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

30/12/2009

Event to remember Lasantha Wickrematunge

In January 2009 Lasantha Wickramatunga, a prominent journalist and editor of a leading newspaper in Sri Lanka was assassinated.
Anticipating his own death, he wrote an editorial, which was published three days after he was shot dead, blaming the government and predicting accurately the horrific events in his country.
"Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last," Lasantha Wickramatunga wrote.
Since then press freedom has further been eroded to the extent that Reporters Sans Frontiers now rates Sri Lanka worse than Russia and on par with Saudi Arabia.

With: Edward Mortimer, chair of Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice, Roma Tearne, author, Brixton Beach
Sonali Samarasinghe, Lasantha Wickramatunga's wife, journalist and human rights campaigner will also be contributing to the meeting with a specially taped videomessage.

http://frontlineclub.com/events/2010/01/special-event-lasantha-wickrematunge-memorial.html

16/12/2009

Roma Tearne joins Sri Lanka Campaign's Council of Advisors

Roma Tearne, the award-winning writer and artist, is the newest member of our Council of Advisors.

Roma was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Britain when she was ten. Like most professional diaspora Sri Lankans, Roma is not active in ethnic or party politics but unlike most professional diaspora Sri Lankans, she has spoken about the crisis as it has been unfolding, giving a number of interviews and writing articles in which she has highlighted the denial and embarrassment that she has experienced amongst her contacts, both Tamil and Sinhalese.

Her efforts align very well with the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice, as we too are working to promote constructive discussion about what is happening in Sri Lanka amongst constituencies that may not have been reached before. So we were delighted when she accepted our invitation to join.

Roma is a prominent British Sri Lankan with both a mixed Sinhalese and Tamil background. She is also belongs to a younger generation which can see events in Sri Lanka in the context of wider trends and who will need to pick up the consequences of decades of failure of political negotiation. Perhaps this is one reason why she has an unusually balanced view of the situation. Her support will be a tremendous asset for the Campaign. We welcome her to the Council of Advisers, and hope that more people of her age and her professional standing will feel motivated to stand up in public for what they too believe in the privacy of their homes. In many conflict situations, progress only happens when the middle ground chooses to make its voice heard.

As Roma herself has said when joining this Campaign: "It is many years since I have heard an organization describe so clearly what is desperately needed in Sri Lanka. As a Sri Lankan, anything I can do to support the process towards peace and unity is something I cannot ignore."

For more information about Roma, please see her website http://romatearne.com

Her latest book, Brixton Beach (published by Harper Collins) deals in part with the history of the conflict in Sri Lanka.

And for more details about her views on the conflict and what needs to happen, see URL: the letter-

15/12/2009

Where peace is a long time coming-The Tablet

Sri Lanka's Catholic archbishop, Malcolm Ranjith, recently toured Europe urging renewal of the country's highly privileged access to the EU market, known as GSP+, which the European Commission is recommending should be suspended because Sri Lanka has not implemented three key human rights conventions. In The Tablet, Britain's leading liberal Catholic weekly, Edward Mortimer and Steve Alston examined the Archbishop's record and asked why he has not shown the same public concern for human rights in Sri Lanka as some of the brave Catholic priests working under his authority. Read their article here.

Peace and Justice in Sri Lanka

By Edward Mortimer and Steve Alston

Post-conflict peace-building is hardly an exact science. But the international community by now has enough experience of it to agree on some general propositions, one of which is that lasting reconciliation must be based on recognition of, and some form of reparation for, both the grievances that gave rise to the conflict and the wrongs committed during it.

Six months after the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, these processes have yet to start. Despite the well documented excesses of both sides in the long civil war there is no sign of such honesty surfacing; and little sign of the Catholic Church's leadership playing a prophetic role in the healing necessary for reconciliation to take place. The newly installed Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Ranjith, has just been to Europe at the head of a group of Sri Lankan Catholic, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist faith leaders, on a visit which seems to ally him with a Government concerned mainly to sanitise its policies.

Christians of all denominations are a minority in Sri Lanka, still thought of as culturally western and as having allegiances far beyond the island. But the Catholic Church is by far the largest Christian community, with a history going back to the early Portuguese missionaries. Being slightly better represented among the Tamil ethnic minority than among the Sinhalese majority, it has also traditionally been well placed to build bridges between the two. Archbishop Ranjith himself had, when Bishop of Ratnapura, undertaken more than many of his predecessors to try to build peace. He worked, for instance, with the Tamil Bishop of Mannar to open back-channel communications between the Tamil Tiger leadership and the Sinhalese-dominated government in Colombo, which helped bring about the (eventually unsuccessful) Norwegian peace initiative.

Yet his recent trip to Europe, where he met (among others) the Italian and British foreign ministers, has been reported as supporting a Sri Lankan Government lobby for retention of the privileged EU trade concession known as "GSP+", which allows Sri Lankan textiles free access to European markets. The European Commission has advised the Council of Ministers not to extend this concession beyond June next year. This is bad news for Sri Lanka’s ailing textile industry, but no surprise given the Government's failure to observe the conditions it had accepted, including the ratification and implementation of key international agreements on human rights.

Unfortunately the Archbishop and his delegation are not on record as calling for investigation of the many human rights abuses that have been reported from Sri Lanka in recent years, or as raising with foreign investors the long working hours, restrictions on trade union activity and pitifully low wages to which textile workers (most of them women) are subjected.

The Sri Lankan hierarchy's record contrasts with that of the Catholic Church in difficult situations elsewhere in Asia - most recently in Burma but earlier also in the Philippines and Korea, where it has shown that it can disengage from the apron strings of dictators. It also contrasts with that of grassroots church activists within Sri Lanka, such as Father Nandana Manatunga's Human Rights Centre in Kandy, which is pursuing justice for rape and torture victims, or Father Harry Miller formerly in Batticaloa and Father Sarath Iddamalgoda in Jaela, who have helped survivors of human rights abuses struggling for legal redress and security from intimidation.

In recent years successive visiting UN special envoys and rapporteurs have documented a continuous disregard for international law, and even for Sri Lanka's own national laws. Such witnesses are often dismissed as "Tiger sympathisers". The 17th Amendment to Sri Lanka's constitution, which sought to curtail the power of the Presidency by establishing a constitutional council to oversee appointments to major executive and judicial functions, is effectively a dead letter. Despite the much publicised Presidential Commissions or 'urgent and thorough' police investigations into massacres of NGO workers, fishermen and farmers, or political leaders and editors, no one is ever charged or found guilty of these crimes. Instead, the investigations last long enough for international media attention to drift elsewhere, and then are quietly dropped. Military or other state personnel, on whom suspicion often rests, are thereby given a signal that they are beyond the reach of the law.

If Archbishop Ranjith had called for justice for those who suffered in the closing stages of the war against the LTTE, and if he had marshalled the undoubted capacity of the Church to monitor and report on the abuses that took place, his pleas to European governments on behalf of textile workers would certainly have gained in credibility.

Caritas agencies of the Church have been visible throughout the war bringing humanitarian relief to the many civilians who have suffered. Churches, as well as Hindu Kovils, became prime sites of refuge and security throughout the north and east of the Island, the traditional Tamil homelands. Through Caritas, the Church has been one of only a few national agencies allowed into the internment camps in which the vast civilian populations who fled the intense fighting early this year have been incarcerated.

Under intense international pressure the Government has now started a resettlement programme, but the nightmare is far from over for the displaced people. Families are being moved from the IDP camps to smaller so-called transit centres. Independent agencies have restricted access to the few families that have finally been able to return home, making it difficult to monitor their well-being or ensure that humanitarian standards of rehabilitation are observed. Far from the process of reconciliation which the Pope called for during the Ranjith delegation's private audience in the Vatican, the Government appears to have in mind a process of subjugation and containment.

Had the members of the faith delegation been eloquent on behalf of the Government's victims, they might have had more credibility in Europe. As it is, one can only hope that the response they received was the same as that given by the EU ambassador in Sri Lanka: that the GSP+ tariff concessions are institutionally linked to respect for the various international conventions.

Sri Lanka's Church leadership should lead the country's faith communities in insisting that the Government respect and uphold Sri Lankan citizens' fundamental rights. Archbishop Ranjith should use his influence with the Government (the President's wife and several ministers are Catholics) to campaign for international Red Cross access to all camps, and for all internally displaced Sri Lankans to be treated according to international standards. If church leaders would reflect the grass roots activism of their followers and bring about a sea change in government policy, then perhaps a new GSP+ package could be negotiated, and conditions established in that troubled country for a lasting peace built on justice.

The Tablet

Edward Mortimer is Senior Vice-President and Chief Programme Officer of the Salzburg Global Seminar. He writes here in his capacity as chair of the Advisory Council of the Sri Lanka Peace & Justice Campaign www.srilankacampaign.org

Steve Alston is a Development Consultant who formerly worked in Sri Lanka

13/12/2009

What it means to advocate the 'Sri Lanka model' for Israel/Palestine. Antony Loewenstein, a member of the Campaign's Advisory Council, explores

December 9, 2009

It is easy to frame the conflict in Israel and Palestine as inherently unique. In many ways it is - decades-old occupation, US-supported racial discrimination and failure of Western journalism to hold the powerful to account - but other struggles have eerie similarities.

This year Sri Lanka militarily defeated the Tamil Tigers, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It was a brutal war, killed close to 100,000 people over a three-decade period and resulted in a humanitarian crisis of around 300,000 displaced Tamils. Both sides committed war crimes but the regime in Colombo was accused of shelling hospitals and civilian areas in the closing months of the war. My partner's father was under the bombs in the north-east of the country and he tells of aerial bombardment on make-shift medical centers. It was hell on earth. Up to 50,000 Tamils were murdered.

The Elders, including Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, condemned the atrocities and were predictably smeared by the government.

Sri Lanka was an early adopter of George W. Bush's "war on terror" architecture and placed its struggle against the Tamil insurgency as a noble war against ruthless killers. Colombo received arms and backing from India, China, Israel and unleashed overwhelming miliary firepower against the LTTE. The result was unsurprising, though the EU and Washington condemned the brutal tactics employed.

But this feigned Western concern for Tamil human rights must be seen in the context of political influence. Analyst Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe writes in The Diplomat that the, "conflict also shed light on a bitter geopolitical struggle taking place against the backdrop of the declining influence of the West and the emerging influence of India and China".

Enter Zionism.

In early December the Jerusalem Post published an article that advocated Israel follow the lead of Sri Lanka to eradicate its "terrorism" problem:

"The Tamil Tigers , sometimes referred to by its full name, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), resembled Middle East terror groups. Actually, it is more correct to say that Middle East terror groups resemble the Tamil Tigers, as the Tigers introduced many of the techniques subsequently used by Israel's enemies. They invented the suicide belt and perfected the suicide bombing attack, turning it into a tactical device. They were the first to use women and children in these attacks. And they have been accused of using their own innocent civilians as human shields. They are a vicious crowd, and were implicated in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi of India in 1991. As we all know, the Palestinians have imitated these tactics with devastating brutality.

"The Sri Lankans had more or less lived with this horror since 1983. Then 9/11 happened and a new dynamic, promoted by president George W. Bush and the United States, gave the Sri Lankans a new outlook. With a new administration elected on the promise of stopping the LTTE permanently, the country embarked on a full-scale military assault. It sent its army, much stronger than the Tamil tigers, into Tamil-occupied territory and began to take back town by town, going street to street in some cases, and killing anyone who resisted.

"Jehan Perera of the Sri Lankan Peace Council said, 'This government has taken the position that virtually any price is worth paying to rid the country of terrorism.'

"The price paid was indeed a heavy one. Many innocent people died. The Sri Lankan government deeply regrets the killing of innocent civilians, but most government officials believe they made a conscious choice to pay that price, and that the alternative status quo was simply no longer acceptable."

The writer goes on to explain that Israel should cease "political correctness" and destroy the Palestinians once and for all:

"The time has come to admit that there might not be a solution to the Palestinian problem, but there is a way to end it. The next time terror forces Israel to take military action, this option should be considered. Israel must realize that there will be no peace with an intransigent enemy that refuses to act in good faith. Palestinian rejectionism and Iranian-backed Hizbullah threats to our existence will never be placated; they will not stop until Israel is destroyed. Once the population realizes this unfortunate reality, there is only one way to change it. Israel must take the Sri Lankan initiative and move into these areas one by one, cornering, enveloping and killing off all armed resistance.

"Bending over backward to make peace with the Palestinians has proven fruitless. It's time to make the choice of a better life for all. More than 60 years of living with this is enough. When we have completely wiped out this enemy, a new dynamic will rise. Without the Muslim thugs holding their own people back, there will be nothing to stop them from negotiating genuine peace. There might be a Palestinian, a Lebanese, a Syrian, maybe even an Iranian peace partner which will transform the Middle East from a charnel house of hatred and bloodshed to a prosperous community of nations working together to make the daily lives of all their citizens better."

This neo-conservative worldview dictates advocating genocide in the deluded hope that Arabs will feel so defeated that they simply accept Israeli rule. It's a position also shared by Daniel Pipes:

"The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people."

A closer examination of Sri Lanka's methods reveals a disregard for civilian casualties far greater than the IDF crimes during the 2008/2009 Gaza war. There are serious allegations of Tamil Tigers surrendering under a white flag and being mowed down by soldiers. A forthcoming "People's Permanent Tribunal" meeting in Dublin will investigate a range of alleged crimes during the conflict and feature testimony from eyewitnesses, the UN and EU.

Colombo's clear policy during the war was a masterful exercise in avoidance and remarkably similar to Israel's tactics during the Gaza onslaught. Journalists, most human rights workers and independent observers were barred from the combat zone. Any criticism of Sri Lanka's behaviour was labelled as supporting "terrorism."

When the roughly 300,000 Tamils were interned in concentration camps after the war and held against their will - most were conditionally released last week though with restricted freedom of movement and ongoing monitoring of their lives - new friends Iran and China remained silent, while South Africa praised the Sri Lanka's supposed commitment to human rights.

Even Washington, in a just released a report, urges a more conciliatory approach. "US policy towards Sri Lanka cannot be dominated by a single agenda", it reads. "t is not effective at delivering real reform, and it short-changes US geo-strategic interests in the region".

Less than six months after the end of the conflict, the London Times reported this week that a re-branded insurgency is brewing (assuming, of course, this isn't a black ops story planted by the government):

"A Marxist group of Tamil militants with connections to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Cuba is preparing to mount a new insurgency in Sri Lanka six months after the Government declared an end to the 26-year-old war there.

"The People's Liberation Army (PLA) was founded in eastern Sri Lanka four months ago and has vowed to launch attacks against government and military targets unless its demands for a separate Tamil homeland are met.

"'This war isn't over yet, 'Commander Kones, head of the PLA's Eastern District military command, told The Times during a night meeting in a safe house in the east of the country last week.

"'There has been no solution for Tamils since the destruction of the LTTE [Tamil Tigers] in May. So we have built and organised the PLA and are ready to act soon. Our aim is a democratic socialist liberation of the northeast for a Tamil Eelam [the desired Tamil state].'"

A disenfranchised people will continue to strive for independence and self-determination. The Tamils have been wishing for a homeland for decades due to the government's ongoing discrimination against them. The Palestinians have also been denied natural justice since 1947.

Advocating the Sri Lanka model as an effective way of fighting terrorism is an attractive prospect for those who believe in obliterating the concepts of human rights and proportionality in international law. Israel is unwilling to negotiate in good faith with her opponents, guaranteeing ongoing resistance. The Tamils have fewer global friends but their struggle is just as necessary.

Sri Lanka, like Israel, should be shunned until it acknowledges the rights of its minority to equal rights before the law.

Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney based journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution. He is on the advisory council of the UK-based Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.

http://mondoweiss.net/2009/12/what-it-means-to-advocate-the-sri-lanka-model-for-israelpalestine.html

12/12/2009

The 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting - Will it still be 1984 in Sri Lanka?

CRAIG SCOTT

The government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has trouble with the truth. Alongside a track record of distortions and outright lies, its mastery of doublespeak of the sort Orwell so brilliantly narrated in his novel 1984 is both well-known and a thing to behold.

Consider the latest piece of propagandistic spin emerging from the Sri Lankan government after the just-ended Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Trinidad and Tobago. Ever since 2007, the GoSL had been lobbying Commonwealth countries for Sri Lanka to be designated as the host of the next CHOGM in 2011. Heading to Trinidad, Sri Lanka's diplomats had the wind at their backs after, earlier this year, marshaling the votes in the UN Human Rights Council to transform a condemnatory resolution into a resolution that in effect praised GoSL.

In the result, Sri Lanka emerged as a future host, but for 2013 not 2011. To judge by GoSL's version of events, the UK and Prime Minister Gordon Brown was Sri Lanka's biggest ally. In a November 30 media release entitled "Britain proposes Sri Lanka to host CHOGM 2013," the Sri Lanka Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports as follows: "Since Australia and Mauritius had also offered to be host, [UK] Prime Minister (Gordon) Brown had pointed out that all three countries are equally qualified and it was decided by the Commonwealth Heads of Government that they host the 2011 and 2015 CHOGMs respectively. The endorsement of Sri Lanka by the entire membership of the Commonwealth singularly demonstrates the recognition of Sri Lanka's adherence to the Commonwealth values and principles with the country being one of the most vibrant democracies."

Has the world's triumph-over-terror poster boy pulled off another victory akin to that at the UN Human Rights Council, in the process compromising the integrity of the British Prime Minister? Only, it turns out, if you live in 1984 and not 2009. For the truth is that Gordon Brown was far from Sri Lanka's patron saint in Trinidad.

On the eve of the conference, the UK made clear that it opposed the 2011 CHOGM taking place in Sri Lanka. On November 27, The Times of London reported two senior UK diplomatic sources as saying, in tandem: "(T)he UK will not support a Sri Lankan bid. Their conduct of their military campaign ...had a massive impact on the civilian population (and) was rightly condemned around the world...At the time, the Prime Minister urged President Rajapaksa to ensure further suffering was minimised and that the UN had full access to those affected and displaced by the conflict. ...(A) clear consequence of what happened earlier this year is that we are not in a position to support a bid by Sri Lanka to host CHOGM. We want the next host to reflect the full range of Commonwealth values - and particularly respect for human rights. As it stands, 150,000 internally displaced persons remain in closed camps. We are urging the Sri Lankan government to allow them freedom of movement. The Prime Minister has real concerns about Sri Lanka's bid. We simply cannot be in a position where Sri Lanka ... is seen to be rewarded for its actions."

According to the Guardian, Mr. Brown persuaded Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to join Britain in taking a stand. The Brown-Harper strategy was clearly stick (no to 2011) followed by carrot (2013). At the end of the CHOGM on November 29, Prime Minister Harper held a news conference at which he focused on the future. He presented the awarding of the 2013 CHOGM to Sri Lanka as an incentive for Sri Lanka to do right: "[2013] should give Sri Lanka plenty of time to get on a path towards genuine political reconciliation and broad-based multi-ethnic participation in their democracy. I think we all understand Sri Lanka has had enormous challenges with security and the civil war..., but at the same time there are deeper issues of political division, of political estrangement, of estrangement from the political system, of ethnic division that the government of Sri Lanka is going to have to address, if it wants to move forward in a positive direction."

Against this reality, GoSL has the temerity both to make it look like Gordon Brown was lauding its record and to claim the UK was in effect sponsoring Sri Lanka's candidacy. In the weeks, months and, indeed, years ahead, Sri Lanka's government must begin to earn the trust of both its citizens and the international community by relegating this kind of shameless truth-distorting conduct to the past, if the agenda described by Mr. Harper is to have any chance. But we can expect little to change without the blend of external pressure and watchfulness we saw in Port of Spain.

As such, the Commonwealth should follow both the moral example of Mr. Brown and the logic of Mr. Harper's soft, but clear, ultimatum. If, by the time of the 2011 CHOGM in Australia, trendlines point to 2013 likely to be remaining 1984 in Sri Lanka, then Canada and other Commonwealth member states must decide to withdraw the government of Sri Lanka's unearned privilege of hosting the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government.

Craig Scott is Professor of Law, Osgoode Hall Law School, and Director of the Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security, York University (Toronto). He is also a member of the Council of Advisors to the Campaign for Peace and Justice in Sri Lanka.

11/12/2009

The US and UN say things are ok in SL - but can you trust them?

Recent comments from the UN, US, Vatican and other suggests that things in Sri Lanka are progressing as smoothly as is reasonable to expect.

But the reason for communicating this message is that it pacifies and neutralises concern. That is what the real-politik players in different countries want to happen and then the UN fits in with that tone from the top.

Thankfully there are some organisations who just say it is it is. Here is the recently released statement from the well respected Asia Human Rights Centre. It's title says it all: "Seeking Human Rights in Sri Lanka is like looking for water on the moon".

The AHRC is publishing its 2009 annual human rights report on Sri Lanka. A pre-publication version of the report can be downloaded here

The world Human Rights Day was on the 10th December. The event passed in Sri Lanka without anything to celebrate in terms of any kind of positive achievements in the area of human rights. In fact, looking for human rights in Sri Lanka is becoming increasingly like looking for water on the moon or in the desert.

Permissiveness of corruption which has now begun to permeate all areas of life, virtually destroying all mechanisms of good governance, destroys the possibility of achieving any human rights either in the field of civil and political rights or social, economic and cultural rights. Naturally the groups that suffer most are the most vulnerable groups in society such as women, children, the elderly and the minorities.

The system of the executive presidency that exists in Sri Lanka, which is very similar to a system of absolute power in the system of the monarchies, has undermined the parliamentary system and the judicial system which had developed to some extent in the past. In the recent decades the admiration for dictatorships which developed in the two major political parties, the UNP and the SLFP helped to promote the system of the executive presidency. The president in Sri Lanka is above the law and there is nothing in the legal system that can exercise any form of checks and balances in order to control the abuse of power by the president.

The development of any abuse of power encourages the forces of violence within society. Sri Lanka today is one of the most violent societies where there is great permissiveness of extrajudicial killings. In the recent decades extrajudicial killings have taken the form of disappearances or various kinds of killings after arrest and while in police or military custody.

Accompanied with extrajudicial killings are the various possibilities that exist for prolonged detention without any recourse to judicial remedies. Under emergency and anti terrorism laws people have been kept for many years in detention without any possibility of obtaining meaningful redress from the courts. Intervention by the courts has been prevented by various kinds of suspensions of the ordinary laws of criminal procedure and constitutional provisions.

Added to these are heavy psychological pressures which have been created under the name of nationalism in order to discourage any kind of sympathy for victims of human rights abuse. The judicial remedies such as habeas corpus and fundamental rights provisions have suffered greatly due to such pressures generated by nationalism. The discouragement of the legal profession from providing a vigorous service to the citizens to defend rights has also contributed to the decline of human rights in Sri Lanka.

The use of torture is endemic in the policing system in Sri Lanka and added to this is the use of torture in preventive detention under the prevention of terrorism laws and the emergency regulations. All possibilities of finding redress against torture have been suppressed by deliberate denial of the investigative mechanisms into the complaints of torture and other abuses of human rights.

The mechanism of investigation into complaints of human rights abuse through the legal provisions of the criminal procedure code has been suppressed by deliberate political manipulations which virtually leaves the possibility of investigations in the hands of political authorities. The secretariat of the Ministry of Defense has developed a draconian system of controls on the security apparatus that has the capacity of interfering in all investigations into human rights abuses.

This interference has been used to encourage underground elements and some sections of the security forces themselves to engage in illegal activities towards those considered to be unacceptable elements to the government. With this an enormous psychology of fear and intimidation has been created within the country.

The abuse of civil rights has a direct impact on the economic, social and cultural rights in the country. The attacks on journalists which are known globally have placed Sri Lanka among the worst countries for the suppression of freedom of expression. The assassination of journalists has also lead to the fleeing of journalist from the country. Added to this is the self-censorship that has spread due to extreme forms of fear of repercussions.

Manipulating this situation the government has geared up its propaganda mechanism to all state media and the abuse of the media is one of the most visible factors in the country. Even the use of language in the state media has so degenerated and the political attacks on individuals and the abuse of individuals take place through television and radio programmes generally throughout the day. The entire state media is being used for political purposes, particularly for manipulation of the electoral system to the detriment of all opposition political parties.

Under these conditions it is the poor that naturally suffer the most. The suppression of the trade unions and the organizations of the ordinary folk among the farmers as well as the students and others have taken many visible forms. The general deterioration of the living standards is the complaint of all the population including the middle class. Skyrocketing of the prices of essential goods, the enormous problems in the transport systems, the breakdown of the health system and the degeneration of the educational system are among the most frequently heard complaints. However, all organized forums of discussions of such discontent have been suppressed by various forms of violence that is constantly being perpetrated on the population.

Under all these circumstances the assertion of any kind of rights has become extremely difficult in Sri Lanka. It is no exaggeration to assert that seeking human rights in Sri Lanka is as difficult as looking water on the moon or in the desert.

This situation that exists in all parts of the country exists to most unbearable extent in the north and the east. People living there are victims of absolute impunity. Those who dare to make any complaint about their tormentors run a real risk to their lives, liberty and whatever that is left of their properties. Displacement has become a normal affair in the homeland of the Tamil and Muslim populations.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

09/12/2009

Senior US human rights and conflict resolution specialists slam US Senate report

President Obama promised his era would be one of greater transparency and the Senate is following his lead on Sri Lanka. In an 18-page bipartisan report, two experienced Senators have argued for a more positive relationship with Sri Lanka and - with refreshing honesty - have argued that the primary reason is geo-political.

Timed to coincide with the two-day visit to the island by Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Robert Blake - who as Ambassador under President Bush was responsible for relationship with the Government of Sri Lanka as it prepared for the "final solution" of the LTTE - has been slammed by two of the leading US specialists on Sri Lanka.

Rejecting the key conclusions of the report - that there be a "more multifaceted U.S. strategy" that would use the resumption of military aid, among other tools, to gain influence in Colombo and halt its "strategic drift" toward China - senior spokespeople at the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch have spoken out in unusually transparent language as well.

"This report is an incredibly shoddy, ill-informed piece of work that grossly overstates the strategic importance of Sri Lanka to the United States and woefully understates the degree of abuses carried out by the government there," said Robert Templer, director of the Asia programme at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG).

And according to Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch: "Maybe the people who wrote the report don't know anything about Sri Lanka or maybe they're of the school that says that everything on the planet is strategic...The huge human-rights and humanitarian problems that continue there are not small; they're central to any principled diplomatic engagement with Sri Lanka at this point. So (the notion) that we are in a competition with China, which I think is driving this, is misplaced."

The IPS news service notes that "The report comes amid growing concern among many activists that President Barack Obama's policy of diplomatic engagement with abusive or authoritarian governments, such as China, Burma, Iran, Sudan, and Syria, is being pursued at the expense of human rights."

http://ipsnews.net/text/news.asp?idnews=49584

07/12/2009

A throw back to apartheid era foreign policy?

Reading the recent speech by a senior South African government minister leaves you uncertain whether to laugh or cry! As you will see, she praises Sri Lanka for its human rights record, its commitment to democracy and also its treatment of IDPs. All without any apparent sense of irony! http://www.info.gov.za/speeches/2009/09112413351001.htm Coming on the back of the 'stirling' work South Africa did to rally African governments to support Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council - http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/05/27/sri-lanka-un-rights-council-fails-victims - we should not be surprised.

It is said that the influence of China is behind this and other decisions to support dictators and totalitarian regimes. The South African Government's refusal to allow the Dalai Lama to visit is another case in point. We cannot tell if this is the only factor but whatever the reason, it is a sad day for the people of South Africa that their government is doing so much to harm the reputation of that great country.

We know many supporters of the Sri Lanka Campaign, not least through their work against apartheid regime, have strong links with many South Africans who have a deep sense of integrity. So we hope you will raise this shameful endorsement by their Minister with your contacts.

Of course, this government position stands in direct contrast to what Desmond Tutu and the other Elders-a project originally started by Nelson Mandela -have said recently. http://www.theelders.org/media/mediareleases/elders-call-sri-lankan-government-protect-rights-civilians-displaced-conflict-do .

And it undermines what the South African Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is working to do. Pillay is South African's leading figure in the UN and speaking of Sri Lanka she has said "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." She also commented on the vicious treatment of the questioning voices: "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." The mind boggles how the Minister could have said what she said with a straight face. But what counts is that she is the Minister.

Until many more South Africans make the choice to care, it is what the South African Government says - and not what Mandela, Tutu, Pillay and others say - that counts the most. Your contacts may not be able to change their Govt's line but they could show their personal support for this campaign. And they could help ensure that the media and other opinion-shapers who can shame or otherwise persuade the South African government into reviewing its approach take notice. Surely a foreign policy which is friendly to many of the features of apartheid is too depressing to be allowed to stand unchallenged?