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

30/11/2010

How sad when one says it like that? Why are we settling for just a Tibet or Kashmir, why not a future much brighter?

This very balanced report in the Economist nevertheless highlights the bleak outlook for Sri Lanka.

One country, two nations
The Rajapaksa clan is justifiably triumphant. But Sri Lanka remains dangerously divided


Nov 25th 2010 | from PRINT EDITION


They look more like desperate refugees than the pampered vanguard of an organised mass colonisation. But that is how most local Tamils view the 600-odd ethnic Sinhalese who pitched up at the derelict railway station in the northern Sri Lankan town of Jaffna last month. As the new arrivals saw it, they were moving back home after a stay in the south. Now resettled in the crudest of tarpaulin shelters at Navatkuli, just outside town, crowded onto scrubby land shaded by a few coconut palms, they complain of joblessness and worry about the approaching rainy season. But they insist they are here to stay.

The locals’ suspicions suggest the government’s triumph last year over Velupillai Prabhakaran and his Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, ending their 26-year fight for a Tamil “homeland”, is in one sense incomplete. Most Tamils, many of whom loathed and feared the brutal Tigers, feel it as a defeat. National reconciliation still seems more a rhetorical ideal than a government policy.

In the south, among the largely Buddhist Sinhalese majority, Mahinda Rajapaksa, inaugurated for his second presidential term on November 19th, is monarch of all he surveys (and he does little to discourage intimations of royalty). Wildly popular for ending the war, he has sanctioned an epic personality cult. With three brothers, a son and a nephew in leading political roles, his family controls almost all levers of power. His only rival in popular esteem—Sarath Fonseka, his former army chief and then a challenger for the presidency in January—is in jail. Journalists admit to censoring themselves out of fear. A state of emergency is still in force, though Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the brother who runs the defence ministry, says it will be lifted in two or three months. The government has amended the constitution to get rid of term-limits and other tiresome checks on presidential power.

In Tamil-dominated Jaffna, however, presidential portraits, plastered all over the south for the inauguration, are scarce. Local politicians see their people as marginalised. They discount the president’s vague promises of a serious devolution of power. They note how he qualified that pledge in a recent interview: the Tamil parties must “realise that what we refused to give Prabhakaran, we won’t give to others.”

Tamil politicians believe the government intends to curb Tamil nationalism through intense security and population transfer. Hence their reaction to the arrival of 183 families from the south. These Sinhalese say they fled ethnic violence in Jaffna at the start of the war in 1983, and were dispersed in various southern districts. They were never fully accepted there, they say, being seen as quasi-Tamils. But they kept in touch with each other all these years. At least half had been born since 1983, and had never set foot in the north. But when they heard that Jaffna was now peaceful, they arranged a fleet of buses and came back together.

It is hard to believe that they did so entirely spontaneously. But to extrapolate from there to a full-scale colonisation plan, as so many Tamils do, reveals an enormous distrust of the government. So does speculation that the army intends to establish permanent cantonments throughout the north, moving military families to the area to join the soldiers. Despite the outbreak of peace, this week’s government budget awarded the biggest outlay to defence. Gotabaya Rajapaksa argues that, having tripled the size of the armed forces to win the war, he cannot “send those people home”, where they would have nothing to do.

The mutual distrust is an inevitable legacy of the civil war and the slaughter in which it ended last year. It is made worse by official secrecy. The government rejected an international inquiry into alleged war crimes by both sides. The “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” it appointed instead has heard some valuable testimony. But, boycotted by leading international and domestic NGOs, it lacks credibility. The camps where 330,000 displaced people were interned after the war were closed to most outside scrutiny. This week the International Committee of the Red Cross announced that it had been told to close its offices in Jaffna and Vavuniya, near the biggest camps. It is still rare for foreign journalists to be allowed to visit the north.

Even government critics, however, concede that peace is better than war. And some of the worst of the scare stories about the government’s intentions have proved unfounded. It was accused of planning to intern Tamils in the camps indefinitely. But over 300,000 have already left. Many have yet to rebuild their lives. Ashok, a 38-year-old Hindu priest (most Tamils are Hindus and resent the Buddhist pagodas sprouting in the north for the army’s use), is used to being shunted around. He was first displaced in 1990, from Palali, near Jaffna, one of the much-resented “high-security zones”, from which civilians were evacuated.


After such knowledge, what forgiveness?

Ashok then lived in Tiger-controlled Jaffna until 1995, when he retreated with them to a stronghold elsewhere in the north. In 2009 he had to abandon another home in the flight to the Tigers’ final redoubt. He was one of the tens of thousands to escape from there in the war’s last days, and then spent seven months in a camp. Being a priest spared him from suspicions of being a full-fledged Tiger. Back in Jaffna, he hopes to go back to Palali one day.

Such life stories help explain why reconciliation is difficult. The failure even to attempt it, however, is “inviting another terrorist movement”, in the words of a politician representing Sri Lanka’s Muslims, another aggrieved minority. So thorough was the army’s victory that the risks of that seem tiny for now. And both India, in Kashmir, and China, in Tibet, have shown in their different ways that it is possible to keep a resentful local population in check for decades. But Sri Lanka’s optimists hoped the end of the war might herald a future so much brighter than that.



Economist.com/blogs/banyan

25/11/2010

Be careful who your friends are!

Sri Lanka has recently announced that all NGOs - international and local - will have to register with the Ministry of Defence.[1] This Ministry is the official fiefdom of the ultra hard-line brother of the President, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. And now the Red Cross has even been ordered to quit the former war zone. [2]

This latest action against NGOs illuminates the schizophrenia of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and, sadly, the complicity of the majority of Sri Lankans.

On one hand Sri Lankans like to be seen as cheerful, educated citizens of the modern world and also deserving recipients of charity or special treatment. Sri Lankans delight in the fact that they are hosts to the Galle literary festival (to which many progressive writers come), Bollywood extravaganzas, the Commonwealth Games and up-market tourists. And they feel aggrieved that the EU should have dared to withdraw the special trading rights given after the Tsunami [3]. And it is a matter of great pride that a Sri Lankan - the founder of the powerful NGO Sarvodya - is described as Asia’s “little Gandhi".

But simultaneously, these Sri Lankans are in denial, or at least silent, that their country is now following closely the norms set by its new allies - China, Iran, Russia, Burma, Israel and Pakistan. Since tyrants rarely transform spontaneously, what can Sri Lankans expect if their collective denial continues and these trends take their logical course?

Given below are some of recent news stories from Sri Lanka's new international friends.

In Russia, a journalist who works for a paper popular with Moscow’s elite was assaulted so badly (including broken fingers) that he had to be put into a medically induced coma.[4] Why? Because he dared to cover corrupt government practices. Co-incidentally last week also saw a Sri Lankan journalist – Poddala Jayantha - receive a global integrity award for his courageous efforts.[5] He was also attacked sustaining serious head and leg injuries and this is far from an isolated case – Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous places for independent journalists, listed 18 places below Russia on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.[6]

In Iran, the Government keep threatening to variously stone to death or hang a woman who seems innocent of the charges of adultery. Whilst some of Iran's political allies - Brazil included [7] - have spoken out about this case, the Rajapaksa government has been conspicuously silent. This despite the fact that Sri Lanka chairs the G15 group of countries from which Iran and Sri Lanka both derive much support.[8]

In China, a father of one of the baby victims of the poisoned milk debacle was imprisoned for daring to organise a support group.[9] And the same week the lawyer representing the Chinese Nobel prize winner was himself barred from leaving the country allegedly because the Government feared he was going to collect the Prize on behalf of his client.[10] A former spokesman for President Rajapaksa speaks about the parallels to Sri Lanka, but in very carefully coded language.[11]

In Burma the generals who put on civilian clothes announced they had "won" the election. How? By preventing the hugely popular opposition leader Aung San Sui Kyi from taking part! Whilst not noted for his non violence, Sri Lanka’s opposition leader, the former war hero General Fonseka also finds himself in jail.

"Don't be idiotic", some Sri Lankans might say, "these things could never happen here!". Really? The lack of Sri Lankan media coverage for these events, especially in the Sinhalese media, is the most telling answer. Self-censorship is now so deeply rooted that the media ignore these worrying events, and almost no one comments.

In a country which has seen three episodes of mass killings in as many decades, one of the most violent separatist movements the world has ever seen, numerous state sponsored killings and a ferocious clampdown on independent media and civil society, who can be sure that things can't get even worse?

There is no doubt that's Sri Lanka is blessed with sun, sea, good food and smiling faces with many educated minds. But Nazi Germany also had its tourist attractions and many cultural and intellectual stars. What is now known is that millions of ordinary German citizens were relatively well informed, willing, and frequently active participants in the horrors that happened in their own country.[12]

If you are a Sri Lankan or indeed a non Sri Lankan who happens to care and are wondering what you can do, you have come to the right place!

One answer is do anything to avoid paralysis by analysis and despair. Of course, pick something that doesn't cause you to be paralysed by fear. Sign the petition on the Campaign site www.srilankacampaign.org, talk to a trusted friend abroad about how things really are in Sri Lanka, join a local Sri Lanka organisation that is active on one of the many problems the country now faces. New actions stimulate new mindsets and bring you into contact with like-minded people.
Another answer is to become crystal clear about the fact that you want to see change and especially why you want to see change. The "how" questions will be much easier to answer once your commitment is solid.
In a future blog we will also list the many different ways that ordinary Sri Lankans are doing extra-ordinary things to help. If you have suggestions about what to include, ideally based on your experience or that of people you know well, please email us at srilankapeacecampaign@googlemail.com

Notes:

[1] Lanka tightens grip on foreign aid workers
http://www.gulf-times.com/site/topics/article.asp?cu_no=2&item_no=397946&version=1&template_id=44&parent_id=24

[2] Sri Lanka orders Red Cross to quit former war zone
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5joGu91BK5_6KLrQCSJGiXbZfLkeQ?docId=CNG.542bc5230d0b13ed79dfd4d5d5e27e42.3b1

[3] Duty free treatment from EU: Lanka`s efforts bear fruit
http://www.lankanewspapers.com/news/2005/2/673.html

[4] Russian journalist beaten in Moscow
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/world/europe/07russia.html

[5] Assaulted Lankan journalist receives global award
http://www.hindustantimes.com/Assaulted-Lankan-journalist-receives-global-award/Article1-625806.aspx

[6] Press Freedom Index 2010
http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2010,1034.html

[7] Latin America’s duty to Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/nov/04/sakineh-mohammadi-ashtiani-brazil

[8] President Rajapaksa meets Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khumenei and Iranian leaders
http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2010/05/17/president-rajapaksa-meets-iranian-supreme-leader-ayatollah-ali-khumenei-and-iranian-leaders/

[9] China jails father of tainted milk victim
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/0074e4f0-ecfb-11df-9912-00144feab49a.html

[10] Nobel winner Liu Xiaobo’s lawyer ‘to sue China’
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11716358

[11] Our friends the Chinese and the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize
http://print.dailymirror.lk/opinion1/26182.html

[12] Robert Gellately, one of the leading historians of modern Europe, has conducted a widely respected survey of the German media before and during the war and concludes that there was “substantial consent and active participation of large numbers of ordinary Germans in aspects of the Holocaust”. He documents that the sight of the columns of slave labourers were common, and that the basics of the concentration camps, if not the details of the extermination camps, were widely known.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Backing-Hitler-Consent-Coercion-Germany/dp/0192802917

22/11/2010

No notes, no integrity and no hope

Dr G L Peiris, Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister, was congratulated at the recent meeting hosted in London by the International Institute for Strategic Studies for not using any notes to give his address (1).

There is no doubting his intellect. A Rhodes Scholar (in the same batch as another political smooth talker, Bill Clinton), Peiris completed two doctorates by age 28.

But sadly, intellect and integrity aren't always aligned. And Dr Peiris is one academic whose ambitions go well beyond the ivory tower. He is seasoned at being "on message" despite the fact that he has switched sides twice to serve all the last three Sri Lankan Presidents in senior roles (2).

"Never judge a book by its cover" also applies to political intellectuals like Peiris because make believe does not need any script, especially for one so blessed with academic oratorical skills.Whichever continent, whatever the agenda and whoever the audience, since being appointed Foreign Minister earlier this year, Peiris has clearly been seeking through eloquent speeches to capture the high ground. Sadly, what is missing is the reality back in his home ground. Indeed, a consistent picture of reality is lacking: the fact that he paints contradictory pictures of reality has been captured by an astute journalist for the Sri Lankan Guardian (3):

In Beijing - far from any Tamil audiences - he said: "The conflict is now over and we must now remove the pain in the hearts and minds of the people by setting in motion a healing process, a process of rapprochement."

"Suffice it to state that unless the political will prevails to reach out to the Tamil people and to allow them in whatever form and manner to have a say and manage their destiny, this problem will remain with us."

He even mentioned the thorny issue of the thousands of alleged LTTE fighters; "Another problem which requires urgent attention is the large number of Tamil youth in detention under the PTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act)...Most of them having been taken in only on suspicion and have been rotting in jail for years and would only have hate in their hearts, having lost the best years of their lives in jail. We must ensure that we do not humiliate these young persons. They could easily fall prey to the Diaspora and their millions to harm our country. We do need to come up with a political solution to head them off."

But in India, however, the emphasis was less on urgency and more on the need to build Tamil leadership. Yes, the 13th Amendment - the political solution which was promised by Rajapaksa in return for India’s support for the decimation of the LTTE - is the right answer but 'not just yet'.

Why?

"Sri Lanka is resurrecting its electoral process to empower people and provide political space for minority Tamils so that they emerge as credible interlocutors for the community on the issue devolution of powers....Tamil leaders that are thrown up by political process, many of them were wiped out like leader of opposition was assassinated by the LTTE, there is a gap to be filled."

What Peiris fails to mention is that even Tamil leaders who were targeted by the LTTE and who supported the Government's drive to destroy the LTTE are now questioning if they have been duped.

One such leader is Dharmalingam Siddharthan, leader of the PLOTE (Peoples' Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam) which has been anti LTTE for over a decade. In his statement to the Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Committee, Siddharthan said (4):

"Today nearly one-and-a-half years later, there is still no sign of a political solution to the problems faced by the Tamil people. Many Tamil people, Tamil groups, political parties and militant groups helped successive governments in its efforts believing that a political solution would be offered by the government of the day."

In contrast Siddharthan highlights that: "Today, we see state lands in the north and east being grabbed in the name of development in Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Mullaitivu, Murukkandy etc and being allocated to big-time Sinhalese business people.”

Siddharthan also said that his organisation was deeply concerned about the sudden mushrooming of Buddhist temples in areas where no Buddhists live.

He adds: "Many parents whose sons and daughters were conscripted by the LTTE are deeply concerned that while these innocents still languish in detention camps, top (former LTTE) leaders and kidnappers are at large, many of them enjoying luxurious lifestyles."

He ends by saying: "These fears must be allayed and the Tamil community made to feel they are a part of this country. It is up to the Sinhalese people to make the Tamils understand they do not look on them as second class citizens, but are their equals in all respects. For this it becomes necessary to provide a political solution which can help the Tamil community to look after its own affairs in the regions. I am not talking of separation. I am emphasising the need for a devolution of power to the regions......it is the Sinhalese who are the majority in this country (who have) to convince the minorities especially those who have undergone the trauma and hardship of war that they are an integral part of this country. "

That is the reality that Peiris and other apologists for Rajapaksa want to avoid.
Back in the UK, Peiris spoke of the "Sri Lanka model" being a positive option for dealing with "terrorism" employing the language to please the security specialists who predominated in the IISS audience. The government of Sri Lanka is actively promoting the Sri Lanka model to a range of countries (5). And why shouldn't they when the IISS and others treat them as respected players in the international system?

But learned Peiris of course is not just a hawk. Just a few minutes later, he professed his admiration for Alex Boraine's account of the Truth & Reconciliation process in South Africa. For sure, Peiris and other Rajapaksa apologists would love to engage in "leaving behind and moving forward". But Sri Lanka's half-hearted attempt at this will have no such effect. As Desmond Tutu, the chair of South Africa's Commission has said: "It is doubtful that the President's 'Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission' will help Sri Lankans to work towards lasting peace and reconciliation." (6)

The weaknesses of the Sri Lanka Commission have been well described by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group (7). The fatal flaw in the Sri Lankan process is that the "victor" is also the prime perpetrator of the human rights abuses and cannot bear to have the truth heard. As well, how can there be moving forward when there is no intention to progress in terms of putting in place a political solution?

Little of this discussion came up in the IISS meeting. Set up as a "dialogue" with the Government of Sri Lanka, the IIIS seminar focused on how to ensure ongoing stability in the region. The seminar had virtually no focus on what is really needed to bring peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, let alone democracy or good governance. Just the narrow agenda of counter-insurgency and economic development by pro government local and international business elites. How little the IISS seems to have learned about real security.

What true intellectual friends of Sri Lanka need to do is very different. Dialogue is desperately needed. But dialogue that challenges the lofty rhetoric of the clever people like Peiris and forces them to deal with the reality on the ground that they have played a large part in creating.


Notes:

1. http://www.iiss.org/programmes/south-asia/conferences-and-seminars/iiss-sri-lanka-foreign-ministry-dialogue/
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._L._Peiris
3. http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2010/10/my-god-g-l-pieris.html
4. http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2010/11/not-single-well-known-tamil-in-audience.html
5. http://sundaytimes.lk/101024/News/nws_09.html
6. http://www.theelders.org/media/mediareleases/sri-lankas-disturbing-actions-met-by-deafening-global-silence
7. http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/publication-type/media-releases/2010/asia/sri-lanka-crisis-group-refuses-to-appear-before-flawed-commission.aspx

19/11/2010

Tissa's 1st interview - quiet diplomacy doesn't work with Sri Lanka

The following article appeared in TamilNet and has been republished below.

Economic aid should be linked to press freedom in Sri Lanka, veteran Tamil journalist J. S. Tissainayagam, who was released from government custody by international pressure earlier this year, said on Wednesday. In his first interview since his release, Mr. Tissainayagam rejected arguments that ‘quiet diplomacy’ would achieve better conduct from President Mahinda Rajapakse regime, and said “the more pressure that is put publicly, the more the government is willing to act”. He linked his own release directly to the government’s then efforts to retain the EU’s GSP+ trade concessions. Tissainayagam is currently a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University Journalism School in Boston.

Mr. Tissainayagam’s first interview since he was released, was conducted by the international media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Speaking about press freedom today in Sri Lanka, Mr. Tissainayagam said, “the situation is very dire. … Dissent is what the government fears.” There is a lack of physical security for journalists, he said, referring to those who have been killed, disappeared and incarcerated.

“There are also legal aspects,” he said, referring to the Emergency Regulations, which allows the government to detain and imprison reporters. Consequently, there is “extensive self-censorship amongst reporters and editors, who fear to say what they feel and believe,” he said. “I think one of the most important things is to keep up the pressure on the government,” Mr. Tissainayagam said. “I can speak of my own case, where I was sentenced to 20 years hard labour for what I’ve written. I know that my freedom, my release, was linked to the GSP+ issue sometime ago.”

“The European Union could use that as a bargaining chip for my release, which eventually forced the Sri Lanka government to first give me bail and then finally a presidential pardon.” Mr. Tissainayagam went on to say:

“I think it’s very important that economic aid is linked to press freedom in Sri Lanka. … That is the way pressure could be put on Sri Lanka.

“Certainly I can say in my own case it did make a difference.”

“I believe that publicity does help a lot, contrary to what the government says.”

“[They say] don’t talk about it, if there is quiet diplomacy, we will be more receptive to your demands

“But I don’t believe that is true. I believe that the more shaming that is done, the more pressure that is put is put publicly, the more the government is willing to act”

“… If media organisations can continue to do that, it will be very helpful, it will be very helpful on the ground”.

14/11/2010

Sri Lanka's reconciliation commission rejected by rights groups

International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have written a comprehensive critique on the chances for accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. The full article has been republished below.

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2010/11/09/opinion/War-crimes-whitewashed-Why-human-rights-groups-rej-30141831.html

While we would welcome the opportunity to appear before a genuine, credible effort to pursue accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (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 organisations 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.

We have highlighted our concerns in a number of reports. Of particular relevance are Crisis Group's May 2010 report "War Crimes in Sri Lanka" and 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".

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, CR de Silva, was to prompt the secretary to provide the Commission with a February 14 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 chairman de Silva and member HMGS 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" 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.

Beyond his public defence of government conduct during the war, there is also evidence that as attorney general, CR 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.

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.

Absence 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 criminalise 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 organisation 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 politicised 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.

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.

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.

Louise Arbour is president and CEO of International Crisis Group; Kenneth Roth is executive director of Human Rights Watch; Salil Shetty is secretary general of Amnesty International.

13/11/2010

Oppression can work for a time but it cannot work forever

Bob Rae, the Canadian former shadow foreign minister has charted Sri Lanka's path into a repressive regime. The full article has been republished below.

Read more: http://www.nationalpost.com/island+mistrust/3816051/story.html#ixzz159bLwuVH

What lessons are we to draw from the Sri Lankan conflict? Something deep in the culture of antagonism that pervades modern Sri Lanka made it impossible for a peace process leading toward genuine reconciliation to be accepted.

The hold of religious zealotry and political extremism in Sri Lanka was strong and depressingly persistent. The stubbornness of the Sinhalese majority created the conditions for a turn to violence by the Tamil minority in the 1970s, and a militant cult of personality and exclusionary nationalism on the part of the LTTE (also known as the Tamil Tigers) set the country on a course of conflict that proved irreversible.

The elimination of the voices of moderation, the assassination of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, the decision to seek a military victory after the collapse of the ceasefire with the government in 2008: these decisions by the LTTE proved to be disastrous for it and for the entire Tamil community in whose name the LTTE was allegedly fighting. The degeneration of a militant cadre into a death cult is not unique to Sri Lanka, but partly explains why the end was so destructive.

The decision of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran to order the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi summed up his ruthlessness and fatal hubris. As Talleyrand might have said, it was worse than wrong, it was stupid.

Gandhi's death earned Prabhakaran the eternal enmity of the Indian government, particularly the Congress Party government. It led to his death sentence in absentia and his status as an international criminal. It meant that he could not lead a movement from armed struggle to sincere political negotiation. A high-ranking Indian diplomat told me emphatically that whatever political course was charted, "Prabhakaran is a dead man. Is that understood?" Prabhakaran would have known this. He could never become a Nelson Mandela or even a Yasser Arafat. His endgame was martyrdom.

A very different man might have separated himself from the movement in order to save it. Prabhakaran did no such thing -- he used the personality cult right to the bitter end, leading thousands of women, men and children to the slaughter with him.

Sri Lanka has now fallen into a dangerous authoritarianism with the Rajapaksa brothers and their government fully in control.

They can point to elections as the source of their legitimacy, but the evidence of a politicized judiciary, widespread corruption, and a deeply repressed and partisan media is a troubling reflection of a political agenda that is leaning far away from the respect for rights and diversity that lies at the heart of the democratic idea.

This is the terrible irony today. President Mahinda Rajapaksa won a massive majority in the presidential election in 2010, defeating General Sarath Fonseka, who had led the government forces to victory. He then promptly threw Fonseka in jail. Opinion is behind him. There are courts that sit, judges that go to work every day, and newspapers written and sold throughout the country, but none of them dare challenge the government. Anyone who does is threatened, harassed, and told they are not welcome. Dozens of journalists have been killed, and many more have left the country.

Democracy is much more than who can win an election. It is how a country is governed between elections. It is government by discussion, not by diktat and decree.

Sri Lanka was at war for half a century, and the end of the war has not reduced the demand for more money and more arms.

Instead, military spending and related racketeering have skyrocketed.

Defence now accounts for over a fifth of all government spending and shows no signs of going down. This militarization has far-reaching implications for democracy. But while the West worries, no one is prepared to do anything about it. Sri Lanka's closest allies-- China, Pakistan, Burma, and Iran -- are not going to criticize the government for its authoritarian ways or its democratic deficit. The decision by the International Monetary Fund in 2009 to authorize

US$2.6-billion in credit to Sri Lanka -- with Canada's support, but abstentions from many Western governments -- plus Sri Lanka's success at convincing the United Nations Human Rights Council that there was no merit in an international review of its conduct of the war, is a clear sign that severe repression can take place with impunity.

In 2009, the Worldwide Press Freedom Index placed Sri Lanka between the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Today it would be even lower. Transparency International consistently reports corruption at the highest echelons of both the executive and legislative levels of government. A Sri Lanka where mutual respect, some autonomy for Tamils, shared governance, and an abandonment of extremist ideologies are all possible is, tragically, just a dream for now. Becoming involved in the politics of Sri Lanka has affected me deeply. I could see from the outset that peace and reconciliation were an unlikely result, but the extent of the failure, and the full dimensions of the violence involved have forced me to recognize the difficulty of "sharing experiences."

The resolution of deep conflicts isn't a matter of good ideas beating bad ones. It requires far more consistent international pressure, a willingness to punish recalcitrant bad behaviour on both sides, and awareness amongst the parties that the costs of a conflict far outweigh the price of compromise. By the time of the ceasefire in 2001, the suspicion between the parties was so deep and so entrenched that bridging the gap would have taken extraordinary acts of leadership on both sides as well as real engagement from the outside world.

But all those who might have been able to steer the talks toward a new workable constitution for the country had been silenced.

If we compare the situation in Sri Lanka to, say, Northern Ireland or South Africa, or even Canada, we begin to understand what is missing. A constitution is not just a piece of paper, crafted after a few weeks of tough discussion. It doesn't flow from rhetoric about democracy and understanding. The real constitution of any country depends on its political culture and institutions, and while those two things are not immutable, they have to be recognized for the forces they represent.

Successful constitutional change requires that the political leaders of the country set aside partisan differences in the understanding that building the framework of the country is an act of statesmanship that goes beyond day-to-day politics. In Northern Ireland it meant that Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party and Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein had to shake hands. In South Africa, it meant that Nelson Mandela and National Party leader Frederik de Klerk had to come to terms. In Canada, the partisanship and ethnic bickering that marked the young colonies for decades had to be set aside for the greater good at the Charlottetown meetings in 1867, just to get the framework right. Every colonial delegation had leaders of every party present, and that made all the difference.

That didn't happen in Sri Lanka. The two main political parties in the south were at each other's throats the whole time of the ceasefire, which left the LTTE unsure whether any agreement reached could be sustained. The LTTE's artificial status as the sole representative of the Tamils meant that no alternative voices were heard at the table. Other Tamil parties and views were stifled, and Sri Lanka's Muslims were on the margins, trying to get to the table. Partisan politics never left the room. But it has to for sound constitutional change to happen.

The fundamental values of a country have to be shared, or at least shared sufficiently so that it can survive changes in government and political leadership. For Thomas Hobbes this might be simply a matter of superior firepower ending debate. But that isn't enough, there has to be a moral basis to the consensus. The Sri Lankan majority insists that there is and that if only troublesome agitators and meddlesome outsiders would leave the game everything would be all right. But reconciliation entails accepting the legitimacy of the other, their religion, their language, their personality.

Sri Lanka is not a failed state, but it is now a deeply repressive one, and it faces some clear choices in the years ahead. There is much talk of a closer relationship between all the countries of the Indian subcontinent, of free trade zones, of sharing experience on governance and so on. Now that the LTTE has been defeated, India will become more engaged, and will continue to have concerns about both stability and the recognition of diversity by its smaller neighbour. Sri Lanka will try to encourage China, Pakistan, and even Iran to remain interested in the development of the country (it is unlikely they will be much interested in issues of governance and democracy), but India, if it chooses, can play a central role.

Meanwhile, monitoring by international institutions, public, private, and non-governmental, will continue. Democracy and human rights are not just the idle dreams of Western radicals; they speak to the aspirations of ordinary Sri Lankans in both communities, which I have seen and heard expressed. The institutions that are necessary to nurture and express these aspirations do not yet exist, but in the long term the government cannot avoid pressure from both domestic and international communities. Nor can President Rajapaksa avoid the reality that he remains the leader of an ethnically diverse country, and that oppression can work for a time but it cannot work forever.

- Excerpted with permission from Exporting Democracy: The Risks and Rewards of Pursuing a Good Idea, by Bob Rae, published in 2010 by Mc-Clelland & Stewart.

12/11/2010

Photos allege Sri Lanka massacre

Al Jazeera have published photographs which appear to show the massacre of Tamils during final stages of Sri Lanka's civil war.
http://english.aljazeera.net/video/asia/2010/11/2010111010021857352.html

10/11/2010

Japan is Failing in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lanka Campaign asked Craig Martin, Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and frequent visiting lecturer at Osaka University Graduate School of Law and Politics, to analyze Japan's role in relation to the pursuit of peace and justice in Sri Lanka. Martin, a specialist in international law, the laws of war, and comparative law with a focus on Japanese law, can be reached at: craigxmartin@gmail.com

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Since the end of the Cold War, and through the era of the so-called "Global War on Terror," Japan has struggled to define and develop a meaningful role for itself in the world of international politics. Constitutionally constrained from participating in collective security operations that involve the use of force, it has sought to cast itself as something of a "power for peace."(1) In its handling of the crisis in Sri Lanka, however, it appears to be losing its way. While providing a great deal of aid to Sri Lanka, Japan is failing to exercise its considerable influence to help reduce the causes of further conflict, and risks not only undermining its own ambitions but also significantly harming the chances for peace and justice in Sri Lanka.

Almost exactly twenty years ago, the run-up to the Gulf War of 1991 created a major crisis within Japan that has had an enduring impact on the country's politics and policy. The Japanese government came under enormous pressure to contribute to the international effort to resist the aggression of Iraq, in a region from which Japan obtained most of its energy supply. But Japan was constrained by its Constitution from any involvement in the military operations. It ended up providing support in other ways, including giving US $13 billion to the effort, more than any other country. Yet it was scorned (unfairly) for its "cheque book diplomacy," received little gratitude for its help, and came out of the crisis with a deep sense that it would have to find more meaningful ways to contribute to the international community - particularly given that it continued to nurture ambitions to obtain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Japan turned to limited involvement in U.N. peacekeeping, participation in the development of such concepts as "human security" (2), and perhaps most important, the use of foreign aid, particularly in areas of ongoing or potential conflict, to increase its influence and shape its identity as a "power for peace." With respect to Sri Lanka, in 2003 Japan tried to take a leading role by hosting the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development in Sri Lanka and it played an important role in the Norway-led peace talks that continued in the period that followed. Japan's foreign aid to Sri Lanka, in the form of loans, grants, and the provision of technical assistance, has been part of that effort, and Japan has given far more foreign aid in the last ten years than any other country (3). In the 2007-2008 period alone, Japan provided US $ 288 million, more than three times the amount given by each of the U.S. and the E.U. (4), and Sri Lanka was tenth on the list of Japan's top aid recipients (5). The benefits to Sri Lanka from such aid should not be minimized, and it will no doubt contribute to the economic growth and stability essential to (while of course not sufficient for) the post-war peace process in Sri Lanka.

Nonetheless, precisely because Japan is by far the largest aid donor to Sri Lanka, it is in a position to exercise considerable influence over the policies of the government in respect of ongoing humanitarian and human rights issues. These include the continued need for reintegration of tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) into their home areas, ending the indefinite and completely unmonitored continued detention of thousands of suspected members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) insurgents, the requirement for an independent investigation into war crimes allegations, taking meaningful steps to restore the rule of law, and generally moving to ensure that Tamil grievances are addressed (6). There is widespread consensus that a failure by the government to take these steps, as a means to resolving some of the underlying root-causes of the conflict will likely result in a resurgence of violence down the road (7).

There is little evidence, however, that Japan has used its unique position to meaningfully influence the government of Sri Lanka to develop policies that would address these issues and thus significantly enhance the chances for lasting peace. Back in 2008 when the ceasefire between the government and the LTTE broke down, Japan went so far as to announce that it was "considering" a review of its aid policy, but since then it has been conspicuously reluctant to criticize Sri Lanka government policy and conduct(8).

In the closing months of the conflict, when the world press was full of dire reports about hundreds of thousands of civilians having been trapped between opposing forces in the North, Japan did little publicly beyond issuing anodyne statements of concern and reaffirming its continued commitments to provide humanitarian assistance. In May 2009 the inaction of the Japanese government prompted the heads of Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International, and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, to issue a joint letter to then-prime minister Taro Aso, asserting that Japan must shoulder its responsibilities to help prevent a humanitarian disaster in Sri Lanka (9). Japan did little in response. In October, 2009, five international and Japanese human rights groups wrote to the newly elected DPJ government urging it to follow the lead of Western governments in demanding the release of thousands of detainees (10). The government remained largely silent.

What is more, in the post-conflict period, Japan has sent mixed messages. In June 2010, Yasushi Akashi, Japan's special envoy to Sri Lanka, visited the country and addressed the issue of proposed U.N. investigations into war crimes committed during the final months of the conflict. Upon his arrival in Sri Lanka Akashi stated that the rest of the world ought not to dictate to Sri Lanka how to resolve war crimes issues or develop the post-conflict reconciliation process, and said that it was up to Sri Lanka to define any role to be played by a panel recently established by the U.N. Secretary General. Yet four days later, to a wider international audience, Akashi stated that Japan in fact backed efforts by the U.N. to investigate alleged war crimes, and said that he had actually pressed Colombo to allow the U.N. to participate in the reconciliation process (11).

Japan can and should do much more in pressing the government of Sri Lanka to address the ongoing humanitarian, human rights, and rule of law issues in the post-conflict period. What is more, aside from its significant leverage as Sri Lanka's largest donor and debt-holder, Japan could draw upon its own experience as a credible source of some historical lessons and moral authority in advising the government of Sri Lanka. For while the analogies are of course very imperfect, with the nature of the conflict being very different, Japan's experience in the aftermath of World War II could nonetheless offer some insights.

The strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance and the depth and warmth of that bi-lateral relationship speaks to the possibilities for peace between former enemies when the defeated are treated with magnanimity and respect. The manner in which Japan itself, in the wake of the utterly devastating destruction of World War II, managed to evolve from a militarist regime into a pacifist liberal democracy with a hugely successful economy, is powerful evidence of the possibilities for peaceful change in the aftermath of conflict. We should also remember that the prosecution of Japanese war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East served an important role in restoring the legitimacy of the new post-war Japanese regime, and accelerating the return of Japanese sovereignty. This historical experience is not without its relevance for how Colombo might want to think about how to deal with the war crimes issues (12).

Instead of exercising leadership in some of these ways, however, Japan not only looks ineffective but indeed runs the risk of appearing cynical and unprincipled in its pursuit of strategic and geopolitical interests at the expense of both the "power for peace" image it aspires to develop and the peace process in Sri Lanka itself. This is because Japan's studied refusal to join in criticism of the Sri Lankan government, while it continues to pour money into infrastructure development, could be construed as not simply more ineffectual cheque-book diplomacy but in fact an investment in the regime -- no matter what. The reasons for both looking the other way and actively supporting the Sri Lankan government could range from securing Japan's sea-lanes to its primary energy sources in the Middle East to precluding China from muscling in on Japan's perceived sphere of influence. Not only does this undermine Japan's efforts to define itself as a state with the ability and commitment to work for the high ideals of peace and security in post-conflict regions, but also its continued unconditional and uncritical support for the Sri Lankan government could cause real harm to the peace process in Sri Lanka.

Protestations about "quiet diplomacy" notwithstanding, the failure Sri Lanka's most significant development assistance partner to support U.N., EU, and other governmental and NGO pressure upon the Sri Lankan government to address the many significant humanitarian and human rights issues, and respond meaningfully to other Tamil grievances, provides the government of Sri Lanka with the necessary space to evade and withstand international pressure. This not only raises the risk of perpetuating the human tragedy that continues to unfold in Sri Lanka notwithstanding the end of warfare but in the longer run it contributes to the possibility of a resumption of the conflict in the future. Quite apart from the moral implications, such a consequence is not in Japan's interests, from the perspective of either its strategic and geopolitical concerns, or its efforts to become a "power for peace" with U.N. Security Council aspirations.

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1. Takashima Hatsuhisa, Foreign Ministry Spokesman, quoted in the "Japanese Wage Peace with Talks and Money, Pleasing Asians," The New York Times, Dec. 8, 2002. For more on the effort, see Peng Er-Lam, "Japan's Peace Building Diplomacy in Sri Lanka," 21:2 East Asia 3-17 (2004).

2. The most recent iteration of this effort was a symposium on the subject of Human Security sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the summer of 2010. See http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/human_secu

3. OECD data. It should also be noted that the motives for Japan's foreign aid are mixed, and there is a body of scholarship that argues that Japanese ODA has during some periods been at least partially motivated by a desire to create markets and provide opportunities for Japanese companies. See, e.g., Bruce M. Koppel and Robert M. Orr Jr., eds., Japan's Foreign Aid: Power and Policy in a New Era (1993).

4. OECD, World Bank, available on-line at http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/0/7/1878751.gif

5. OECD, available on-line at http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/42/5/44285062.gif

6. On the current conditions of IDPs within Sri Lanka, see reports available at Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, available on-line at http://www.internal-displacement.org/countries/srilanka; for more on the status and treatment of detainees, see International Commission of Jurists, Beyond Lawful Constraints: Sri Lanka's Mass Detention of LTTE Suspects, September 2010, available for download at
http://www.icj.org/default.asp?nodeID=349&sessID=&langage=1&myPage=Legal_Documentation&id=23159 ; on the breakdown of the rule of law since the end of the conflict, see James Yap and Craig Scott, "The Breakdown of the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka: An Overview", unpublished paper prepared for the Sri Lanka Campaign on Peace and Justice, posted on SSRN at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1682133

7. See, e.g., "Victory's Rotten Fruit: The Government's Unpleasant Triumphalism is Sowing the Seeds of Renewed Conflict," The Economist, Jun. 11, 2009; and see generally, Paul Collier et al., Breaking the Conflict Trap: Civil War and Development Policy (2003);

8. See BBC News, "Japan 'reviews' aid to Sri Lanka," January 15, 2008, available on line at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7189002.stm

9. "Joint Letter to Japanese Prime Minister on Sri Lanka," Human Rights Watch, May 10, 2009, available on-line at http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/05/10/joint-letter-japanese-prime-minister-sri-lanka

10. "Japan: Break the Silence on Sri Lanka Rights Abuses," Human Rights Watch, October 22, 2009, available on-line at http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/10/22/japan-break-silence-sri-lanka-rights-abuses

11. See "Japan Urges World Not to Dictate to Post-War Sri Lanka," Reuters, June 16, 2010, available on-line at: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE65F23320100616; and "Japan Backs UN War Crimes Probe into Sri Lanka," AFP, June 20, 2010, available on-line at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jY8mJYN7CrKTNKobNadHD1RvLiGQ

12. There is, of course, continued debate over the legitimacy and fairness of the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, with many conservatives in Japan being strongly critical of the entire process. Perhaps ironically, given the point I am advancing, the Indian Judge, Radhabinod Pal, who was the only Judge to have dissented in holding that all the defendants should be found not guilty of all charges due to the illegitimacy of the tribunal process, continues to be revered by such conservatives today.

09/11/2010

Resettlement and reconciliation in limbo

Green Left reports on the continuing mistreatment of Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka. The full article is republished below.
http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/46034

Men in uniform, mainly young soldiers holding AK 47 rifles, are seen all around northern Sri Lanka, from Mannar in north-west to Mullaitivu, the last battlefield in the north-east. In Mullaitivu, there are said to be more soldiers than civilians.

This is the situation in the largely Tamil north of the island one-and-a-half-years after the end of the Sri Lankan Army’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were killed by the SLA in the last months of the conflict. Before its defeat, the LTTE had waged an armed struggle for an independent state for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority. Tamils have suffered systematic discrimination from the Sri Lankan state, which is dominated by the Sinhalese ethnic majority. At the Omanthai military check point in Vavuniya district, passengers are stopped to have their ID checked. Those travelling from Vavuniya town, only four-to-five kilometres away, will have already had their ID card checked three times. Those travelling from Jaffna — the capital of the Northern province — have their belongings searched.

“Don’t worry, [they’re] just checking”, one cheerful Tamil man told me during such a search, trying to comfort me in a bus heading for Jaffna. “Peace has come. You can go everywhere.”

However, “everywhere” is not for “everyone”. At Omanthai checkpoint, foreigners are turned back if they don’t have clearance from the defence ministry. I phoned the ministry beforehand and was told I would be allowed to travel by land. At the checkpoint, however, I was turned away for lack of a pass to show. Foreigners are generally only able to visit to Jaffna by air. It is little wonder they do not want foreigners to travel on the heavily militarised A9 road, which stretches out through the war-ravaged north. The road from Mannar, the capital of the Mannar district, to Vavuniya also has many military posts. In Mannar district, armed soldiers stand on street corners of alleys or in the middle of the road in small villages as well as towns.

“Go that way”, “Come this way” and “Open your bag” are the only words in Sinhalese — the language of Sri Lanka’s ethnic majority — that most Tamil villagers in the area understand. Soldiers stationed in the area speak hardly any Tamil. With communication often impossible, checkpoints were dangerous during the war. Some people were seen for the last time at a checkpoint, never to return.

“My husband was seen last at the army checkpoint in 2007”, 33-year-old Anoja (name changed) told me. “The next day, I went to the checkpoint with my neighbour, who speaks Sinhalese, to ask where my husband was. “A soldier told us we can come inside to check. We were scared, so we left.”

Anoja showed me all sorts of papers issued by police, the Human Rights Commission and human rights groups, to all of whom she has reported her husband’s case. Another woman from the same village has been looking for her missing brother since 2007, when he was last seen at a checkpoint. The 35-year-old woman lost her mother, elder brother and sister when all were shot dead by the Sri Lankan Army in early 1990s. The military’s heavy presence in the north has, ironically, grown drastically after the more than three-decades-long war ended. However, the resettlement in the north of Tamil “internally displaced persons” (IDPs), which is supposed to be a top priority in the post-war era, is developing at a snail’s pace at best.

About 300,000 Tamils were held in IDP camps at the end of the war. All aid provided to help resettlement is overseen by the “commander in charge” of the area. Aid items have to go through army checkpoints set up at the entry of each resettled area. Severe restrictions on NGOs and aid, which have left IDP camps vulnerable to disease and short on food, have now been extended into resettlement areas.

An aid worker in Vanni told me: “We were told by the area commander not to use vehicles with our organisation’s logo. Without the logo, we could bring in aid for the people.” In “P” village in Mannar, thousands of people began to resettle almost one year ago. But most villagers have no means to cope with the rainy season. People are living in temporary housing made of tin sheeting provided by the International Organization for Migration. When released from IDP camps, Tamils were given 25,000 rupee (about $224) by UNHCR. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) promised to provide basic food items for six months. A woman from the village said: “Luckily, we were provided with food by WFP until August. It was more than six months.

“Now, we have sowed seeds provided by government for cultivation. [But] until the harvest in about four months’ time, we have no food.”

Some jobs have been available for villagers, such as cleaning public places, which pay about $4.5 per day. But it is far from sustainable work. There are no medical facilities or electricity, other than solar lanterns provided by aid agency Caritas for some families with students. Despite shortfalls, aid and government workers in the region agreed that “P” village is one of the best resettlement cases. Villagers and NGOs complain about the vicious restrictions on aid for the desperate population, complaints supported by government workers.

Sanjive (name changed), a 32-year-old field worker, said: “Some 150 families, who were resettled in and around Periamadu area, were given nothing. But the government hasn’t given permission to NGOs [to help].

“There’s no toilets for those resettled in August, while those who were resettled in September were given only roof materials.”

In early September, Suresh Premanchandra, an MP from the Tamil National Alliance, revealed that 255 families, or 1215 people, were prevented by the commander in charge at Mullaitivu from resettling in their place of origin. No aid has been provided for these people, who are living in a school. Another Tamil politician, Mano Ganeshan, said: “The government wants to keep Tamils desperate for years. This is so people will only be concerned with food and shelter, and they wont think of political or social rights. “This is what has been going on in Palestine. Palestinians have lived in refugee camps for generations.”

It is not by accident that the most solid structure in “P” village is a military camp. When asked how she felt when she first arrived back in her hometown after being displaced for years and then detained in an IDP camp, 32-year-old Buddima (name changed), whispered: “Terrified.” After a pause, she continued: “We are not getting used to living under the army control or being surrounded by them like this. This is terrible.”

The situation for those still in the IDP camps, meanwhile, appears to be becoming more primitive now that most IDPs have been released. Statistics compiled by UNHCR put the number of IDPs released as of August 30 at 258,846. This indicates that somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 IDPs are still detained in the camps. The world community, appalled by the forced detention of hundreds of thousands of Tamils in barbed wire-surrounded camps, demanded the Sri Lankan government release people as quickly as possible. However, the situation for the IDPs after their release, as well as for those still in the camps, has not been closely monitored.

Those still in the camps say the conditions are inadequate. Rani (name changed), a 21-year-old woman held in the Zone 4 IDP camp, said: “[There have been] no more bowser supplies of [drinking] water since August. Electricity, which used to be available 24 hours-a-day, is now available only five hours each day.

“The army and GA [government agent, a local administrative worker] told us to move to a transit camp. But many of us rejected this because we’re afraid that the authorities will screen people again and take away youth on suspicion they are LTTE.”

Rani was allowed out of the camp for 10 days at the end of September. She said one man who returned after his allowed 10 days was severely beaten by soldiers. She said: “I learned that he had to look after his ailing parents, who were transferred in Colombo. That’s why he returned late.” Another IDP from Zone 4 camp, 35-year-old Sara (name changed), complained about shortages of food and other necessities. “I often eat rice and dhal only”, she said, “no vegetables or other items provided”.

Sara, who has lost all her family members and is alone in the camp, said the camp had stopped providing soap three months ago. The accounts by Sara and Rani backed up a report in June from United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The report said: “Food commodities for IDPs donated by the USAID [United States Agency for International Development] came to an end on 31 May ... Drinking water distribution shortfalls [are] possible at the end of July.”

One-and-a-half years after one of Asia’s longest wars ended, the Sri Lankan government does not seem to be taking its claim of seeking “reconciliation” with the island’s Tamils seriously. Rather, President Mahinda Rajapakse has focused on keeping his family’s power intact, leaving root cause of the brutal conflict intact. A constitutional reform passed on September 8 is a prime example. It removed presidential term limits and authorised the president to appoint the heads of all independent commissions. Rohan Edrisinha, a professor of Colombo University, said the reform “was introduced without any public notice, discussion or consultation. It is very regressive on ethnic issues as well.”

Having been the scene of brutal ethnic cleansing against the Tamil minority, the island is now being transformed into the Rajapakse family’s personal kingdom. There is no guarantee that, with the regime seeking to strengthen its grip on power and the ongoing mistreatment of Tamils, the ever present guns will remain silent.

06/11/2010

Sri Lankan president cancels UK trip after arrest threat for alleged war crimes

The Independent newspaper has reported that President Rajapakse cancelled his trip to the UK amid concerns that he may be arrested in connection with allegations of war crimes committed during Sri Lanka's recent war.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/sri-lankan-president-opts-out-of-uk-visit-after-threat-of-arrest-2126712.html

01/11/2010

Speaking out against the regime

Not all Sri Lankans are indifferent to abuse of the vulnerable; stories of a few brave souls?

Many outsiders wonder why informed Sri Lankans, Tamils as well as Sinhalese, stay silent about the abuses in their country. We are not talking only about the minorities and human rights or pro democracy activists who are targeted without public concern. But even cases of child rape goes unmentioned (1); of course such awful things can happen anywhere but where would so many children raped get so little attention? The most often heard reason or excuse, however you look at it is that security and business concerns prevent those within the country from speaking up. But sure this reason does not apply to those living abroad, especially those with few ties to Sri Lanka? If they can be motivated to speak up against the violations in Burma or feel sympathy for the destruction of the floods in Pakistan, surely they can feel some urgency and desire to do the same for their ‘motherland’?

In a revealing article, Sinhalese Human Rights commentator Tisaranee Gunasekara says (1) “What happens when a populace willingly abdicates its right to think, because it considers thinking burdensome and, perhaps, dangerous?… Did our gradual descent into moral indifference begin in the North, when we unquestioningly accepted the outrageous lie of zero-civilian casualties?...Indifference and impunity are mutually-sustaining cancers which cannot be isolated politically or geographically; eventually the South too will be consumed by these twin ills. The proposed barricading of the country would be aimed at guaranteeing the Rajapaksa right to impunity (according to the official narrative, national interests and Rajapaksa interests are identical). But the prime guarantor of Rajapaksa impunity will be our own habit of indifference. After all, what cannot be done to and on behalf of a society which remains unmoved by the rape of its children, three a day?.”

And she is not the only exception. In a brave speech addressed directly to and made in the presence of President Rajapaksa on his recent visit to Houston, USA, the Sri Lankan US lawyer, George Wiley said (2) “I have watched the land of my forefathers descend from Paradise deep into hell. No one can say with any certainty who is to blame. But the time for blaming is long gone…Your Excellency, Fate and Fortune and your great political skills have placed you at a unique point in History…Do not make the Tamils feel as though they are second class citizens…The Tamil people are naked and hungry looking for you to assure them that there is a place for them. Make sure they have one. You killed one Prabha karan, but do not let another one grow. You cannot prevent another one with swords and guns. You can only do that with your heart and wisdom. The compassion, truth, and justice you learned from the Buddha are the only weapons you will need…According to Dhammapada, Buddha said: Hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an old rule…Your Excellency, return us to Paradise ! Return us to Paradise!”

And finally, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) is based in Colombo, has launched a dedicated website aimed at promoting and protecting human rights in Sri Lanka. Being the only group to challenge the 18th Amendment in court and despite repeated death threats to its Director, Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, promoting the thinking and talking of ‘rights’ - whilst other well meaning moderates have said you cant use the word "rights" and "there's no point confronting the government" - is very brave. ‘People’s Rights’ (http://www.thepeoplesrights.org) will highlight and record Human Rights issues in Sri Lanka with an emphasis on Minority Rights and will contain updated and archived news reports, detailed studies and multimedia resources in English, Sinhala and Tamil. CPA has invited readers to submit and comment on content and is focused on making the site a hub for information about minority groups and their rights for all national and international policy makers, non-governmental organisations, academics, researchers and the media concerned.

We do not claim that the above are the only examples of bravery by Sri Lankans for Sri Lankans. We know of those such as Lasantha Wickrematunga who have paved the way for bravery such as the above and other countless attempts that go unnamed and unacknowledged. Sadly, the sum of all such brave attempts have still not been sufficient to make a difference in Sri Lanka and this is why we need to encourage the brave and encourage each other. Sri Lankans abroad - especially apolitical professional moderates and those who visit Sri Lanka for holidays and do business there - are well placed to serve as true friends, be a mirror and support those who need support.

For more information on the above:

(1) To read Tisaranee Gunasekara article:http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2010/10/24/the-land-of-the-indifferent/

(2) To hear and view George Wiley’s speech: (start from 6 minutes into the video)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ei4cURPJdrY&feature=player_embedded

(3) To read more about the CPA and the People’s Rights Website:http://www.thepeoplesrights.org