The Sri Lankan dilemma over supporting beleaguered Gaddafi

by Namini Wijedasa

There is no gainsaying that Libya has a friend in Sri Lanka. Not only do diplomatic relations between the two countries stretch back several decades, President Mahinda Rajapaksa since assuming power in 2005 has carefully cultivated ties with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi that can best be described as snug.

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Speaking at Non Aligned Summit - August 18, 1976 - pic courtesy of: Bettmann/CORBIS

Gaddafi first made an impression in Sri Lanka in 1976 when he blazed into Colombo for a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement. And he left an imprint that has proved indelible. The Gaddafi of that era was nowhere near being labelled a despot and legions of Sri Lankans —predominantly women — marvelled at his pinup, good looks.

Some analysts even hold that Gaddafi became a household name in this island nation after that trip. President Rajapaksa during a 2009 visit to Tripoli told the Libyan leader that the people of Sri Lanka still remembered him and he wasn’t far wrong.

Lalin Fernando, a retired major general of the Sri Lanka Army, in a captivating column published last month offered unique insight into Gadaffi’s visit. He deemed that the Libyan leader was an immediate hit because of his maverick behavior and says Gaddafi had women vying to catch a glimpse of him.

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Muammar Gaddafi in June 1976

“This happened every time he moved into and from the hotel,” Fernando observed. “He had striking looks accentuated by his flashing green eyes and was dressed in flowing Bedouin robes. He in turn did not hesitate to have a good look at the ladies there and also when he moved around Colombo.”

The column amusingly revealed that the next few days saw over a hundred Libyan ‘supporters’ distributing big, glossy photos of Gaddafi around Colombo like confetti. “They also tried to buy every single parrot that was available for sale in Sri Lanka,” Fernando writes. “They were seen everywhere in trucks carrying an apparent inexhaustible supply of parrots in cages every day until they left.” What was that about?

Many years later, President Rajapaksa has resurrected and propelled ties between Sri Lanka and Libya to new heights. And as an astute politician keen on building a personality cult for himself — not unlike Gaddafi in that respect — he has repeatedly capitalized on his friendship with the Libyan leader to get some personal mileage.

In August 2009, for instance, state media trumpeted about President Rajapaksa attending Libya’s 40th Revolution Day celebrations as Gaddafi’s special guest. His spin doctors even said their president had achieved a diplomatic coup by being placed next to Gaddafi at the parade! He was shown watching the event with Gaddafi at his side, the Libyan leader’s arm draped casually over his shoulder. This image was widely circulated as proof of just how close President Rajapaksa was to Gaddafi.

It was the president’s second trip to Libya that year; he also conducted a state visit in April that was followed by a Libyan government pledge of $500 million in financial assistance towards development projects here. It was not immediately clear how much of this aid was disbursed and on what terms. The chambers of commerce of the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding while Libya expressed interest in investment.

Libya also offered employment opportunities for Sri Lankans — something many Sri Lankans took advantage of. Ironically, Colombo is now chartering special flights to Libya on President Rajapaksa’s instructions to ferry its entrapped 1,200 citizens back home.

As recently as January 2011, President Rajapaksa dispatched his eldest son, Namal, to Tripoli with a formal invitation for Gaddafi to visit Sri Lanka. An official statement in Colombo reported that Gaddafi during his meeting with Namal had referred to his “strong personal relationship” with President Rajapaksa and reiterated his desire to further strengthen bilateral ties.

We learn then on March 4 that President Rajapaksa asked Gadaffi in a telephone call to “establish peace in Libya as soon as possible and safeguard the lives of Libyan people”. What’s more, Presidential Media Director Bandula Jayasekera says it was the beleaguered Gaddafi that had telephoned President Rajapaksa!

Did Gaddafi, in the midst of all his troubles, initiate a call to the Sri Lankan leader in anticipation of a sympathetic ear? Or was he returning President Rajapaksa’s call? It remains a mystery as the president’s camp has since lapsed into silence on the matter.

When asked why no statement was issued on the situation in Libya, a senior official from the Ministry of External Affairs said on condition of anonymity that, “It has been the practice of successive Sri Lankan governments not to comment on internal developments of this nature as all nations have the right to solve their internal issues without foreign involvement.” “At the same time,” he said, “we value our friendships with these nations.”

Certainly, President Rajapaksa and Gaddafi are friends. The president likes the Libyan leader, not least because the latter embodies the former’s belief that Western interference must be rejected and defied at all cost.

And by virtue of the Rajapaksa regime’s foreign policy choices, Colombo and Tripoli are also firmer buddies than ever. (Where Libya is concerned, President Rajapaksa might also be guided by a desire to get concessionary terms on oil). So what will this portend for Sri Lanka in future?

Western nations are not pleased with some of the relationships Sri Lanka has chosen to strengthen in recent years — Libya, Myanmar, Russia, Iran and China. India is particularly concerned by Sri Lanka’s growing alliance with China that could potentially upset the balance of power in South Asia.

Some foreign policy analysts believe that India’s worries are now guiding Washington which suddenly stepped up pressure on Sri Lanka to investigate civilian deaths that occurred at the end of its war with the Tamil Tigers in 2009.

On March 1, the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution that, among other things, called on the government of Sri Lanka, the international community, and the United Nations to establish an “independent international accountability mechanism to look into reports of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations committed by both sides during and after the war in Sri Lanka...” This is something Colombo wishes to avoid at all cost.

The Rajapaksa regime’s choices in allies are increasingly made at the expense of its ties with those nations — mostly Western — that respect democratic principles more than, say, Gaddafi does. Colombo is often seen as playing a zero sum game in the sphere of foreign policy.

Regardless of the criticisms, there is no denying that the President Rajapaksa has selected his friends on the basis of self-interest. For instance, when the West tried to stop Sri Lanka from finishing off the Tamil Tigers citing human rights concerns, Colombo looked elsewhere for assistance — and found it. When Western nations tied financial assistance to human rights prerogatives, China stepped in with unconditional aid. When finicky governments refused to sell weapons to Sri Lanka, Colombo found nations that would. In an era that is seeing the West firmly pitched against the Rest, there is always somebody willing to help.

How will Colombo now proceed with Libya? A senior diplomat pointed out on condition of anonymity that, “Gaddafi is certainly down but not out yet.” “One needs to watch a bit more to accurately gauge the extent of popular support for uprising and peoples’ commitment to pursue it to its bitter end,” he said. “Until then, voicing support to Gaddafi is not prudent diplomacy.”

“Supporting Libya and supporting Gaddafi are two different things,” he concluded. “If people really want Gaddafi out, supporting Gaddafi would mean opposing Libya.”

The writer is a senior journalist based in Colombo – courtesy: The Saudi Gazette

Absurdity of comparing North African Arab popular upsurges with Sri Lankan situation

by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

The conversation I had on Lankan trajectories and ‘declinist’ discourses in a Paris cafe on a Sunday with my friend and former colleague, Prof. Nira Wickramasingha, now holding the Chair of South Asian History at the University of Leiden, reminded me of a point she had made sharply in her slender book ‘History Writing’. Sri Lanka, she had remarked, was one of the few countries in which mainstream newspapers carried pieces on history by those without any credentials or formal training in the disciplines of history and historiography.

This, she wrote, would never happen in India for instance, where any incursion into history in the quality press would have to be backed up with credentials in order to secure publication.

What she said of history is just as true of politics. Sri Lankan newspapers and websites are replete with pieces that go beyond intellectually legitimate critical commentary to the pontifically prescriptive and hortatory -- almost in inverse proportion to academic training and testing in the domain of political studies or any of its sub-fields.

Consider the recent sensationalism in the Sri Lankan press on the relevance and applicability of the popular upsurges in the North African Arab societies. Some Sri Lankan political personalities and commentators ‘read off’ from the Arab revolt, the political future of our island in the most absurdly linear and mechanistic fashion. It is assumed that there is a universal trend which is sweeping the world. This mistake which was made by those of us who assumed that Tet (and Paris) ’68, the victories in Vietnam ’75 and Nicaragua ’79 heralded the triumph of world socialism-- taking the North Vietnamese tank punching through the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon for (Hegel’s) Napoleon on a white charger after the battle of Jena-- was replicated by those who thought that the events of 1989 heralded the worldwide victory of liberal democracy. Be it the vulgarised ‘End of History’ school or its Huntingtonian opponent, the Clash of Civilisations corps; be it the applauders and denouncers of the New World Order and the Uni-polar moment (of neocons gurus like Charles Krauthammer), all these grand theorists have been proven wrong or only episodically and ephemerally right.

All of these meta-theorists forgot the phenomenon that Mao, a far greater philosopher, pointed to: ‘absolutely everything develops unevenly’. This is why the Russian revolution was not successfully replicated or followed in Europe, Vietnam’s liberation was not accompanied anywhere even in its neighbourhood and the Cuban revolution had to wait twenty years for the Nicaraguan counterpart to succeed.

Althusser’s best pupil Regis Debray realised this while in jail, and ruefully observed in ‘A Critique of Arms’ that historical time is not the same everywhere; the clock of history keeps different times in different places, even on the same continent. This he attributed to the autonomy of the political instance, most especially the specificity of ‘the national’ (the Achilles heel of Marxism, he said in a 1977 essay). He has re-developed the thesis in recent months here in Paris, in an intervention termed ‘In Praise of Borders’.

Those who seek to mechanistically apply the Maghreb model to Sri Lanka can only fuel an adventurism which will result in needless sacrifice and retard the very transformations they claim to seek.

Those who assumed that with the collapse of the USSR, an entire historical period of US uni-polar hegemony had arrived confused the conjunctural and episodic for the structural and systemic. Uni-polar hegemony proved but a ‘moment’. Similarly, Sri Lankan political history of the post-independence decades has seen many ‘uni-polar moments’ which were mistaken for and lustily cheered or luridly denounced as dictatorship, fascism etc, but which proved reversible and transitory.

If the hotly debated 18th amendment removing Presidential term limits is the equivalent of Hitler’s Enabling Law of 1933, then the latest candidate for Hitlerhood is Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega and the future Nazi Germany is Nicaragua! The contentious abolition of term limits in no way abolishes the fundamental feature which makes Sri Lanka a democracy, namely the need to win elections held at regular intervals in what is a multiparty representative system where political parties are neither confections nor caricatures, but resilient organic entities.

Ebb and flow must not be mistaken for structural watersheds, just as the role of Bismarck (national state unification through ‘blood and iron’) must not be confused with that of Hitler! Nazi Fascism was defined as ‘open terroristic dictatorship’ by Georgi Dmitrov, foregrounding the crucial characteristic of the violent (often lethal) mass suppression of all forms of opposition. It would be lunatic to describe Sri Lanka thus.

Fortunately for the West, smart political minds are trained to distinguish and differentiate. In conversation in Normandy with centrist/centre-right Senator Nathalie Meriem Goulet, member of the Foreign and the Armed Forces Committee and of the NATO Parliamentary assembly, we concurred that the recent phenomena in the Maghreb were distinguishable from manifestations in Iran: “one is Arab; the other Persian, and there are major differences between the matrices”, she said with lightning lucidity. On almost every count Iran is far closer to Egypt than is Sri Lanka. Similarly, the theorem of a global tsunami sweeping away the political superstructures of the planet would evoke polite smiles among the highly educated strategic and policy elites of East Asia. This is not an argument by me for ‘Asian values’ but a reminder that the universal –the Zeitgeist, even– operates unevenly in terms of time, place, form and outcome. The universal operates through the (regionally and nationally) particular.

The most important single feature of Sri Lanka today is not that a six year old elected administration is in the same category as Arab regimes of decades’ duration – Aristotle, who emphasised the importance of a typology of regimes, would shudder – but the fact that it is barely post-war, living in the shadow of a thirty years war which ended a mere one and a half years ago; struggling to emerge from it, in the throes of a complex convalescence and open ended transition.

The country and its peoples are in no further need of ‘storm and stress’. Sri Lanka’s multiparty democracy has proved resilient under extreme pressure over decades, surviving civil wars in North and South and authoritarian and totalitarian projects from above and below. The Lankan citizenry has no need of tutelage in the preservation and advancement of democracy from anyone, anywhere. Our literate, politically conscious citizenry has proved unerringly adroit at securing and safeguarding its principal interests (variously national, social, and democratic) at the given time, through the determined exercise of the franchise. The agency and medium of democratic change in Sri Lanka must not and cannot be rocks and rifles but the ballot box. Whatever the diversions and detours on the streets, any endgame in Sri Lanka must, will and can only be resolutely electoral and democratic.

(The writer is Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies/National University of Singapore).

Military on cemetery: ‘Any religion, race or ethnicity has the right to have a place on earth, where they can rest in peace’

Jaffna, a new military command built on Tamil cemetery

by Melani Manel Perera

Residents do not react, afraid of possible retaliation. A Catholic Tamil activist calls the government action "humiliating".

Colombo (AsiaNews) - A cemetery of Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE - Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) in Koapai (north of Jaffna) has been demolished and a new military command of the 51st Division of the National Armed Forces built in its place , inaugurated on March 4 last. The local residents have called this government move "unjustifiable" and "scandalous", but nobody wanted to say more for fear of threats and retaliation. The opening was held in the presence of Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, Commander of the Army, and Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe.

The human rights activist Anthony Jesudasan, Catholic Tamil co-ordinator of the People to People Dialogue on Peace and Sustainable Development, told AsiaNews: "This is very humiliating. True, they were terrorists, but they are still human beings. " "A cemetery - continues the activist - is the ultimate place for every man. Any religion, race or ethnicity has the right to have a place on earth, where they can rest in peace."

The Tamil Tigers, a militarized separatist group, were involved since 1983 in a long conflict against the central government for the creation of an independent state in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. After a brief truce, thanks to the mediation of Norway, reached in 2001, in 2008 the fighting re-ignited. The civil war ended in 2009. Since then, the government claims to promote reconciliation between ethnic Tamils and Sinhalese.

Jesudasan defines the demolition a "dictatorial" act. He asks, "What kind of peace and reconciliation, is the government trying to show the Tamil residents of the area? It seems it's trying to fuel anger and enmity in the minds of these people rather than heal the wounds."

M.K. Shivajilingam, political opposition party Tamil National Liberation Alliance (Tnla) is of the same opinion and estimates the cemetery contained at least 2 thousand corpses.

On the website of the Ministry of Defence of Sri Lanka, there is no reference to the demolished Tamil cemetery. ~ courtesy: AsiaNews.it ~

Sri Lanka: Release thousands being held under repressive laws - Amnesty International

The Sri Lankan government is being called upon by Amnesty International to immediately release thousands of people currently being held in detention without charge or trial and to amend its repressive anti-terrorism laws to conform to international standards. The briefing paper released today highlights how some of those detained are being held secretly where they are vulnerable to a range of abuses, including torture or being killed in custody.

Amnesty International is calling on the Sri Lankan government to immediately release thousands of people currently being held in detention without charge or trial and to amend its repressive anti-terrorism laws to conform to international standards.

An Amnesty International briefing paper, Forgotten Prisoners, released today, highlights how some of those detained are being held secretly where they are vulnerable to a range of abuses, including torture or being killed in custody.

More than 1,900 people already arrested and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) remain in custody pending investigations, according to the last relevant official statements from May 2010.

“Sri Lanka’s so-called national security laws, and in particular the PTA, are being used to harass, intimidate and punish critical voices,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director.

“Thousands of people are languishing in detention without charge or trial under these laws, outside even the protections offered by the Sri Lankan legal system and in clear violation of recognised international human rights standards.”

Sri Lanka has been under a state of emergency almost continually since 1971, and successive governments have used national security as an excuse to introduce a range of broad of emergency regulations.

This has led to the erosion and even suspension of people’s rights to freedom of thought, conscience and expression, as well as their right to live free from arbitrary arrest and detention.

The national security laws grant state authorities sweeping powers of detention and permit people to be held in secret locations. Security agents, often without proper uniforms or identification, can detain and hold suspects for months or years without a warrant or being produced before a magistrate.

“Amnesty International recognizes the right and duty of the Sri Lankan government to protect its citizens from violence by armed groups, but these laws, and in particular the PTA, are too often abusive and too rarely result in proper convictions of alleged wrongdoers,” said Sam Zarifi.

“Despite the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in May 2009, the government has failed to demonstrate its commitment to human rights and the rule of law by getting rid of the PTA.”

Amnesty International will again be raising its concerns about Sri Lanka’s emergency laws at a 9 March session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, including at a seminar about the laws and their application that will include lawyers from Sri Lanka.

[Scribd document] Amnesty International: Forgotten prisoners: Sri Lanka uses anti-terrorism laws to detain thousands

Why is there no popular dissent that puts any pressure on the government to change

By Dr.Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

(Transcript of speech delivered by Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu accepting the first Citizens Peace Award, 28 February 2011)

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Members of the Head Table, Venerable Sirs, Your Excellency President Kumaratunga and Friends,

Let me begin by thanking the National Peace Council for this inaugural Citizens’ Peace Award, which I accept in all humility. I am acutely conscious that the objective of peace, securing human rights protection and good governance cannot be achieved by the singular efforts of a single individual or similar acts by many – it is a continuous process, it is a struggle and it goes on and on, irrespective of the few high moments we celebrate. We have to recommit ourselves and steel ourselves to the challenge that lies ahead.

But before I say anymore, thanks are in order. First and foremost, to my parents and to my family for the values of public service and public interest that they have instilled in me.

Next, very specially to my senior colleagues and colleagues at the Centre for Policy Alternatives – Bhavani, Mirak, Lionel, Asanga, Sanjana, Pradeep, Sriyanie, Rohan – your support and solidarity has been a great strength in the years that have gone by and indeed, I am sure, in the years to come.

Likewise, my thanks and appreciation for the support and solidarity given to me and to the Centre for Policy Alternatives by the national and international human rights community. I know that at some point Sunila Abeysekera is going to say a few words.

Sunila, I remember in 2008 when you won the prize in commemoration of the fifty years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I delivered the toast at the reception. In my toast I quoted Rosa Luxemburg who said to her detractors, ‘you can have your revolution, if I can’t dance’! You very mischievously reminded me of the fate of Rosa Luxemburg. Well, Sunila, you are still standing; I am still standing and we will continue to be standing.
[Applause]

Friends, our country is at a crossroads, but it is also in crisis. We have won a war, but we are still stuck in a post-war situation. We need to move to a post-conflict situation, defined in terms of a situation in which the sources of conflict are not sustained and certainly not reproduced. But sadly there are too many trends that suggest otherwise. At the present moment, economic development is being prioritised as the overarching goal of this country, but in this notion of economic development, sadly, unfortunately, there does not seem to be any room for rights. Rights are at best seen in this perspective as irrelevant and at worst, they are seen as subversive. Public discourse has been forced into a dichotomy of patriots and traitors. Dissent is seen as treasonable. These are at one level are not new, neither are the problems with regard to transparency and with accountability.

But what we see today, I submit to you, is something of a much larger scale – a much, much larger scale. And that it should happen after the trials and tribulations and travails that we have been through in the past is not just a cause to pause and ponder, but should be a sharp reminder that action is necessary and that things have to be done about it.

Only the last couple of days, I was in Delhi at a conference, which was addressed by, amongst others, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Professor Amartya Sen. Sen reminded us that development without a firm base within a rights perspective and paradigm is inherently risky and inherently dangerous. He also made the point that fundamental to a functioning democracy must be the ability of all its citizens to discuss the public interest, the public good and public policy. Today we do not really have this and it is indeed a tragedy.

When we look at what is happening in this country, we really do need to remind ourselves that unless we as a society and we as citizens recommit ourselves to saving what is precious and valuable and worthwhile in this country, we have no right to talk in terms of patriotism, national interest or public interest. We need to act.

The culture of impunity is something that plagues us in all walks of life. It is still the case that Sri Lanka has the highest number of cases of enforced and involuntary disappearances recorded with the Working Group in Geneva. It is still the case that no action has been taken in respect of the sixteen cases that came before the Commission of Inquiry – no action whatsoever!

It is still the case that we have a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which is hardly news worthy; it barely gets a footnote in our daily papers. If reconciliation is to be a national process, a national exercise, a national need, the lament, the trauma, the travails of all those poor women in Vavuniya, in Kilinochchi, in Jaffna where they detailed what happened to them during the war and in the last days of the war, we should all know about them, we should all be reading about them, we should all be seeing them, and together with them, engaging in this process of reconciliation if it is to be truly national and if there really are lessons that ought to be learnt. It is not enough for Government officials and ministers and the great and good to grab the headlines on the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. They have spoken and no doubt will speak many times, but it is the lament, it is the pain and suffering of those women in particular that the women in the rest of the country and the men in the rest of the country need to hear about if we are to heal, if we are to move from the politics of hurt, of harm and of hate that has been the cancer eating away at our body politic and our civil society. We need to think and act upon these things.

We need to ask ourselves as to what has happened to a public service that was proud because it was professional. We need to ask ourselves as to what has happened to a Foreign Service that was proud because it was professional. We need to ask ourselves as to what happened to a time when the police were not universally thought of as the most corrupt institution in the country. We need to think of a time when we as citizens of this country can make the distinction and ensure that it prevails in practice between state and government. An election after all is not a license to loot.

Those of us in civil society who have focused on human rights and on governance have done so in the firm and unrelenting belief that if our country is to get the prosperity it deserves and which no doubt we all desire, then these values have to underpin public action and public policy. We have been doing this for sometime with little success, but that should not in anyway discourage us or prevent us from moving forward.

When there was a ceasefire, there was a group of us – Sunila and Jehan included – who got together and formed the Peace Support Group. Our principal aim was to remind those negotiating a peace that without an overarching sense of the importance of human rights, that peace would not last, it would not be just and it would not be democratic. I still have vivid memories of us hot-footing it to Sattahip, getting off a plane and dashing immediately to the venue of the inaugural peace talks with our document calling for a comprehensive peace agreement. We have worked on elections, on malpractice, violence as far as elections are concerned and we have bemoaned the particular tragedy that in a country that has had adult universal franchise for over seven decades, the integrity of our electoral process is compromised. Elections after all are the basic mechanism of choice and change in a functioning democracy.

My critics and my detractors, of which there are many, take particular exception when I say that our governance and the institutions of governance of this country are in a state of dysfunction and disrepair. I throw back the challenge to them to name a single one that is functioning today in the way that it is intended to. Ceremoniously, the Eighteenth Amendment was passed without being ever mentioned in the two election campaigns, national election campaigns, that preceded it and what do we have?

We now have an executive that is there for life, in effect. We as civil society failed to arouse sufficient interest and passion in the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens to do something about it. We are told frequently that questions of governance, of democracy and human rights – unless you are directly affected – do not arouse and inspire people to action of any sort. But, for me that is not the case. We have to recommit ourselves to the challenge of governance, of human rights in our country, or else we are facing an autocracy, which will deprive us of our fundamental freedoms and liberties. There will be no discussion. It will instead be replaced by diktat.

I stress these things because I am acutely conscious that what you have given me is a citizens’ peace award and I stress these things because whilst all around us we see people from all social strata and walks of life coming up with individual acts of courage to resist autocracy and authoritarianism, people frequently ask if things are so much in crisis in your country, why is there no resistance to it? Why is there no popular dissent that puts any pressure on the government to change? Where is the popular movement that can change the popular mass?

I do not have a ready answer to that unfortunately. But I want to remind you though that many, many years ago – three centuries ago – Montesquieu made the point and the point was a simple one: the tyranny of an oligarch is not so dangerous to the welfare of the public as the apathy of the citizen in a democracy. Justice Brandeis made the point that the most important political office is that of a private citizen. Let us ponder on those words, but let us not take too long pondering. We have a penchant for that. In the last couple of years, Pastor Niemöller has been quoted ad infinitum, but very few have taken to heart the central message of what he was trying to say when he said that when they came for a certain category of people, he did not do anything. He then goes on to tell us of the similar fate of a number of other categories, until he alone was left and that when they come to take him, there would be no one to save him.

So friends, as I conclude this acceptance speech let me appeal to you, do not go gentle into that good night, rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Thank you.

March 08, 2011

Detentions of Valarmathi & Vettivel Jasikaran and Chandana Sirimalwatte: Sri Lanka uses emergency laws to detain thousands - Amnesty International video

Forgotten Prisoners

Thousands of people are languishing in detention without charge or trial under Sri Lanka's repressive anti-terrorism laws. Sometimes held in secret prisons, they are vulnerable to a whole range of abuses, including torture or being killed in custody.

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Kawya Rathnayaka, daughter of Chandana Sirimalwatte, an editor of a local opposition newspaper who was arrested in January 2010, holds a picture of her father during a rally calling for more freedom of expression and protection for the media in Colombo on February 8, 2010. ~ Pic Reuters via HRW

By Amnesty International - The film focuses on specific cases of detentions in Sri Lanka:

On 6 March 2008, the police Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) arrested Vettivel Jasikaran. After nearly six months' detention without charge, Vettivel Jasikaran was indicted on 27 August 2008 for "inciting communal disharmony" by printing, publishing and distributing the magazine North Eastern Monthly. Valarmathi was charged with aiding and abetting her husband.

On 29 January 2010, officers with the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) broke into the premises of the Lanka Irida newspaper and arrested its Chief Editor, Chandana Sirimalwatte.

[Scribd document] Amnesty International: Forgotten prisoners: Sri Lanka uses anti-terrorism laws to detain thousands

Thousands of people are languishing in detention without charge or trial under Sri Lanka’s repressive anti-terrorism laws. Sometimes held in secret prisons, they are vulnerable to a whole range of abuses, including torture or being killed in custody. Sri Lanka has been under a state of emergency almost continually since 1971. Successive governments have used national security as an excuse to introduce a range of broad and often confusing emergency regulations. [AI]

Tigers not a factor any more says Canadian Tamil Activist

by Anthony Reinhart

Tories trying to win support from South Asians in Ontario have opened the door to remnants of a Tamil Tiger front group the federal Conservatives themselves banned in 2008.

The unlikely association, forged behind a curtain of tough government talk about Tamil refugee ships and a feared terrorist migration to Canada last year, has developed since the Tigers’ separatist struggle was crushed by the Sri Lankan military in 2009.

Last month, Tim Hudak, Leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, announced Shan Thayaparan as his party’s candidate for Markham-Unionville. Mr. Thayaparan had helped run an election for a new Tamil separatist group, the National Council of Canadian Tamils (NCCT), whose key adviser, Nehru Gunaratnam, is a former spokesman for the outlawed World Tamil Movement.

Federally, Tamil broadcaster Ragavan Paranchothy, who was in direct contact with the top Tiger leadership in 2009, is seeking the Conservative nomination in Scarborough-Southwest.

Both ridings sit on Toronto’s northeast fringe, amid the world’s largest Sri Lankan Tamil community outside Asia, the de facto capital of the Tigers’ international support base.

One Conservative MP, Paul Calandra, recently felt the heat of venturing too close to the hard-core separatist movement, of which moderate Tamils have grown increasingly weary since the war’s end. After he cut the ribbon at the NCCT’s offices, Mr. Calandra said he gave a speech urging Tamils to abandon separatism, then noticed Mr. Gunaratnam in the crowd and dashed for the exit.

“When he walked into the room, I got up and walked out in protest, and told the organizers I did not want to be in the same room as that gentleman,” Mr. Calandra said.

The MP said he hadn’t known that Mr. Gunaratnam – who spoke at a Toronto-area event honouring dead Tiger “heroes” in November – was a guiding force behind the NCCT, a group that claims to be the “the democratically elected representatives of Tamils in Canada.”

Mr. Gunaratnam said the idea of the NCCT infiltrating the Conservatives is “laughable,” but others find little amusing about the closeness between the new group’s backers and party officials.

Three long-time Conservative volunteers, all Tamil Canadians from different positions within the federal and provincial parties, speaking on condition of anonymity, said associates of the old Tiger support apparatus have pushed their way into the party in a bid to shore up their sagging status in the community, but that party officials have ignored their concerns.

Spokespeople for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, to whom letters of concern were sent, refused to comment without being provided copies.

The Ontario PC Party was similarly unwilling to address specific questions about the nomination of Mr. Thayaparan, who attended the 2006 federal Liberal convention with Mr. Gunaratnam and sought a federal New Democratic Party nomination in 2009 before Mr. Hudak introduced him last month as a Conservative.

“Everyone who applies to be a candidate goes through a rigorous screening process,” said party spokesman Alan Sakach, who refused to grant an interview with Mr. Hudak. “This guy is crystal clear. ...”

The Globe and Mail contacted Mr. Thayaparan several times this week, but he has not replied to a list of written questions or returned phone calls.

Photographs obtained by The Globe and Mail show Mr. Hudak and a Tamil delegation, including Mr. Thayaparan, at a private meeting on Oct. 27 in the leader’s Queen's Park offices. Conservative strategy for connecting with the Tamil community was discussed. The pictures show strong NCCT representation among attendees, who included:

* Rajkumar Subramaniam, an elected NCCT member who posed with Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran several years before he was killed in the war’s last days. Mr. Subramaniam’s Facebook page features photos of the Tigers’ flag flying at a Parliament Hill demonstration and a status update last month on Valentine’s Day that read, “I love you, Tamil Eelam.”

Absent from Facebook are his photos with the famously elusive Mr. Prabhakaran. In an e-mail interview, Mr. Subramaniam said the photos, obtained by the Globe from an anonymous source, were taken in 2002, during a ceasefire to allow for peace talks. He said the Tiger leader paid a surprise visit to an orphanage where Mr. Subramaniam was doing relief work.

While the NCCT shares Mr. Prabhakaran’s dream for a Tamil homeland, Mr. Subramaniam wrote that the “NCCT distinguishes itself with the promotion of non-violence.”

* Amaleethan Xavier, media co-ordinator for the NCCT elections, whom Patrick Brown, Conservative MP for Barrie, called “my friend Amaleethan” in a Twitter photo taken at a polling station. Mr. Xavier is a Conservative organizer in suburban Toronto.

* Ragavan Paranchothy, the broadcaster seeking the federal Scarborough-Southwest nomination. Mr. Prabhakaran’s successor, Kumaran Pathmanathan (known as KP), told a Toronto-based Tamil journalist that he was on the phone with Mr. Paranchothy at the moment of KP’s arrest in Malaysia three months after the war’s end.

Asked to explain, Mr. Paranchothy said, “I returned a call from someone in Malaysia at that time … I don’t know if I was speaking to KP or if I was speaking to one of his assistants. ...”

Mr. Paranchothy, who refers to himself as a journalist, said he “can’t come right out and be very critical” in his reports, since “the media I work for obviously cater to the Tamil community.” Asked if that meant he takes sides with the Tigers’ brand of “freedom struggle” over the terrorist designation his own Conservative Party has applied to it, he said, “I guess I should say yes and no.”

* Balan Rajaratnah, a member of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE), an elected group of expatriate Tamils from around the world also pushing for a separate state.

The TGTE and NCCT issued a joint statement last April, before both groups held their first elections. The message appeared in a Tamil-language newspaper with the NCCT logo on its front page and a World Tamil Movement e-mail address as contact information. Co-signed by Nehru Gunaratnam, the message stressed the importance of unity “to win a free Tamil Eelam.”

To further make the point, Mr. Rajaratnah and Mr. Gunaratnam appeared together on Tamil television to promote the NCCT elections.

In November, Mr. Rajaratnah told The Canadian Press his “Peel Tamil Community Centre,” an entity with no building, staff or website, had endorsed the federal Conservatives’ anti-human-smuggling Bill C-49 despite its objections to it, in hopes of being rewarded with federal funding.

“Our way of working is to work with the government to get something from the government,” Mr. Rajaratnah said, adding that he had been assured some elements of the bill would be removed.

Other NCCT officials have displayed unambiguous support for the Tiger cause in campaign materials, at protests and on Facebook pages.

Siva Vimalachandran, a York University student who is an NCCT national director and treasurer, posed for Toronto Life magazine wearing the Tigers’ emblem over his shoulder. Mr. Vimalachandran was a negotiator for Tamil demonstrators who occupied the city’s busy Gardiner Expressway in the spring of 2009.

At the time, Bob Runciman, a veteran PC caucus member, told the legislature that Ontarians were “undoubtedly concerned over the loss of innocent life [in Sri Lanka] … But they are not supportive of in-your-face abuse of our laws and the public promotion of an internationally recognized terrorist organization.”

The Tigers were infamous for using suicide bombings, child soldiers, political assassination and brutal repression of Tamils who did not share their singular dream of “Tamil Eelam,” a separate state, on Sri Lankan soil. Mr. Harper’s government cited these methods, and repeated Tiger violence during a ceasefire, when it listed them as a terrorist organization in 2006.

The government banned the Tigers’ Canadian fundraising arm, the World Tamil Movement, two years later. It had been labelled a terrorist front by the RCMP and condemned by Human Rights Watch for aggressively collecting “war taxes” from reluctant Tamils.

“The World Tamil Movement has been involved in raising funds to support … the Tamil Tigers,” Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said in announcing the ban, making a point to do so in Toronto. When the government banned the Tigers in 2006, Mr. Day hailed the decision as “long overdue and something the previous government did not take seriously enough to act upon.”

With the war now over, and their old Liberal allies sidelined federally and under threat in Ontario, Tamil power brokers bent on breaking into government have few practical options beyond the Conservatives.

In turn, the party – whose hunger for South Asian votes was exposed in an accidental leak from Mr. Kenney’s office this week – is returning the Tamils' longing gaze, even as it redrafts refugee laws due to shiploads of migrants arriving last year.

“The Conservatives have been trying to get in touch with various Tamil groups and formations,” said Rudhramoorthy Cheran, a University of Windsor professor and poet with deep respect among Canadian Tamils. “Tamils have also realized that they can’t put all their eggs in one basket” as they had with the Liberals.

A senior Conservative with experience in office, speaking on condition of anonymity, said his party appears to have abandoned due caution. “What it smacks of is expedience, but it smacks as well of trying to find the quick way to win support from those communities,” he said.

Mr. Gunaratnam, the NCCT architect, said Conservatives have nothing to fear from his group’s engagement with the party, and Canadians need not worry that the Tigers – which he pronounced “done and gone” – might regroup on home soil.

“People like me, we’re very practical people; there’s no point in going back at what happened wrong in the past because it’s not going to help you,” he said. “[The Tigers] are not a factor any more, but the Tamil factor is still lingering large.”

At the end of a long, rambling interview, Mr. Gunaratnam mentioned as an aside that he, too, took a phone call from KP, the Tiger leader, after the war ended. He said he rebuffed an invitation to work for the new leader.

“I said, ‘No, sorry, I’m not going to work for anyone [with the Tigers] because I didn’t do it before, either,’” he said. “I’m not going to be part of those politics at all; that’s a very clear stand that I always have.” ~ courtesy: The Globe And Mail ~

Women in Sri Lanka are entitled to everything but political leadership

by Chulani Kodikara

Women in Sri Lanka won the right to vote in 1931, seventeen years before independence. In the post independence period, Sri Lankan women made rapid progress in relation to health, education and employment, and their human development indicators are still considered a model for South Asia.

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Protest Against High Cost for Living, Women's against violence - Womens day 2011-Fort in colombo via VikalpaSL

However, as in other countries where positive socio-economic indicators have not automatically translated into political empowerment, women’s representation in elected political bodies has remained abysmally low. The local government elections scheduled for 17th March have re-ignited the debate on women’s representation, which is only 5.8% in Parliament, 4.1% in Provincial Councils and a negligible 1.8% in local government, perhaps amongst the lowest in the world, and certainly in South Asia.

A shift to an electoral system based on proportional representation in 1989, which elsewhere has generally proven more favourable to women, there has been no significant change in the numbers of women elected over the years. This is largely because major political parties in Sri Lanka have done little that is meaningful to address the under representation of women. Gatekeepers of electoral processes, wielding considerable power to either advance or inhibit women’s representation, political parties have shown a remarkable lack of commitment to recognize women as worthy candidates or work towards strengthening women’s roles as political leaders.

The nominations statistics speak for themselves. A closer look at the increasing number of electoral candidates, including women, reveals that the increase in the numbers of women candidates is due to fringe parties and independent groups - who seldom win - filling their lists with women. Major political parties with stronger electoral fortunes do not nominate women in any significant numbers. As a result, the overall increase in their nominations has not translated into electoral gains for women.

At the 2006 local government elections, nominations for women by the major alliances/parties – the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the United National Party (UNP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Perumuna (JVP) — ranged from 4% to 6%. It exceeded 10% only in the case of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which following a diktat from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), nominated at least one woman in each local council in Trincomalee district. Thus, the Trincomalee Urban Council now has a higher number of women than most other local councils in Sri Lanka.

When this month's elections were announced, however, many women party activists from the SLFP and the UNP who were traditionally content to take a back seat and who had worked loyally for their parties for years, distributing leaflets for male candidates, going house to house campaigning etc., stepped out of the shadows of men in their parties and did apply for nominations. Nanda, a UNP activist from Galle, told me ‘for years, we have been working to get votes for male candidates. This time we wanted to go canvassing for ourselves.’ Echoing Nanda’s thoughts, Janaki, a fellow party-member from Badulla observed that as soon as men got their nominations, they came to the women for assistance to organize their elections campaigns, but once they won, they don’t even remember their names. Some of them have long been preparing for their candidature. Paduma, a long time SLFP activist from Moneragala, not only studied the local government law, but observed her Local Council meetings in order to familiarize herself with its powers and functions.

Although official gender disaggregated data in relation to nominations for the forthcoming local government elections is unavailable (and in fact may never be made available), —in itself a clear indicator of how little importance is attached to women’s representation — unofficial reports indicate that only a few women were considered winnable and worthy candidates by the selection committees of the major parties. There appears to be too much at stake. As many political analysts point out political power in Sri Lanka is sustained through elaborate and well-entrenched patron – client relationships that connect actors from the national to the local levels. These relationships play a central role in the transmission of socio-economic as well as political benefits, opportunities and positions available to people. Nominations during election times are opportunities to bestow rewards on those party loyalists, but not without discrimination. To be considered a ‘winnable’ candidate, money and muscle are important, as is the active involvement in maintaining and supporting the chains of patronage between the party and the constituency. Most women lack both money and muscle power and are passive ‘clients’ on the margins of these networks, except if one is a wife, widow or daughter of a politician of course.

Some of the women who failed to secure party nominations have come forward to contest as independents. Despite the patron – client political culture and dominance of the two major parties, independent candidates still have a slight possibility of winning at the local level because the electorate is smaller and electoral thresholds are low (it is possible to win with less than 5% of the vote). Moreover, voters can cast all three preferences for one candidate, and kinship and friendship networks remain relevant and may outdo party loyalties at this level. The upcoming polls will test the extent to which such candidates can hold their own.

Evidence from across the world suggests that politics is one of the most difficult spheres for women to enter, and that even with strong socio- economic indicators, some form of electoral engineering or affirmative action is necessary to increase women’s representation in elected political bodies. The recent experiences of women applying for nominations for local government elections in Sri Lanka make it even clearer that the only way to address this gender gap in representation is though a legally enforceable quota for women, which makes it mandatory for political parties to give nominations to a certain percentage of women. However attempts to obtain a legally enforceable quota for women in party nominations even at local level have met with stiff resistance from most political parties as well as the judiciary, who seem impervious to global developments and the fact that more than 90 countries now offer some form of affirmative action measures for women in electoral processes.

After years of lobbying, local government reforms currently being discussed include a discretionary quota of 25% for women and youth. This provision is however clearly inadequate because it combines women and youth with no guarantee of an exclusive quota for women, and also because non compliance will not attract any penalties. The government has justified this weak provision on various questionable grounds including marinating that very few women are interested in politics and that women’s political representation is antithetical to Sri Lankan culture and that this demand is fuelled mainly by middle class ‘NGO women’ who are trying to force women into politics. Other responses include, that parties are only interested in winning horses, and women are not winning horses, or that a return to a ward system, which is being proposed under local government reforms will automatically increase representation, although there is no evidence to suggest that this will be the case.

Recently the Sri Lankan government has also sought to explain away the low levels of political representation of women to the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), attributing it to women’s own choices, their preoccupation with multiple roles, the high costs of electoral campaigns and the lack of confidence of political parties in the ability of women to win votes. The Committee, in its Concluding Observations, reminded the government, in no uncertain terms, that it has a legal obligation to take all necessary measures to increase the representation of women in politics and public life at the local, provincial and national levels, including resorting to temporary special measures, such as introduction of quotas or financial support to women candidates. In addition, it also called on the Government to take all steps to highlight to society as a whole the importance of women’s full and equal participation in leadership positions, in all sectors and at all levels.

The paradox of strong development indicators and weak political representation of women is a sign of enduring patriarchy, reinforced by political and judicial elites. In essence women in Sri Lanka are entitled to everything but political leadership. Nominations for the March 2011 local government elections closed on the 27th of January; Paduma, Nanda, Janaki and hundreds of other capable women were unsuccessful in securing nominations. When Paduma heard she was not on her party list, she asked “for how long will the men decide where the wells should be even though it is the women who fetch the water?”

Chulani Kodikara is a Research Associate at the International Center for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

UN urged to contact wife of missing Sri Lankan cartoonist

CPJ Press Release

Five prominent media rights organizations sent a letter on Monday to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, calling on the U.N. to intervene in the case of Prageeth Eknelygoda, the Sri Lankan columnist and cartoonist for the Lanka eNews website, who disappeared on January 24, 2010.

Since then, the letter notes, his wife, Sandhya Eknelygoda, has been asking the Sri Lankan government for any information about his fate. She has been given no word from any person in the government. Eknelygoda's disappearance and his wife's efforts on his behalf have been widely reported in Sri Lankan and international media.

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The letter was signed by representatives of the Cartoonists Rights Network International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, International Media Support, Reporters Without Borders, and the International Federation of Journalists.

Full Text of Letter as follows:

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Sandhya Eknelygoda and son Sanjaya Bandara Eknelygod attend a rally calling for investigations into media rights violations - January 18th, 2011 - Opposite Fort Railway Station, Colombo ~ Pic: VikalpaSL

March 7, 2011

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
United Nations Headquarters
New York, NY 10017

Via facsimile: +1 212 963-2155

Dear Secretary-General Ban:

We are writing to you out of concern for Prageeth Eknelygoda, a Sri Lankan columnist and cartoonist for the Lanka eNews website, who disappeared on January 24, 2010. Since then, his wife, Sandhya Eknelygoda, has been asking the Sri Lankan government for any information about his fate. She has been given no information from any person in the government. Eknelygoda’s disappearance and his wife’s efforts on his behalf have been widely reported in Sri Lankan and international media.

As a coalition of press freedom and human rights organizations, several of whom enjoy Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) consultative status with the U.N., we are well aware that Eknelygoda’s disappearance is symptomatic of a broader malaise in Sri Lanka in which media workers are often victims of repression and violence. Our concerns for his safety are well founded.

On January 24, the anniversary of Eknelygoda’s disappearance, his wife personally handed over a letter addressed to you requesting assistance from the United Nations to U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka Neil Buhne. The letter called on Buhne and you to encourage the government of Sri Lanka to expedite investigations into Eknelygoda’s disappearance. We also note that Buhne is no longer posted to the Colombo office, and to the best of our knowledge, his successor has not been named.

Sandhya Eknelygoda feels, as we do, that given the Sri Lankan government’s failure to provide any redress to her family, her only recourse is to urge the U.N. to persuade the government to provide details of her husband’s whereabouts and conduct a credible inquiry into his disappearance. She feels, as we do, that the U.N. has an obligation to act given its mandate of promoting and defending human rights. She has asked us to say that the she hopes the United Nations does not forsake her and her sons in this moment of need.

On February 18, only after public pressure, did your office say it had received her letter. U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told a press conference in New York that “letter is now being reviewed. We've asked for an update on this, and will let you know when we have it. The disappearance of any journalist anywhere is, of course, a matter of concern, and not just to the secretary-general."

For the last 13 months Eknelygoda and her two sons, Sanjaya, 16, and Harith, 13, have sought in vain for information about their husband and father. They have been met with Kafkaesque silence from the Sri Lankan government, the president’s office, the attorney general’s office, members of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s cabinet, members of parliament, the country’s Human Rights Commission, the inspector general of police, and down to the lowest neighborhood-level police station. Not one government official at any level has given Eknelygoda’s family one word of information about what has happened to him. The family is convinced there is no longer an active investigation being carried out.

Eknelygoda’s disappearance and the failure of the government to conduct a credible investigation underscore the degree of impunity in crimes against journalists that is all too common in Sri Lanka. We feel the U.N. should intervene considering its human rights mandate and the government of Sri Lanka's glaring failure to take action on this issue.

We note that in his remarks to the press on February 18, Nesirky said that Eknelygoda’s letter had also been forwarded to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. We have copied High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on this message.

The letter Eknelygoda delivered to Buhne contained all her contact information. We hope that a representative of the United Nations will contact her as soon as possible.

We, the undersigned organizations, are prepared to assist the United Nations in pursuing this case.

Sincerely,

Dr. Robert Russell
Executive Director Cartoonists Rights Network International

Joel Simon
Executive Director Committee to Protect Journalists

Jesper Hojberg
Executive Director International Media Support

Jean-Francois-Julliard
Secretary General Reporters Without Borders

Jacqueline Park
Asia-Pacific Director
International Federation of Journalists

CC:

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay

Jung Hwan Lee, Sri Lanka desk officer, U.N. Department of Political Affairs United Nations
U.N. Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances

Frank LaRue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

President Mahinda Rajapaksa

Ambassador Palitha T.B. Kohona, Permanent Representative to the United Nations

US, British, and Australian statements are a reminder that the world will not forget the victims of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka

by Human Rights Watch

(New York) - A US Senate resolution calling for an independent international mechanism for crimes by both sides during and after Sri Lanka's bloody civil war highlights growing international pressure for justice and accountability in Sri Lanka, Human Rights Watch said today.

The US Senate resolution, passed unanimously on March 1, 2011, follows similar calls by British and Australian parliamentarians.

A United Nations Panel of Experts, appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to advise him on possible accountability mechanisms in Sri Lanka, is finalizing its report.

The US Senate resolution calls on the Sri Lankan government, the international community, and the United Nations "to establish an independent international accountability mechanism to look into reports of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations committed by both sides during and after the war in Sri Lanka and to make recommendations regarding accountability."

"Recent US, British, and Australian statements are a reminder that the world will not forget the victims of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka's long and bloody conflict," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Sri Lankan regime cannot be trusted in a genuine process of examination of military action

Humanitarian Issues During the War in Sri Lanka

by Laurie Ferguson
(Werriwa, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services)

Last week I had approaches from the Sri Lankan acting high commissioner and from a number of people in my electorate. I will be meeting a delegation of Sinhalese tomorrow. I want to say at the outset that—if there is any need to make this clear—I am not an apologist for the Tamil Tigers. As the US Department of State noted:

The LTTE continued to control large sections of the north and east and engaged in politically motivated killings; … disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention.

During that period they also forcibly enlisted young males predominantly—that was one of the reasons for the fallout within their group between the north and the east—and engaged in a number of murders that nobody would condone. This is all apart from the realities of the 1983 massacres of 3,000 Tamils, which precipitated part of this reaction. Some people defending the Sri Lankan regime say that anyone who is critical and questioning is an apologist, a stooge or a flunky for the Tamil Tigers. That is a superficial analysis and a simplistic position.

I believe there is a need for international oversight of the concluding period of the civil war in Sri Lanka. When I look at the phalanx of people around the world who see a need for this—and I do not agree with the Sri Lankan government or the more chauvinistic Sinhalese elements—I do not think we can say that David Cameron is a fool or that he has not examined the issue when he talks about the need for an inquiry. I do not think we can accuse the European community of that either, when they have basically taken away Sri Lanka’s trade advantages on the issue of human rights.

I do not think that the United States Department of State’s ambassador, Patricia Butenis, quoted in WikiLeaks exposes, is necessarily a simpleton. She noted that there is no historical precedent for a government looking at the actions of its own troops and went on to say that the difficulty in Sri Lanka was exacerbated—this is her view; I am not necessarily her mouthpiece but I will just quote her view in WikiLeaks—by the involvement of President Rajapakse and the elite in Sri Lanka in the conclusion of the civil war, which made it even more difficult to avoid the need for outside oversight. Desmond Tutu talked of:

… a determined effort for accountability for past crimes by all parties to the conflict.

As we have seen, there has been a refusal by, amongst others, the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to participate in the government’s own LLRC inquiry.

I say that this is not just an approach by a Tamil diaspora. I have always had the view that it is a lot easier for diasporas around the world to be very radical about events back in their homeland because they are not going to get a bullet in the head, but this is obviously not a campaign totally controlled or manipulated by the diaspora around the world. People have examined the issues and they have come to a conclusion that there is a need to look at abuses on both sides of this conflict.

I have also taken the opportunity to look at the government of Sri Lanka’s response to the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights. I have to say that their own words are disconcerting and worrying and only add to the case as far as I am concerned. They go into an attack upon NGOs, saying simply that any NGOs are basically out there to ‘perpetually keep themselves in business’. This is the Sri Lankan government’s approach to NGOs that are critical of what is happening in the country. They also make the point that the expenditure is spent on overheads. If you are going to denigrate NGOs that are trying to help people, it really says something about your own case. When they look at the European Community, the Sri Lankan government’s official response at Brussels talked about an attempt to ‘achieve partisan political objectives’. They are saying that the European Community is motivated by those kinds of sentiments. They say that all of these groups that have refused to participate should come to Sri Lanka, come forward and give evidence to this committee. This is a committee which was appointed by the government and which gave thanks to the President for his ‘directions’, in their own words. That gives rise to real questioning of the degree of independence of the internal inquiry.

I note that there is talk there in criticism of the 18th amendment to the constitution, an amendment which centralises power in the government. There is talk about democracy and about how the President will have to recontest. There is this guarantee that, despite the concerns of people about centralisation of power and appointments in Sri Lanka, all is well because there is democracy. We know that the alternative candidate, General Fonseka, did not have a very nice outcome after that very disputed election. We know—this might be Tamil propaganda, but I think it is very close to the mark—that 27 members of the Rajapakse family have leading positions in the current regime.

I have to say that I also have read the submission of one group that went before this inquiry, the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Mannar. They have a very worrying list of concerns that they conveyed. They spoke of a lack of success in halting extrajudicial disappearances. They talked about continuing detention upon suspicion. I am not for a moment disputing that a significant number of the leadership of the Tigers should basically be brought before courts and tried for their activities, but equally we believe the international community should have the right to examine the actions of military authorities during the conflict. But should these people be held for this period of time, isolated from families and—realistically—from the international community? That church submission talked about the need for permanent housing, the occupation of large parts of the area by the military, the militarisation of the administration in the north and east and the interference in regard to memorial services.

A Sinhalese constituent spoke to me yesterday and I understand that his sentiments are genuine. He sees a need for intermarriage. He sees a need for communities to be together and live in the same areas. He feels that the language law that was passed by the predominantly Sinhala administration was wrong. He does not support the current government. I understand why he believes that it is not necessarily bad for there to be a degree of Sinhala migration to the north and east. I think his sentiments are genuine. However, whether it is transmigration in Irian Jaya or the movement of populations around the world, where you have a defeated minority, there can be problems. I know people will say that, technically, the Tamils were not defeated but the Tigers were defeated, but many Tamils, genuine people like my Sinhala friend, believe that the current migration of people, the renaming of streets in the north with Sinhala names and the creation of Buddhist temples in places where there is not a significant Buddhist population—all these things—are a threat to their identity.

We have to be sensitive in any country, not just Sri Lanka. Where there is a minority and, historically, there have been rather extreme ethnic differences, to see what seems to be a government instigated movement of people to an area must cause alarm. I hear what the Sri Lankan government says about there being building opportunities there and people are going there for employment and Tamils live in Colombo. Maybe there is some truth in all of those things, but there has to be great sensitivity shown when people who have to establish their rights to language and a degree of say in their society face this kind of pressure.

I believe that the evidence is there that the Sri Lankan regime, unfortunately, cannot be trusted to engage in a genuine process of examination of military action that resulted in the killing of innocent civilians in the final period of the war. The report of this internal inquiry gives only two options: they were partisans of the Tigers or people trying to escape from them. This, again, is a judgment in advance; it is not an examination. Obviously some totally innocent civilians were murdered in those last few days. There needs to be an examination of these matters. ~ courtesy: OpenAustralia.org ~

US Increasing pressure on Sri Lanka to investigate civilian deaths in war

By MATTHEW PENNINGTON

WASHINGTON -- The United States is increasing pressure on Sri Lanka to investigate the deaths of thousands of civilians at the end of its civil war. Human rights groups contend a Sri Lankan government commission has demonstrated no intent of doing it.

The Senate passed a resolution this past week urging an international investigation of war crimes allegations. The State Department has yet to go that far, but said Friday that pressure to do so would grow if Sri Lanka should fail to investigate the abuses properly.

The quarter-century-long Sri Lankan conflict had a bloody conclusion in 2009, when ethnic Sinhalese-dominated government forces cornered the last Tamil Tiger rebels on a sliver of land in the northeast of the island nation.

About 300,000 Tamil civilians were caught in the climactic battle. Amnesty International says 7,000 to 40,000 are estimated to have died in the final five months as the two sides exchanged artillery and other fire. No independent group can say with certainty how many perished.

Journalists, human rights activists and all but a few humanitarian workers were barred from the battle zone.

The government in Colombo appointed a "Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission" last year, which has taken evidence from ethnic minority Tamils, government officials, politicians, civil and religious leaders and former rebels. International rights groups have refused to testify before it, saying the commission is pro-government and has no mandate to investigate the killings.

Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said the U.S. wanted to see a proper investigation into abuses by both sides in the conflict and was giving the Sri Lankan commission the chance to do so.

"We hope the Sri Lankans will themselves do this, but if they are not willing to take the accountability issue seriously, then there will be pressure from the international community to look at some kind of international option," Blake, who was serving as U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka at the end of the war, told The Associated Press.

According to a diplomatic cable published by the WikiLeaks website, Blake's successor as ambassador, Patricia Butenis, reported in January 2010 that there was little hope of Sri Lanka pressing for accountability as responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with senior civilian and military leaders. That included President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gen. Sarath Fonseka, who was army chief at the end of the war but is now a jailed opposition leader.

Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., who introduced the Senate resolution, said that a "state of denial" exists in the Sri Lankan government that is "not helpful" in achieving accountability for the bloodshed. He said the government, including its leaders, "has to be willing to subject itself to scrutiny."

Sri Lanka's External Affairs Ministry said Friday that "motivated groups" target influential bodies such as the Senate to persuade them "to adopt ill-founded positions." A ministry statement defended the Sri Lankan commission's work and said the attorney-general could institute criminal proceedings based on material it collects.

But Jim McDonald, Sri Lanka specialist for Amnesty International USA, said there was little point in waiting for the commission to complete its work, due in May, before opening an international probe. McDonald said the commission was failing even to challenge official assertions that government forces did not kill civilians.

"It's not really looking hard at what happened during the war and the thousands of civilians killed." McDonald said. "The commission is being used by the Sri Lankan government to deflect international pressure." ~ courtesy: Washington Post ~

March 07, 2011

New military headquarters built on graveyard earlier flattened by the army in northern Sri Lanka

by By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

A new military headquarters in northern Sri Lanka has been built on the site of a Tamil Tiger graveyard earlier flattened by the army, it has emerged.

The construction has come in for sharp criticism.

The army says it was allocated the plot as government land and that it was unaware of "unhappiness" over the site.

The Tamil Tigers departed from Hindu traditions of cremation and built large graveyards which experts say was part of a cult of martyrdom.

In May 2009 government forces defeated Tamil Tiger rebels fighting for a separate homeland. More than 70,000 people are estimated to have died in Sri Lanka's civil war which lasted for 26 years.

The army website has a full illustrated account of Friday's opening of the new headquarters for the 51 Division near Jaffna.

The website said it was declared open "amidst religious rites and rituals".

But it did not mention that on the same spot there used to stand a cemetery built by Tamil Tiger militants but destroyed by the army last year.

Tamil nationalists have already criticised the destruction of other Tiger graveyards in past years.

A former MP, MK Shivajilingam, said he was shocked because there were about 2,000 bodies of Tiger fighters on the site and there had been twice that number of memorial stones.

"How can the government build national reconciliation like this?" he said.

But army chief Jagath Jayasuriya told the BBC that having vacated its temporary premises in a Jaffna hotel, the 51 Division had to move to government land.

He said the military had been allocated this site which was owned by the prisons department, and he was "not aware of people expressing unhappiness".

Last year the government demolished the ancestral house of the late Tamil Tiger leader, Prabhakaran.

It says its policy is to wipe out any trace of the Tigers and ensure that their violence is forgotten.

It has however built several memorials to fallen government soldiers. ~ courtesy: BBC News ~

March 06, 2011

Credible domestic investigations into war crimes allegations is neither anti-patriotic nor a sell-out

by Kalana Senaratne

The latest development that has the effect of exerting considerable pressure, not only on the government of Sri Lanka but also the US, comes in the form of a US Senate Resolution (S. Res. 84), dated 1 March, 2011. It is broadly aimed at ‘Expressing support for internal rebuilding, resettlement, and reconciliation within Sri Lanka that are necessary to ensure a lasting peace.’

The resolution recognizes the establishment of the ‘Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC), it commends the establishment of the Panel of Experts by the UNSG Ban Ki-moon, and, inter alia, "calls on the Government of Sri Lanka, the international community, and the United Nations to establish an independent international accountability mechanism to look into reports of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations committed by both sides during and after the war in Sri Lanka and to make recommendations regarding accountability."

The above development coincides with the opening of the 16th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The UNSG-Panel is expected to finalize its report and provide advice to the UNSG. The LLRC too is supposed to finalize its own report or recommendations in the course of the next couple of months.

The Senate has made an unambiguous statement. Interestingly, representatives of the US government have done the same, on the issue of accountability; as Robert O. Blake, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs did, in a recent AFP-interview. Asst. Sec. Blake, highlighting the UN figures concerning the number of civilian deaths alleged to have taken place, states the importance of carrying out an investigation: "Those need to be investigated, preferably by the government of Sri Lanka and its own institutions." Having noted the work of the LLRC, he reiterates the above point, stating that "there are still a number of important steps to be taken, and our preference is that the Sri Lankans themselves take these. It’s always best for a host nation to take responsibility for these sensitive issues."

Now, there is much to be said about some of the issues raised by Asst. Sec. Blake, and there’s much more to be said about the kind of hypocrisy exhibited by such powers as the US on this topic of ‘accountability’. But it is necessary to recognize and bear in mind what these sentiments are meant to express in different words: the inability or unwillingness of a government to carry out an investigation concerning the allegations of civilian deaths leveled by the UN and other states such as the US; an inability or unwillingness from which arise serious legal and political ramifications, internationally. Where there is an inability or unwillingness to prosecute through domestic mechanisms, international law and international mechanisms come into play; as the principle of complementarity would suggest.

Interestingly, the External Affairs Ministry, in its comment on the Senate resolution (dated 4 April 2011), states the following: "It is a universally accepted legal principle that consideration needs to be given to international measures, only when national domestic recourse is unavailable." The EAM statement recognizes an important point, but the problem in Sri Lanka is not necessarily one of ‘unavailability’. Rather, the problem has to do with the proper and efficient functioning of domestic mechanisms which are already available. To restate the obvious, the mere availability of mechanisms does not resolve the problem of accountability.

It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that the mechanisms already available and established in the country are functioning effectively, which would have helped the state to answer the criticisms and allegations leveled against it and the Armed Forces. Emerging from its victories in May 2009 (the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE as well as the defeat of the Western-backed resolution at the UNHRC in Geneva), the government would have done well to act more responsibly regarding the need to ensure accountability, by carrying out proper investigations and inquiries into allegations of crimes committed during the final stages of the armed conflict, in particular.

One serious problem that gives rise to this seeming inability or unwillingness to carry out domestic investigations is the flawed perception that a domestic investigation is either anti-patriotic, or amounts to a ‘sell-out’ of the hard earned victories of the Armed Forces. A domestic investigation which is meant to investigate ‘allegations’ (note: ‘allegations’) cannot amount to a ‘sell-out’. If such an inquiry amounts to a ‘sell-out’, then the ‘selling-out’ took place a few years ago, when the present leadership decided to set up the ‘Udalagama Commission of Inquiry’. Also, if such inquiries were anti-nationalist or anti-patriotic, how could this very leadership have gone a step further and established that ‘International Independent Group of Eminent Persons’ (IIGEP), which was meant to observe or oversee the work of the national commission? It is therefore difficult to buy the ‘sell-out’ argument, or the anti-patriotic one.

What now? Much depends, at the moment, on what the UNSG-Panel has to say, and importantly, on what the LLRC has to say about the need or otherwise of domestic inquiries and investigations. It is still hoped that the LLRC will take a responsible and bold stand and make recommendations that will address the issue of accountability. A member of the LLRC, HMGS Palihakkara, recently stated during a lecture that we need 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." One is yet to see how this important message is translated into concrete recommendations when the report is released. The task is difficult, for it needs to be ensured that the next time commissions of inquiry are set out, they don’t turn out to be grand flops, like some of the commissions established in the past.

Another argument raised by some, especially in the Opposition, is that a political solution would be adequate to avert the pressure being exerted on the government to carry out investigations. This could be true, but it is questionable as to what this ‘political solution’ will turn out to be, and how long it will take for the political leadership to present or devise a ‘political solution’ that negates the necessity of an accountability process. UNP MP Lakshman Kiriella, who made some valuable remarks during a press conference recently (about the need to admit mistakes that may have been made, and desist from uttering the unbelievable, i.e. civilian casualties’) states that the UNP is ready to support the government. But what is its policy, really? What is the position of its ‘emerging leadership’ on the form and nature of this ‘political solution’? What of the Tamil political parties?

Finally, in that interview, Asst. Sec. Blake was asked an interesting question. The question was whether there is any way of getting past the question of accountability: is there a possibility to "sort of sweep it under the carpet and say okay look, start on a clean slate. Is there a possibility of that?" Asst. Sec. Blake replies: "I don’t think you can sweep it under the carpet."

‘Political solutions’ don’t fall from the sky. Carpets are tricky things too, especially if they are magic carpets that suddenly take flight, exposing everything hidden underneath. Ensuring accountability is essential, and if the government procrastinates, it will be doing so at its own peril. Sri Lanka cannot be seen to be unable or unwilling to investigate, not only because conclusive evidence that affirms its inability or unwillingness gives rise to serious consequences, but also because it will make the country look like a replica, a South Asian dummy, of Asst. Sec. Blake’s very own USA (what an awful prospect, that).

Satyagraha receives "Baptism of fire" on first day-50th Anniversary of 1961 Tamil Satyagraha - 3

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The batch of volunteers from the Kankesanthurai(KKS) electorate led by Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) leader Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam commenced their Satyagraha campaign opposite the Jaffna Kachcheri premises at 7. 30 am on February 20th 1961.

SBF36.jpg

It must be noted that the Jaffna Kachcheri was not housed then in the present building where it is situated now along the Jaffna –Kandy road or A-9 highway in the Chundikkuli area of Jaffna city.

The Kachcheri then was right opposite where it is now. The Kachcheri buildings were on the same Jaffna –Kandy highway on the other side of the road. Those premises were later called the Old Kachcheri building after the present two – storey new building was constructed. [click to read in full on ~ dbsjeyaraj.com]

March 05, 2011

Telephone call from Gaddafi to Rajapaksa shows Mahinda is on the wrong side of history

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

"When heads of state do not pay attention to the needs of their nation, the people take over”. Turkish President Abdullah Gul (During the February 2011 visit to Iran)

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“As he launched a series of murderous attacks against the protesting Libyan people, in a desperate bid prolong his 42 year-rule, Libya’s self styled ‘Brother Leader of the Revolution’ Muammar Gaddafi had a telephone conversation with Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. According to Libya’s official Al-Jamahiriyah TV.

Mr. Gaddafi informed Mr. Rajapaksa “about the extent of the conspiracy which targets the security, stability and national unity of the Libyan people”. In return President Rajapaksa “expressed his and Sri Lankan people's full solidarity with the Libyan people in the face of this conspiracy,” (quoted by the BBC – 4.3.2011).

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The raging Revolutionary Tsunami in the Arab World has caused a tectonic shift in world politics. Until Tunisia awakened from its decade-old slumber and threw out its dictator of 23 years, the war against terror was the defining issue on the global political stage. But democratic revolutions against long-term despotic rulers in Tunisia and Egypt gave birth to a new political conjuncture, characterised by popular struggles against tyranny. The new polarisation is between despotic rulers and their own subjugated people. These struggles can be peaceful, as in Tunisia or Egypt, but turn violent, when rulers respond with overwhelming force, leaving the protesting people little choice but to arm themselves as best as they can, as in Libya.

Peaceful or not, the Third World-wide struggles by ordinary citizens against their despotic rulers, for representative democracy and fundamental human rights, will be the defining issue of the 21st Century (or at least its first phase).

Friday’s call from Mr. Gaddafi to President Rajapaksa, and the latter’s response, indicate clearly where Rajapaksa Sri Lanka will be positioned in this epic struggle between Third World despots and Third World people. Rajapaksa Sri Lanka will be on the side of the despots; on the wrong side of history.

After the transformative 18th Amendment, which, by scrapping the term-limit clause, removed the last remaining barrier to long-term tyranny, no other fate is possible for Rajapaksa Sri Lanka.

Post-Mubarak Egypt’s constitutional proposals are out. Aimed at creating a constitutional and legal framework for the transformation of Egypt from despotism to democracy, these proposals demonstrate how, where and when Sri Lanka got it wrong. The amendments also help us achieve a clearer understanding of the very nature of the current political conjuncture. Its main battle cry is democracy; and the main enemy is none other than those Third World rulers who seek disempower their citizens, gather all power into their hands, to rule for life and to set in place political dynasties.

The Egyptian constitutional proposals have a clear purpose: to facilitate the country’s democratic transformation and prevent any future lapses into despotism. To achieve this aim, the new constitution will introduce a strict two-term presidency of four years each (a maximum of 8 years). As the reform-minded judge who heads Egypt’s new constitutional committee, Tarek El-Beshri, states, “This is the best way to ensure that future rulers do not have sufficient time to establish a power base strong enough to bring the old Pharaonic style back to the political system” (Al Ahram – 3-10.3.2011). This amendment will not only prevent the creation of life time presidents; according to Gamal Abdel-Gawad, head of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, it will also “help inject new blood and allow younger generations a chance of running the country” (ibid).

Other proposed amendments to the Egyptian constitution seek to reduce presidential powers. For instance, “As well as limiting the length and number of terms, the proposed amendments place restrictions on the power of the president to declare or renew a state of emergency. The declaration of a state of emergency will henceforth require approval in a public referendum, and will have a lifespan of just six months. Proposals to amend Article 189 to allow a 100-member commission drawn from parliament to draft a new constitution rather than leaving this in the hands of the president and a third of sitting MPs mark a further erosion of presidential prerogative. Full judicial supervision of elections is to be restored….” (ibid)

The main pillars of the new democratic Egyptian constitution are thus the antithesis of Sri Lanka’s 18th Amendment. This is no accident. The two constitutional changes have completely antithetical aims. The Egyptian amendments aim at preventing the creation of another life-time despot; the Lankan amendment aims at paving the way for a life-time despot.

Little wonder, then, that Rajapaksa Sri Lanka finds herself in the insalubrious company of despotic rulers across Asia and Africa, from Myanmar to Libya, from Zimbabwe to Saudi Arabia.

Little wonder, then, that ‘Brother Leader’ Gaddafi called President Rajapaksa in his hour of need and received sympathy and solidarity in abundance. Birds of a feather tend to flock together.

The Arab uprisings are not conspiracies. They are not directed nor managed by any outside force or entity. They are as indigenous as can be, and stem from the age-old human desire to be free. These upsurges are about democracy; the protestors in each country want their particular tyrant out and a system consisting of representative democracy, fundamental rights and the rule of law instituted in his stead. Some of the tyrants were/are key US allies, such as Egypt’s Mubarak, Yemen’s Ali Saleh and Bahrain’s Royal Family; some are former enemies turned politico-business partners, such as Libya’s Gaddafi; others are enemies, such as Syria’s Assad. What all of these disparate countries (some rich, some poor, some with oil, others without, some monarchies, others republics) have in common is long-term rule by a single leader/family and total absence of democracy and freedom. These societies are also extremely unequal and proverbially corrupt.

Take Libya for instance. Perhaps nothing reveals the anti-people nature of the Gaddafi regime, under its progressive veneer, than the enormous amounts of money the various members of the ruling family paid to obtain the services of internationally famous entertainers for their private parties, held in exotic locations faraway from Libya’s struggling masses. The amount of money spent on each entertainer is said to vary around US$1million and 2 million. News is also coming out about the huge sums of money paid by the Libyan regime to Western public relations firms to help it win influential friends in American and Europe (as a result a large number of public figures, from American conservatives to British liberals, undertook highly paid-visits to Libya and made positive remarks about the Gaddafi regime in public). At least this expenditure can be explained away as politically necessary for Mr. Gaddafi. Not so the huge sums of money paid to mainly American entertainers while one third of the Libyan populace lived in poverty. After all, the money paid by the Junior Gaddafis could not have been their money, but oil revenues which belong to the people of Libya and should have been spent on their upliftment.

It is these internal flaws, from tyranny and injustice to corruption, the protestors are focusing on, rather than the foreign policies of the various regimes. As Alain Gresh pointed out, “‘Neither with the West nor against it’ could be the slogan now across the Arab world… They will judge the West by its ability to defend the principles of justice and international law everywhere, particularly in Palestine. But they will no longer allow their governments to use the struggle against the West to justify tyranny” (Le Monde Diplomatique – March 2011; emphasis mine).

No ruler can admit that these are bona fide indigenous popular uprisings, by citizens whose tedium with long-term tyranny has boiled over into a burning anger and a fierce determination to be free at any cost. Making such an admission will be tantamount to self-de-legitimisation. So the tyrants need to come up with cover stories (which sound plausible to their distorted ears), to justify their continued rule and the brutal crackdowns needed to ensure that rule.

So across the Arab World, embattled rulers are trying to displace the blame for the turmoil engulfing their countries. Mr. Mubarak, an American lackey for 30 years, blamed the US, the West and the media, during his last incoherent days in power.

Mr. Gaddafi, sounding rather like Rev, Arthur Belling (Vicar of St. Loony Up The Cream Bun and Jam) in the Monty Python show, is blaming everyone from Osama bin Laden to the US for his woes. Mr. Saleh, another US stooge, is ranting at the Americans and the Israelis. These ravings by desperate despots would be funny except for the fact the raving desperate despots are heavily armed and are already using those weapons (supplied mostly by the West, even in Libya) against their own people, with horrendous results.

In the mid 19th Century, a series of popular uprisings swept across Europe, from backward provinces in divided Italy to the teeming suburbs in sophisticated France. The wave lasted around two years, ebbing and flowing, coalescing and dissolving. Some of the struggles were of a nationalist flavour while some had democratic hues, but all stemmed from profound mass discontent with moribund and unjust status quo. The struggles reached varying levels of success, but their cumulative impact changed Europe forever. No longer would European man and women be content to mind their little lives while supposedly inviolable Rulers ruled over them; no longer would Europe be a chess board for monarchs and popes.

The masses have arrived on the European political stage, to stay. In the next 50 years, universal male franchise became the European norm, which was then extended to adult women. Both achievements were the results of decades of struggle and sacrifice.

Predictably the newly empowered people did not always use their voting right wisely. And democracy did not save Europe from wars and massacres; revolutionary upheavals and economic disasters. But with the transformation of the subject into the citizen, people ceased being passive spectators of the fates of their countries; instead they became active participants. From now on the triumphs and tragedies, the successes and failures would be, in varying degrees, the responsibility of the people.

The Arab people today are roughly where the Europeans were 150 years ago. They too demand the right to guide their own destinies for better or for worse.

Democracy is neither won nor defended easily. Nor can it guarantee peace and prosperity; or wisdom. People often vote to disempower themselves, as the Germans did in 1933 and Sri Lankans did in 2010. But tyranny, even when it seems most powerful and stable, is living on borrowed time. Those on the wrong side of history will someday be submerged by history, as the Gaddafis and the Rajapaksas of this world will discover, sooner or later.

Gaddafi call to President Mahinda "Bad News" - HRW

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch, NY has remarked via twitter on reports of Libya's Gaddafi calling President Mahinda Rajapaksa as follows:

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Kenneth Roth [on twitter.com/KenRoth]

"Bad news: BBC reports Libya's Gaddafi called SriLanka Pres Mahinda, known for indiscriminate warfare & atrocities in fighting insurgency."

According to Sri Lanka Government official news site, Sri Lanka asked Gaddafi to "establish peace in Libya" during a telephone conversation.

News.lk website further states:

Presidential Media Director General Mr, Bandula Jayasekara told Information Department that Sri Lankan President has made this request to the Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi when he telephoned Sri Lankan President.

Mr. Rajapaksa told Gaddafi "Establish peace in Libya as soon as possible and safeguard the lives of Libyan people" said the Presidential spokesman.

Meanwhile Sri Lanka has chartered a flight to evacuate its nationals working in Libya. The charter flight carrying 400 workers will arrive in Sri Lanka this weekend, an official of the External Affairs ministry said. Already 160 workers have returned to the country. There were about 1200 expatriate Sri Lankans working in Libya and many of them now want to be repatriated. The Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau is making the logistics with the External Affairs Ministry to bring back the Lankans who are trapped in Libya.

Sri Lanka Information Department: http://twitter.com/newsdotlk

Tamil asylum seekers intercepted in 2009 by Indonesian authorities released after gaining refugee status in Australia

March 5, 2011

A large of group of Tamil asylum seekers intercepted in 2009 by Indonesian authorities following a call from Kevin Rudd have been released after gaining refugee status.

At least 10 of the group who were aboard a boat carrying 254 asylum seekers on their way to Australia were released from detention on Friday with more to be let go in the coming weeks.

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250 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers headed for Australia arrive on their boat in Merak, Indonesia. Photo: Irwin Fedriansyah - courtesy: Sydney Morning Herald

The large group of asylum seekers have been in the Tanjung Pinang Detention Centre on the island of Bintan since October 2009.

The Indonesian navy intercepted their boat - known as the Jaya Lestari 5 - on October 11, 2009 after then-Prime Minister Rudd personally asked Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to prevent it reaching Australian waters.

However, after being towed to the port of Merak, in West Java, those aboard refused to leave, prompting a six months standoff.

Speaking from the detention centre on Friday, one of the asylum seekers, who expects to be released within the next week, said he was ecstatic that his ordeal would soon be over.

Nimal Nimalaharan said: "Most of the group had been granted refugee status". ~ courtesy: Sydney Morning Herald ~

Govt. TNA discussions a sham charges Suresh Premachandran

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Though the government has had discussions with Tamil political parties on arriving at a political solution to the ethnic issue, this is solely to pacify the international community as nothing concrete has been achieved even after months of discussions said Jaffna district Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP Suresh Premachandran, adding that pronouncements that discussions are being held with the TNA to reach a political solution are misleading.

The discussions between the government and the TNA began in mid 2010, shortly after the General Elections in April in which the TNA won an overwhelming majority of the electorates in the North and the East. In view of the lack of progress and with nothing accomplished, the TNA is to decide whether to continue having talks with the government over this vexed issue.

In addition, despite these discussions being officially on, TNA MPs were not invited to the District Progress Committee meeting held last week with the meeting scheduled for March 1, also postponed indefinitely, since ministers are busy with work connected to the local government elections.

“Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe speaking before the Human Rights Council in Geneva had said that the government is conducting a dialogue with Tamil parties, especially the TNA. He spoke about the discussions they had with us on constitutional changes. This is absurd. We did not talk about constitutional changes. It is becoming increasingly clear that the government is using these ‘talks’ to pacify and at the same time mislead the international community,” said MP Premachandran.

The TNA believes that the discussions should lead to concrete results including a programme to address the issues faced by the residents in the North and the East. Although initially there was a dialogue about conducting these meetings to achieve specific goals within a given time frame, the government delegation had not agreed to the terms set out.

“They told us that this was too complex to be conducted within a set time frame. But after months, we have achieved nothing and the people are losing faith. So we will give this a few more months and then take a decision on how we should proceed thereafter,” he said.

The discussions between the TNA and the government began in June 2010 as TNA leader R. Sampanthan met President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The TNA won almost all electorates in the North and a majority in the East in last April’s General Elections and they requested the government to include them in the rehabilitation and resettlement process in the North.

Around the same time the government of India and several European Union countries applied pressure on the government to speak to the TNA to reach a settlement regarding the Tamil problem. After the initial discussion between Sampanthan and President Rajapaksa, two teams from the respective parties were appointed - Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka, Nimal Siripala De Silva, Prof G.L. Peiris and Sajin Vaas Gunawardena were nominated by the government and R. Sampanthan, Suresh Premachandran, M.A. Sumanthiran and President’s Council K. Kanageshwaran were appointed to speak on behalf of the Tamil parties.

“The two teams met for discussions in January and we discussed resettlement, High Security Zones and the plight of the detainees. We urged the government to release a list of names of the detainees in the camps. At that time, nearly 11000 people were in camps, and even now over 6000 are still in camps,” Premachandran said.

Responding to the TNA’s request the government delegation told the TNA during their meeting in February that the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) has compiled a list of names of the detainees. Relatives and family members of those who have been detained could search the data base available at the TID office in Vavuniya.

“We asked them whether we could inform our constituencies and they said we could. We then did so, through the media and through our grassroots activists. However, when people went to the TID office in Vavuniya they were told that there was no such list and that it was a TNA election gimmick.”

Premachandran added that they wrote back to the government seeking a clarification about the issue but so far no response has been received from the government. He added that this maybe one of the reasons why the government might have postponed the scheduled meeting on March 1.

“We were initially told that discussions should happen bi-weekly. However, it’s difficult to meet the government delegation even once a month. It’s disheartening that after months of discussions we have achieved nothing and as time goes on we are missing out on opportunities to win the confidence of the Tamil people,” he averred.

Providing a political solution to the ethnic conflict has been a much discussed topic in the last few decades and many committees have been appointed (in the past) to look into the issues. The main objective for the discussions between the two parties was to find a common ground for the Tamil problem.

The government has requested the TNA to provide a precise proposal regarding the matter which exercise the TNA thinks is a waste of time considering the work that has already been done with regard to devolution of power in the last few decades.

“We reminded the government delegation that the President had agreed to a maximum devolution of powers that would not compromise territorial integrity and the sovereignty of the country. We reminded them about the APRC proposals and said that we are ready to accept a united Sri Lanka. If the government is serious they can start from these proposals but I don’t think they are serious about this at all. This appears to be mere eyewash,” he added.

The Rajapaksa administration has put great emphasis on economic and infrastructure development as an alternative to devolution. However, despite the claims of the government that they are conducting a massive economic drive in the North through the Uthuru Wasanthaya (Northern Spring) programme, nothing significant has been done to enhance the living standards of the people. Premachandran said that although infrastructure like roads and bridges are essential, not a single factory has been opened in the North that would provide employment opportunities.

“All the banks are in Jaffna, from HSBC to BoC because the government has asked them to open branches. But what is interesting to find out would be the number of transactions that have taken place. If you look at the Jaffna landscape it is still very much war torn,” MP Premachandran said.

Although 50,000 houses have been promised to the residents of the Vanni by the Indian government, so far not a single house has been built and people are gradually losing hope of a quick return to normalcy. The TNA MP added that though the situation is dire some of the aid given for the northern rehabilitation has been channelled to the President’s pet projects in the South.

Recently 500 tractors were donated by the Indian government to farmers in the Vanni, where nearly 10,000 tractors were destroyed due to the war. However, nearly 200 tractors have been channelled to development projects in the South and for the use of security personnel.

“Is this the so called development? What are roads without jobs and freedom? We are doing our best to help those in need through the Tamil diaspora and with diplomats,” he said.

Premachandran added that the NGO run by Kumaran Pathmanadan alias KP has received 100 acres from the Vanni and that he has been visiting Jaffna and the Vanni frequently in the last few months. Although KP has the freedom to go anywhere in the North, opposition political parties cannot enter certain areas and are kept waiting for several hours.

“This is an example of the duplicity of the government when it comes to the democratic rights of the people. There is no freedom of movement, association or expression in the North. The army and its intelligence unit are always present at all gatherings and the civil administrative officers are powerless before them. This has led to the northern residents being hesitant to engage in politics,” Premachandran added.

The TNA, the strongest party in the North finds it very difficult to find candidates under 35 years due to continuous intimidation by the security forces. After nominations, the security forces have visited homes of TNA and JVP candidates and questioned them.

“People are afraid to come out. Parents are worried and don’t want their children to engage in politics. This is bad for democracy. The youth are the driving force in any political party. When there is no public space for politics, the youth have always gone underground. Take the examples in both the North and the South. This is the very reason why the government should establish democracy and guarantee the fundamental rights of the people,” he stressed. ~ courtesy: Lakbima News ~

Mahinda emulates Marie Antoinete in responding to query about rising cost of living

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Believe that a further shore is reachable from here.” — Seamus Heaney, The Cure At Troy

Last month Mahinda Rajapaksa had his very own Marie Antoinette moment. Questioned about galloping inflation, at his February meeting with media heads, the President stated that “there was no cost-of-living issue” (The Sunday Leader – 27.2.2011).

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As substantiation, he told the tale of a man who bought a car for a monthly installment of Rs.24,000 on a monthly income of Rs.28,000. The real problem is “the inability of the people to prioritise their spending patterns,” opined the President, even as he treated the gathering to a lavish repast, at public expense!

President Rajapaksa is reputed to be a man who understands the pulse of the people, an organic leader of the Sinhalese. Indeed, he has managed to carry his primordial support base with him, even when he did things which went against its grain, such as the witch-hunt against the other Sinhala-hero, Gen. Sarath Fonseka. His strategy has been to cajole and frighten his Sinhala-base into backing him unconditionally, by drawing word-pictures of prosperous futures or terrifying enemies.

Why did the President suddenly abandon these proven methods of mirage-making and fear-mongering, especially vis-à-vis an issue which is of singular concern to his Sinhala-base? After all he could have found any number of ‘reasonable’ excuses for burgeoning food prices, from calamitous weather conditions and rising world-market prices to subversive importers and greedy wholesalers. But he did not. Instead he denied the very existence of a COL crisis and went on to blame the masses for their own economic woes.

Denial and victim-bashing are favoured Rajapaksa methods in dealing with minorities or political opponents. The regime has denied the existence of an ethnic problem, civilian casualties and human rights violations and blamed victims for their own plight; for instance, the disappeared, such as Prageeth Ekneligoda, were blamed for their own disappearances!

Until last month, the President did not apply this ruthless and insulting treatment to his Sinhala base. Was his Marie Antoinette moment a mere gaffe or does it indicate a radical policy-shift? Are we entering a period when the traditional Rajapaksa sauce for the minority/dissident goose will be applied, with increasing regularity, to the Sinhala gander

Sri Lanka has a vampiric ruling caste. Shortly after the President, who is being maintained at public expense, lectured the public, which does not enjoy such generous handouts, about the importance of proper expenditure management, 35 of his ministers demanded government housing in Colombo. These welfare-moguls already draw a monthly rent-allowance of Rs.50,000 each but argue that this sum (which is more than double the country’s per capita income) is inadequate to rent a house to commensurate with their elevated standing. The Minister of Public Administration has promised a ‘prompt solution’ to this problem, which unlike the COL issue, is a real crisis, at least in the eyes of the regime.

Denying the existence of an ethnic problem freed the Rajapaksas from seeking a political solution. It has also enabled the regime to de-legitimise Tamil struggles (however democratic or peaceful) for political rights by branding them Tiger/terrorist. A similar logic could have prompted the President to declare cost-of-living a non-issue. A non-existent crisis does not require resolution (in the form of lower prices or higher incomes). This frees the regime to continue with its deadly brew of neo-liberal economics, uninhibited corruption and gargantuan waste. Most importantly, it enables the Rajapaksas to brand trade-union actions or popular demonstrations on the COL issue as subversive and anti-patriotic and crush them mercilessly.

Employing the twin tactics of problem-denial and victim-bashing vis-à-vis one’s primary vote-base is not exactly intelligent behaviour in an election season. The curious timing of this (curiouser) ‘shift’ indicates that the regime does not feel seriously challenged by the local government election. The main reason for this sanguinity is not the enfeebled opposition (a staple of many years) but the 18th Amendment. That piece of legislation is to Sri Lanka what the Enabling Law was to Nazi Germany; it has secured for the Ruling Family a system of elections with predetermined-results (via a supremely accommodative Elections Commissioner and an equally malleable police chief). This election season therefore is different from all previous ones; consequently the Rajapaksas have little cause to mind their language or improve their performance (thus probably their lackadaisical attitude towards flood-relief).

While the regime plans to give more handouts to ministers in the form of palatial houses, hundreds of thousands of people displaced by war/calamitous weather-conditions still suffer from inadequate shelter. And around 70,000 families in Colombo are in the process of being rendered homeless, in the largest land-grabbing exercise since Colonial times. Power-wielders have expropriated 1,300 acres of land in Kilinochchi, expelling the legal owners to uncleared forest-land. In Kuchchaveli, another 500 acres of land are being leased to hoteliers, endangering the livelihood of 5000 resident fishermen plus many more seasonal fishermen.

(Ambassador Palitha Kohona has urged the world to stop scratching a wound Sri Lanka is desperately trying to heal, an advice he should tender first to his political-masters. How would those Tamil people expelled from their traditional lands into jungles feel about Sri Lankan justice? What about that abominable act of placing the bodies of three dogs at the cremation site of Velupillai Pirapaharan’s mother? Since Jaffna is under tight military control, the claim that the regime had nothing to do with this uncivilised-deed is far from credible. Do not such acts amount to spiking the ‘wound’ repeatedly, with sharp instruments?)

Budding despots, who plan to rule for life and scheme to create political-dynasties, cannot afford to admit the existence of too many problems. After all, if problems (old and new) abound, that is both a tacit admission of failure and a potent argument for change.

Therefore despots cannot but seek refuge in denial; they need to create their own roseate-hued politico-psychological landscape, which is increasingly at variance with an unpalatable reality. For despots, delusion is a survival mechanism. How else can they maintain that their rule has been, is and will be beneficial? How else can they argue that deluge will follow their departure? Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi, in his insistence that Libyans love him and will die for him, even as the said Libyans are risking their lives to oust him, is symbolic of this terrifying politico-psychological condition which is the inevitable fate of most dynastic despots.

Hitherto, the Rajapaksa hegemony in the South was impeccable. This perfect-state ended with Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Marie Antoinette moment. The unravelling of Southern consent to Rajapaksa rule is on, though many years of barely-noticed erosion will precede any visible signs of the eventual avalanche. As economic woes pile-up, the gap between the Rajapaksas and their Sinhala base will begin to widen. This process of politico-psychological separation will happen in fits and starts; it will be delayed considerably by the President’s still extant popularity and his skilful use of the patriotic card.

Mass illusions do not die easily, quickly or painlessly. But with Mahinda Rajapaksa himself opting to deny the very existence of a COL problem, an issue which is of critical import to his Sinhala base, the parting of ways has begun.

cartoon: courtesy of Toonpool.com

Book in honour of Prof. K. Kailasapathy: Early Historic Tamil Nadu c. 300 BC -300 CE

Reviewed by Bandu de Silva

Way back in the early 1950s, Prof.Kailasapathy, former Prof. of Tamil in the University of Jaffna was two years my junior at the University of Ceylon. Perhaps, he may have been a first year student there when I attended lectures in the Tamil Department there on Sangam literature as suggested by my Professor, Hemachandra C. Ray. My attendance was facilitated by my kinsman, Dr M.H. Peter Silva who was a lecturer in Tamil in the Department.

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Portrait of Professor K.Kailsapathy, President (1974~1977) of University of Jaffna (Picture By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai - more pictures from Jaffna ~ via Jaffna mobile moments)

I still remember the expressions on the faces of students when they learnt about the new discoveries of ancient Tamil Sangam anthologies. These anthologies had opened a new vista for educated Tamils, to learn about their very ancient roots. If the earlier claim of the ‘Aryanisation’ of India and the Vedic civilization it brought about had thrown a veil of gloomy ignorance (agnana-timira) of ‘inferiority’ over those who spoke ‘non-Aryans’ languages, the discovery and collation of these Sangam anthologies by French scholars, as I was to learn in learned circles in Paris later, went a long way to removing that veil.

Wheeler’s new archaeological discoveries at Arikemadu supported by further discoveries by Gordon Childe, which placed South Indian chronology on par with that of the Roman trading activity overseas, if not at its height of prosperity but at least in the decadent period when copper coins replaced the much valued gold Dinar, nay, a Roman settlement itself at Arikemadu, the collation of several hundred Sangam fragments gave the Tamil antiquity which had earlier been built on hypothesis of language correlates that Mcrindle had conjured up in the 19th century, a much wanted boost up.

The Sangam finds which were placed in the first few centuries of the Christian era were thought to be dating even earlier based as per, internal evidence of texts which pointed to the earlier existence of the Sangam tradition. The analogy was like that of Sri Lankan Pali chronicles which were claimed to be based on earlier Atthakatha Mahavamsa. The finds of Prakrit and Tamil Brahmi inscriptions among the early cave inscriptions in Pandya (near Madura) and elsewhere and the correlation established with over1440 such Prakrit Brahmi inscriptions found and published in Sri Lanka, as well as the finds of Tamil Brahmi scribbling on potsherds in numerous places in South India helped to support the idea of Sangam chronology being based a few centuries before the Christian era.

As an Indian reviewer put it, “it was by the turn of the last century that the corpus of literature in Tamil known popularly as “Sangam literature” was brought to light from near oblivion. The hitherto accepted canons of Tamil literature were upturned, at least in Tamil Nadu, although Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) continued to cherish the old canon of Saivite literature. That proved to be the beginning of a new chapter in the understanding of the history and culture of early South India. A veritable revolution, it claimed a place for Tamil along with other classical languages such as Sanskrit, Greek and Latin.”

It was against this over enthusiasm created by Sangam anthologies to reconstruct not only the chronology of the Tamil civilisation in southern India but also the evidence they threw out on state formation, governance, social history, and economic and religious atmosphere that our scholar, Kailasapathy emerged.

As Kesavan Veluthat who reviewed the felicitation volume five months back remarked, Kailasapathy was a “…somewhat unorthodox” author. When his book Tamil Heroic Poetry was published in 1968, what it contained was nerve-chilling for the champions of the Glory that was Tamilakam.”

He goes on to say ‘He opened his book with the somewhat shocking statement that “The title Cankam Poetry is a misnomer”……and “…….went on to show that early Tamil literature would make better sense when analysed within the framework of what is described as heroic poetry, using the techniques of studying oral literature

Taking the cue from the monumental work of H.M. and N.K. Chadwick, ‘The Growth of Literature’, and following the results of the analyses of Teutonic, Greek, Icelandic, Slavonic, Sanskrit, Sumerian, and African oral poetry, Kailasapathy demonstrated that early Tamil poetry was basically oral in character. He also applied the results of Milman Parry's analysis of Homeric epics, which had attained the status of a “universal theory” for studying heroic poetry.”

For those nationalist minded Tamils in South India, and some of the confused Sri Lankan Tamil scholars who do not know whether to claim their descent from South India or project an indigenous –development theory for Sri Lankan Tamils based on Naga, Yakkha, and Vaddoid origin, Kailasapathy’s unorthodox and critical approach to Sangam literature was a pain in the eye.

As such, as Veluthat says, “his work was ignored in South India for a long time because South Indians like many of the Sangam over-adoring Sri Lankan Tamil scholars, (the parallel of Mahavamsa adorers among the Sinhalese) belieived in “unabashed glorification of the past of southern India, with every one of the constituents with which nationalist writers make the “classical” identified there, …..”in the process, history” being turned into “less about the past than about the present; and evidence” becoming “a nuisance, a liability”……. “Interpreting texts within their context became unheard of. If a historian here wrote with some semblance of methodological rigour or a literary critic there showed some sense of comparative literature, they were treated as so many traitors and they were met not exactly with academic criticism.”

“It is against this background of near jingoism that one has to place the work of Kanagasabapathy Kailasapathy”, wrote the learned reviewer. “The revolution brought about by the discovery of Sangam literature was matched only by the kind of unorthodox and critical thinking that he inaugurated in the analysis of this early literature and the society studied on its basis. Perhaps the Ceylonese origin of Kailasapathy, as well as of other scholars who have contributed immensely to the study of early South Indian history, such as Kathigesu Sivathamby or Sudarshan Seneviratne and the editor of this volume, is significant, because they are heirs to a tradition that did not quite idolise Sangam literature.”

The Editor of the present volume, K.Indrapala too displayed these scholarly traits when he wrote his PhD Thesis and the Paper to the RAs Journal on “Early Tamil Settlements in Ceylon” though he succumbed to political/ethnic pressure finally to produce his new book “Evolution of an Ethnic Identity” (2005). However, it is refreshing to see him offering to edit the volume in dedication to his former colleague whom the country lost at the young age of 49 years.

The present book in honour of Kailasapathy is not a massive volume. It contains only five contributions besides the Introduction by the Editor, K. Indrapala and an essay taken from the late Professor’s major work, ‘Tamil Heroic Poetry’ which as the editor observes, still forms a valuable assessment of the literary sources. Prof. Subbarayalu’s essay on historical implications of names in Tamil –Brahmi inscriptions is a valuable study not only for South Indian studies but also in respect of Sri Lankan Prakrit (Proto-Sinhala) -Brahmi inscriptions, if undertaken in depth by a future Sinhalese or other scholarship. An interesting point that Prof. Subrayalu makes on the identity of authors of the Prakrit Brahmi in South India is that some of them could have come from Sri Lanka while the majority may have come from the north. The purpose of this long distance travel he says, could be both pilgrimage and trade.

However, he argues more in favour of the latter because except for cave inscriptions in and around Madurai the sites of others have no religious significance. This observation also supports Raman’s observation that Prakrit Brahmi in South India could be a reverse process from Sri Lanka. These conclusions are supported by the fact that the island has the largest collection of Brahmi inscriptions found in the whole peninsular India/Sri Lanka. This is a point that has not been emphasized enough by scholars. The significant contribution of Prakrit- Brahmi to Sri Lanka’s state formation, cultural, religious and social development has then to be recognized and recent debates by quasi-historians to deny this have to be rejected.

K. Rajan reviews evidence on the presence of Tamil Brahmi in Tamil Nadu commencing from pre-Asokan dates. He also draws attention to two finds of Tamil Brahmi in Sri Lanka, one occurring in a seal found at Annaikoddai in the Jaffna peninsula (Raghupathy) and another in a potsherd far south in Tissamaharama (Mahadevan/Raghupathy).

However, this has not led to the conclusion of presence of wide use of Tamil Brahmi in the island. The Tissamaharama find with its peculiar reading by Mahadevan, the first three letters from right to left and the last two letters after graffiti in the middle, from left to right, to give a meaning to the scribble has even led to reservations on the part of Raghupathy who says there could be alternate readings. (TamilNet, 28, 7, 2010.)

As Rajan points out, what is present in the island on a far wider scale is the use of Prakrit Brahmi to an extent not found anywhere in India (1440 cave inscriptions have been published) while none such Prakrit Brahmi inscriptions have been found in the Cola country (Rajan,2009). Nevertheless, he draws attention to similarities in Sri Lankan Prakrit Brahmi and the Tamil Brahmi script found in South India. There is a very learned discussion on the Tamil Brahmi and Sri Lankan [Prakrit] Brahmi without the polemics customarily found in the writings of some Tamil writers.

Rajan even makes reference to the suggestion that the script might have been introduced in Tamil Nadu from Sri Lanka (Raman quoted by Deraniyagala /Subbarayalu).

The essay by Prof. Champakalakshmi presents an overview of social formation in Tamil Nadu. Her emphasis on the need to introduce new perspectives to understand the transformation of Tamil society from the Early Iron Age to the early Historical period and to the later period is something that Sri Lankan scholarship should address itself.

Dr.Indrapala’s essay on ‘People and Language’ as a ‘Prelude to the emergence of Tamil identity’ is an interesting one. Speaking of Tamil Nadu of the Early Historic Period as a Land filled with a conglomeration of ethnic and social groups as well as ‘lineage groups,’ also with evidence of tribalism and localism, he thinks if there was anything there was unifying people it was language, ‘Tamilakam’- Tamil land. This is a view that could be applied in the case of Sri Lanka as well, how the early Prakrit Brahmi cave writing is seen as a unifying factor of all communal groups in the island, including Kambujas, Damedas, Milakas (Mlecchas) and others. But in the midst of arguments trying to prove that Sri Lankan Prakrit Brahmi referred to as Proto-Sinhala by some, this important point is lost in Sri Lanka.

In Tamil Nadu, Indrapala speaks also of different layers of ethnicity, with a common identity, at the top, as Tamil speakers. Tamils as a dominant group does not find mention but is referred to in sources of neighbouring groups, [e,g. those of Sri Lankans (Hela), Andhras and northern Prakrit-speaking Buddhists]. He sites the analogy of the Germans who did not call themselves ‘German’ though others did. Would this be a proper answer to those who argue, for the purpose of scoring points in the debate of ‘who came first to the island’, that ‘Simhala’ was not used by the Sri Lankans to identify themselves till late centuries? It is, then an observation that should apply to the Sri Lankan situation where the early Prakrit Brahmi inscriptions do not refer to ‘Simhala’ as a people, language or even a land, though it is used by neighbouring groups, e.g. Kalinga, (2nd century B.C. Hathigumpa inscription ), Andhra (Upasika Bodhi Sri’s 4th century A.C. inscription), Samudragupta’s 5th century A.C. Pillar inscription and the number of Chinese references from pre-christian times as a reference to people and the land, and Buddhagosa (5th century A.C.) to the language itself when he speaks of it as a Manoramam (pleasant) language.

In this discussion, Indrapala also brings in the ‘Nagas’ but the discussion is subdued and does not try to link them with Tamils as such. Speaking of another people called ‘Ilavar,’ he quotes the interesting Kerala tradition that ‘Ilavars’ came from Sri Lanka an introduced coconuts!

As a whole, the discussions go to show the close link that Sri Lanka has had with Southern India including Kerala in the early phase leading to state formation which should not be overlooked in the midst of the overtly north Indian biased early chronicler tradition and the single interpretation of Sri Lankan Prakrit Brahmi as a derivation of Asokan Brahmi. This should, however, not lead to an over-emphasis of the South Indian link to the exclusion of the northern influence which commenced with the introduction of Buddhism and Prakrit Brahmi writing in the 3rd century, if not earlier. The views expressed in this volume and elsewhere that the Prakrit Brahmi of South India could be the result of a reverse flow from Sri Lanka should also deserves attention, notwithstanding the view expressed by the leading south Indian epigraphist that Prakrit Brahmi inscriptions relate not to donations of caves to the Buddhists Sangha but to Jain ascetics. The latter view would look like a bit of our own Paranvitana’s views at times!

Even on historical issues, one sees how even experts in respective fields are still moving towards ‘single cause’ theory or substituting such a ‘single cause’ theory as against another despite paying lip service to new methodologies that have evolved. Sociologists like Michael Mann completely and forcibly reject the evolutionary model resulting from a natural progression from pre-historic societies to civilization and called for what he calls, “polymorphous crystallization” based on ecological exploration of different sociospatial, overlapping, intersecting networks. In Sri Lanka, we have the famous case of the first Capital Anuradhapura, which has disproved the evolutionary explanation and points definitively to an imposition on the environment which has given credence to the account in Mahavamsa of Pandukabhaya building the metropolis.(Deraniyagala on results of exploration at the Citadel).

That it took nearly thirty years to honour this scholar, who transferred himself from journalism – he was Editor –in - chief of Thinakaran, the Tamil Daily - to the world of academia and followed his post-graduate training at Birmingham University under the guidance of Prof. George Thompson, a scholar reputed not only as a Classical scholar but even more importantly, for his Marxist orientation, are matters for reflection. When one recalls the unwelcome response his major work on ‘Tamil Heroic Poetry’ received in South India, as reviewer Veluthat recalled,(Frontline) and Editor Indrapala’s own experience of having to leave the country under pressure from Sri Lankan Tamil nationalists and pro-Eelamists, am I then right in asking if the resurrection of men like Kailasapathy who were intellectually honest and bold enough to express views which were not very palatable to the ‘nationalist’ minded Tamils in South India and pro-Eelamist, as also applied to Indrapala in Sri Lanka and in the Diaspora who were not prepared to listen to an alternate point of view, had to await the first signs of the emerging collapse of the LTTE and pro-Eelamist support to it which had presented an impediment to honest scholarship, to honour this scholar?

I am pleased to note also, the Editor, Indrapala’s more moderated and scholarly views presented in the present volume.

The collection of essays in this volume are a valuable addition to the study of history of South India and gives an insight into the new approach to history some of the South Asian scholars are prepared to introduce. Besides, it provides valuable insights into the study of Sri Lanka’s pre-historic, proto-historic and early historic past and helps discard some of the parochial view now being presented. The book can be recommended to readers who are interested in dispassionate study of Sri Lankan as well as south Indian history.

March 04, 2011

Why religion, discussions of karma and intention, restrict genuine reconciliation between Sinhala and Tamil communities

by Amarnath Amarasingam

Over the past month, there has been some speculation among members of the global Tamil community on whether Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited Texas to obtain cancer treatment in secret. The story in itself is not particularly interesting, but it does have relevance for the post-conflict situation in Sri Lanka. Many reacted to the news not with sadness, but with a sense that cosmic justice was being meted out.

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Ruwanveli Seya ~ Moon Stone - by: Manori R

Some argued that Rajapaksa, responsible for mass human rights violations during the final months of the Sri Lankan civil war, was now getting his just desserts. Although many nationalist Tamils profess to be atheist or secular, the reaction to the news was always framed in Hindu and Buddhist notions of karma, popularly defined in the West as "what goes around comes around."

For Sinhala soldiers as well, the notion of karma was ever-present throughout the war with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which came to a bloody conclusion in May 2009. As Daniel Kent's recent research makes clear, Buddhist monks blessed Sri Lankan soldiers before they went out for training, preached at their funerals, and counseled soldiers and their families about the conduct of war and its justification.

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“there is real debate within the Sri Lankan army about notions of karma and intention in the killing of enemy soldiers”

For many years, scholarship on Buddhism, and Eastern religious traditions generally, was often guided by a crude assumption that Western religions held a monopoly on violence, while the East was largely peaceable. Over the last several years, research into conflict in Buddhist societies has forced scholars to rethink our assumptions. According to Kent's research in Sri Lanka, for example, there is real debate within the Sri Lankan army about notions of karma and intention in the killing of enemy soldiers. While there are many different aspects to the discussion, I focus here on one important question: whether religion, particularly discussions of karma and intention, restrict genuine reconciliation between Sinhala and Tamil communities in post-conflict Sri Lanka. I rely heavily on Kent's research on the Sri Lankan army, but much of what follows can likely be applied to the Tamil community as well.

Karma may complicate moves toward reconciliation in Sri Lanka, firstly, by assigning causal explanations to events that are largely inexplicable. Kent recalls interviewing a Sri Lankan Corporal, named Specs, at Panagoda army camp near Colombo, who told the story of narrowly escaping a blast from an improvised explosive device. His friend, who was not so lucky, was blinded and had both of his hands blown off. For Specs, his survival is explained with reference to karma. "That sort of thing must occur as the result of merit," he says, "one becomes disabled like this because of some sort of negative karma, but one's life is saved because one has done some sort of merit. That is what we think. It must be that. It is the way of karma." Not only do karmic explanations bring a spiritual rationalization to bear on worldly events, but these justifications often tend to be self-serving. In other words: I survived because I am good.

Perhaps more important for our present purposes is the way in which karma is linked with intention. Kent interviewed one monk, the Venerable Pilassi Vimaladhajja, who pointed out that negative karma does not accrue when an enemy is killed. "Vimaladhajja is not giving soldiers a blank check to kill whomever they wish while fighting the enemy," writes Kent, "He stresses that if a soldier has the intention to kill, a negative karma occurs. If a soldier's intention is to fight the enemy in order to protect the country and religion, however, their actions do not produce negative consequences." As Kent observes, those who hold this belief look at killing as secondary with the primary intention being the protection of the country.

As with the example above, however, it is assumed that karma, as a cosmic force, is supremely capable of discovering one's underlying intentions. Depending on how the soldier's life subsequently turns out, his ideas of karma and intention may have to be re-evaluated. As one soldier told Kent: "Honestly it is possible to rape and pillage during war without being caught. However, if you do that, nothing will ever go right for you ... there was one incident when we were in Trinco ... the Tamils had cultivated a field and left it. Our guys went and harvested the rice. They harvested the rice, sold it and took the money ... there were 21 guys who did that. All 21 of them were killed on the same day at the same time."

Such faith that karma will mete out punishment with mathematical certainty may work against the potential for remorse, regret or reconciliation. The very fact that some soldiers are still alive and living a life of health, wealth and happiness, is, with profound circular logic, seen as evidence of just conduct during war. This, in essence, is the problem with karma.

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

He can be reached at: amar2556@wlu.ca [This article first appeared in the Huffington Post]

Framers of US Senate Resolution 84 text overlooked capacity of the LLRC - Ministry of External Affairs

'Framers of Senate Resolution 84 text overlooked capacity and strong track record of the LLRC to work for reconciliation and strengthening of national amity'

External Affairs Ministry comment on Resolution S. 84 adopted by the United States Senate

The Ministry of External Affairs wishes with regard to the Resolution (S.Res.84) adopted by the Senate of the United States on 1st March 2011, to emphasize the following:

(a) the Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) of Sri Lanka has a wide ranging mandate, which among other matters clearly empowers the Commission to inquire into and report on the sequence of events up to the 19th of May 2009. Hence, the LLRC mandate necessarily includes the capacity to consider any evidence indicating violations of international humanitarian or human rights law ;

(b) the LLRC has set about its task in a most proactive manner. The Commission has made it a point to engage in field visits to several locations in the areas that were affected by the conflict situation. This has enabled the Commission to gather testimony from affected civilians including those in places of detention, rehabilitation and welfare centres for the internally displaced. The material placed before the LLRC has also led to the Commission presenting a set of Interim Recommendations to the President of Sri Lanka. In order to follow up on these Recommendations, the President and the Cabinet of Ministers have established an Inter-Agency Advisory Committee ;

(c) the LLRC has been established under the Commissions of Inquiry Act. The strength it draws from its mandate has been bolstered by the legislation enacted by Parliament, including the Commissions of Inquiry (Amendment) Act No.16 of 2008. It would be observed that Article 24 of this Act specifically empowers the Attorney-General to institute criminal proceedings based on material collected in the course of an investigation or inquiry by a Commission of Inquiry.

The Embassy of the United States in Sri Lanka in a Statement dated 3rd December 2010 “welcomed President Rajapaksa’s appointment of a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission”. It is an universally accepted legal principle that consideration needs to be given to international measures, only when national domestic recourse is unavailable. Resolution S.84 in fact expressly states that the Government of Sri Lanka “has recognized, in the past, the necessity of a political settlement and reconciliation for a peaceful and just society”. It is therefore all the more unfortunate that those who framed the text of the Resolution, have overlooked the capacity and strong track record of the LLRC as a domestic mechanism, to work for reconciliation and the further strengthening of national amity.

It is well known that motivated groups do target influential bodies such as the Senate of the United States, with a view to persuading those entities to adopt ill-founded positions. It is therefore important that an equal opportunity should be afforded for alternate and more legitimate points of view to be heard, before a conclusion is reached.

Ministry of External Affairs
Colombo

4th March 2011

State media being used by present regime to discredit our cricket team

by Karu Jayasuriya

Abuse of state media by the present regime, for political gain, disregarding accepted norms, is not a new phenomenon. We have highlighted this matter on many occasions.

TV programme broadcast by a state TV Channel, to discredit Mr. Mahela Jayawardena, Vice Captain of the Sri Lanka Cricket Team, is a clear proof that the state media is being used by the present regime not only to fulfill their political aspirations but in other areas as well.

It is evident that throughout Mahela and Thilan have unblemished cricketing careers. The veteran journalist who, contributed to the above TV Programme accuses Mahela using maliscious language without substantiating his story with facts. This journalist is an editor of a state owned paper.

Previously, on many occasions, opposition political parties, moderate members of society and the general public have questioned the partiality of such programmes. Government authorities have maintained silence regarding these accusations, indicating the tragedy that everything else has been subordinated by the political aspirations of the present regime.

In our opinion, the allegation if there are any against Mahela or any other member of the Sri Lanka Cricket Team, should be brought to the notice of the Sri Lanka Cricket. Broadcasting TV programmes of this nature, undermining accepted norms of media, engaging some journalist, will demoralize our cricketers.

No sensible person will pay any heed to false accusations against our players.

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State media institutions have no authority to broadcast such derogatory, programmes unilaterally without the knowledge of the government. It is regrettable that this is being done at a time our cricket team is engaged in the World Cup tournament.

You cannot boost the morale of a cricket team merely by creating a theme song or displaying banners. We wish all the best to Captain Kumar Sangakkara, Vice Captain Mahela Jayawardena and the other members of our national team and hope that they will have the courage and determination to win the World Cup for our motherland.

(Statement by Hon. Karu Jayasuriya, Deputy Leader, United National Party regarding the television programme broadcast by a state TV Channel demeaning Mr. Mahela Jayawardena,ViceCaptainofthe National Cricket Team)

March 03, 2011

US Senate Resolution calling for an Independent International Investigation in Sri Lanka passes unopposed

The US Senate on March 1, 2011 unanimously passed Senate Resolution 84, calling for an "independent international accountability mechanism to look into reports of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations committed by both sides during and after the war in Sri Lanka and to make recommendations regarding accountability."

Resolution expressed "support for internal rebuilding, resettlement, and reconciliation within Sri Lanka that are necessary to ensure a lasting peace." Though the resolution is non binding, "it does express the concerns of American lawmakers that the government of Sri Lanka provide a credible and fair mechanism of ensuring accountability for possible violations of human rights during the war,” a US Embassy official told Daily Mirror.lk

Full Text Via LIBRARY of CONGRESS

S.RES.84 -- Expressing support for internal rebuilding, resettlement, and reconciliation within Sri Lanka that are necessary to ensure a lasting peace. (Agreed to Senate - ATS)

SRES 84 ATS

112th CONGRESS

1st Session

IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES

March 1, 2011

Mr. CASEY (for himself, Mr. BURR, Mr. BROWN of Ohio, Mr. MENENDEZ, Mr. CARDIN, Mr. LEAHY, Mrs. BOXER, Mrs. HAGAN, Mrs. GILLIBRAND, Mr. MANCHIN, Mr. UDALL of New Mexico, and Mr. LAUTENBERG) submitted the following resolution; which was considered and agreed to

RESOLUTION

Expressing support for internal rebuilding, resettlement, and reconciliation within Sri Lanka that are necessary to ensure a lasting peace.

Whereas May 19, 2010, marked the one-year anniversary of the end of the 26-year conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Government of Sri Lanka;

Whereas the Government of Sri Lanka established a Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to report whether any person, group, or institution directly or indirectly bears responsibility for incidents that occurred between February 2002 and May 2009 and to recommend measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in the future and promote further national unity and reconciliation among all communities;

Whereas United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed a panel of experts, including Marzuki Darusman, the former attorney general of Indonesia; Yazmin Sooka, a member of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and Steven Ratner, a lawyer in the United States specializing in human rights and international law, to advise the Secretary-General on the implementation of the commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to human rights accountability;

Whereas the Government of Sri Lanka expressed its commitment to addressing the needs of all ethnic groups and has recognized, in the past, the necessity of a political settlement and reconciliation for a peaceful and just society;

Whereas the United States Government has yet to develop a comprehensive United States policy toward Sri Lanka that reflects the broad range of human rights, national security, and economic interests; and

Whereas progress on domestic and international investigations into reports of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations during the conflict and promoting reconciliation would facilitate enhanced United States engagement and investment in Sri Lanka: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Senate--

(1) commends United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for creating the three-person panel to advise the Secretary-General on the implementation of the commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to human rights accountability;

(2) calls on the Government of Sri Lanka, the international community, and the United Nations to establish an independent international accountability mechanism to look into reports of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other human rights violations committed by both sides during and after the war in Sri Lanka and to make recommendations regarding accountability;

(3) calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to allow humanitarian organizations, aid agencies, journalists, and international human rights groups greater freedom of movement, including in internally-displaced persons camps; and

(4) calls upon the President to develop a comprehensive policy towards Sri Lanka that reflects United States interests, including respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, economic interests, and security interests.

'Government not paying enough attention to facilitate the return process of Muslim IDPs'

by IRIN News

COLOMBO, 3 March 2011 (IRIN) - The government of Sri Lanka has renewed its pledge to resettle Muslims evicted more than two decades ago from the war-affected north.

In 1990, during their struggle for increased autonomy, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels forced out the entire Muslim population, estimated to be at least 70,000, from northern Sri Lanka, suspecting them of collaborating with government intelligence services.

Since then, between 8,000 and 10,000 have returned, according to the government.

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Ismail Ahmed, 61, was in his early forties when LTTE cadres announced over loud-hailers that all Muslims should immediately leave Jaffna district in the Northern Province, a rebel stronghold.

"We did not have time to get ready. We left the north within less than 24 hours. I took my wife and daughters [aged 12 and 10] and fled," Ahmed told IRIN from Mannar Island, separated by a bridge from mainland Sri Lanka, where he has resettled.

"I have lived as a refugee for almost 20 years. I want to go back to my home," Ahmed said.

Rishad Bathiudeen, a senior minister from the ruling government party, told IRIN that while no timeline had been announced, the government was now making an "all-out" effort to resettle displaced Muslims.

"It is an urgent need to resettle the Muslims and we are treating it as a major priority."

Since the return process began in August 2009 for the overall displaced population, more than 300,000 have left Menik Farm - the country's largest camp - and some dozen others hastily set up in the final days of the conflict between government forces and the defeated rebels.

"We have successfully completed the resettlement of most IDPs [internally displaced people] who were displaced by the last stages of war in 2008 and 2009 so now we are also shifting our focus to resettlement of Muslims who were displaced decades ago," said a senior military administrative official, who spoke to IRIN on condition of anonymity.

About 80 percent of the displaced Muslims now live in Puttalam - a small fishing town on the north-western coast - with the rest scattered throughout the country, he added.

But for at least one resident of Puttalam, the returns are not happening quickly enough. "Now the war is over and there is no LTTE, I do not know why we cannot go back to our old lands," said Baiz Lebbe. He said authorities "are not paying enough [attention] to facilitate the return process of Muslim IDPs".

IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.