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31/07/2010

Remembering the Black July pogroms

A reluctant Sinhalese asks when will Sri Lanka's 'week of shame' end?

"I never want to believe anything bad about our country." As Sri Lankan Tamils around the world commemorate 'Black July' this month, these words - spoken by David Cameron on the findings of the Saville inquiry - got me thinking.

Imagine for a moment an alternative Bloody Sunday: in the midst of growing tensions, members of the IRA ambush a British army patrol in Derry, ostensibly in retaliation for the rape of two Catholic girls. 13 soldiers are killed. Their comrades take to the streets of Derry and murder 51 innocent civilians. A few hours later, British special forces run riot in Belfast, burning down Catholic houses - the latest episode in a cycle of attacks and reprisals.

But somehow, only news of the 13 dead soldiers reaches London. A mass funeral for them is staged in Highgate cemetery the next day. Mourners turn into mobs, seamlessly it seems. They divert. Travel down to Camden and Tooting, where they attack Catholic homes and businesses and set them alight. Anti-Catholic violence spreads like wildfire across the capital and continues for three days until the Irish foreign minister is dispatched to London. 24 hours after his arrival, it flares up again as rumours of the IRA entering London begin to circulate.

Now imagine if the British Prime Minister, instead of trying to stop the mobs, said "I am not worried about the opinion of the Catholic people...now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion...if I starve the Catholics out, the Protestant people will be happy”. Imagine if it took international pressure to compel him to act, one whole week after the violence began.

This is what happened in Sri Lanka from 23 to 31 July 1983, when the country's minority Tamils were massacred and driven from their homes by Sinhalese mobs. At least 1,000 were killed, 18,000 properties destroyed, a staggering 150,000 displaced, and the psyche of the Tamil community was scarred, perhaps irrevocably. All in seven days.

'Black July' was initially dismissed by the government of the day as a sudden surge of communal hatred. Some 20 years later, a 'truth commission' made official what had been known all along: that this was no spontaneous act of retaliation but an orchestrated pogrom with government goons and politicians guilty to varying degrees - from active participants in the violence, including those who dispersed electoral lists to help the mobs identify Tamil homes, to those who did nothing to stop it.

Many Sinhalese politicians now speak of 'Black July' as a 'tragedy', a 'turning point' and 'Sri Lanka’s week of shame'. But this recognition does not appear to have translated into a change of heart, let alone policy. There has been no formal apology, no compensation for the families of the victims and no attempt to prosecute the guilty. The systematic oppression of Sri Lanka's Tamils, meanwhile, has continued unabated: discrimination, torture, marginalisation, disappearances, rape, extrajudicial killings and - of course - the indiscriminate shelling of Tamil civilians during the final stages of the armed conflict last year and their mass incarceration in the months that followed.

Speaking to other Sinhalese - those who live in Sri Lanka and those who, like me, now live elsewhere - I get the sense that 'Black July' is seen by many as an horrific aberration. The phrase 'week of shame' corroborates this. It severs 'Black July' from its context, isolating it from past events like the riots of the 1950s and failing to grasp its impact on subsequent events, including what is going on in the country now. Several Sinhalese say that nothing like it has happened since. I disagree. 'Black July' - an expression of decades of structural violence - simply mutated into the formalised channels of armed conflict and continues to fester now, more than a year after the conflict ended.

And so my 'week of shame' continues too. Shame for being Sinhalese. It grows with every news report, every image of suffering I see and testimony I hear. Every time a past horror is exposed in the press I wonder how many new ones are being covered up. The only respite from this shame is anger, at the lies, deception and denial - unknowing, willing and enforced - by most Sinhalese of what has been and continues to be done in their name.

Don't get me wrong. I love Sri Lanka and I care about all its people. But the things I love are not uniquely Sinhalese. The food, the hospitality, the warm greetings and close extended families, the readiness to smile and to dance, the passion for education and love of the written word, the concept of serendipity, the mysterious nod-shake that can mean 'yes' or 'no' - these are part of a culture that has been created through the joy and strife of different communities living together.

I want to feel proud of that. I want to tell people that Sri Lanka is a great place to visit. I want to look at the Sri Lankan flag without thinking of the thousands who died on the battlefields last year. I want to watch Murali take his 800th wicket without cringing when the President shakes his hand. Most of all, I want to be able to meet Tamils without feeling guilty, without wondering what this person might have had to endure.

In the eyes of many Sinhalese I am an LTTE sympathiser; the blanket label given to all who speak out. Nothing could be further from the truth. While I understand why the Tigers formed - decades of oppression coupled with fruitless political and peaceful resistance is a potent recipe for terrorism in any country - I cannot condone what they did, least of all to the people they claimed to be liberating. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't bring myself to participate in last year's protests in Parliament Square because of all the flags with the tiger and the guns. Even though I am told it now signifies support for Eelam and not the LTTE, it still makes me queasy.

So here I am, suffering an identity displacement which, though of far lesser import than that which has been suffered by countless others, is nonetheless symbolic of our troubled island. I long for the day when the pleasure that surges through me when I discover another Sri Lankan abroad is not tinged with awkwardness when the inevitable question (which I never ask) arises: Tamil or Sinhala?

I'm not sure I will ever be able to answer 'Sinhala' with pride, but I hope that one day I will be proud to be Sri Lankan.

30/07/2010

Pakistan media breaks silence on Sri Lanka

Pakistan has been one of Sri Lanka's most active supporters, providing considerable military and other assistance.(1)

So an op-ed critical of events in Sri Lanka in a major Pakistani newspaper - DAWN - is no small step forward.

Democrats and human rights defenders in Pakistan are right to be concerned about the precedents that have been and are being set in Sri Lanka since the parallels are disturbingly close.

Pakistan is also near to what Basil Fernando terms the 'abysmal lawlessness' of Sri Lanka.(2) Impunity is common, the disappearance of legality is the norm, "missing persons" happen frequently, powers are heavily concentrated in the executive head, many forms of legal institutional structures have been degraded and the citizen is "a big zero". The main difference today is that Pakistan still has an independent and functioning judiciary.

So just as Pakistan's elite have supported Sri Lanka's elite, so there is a need for all those in Pakistan who support democracy and human rights to support their peers in Sri Lanka.


Sri Lanka's 'war crimes'. 15 July 2010
One doesn't have to feel intrigued by the protest in Colombo. Led by a loyalist minister of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government, the demonstrators want the United Nations to call off the probe into war crimes the Sri Lankan army is alleged to have committed against the Tamil in the closing days of the civil war last year.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's move to set up a three-member panel has come more than a year after the war had ended and reports of the army's atrocities against civilians had started filtering out. The war was conducted by the army but had the full backing of the president who believed that Tamil Eelam was an intractable problem which could not be resolved through political means. The war had dragged on for 27 years and the final assault is believed to have been brutal with 7,000 civilians having been killed in the last few months of the fighting. Besides the Sri Lankan government is known to have resorted to ham-fisted measures vis-à-vis the media and the opposition.

The panel has been asked to advise the secretary-general on "accountability mechanisms for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict". Considering that the changing nature of warfare is neutralising the effectiveness of the Geneva Conventions which lay down the principles of international humanitarian law, it is important that the principles of these conventions are observed by men in uniform even if they are fighting against dissidents and insurgents.

The verdict on Sri Lanka should come as a warning to other armies fighting on their own soil. The principle of showing humanity to civilians and wounded enemy soldiers and prisoners is sacrosanct and must be respected.

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/editorial/sri-lankas-war-crimes-570

(1)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pakistan-Sri_Lanka_relations


(2)http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2010/04/sri-lanka-emergence-of-power-of.html

29/07/2010

Cries like rain ....This is why I campaign!

"When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out 'stop!'
When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible.
When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard.
The cries, too, fall like rain in summer".

This blog is written by a volunteer who works with the Campaign.

I've read a plethora of reports (Amnesty International , International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders), statements from The Elders, the EU report explaining why the GSP+ preferential trading status was withdrawn, the good/bad/indifferent articles in the citizen journalism sites (as most other journalism has been silenced)...

And yet the power of these 2 emails below, "ping-ing" into my inbox from miles away, bring a lump to my throat. They are not saying anything I haven't heard from other sources. And yet these personal heartfelt laments, one from a nun one who has dedicated her life to service and has nothing to gain, compels me to be more than be a bystander. But how do I reply to her?

"I visit the camps and also help IDPs in Vavuniya many of whom are widows. The orphanages are trying to cope. More children cannot be accommodated as there are no place, as all the buildings are destroyed and need repair. Father X intends taking more orphan children of the war.

The situation for the people in the camp and in Vanni is beyond description. In Vanni they are given a few tin sheets and they are living in the open exposed to the cold and heat. No income facilities. They have lost everything and have gone with bare-hands. The house of the people which are occupied by the forces will be returned to people only if they pay money for their own house. This is the situation of their living condition. You would have heard about the rape in Visvamadhu where 2 women were raped by 6 armed forces. One has died. Liquor shops are established near the schools in Vanni and all the shops in Vanni are owned by soldiers and Sinhalese. There a few thousands container houses (ready made) lying along A9 road which are not given to the people. It seems they are for the soldiers and their families. Already plans are there for Sinhala colonization in these areas under the cover of resettlement.

People in the camp are given only rice and sugar. They sell the rice in order to buy other things. NGOs and others are not permitted to help in the camps as earlier. So the plight of those in the camps are terrible. No water, sanitation facilities either. They are languishing in the camp with no future or hope. Many hundreds of the youth who have been under custody have been taken to the South to places where they do not have their culture or language. What will become of them we will have to wait and see.

Last week you would have heard about a 31 old year Family health worker - a hospital staff in Velanai Hospital was hanged in the hospital and the culprit has been a Sinhala doctor and the judge judge has asked to remand him. Daily protests are up against this killing and for justice to be done. Sinhala doctors and nurses are playing with the lives of the patients too without knowing the language. Daily Sinhalese are on picnic to the north with finance given by the government while the IDPs starve and die in the jungle without proper shelter, clothing and food. They are exposed to the heat and cold and rape by the forces around them in thousands. The Sinhalese who come on picnic purchase things here by raising the prices and the people here and the IDPs are made to look at the sky and wait. Sinhala colonization and culture is rising high with houses provided for them while the IDPs lie in the open in the jungle.

Today's paper editorial is shocking. Mahinda had a meeting in Kilinochchi all eye wash.The promises are far from what is happening and his promises are all humbug. Minister Hehaliya Rambukela has said the High security zones will never be removed, rather many more houses and lands of the IDPs in Kilinochchi will be absorbed for defence purpose if needed. This means the IDPs who has love lost have of their home place will be deprived even further and will be pushed into the jungle. They are going to put up more permanent military camps in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. The plan is already on the way and with that Sinhala colonization will take place, settling the forces and their families and relatives. While the IDPs will linger exposed to the heat and cold, with no basic essentials, no education, no health, no employment facilities. When you read the daily paper it is shocking. There is no news of the missing youth who were brought up to Omanthai including Fr. Francis Joseph who was seen at Omanthai. Parents are daily walking the streets and looking for their children who came with them up to Omanthai.

The IDPs who have been taken to Pandivirichchan, Madhu have not been given anything. They are left in the school. No tin sheet, no pole, no cash nothing. They are starving with no assistance at all. All their houses are destroyed and they cannot return to their homes either. But Mahinda is boasting of freeing the people and that they are living in peace. Far from it. They are made to become paupers. What is worse is what the minister Hahaliya Rambukela said about permanent military camps, and taking more lands and houses if needed for security and the permanent high security zones.

We only trust the God of miracle to intervene and save. Please lobby around and make international pressure for the safety and dignity of these people in this land.

Thank you and may God bless you
Sr.X"

***********
This is another report ...

With regard to resettlement in Vanni it is a very sad story. The people are given Rs. 5000 and asked to to put up the shed on their own. Earlier they were given 12 tin sheets and 6 poles. Now the people have to get them with the money they get. They are in the open with no security. All along A9, the army has put up shops and there going to be sinhala colonization. Daily and specially during week end Vanni and Jaffna and Vavuniya is full of Sinhalese coming on picnic to explore possibilities. They have been given financial assistance by the government. There a few (some say 40 thousands) thousands ready made container house bought from China lying along A9 road supposed to be for the families of the Sinhala soldiers which is to start colonization. While the thousands of IDPs are in the open in the hot sun with no proper shelter, no water sanitation, no employment and income. There are arrack tavern near the schools in Vanni according to a daily paper an article of former judge of Jaffna.

The surrenders from Vavuniya have been taken to the South. 700 girls were taken from vavuniya last month to Nittambuwa. From there they travel daily to somewhere close to Kurunagala for work in factory. they are provided only food and nothing else said a girl from there. All their needs have to be seen by someone who goes to see them. The boys have been taken to Valikanda. The parents were asked to come to Vavuniya to go and see them. Each mother or father has to pay Rs 1000 for the bus for their journey. They must come to Vavuniya previous day stay in the lodge at 3am they are taken by bus and at 10.30 they reached met their chidlren and left at 3pm and reached Vavuniya at 8pm stayed in the lodge and went to the IDP camp next day. They boys in Welikanda are given only meals, all other needs have to be provided by their family. The boys walk daily 10 miles up and down to go to work to jungle and cut tree. Saturdays half day work after which they are taken to a river for a bath. Other days no bath. The boys in Trinco are taken to a katquary where they break stones whole day. These were reported by the parents who went to see their children in Walikanda and in Trinco.

This is the situation of rehabilitation. The mother who related this to me was in tears. She has been to see her son only once as she is living in IDP camp and has no money. In the camp they are given only rice, few grams of sugar and some coconut oil and dhal. No NGOs allowed to go into IDP camps.

In Mullaitivu planning is on the way for colonization of 12000 Sinhala family. Everywhere Buddha statue is being erected. The situation is going to worse for us in the future. Only God can help us. Keep us in your prayers


27/07/2010

Who cares about human rights when it's hard to get the story?

An insightful and hard-hitting article written by William Horsley of the BBC College of journalism, part of the BBC academy.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/journalism/blog/2010/07/who-cares-about-human-rights-w.shtml .

Monday 26 July 2010 .


The 30-year Sri Lankan civil war ended last year with government forces crushing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels. Some reports say there may have been as many as 30,000 civilian casualties in the final months of the war. Calls for an international war crimes inquiry were rejected by the Sri Lankan government, which set up its own "Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission".

Who cares - especially when governments make it hard or dangerous to get the story? Should the Western media be doing more in places like Sri Lanka?

The war brought allegations of atrocities committed on both sides and feelings are raw among Sri Lankans of all backgrounds. A discussion at the Frontline Club shed some light on issues of censorship, journalism and state power in times of bitter conflict.
'
The moderator, the BBC's Stephen Sackur, had recently recorded a series of HARDtalk interviews in Sri Lanka. The Frontline audience saw a Channel 4 News report by Jonathan Miller from last year, showing what were alleged to be cold-blooded killings of Tamil prisoners by Sri Lankan soldiers. The video's authenticity had been challenged, unsuccessfully, by the government as part of an information war.

Jonathan Miller said his and other Western news organisations had tried hard, and sometimes taken physical risks, to cover the war and its aftermath. But the Sri Lankan authorities' restrictions on the media had made it an information "black hole".

He cited reports that 15 Sri Lankan journalists had been killed over the past three years. Violent attacks and abductions were still going on. In the past year alone, 29 others had been forced to flee.

At almost every turn, points raised by Miller and other critics were contradicted by another invited speaker, Douglas Wickramaratne, a political analyst and president of the Sinhala Association of Sri Lankans in the UK.

He insisted that Sri Lanka is a real democracy with an independent judiciary; that no sovereign state would accept the interference of an international war crimes investigation; that Sri Lanka has freedom of the press, with a diverse and critical media; and that the West was hypocritical when it complained about the Sri Lankan government's conduct of a war against an enemy which had used child soldiers and suicide bombers.

Britain, he argued, had passed emergency laws and adopted a shoot-to-kill policy against suspected terrorists after a much smaller number of deaths from one day of terrorist bombings in London.

The debate provided a stark example of how two incompatible views of a complex situation can co-exist. It demonstrated how an information war is a competition to define the terms of the argument. And it made clear how in such situations the role of independent news media - both local and global - is crucial.

So, should the Western media have done more to report human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. And should Western governments have done more to prevent them?

Yes and yes, said several speakers.

Yolanda Foster of Amnesty International said she had been refused entry to Sri Lanka for over a year. She talked of a "climate of fear for journalists" which had led to a veil of secrecy covering up a much wider pattern of human rights abuses.

None of the 15 recorded murders of journalists in Sri Lanka in the past three years had led to successful investigations, she said. She blamed not only the lack of an independent judiciary but a failure of nerve by other countries which had not pressed Sri Lanka hard enough to comply with its pledges under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other agreements. She warned that a cycle of impunity would store up trouble for the future.

Edward Mortimer, a former senior UN official who now advises the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, saw Sri Lanka as a test case of the international commitment that, after the Rwandan genocide and the Srebrenica massacre in the 1990s, such things should never be repeated.

Yes, he said, the Western media should pay more attention. And so should countries like South Africa, India and Brazil - democracies in the developing world which had learned the value of governments' commitment to human rights standards after coming through their own struggles against dictatorship and repression.

The latest annual report by the Committee to Protect Journalists reckons that Sri Lanka is the fourth-most dangerous country for journalists in the world - more dangerous than Colombia, Afghanistan or Russia.

There's a message here for all who care about free and independent media. Jonathan Miller said other countries had shown an interest in copying what had come to be known as the "Sri Lankan option" of unrestrained military action, disregard of humanitarian issues and a clampdown on the press.

You could say that alone makes the Sri Lanka story everyone's business. For sure, the Frontline event demonstrated the vital role of bold and independent journalism in the harshest of conditions - especially when it's really hard to get the story.

A video of the Frontline debate 'Sri Lanka: could the West do more about human rights and press freedom?' can be viewed here.

20/07/2010

Why most journalists visiting Sri Lanka don't see what is really happening.....and a report from one who did

This is a compelling account of what one foreign journalist had to do to get to see what is really happening in Sri Lanka. This account was read out on behalf of the journalist at the forum held at the Frontline Club in London on 6th July.

The video of the discussion can be viewed on: http://frontlineclub.com/events/2010/07/sri-lanka-could-the-west-do-more-about-human-rights-and-press-freedom.html


I was working in a restaurant as a waitress to earn money for a trip to Mexico when I first heard about Sri Lanka and its decade long civil war. To be perfectly honest, until then I’d thought that Sri Lanka was a province of India.


The cooks in the restaurant kitchen were illegal Tamil immigrants, who fled their countries for various reasons, all related to the conflict. The LTTE threatened to recruit them. Their family had been persecuted by the government. As they told me their personal stories, little dots on the complex picture of the war affecting their country, I wondered why I had never read, heard or seen anything about Sri Lanka in the media before. Maybe it was just me not paying attention, but the truth is most people around me had no clue either.


My new Tamil friends told me stories I could hardly believe and it was not until I actually made it to Sri Lanka that I fully believed them. I still remember an Algerian waiter working in the restaurant next door telling me that they had to be liars simply trying to get asylum.


But they had caught my imagination so intensely with their tale of a paradise island caught up in epic guerrilla warfare; I wanted to see for myself. It seemed an ideal story to cover for a young journalist as well: cheap flight tickets, cheap life once there, under reported story, adventure, but not overly dangerous.
By the time I finally made it to Sri Lanka in the summer 2009, Rajapaksa’s government had managed to end that war I was hoping to cover and I arrived in a post-war country.


The story had shifted. From Tamil vs. Sinhalese, government vs. LTTE, the story became authoritarianism vs. democracy, corruption and nepotism vs. the rule of law. Of course these issues existed already during the war. But in post-war Sri Lanka they are taking centre stage and affecting everyone, Tamils and Sinhalese. This is why Western media’s role is more important than ever. When democracy is threatened and voices from the ground are shut, it is for the outside world to help them come out. More importantly, the handful of voices who dare to tell the truth should be relayed in the Western media, because it is also a way to protect them.


In recent years, Rajapaksa’s regime has mastered the art of keeping Western journalists at bay, with little or no protest from media organisations and Western governments. No one was able to cover the last stage of the war against the LTTE, apart from a handful of embedded Sinhalese journalists now too scared to talk about what they saw. Today media organisations are too easily deterred from sending crews by the restrictions put in place by the SL government. But mainly, too little attention is given to events taking place on the island. Almost no journalists made the trip to cover the parliamentarian elections in April 2010 and the coverage was limited to the election results and a basic analysis of them.


As a young, unknown journalist I was able to get in the country and report without a visa, something more established correspondents cannot do, as Jeremy Page from The Times learnt. It is not something I am proud of, but it was also the only way for me to access the North of the country, as I did a few months ago. Indeed, foreigners still need a clearance from the ministry of defence. Anyone foreign, even tourists. I did enquire about the reason behind such a procedure and called the ministry of defence. I wanted to see if I could do this playing by the rules. But I was told by a ministry official that the procedure was aimed at stopping people from “reporting bad things”.


So I did not play by the rules. I was told off by UN officials I tried to interview, saying that it was putting me on the wrong side of the fence with the government. Well sure, but then the government is not exactly on the right side of the fence with freedom of the press either. This is why I am not talking on this panel today and merely giving this written statement under a pseudonym. I want to be able to go back to Sri Lanka.


I understood better why Sri Lankan authorities are so anxious to control news coming from the North when I reached the Vanni area and Jaffna. “Resettlement” means people have been thrown on the side of roads facing mine fields, the militarization of the area is phenomenal, and a traumatised Tamil population is left to itself while monuments to celebrate the army victory are erected, along with houses apparently destined to accommodate the Sinhalese soldiers who are to settle in the area. The word “reconciliation” is difficult to associate with the government’s policy.


Of course new businesses are being created, roads are being built, and the area will certainly develop exponentially in the next years. But for whose benefit?
The reality in Sri Lanka is far from being black and white: it is not a “poor-oppressed-Tamils” vs. “mean Sinhalese” story. I interviewed many war widows who without their husbands found themselves in a vulnerable position. They were often abused by fellow Tamils, working as government agents in their community.


However it is true that the Tamil population in the North and East has particularly suffered in the past two years. The LTTE recruited children and young adults to use them as cannon fodder, people lost limbs and family members in the last stage of the conflict, and the survivors were parked in camps for months. Post-traumatic stress is affecting almost everyone and it is obvious to the visitor that nothing is done by the Sri Lankan authorities or international agencies to help these people overcome the horror they lived through. Trauma and the anger following it is what led to the creation of the LTTE in the 1980s, peace will not be possible without dealing with it.


Accountability for the crimes committed by both sides of the conflict is crucial for reconciliation as well. People need to know what happened. But most importantly, people need to want to know. This is why the role of the media is ever important. Before accountability can be truly debated in Sri Lanka, mentalities must change.


Nina de la Preugne

19/07/2010

Destination Sri Lanka?

The Flight Home.

They would be landing in 40 minutes. All in all it had taken 12 hours and 20 years of a life lived in Britain. His name was Sam, short for Samarajeeva and last week his father had finally died in St Thomas’s Hospital in London. It was the reason he was on this Sri Lankan Airway’s flight to Colombo.

"Be my eyes, son," his father had said. "Go see our home. Don’t completely give up on it, huh?"

God! He’d thought, he'd have to go, now. Perhaps he could combine it with a holiday.

"But don’t get involved in the politics, son," his father had warned. "It's dangerous."

The last words of a dying 75-year-old man; a one time adviser for the Sri Lankan Government, a concerned father, a husband widowed too early. (Sam's mother had died of lung cancer.) His father had not remarried. Even on his deathbed he had talked of his beautiful wife with tears in his eyes. Then giving his advice he too had died.

The plane was flying over the Maldives; brochure-glamorous and azure. White sand under transparent water. Just perfect for snorkelling.

"Don't talk about the war, Putha," his father had repeated, endlessly. "That's all done and dusted now. People want to forget and move on. Only trouble makers remember."

An image of a blindfolded man, being kicked then shot, a child screaming in terror, a land mine exploding, flashed before Sam's eyes. Something he had seen on television during those last grim hours while he waited for his father to die.

"Any rubbish?" asked the stewardess.

Sam shook his head, dispelling the image. Moments after his father had died he had gone to the washroom to stare at himself in the mirror. There had been nothing in his face to indicate how he felt.

"Don't worry," his Dad had always said. "You'll see, the country is fine. The war is over."

But what if appearances were deceptive? When he had come out of the washroom that day the nurse had touched his arm sympathetically.

"Would you like to have your father's things, now?" she had asked.

Having his Dad's Rolex watch somehow helped in moving towards closure. Sam was full of admiration for the understanding of the staff, even though he hadn’t made a fuss.

The sound of the engines changed. The seat belt sign was switched on. Below them sunlight danced on a transparent sea. He had left Sri Lanka when he had been four. Holding on to his mother; that now distance figure who had left her home reluctantly. She had not wanted her son to witness violence of any kind.

"We had to wipe those terrorists out," his father, a High Court Judge at the time, had said. 'Of course we won't kill a single civilian! What d'you think we are? Murderers?"

In the hospital, watching that documentary, Sam had seen a woman. Even his father had noticed the likeness.

"Reminds me of your mother," he had mumbled.

That woman had been crying just like his own mother had cried when Sam had suspected appendicitis. The difference was that the woman in the film was looking at her murdered son.

"Turn it off," his father had said. "Death is part of life and they are bloody liars. We never killed civilians."

And then of course, his father had died. Sam could see that forgetting wasn't easy. Now although he was going home to be his Dad's eyes it was his father's words that echoed in Sam's head. When he had seen the Tamil woman on the telly his father had said,

"You’re not to tell anyone but you're mother had Tamil blood somewhere in her ancestors."

The plane was descending rapidly. Thick coconut palms covered the land, obscuring the view. He would have liked to have seen the place more clearly. But perhaps that was only possible from the ground.


Going to Sri Lanka?

Now the war is over, many Sri Lankans living abroad have started to visit Sri Lanka again. For some it is the first trip 'home' in several years and for others its been a decade or even longer.


But what about the thousands of IDPs in Sri Lanka? When will they be able to return 'home'? (Not just the IDPs from the recent war but the thousands of Tamil and Muslim IDPs created since the early 80's). For most of these people, going home isn't an option for a variety of reasons including; detainment in camps, the appropriation of their land for 'high security zones' and 'special economic zones', the resettlement of Army personnel and their families into their lands. In addition the heavy military and para military occupation of the north and east makes return an unappealing prospect.



How would you feel if you were in their position? Maybe you have been personally affected by one or more these issues? If you feel strongly about these injustices then you could use your trip to Sri Lanka to do some informal research into the situation faced by ordinary people. On your return, you could share your findings with your extended family and community. If you are able you could contact the media / advocacy groups with the stories you have collected - personal testimonies can be a powerful way of exposing difficult issues. Also, the SLC would welcome your findings (written and photo) however small /large. Send an email to Srilankapeacecampaign@googlemail.com

As a starting point these are some of the issues you may decide to investigate during your trip...do make it to the North and East to find out for yourself (note you will need to apply for a pass to travel there..which in itself says something about State control) :

1. Impact of the war on young people and children
- visit schools and orphanages and ask the children about their concerns and hopes

2. Changing demography of the north and east
- ask local people you meet to give you example they know of

3. Destruction of religious and cultural sites (and the building of new ones)
- speak with local people and take photographs if possible

Even if you don't find out anything that could be reported on your return, the time you spend talking and listening to people will be appreciated. Remember that many people's primary aim at this stage is to cope with basic survival needs and you may find that you are able to help financially or emotionally. Of course there will be deeper stories that may take more time to uncover and many people will not be comfortable sharing that information with strangers, but known people and members of the extended family may be willing to share more.

It may be useful to ask yourself the question.. "In what small way can my trip to Sri Lanka help towards advocating for dignity of the people who are oppressed?". The best approach is based on genuine interest and sensitivity to the persons situation. Some of the questions you may consider:

1)What is the most pressing physical need? ...see if you can meet it, or log it to pass onto/ report it to advocacy/help groups,
2)What is their story of the conflict?
3)What is the the truth, as they see it?
4)What will heal their pain?
5)What does justice mean for them?
6)What is their hope?
7)What acts beyond charity will fix the problems?


If you feel uncomfortable talking to a range of people why not find a family that you can 'twin' with - you may decide to provide them with some assistance or simply write to them from time to time.

17/07/2010

So why do we bother to campaign? THIS is why!

We recently had someone support our campaign and the name not only looked Sinhalese but seemed to come from within Sri Lanka. This is unusual so we followed up asking if this was so and what motivated them to take the risks, given the email hacking and the like.

This was their initial reply:

“Yes I am in Sri Lanka. I hope the UN does not with withdraw the panel.
There has to be some justice for those innocent people who lost their lives as well as the living who suffered and continue to suffer.

Although I belong to the majority community, I don't like to see the minority being treated differently.

Our country is in trouble!!! Our apathy at what is happening is disgusting. We don't fight against injustice - our mentality is - if we are not affected why get into trouble with the authorities (the family).

I do get mad about the situation but like most I do nothing.”

We commented that signing the letter, and even more, networking the e-petition to friends, was from “doing nothing”. As Sri Lankans have slipped into “bystander culture” – turning a blind eye, even justifying what cannot be justified – these actions are very brave.

Of course there are always "positive deviants" in every society - the Hutus who saved Tutsi's and in Sri Lanka too, the Sinhalese who protected Tamils in the 1983 pogrom. But the ethical culture can be eroded over time and Sri Lanka today is very different from how it was even in the 80s. And this context can make a big difference as is now well known from Europe during the 2nd World War.

In some countries – Denmark, the Netherlands – ordinary people did a lot to protect Jewish people. Even some governments that supported Nazi Germany – Italy, Hungary – tried to avoid complicity. But France – no less educated, no less sophisticated –Nazi German directives were, in general, without question.[1] Indeed, it was only after the death of a President who was involved in that complicit period that France has been able to start to face this dark part of its history.

Back to our new supporter. This was their reply to our attempt to acknowledge their bravery and commitment:

“Yes I have tried to do my bit to change the path we are on. Still I feel weak since I have not been able to convince even my friends to be more active. Of course they are concerned but for various valid reasons do not want to come out in the open.

I hate violence of any kind and injustice upsets me very much. As you are aware, at the moment we have the law of the jungle. People in this country have been turned into utter fools by feeding them on patriotism - not the true meaning but the version most convenient. Even intellectuals are talking like lunatics. The average people are fed also with instant glamour on TV to make them forget their hunger. People who can think rationally are getting less and less. Buddhism is turned on its head, specially by the priests. The true meaning of our religion is lost although outwardly there are more temples more religious ceremonies. Loving kindness is practiced selectively. A very sad state of affairs.

Strength to all of you to help us.”

One cannot help but wonder why this person can have such generosity to engage and thank others whilst many Sri Lankan diaspora - of all ethnic groups - do their best to avoid these issues

It’s messages like this that make us more and more resolved to go succeed. For the people in Sri Lanka and for all the people in other countries where dictators and tyrants might be tempted to try the “Sri Lanka model”, we MUST make sure their crimes don’t pay.


http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/genocide/jewish_deportation_01.shtml

15/07/2010

Amnesty International challenges UN humanitarian agencies working in Sri Lanka

Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International's Sri Lanka researcher, challenged UN agencies working in that country during a panel discussion on 'humanitarian challenges in the 21st Century' held at UN Forum, a conference hosted by the UN Association of the UK on 12 June 2010.

The discussion was chaired by Sir Nicholas Young (Chief Executive of the British Red Cross) and Foster was joined on the panel by representatives of UNICEF UK, the UN Refugee Agency and the World Food Programme.

A key focus of the session was to highlight the difficulties humanitarian agencies face when operating in complex emergencies. Sri Lanka's long-running conflict - which reached a bloody end in May 2009 - is a prime example. The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) barred access to the conflict zones and has since severely restricted the work of the ICRC and UN agencies are able to undertake with the hundreds of thousands of war survivors. Repeated calls for a ceasfire, including by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, went unheeded and both the GoSL and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) displayed callous contempt for civilian life.

While the operational context was extremely difficult - UN officials faced harsh censure and even expulsion for venturing any criticism of the conduct of the war - NGOs such as International Crisis Group have pointed to severe failings in the UN's work. These include the withdrawal of agencies from certain areas as early as November 2008, and tacit support for the detainment camps through cooperation with the GoSL, prioritising direct humanitarian access over wider and no less serious human rights concerns.

After showing horrific images on the conflict and camps, Foster drew attention to the inability of the UN and the international community to prevent the massive loss of life in the final stages of the conflict. She then challenged her fellow panellists, asking whether the UN could have done more to protect civilians both during and after the conflict.

You can listen to the discussion on the United Nations Association website here (duration 61mins) or download the Podcast by clicking here. (9.5MB)

14/07/2010

SRI LANKA: Retired Senior Police Officer talks about the Devastating Degeneration of the Police Department

SSP Angunawala (Rtd) who served the department for thirty six and half years commented on the reasons for the degeneration of the police department in a taped interview given to Janasansadaya, a human rights organization.

Sri Lanka at the moment is undergoing a very bad situation in the field of human values and the deterioration of human values has caused the deterioration of departments under which all these people are recruited to. Now the police department has suffered great damage due to the deterioration of the society as well as what has been influencing the police department towards the worst.

When I talked about the police department in which I have served for 36 and half years, what I have seen here for the past six years is devastating. From the time the police, the British established the police they introduce the code of ethics. The code of ethics is of course the departmental orders. The departmental orders have five sections from A to E, and each section has more than 25 sub sections where everything is set out in great detail; describing the establishing of the service from the first appointment to the last day of retirement.

Everything is in black and white. Even the method of a transfer of a police officer is in black and white. It cannot be done in a way any that another person wants to it to happen. The system used for the working of a police station is described in detail in the police ordinance which is encoded in the legislative enactment which should be a great tool for the working of the police department. Reporting for duty, reporting off, the working of the different branches is well coded in the police ordinance.

In addition it is all in lesson form from the time a young officer is recruited. It is done in the training school and while the constable is undergoing training. This is for a period of six months. A recruit sub-inspector was given training for a period of nine months. For the selection of officers the suitability of officers, the personality, the basic physical requirements, background and knowledge and even the family status was gone into. They were considered important and for various reasons the above considerations were not considered for some many years. The influence of the British in recruiting officers resulted in a great deal of officers going to higher posts through influence and favoritism led to great damage to the police department. Lack of knowledge, even to guide the junior officers is one which affects the service right now.

Not learning the basics of the police and how to act has led to a very grievous situation. Appointing young university graduates to senior positions where highly trained and experienced officers should be placed is a deterrent to the present system. This causes disarray to the present system because suitable officers are neglected resulting in neglect of duties, discipline, law, administration and accounts and such training should be given to all ranks of the police department if there is to be success.

If there is to be a system of giving training to the police department knowledgeable officers should be placed as resource officers. From time to time lectures should be given to them. There should be inspectorate levels of police officers to study for this and this should be arranged in such a way to be able so that they can perform their duties and also go for lectures.

Improper employment of constables and sub-inspectors is greatly seen these days. Unspecified duties where police officers should not be used, such as in parliament and to stand on the road as you seen now is deterrent to the mental condition of a police officer. Now what has happened is that this has caused a lot of damage to the mental duties of the officers. Long hours of duty are seen today where police officers are used for 12 hours. To obtain promotion officers go after politicians, if not they will never get a promotion.

The original promotion scheme was not taken into consideration placing unsuitable persons in the wrong places and giving these to persons coming straight out of universities is an absolutely dangerous situation which is happening right now and it is prolonging progress. Officers taking the law into their own hands is a great concern because extrajudicial killings are also happening today where generally the magistrate sits and has no knowledge of what is happening. There is no knowledge of rights.

This must be considered a very grave concern and undertaken at training level and even at this level there should be more detailed instruction on how to handle court situations.

There must be a senior of officer of integrity and high discipline and knowledge for the purpose of training junior officers to look up to them. Not those who go after politicians, they are demeaning their uniform and the service.

They are doing wrong things at the instructions of the politicians.

http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2010statements/2686/

13/07/2010

Crackdown on international NGOs gathers pace with expulsion of Non Violence Peace Force staff

Whilst the Government of Sri Lanka welcome tourists, Bollywood stars and investors - any who are willing to be bystanders and turn a blind eye to what is happening - one group the Govt remain deeply frightened about and angry towards are international NGOs (INGOs).

No surprisingly, many INGOs have adapted by greater and greater levels of self-censorship. So the few who speak out and the fewer act on human rights abuses are even more obvious targets.

The latest target are members of the Non Violence Peace Force who accompany Sri Lankans who are at risk from government and para-militaries.

The world continues to turn a blind eye to this; including Hillary Clinton who just two weeks ago delivered a landmark speech in Krakow on democracy and human rights. Whilst the Secretary of State referenced a broad swathe of examples of rights infringements, some perpetrated by allies of the US, she made not one reference to the excesses of the Rajapaksa government.


This, despite the fact that few countries match the descriptions leveled by Clinton as closely as Sri Lanka. In these countries, she said, the "walls are closing in" on rights organisations and NGOs. She hailed the role of civil society organisations in hastening the fall of tyranny in Eastern Europe and, in reference to the Middle East, warned that "too many governments in the region still resort to intimidation, questionable legal practices, restrictions on NGO registration, efforts to silence bloggers." She went on to highlight the value of cross-border NGOs, noting with pride that "foreign NGOs are active inside the United States", adding: "We welcome these groups in the belief that they make our nation stronger and deepen relationships between America and the rest of the world." She concluded that: "For the United States, supporting civil society groups is a critical part of our work to advance democracy." But both in this speech and in her dealings with the Sri Lankan government, Clinton gravely undermined the credibility of her message by failing to walk the walk.


Sri Lanka is a tailor-made opportunity for the US government to demonstrate the extent of its commitment to strong, independent, cross-border civil society organisations.Her omission and the silence of most INGOs who work in Sri Lanka is complicity. Some say to speak out is unrealistic. But the true reality is that this silence and self-censorship encourages greater and greater abuse and bullying.



A Press Release from mediafreedominsrilanka forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

SRI LANKA: Termination of visa's of Non Violence Peace Force

MEDIAFREEDOMINSRILANKA 
Freedom of Expression news from Sri Lanka 
MFSL note 08 July 2010 





MFSL has learned that the Government of Sri Lanka has terminated the visas of two senior staff members of the Non Violence Peace Force (NP). Both of them, the country director Tiffany Easthom and senior staff member Ali Palh were first asked to leave by July 1. Following an appeal by NVBF asking for adequate time to hand over their duties, they were given an extension of seven days and will have to leave the country by July 8, 2010.



The visas and work permits of both staff members were valid until September 2010. No reasons were given for the sudden decision to terminate their visas. 

The Non Violent Peace Force has been active in several Districts of Sri Lanka including in the north and east since 2003. Their mandate is to provide in-country protection including accompaniment for human rights defenders, and also conduct human rights and security training for community activists. In addition, in Sri Lanka, the NVPF has worked with state agencies, conducting human rights training for the Sri Lankan military and partnering with the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. 

In the recent past NVPF has provided in-country protection for a number of human rights defenders and media persons facing threats to their safety and security, including in some high profile cases.

MFSL fears that this arbitrary action of the immigration authorities could be linked to the role played by NVPF in providing protection and assistance for human rights defenders under threat. 

MFSL deeply regrets the decision of the government to expel two international human rights defenders at a time when Sri Lanka needs to move towards more democratic governance. This decision will undoubtedly have an impact on the future work of NVPF in Sri Lanka. MFSL also sees this action by the government as the most recent in a series of steps taken to make living and working in Sri Lanka extremely difficult for members of the expatriate community who have over many years demonstrated their commitment to human rights and social justice issues in Sri Lanka.

MFSL hopes that this action will not adversely affect the valuable work that members of the NVPF have been doing in Sri Lanka. 

MFSL is of the firm opinion that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka continues to call for support and assistance, and that the situation of human rights defenders including journalists is still a priority concern. It is in this context that MFSL regrets the decision of the government of Sri Lanka to terminate the visas of senior staff of the Non Violence Peace Force in Sri Lanka. 

mediafreedominsrilanka ; by a group of journalists working voluntarily. 
mediafreedominsrilanka@gmail.com


# # # 

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.

http://www.ahrchk.net/pr/mainfile.php/2010mr/758/

12/07/2010

Why the media silence on Sri Lanka's descent into dictatorship?

Chair of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, Edward Mortimer's, compelling comments following the forum held at the Frontline Club UK that discussed some of the serious issues facing Sri Lanka today.

The video of the discussion can be viewed on: http://frontlineclub.com/events/2010/07/sri-lanka-could-the-west-do-more-about-human-rights-and-press-freedom.html

Why the media silence on Sri Lanka's descent into dictatorship?

Local journalists who speak out against human rights abuses fear for their lives and the world press turns a blind eye

Edward Mortimer
guardian.co.uk, Monday 12th July 2010


It is now over a year since the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, claimed victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). But war is still being waged on the "paradise island" - by the government, against the country's journalists.

Last week alone saw one media outlet receive a threatening letter and the head of another charged with fraud by the supreme court after publishing stories critical of the government. And two international NGO workers involved in protecting journalists had their visas revoked.

The situation has been deteriorating for some time. According to Amnesty International at least 14 media workers have been killed in the country since 2006 and more than 20 are thought to have fled - more per capita than have left Iran. Arbitrary arrests, abductions and assassinations have been documented for over three decades. No one has ever been prosecuted for these attacks on the media.

In January last year, as the Sri Lankan army closed in on the last remaining pockets of resistance held by the LTTE, the government imposed a media blackout on the war zone. (It also denied humanitarian access to civilians trapped by the fighting and, like the rebels, displayed callous contempt for civilian life.)

Away from the killing fields, the local media suffered a sharp spike in attacks. Just days after independent broadcaster MTV was raided by gunmen, Lasantha Wickrematunge - editor of the Sunday Leader and prominent government critic - was assassinated in broad daylight in a high-security zone regularly patrolled by the army.

The end of the war has changed nothing. Phones are tapped. Emails hacked. Media outlets harassed and journalists threatened. One - Prageeth Eknaligoda - has been missing since January's presidential election. Small wonder that so many journalists say they now resort to self-censorship.

And they are not the only ones who live in fear. NGO workers, lawyers, members of the opposition - the culture of impunity puts them all at risk. The state has also ramped up its vitriol against external critics: last week a cabinet minister began a hunger strike and orchestrated a siege of the UN offices in Colombo in response to the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, setting up a panel of experts to advise him on accountability for alleged war crimes during the final stages of the civil war last year. The minister has since ended his "fast to death" amid growing speculation that the protests were supported, if not sponsored, by the government.

All this is happening under the noses of the world's press. While burning effigies of Ban draw the spotlight for a few days, Sri Lanka's slow descent into dictatorship has mostly gone unnoticed. Global media coverage of the conflict in Sri Lanka during the past four years is about a tenth of that given to Iraq. In 2009, the New York Times and the Guardian devoted four times more space to the Israeli military offensive in Gaza (death toll 1,400) than the bloody end of Sri Lanka's civil war (estimates range between 7,000 and 40,000 civilian dead). China Daily gave Gaza over six times the coverage, and the Independent Newspapers group in South Africa over 10 times. All papers ran more articles on Tiger Woods last year than on the Sri Lankan conflict.

This global silence plays into the hands of the Sri Lankan government's apologists, both those who delude themselves and say, as one did in a meeting at London's Frontline Club last week, that missing journalists have merely run off with mistresses, and those who are paid to delude others. The government has spent lavishly on public relations firms such as Bell Pottinger - which counts General Pinochet and Trafigura among its past clients - and its US subcontractor Qorvis, which also represents Equatorial Guinea's unsavoury dictator. The pardoning on World Press Freedom Day of JS Tissainayagam, a journalist previously sentenced to 20 years' hard labour, is part of this PR strategy.

All of us who care about universal values, and freedom of expression in particular, have a duty not to let Rajapaksa's twisted version of events go unanswered. If we do so, we encourage other states to believe that they too can get away with the "Sri Lanka option" - using brutal methods to crush internal opposition, without regard for civilian casualties or international law. It has been reported that leaders from Colombia to Thailand have been following Rajapaksa's "success" with great interest.

Those brave Sri Lankan journalists who continue to seek out and report the truth despite the high risk of "disappearance", torture and assassination, surely deserve the support of their international colleagues. Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya's murder has rightly been denounced around the world. Wickrematunge, who chillingly foretold his own death in an editorial published posthumously, should be no less well known. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a press freedom organisation, rates freedom of expression in Sri Lanka as lower than in Saudi Arabia or Uzbekistan, yet somehow the world - including the mainstream media world - does not seem to notice.

Surely it is time for that to change.

Op-ed published in the Guardian 12th July 2010
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/jul/12/sri-lanka-journalists-threatened


Edward Mortimer, senior vice-president and chief programme officer at the Salzburg Global Seminar and chair of the Advisory Council for the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice

06/07/2010

A new form of Chinese dumping - convicts!

Highlighting the use of Chinese convicts by Chinese construction companies in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, Campaign Adviser Brahma Chellaney says China will lack credibility on the international stage as long as it pursues such approaches.

http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo20100705bc.html

03/07/2010

SRI LANKA: Killing beggars under the pretext of eliminating terrorists?

A news report published on June 11th from Colombo stated, "Members of the vanquished Tamil Tiger terrorist organization, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are posing as beggars in the cities throughout the country to gather information, Sri Lanka's Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne said today. Addressing a ceremony held in his office this morning to launch welfare loan schemes for the families of war heroes, the Premier said the government intelligence services have identified that these beggars having been trained and deployed by the LTTE. The Prime Minister stressed that the intelligence units should be constantly vigilant on such movements.”

This week a disabled person who moved on a wheelchair was found dead in Colombo with severe head injuries. 5 other similar killings of beggars have been reported recently.

Is this the way intelligence units carrying out the Premiers instructions to be “constantly vigilant”?

What was the need for the Premier to make such a statement? Has there been such overwhelming information about terrorism by beggars? If not, why does he place such information before parliament?
On the occasion of the IIFA also, the government created propaganda about beautifying the city by removing beggars.

It is difficult not to link such statements and the sudden occurrence of a series of killings of beggars in Colombo.

It is not necessary for any thief to kill a disabled man in a wheelchair in order to steal whatever he may be possessing. Regarding the other five killings of beggars, it is hard to imagine anybody wanting to steal anything from beggars as, by their very nature, they are the ones who have the least. As no accidental circumstances have surfaced, these killings are not accidents. Besides, the injury on the heads of the disabled lottery ticket seller was a severe injury, most probably caused by hitting with a heavy stone. The circumstances suggest deliberate intention to kill.

It was not long ago that those who were alleged to be criminals were killed at police stations. That, too, was a program. The Sri Lankan society seems to have gotten used to the idea of killings as the solution to everything.

When the Prime Minister of the country himself creates the psychological impetus for intelligence agencies to act against the poorest sections of society, the beggars, is there any point in calling for inquiries and crying out for justice? When the government itself creates the climate for killing, where is the possibility for inquiries and justice?

# # #

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.

http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2010statements/2666/

02/07/2010

An A-Z of who is response-able for the crisis in Sri Lanka: The International Media

Over the coming weeks this blog will carry an analysis of who has helped to create or allow the crisis in Sri Lanka and so that its constructive, what they could choose to do differently. There is enough blame to go around that using the A-Z framework sadly makes sense.

A major player has been the international media. Even this week we have heard from several editors that "their readers arent interested in Sri Lanka". The fact that they never carry articles or opeds about the country doesnt seem to connect as one reason for this disinterest!

Here is what one of the Campaign's Advisers, Sri Lankan born lawyer and human rights advocate and director of the Asia Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando says:

The failure of international journalism in Sri Lanka

For many decades now, international journalists have interpreted every story that has emerged from Sri Lanka to be some kind of war story. Some journalists have proposed that Sri Lanka’s use of overwhelming force was able to eradicate terrorism in the country, and that other countries such as the United States, should follow suit. The pathetic failure of international journalism is demonstrated by these endeavours.

In recent years, Sri Lanka has undergone a systemic collapse, as the rule of law system and any semblance of democracy have crumbled. This is a story that has never been portrayed adequately by international journalists; instead, almost all journalists continue to refer to Sri Lanka as a democracy. Journalists focus on Sri Lanka as a war zone, and there is little reflection about the development of Sri Lanka outside of the discourse of war.

In the south, the Sri Lankan government carried out one of the most ruthless acts of repression in history, killing tens of thousands of civilians between the 1970s and 1990s. The official number of disappearances at the hands of Southern rebel group, Janatha Vimuksthi Peramuna (JVP) is estimated to be around the figure of 30,000. Numerous civil society organizations and international agencies believe that this figure does not fully represent the magnitude of this repression. In terms of statistics, the scale of disappearances that took place in Sri Lanka is similar to what took place in Argentina in the late 1970s. However, while the disappearances in Argentina gained international outrage, the references to similar occurrences which took place in Sri Lanka have been few and far between. The disappearances took place in the south, and the Sri Lankan police and military were mobilized to kill Southern rebels, most of whom were Sinhalese. Since this story did not conform to th e ethnic war story that international journalists were constructing about Sri Lanka, it was discarded in favor of a story that was more appropriate for their cause.

In 1978, Sri Lanka adopted a Constitution wherein the Executive President was raised above the law. It was a staggering change; instead of the Constitution being used to bring checks and balances to the Sri Lankan government. It obliterated checks and balances for the Executive President and effectively dismantled Sri Lankan democracy. This experiment has survived, and there has begun a discussion of removing the two-term limit of the President in power and creating a possibility for political transformation equivalent to that which took place under Suharto in Indonesia and in several African countries. However, for international journalists, this issue still did not contest the importance of stories about the war.

The transformation of the Sri Lankan democratic government into an authoritarian system has made freedom of expression an almost impossible function. Media agencies bow to the pressure of this repression. Disappearances and other kinds of attack continue to remain a threat to anyone who exercises their right to oppose this political transformation in the country. The murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga and the brutal attack on several other journalists as well as the fleeing of journalists from Sri Lanka remains a symbol of this vicious repression. Even these stories have been only a passing fancy to international journalists. The story of Lasantha Wickramatunga would have been entirely forgotten had he not received international awards for his actions. Even so, no justice of any kind has been dealt to the perpetrators of this murder. In fact, the identity of those who killed Mr. Wickramatunga remains a mystery. There was no credible investigation into the murder of any kind, de monstrating that the once sclerotic justice system is now entirely incapacitated. The story of the collapse of the administration of justice in Sri Lanka has still not been covered by the international press.

Today, what remains of democracy and the rule of law in Sri Lanka is no different to the dream that amputees have about the continued existence of their lost limbs. The phantom limb complex prevails, while in reality, justice is impossible for those who have been victims of political crimes, as well as those who have suffered serious crimes, such as murder or rape. One story which recently came to the surface was of a man traveling with his wife on a motorbike. The couple was stopped and the woman’s arm was cut off so that the thieves could steal her gold bangles, and her finger was cut off so they could take her gold ring. When her husband tried to resist, he was shot. Last week, a CID inspector who dumped the dead body of a murdered person into the sea was discovered. The magistrate had to issue a warrant to get the Deputy Inspector General arrested because he was avoiding court. Such difficulties which face ordinary Sri Lankans do not attract the attention of interna tional journalists.

The collective failure of the international press has aided Sri Lankan authorities in consolidating an authoritarian regime in which the norms that were established to protect citizens have been broken down. Those journalists who believe in the importance of their role in disseminating information must question why the international media has failed to discuss and analyze the situation in Sri Lanka. There are many similar cases going on in other Asian countries and countries around the world. However, the issue remains that the international press has failed to reflect the depth of the crisis that ordinary Sri Lankan citizens continue to face.

# # #

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.


http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2010statements/2661/

01/07/2010

Why human rights activists in other parts of the world are starting to really care about Sri Lanka

Many governments in the South have supported the Govt of Sri Lanka at critical points in the crisis, notably at the 2009 UN Human Rights Council decision.

India and Brazil are said to be the most damaging but South Africa has also been complicit:

http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2009/06/15-6

http://www.info.gov.za/speeches/2009/09112413351001.htm

That governments should adopt such attitudes is depressing - especially in the case of Brazil and South Africa.

But what has been really disappointing is the silence of civil society in these countries.

One might say "Why should they bother about Sri Lanka when they have their own problems?"

Simply because other repressive govts are watching SL and what happens there will be replicated - see the following for what security wonks have learnt:


http://www.indiandefencereview.com/2009/10/lessons-from-the-war-in-sri-lanka.html

And through G15/Commonwealth/Shanghai Cooperation Organization/NAM, SL is well placed to dessiminate these "effective practice" guidelines

http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2010/03/12/president-rajapaksa-be-g15-chairman


As the brutally assassinated Sri Lankan newspaper editor identified, what happens to the Tamils today will happen to other opponents of the goverment tomorrow. He could also have said other minorities in other countries.