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

31/10/2010

Campaign Chair voices concern over Sri Lanka's authoritarian trajectory

Edward Mortimer, Chair of the Sri Lanka Campaign and former director of communications to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, voiced concerns over Sri Lanka's slide into authoritarianism on the Rattansi & Ridley show (http://www.rattansiandridley.com/).

Outlining developments since the country's long-running armed conflict came to an end in May 2009, he said that not only had the grave allegations with respect to war crimes and violations of international law not been addressed, but that the country's recent constitutional amendments had seriously damaged its political system - regularly cited with pride by government officials as one of Asia's oldest democracies.

The 18th amendment to the constitution effectively removes the last vestiges of this so-called venerable democracy. It removes the presidential term limits and gives the presidency effective control over a swathe of public institutions, including the supreme court, judiciary and police, and the electoral, corruption and human rights commissions. Rather than seizing a unique peacetime opportunity for a more open government, Mortimer said the amendment leaves the country tilting towards the tendencies of a classic dictatorship.

While coverage of Sri Lanka in recent months seems to have dropped out of mainstream media, the humanitarian need is still very real as many of the 300,000 people displaced during the final months of fighting continue to face desperate conditions.

On paper it would 'appear' that the president is backed by the majority of the Sri Lankan population, said Mortimer, and his regime's actions legitimised by the support - or silence - from the majority of countries worldwide. This observation has been shared by others such as The Elders who have referred to it as a on "Sri Lanka's disturbing acions" (1).

But Mortimer points out that this "deafening global silence" as refrred to also by The Elders (1) is explained by the fact that international relations were at play as countries were hesitant to risk their negotiating power and concede any advantage to other countries marking what is clearly a ‘race to the bottom’.

The amendment to the constitution by the Sri Lankan government means there is no-one who can question the president’s decisions said Mortimer, and international governments turning a deaf ear to the situation raises cause for concern for human rights and may endanger reaching a lasting peace based on justice and reconciliation.

To listen to the interview in full, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqCnW3j9Hrg

(1) The Elders Press release http://www.theelders.org/media/mediareleases/sri-lankas-disturbing-actions-met-by-deafening-global-silence

28/10/2010

Commemorating Forced Disappearances

The Asian Human Rights Commission has released a statement on the tens of thousands of forced disappearances in Sri Lanka since the 80s.

Hundreds of families of disappeared persons will gather at Raddoluwa Junction at Seeduwa, Sri Lanka at the monument for the disappeared to commemorate the day. This monument was erected in 2000. In a wall behind the monument there are a few hundred pictures of disappeared young persons, who disappeared mainly from the south in the late 80s. In front there is a sculpture which exhibits an empty space in the shape of a human person symbolizing the meaning of the disappearance of persons. The annual day of commemoration has become an occasion for many persons from all parts of the country to gather and reflect on the problem of disappearances. On this day parents and friends place flowers in front of the pictures of their children. Food for the Buddhist monks is offered as a cultural gesture of remembering the dead. In front of the monument in a plaque the following short poem has been carved into the stone:

By the wayside
(Translated from Sinhala)

This wreath
with no name attached
is for you
who have no grave.
As the place of earth
which embraced you
could not be found,
this wreath was placed by the wayside.

Forgive me.
Forgive me

for placing a memorial for you
by the roadside.


In the south, north and the east, in every area of Sri Lanka tens of thousands forced disappearances have taken place in the country since the 80s. None of the governments have taken measures to ensure justice regarding these forced disappearances. Justice for these persons remains an objective that has not been pursued by the state and an issue that society itself has not taken much notice of. When the incumbent president was an opposition politician he condemned forced disappearances as a great crime and was involved in organising people against it and took part in international forums, including UN forums in order to bring international attention to this problem.

However, now as president, he and his government are not taken any steps to ensure justice for the disappeared or to ensure the signing of the International Convention against Forced Disappearances which has been signed by many other nations. Given the nature of the Sri Lankan Constitution nothing relating to justice for the disappeared could happen without the initiative of the executive president himself. If the government wants to ensure the proper enactment of laws for the prevention of disappearances in the future and take measures to ensure justice for the victims and their families it has all the power to do so as at the moment it has a two thirds majority in parliament. However, such power is not being used for the achievement of justice but unfortunately to obstruct any attempts of persons demanding the proper enactment of laws against forced disappearances and also those who demand justice for the disappearances that have taken place in all parts of the country.

Despite of the adverse climate that exists politically mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and relatives of the disappeared persons are crying out for justice. This cry for justice cannot and should not be suppressed.

As a result of the attempts to suppress the revelation of truth relating to the extraordinary amounts of forced disappearances that have taken place in the country the entire system of the administration of justice has seriously undermined. Fair trial is the foundation of any civilised society. However, in Sri Lanka this very foundation has been seriously undermined. The recording of complaints relating to crimes and the conducting of investigations into crimes, the conducting of prosecutions by the Attorney General's Department have all been undermined by the spread of corruption. The politicisation of the police, the Attorney General's Department and the undermining of the judiciary itself by the politicisation process, the inefficiency that is prevalent in every aspect of the government has undermined the justice system. There is inadequate expenditure allocated for the administration of justice at every level, there is hardly any belief in the administration of justice am ong the people of Sri Lanka today.

At one time the Attorney General's Department was held in some respect and enjoyed some prestige. Today this department is filing fabricated cases against persons purely for political reasons. While actual criminals are being protected often people who have not been involved in crimes have been remanded and often they end up being jailed due to the defects of the administration of justice system. The manner in which this institution has been denigrated to this position is a long story. What can be said, in short, is that there is a considerable loss of faith in this institution now. And this is a serious threat to the possibility of maintaining a belief in the system of the rule of law.

The situation of the police is even worse and everyone knows about the corruption of this institution. Everybody also attributes the degeneration of the institution to the politicisation which is the result of the executive presidential system which was introduced by the 1978 Constitution. Every safeguard that was attempted by the legislature in order to at least minimise some of the adverse impact of the executive presidential system have not been removed by the enactment of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which has virtually removed all the reforms that were attempted by the 17th Amendment. While the 17th Amendment was no adequate measure to deal with the enormous threats to the rule of law system created by the 1978 Constitution it at least paved the way for some minimum reforms which might have paved the way for the ultimate removal of the adverse aspects of the executive presidential system as it exists now. However, this possibility has now been removed.

Forced disappearances are not an incident of the past nor are they related to counter-insurgencies. The disappearance of Prageeth Eknaliagoda took place earlier this year. No justice has been done in this case, no credible investigation has been carried out and nor is there any possibility of that happening as there is enormous political interest in preventing justice from taking place in this case. Prageeth Eknaliagoda's family believes that persons connected to the government are behind this forced disappearance. There has been huge media attention about this case and even the United Nations has intervened to ask for investigations and justice. None of the interventions have borne fruit but that itself is no surprise because the prevention of justice relating to forced disappearances remains a strong political objective.

Now even for matters relating to property forced disappearances is taking place. A businessman named Dhirimadura Upali Mendis was taken into custody over an issue of a land transaction has been missing since then. The family and others have called for inquiries but no serious investigation has taken place into this matter. Once again, the cry for justice by the victims, the support for it by sections of society and even the call for justice by the international have proved ineffective in this case.

Suppression of justice can have terrible consequences on all aspects of society. It can remove any possibility of having any kind of justice within society. The disappearances of persons thus results in the disappearance of the institutions of justice and even the memory of justice itself. The result of this is not only the prevention of justice for the victims of forced disappearances but also the undermining of the entire infrastructure and the institutions of justice which affects the protection of the personal liberties as well as the property rights of all persons. Thus, the basic principle of the Magna Karta that the liberties of the individual relating to personal liberties as well as property rights should not be removed except by way of the implementation of the law through the mediation of the courts guaranteeing fair trial has been seriously undermined in Sri Lanka. The crisis relating to protection is as deep as that.

The day of the commemoration of forced disappearances should be a time for reflection on all these matters and for remembering that today a movement for justice is a national requirement. This is not a matter of political expediency for one or another party; it is a necessity of all citizens if Sri Lanka is to be a place where the principles of the protection of personal liberties and property rights can be protected. The devotion of time, energy and resources for the development of a national movement for justice and working together in solidarity with the international movements in order to bring about the objectives of justice is the only way to bring about justice on behalf of the persons who have faced disappearances in Sri Lanka.

# # #

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.

26/10/2010

Sri Lanka follows China's attitude toward Freedom of Expression

‘I have seen the opposite of freedom. I have seen many people killed, the results of stupidity and cruelty, and the results of
courage.’

The artist Ai Weiwei is referring here to his native China, but his words could easily apply to the current situation in Sri Lanka.
Ai Weiwei has been outspoken in his criticism of the Chinese government’s human rights record, leading to an attack by Chinese police in 2009 and a brain hemorrhage.

China has been one of Sri Lanka’s biggest global supporters, for example blocking debate at the UN Security Council Resolution
about Sri Lanka’s treatment of civilians during the 2009 conflict and using arms and money to gain influence over Rajapaske’s
regime. These and other elements of China’s role are analysed by Peter Popham in The Independent this past May in a feature
article entitled “How Beijing won Sri Lanka’s War”


In turn, Sri Lanka appears to be following the Chinese model of suppressing freedom of expression, with journalists and human
rights defenders regularly threatened and harassed in an attempt to silence criticism of the government. Edward Mortimer, Chair of the Sri Lanka Campaign, wrote a passionate piece on the dangers facing Sri Lanka’s journalists in The Guardian earlier this year.

Ai Weiwei’s involvement with the Beijing Olympics, designing the ‘Birds Nest’ Stadium, illustrates the tightrope artists walk
when dealing with censorious regimes. He wanted to be involved with the Games as he felt they were a good opportunity for
transparency in a notoriously opaque country. His higher profile following this project also allowed his criticism of the regime to
reverberate farther, but led to the violent rebuke by the police. Speaking after the attack, he said: ‘Nothing can silence me as long as I'm alive. I don't give any excuse. It isn't going to change my beliefs.’

Many of Ai Weiwei’s inspiring statements about the situation in China have echoes for Sri Lanka and this campaign:

‘One day people will wake up and find themselves unable to believe that we have been through an age of stupidity and humiliation.’

The Ai WeiWei installation, ‘Sunflower Seeds’, can currently be seen in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, London.

24/10/2010

Stop Custodial Deaths in Sri Lanka

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission is published below. You can sign the petition linked to this statement here.

Extrajudicial killings and custodial deaths are happening because of:

* Refusal of the police and judiciary to investigate;
* The absence of investigations is the result of breakdown of the rule of law;
* Which is in turn the result of the constitutional decision which has removed all the checks and balances once available

The incidents of extrajudicial killings and custodial deaths in Sri Lanka are now almost a daily occurrence. The story presented by the Sri Lankan Police Service to the Magistrate is always similar. Either they were shot while trying to escape or the police were taking the culprit to a weapons cache when he turned on them with a weapon of some description, amazingly, usually a hand grenade.

It is uncertain as to what is more ludicrous, the fact that the police never bother to change their story or the fact that they honestly believe the citizens of Sri Lanka are so gullible they will believe them. Unfortunately, they do not care about the opinions of the citizens, only the Magistrate who has no independent witnesses and can only take the word of the officers reporting the case.

It is now time for the Inspector General of Police, the Secretary of the Ministry of Defense and the President himself to take responsibility for the actions of their police officers. Officers who are supposed to be protecting the people of Sri Lanka are, in fact, using them as scapegoats for their own inability to conduct even the most rudimentary investigations.

In the last month alone three such incidents have been reported. They are:

* Mr. Appuhandhi Kotahewage Nayanajith Prasanna was arrested without charges on 22 September 2010. The 25 September he was found in his cell with severe cuts to the abdomen. He succumbed to his injuries in hospital on 26 September. The police claim he committed suicide while in custody by slashing his stomach with a shard of glass.
* Mr. Jayakody Arachchilage Oman Perera was arrested 31 August 2010 by police officers attached to the Special Task Force (STF) and taken by jeep to Colombo. During the journey one of the officers shot Jayakody because of an allegedly attempted escape. He died in hospital the same day.
* Mr. Pattiyage Komako Lalan Peiris (34) was arrested by the police officers on 23 May 2010. His arrest was allegedly a case of mistaken identity. He was found dead the following morning while handcuffed to a table in a police cell. The police explain the death as a heart attack but an autopsy carried out later at the insistence of the family reveals signs of torture.


In addition to the above cases please also see:

* Mr. Ranmukage Ajith Prasanna (30) was arrested by police officers on 17 September 2010. While in police custody he was according to the police taken to uncover a weapons shelter. The police claim that on the way Ajith tried to snatch a weapon from an officer whereupon the officer shot him. Soon after he succumbed to his injuries in hospital.
* Dhammala Arachchige Lakshman was arrested by a Special Unit of the Hanwella Police Station on 20 September 2010. On the 22 September 2010 he was taken to uncover an alleged weapon shelter. He was shot on the way and died before admission to the hospital. According to the police officers, they shot him when he tried to escape by throwing a bomb.
* Mr. Suresh Kumar (24) was arrested by police officers on 4 September 2010 and taken to uncover an alleged weapon shelter. According to the police he attempted to throw a hand grenade in direction of the police officers during the journey. Later he was found dead on the roadside.
* Jayasekara Arachchige Roshan Jayasekara (35) was arrested by police officers on 25 August 2010. On 26 August an officer brought Jayasekara's body to the hospital. The post mortem examination revealed marks of numerous blunt force trauma injuries.
* Amarasinghe Arachchige David was arrested on 13 August 2010 by police officers. On the way to the station the police stopped to search some villagers. David left the car to watch whereupon the police officer beat him up severely. The incident was witnessed by a large group of people. He later succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.
* Balage Rusiru Reggie Vijaya Bandula who lived in a conflict area fired a warning shot out of the window of his house in respond to sustained and unidentified banging on his door and around his house on 3 March 2010. Shortly after police officers broke down the door and shot Reggie. He died soon after at the hospital.
* Saman Thialakasiri reported cases of illegal logging in his neighbourhood with suspected connections to local police in 2008. Ever since he was threatened, harassed and even arrested by police officers. The 21 February 2010 at night two police officers picked up Saman. His body was found near a lake the next morning.

In not one of the cases mentioned above has any credible investigation been carried out despite appeals made to the Inspector General of Police and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.

The Inspector General of Police, Secretary of the Ministry of Defense and the President must be told by the international community that they are being held responsible, not only for the deaths but also the lack of any credible investigations and the denial of justice to the victims and their families.

Please sign the petition in order to send a clear message to the government of Sri Lanka. Extrajudicial killings and deaths in custody must stop and the officers responsible held to account.

# # #

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.

AHRC New Weekly Digest - an easy way to receive all your Human Rights news in just one weekly email - subscribe here.
-----------------------------
Asian Human Rights Commission
19/F, Go-Up Commercial Building,
998 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hongkong S.A.R.
Tel: +(852) - 2698-6339 Fax: +(852) - 2698-6367
facebook/twitter/youtube: humanrightsasia

22/10/2010

One sided view of Sri Lanka's war and aftermath

Antony Loewenstein (one of the campaigns advisors) has written a strong critique on a series of articles which appeared in The Australian. The full article is republished below and can also be viewed here.

A Western journalist visits the Sudanese capital Khartoum to interview President Omar al-Bashir. The reporter, after calling him "controversial" due to his "bloody" record in fighting terrorism, gives the leader a platform to explain his views and tactics. The only other voice featured in the piece is a commentator who backs the government wholeheartedly. The fact that Bashir has been charged in 2010 by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Darfur is glossed over in the story.

This piece would be rightly called propaganda, the lack of enquiry revealing an inability to understand the reasons Bashir wanted to speak to a Westerner. Bashir is undoubtedly a legitimate person to interview but the skill is painting an entire picture of the people suffering under his rule, not least the minorities and those in Darfur.

Sadly, The Australian's Rowan Callick was easily seduced by the allure of an exclusive chat with Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and this week published a number of articles from his lightning visit. His trip was "not paid for by the Sri Lanka government or by anybody in any way associated with Sri Lanka", Callick told me but it appears he engaged with nobody other than officials while in the country.

Amazingly, Callick didn't even mention that Gotabaya has consistently said that no civilians were killed by the Sri Lankan government in the final phases of its brutal war against the Tamil Tigers despite every major human rights group in the world detailing a litany of war crimes against the top echelons of the Colombo regime. Up to 40,000 Tamil civilians were murdered, according to former UN official in Colombo, Gordon Weiss. Britain is now calling for a fully independent war crimes investigation into the serious allegations.

Callick published a story that claimed Sri Lanka was again safe for all its citizens and Australia should "get tough" on Tamil asylum seekers. Singapore based terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, a Sinhalese like Sri Lanka's leadership, claimed without evidence that "70 per cent of Tamils granted asylum in Australia and Canada had returned to Sri Lanka for a visit."

The article concluded with this curious paragraph:

"The government has invited opinion leaders of that Diaspora to visit Sri Lanka as it emerges from the war, and to visit centres of past conflict. Those who had gone, including some from Australia, had 'returned pleased.'"

In other words, Callick was happy to be shown around parts of Sri Lanka the government wanted him to see.

This fit perfectly with the regime's enthusiasm to restore its battered image. In the UK, public relations firm Bell Pottinger has been hired to "counter the Tamil Diaspora campaign work" and white-wash alleged crimes committed by the Rajapaksa authorities.

I asked Callick by email about his trip and he said that he was "briefly in Colombo" to "interview the country's second most powerful figure… His views [Gotabaya] are clearly of considerable interest." The Murdoch journalist told me that his paper "has covered a range of views on Sri Lanka issues" over time and this is certainly true.

Despite the newspaper featuring stories over the last years about the Sri Lankan government's Israeli-style blitzkrieg on the Tamil population, this is utterly irrelevant to the impression this week's stories have falsely created in the public mind. Letters to The Australian in the last days show readers are outraged that 70 per cent of Tamil refugees granted protection are supposedly returning to Sri Lanka within a year of arriving here. Yet there is no documented evidence that this is true.

Callick's full-page feature of his time with Gotabaya merely added insult to injury. Titled, "Brothers who tamed the Tigers", the article again only featured two voices, Gotabaya and Gunaratna. Claims about protecting civilians were accepted without challenge. No mention of the extensive reports by Human Rights Watch, the UN and Amnesty International that found alleged crimes against humanity by the Sri Lankan forces towards both Tamil civilians and the Tamil Tigers (who also stand accused of committing war crimes). Callick accepted Gotabaya's claims without hesitation or challenge.

Callick followed up his series of stories with a more balanced piece the next day but this also barely mentioned Sri Lanka's slide into authoritarianism.

The International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International recently declined an offer from Colombo to appear before a sham commission to investigate any alleged abuses during the country's war with the Tamil Tigers. The letter to the commission read in part:

"While we would welcome the opportunity to appear before a genuine, credible effort to pursue accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, the LLRC [Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission] falls far short of such an effort. It not only fails to meet basic international standards for independent and impartial inquiries, but it is proceeding against a backdrop of government failure to address impunity and continuing human rights abuses.

Our three organizations believe that the persistence of these and other destructive trends indicates that currently Sri Lanka's government and justice system cannot or will not uphold the rule of law and respect basic rights."

Sri Lanka's External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris called the refusal of the groups reminiscent of an "attitude that is almost colonial, patronizing and condescending".

Colombo is following the Israeli model, dismissive of international opinion towards its crimes and excesses and relying on the largesse, military backing and diplomatic cover of a handful of major powers.

Another fundamental flaw with the Callick articles was his reliance on Rohan Gunaratna, the ubiquitous terrorism expert. The Singapore-based analyst's disturbing ability to blur academic studies and political opinions has been challenged for years but the mainstream media continues seeking his views. Gunaratna's understanding of Asia's Islamist threat has often be inaccurate and excessive and his use of unsourced and unproven intelligence leaves open the possibility of distortions. A number of terrorism experts told me that very few, if any, serious terrorism experts take his claims seriously.

I asked Callick about his use of Gunaratna and the questions around his credibility. He responded that his "views are often interesting and well informed. That he has a close connection to governments does not necessarily undermine those elements."

It would be like solely using a former Israeli intelligence officer and expecting him to speak frankly and honestly about the role of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. His former association would cloud his view unavoidably.

The Australian has used Gunaratna as its only source on Sri Lanka and Tamil refugee issues for months. He is always guaranteed to issue apocalyptic predictions of doom about the prospects of a re-formed Tamil Tigers in Australia and Canada despite no evidence to back the claims.

Gunaratna told me via email that he had "no financial relationship whatsoever" with the Sri Lankan intelligence services or the Sri Lankan government. He railed against "disinformation produced by the LTTE front and sympathetic organisations overseas including in Australia". The implication was that any allegation of government-led war crimes by Tamils was suspect by definition despite the overwhelming eyewitness testimony of Sri Lanka forces firing on hospitals and civilian areas during the war.

He acknowledged that there was, like in Iraq and Afghanistan, "civilian deaths and injuries" and encouraged an "investigation… No life is cheap. It is a son or a daughter, a mother or a father, brother or a sister of someone."

When challenged on Colombo's holding of 11,500 former Tamil Tigers suspects in detention – condemned by Human Rights Watch as a prison without international monitoring or investigation – Gunaratna denied that Sri Lanka was holding Tamils "without access to international bodies. It is a lie spread by the LTTE and its supporters and sympathisers. There are 11,500 LTTE terrorists in custody. They are undergoing rehabilitation before they are released."

This is the same logic deployed by America and Israel with its illegal holding of countless prisoners without trial or judicial process. Terrorists are simply called terrorists because a government says so.

Gunaratna told me that he had "personally interviewed several thousand detainees" – a claim that stretches credibility – and praised the Sri Lankan "rehabilitation program as one of the best terrorist rehabilitation programs in the world… [that] should be emulated by other governments."

Despite no independent monitoring to assess the claim, he said that authorities "treat detainees with respect, promote moderation, toleration and co-existence and given a second chance to start a life."

Such unbelievable claims are by the man who is often the main source of expertise in The Australian's coverage of Sri Lanka.

21/10/2010

Multi million PR contract to improve Sri Lankan Governments image

The following article was first published in the Sri Lanka Guardian

The government of Sri Lanka, through its High Commission in London has appointed Bell Pottinger, a public relations company to carryout image building consultancy work for the government in the United Kingdom.

The undisclosed, multi-million pounds contract is said to cover pro-active engagement of the consultancy to counter the Tamil Diaspora campaign work in the United Kingdom.

Bell Pottinger, Public Affairs and image building consultancy is based at 5th Floor, Holborn Gate, 26 Southampton Buildings, London WC2A 1QB and is said have been given a open ended contract to reach all the forums in the UK to counter the campaign of the Tamils in the UK. They have been even instructed to penetrate into Tamil organisations and their campaign work and be a step ahead in their campaign work.

The present High Commissioner the retired Justice Nihal Jayasinge’s term is coming to an end and he will be replaced by a senior military commander who had served in the final assault against the LTTE last year. The government has appointed Bell Pottinger well in advance to counter any negative publicity and campaign against the military commander.

According to sources, Bell Pottinger is already tapping the doors of the House of Commons and the media with its proactive engagement. They are also expected to reach the Amnesty International.

Bell Pottinger’s consultancy services is graphically illustrated in its website:

The website under its introductory heading ‘Today, more than ever, your reputation will determine whether you succeed or fail’ states: ‘At Bell Pottinger, we understand how to create, build and protect reputations in the modern age. We serve more than 600 clients – including UK and global brands, service firms and charities. We also work with governments, government departments and public sector bodies. We operate in a wide range of sectors, disciplines and geographies. Our great strength is the experience we have drawn from serving such a wide client base. It enables us to bring you the communication solutions you need, so you can achieve better results.’

20/10/2010

Amnesty: Hague should demand Peiris for Independent Investigation

Amnesty International urged the Foreign Secretary William Hague to demand an independent international investigation into alleged war crime abuses in Sri Lanka when he met his Sri Lankan counterpart, Professor GL Peiris, yesterday.
http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=19046 The full statement is reproduced below.

In the months since last year’s conflict between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, numerous allegations of war crimes have surfaced – and so far none has been properly investigated.

Eyewitness accounts of the last months of war paint a grim picture of deprivation of food, water and medical care; fear, injury and loss of life experienced by civilians trapped in the fighting.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said:

“It is time for a full and independent spotlight to be shone onto the horrors of what happened during the conflict and William Hague needs to stress that when he meets the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister tomorrow.

“He must tell Professor GL Peiris that given the magnitude of the crimes that have been committed by both sides of the conflict only a full independent international investigation into the alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka will satisfy the global community.

“At present those alleged to be responsible remain at large and at little threat of being brought to justice – that cannot be allowed to continue.”

Although two bodies – the Sri Lankan Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), and the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s Panel of Experts – have been set up to look into the claims, Amnesty International has huge reservations about the effectiveness of both.

Kate Allen explained:

“Given the Sri Lankan Government’s track record on dealing with human rights abuses, their decision in May to establish the LLRC was suspect at best.

“Historically, Sri Lanka’s internal enquiries into human rights abuses have not been adequately empowered or resourced to ensure real accountability and there is no reason to believe that this commission will be any more effective than its predecessors.

“Hundreds of children were among the civilians killed and maimed during the final stages of the conflict in 2009

“While Ban Ki Moon’s appointment of a Panel of Experts to advise him on accountability issues in Sri Lanka is an important first step it falls short of what is actually needed.

“In order that victims’ families get the justice they deserve Amnesty International has called on the United Nations to establish an independent investigation to document the full extent of crimes allegedly committed during the conflict.”

In addition, Amnesty International continues to have concerns for the well being of tens of thousands of displaced people who remain in makeshift camps, and the more than 7,000 Tamil Tiger suspects, who are being held incommunicado in what the state refers to as “rehabilitation camps”.

19/10/2010

Ten years of impunity for Jaffna-based journalist’s murderers

Reporters Without Borders/Reporters sans frontières released the following statements which are reproduced fully below

English: http://en.rsf.org/sri-lanka-nimalarajan-bbc-jaffna-killed-epdp-18-10-2010,38579.html
Français : http://fr.rsf.org/sri-lanka-nimalarajan-bbc-tue-jaffna-18-10-2010,38575.html

SRI LANKA
Ten years of impunity for Jaffna-based journalist’s murderers

On the 10th anniversary of Tamil journalist Mayilvaganam Nimalarajan’s murder in the northern city of Jaffna, Reporters Without Borders reiterates its hope that the Sri Lankan government will finally relaunch the police investigation into his death.

The Jaffna correspondent of the BBC’s Tamil and Sinhalese-language services and the Sri Lankan newspapers Virakesari and Ravaya, he was gunned down in his home on 19 October 2000. His killers also injured three other members of his family, including his parents.

Reconciliation in Sri Lanka will require tough government initiatives to combat impunity in high-profile cases such as Nimalarajan’s murder, one of the most shocking killings of the past decade. Now that the war is over, the police and the judicial authorities need the resources and political support that is essential in order to be able to identify and arrest those responsible.

Today, Nimalarajan’s father told Reporters Without Borders: “This has been 10 years of suffering for our family. But my son’s memory is still alive. I would like people to remember him as a courageous journalist who served his community. The government could relaunch the investigation into my son’s murder if it wanted to. It is a question of political will. We want justice to be done.”

Reporters Without Borders went to Jaffna in 2002 to investigate Nimalarajan’s murder. At that time, several suspects had been arrested but after a change of government, the police and certain judges deliberately sabotaged and then blocked the judicial proceedings, which were implicating members of the EPDP, a pro-government Tamil militia whose president is a minister in the current government.

Reporters Without Borders concluded that Nimalarajan, one of the leading Jaffna-based journalists working for the international media, was killed because of his coverage of the political violence before and during the 2000 parliamentary elections.

At least 25 journalists have been killed in Sri Lana since 2000, and three others have gone missing.

-----------------

SRI LANKA
Dix ans d'impunité pour les assassins de Nimalarajan

A l'occasion du dixième anniversaire du meurtre de Mayilvaganam Nimalarajan, Reporters sans frontières continue à espérer que le gouvernement sri lankais relancera l'enquête de police sur cette affaire. Le 19 octobre 2000, ce journaliste tamoul, correspondant des services en tamoul et cingalais de la BBC World Service et des journaux Virakesari et Ravaya à Jaffna (Nord), a été tué à son domicile. Trois autres membres de sa famille, dont ses parents, ont été blessés lors de l'attaque.

L'effort de réconciliation au Sri Lanka ne pourra se faire sans que le gouvernement prenne des décisions fortes pour lutter contre l'impunité, notamment dans l'affaire Nimalarajan, l'une des plus symboliques de ces dix dernières années. Maintenant que la guerre est finie, la police et la justice doivent disposer des moyens nécessaires, et du soutien politique indispensable, pour identifier et arrêter les auteurs de cet assassinat.

Interrogé par Reporters sans frontières, le père du journaliste a déclaré : "Pour notre famille, c'est dix ans de souffrance. Mais la mémoire de mon fils est toujours vivante. Je veux que les gens se souviennent de lui comme un journaliste courageux qui a servi sa communauté. Si le gouvernement veut relancer l'enquête sur son assassinat, il le peut. C'est une question de volonté politique. Nous voulons que justice soit rendue."

En 2002, une mission de Reporters sans frontières s'était rendue à Jaffna pour enquêter sur l'assassinat de Nimalarajan. A l'époque, plusieurs suspects avaient été interpellés, mais après un changement de gouvernement, la police et certains juges avaient délibérément saboté puis bloqué la procédure judiciaire qui mettait en cause des membres de la milice tamoule gouvernementale EPDP, dont le dirigeant, Douglas Devananda est actuellement ministre du Développement des petites entreprises.

Selon les conclusions de Reporters sans frontières, Nimalarajan avait été tué pour ses enquêtes sur des violences politiques intervenues avant et lors des élections parlementaires de 2000.

Au moins vingt-cinq journalistes ont été tués depuis 2000 au Sri Lanka, et trois autres sont portés disparus.

Vincent Brossel
Asia-Pacific Desk
Reporters Without Borders
33 1 44 83 84 70
asia@rsf.org

18/10/2010

Crisis Group: Constitution and Democracy in Sri Lanka

The following item and podcast by The International Crisis Group can be found here.

In September, the Sri Lankan parliament passed a constitutional amendment that abolishes presidential term limits, eliminates the supervisory Constitutional Council, and gives the president the authority to directly appoint officials. Alan Keenan, Crisis Group’s Sri Lanka Project Director and Senior Analyst, discusses what this amendment means for Sri Lankan democracy.

15/10/2010

ICG, HRW and AI decline Sri Lanka's Flawed Commission

The following item is also available on the ICG website

In a joint letter, the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have declined the invitation of Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to appear before it. The Sri Lankan government is promoting the Commission as an independent mechanism for reconciliation and restorative justice after its decades-long civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), yet the Commission fails to meet basic standards and is fatally flawed in structure and practice.

Critically, there is no requirement that the Commission investigate the many credible allegations that both the government security forces and the LTTE committed war crimes during the final months of conflict last year, as detailed in Crisis Group's May 2010 report War Crimes in Sri Lanka.

In its two months of hearings to date, the Commission's members, many of them retired senior government employees, have made no attempt to question the government's version of events and have instead offered current officials a platform for continued misrepresentations of the facts.

These failings are reinforced by the absence of any provisions for the protection of witnesses to alleged crimes - a particularly crippling factor given that government officials have labeled as "traitors" Sri Lankans who have made claims or provided evidence of violations of international humanitarian law by government forces.

Appearing before Sri Lanka's LLRC under current circumstances could put witnesses at risk and lend legitimacy to a process that is neither a credible investigation nor an adequate or genuine process to address the decades of violence that Sri Lankans from all regions and communities have suffered. The growing authoritarianism of the government since the end of the war - exhibited most recently by the removal of presidential term limits and any remaining independence of commissions on human rights, police and elections - would make it difficult for even the best-intentioned commission of inquiry to make a meaningful contribution to political reconciliation or accountability now.

Crisis Group continues to call for an independent international inquiry as the only credible means to examine allegations of war crimes by government forces and the LTTE and urges the government of Sri Lanka to cooperate fully with the panel of experts appointed to advise the United Nations Secretary-General on issues of post-war accountability in Sri Lanka.

The full text of the joint letter follows.


S.M. Samarakoon
Secretary
Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation

Dear Mr. Samarakoon,

Thank you for inviting Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group to appear before Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). As the invitation notes, we all closely follow developments in Sri Lanka, and we remain committed to helping the Sri Lankan people find a just and peaceful way forward from the decades of civil war and violence they have suffered.

Unfortunately, we are compelled to decline the Commission’s invitation. While we would welcome the opportunity to appear before a genuine, credible effort to pursue accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, the LLRC falls far short of such an effort. It not only fails to meet basic international standards for independent and impartial inquiries, but it is proceeding against a backdrop of government failure to address impunity and continuing human rights abuses.

Our three organizations believe that the persistence of these and other destructive trends indicates that currently Sri Lanka’s government and justice system cannot or will not uphold the rule of law and respect basic rights. As you will be aware, we have highlighted our concerns in a number of reports. Of particular relevance are Crisis Group’s May 2010 report War Crimes in Sri Lankaand its June 2009 report Sri Lanka’s Judiciary: Politicised Courts, Compromised Rights; Human Rights Watch’s February 2010 report Legal Limbo: The Uncertain Fate of Detained LTTE Suspects in Sri Lanka and its February 2009 report War on the Displaced: Sri Lankan Army and LTTE Abuses against Civilians in the Vanni; and Amnesty International’s June 2009 report Twenty Years of Make Believe: Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry and its August 2009 Unlock the Camps in Sri Lanka: Safety and Dignity for the Displaced Now. These and other relevant publications are included in the attached list and are available on our websites www.crisisgroup.org, www.hrw.org, and www.amnesty.org. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has made no progress since the end of the war in addressing our concerns detailed in these reports.

In addition to these broader failings of the government, we believe that the LLRC is deeply flawed in structure and practice. Of particular concern are the following:

Inadequate mandate

Nothing in the LLRC’s mandate requires it to investigate the many credible allegations that both the government security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) committed serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the civil war, especially in the final months, including summary executions, torture, attacks on civilians and civilian objects, and other war crimes. The need to investigate them thoroughly and impartially is especially urgent given the government’s efforts to promote its methods of warfare abroad as being protective of the civilian population, when the facts demonstrate otherwise.

Nor has the LLRC shown any genuine interest in investigating such allegations. Instead, it has allowed government officials to repeat unchallenged what they have been saying without basis for months: that the government strictly followed a “zero civilian casualty policy”. Indeed, during the testimony of Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa on 17 August 2010, the primary intervention of the Commission chairman, C.R. de Silva, was to prompt the secretary to provide the Commission with a 14 February 2009 letter from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) thanking the Navy for assisting in a medical evacuation. While highlighting that one letter, the chairman and his colleagues failed to ask the defence secretary about any of the ICRC’s numerous public statements between January and the end of May 2009 raising concerns about excessive civilian casualties, violations of international humanitarian law and insufficient humanitarian access.

The Commission also has not required officials to explain the government’s public misrepresentations during the war. Particularly disturbing are the government’s repeated claims that there were under 100,000 civilians left in the Vanni at the beginning of 2009 when officials later conceded there were some 300,000, and that Sri Lankan forces were not using heavy weapons in civilian areas when the military eventually admitted they were.

Lack of independence

A fundamental requirement for any commission of this type is that its members are independent. The membership of the LLRC is far from that. To start, both the chairman C.R. de Silva and member H.M.G.S. Palihakkara were senior government representatives during the final year of the war. They publicly defended the conduct of the government and military against allegations of war crimes. Indeed during two widely reported incidents – the shelling of the first “no-fire zone” declared by the government in late January and the shelling of Puthukkudiyiruppu (PTK) hospital in February – H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, then Sri Lanka’s representative to the UN, told CNN that government forces had confirmed that even though the LTTE was firing out from the “no-fire zone”, the government was not returning fire; and that the military had confirmed they knew the coordinates of PTK hospital and they had not fired on it.(1)

Beyond his public defense of government conduct during the war, there is also evidence that as attorney general, C.R. de Silva actively undermined the independence of the 2006-2009 Presidential Commission of Inquiry that was tasked with investigating allegations of serious human rights violations by the security forces. Mr. de Silva’s conflicts of interest were repeatedly criticized by the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), which had been invited by the President to oversee the Commission’s work. The members of the IIGEP resigned in April 2008 and cited Mr. de Silva’s conflicts of interest as a major reason for doing so. Most other members of the LLRC have some history of working for the Sri Lankan government. None is known for taking independent political positions, and many have publicly declared their allegiance to the President and government.(2)

Lack of witness protection

Equally worrying is the absence of any provisions for the protection of witnesses who may wish to testify before the Commission. Sri Lanka has never had a functioning witness protection system, nor has the Commission established any ad hoc procedures for witness protection. The lack of witness protection is particularly crippling in the current atmosphere in Sri Lanka in which government officials label as “traitors” persons making allegations that government forces might have committed violations of international law. Only a brave few have testified before the LLRC about war crimes in the north despite that threat. Moreover, even though the war is over, the country is still operating under a state of emergency, with laws that criminalize political speech and where there is no meaningful investigation of attacks on government critics. This clearly undermines the Commission’s ability to conduct credible investigations of alleged violations of international or national law. Until effective protection of witnesses can be guaranteed, no organization or individual can responsibly disclose confidential information to the Commission.

Past commission failures

Our decision to decline the LLRC’s invitation to testify also stems from Sri Lanka’s long history of failed and politicized commissions of inquiry. Amnesty International’s report, Twenty Years of Make-Believe: Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry, documents the failure of successive Sri Lankan governments to provide accountability for violations, including enforced disappearances, unlawful killings, and torture. The most recent instance is the work of the 2006-2009 Commission of Inquiry into 16 cases of serious human rights violations by both the government security forces and the LTTE. Even with broad international support and technical assistance from the IIGEP, the Commission investigated only a handful of cases, failed to protect witnesses from harassment by security personnel, and produced no evidence that led to more effective police investigations. The final report of this Commission is said to have been given to President Rajapaksa and remains unpublished.

Today Sri Lanka has no credible domestic mechanisms able to respond effectively to serious human rights violations. The Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission lacks independence and has itself acknowledged its lack of capacity to deal with investigations into enforced disappearances. At the international level, Sri Lanka has 5,749 outstanding cases being reviewed by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, several hundred of which have been reported since the beginning of 2006.

In the current context of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, even an independent and fully empowered commission would face grave difficulties in pursuing accountability or contributing to lasting reconciliation. Even though the war is over, a state of emergency continues to be in place. Anti-terrorism laws and emergency regulations grant extraordinary and arbitrary powers to the military and police and continue to be used to target critics of the government. Tamils in the north are living under a heavy military presence.

Impunity remains the order of the day: there have been no prosecutions in any of Sri Lanka’s well-documented cases of human rights violations from 2005 onwards, and media personnel and human rights activists continue to report harassment and threats by persons linked to the government. In addition, the recent passage of the 18th Amendment further empowers the presidency and effectively removes any remaining independence of commissions on human rights, elections, the judiciary and other issues. Without positive change in these areas, it is hard to see how even the best-intentioned commission of inquiry could make any meaningful contribution to accountability and reconciliation.

Should a genuine and credible process eventually be established – featuring truly independent commission members, effective powers of witness protection, and a mandate to explore the full range of alleged violations of national and international law; and backed up by government action to end impunity and ensure that police and courts launch effective and impartial prosecutions – we all would be pleased to appear.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Arbour
President and CEO
International Crisis Group

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch

Salil Shetty
Secretary General
Amnesty International

Publications on Sri Lanka by the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch

International Crisis Group (available at www.crisisgroup.org )

Reports

War Crimes in Sri Lanka, Asia Report N°191, 17 May 2010

The Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora after the LTTE, Asia Report Nº186, 23 Feb 2010

Sri Lanka : A Bitter Peace, Asia Briefing N°99, 11 Jan 2010

Sri Lanka’s Judiciary: Politicised Courts, Compromised Rights, Asia Report N°172, 30 Jun 2009

Development Assistance and Conflict in Sri Lanka: Lessons from the Eastern Province, Asia Report N°165, 16 Apr 2009

Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province: Land, Development, Conflict, Asia Report N°159, 15 Oct 2008

Sri Lanka’s Return to War: Limiting the Damage, Asia Report N°146, 20 Feb 2008

Sri Lanka : Sinhala Nationalism and the Elusive Southern Consensus, Asia Report N°141, 7 Nov 2007

Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Crisis, Asia Report N°135, 14 Jun 2007

Sri Lanka’s Muslims: Caught in the Crossfire, Asia Report N°134, 29 May 2007

Sri Lanka : The Failure of the Peace Process, Asia Report N°124, 28 Nov 2006

Conflict Risk Alert

Conflict Risk Alert: Sri Lanka, 9 March 2009

Commentary

Sri Lanka still demands justice, Louise Arbour, GlobalPost, 8 Jun 2010

Sri Lanka’s Choice, and the World’s Responsibility, Chris Patten, International Herald Tribune, 13 Jan 2010

War Without End, Robert Templer, International Herald Tribune, 21 Jul 2009

Day of Reckoning in Sri Lanka, Robert Templer, Foreign Policy, 21 April 2009

A Slaughter Waiting to Happen, Lakhdar Brahimi, International Herald Tribune, 20 March 2009

Amnesty International (available at www.amnesty.org )

Sri Lanka : Statements by detained doctors underline need for independent inquiry, 9 July 2009, ASA 37/015/2009

Open Letter to the UN Security Council on the situation in Sri Lanka, 2 June 2009, IOR 40/005/2009

Sri Lanka : Twenty years of make-believe. Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry, 11 Jun 2009, Report ASA 37/005/2009

Sri Lanka : Unlock the Camps in Sri Lanka: Safety and dignity for the displaced now – a briefing paper, 10 Aug 2009, Report ASA 37/016/2009

Sri Lanka: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review: Second session of the UPR Working Group, 5-16 May 2008, 8 Feb 2008, Report ASA 37/003/2008

Sri Lanka : Silencing dissent, 7 Feb 2008, Report ASA 37/001/2008

Sri Lanka : Observations on a Proposed Commission of Inquiry and International Independent Group of Eminent Persons, 17 Nov 2006, Report ASA 37/030/2006

Sri Lanka : Establishing a commission of inquiry into serious violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka: Amnesty International’s recommendations, 13 Sep 2006, Report ASA 37/031/2006

Sri Lanka : A Climate of Fear in the East, 3 Feb 2006, Report ASA 37/001/2006

Human Rights Watch (available at www.hrw.org )

Reports

Legal Limbo: The Uncertain Fate of Detained LTTE Suspects in Sri Lanka, February 2, 2010

War on the Displaced: Sri Lankan Army and LTTE Abuses against Civilians in the Vanni, February 20, 2009

Besieged, Displaced, and Detained: The Plight of Civilians in Sri Lanka’s Vanni Region, December 23, 2008

Trapped and Mistreated: LTTE Abuses against Civilians in the Vanni, December 15, 2008

Recurring Nightmare: State Responsibility for “Disappearances” and Abductions in Sri Lanka, March 5, 2008

Press Releases/Op-eds

Sri Lanka is still denying civilian deaths, Sep 5, 2010

Sri Lanka : US Report Shows No Progress on Accountability, Aug 11, 2010

Sri Lanka : Protests Against UN Echo Anti-Justice Campaign, Jul 11, 2010

Sri Lanka : New Panel Doesn’t Satisfy US Concerns, May 27, 2010

Sri Lanka : New Evidence of Wartime Abuses, May 20, 2010

Sri Lanka : Government Proposal Won’t Address War Crimes, May 7, 2010

Sri Lanka’s war: time for accountability, Apr 28, 2010

Sri Lanka : President’s New Term Time for Accountability, Jan 27, 2010

Uncovering Sri Lanka’s war crimes, Jan 21, 2010

Sri Lanka : Domestic Inquiry into Abuses a Smokescreen, Oct 27, 2009

(1) “Sri Lanka’s U.N. ambassador discusses what the government is doing to protect civilians in the war zone in Sri Lanka”, CNN, 3 February 2009 at www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2009/02/03/stout.sri.lanka.war.zone.cnn?iref=videosearch.

(2) For instance, in presenting the annual memorial oration for President Rajapaksa’s father in November 2009, Commission member Professor Karunaratne Hangawatte said about the President: “It is no secret that the national and international community stands in gratitude and salutes Your Excellency for your unwavering leadership, our defense leaders and personnel for their enormous sacrifices”. He also called on “every peace loving Sri Lankan [to] bond together with the Government”. See www.dailynews.lk/2009/11/13/fea01.asp. Similarly, reportedly “[i]nspired by the historic victory of President Mahinda Rajapaksa against terrorism”, recently deceased Commission member M.T.M. Jiffry painted a “larger-than-life portrait” of the President after the end of the war, described as “perhaps, the most sincere tribute to President Rajapaksa from an Artist”. See www.sundayobserver.lk/2009/06/21/spe01.asp.

14/10/2010

Just as Eelam wasn’t the answer then, Development isn’t the answer today

The recent selective media coverage on the collaboration between key frontline TNA MPs (often referred to as agents for the Tamil Diaspora) and Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa is the perfect example of what Walter Wink, a leading theorist and practitioner of non violent social change, refers to as the power of the ‘domination myth’. In a ‘system of domination’, the domination myth is the story that explains how things got to be a particular way. Such a story told often enough ceases to be a tale and is accepted as reality itself. And when that happens, people accept the story even if it is destroying the lives of others and even their own.

There have been such myths in Sri Lanka on all sides. Tamils have had the myth that the authoritarianism and brutality of the LTTE was a sad but unavoidable consequence of Sinhalese oppression. Sinhalese have had the myth that colonial rulers are responsible, that King Dutagemuna’s empire can be recreated, that Buddhism in Sri Lanka is uniquely pure and warrants any level of violence to protect. And the latest myth – shared with many Tamils too - is that reconciliation will happen through economic development – that growth, jobs, infrastructure will slowly but surely erase ethnic grievances. And of course, amazingly the fact there is no freedom of expression and the fact that the rule of law does not exist doesnt undermine this myth!

One of the confusing things of this myth is that it is propagated by moderate Tamils and Sinhalese, including some who have previously argued for human rights and democracy. Their argument is simple; “We have lost, there is no other game in town so all we can do is work from the inside and hope to make it less awful than it would otherwise be and hopefully, something will happen in the future to make things better”.

One can understand why those who stand to gain enormously from business deals related to economic development are pushing these myths. But why are Tamil Diaspora – most of whom are more than adequately well off in the West – clutching at these straws? As a result the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) gains access to Diaspora money and traps the Diaspora in “apolitical” work when in reality there is no such thing as apolitical – it is deeply political but just on the side of the government.

According to one expert : “At one time they pursued the narrow idea of separate state and thereby refused to deal with the total crisis of the system affecting all, beginning with the 1978 constitution. Now, they are doing the same thing minus the separate state idea!”. In other words, the Tamil Diaspora who are engaging in this non critical manner have learnt little. When the Diaspora was talking about separate state, all other options were portrayed as completely unacceptable; so how do things today warrant this apolitical, finance led approach? What they are failing to do now – as they did then – is to understand that development under authoritarianism, destruction of the rule of law, abuse of basic rights – isn’t development!

Sri Lanka is walking in the direction of Cambodia and Burma. This is hardly surprising given the close political support offered by Iran, Russia China and Pakistan, all countries where democracy and human rights are almost alien concepts.


To be fearful and greedy is human but we do not have to act on these powerful motives. So what can we do? We need to challenge this thinking in our own minds and in our networks and ask people to think carefully about their funding actions; what agencies are they funding and investing through and with what real safeguards? To pretend that challenging or changing the situation cannot happen is simply making it more dangerous for those brave people who are pressing for real solutions. So let us be brave, especially if we live outside Sri Lanka and let us plant the seeds of change and choose not to be oppressed. And if all this is too much for a first step, at the very least sign the SLC petition and valiantly stand by those brave enough to challenge!

The author of this blog is a member of the Tamil diaspora who wishes, for security concerns, to remain anonymous.

12/10/2010

Canada aids in Thai arrest of Tamil migrants

The following was reported in the The Globe And Mail

Thai authorities have arrested more than 150 Tamil migrants in an immigration sweep that Canada had a hidden hand in, according to one security expert. “You can say that Canada has pre-empted one of the vessels,” said Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based security expert, asserting these migrants were likely destined for Canada aboard a smuggling ship.

The ongoing Tamil boat crisis, he said, has prompted a host of countries “to launch a new strategy” aimed at heading off more migrants. “If not for the Canadians and Australians working together with the Thais, this would have never happened,” he said.

Mr. Gunaratna, a professor who has testified as an expert witness in Canada, said some Tamil Tiger terrorists were caught in the bust. He credited the RCMP, Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Canada Border Services Agency for playing a role.

Ottawa says it is aware of the busts around Bangkok, but won’t acknowledge whether federal agents played a role. Yet officials make no secret that they are trying to “push borders out,” given that Canada’s refugee laws make it nearly impossible to deter or deport certain classes of migrants.

“Canada is engaged with a number of countries in the region on issues regarding migrant smuggling, including pursuing co-operation with source and transit countries,” said Alain Cacchione, a spokesman for Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department. “We will not comment on operational issues.”

The pre-emption strategy stems from the policy failures surrounding vessels that have already landed. In August, a ship known as the Sun Sea brought 492 Tamil asylum seekers to Canada. One year ago, the Ocean Lady transported 76 Tamils to B.C.’s coast. Australia, meanwhile, has received more than 90 Tamil ships since the Sri Lankan civil war ended in May, 2009.

This exodus has prompted Australia’s Labour government to consider a blanket ban on Tamil refugee claims and caused Canada’s Conservative government to promise a crackdown on human smuggling. Yet federal agents often find there is little they can do if an asylum seeker’s toes touch Western soil – or even walk onto the gangway of a ship bound for international waters.

So Ottawa has dispatched federal agents to Southeast Asia – most prominently, Ward Elcock, a former CSIS boss appointed Canada’s “special envoy” on human smuggling after the summer’s Sun Sea controversy. And a senior member of the Royal Thai Police was recently “wined and dined” in Ottawa and Niagara Falls by federal police, according to a well-placed Ottawa source.

In August, The Globe and Mail reported that apartments on the outskirts of Bangkok were filling up with dozens of ostensible Tamil “tourists” anticipating another ship bound for Canada. It’s not clear whether a smuggling network ever procured such a vessel.

The National News Bureau of Thailand reported Monday that Thai “commando units,” acting on “a tipoff” and “intelligence information,” raided 17 apartments in Bangkok’s northern suburbs. They arrested 155 Sri Lankan nationals whose ranks included “a number” of suspected Tamil Tiger rebels, according to authorities. Those arrested lacked travel documents or had overstayed their visas, and were “waiting to seek asylum in a third country,” the report said.

The migrants are now to be expedited en masse back to Sri Lanka; Thailand has not signed onto the international conventions that can make refugee removals time-consuming.

One law expert says that if Canada did have a hand in the Thai raids, the bust raises questions of whether Ottawa’s emissaries are doing end runs around refugee rules. “If Canada is part and parcel of urging that, then there is an issue of moral complicity,” said Osgoode Hall law Professor Craig Scott. He noted that many Tamils have a good reason to fear repression in Sri Lanka.

During a 30-year civil war, the totalitarian Tamil Tigers claimed they were the only legitimate voice for Sri Lanka’s Tamils. The guerrillas used Southeast Asia as a base to run guns across the Indian Ocean, but were vanquished as a force last year.

A vestigial shipping network survives, and now it’s feared to be smuggling people. Reports suggest that individual migrants who’ve gotten to Canada on boats are on the hook for up to $50,000 apiece. In most cases, the Tamils have first fled Sri Lanka for southern India, then moved on to Thailand on tourist visas – before hopping ships to the West.

“The Canadian and Australian police now use preemption, because they know that when a vessel reaches their country there is nothing they can do,” said Mr. Gunaratna, who works at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore.

Known for his hawkish views against the Tamil Tigers, he testified in Canada last year as an expert witness against the 76 men who arrived on the Ocean Lady voyage. Immigration lawyers tried to impugn Mr. Gunaratna’s reliance on secret intelligence sources, yet Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal ruled he remains an authority.

08/10/2010

Press release: Sri Lanka: collapse of rule of law

A new paper by the Sri Lanka Campaign charts destruction of institutions as the island slides toward dictatorship.
Immediate release: 8th October 2010

A new paper commissioned by the Sri Lanka Campaign (SLC) dissects the collapse of the rule of law in Sri Lanka.
It identifies:
- the erosion of civil and political rights in all communities
- ‘sham’ justice and accountability institutions, from commissions of inquiries to the court system
- an increasing concentration of power, already extreme, in the hands of the Presidency
- a clear progression towards lawlessness, stretching back decades and continuing unabated despite the end of the country’s
long-running civil war in May 2009
- an ongoing strategy of political manipulation exploiting perceived or alleged security threats

Based on this research, the Campaign:
- believes that Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is very unlikely to deliver justice
- calls for a robust and independent international inquiry into alleged war crimes committed by both sides during the final stages of the war
- warns that the so-called ‘Sri Lanka model’, if unchecked, may encourage other states to flout international law
- urges the international community to keep developments in Sri Lanka under close scrutiny and to bear in mind the history of methods employed by the Government of Sri Lanka to create the appearance of the rule of law while the reality remains unchanged or even worsens.

See quotes below from Campaign Chair and Advisor.

Summary

Entitled ‘The Breakdown of the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka’, this new paper documents the destruction of the concept
of legality in the country, and its very real effect on citizens from all communities. It can be downloaded for free from
the Social Science Research Network (www.ssrn.com). Highlighting the “chasm between appearance and reality
with respect to the institutions of Sri Lanka’s legal system,” the paper draws on evidence from the Asian Human
Rights Commission, the International Bar Association, the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims and
a range of other sources.

It concludes that Sri Lanka’s public institutions are weak and lack independence; that perceived or alleged security
threats, despite the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), are used as an excuse not to repeal all
draconian emergency regulations; that a climate of fear prevails; and that individual rights, civil society and
independent media are under threat. The net effect of these elements is total disregard for the rule of law – an
alarming situation given Sri Lanka’s record of human rights violations, including enforced disappearances and torture.

It also highlights the routine flouting of international law, an egregious example being the treatment of suspected
LTTE combatants, thousands of whom are still being detained in secret facilities without charge and without access to
legal assistance or monitoring by qualified bodies including the International Committee of the Red Cross. The International Commission of Jurists has described the situation as possibly ‘the largest mass administrative detention
anywhere in the world’ - equivalent to 20 Guantanamo Bays.


A timely reminder

‘The Breakdown of the Rule of Law’ comes at a crucial time for Sri Lanka’s government (GoSL) and citizens. To
date, the GoSL has refused to co-operate with the UN's panel of experts on Sri Lanka war crimes and accountability,
claiming that its own commission of inquiry, the LLRC, has the credibility and legitimacy to ‘address’ the allegations
of heinous war crimes and human right violations committed before the end of the conflict in May 2009. The paper
provides an overview of the mounting evidence of “manipulation and deceit” in relation to the LLRC and the
dismal record of past commissions.

The paper is also a timely reaction to the legislation recently passed in Sri Lanka, the 18 th Amendment to the
Constitution, which further compromises the independence of public institutions, including the Supreme Court and
the Election Commission and increases the power of the President of Sri Lanka. The 18 th Amendment fits into the
continuing, and indeed deepening, pattern of manipulation by the Presidency of public institutions, the media and
other bodies for political ends.

About the authors

Craig Scott is Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, Director of the Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human
Rights, Crime and Security of York University, and member of the Sri Lanka Campaign Advisory Council. James
Yap is Law Clerk for Justice Ian Binnie of the Supreme Court of Canada; he contributed to ‘The Breakdown of the
Rule of Law in Sri Lanka’ before assuming his duties at the Court.

According to Professor Scott, the purpose of this new paper is to draw attention to the seriousness of the present post-
war situation in Sri Lanka and the structural reasons why it could again get even worse: “Systematic weakening of
public institutions and the consolidation of power through a largely unchecked security apparatus and a centralisation
of power in the Presidency have created a culture of abysmal lawlessness in Sri Lanka. I share the deep concerns
expressed by Louise Arbour
, President of the International Crisis Group, and The Elders about the potential
‘multiplier’ effect
of the GoSL’s exploitation of security rhetoric to justify its methods and policies; there are already
signs of other states seeking to emulate the so-called ‘Sri Lanka model’.”

About the Sri Lanka Campaign

The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice is a strictly non-partisan campaign that champions action to alleviate
the suffering of the 300,000 displaced during the final stages of the conflict, to secure the freedom of those civilians
still interned in camps, challenge human rights abuses and promote a lasting peace based on justice and
reconciliation.

The Campaign is chaired by Edward Mortimer, Senior Vice-President of the Salzburg Global Seminar, who served
as Chief Speechwriter and Director of Communications for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan until 2006. He has
said: “This paper documents the sad demise of the very concepts of legality and truth in Sri Lanka. Given the absence
of functioning public institutions and the climate of repression, the international community must do whatever it can
to ensure that adequate checks and balances are restored. The Sri Lanka Campaign hopes that the country’s powerful
allies and donors will act swiftly, before the situation deteriorates further.”

Both Craig Scott and Edward Mortimer are available for interviews. The Campaign can also provide data,
briefings and press advice to any journalists wishing to cover the situation in Sri Lanka. For more information,
please contact the campaign by emailing srilankapeacecampaign@gmail.com or visiting www.srilankacampaign.org

06/10/2010

Transparency International summoned to Sri Lankan court

Corporates and investors should be wary of the corruption levels in Sri Lanka - so corrupt that Transparency International is harassed. The Asian Human Rights Commission released the following statement on the recent court summons of TI.

SRI LANKA: TISL summoned before CID -- the abuse of the criminal justice process to suppress discussions relating to corruption

The Sri Lankan branch of Transparency International (TISL) has been summoned to appear before the Financial Investigation Unit of Criminal Investigation Division who is conducting an investigation into a complaint on suspicions transactions of Transparency International Sri Lanka under chapter xi of Criminal Court Procedure Act No. 15 of 1979.

The notice of the order made under Section 109 (6) of Criminal Court Procedure Act No 15 of 1979 to the company secretary states that "According to the facts that reveal it is necessary to interview you and accountant of Transparency International Sri Lanka in connection to above investigation.

Hence you are hereby ordered to appear at Financial Investigation Unit FIU) of Criminal Investigation Division housed at Banking Studies Centre of Central Bank, Rajagriya with Accountant of the company on 8/10/2010 at 0900 a.m. under the powers of the section 109(6) of Criminal Court Procedure Act No. 15 of 1979."

The FIU inquiry started after TISL commenced monitoring the abuse of state resources. According to information available, the investigation was later dropped. TISL issued their final report of the investigations last week. The notice of FIU to TISL to appear before it was issued after that.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has earlier warned that the criminal justice process will be used against all critics of the government. The trials against Sarath Fonseka and Tissasanayagam are test trials in this direction. Thousands of such cases have been made under anti-terrorism laws in the past. Like in the case of forced disappearances most of the victims of such arrests and detentions were innocent persons.

The use of courts for political control is a common method used in Burma and Cambodia for silencing political opponents and civil society critics. In particular all attempts to discuss problems of corruption are targets of such "criminal investigations".

While the justice process is abused to punish opponents, the government propaganda machinery tries to make it appear that such decisions are taken through the courts and should therefore be respected. In this way any person may be imprisoned through fabricated charges and by the abuse of criminal justice process.

# # #

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.

05/10/2010

War amputees fight for new limbs

IRIN report on the plight of war amputees. The full article has been republished below

JAFFNA, 4 October 2010
More than 16 months after the Sri Lankan government ended a 26-year civil war by defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, thousands of amputees await help.

Ninety percent of Sri Lanka's estimated 160,000 amputees, many disabled by landmines and explosions linked to the civil war, lack proper prosthetic limbs, says the Sri Lanka School of Prosthetics and Orthotics, a project of the Cambodia Trust.

"I am handicapped due to a needless war and I am still suffering," said Jeganathan Sivakumaran, a 25-year-old from Mullaitivu, a town in northeastern Sri Lanka. He lost both his legs in a shell attack in early 2009 and is still without prosthetics. "I live like an animal in the street begging for money."

Artificial limb services are inaccessible and limited in terms of providers and funds at district level because of a lack of skilled technicians and donor support, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) told IRIN.

"There are not enough service providers in this field to cover the artificial limb needs of the country," Ivan Rasiah, USAID programme coordinator, said. "The government doesn't have enough capacity to provide these services due to a lack of facilities and trained people."

Such issues, particularly prominent in the north, are a primary concern for Sri Lanka, said Ravindra Solomans, a representative for the department of social services.

"In the remote areas resources are a big problem - there are not enough therapists, and not enough accessibility," Solomans said. "Now that the civil war is over we are training officers and volunteers in this field."

The government says it hopes to make all public areas accessible to disabled people within five years.

Cost issues

"The most body-friendly raw material is expensive and imported from the United States. Indian materials are inexpensive, but not very patient-friendly," activist Lalith Ganhewa told IRIN.

For example, a prosthetic made in the United States can cost between US$5,000 and $12,000, putting it out of reach of many Sri Lankans, who earn an average of $4,500 a year, although that does not reflect inequalities between urban and rural populations, according to the US Department of State.

Shankar Kamalarajan, 41, from Jaffna, the capital of Northern Province, lost his right leg in a landmine in 2007 when collecting wood in the jungle. He was unable to find a prosthetic until February this year when a local community group sponsored him.

But for those who cannot find sponsors, the prospects look bleak.

"Two years I spent as a beggar because I could not do anything to help my situation," Kamalarajan said. "There were days I did not have food and had to starve. Now I am trying to adjust to a new life leaving the trauma of being handicapped in the past."

03/10/2010

In Pictures: The Tamils of Jaffna and Vanni

The following was published in the Samosa, September 29th

Nina de la Preugne travelled to northern Sri Lanka earlier this year and met the Tamil civilians of Vanni and Jaffna who survived the final stages of the war Jan - May 09. Many suffered great personal loss, both physical and mental. Some were left permanently maimed; for others, the wounds are hidden from view. In pictures and their own words, here are their stories.

02/10/2010

Reconciliation in Sri Lanka: Breaking the Myth and Bringing the Truth

An edited version of an article by Nirmanusan Balasundaram as first published on Groundviews on 25th September 2010
http://www.groundviews.org/2010/09/25/reconciliation-in-sri-lanka-breaking-the-myth-and-bringing-the-truth/

“There cannot be reconciliation without justice. Justice and equity are at the core of reconciliation”
Professor Hizkias Assefa

If the citizens of Sri Lanka are too fearful to express their grievances and aspirations, including opposition political parties, independent media and even ruling party government ministers how can a national minority discriminated and oppressed for more than five decades practice their rights in Sri Lanka? If there is no conducive environment to preserve fundamental human rights including basic human needs such as survival, wellbeing, freedom and identity and the right to enjoy the values of democracy in Sri Lanka, then what guarantee is there that a ‘genuine reconciliation’ will take place?

The platform for genuine reconciliation should be rooted in the democratic exercises, rights and participation of all citizens throughout a country. The present regime does not even accommodate dissidents from the majority Sinhala community, including “their” own former army commander. Hence, how can they provide justice and accommodate Tamils aspiration? And now after the regime has consitutionalied its dictatorship through the 18th Amendment, how can people still believe in such a whitewashing reconciliation process? With the last nail in the coffin of Sri Lankan Democracy, the hope of genuine reconciliation is also being buried along with it.

If the present regime can play around with the supreme law of Sri Lanka like this, how can normal citizens even imagine that reconciliation with this government is possible? The unlimited power of a family dynastic dictatorship is an absolute disaster for Sri Lankan Democracy. It is obvious that Tamil people did not expect any miracle from the 18th constitutional amendment but the downright disappointment is that the Sinhalese themselves are being cheated by the Rajapakse regime as they did not even have the opportunity to express their views on an amendment to their own constitution!

Past constitutions predominantly oppressed the Tamil people, but for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka the Sinhala and Muslim people are going to experience mass suffering under the a dictatorship legitimized through the 18th Amendment tassed in parliament with a illegitimate two thirds majority. It has led to a “collective victimization through undemocratic constitution changing or making” going beyond ethnic differences and thus becoming a common issue for all communities in Sri Lankan in relation to reconciliation.

If Sri Lanka is indeed free from ‘terror’ then why does the regime still have emergency laws such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)? If the government is committed to genuine reconciliation, then why has there has been no adequate resettlement for Tamils and Muslims. On the contrary state sponsored Sinhala colonization is being carried out hastily, while Tamil people are prevented to go or resettle in their traditional inhabitant places by the creation of High Security Zones (HSZ) and Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in these areas. In this way, the Northern Province of Sri Lanka is controlled with a high-level military presence making it an open-prison. If there is a civil administration functioning in the Northern region then why does almost all major events including opening ceremonies, temple festivals, school programs and cultural programs take place with a military presence? On one hand the Rajapakse regime is constructing new monuments for fallen Sri Lankan Armed Forces while on the other hand they do not allow Tamil people to commemorate the massacre of their kith and kin which numbered nearly forty-thousand in the last phase of the war in May 2009. The regime is enduringly suspicious of the Tamil community and a ‘climate of doubt’ does not lend itself to genuine reconciliation.

The above mentioned destructive actions and attitudes are only some examples that are evidence of the facade that the government of Sri Lanka paints when it comes to reconciliation. The Rajapakse regime is contradicting their own false statements and commitments on reconciliation with their activities aimed at strengthening the regime’s hold on the country. A further tactic that the Rajapakse regime is employing is the use of the economic development rhetoric to divert international attention away from war crimes, human rights violations and the humanitarian situation. But Sri Lanka cannot exercise lasting peace unless there is justice and a restoration of basic human rights to those victims of the war and this can only come about via a credible (international) independent investigation into the countless charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In the last twenty years, a considerable number of commissions were formed by Sri Lankan authorities but all of those commissions failed to be credible. Amnesty International’s report “Twenty years of make-believe – Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry” exposes the façade and deception of Sri Lanka’s past commissions and their deliberate and pre-determined ineffectiveness by design and implementation. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is no departure from this shameful past record. How can the LLRC be genuine and truthful, if military intelligence officers are monitoring and taking notes of the entire hearing as people try to present their testimonies (this has taken place in Vavuiya, in Northern Sri Lanka in mid August - Virakeasari, August 15, 2010, Page 11)?

Not only is this evidence of another severely flawed commission of inquiry but it is also a sign of the Burmese type military dictatorship that Sri Lanka has entered into. Despite that fact that victims of the war, with the hope of finding out about their kith and kin, are appearing before the commission there are no witness protection mechanisms for these people. And as Sri Lanka’s commissions are operating without independency and accountability, the government does not allow any international independent human rights bodies, including the UN Human Rights council to function in the country.

The Rajapakse regime’s military victory and activities of reconciliation have not created any paths to respect and recognize the Tamil people’s dignity, equity and sovereignty. Furthermore there has been no single concrete measure taken to provide justice for the Tamil people, who are severely affected by the discriminatory policies of Sri Lanka’s successive governments ever since Sri Lanka was granted independence. The Tamil people need normalcy, dignity, justice and a durable peace for a better life rather than a shameful whitewashing and untruthful reconciliation process.

The Rajapakse regime has successfully pulled off cover-up attempts leading upto the end of the war and following it. They claim that genocidal war crimes did not happen but no independent body is allowed to monitor or verify this. Then they insisted that all resources needed to cope with the humanitarian suffering is being channelled but would not allow independent INGOs and UN agencies to have full access to fill the enormous gaps in the rehabilitation and resettlement efforts.

And now their laying claims to achieving reconciliation but contradicting this intention in every manner possible. Once is stupid, twice is suspect and third is malevolent! In the Rajapakse regime’s playbook, ‘reconciliation’ is the main tactic when it comes to handling the international community’s mounting pressure on recent developments in Sri Lanka. How long will it take the international community to realize this? How long will it be before the world sees beyond the facade that has been constructed to hide the continued discrimination against Tamil people? How long?

So next time you hear anyone say "there is reconciliation going on in Sri Lanka" challenge them forcefully. Ask them what rubbish they are talking about, what reasons they have to believe that genuine reconciliation is happening? Point out to them that there is Sinhalese domination under a dictatorial government that has no intention of giving Tamil people the dignity, normalcy and justice they have long been waiting for and deserve!

01/10/2010

Privatisation - financial fundamentalism without an analysis of the real costs

Antony Loewenstein, one of our campaign advisers has written about the nature of 'disaster' capitalism in Sri Lanka, Iraq and Australia. The following article appears in one of Australia's leading daily papers, the Sydney Morning Herald.

Last year's cessation of hostilities between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers, after up to 40,000 Tamil civilians were murdered in the last months of the conflict, has heralded a Beijing-led invasion of the island.

The authoritarian Rajapaksa regime was assisted by Chinese weapons and intelligence in its defeat of the Tigers and now China is investing to reap the rewards. Kidnappings and extrajudicial killings in Sri Lanka are irrelevant in the pursuit of regional dominance.

Billions of dollars are being spent to build ports, infrastructure and roads in a country trying to recover from three decades of war, despite reconciliation largely absent from public debate. Referring to China, the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has said: "We have understood who is important to us."

The economy is in such poor shape that its leaders are seemingly happy to auction assets, land and influence to friendly countries and corporations.

After the 2004 tsunami, Western multinationals flooded the country to capitalise on Colombo's willingness to sell off its forests, water and beaches to the highest bidder. "A second tsunami of corporate globalisation," said Herman Kumara, the head of Sri Lanka's National Fisheries Solidarity Movement.

China has filled this role, extending the hand of unlimited finances, military hardware and diplomatic cover.

The concept of disaster capitalism, articulated in Naomi Klein's best-seller The Shock Doctrine, revolves around "orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events", real or man-made, "combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities". But the definition of "disaster" is deliberately vague, allowing anything from post-conflict zones to water scarcity to be defined as needing corporate intervention. Profit is the motive and human rights an inconvenience. An ironfisted leadership is helpful but not essential to maximise financial return.

Think Iraq since 2003 and the price-gouging by the company Halliburton, or Haiti after the earthquake; latest reports claim the removal of countless refugees from desolate camps to make way for "industrial work zones".

In Australia, the British firm Serco runs expanding detention centres, despite allegations of asylum-seeker abuse in its facilities. Even the ownership by French firm Veolia of some of Australia's waste management, water treatment and desalination plants ignores the company's building of a light-rail network through occupied Jerusalem and illegal settlements in the Palestinian West Bank.

The belief in privatisation and deregulation is shared by the major parties in most Western democracies. We constantly hear the language of "efficiency", "better services" and "cost-savings".

Overseas examples don't offer much comfort. An April report released by the Australian Services Union revealed that, "the French private water companies [Veolia and Suez] have a large chunk of state ownership and they privatise other public water services while their own state ownership protects them from foreign takeovers in France".

Downsizing the public sector is framed as the inevitable price of progress. We have seen privatisation by stealth, the purchase and management of key resources and infrastructure by local and foreign corporations with little accountability or discussion. Neo-liberal theories have become doctrine.

Sydney Chamber of Commerce said in 2008 that "there's a raft of state government assets . . . that, arguably, have no reason to be in government hands". The group argued that in a "weaker economic environment" there must be "efficiencies" found.

In these cases, the "disaster" is the gradual lack of public funds for infrastructure and willingness of corporations to step in. But there is no public debate over this and the public backlash over electricity and ferry privatisation indicates fierce resistance.

The recent financial collapse of public-private partnerships, especially road and tunnel projects, is a warning sign that business as usual is not delivering the best services to society.

An economist, Steve Keen, argues that the largely bipartisan political and media backing of privatisation is reminiscent of religious fundamentalism, with no analysis of the costs.

Take military outsourcing. ABC Online recently reported that the Australian government had hired Chilean mercenaries to guard its Baghdad embassy despite serious concerns over the conditions and behaviour of the hired men. The foreign affairs department defended the move but it simply justified the continued use of private militias hired by Western governments in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

I have spoken to security sources that confirm the defence force's willingness to outsource key tasks in current and future deployments.

There is no discussion in Australia about the massive expansion of mercenaries since September 11, 2001, including by Australians, and the lack of transparency of outsourcing vital services to the private sector. The Washington Post reported recently there were nearly a million contractors in America working in intelligence and counterterrorism.

The reporting group ProPublica says this year was the first time that more contractors than soldiers were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as governments rely increasingly on faceless corporations to fight their battles. The Nation's Jeremy Scahill revealed allegations that Blackwater agents in Iraq fired indiscriminately into Iraqi homes while they were high on cocaine and steroids. Welcome to a rebranded, privately run occupation.

The unquestioning devotion to disaster capitalism and privatisation revolves around a belief in the market's wonders. But what if a heart and soul is missing in the negotiation room?

Antony Loewenstein is a journalist, author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution and is working on a book about privatisation.