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These blog postings do not necessarily represent the views of all members of the Advisory Council.

30/09/2009

Why isn't Sri Lanka important enough?

"Sri Lanka isnt important enough" is one of the comments we hear from decision-makers when they are being honest about why they are putting so little effort into pushing a just resolution. Crikey.com - the leading Australian blog - carries today an article explaining why this approach is so short-sighted..


In what's surely one of the more remarkable fact-finding missions in recent years, Sri Lanka's attorney-general Mohan Peiris is heading to Washington for meetings with the US defence establishment. His goal? Learning to emulate the US' treatment of captured Islamic militants!

Now, there's not too many contexts in which anyone would point to Guantanamo Bay and say, gosh, we'd like one of those. Then again, there's not too many nations that currently keep a quarter of a million people detained indefinitely in camps.

In Sri Lanka, an appalling human rights tragedy continues to play out. After the wake of the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers (an organisation undoubtedly responsible for its own atrocities), 250,000 Tamils have been herded into detention. Here's how the Guardian describes one such internment facility:

"The camp, say former inhabitants, is packed, with two or three families sharing a tent or tin shack. There are complaints of stinking, overflowing toilets, water shortages and inadequate healthcare. Journalists are rarely given access and those inside Manik Farm are not allowed to cross its fortified perimeter."

Speaking on a phone that had been smuggled into the camp, one civilian being held in Manik Farm, who did not want to be named, said two families had "been taken away and not seen again after saying some wrong things" to a reporter last month.

"People are scared to tell anyone of the problems we are facing. But it is a prison here. There are not enough health facilities for the problems in the camp and we don't have enough water."

Doctors in the main hospital in Vavuniya, the largest town near the camp, say that more 1000 people have died since May, mainly due to "malnutrition-related complications", and warn of an impending disaster if conditions do not improve.

That was a few weeks back. A couple of days ago, troops in the same camp opened fire with live ammunition on protesting detainees.

Imagine, as a crazy thought experiment, that Iran had, under the pretext of internal security, herded hundreds of thousands of civilians into internment. Do you think you might have heard a little bit about it?

Ah, but Sri Lanka's not part of the Axis of Evil or the Nexus of New Hitlers or whatever term is now current for those countries we officially condemn. Nor, despite some tut-tutting from the UN, will it be sent to the League of the Loathsome any time soon. For, as the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, counter-insurgency has come back into fashion -- and no one knows as much about that particular topic as Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa. That, one assumes, is one reason the Americans are happy to share techniques with Mohan Peiris.

Handily, the Indian Defence Review has condensed what it grandiosely calls the "Rajapaksa Model of fighting terror" into dot points. These include, inter alia:
. Unwavering political will
. Disregard for international opinion distracting from the goal
. No negotiations with the forces of terror
. Absence of political intervention to pull away from complete defeat of the LTTE
. Complete operational freedom for the security forces.

More pithily, the whole doctrine might be encapsulated in two words: "Repression works". Keep the media out, fend off human rights groups while you unleash the troops -- and there's your insurgency solved.

That's why the situation in Sri Lanka matters so much. It's not simply because there's something fundamentally wrong about mass collective punishment. It's because if the world doesn't speak out, you can expect see the Rajapaksa model put into action elsewhere.
http://www.crikey.com.au/author/jeffsparrow/

27/09/2009

Bianca Jagger is the newest member of the Campaign's Advisory Council!

Ms Jagger, known for her tireless work on human rights causes around the world, including opposition to the Iraq war, says "The world cannot continue to ignore the suffering of the approximately 280,000 Tamil civilians, including women and - according to Amnesty International - at least 50,000 children, illegally detained in internment camps in northern Sri Lanka."

Ms Jagger is Founder and President of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, a member of the Executive Directors Leadership Council of Amnesty International USA, and a Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador. She has campaigned in defence of human rights, social justice and environmental protection for nearly 30 years.

Highlighting what she considers to be "President Rajapaksa's wanton disregard for human life", drawing attention to this "clear violation of international humanitarian law" and focusing on Amnesty International's view that those detained include at least 50,000 children, Ms Jagger focuses on the urgency of the situation: "The imminent monsoon will create life threatening conditions in these camp, and risks causing a humanitarian catastrophe."

She concludes with a powerful call: "I urge UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the international community to prevent this humanitarian catastrophe."

Since its launch just a few weeks ago, the Sri Lanka Campaign has also gained the support of:

Charles Glass, an expert on war reporting and the Palestinian camps, says: "No one should stand by while human beings are herded into camps, those who expose their plight are murdered, those who try to help them are expelled and those who claim to believe in justice remain silent."

Chibli Mallet, the legal practitioner and academic who has taken on some of the hardest human rights abuse cases in the Middle East, including the Sabra and Chatila victims.

Antony Loewenstein, the Australian journalist & author who says: "The Tamil struggle for justice and self-determination is a cause that should be supported by all citizens of good faith. Like the disenfranchised Palestinians, Tamil stories should resonate around the world."

Brahma Chellaney, a senior foreign policy specialist from India. According to Brahma "Even in victory, the Sri Lankan government is unable to define peace or outline a political solution to the long-standing cultural and political grievances of the Tamil minority. In fact, a reconciliation rooted in genuine inter-ethnic equality can succeed only if state-sponsored human rights abuses are independently investigated."

And also from Australia is former diplomat, Bruce Haigh. Known for saying it how he sees it and doing what he thinks right - he helped many South African anti-apartheid activists escape during the era of repression - Bruce says: "If you see the justice of the Tamil quest for equality in Sri Lanka and do nothing about it you stand condemned."

The founding Council members - Lakhdar Brahimi, Carolyn Hayman, Edward Mortimer (Chair of the Council), Craig Scott and Teesta Setalvad - started this Campaign and have now been joined by peers making this a truly international Advisory Council.

If you know other opinion-formers who are concerned - or if you are such a person - please contact the Campaign Team here

16/09/2009

Persecuting the witnesses

3 government-employed physicians treated thousands of injured and dying patients during the final stages of Sri Lanka's war, despite the risk to their own lives.

Drs. Sathiyamoorthy, Shanmugarajah and Varatharajah coordinated with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to evacuate 14,000 patients from the war zone between mid-February and May 9, 2009. They communicated the humanitarian situation to the world at a time when journalists was barred from the conflict zone. During the final hours of the war on May 15, the three made their way to an army crossing point along with 5,000 civilians where they were detained by Sri Lankan authorities.

On August 24, after three months in detention without charge, the Sri Lankan authorities yielded to growing international pressure and conditionally released the doctors on bail. Drs. Sathiyamoorthy, Shanmugarajah and Varatharajah are due to appear in court on November 9 for allegedly providing "false information" to the international community about civilian deaths.

Their lives remain in danger, more so now that they are vulnerable to threat, harm and disappearance. They have evidence that makes the Government of Sri Lanka anxious. After some weeks of interrogation, the doctors said they had been wrong and gave a new figure for the casualties which was less than the UN estimate!

For more information, please refer to the following:

Confined Sri Lankan Doctors Acted in Accordance with Medical Ethics
http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/news-2009-08-25.html

Amnesty International USA - Urgent Appeal
http://www.amnestyusa.org/actioncenter/actions/uaa12909.pdf

Save The Doctors Campaign – a campaign dedicated to protecting these 3 doctors
http://www.savethedoctors.com

PLEASE BRING THIS CAMPAIGN TO THE ATTENTION OF ALL BUT ESPECIALLY MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS

14/09/2009

Could the Catholic Church help bring peace & justice to Sri Lanka?

Leading Catholic aid agency, CAFOD has called on the government of Sri Lanka to end the forced confinement of hundreds of thousands of survivors of the country's long and bloody conflict and allow them to go home.

This follows a visit by two UK Bishops.(1) Bishop John Rawsthorne of Sheffield said: "I was very distressed at the plight of the people in the camps. There is serious overcrowding and inadequate food and health services. The monsoon season will soon be upon them and could be disastrous for the hundreds of thousands of people stuck there."

Pauline Taylor McKeown, CAFOD's head of international programmes, says: "...the issue has faded from the headlines but the problem has not gone away....The majority of these people are civilians and it is difficult to see what security threat they could pose."

Highlighting that "There are thousands of orphans, elderly people, and those with disabilities who are helpless and need to be moved urgently", she added that "At the moment this process is painfully slow."

Bishop John Arnold of Westminster went further saying: "People do not want to be in the camps. They want to be allowed home and to be reunited with their families. The Sri Lankan Government originally set a target for 80 per cent of people to be released within 180 days. 90 days have already passed and we must hold the Government to account on its promises."

Separately the Government of Sri Lanka freed 571 Hindu priests, six Catholic priests and two nuns but 220 nuns are still held in the camps.(2)

The government has just announced though that relatives or friends of those inside can now apply to accommodate them but according to the BBC "such relatives, like the camp dwellers, will also be subject to screening for possible links with the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels." If this happens. a policy which could get significant number of vulnerable people out of the camp in time to protect them from the monsoon will again be thwarted.

The Catholic Church has also proposed that 12,000 of the displaced people be allowed to move to a large local church as a first step to returning home and according to Cafod's Director of International Department, the plan had passed several stages of government approval.

Whilst no date for this movement has been announced so far, these are encouraging early signs that the Catholic Church is starting to make use of its close links with the Government of Sri Lanka.(3)

President Rajapaksa is the first Sri Lankan President to have met with the Pope(4) and the visit was actively promoted in Sri Lanka as an official Papal endorsement.(5) The new Archbishop of Colombo is reported to have close links with the Government and has appealed against international sanctions(6) - comments which were widely reported in Sri Lanka - whilst also speaking out against the ongoing detentions.

This part of the Archbishop's messages was not well reported by the Sri Lankan media. He asked the Sinhalese people to do everything possible "to ensure" that the Tamils' "identity and dignity as a people is respected, their rights safeguarded," lest they "fall back on to the lap of extremists again."(7)

Making sure that this does not happen and also that Sri Lanka doesn't become the target of consumer and government boycotts would indeed be "win-win" outcome and one the Catholic Church could be rightly proud of if it should come to pass.

1 http://www.cafod.org.uk/news/sri-lanka-2009-09-11
2 http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=30085
3 http://www.archdioceseofcolombo.com/CaritasMedicals_10.07.2009.php
4 http://www.dailynews.lk/2007/04/21/news01.asp
5 http://video.google.co.uk/videosearch?hl=en&source=hp&q=rajapaksa%20vatican&gbv=2&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=iv#
6 http://www.dailynews.lk/2009/08/11/news01.asp
7 http://www.ucanews.com/2009/08/12/new-colombo-archbishop-calls-for-cooperation-to-rebuild-country/

13/09/2009

Sri Lankans & friends of SriLanka should heed Pastor Niemoller

In his famous obituary, entitled "And Then They Came For Me" and written because he was certain the Government of Sri Lanka would have him assassinated, the leading Sinhalese journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga warned fellow Sri Lankans of the consequences of turning a blind eye to the targeting of Tamils in the North.1 Lasantha quoted Pastor Niemoller's words said at the time when Nazi Germany was emerging but ordinary Germans refused to believe they needed to act:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Sadly, but entirely predictably, these warnings seem to be coming true in Sri Lanka now.

Two "Up-Country Tamils" - Tamils who are still considered "of Indian descent" even though this may be 5-6 generations ago - were found dead in a town in central Sri Lanka, where Sinhalese are in the majority. One had gone to collect firewood and another was "found dead" inside a public passenger coach. These are simply the latest causalities of a growing trend to target "Up-Country Tamils" - who have had little or no contact with LTTE - simply because of their ethnic origins.

And meanwhile the BBC reports that Muslims protested at what they say is police brutality against members of the community, shouting anti-police slogans and with posters saying "Ramadan Wet with Blood" and "Innocent to Sacrifice".2

In the past few weeks the police have announced the killing of men they describe as underworld figures, usually in encounters on the street. The police in the capital say that they are engaged in a necessary clampdown on organised crime. Strangely, almost all of the victims are Muslims but police argue the incidents have nothing to do with ethnicity.

According to the BBC: "The government is unapologetic. It says it wants to use the same resources it used against the now defeated Tamil Tigers, against the underworld." The Sri Lankan media are mostly supportive of this presumptive form of judicial execution and according to a leading Muslim writer, this attitude permeates Sri Lankan civil society which is already starting to "forget" the war and on-going implications.3

Sinhalese have also been targeted. This includes members of a fringe party called the JVP - three journalists were detained for (it is alleged) filming a construction site of a new house of a VIP in the Southern Province and JVP supporters who were putting up posters were attacked and one supporter abducted by supporters of the Government.

Commentators are now worried that the next group will be "Christian terrorists".4

Christians, especially those who speak of reconciliation and fairness are increasingly considered to be disloyal to the country where a violent form of Buddhism has fused with nationalism to create a state religion which tolerates less and less dissent.

In the words of the US based analyst of Sri Lanka, Professor Neil Devotta: "When Sri Lanka celebrated independence in 1948 many considered it the post-colonial country most likely to succeed economically and democratically. Sixty years later the island represents illiberalism, political decay, and ethnocentrism. Not only has the country retrogressed on nearly all important indicators representing secularism, liberalism, pluralism, ethnic coexistence, and good governance, it is also poised to degenerate further towards dictatorship."5

1 http://unbowedandunafraid.com/uusite/610123

2 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/8238454.stm

3 http://www.alertnet.org/db/blogs/34518/2009/08/10-132735-1.htm

4 http://www.releaseinternational.org/pages/posts/sri-lanka-attacks-on-christians-on-the-increase-as-civil-conflict-ends596.php?g=22

5 http://www.scribd.com/doc/12235756/Sri-Lanka-60-EPW-Neil-Devotta-Ethnocentrism-LTTE-Eezham-Tamil-Tigers

12/09/2009

UN Human Rights Czar lists Sri Lanka with Afghanistan, Congo and Palestine

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights listed Sri Lanka with Afghanistan, Colombia, Congo, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen as countries were there are "grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law"and that "civilians continue to be targets of attacks motivated by ethnic or religious hatred, and by the ruthless pursuit of economic greed and political control."

About Sri Lanka, she added that "internally displaced persons are effectively detained under conditions of internment. Humanitarian agencies' access to these camps remains restricted, and the mandates of relief agencies are increasingly coming under threat."

"We should all be dismayed by the recent sentence of twenty years' imprisonment imposed on Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who had been critical of the army's treatment of Tamil civilians. His conviction raises serious concerns about respect for the right to freedom of expression."

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

09/09/2009

Statement from the Secretary-General of the UN

The Secretary-General strongly regrets the decision of the Sri Lankan Government to expel Mr. James Elder, Spokesman for UNICEF in Sri Lanka.

The Secretary-General expresses his full confidence in the work of the United Nations in Sri Lanka, which includes making public statements when necessary in an effort to save lives and prevent grave humanitarian problems.The United Nations is working impartially to assist the people of Sri Lanka, and the Government should be supporting and cooperating with its efforts.

The Secretary-General will take up this issue with President Rajapaksa at the earliest opportunity and will continue to urge him to implement all the commitments made in their joint statement after the Secretary-General's visit to Sri Lanka in May.

New York , 8 September 2009

07/09/2009

UN leadership under fire for colluding with despots - and Sri Lanka illustrates the point says Washington Post

First came the Economist's scorecard giving Ban Ki-moon a very embarrassing 3 out of 10 for his handling of civil wars and "speaking truth to power".[1] And then the leak of a damning report on his performance from a senior Norwegian diplomat, which singled out his performance in Sri Lanka as an example - "The Secretary-General was a powerless observer to thousands of civilians losing their lives and becoming displaced from their homes,.. The moral voice and authority of the Secretary-General has been missing."[2]

But the UN's failure in Sri Lanka is not that of the Secretary-General alone. He did at least speak out, in May, both about the unacceptably high civilian casualties in the last phase of the war and, most clearly, about the appalling conditions in camps where up to 280,000 civilians are now being held Yet he has lamentably failed to follow up since, and the UN as a whole has failed badly on at least three counts which sets the scene for why so little is being done about the civilians imprisoned today:

1) By refusing to disclose its own estimates of numbers of civilians killed [3] or to publicise its concern about deteriorating conditions in the camps, it is making itself complicit in the Rajapaksa regime's brutal and illegal policies , encouraging the Government to further suppress dissenting voices and ensuring that local and international NGOs have little choice but to self-censor.

2) The Secretary-General has failed to actively support his own High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions who have called for an investigation of war crimes committed by all parties during and since the conflict. Nor has he spoken up when the ICRC was forced by the Government to downscale its role totally prematurely.[4]

3) The UN has also failed to protect its own locally recruited staff, two of whom were arrested and reportedly tortured several weeks ago[5] but this is just the tip of the iceberg of tolerating staff being bullied into silence, the latest being a highly respected UNICEF official.[6]

At best, Vijay Nambiar, a veteran Indian diplomat and the Secretary General's Chief of Staff who was tasked with being the lead UN person for Sri Lanka, is considered to have responded too late and with too little sustained effort. Contrast, for example, the extended time that Richard Holbrooke spent in former Yugoslavia and is now spending in Afghanistan "bashing heads". [7] And Kofi Annan spent 6+ weeks in Kenya to secure the deal which averted the civil war.[8]

With India strongly backing the Government of Sri Lanka, and given that Vijay Nambiar's brother, Satish, is a public admirer of the Sri Lankan defence chief [9], there are very serious questions to be asked about Ban Ki-moon's choice.

And as worrying, the UN's top official in Colombo is reported as saying "some of the criticism of the government ...have been unfair" and that "you have to give the government credit", which was then promoted on the UN World Food Programme site. [10] According to aid workers in Sri Lanka, "the UN has consistently failed to use its considerable potential influence to push focused advocacy points either in private or in public" and "the UN has taken the stance that if the government orders it to stop an activity; it must do so or risk becoming irrelevant to the humanitarian effort (i.e. be expelled from the country). This risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy - the UN is becoming irrelevant, or worse, complicit, because it fails to advocate effectively for a humanitarian response that meets international norms."

UN officials argue they cannot challenge sovereign governments because this would be "political" but this is clearly absurd - the UN agencies often challenge governments by highlighting facts and assessment that contradict government positions. This seems to have been forgotten in Sri Lanka. For example, the Government says "There is no problem of malnutrition of children in camps for displaced and we need no advice from the UN.". The reality is that "prevalence of global acute malnutrition of 35.6% (i.e. around a hundred thousand people suffering serious hunger for a protracted period) and severe acute malnutrition of 8.8%.' What did the UN say: "'Nutrition Cluster will not need to pursue information on malnutrition levels in Menik farm as Ministry of Heath will make findings of recent nutrition survey public. Document will be circulated. Food Cluster lead will inform when available." There have been many other examples of UN officials downplaying events and spinning language so that local officials can do what they consider to be their job - to do as much good as possible without upsetting the Government.

More practically, UN officials argue that the Government expels individuals and agencies who are critical. But this again reflects the "tone at the top" which places such high premium on avoiding confrontation - that makes it very easy for a government like the one in Sri Lanka today. Aware that their more outspoken colleagues have been told to leave and not been supported by the UN HQ, there is a strong concern that local UN staff in Sri Lanka have succumbed to a Sri Lankan form of the "Stockholm syndrome".[11]

One UN HQ official also argues that Ban Ki-moon and the team are doing the best they can given the lack of interest by USA and France and the full support for Sri Lanka from China, Russia, India, Iran with soft political support of Brazil, South Africa, Malaysia and many others. This is clearly a big challenge but one which he could address by better empowering/challenging his respected colleagues like Navi Pillay, Francis Deng and Philip Alston to do more in their technical spheres of influence. And has all the authority he needs to appoint a special representative for Sri Lanka who has the influence to build the alliance for change. It is not in India or China's interest to help create a Sri Lankan version of Palestine/Tibet.

Like all of us mere mortals, Ban Ki-moon can also learn and improve his performance. No one doubts how hard it is to be the UN Secretary General. Moreover, he is well suited to sponsor an "Asian solution" to the coming crisis of thousands in camps which are already "awash with raw sewage". Ken Saro Wiwa noted that forcing humans to live in a situation where excrement is in their face (actually, in this case, in their water supply) is a form of genocidal abuse. And the people who die from these diseases in these camps will be dying because they are UNprotected and UNpeople. [12]

The UN should stop colluding with this right now. The time to act is now - the monsoons are 4 weeks away and the time for excuses is long past. If UN staff have lost the confidence, courage or credibility to be part of the solution, they should resign or be replaced. That is Ban Ki-moon's challenge now.

[1] http://www.economist.com/world/international/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13825201

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/31/AR2009083103911.html?referrer=facebook

[3] http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/sri-lanka-un-must-publicize-civilian-casualty-figures-20090529

[4] http://blog.amnestyusa.org/iar/sri-lanka-red-cross-asked-to-scale-down-operations/ & http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/front.html?siteSect=105&sid=10747508&ty=st

[5] http://www.nowpublic.com/world/un-says-two-its-employees-arrested-sri-lanka-updates

[6] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/06/sri-lanka-expels-unicef-official

[7] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article5634470.ece

[8] http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0808/p25s06-woaf.html

[9] http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20090427_04

[10] http://www.wfp.org/content/un-backs-sri-lanka-refugee-camps

[11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome

[12] "Unpeople' is a phrase coined by British historian Mark Curtis. He defines them as those whose lives have been deemed expendable, worthless, in the pursuit of foreign policy goals. Although he focused on British foreign policy, clearly the same applies to Japan, India, Brazil and the UN. http://markcurtis.wordpress.com/2007/02/04/unpeople-britains-secret-human-rights-abuses/


03/09/2009

But what can outsiders do? Not make things worse for a start!

Many governments say they are unable to do anything but in private they seem to be doing quite a bit..….and not always helpful.

According to Bruce Haigh, a senior Australian diplomat who has a track record of engaging in difficult situations (South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan included):

"Tragically, Australia has taken sides in the Sri Lankan civil war. Instead of offering humanitarian assistance to those in the camps, it sent the deputy chief of the navy, Rear Admiral Davyd Thomas, to Colombo in June 2009 to urge that young Tamils be prevented from coming to Australia . His plea amounted to an endorsement of the continued detention of Tamils in appalling conditions. Kevin Rudd supports this position and said as much in an interview with Greg Cary on ABC Brisbane on July 1, 2009."

The fear of China seems great but is that reason to collude with on the on-going gross abuse of civilians, not to mention earlier war crimes?

Canberra Times (Australia) editorial article

01/09/2009

Gulag like sentence for a respected journalist despite a clear signal from President Obama

To commemorate Press Freedom Day in May 2009, President Obama expressed his support for the "brave men and women of the press who labor to expose truth". Noting the oppression and abuse they face, he went on to say "Emblematic examples of this distressing reality are figures like J.S. Tissainayagam in Sri Lanka..."

Well now the Government of Sri Lanka has shown just how it responds to soft pressure by the US President by orchestrating a 20 years sentence for hard labour for this courageous journalist.

Tissainayagam's crime was to challenge the Government. Reminiscent of the gulag approach of the former Soviet Union? But why should we be surprised? When the urbane former Sri Lankan Ambassador to the UN spoke openly about Sri Lanka being influence by the Chechen model, few called him to task. To remind those who may have forgotten this is what the Times war correspondent said about the Chechen war: "The war in Chechnya - it was like nothing I had ever seen before. In terms of the scale of violence, fear and horror, it left anything in my experience so far behind as to make it almost insignificant. You can grade conflicts according to intensity if you desire: low, medium and high. Chechnya blew the bell off the end of the gauge, and revealed an extreme of war to me that I had no conception of. Afterwards my understanding of conflict was never quite the same again. It was indeed a glimpse from the edge of hell." And now the "model" is being exported even further!

Put simply, the reason Sri Lanka feels able to ignore the USA because it isn't serious about the pressure it is applying. Back in May Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "I think that the Sri Lankan Government knows that the entire world is very disappointed that in its efforts to end what it sees as 25 years of conflict, it is causing such untold suffering."

Three months later, some 280,000 Tamil civilians are languishing in internment camps from which the media and most humanitarian relief organizations are excluded, but where highly insanitary conditions are know to prevail, especially since torrential flooding in mid-August. But Secretary Clinton is silent, while Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, says only that the US has "had continuing dialogue with the Government of Sri Lanka about the conditions in the camp and the need to release all of the IDPs who are there now and to allow them to be resettled as quickly as possible back to their homes", and is "surprised" by President Rajapaksa's reluctance to pursue political reconciliation until after presidential elections are held, probably in January."

Much worse, the U.S. Trade Representative and Commerce Department have announced an Oct. 13-14 conference in Colombo for U.S. investors interested in Sri Lanka, urging U.S. companies and financiers to "Make Sri Lanka Your Next Business Stop." This event will "provide U.S. firms a unique opportunity to be among the first investors in the newly opened regions of Sri Lanka's Northern and Eastern Provinces."

So now we have a new phrase which stresses the upside of ethnic cleansing!
And we really wonder why this softly softly approach isn't working?

Labels:

War's over, but what about peace?

By LAKHDAR BRAHIMI & EDWARD MORTIMER
For the Singapore Straits Times

It has been three months since Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse declared the country "liberated" from Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels after a 26-year war. He said he wanted to settle most of the displaced Tamil civilians within 180 days. But today, with more than half that time elapsed, nearly 300,000 are still being held in "internment camps", to which the media and humanitarian organisations have virtually no access.

One person who was able to visit some of them in May was United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. He said: "I have travelled around the world and visited similar places, but these are by far the most appalling scenes I have seen."

In the middle of this month, the camps were flooded by downpours that, according to The New York Times, "sent rivers of muck cascading between tightly packed rows of flimsy shelters, overflowed latrines and sent hundreds of families scurrying for higher ground".

Moreover, there is no public list of those being held in the camps, and many families do not know whether their loved ones are alive or dead. The brutal and violent methods used by the LTTE during the conflict are beyond dispute. But the government claimed to draw a distinction between LTTE fighters and the law-abiding Tamil population, whose genuine political grievances it would address once the "terrorists" had been defeated. So far, nothing like that has happened. Although it has screened out those it believes were LTTE cadres and sent them to separate camps, the government has repeatedly extended its own deadline for releasing the civilians who are still in the main camps. People who question this inside Sri Lanka are accused of being traitors in the pay of "the LTTE diaspora", while outsiders are accused of using humanitarian concerns as an excuse for neo-imperialist intervention.

Sri Lankan journalists who criticise the government have been arrested, beaten and in some cases murdered in broad daylight, while many more have fled the country. Foreign journalists have been kicked out, and Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are not allowed into the country. In the last weeks of the fighting, an estimated 20,000 civilians lost their lives. Government forces were accused of shelling Tamil civilians and killing people who tried to surrender.

The LTTE was charged with using civilians as human shields, forcibly recruiting them as fighters and shooting those who tried to flee. There were rumours of mass graves but no independent observer has been able to investigate. The government claims to have won the "war on terror" within its own frontiers, and denies the right of countries that have been less successful to question its methods. As one of the five "Colombo Powers" that organised the historic Bandung Conference in 1955, and a leading member of the Non-Aligned Movement, Sri Lanka was, for many decades, a responsible democracy, even a model member of the international community. Surely, the people of Sri Lanka do not want to compromise that enviable status.

Friends of Sri Lanka, especially in the developing world, do not understand why President Rajapakse chose Myanmar as the first country to visit after winning the war. They were concerned to read, on the government's own website, that one reason for this choice was that "the (Myanmar) generals are increasingly finding it difficult to contain insurgent groups in the country's northern frontier and are willing to learn some fresh lessons from President Mahinda Rajapakse on how to defeat the enemy". That is not what the international community wishes to learn from Sri Lanka. Rather, it is expecting the country to be faithful to its democratic tradition and act on Mr Rajapakse's promises that the rights of minorities would be respected, that the displaced would be helped to return home, and that prisoners would be treated humanely.

We do not believe that most people in Sri Lanka agree with the view that developing- country governments can best deal with internal opposition by crushing it ruthlessly and treating any advice to respect human rights and humanitarian law as hypocritical. Sadly, the government's willingness to ignore these principles has met with very little international resistance.

Even the United States, which has urged the rapid release of all civilians and deplored the Sri Lankan government's slow timetable on political reform, is simultaneously encouraging US investors to "make Sri Lanka your next business stop". This puts a heavy responsibility on Asia's key powers - India, Japan and China - which have been staunch supporters of the Rajapakse government and have channelled large sums of money to it (mainly, recently, for humanitarian purposes). It is time for these governments to say clearly that further economic and political support will depend on the following conditions being fulfilled: 

1. The UN, International Red Cross and voluntary agencies must be given full and unhindered access to care for and protect the civilians in the camps, and then help them return to wherever in their own country they choose to live.


2. A list of all those still alive and in custody should be published.

3. Those who continue to be detained as alleged LTTE combatants must be treated in accordance with the provisions of international law, and given urgent access to legal representation. 

4. Accountability processes must be established to ensure that international aid is not diverted to purposes other than those for which it was given. 

5. The Sri Lankan government should invite regional and international specialists in conflict reconciliation to help rebuild lives and communities. 

6. Sri Lanka should request or accept a full UN investigation into war crimes committed by all parties during the war.

The government has won the war, and the world shares the feeling of relief visible among Sri Lanka's people. It remains for it to win the peace, and the rest of the world must help by insisting on the above conditions. Peace won by the brutal humiliation of a people is rarely secure. Lakhdar Brahimi is a former Algerian foreign minister and United Nations Special Envoy.

Lakhdar Brahimi is a former Algerian foreign minister and United Nations Special Envoy. Edward Mortimer is Senior Vice-President of theSalzburg Global Seminar and was the chief speech-writer for former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. Both are members of the Advisory Council of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice.

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A new day, a new target... and only 230,000 to go!

How many targets can the Government of Sri Lanka set itself? When he announced the victory, President Rajapaksa said 80% would be released in 180 days. Then, he and other Government ministers tried to backtrack: on the percentages - first 75%, then 60% - and also the deadline. And now, the first early indicator of the importance of international pressure, the Government has announced a new target of resettling 50,000 civilians in 2 weeks.

Some say the Government hopes that an on-going process of changing targets and dates will diffuse pressure and confuse the international community. In an otherwise welcome announcement, the UK Conservative Party seems to be the first victim of this: May 18th was when the victory was announced and 180 days means November 14th, and not mid December! So to help the President Rajapaksa and others, we have started a count-down.

Welcome as 50,000 will be (assuming it happens) this still leaves 230,000 illegally detained in an inhumane situation, just waiting for cholera and typhoid to strike. The only target that matters is the emptying of the camps. Instead of making excuses about mines, the Government should immediately allow any civilians who can go to relatives who will take responsibility for them to do so. That is one of 7 demands of this Campaign. This Government announcement about 50,000 shows pressure can work. But there is a lot more work to be done.